On Being A Missionary: Packing up a Life

Katie Kleinjung Life, Missions, On Being, Thailand 1 Comment

I’ve always been a bit of a clinger. To things, that is. I’m really sentimental. For example, when we were first pregnant with Shepherd, like all of my closest friends were pregnant too. So, the sentimental person I am, needed pictures with each of these friends. There’s one that was taken like two weeks after we found out we were expecting, at a dinner party, the three of us lined in order of due date. To the onlookers, just another Instagram pic. To me, a sweet memory of six hearts beating in three bodies.


Oh look, Katie's making Stephen take another Instagram pic. How out of character.

Oh look, Katie’s making Stephen take another Instagram pic. How out of character.

I have a special box of things for me and Stephen. Old cards, placeholders for weddings we went to while we were still dating, those first pictures taken together and brochures from campgrounds and airline stubs and a dried rose or two and our wedding program and even a positive pregnancy test. One of the most recent additions to the box was one of Stephen’s hospital bracelets. Our little ebenezer, this box is. I want us to remember it all, the good, the hard, the painful and the fun.

That’s sweet and all, but practically, it translates into MANY BINS OF CARDS AND PICTURES AND AIRLINE STUBS AND BROCHURES AND DRIED FLOWERS.

MANY bins of photos and dried flowers and stubs and books and that note we passed in sixth grade.

MANY bins of photos and dried flowers and stubs and books and that note we passed in sixth grade.

We recently housesat for my Dad and LeeAnn. And it was great. One of my goals while being there was to go through the FIVE large bins I had in my old room, shoved waaaay back in the closet. These particular bins, mind you, contained my special things from infancy to college. Granted, it’s 20 years worth of…treasures…but that’s still a lot. Stephen, would say excessive. We don’t agree on everything.

Anyway, I wanted to go through them. Why? Well because when you decide to move to another country when you’re twentysomething, you will find that you have a lot of stuff to figure out what to do with. Luckily, we decided to cut our space and stuff in half when we found out we were pregnant (Which, btw,  makes zero sense. Add a person, take away a room. Sure, save money and attachment parenting and all that, but MAMA NEEDS HER OWN ROOM.), so we are already a little ahead on the packing game. I knew a year ago that when the time came to move and I had a six month old, the last thing I’d want to do is try and sell all our stuff, figure out where to store it, etc. I’m a planner. Stephen would say anxious. We don’t agree on everything.

So we’ve decided that we will sell a couple more things (read: our couch) and keep the rest of our things at Dad and LeeAnn’s. All our furniture is of the Ikea variety (read: cheap and comes apart into tiny little flimsy boards that can store well) so when we do come back for longer than a month, we won’t have to start over. Sure, we may need to make one of you give us a couch, and possibly our bed (Jenna and Ruben) back, but other than that, we will be okay.

But Dad and LeeAnn’s house is not a blackhole of space. They are graciously letting us store whatever we need, but after I box up our bathroom and kitchen and books and winter gear and all our adult-lego furniture, we’re looking at a good chunk of storage space.

Which leads me to those bins up in that childhood room of mine. Those bins were taking up precious real estate. So, I cracked them open.

I made poor post-surgery Stephen lug the bins down into the living room and started emptying out 20+ years of life: yearbooks, photos, baby books, baby blankets, pre-divorce family pictures, jewelry, cards, art projects, the single chevron I got in highschool (for speech team. I mean.), notes that were passed in Mr.Warner’s fifth grade class, report cards, journals, an old favorite t shirt that was once my dad’s, crafts I made and was sure at the time of their creation they were masterpieces and much more.

So much life.

And sitting there, in the middle of it all, knowing that the sole reason for making Stephen look at picture after picture and laugh at the fact that I actually saved my first few pairs of glasses, was because I was leaving.

We’re leaving.

