18 February 2015

Unpack Your China Shepherdess

There is hardly anything easy about moving. "Exciting" may describe it, but the challenging process of packing and unpacking is only part of the transition. We have other baggage: letting our hearts move and settle.

If you recognize the literary allusion in the title, you've read at least one of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (If you haven't, I recommend them even as an adult. I'm reading them now with my six-year-old daughter and am probably learning more than she is.) The Ingalls family is pretty remarkable. They begin in Wisconsin then move west to the unsettled prairie then back east to Plum Creek then far west to Dakota Territory on Silver Lake. This all happens while Laura is ages 6 to 12. What's more is they had to fit whatever they were to take with them in a covered wagon.

One thing that always made the journey was Ma's china shepherdess.

See how the small shepherdess stands in the center of their home above the fireplace.

Every time Pa built a new house for them, the china shepherdess being placed on the mantle would be the finishing touch--the symbol that they were settled. It was so delicate and special that Laura and her sisters were not allowed to touch it, yet they respected that decorative piece for what it meant--home.

Then in book five, By the Shores of Silver Lake, the family arrives at the graders' camp, a temporary settlement for workers. They were to stay there until Pa found a homestead. Ma neatly set up their shanty and unpacked beds and curtains and chairs and tables, but when Pa came in from work, he said, "But where's the china shepherdess, Caroline?"

She hadn't unpacked it. "We aren't living here," she told him.

When I came to this part of the book, my daughter and I had a conversation. Why wouldn't Ma unpack her precious decoration? Wouldn't it make her feel more at home? Wouldn't it help with the transition they were all facing? 

Laura, the narrator, noted that Ma hadn't wanted to move. She was following her husband, and her attitude was submissive. Still, she couldn't get herself to unpack that shepherdess. She wanted to be somewhere else--either back at Plum Creek or finally in their new homestead. This middle ground wouldn't be home to her.

I understand how Ma felt. We women have a natural desire to nest, to create havens, to make any space a home. But Ma wasn't ready or willing to call this shanty in the graders' camp their home, no matter how long they had to live there. She would make things work, but her heart would not settle. And this was a dangerous resolve to have, especially because her children could sense the uneasiness.

Living as an expat can be much like this. We move abroad, and no one really expects us to stay longterm. Even ten years is still temporary, compared to nationals who are rooted for life. People back home continually ask "When are you coming back?" We ourselves also ask, "Is it time?"

So the danger comes in responding like Ma--viewing our stay as a visit instead of a residence. If we never unpack the china shepherdess, how can we call our new location our home? And if we have no home, then how can our hearts settle? And if our hearts don't settle, how can we have peace to love and serve our families?

Even if we don't feel peaceful about a move, there are things we can do to help ourselves and our families with the transition.

1. Don't talk in time limits. 
Instead of saying "just for one year" or "not longterm," verbally announce reality: "We are living here!"

2. Bring along sentimental items.
Just like the Ingalls had their special shepherdess with them from move to move, bring things of sentimental value along with you.  These will be reminders that you're in this together, having brought along pieces of your shared past.

These souvenirs travel with us to remind us of where we've been together.

3. Decorate immediately.
Do not delay in unpacking and displaying your sentimental items. It's an announcement to the family that you are putting down roots. And if you are not wanting to settle down, the act itself can help you realize what is happening and what may need to change in your heart.

We've brought this wedding present along with us for over a decade. It's one of the first things to be unpacked each move.

4. Count the good in your new location.
It's easier to think back at what you're missing, but that more often creates homesickness than gratitude. Try instead to count the blessings of where you are. Maybe the fresh fruit or easy public transportation or friendly faces are something you'd overlook if you're pining for grocery stores, a mini-van, or extended family.

So the difficulty and unsettledness of moving can be eased with a few intentional actions. Unpacking the china shepherdess is important wherever we are and for however long our stay. Figuratively and literally, we need to settle down in the place we are living and call it home.

Abide in Him,

How do you let your heart settle in when making a transition? Do you also bring along sentimental items? What other tips can you add to this list that would help our hearts "unpack"?

Related articles you may also appreciate:
On Storage and an Uninhibited Start
To the Expat Mom Who Wants To Go Home
Distance and What We Miss

1 comment:

  1. This is lovely! I love The Little House on the Prairie books!

    I love your take-away points. FABULOUS!

    Thanks for sharing and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop.

    Wishing you a lovely day.


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