when you can’t unpack the boxes

When we moved to Conway a couple of years ago, we hit some snags with our housing. The contract on the house we planned to buy fell through two days before we moved. The owners were gracious enough to allow us to still move into the house and essentially rent it from them while they looked for a new buyer and we looked for a new house. This was a huge blessing, but it also meant that we lived out of boxes for about six weeks until we closed on a different house (which, praise the Lord, was the same weekend that the new buyers needed to move into our temporary house. And the new buyers became dear friends.).

I really struggled with feeling transient during those first weeks in Conway. I was working from home, we were trying to make friends and figure out how to make Conway ours, but it was really lonely, and I felt constantly out of control and unsettled. I didn’t know how to be okay with being in the process, how to accept a lack of permanence instead of trying to fix it.

It’s annoying to constantly be shoving boxes aside to find the one thing you need, knowing that it doesn’t make sense to unpack, but it also makes it more difficult to feel like you can settle into your new life.

If we had known our time in Conway would be as short as it was, I am sure we wouldn’t have bought a house. But, at the time, for me, renting felt like the worst thing in the world. All I wanted was a sense of permanence, stability, home. And buying a house where I could unpack the boxes was, I thought, the solution to that desire.

Nineteen months later, we found ourselves packing up boxes again and loading a Uhaul for our move back to Fayetteville. I still 100% believe that we made the right decision by moving to Conway, and I am so grateful for the opportunities Eric and I had to invest in our jobs and ministries while we were there, but I can also see that God was using that time for a specific purpose and a specific season. And, it’s funny, but while we did have the home ownership and the tangibly-settled state that I thought I was craving, our house seemed to be the only place where we quickly unpacked.

It really took a whole year for us to feel like we had started to figure out community, though there were still lots of relationships where we were in the process of “unpacking the boxes.” In both of our jobs, while we theoretically knew what we were doing, we both struggled to feel like there was a perspective for a long-term “fit.” We found ourselves still having to admit that we were adjusting, even though there was an established rhythm to life.

I discovered that my idea of what it meant to be home was inaccurate. I thought it was related to having a house that we could decorate and update and make our own. I thought that, as we hosted family events and small group Bible studies, we could build emotional and relational security into those 1800 square feet. And yet, with all of the things in place–jobs, people, activities–we still wrestled with the Lord and what he was doing with us in Conway.

The funny thing is, we are currently renting an apartment in Fayetteville. We went from 1800 square feet to less than 800, so more than half of our possessions are in boxes in storage. We literally cannot “unpack the boxes” because we don’t have anywhere to put the contents. I went to our unit the other day looking for the box containing my summer dressy sandals (there’s a pair of wedges I wanted to pull out) and my swimsuits–and the box is no where to be found. Most likely it’s somewhere in the gigantic stacks in the back corner, accessible only if we move a bunch of stuff out and deconstruct the perfectly balanced tower we built.

And yet–I feel at home. I may be slightly frustrated by the few select things I can’t find in our boxes (do we spend a Saturday totally reorganizing our storage unit, or is it worth it to just buy another pair of shoes?), but I’ve found a contentment in this season. I don’t feel the desperate need to find a house and settle in.

I’ve been trying to figure out what the difference is this time around. We do already have friends here, though we don’t have a consistent, go-to group. We’ve both had to adjust to new jobs, so it’s not that work has been carefree. But perhaps, there’s something the Lord worked in me during our time in Conway to prepare me for this season of being transient but stable.

And I think it’s just that–an understanding that there is a stability we can find even when life itself doesn’t feel stable, because our stability is not in our bank account or our schedule or our living situation.

I think I’ve learned to find peace in the process, being okay to not have everything in life sorted out–because, in all reality, we never will, and we often attempt to cling to some false form of control by trying to figure it all out.

One of my favorite worship songs is “Seasons Change” by United Pursuit. It has really simple, basic lyrics, and the repeated chorus states, “Though the seasons change / Your love remains / Your love remains.” And while this may be a really obvious statement, I find that I often need to remind myself of the obvious things, because all common sense tends to disappear when I am freaking out about something. I tend to obsess about how I just need one thing so that I am okay in life. And I have done this with a lot of different one things–whether it was answers to our infertility struggle, or a change in jobs, or being able to unpack the boxes, there have been many prayers where I have begged God to just answer this one request so that I can feel like life is manageable.

But God’s teaching me that there’s a sweetness to being content even when you can’t unpack the boxes. This might be literally, like us–accepting transition or letting go of being totally settled. It might be in relation to having something in life figured out, your career path or parenting or finances. It’s being in a state of having an uncertain future, a letting go of control, an admission to limitations. You know the season is going to be temporary, but you can’t skip it. And it’s in that season we begin to recognize that God’s love is the constant that we need more than anything else.

It will probably be another 9 months or so before we can begin to unpack all of our boxes, but I am developing an attitude of thankfulness for where we are now, even as I pray for God’s provision of where we will be unpacking in the future.

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