In a few short months, my address will be Thai. My phone number will be a Thai number. My days will be 12 hours ahead of the ones I’m living now. My best friends will not be a fifteen minute drive away. My grandparents will not live a mile from our tiny apartment. Duluth will not be a day trip, random dinner parties where we drink a glass too much of wine and laugh until I pee will not happen as they do now, I won’t know the smells and sounds and whether or not the clouds mean rain or just no sun in that special way you can read the sky in the place you know as home.

Because we’re leaving.

And as I’m knee deep in the logistics of figuring out what to keep and what to throw and where to store what we keep and how to make sure all of our worldly affairs are in order so others can step in should we need them while we’re away, the reality of being gone is hitting me.

How do you pack up a life? How do you decide what stays and what goes and what you carry along with you?

And how do you ask others to help? How do you ask grandparents to be okay not seeing their first grandson take his first steps or know those special nuances one only learns through time spent together? How do you ask friends to keep the space in their heart for you just as it is, for you?

How do you keep on collecting and boxing up precious occurrences and moments and memories as proof they happened and proof you’ve lived them when you’re not even sure your life will have space for those boxes?

As I tossed duplicate photos and old dreamcatchers (which I knew I made with my dad because one had a rat skull on it. How I even survived is a miracle. We must have made that together during the years he was bachelor. Or insane.), I felt a deep sense of mourning.

Missions, missions that involve leaving, are a sacrifice. For everyone. And as you, as the missionary, are making the choice and the decision to leave and go where you feel led, those who love you, be it their choice or not, are making just as significant a sacrifice as well. For some of our community, mostly our family, their sacrifice is far greater than ours. For them it’s not a choice and it’s literally the opposite of what they want and what they’d choose for us, given the opportunity.

We spend a lot of time with our friends Amanda and Josh. And Amanda and I spend even more time together. So much so that her girls act like us: say the things we say, dance the way we dance and even play ‘Amanda and Katie’ pretend.

Shepherd might not act like Josh or Amanda or their kids. Shep may not absorb their verbiage and mannerisms and get those nuances that come from time spent.

And some of Shep’s great grandparents may die while we’re gone. The ones I spent weekends and summers and holidays with and know just as well as my parents, he may never get an actual memory with.

If you have no notes, no mementoes, on how a thing or a person or a place or a season struck you, did it strike you at all?

I’m not sure. I’m not sure how you pack up a life, how you decide what to carry with you and what to leave.

I’m not sure how you ask those who love you to sacrifice you when they don’t understand or agree or even want to.

But just as it is painful and hard and even mysterious in certain ways, it’s ours to give to God. No one can give to God what we can. Just as I cannot give God a sacrifice of your faith, I can’t give Him the emotions and sentiments in your own heart to Him as you can, no one can give to God what we’re giving Him. It’s His life He gave us, this very life we’re living, and we get to choose to give it back to Him. And this. missions, is how we’re working that out. 

And in that, there’s hope.

Leaving will be painful to say the least. Our sense of home and the identity that comes from story grown in a place will, for a season, be lifted.

But for our kids? They’re sense of home will always be God. Not a place marked by mementoes or smells or photos, but in the character of God.

And knowing that this is a season for this side of Heaven is of great comfort to us. This is what we’re called to do, each of us. Each of us is called to deny ourselves, pack up our life, and try to get as many people as we possibly can to the Wedding of all Weddings. How we all work that out looks different, person to person. 

And each of us, leaving or not, has to at some point figure out what to box and what to throw and what to take with.

I know that with great sacrifice comes great reward. And I know many have gone before us and many will come after and many of our friends, here, are doing their down packing and boxing.

But still, it’s hard to pack up a life.

Posted by Katie

Posted by Katie

Comments 1

  1. I loved reading this. I’ve done it. Twice, actually. Once when I was 12, and again this year, at the much more sophisticated age of 23. I agree that it’s much harder on those left behind. Those that go have the comfort of the call and a brand-new family in their new home, but those left behind just have missing people at family dinners for the rest of their lives. I’m so glad that I left, both the 1st time (not my choice) and this time as well, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Still, the hellos are worth every goodbye. (I don’t talk about missions on my blog due to the nature of the countries closest to my heart, but know that I know where you’re coming from!)

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