January 12, 2010
A couple years, while living in Beijing, I had some great friends fly into southern China. I was so excited to see them, it had been a full year since we had spent time together. We had kept in touch with video Skype, but Skype just doesn't cut it with good friends. There's something about co-experiencing life, to being in China hanging out together. The timing of their trip was pretty crazy, I was leaving to head back to the States just 5 days later and had essentially packed up my life. I had my two 50 pound bags packed, sorted out give-away clothes and was living on the bare essentials.
I packed a carry-on bag for my short trip to southern China. And in that bag, I packed my very favorite things- favorite jeans, favorite shirts and sweatshirts, journal, Bible, makeup... if I really liked it, it was in that bag. And the bag itself- a graduation present, a Swiss Army rolling carry-on that could also turn into a backpack. So, I had 100 lbs of possessions to my name in China, and I put my favorite 15 lbs of those possessions into my hipster Swiss Army bag and headed for the airport.
Before jumping on the plane, I had lunch near the Israeli embassy with a friend. With some time to spare, he asked if I'd be willing to go with him to the local market to help with bartering for gifts to give his friends and family back at home. Bartering was (and I suppose still is) a source of joy for me. I love the thrill of the exchange, and at this particular market, I had decoded the vendors and the best prices for all the regular items like knock-off North Face jackets, real pearls, and even soccer jerseys. We grabbed a taxi in the embassy district and headed for the market, my friend put my bag in the trunk.
It's probably obvious by now, but I never saw the bag again. We arrived at the market, paid, refused the need for a receipt and stepped out of the cab. Seconds later, I turned to get my bag out the trunk and the taxi had merged into the sea of other Beijing taxis and drove away.
I was bummed. I'm typically a problem-solver so I jumped into “fix-it mode”. I looked into figuring out the name of the taxi company- there were 600 companies in Beijing! I left my name and phone number at the market. I waited where we'd been dropped off, hoping he'd just come back with my bag. None of those things worked out. I calculated my loss, and the biggest bummer of all was the lost journal. So many memories, prayers, ideas, that I might never remember again.
This reminded me of one of my favorite books, “The Pursuit of God”, where A.W. Tozer talks about the Blessedness of Possessing Nothing (Chapter 2...so epic). He tells the story of Abraham putting Isaac up on the altar, and how sometimes things and even people can be put on the altar of our hearts. I had to remind myself that ultimately, things are just 'things'.
I raced back to my apartment in the suburbs of Beijing to grab a few things for the trip to see my friends. I called them as I was sulking back to my apartment and they were bummed with me, but said “Alli, it doesn't matter what you wear or if you have makeup on, we're just really excited to hang out with you”. That helped.
As it turns out, the only clothes I had at the apartment were the ones I had planned to give away. And so instead of my best clothes, I had my worst clothes. The corduroys I brought were so worn that they had holes at the pockets. No make-up, no hair products, no blow-dryer.
Despite the old clothes and lack of products, we had an incredible time. We visited the Stone Forest, explored caves, went on boat down a little river, and spent all night chatting face to face.
Fast-forward to last night at the Cheesecake Factory in Denver. I was having dessert with some great friends, Mark and Carrie Tedder. They knew I was at a conference in downtown Denver and drove from Colorado Springs to hang out and catch up... I felt so blessed. After dessert I walked back to the hotel and realized that I didn't have my iPhone. I called Cheesecake Factory from the hotel, and they didn't see it. And here's the best part- I wasn't devestated. One of my first thoughts was, “It's just a phone. Yeah, it was a gift.. and an expensive one.. but in the end, it's just a phone”. And I was reminded of the bag in the back of the taxi and compared my emotions then with the my emotions now. And I was thankful for the growth that happened over the years and how I find myself less and less attached with the material things of this world.
This morning, I thought it was a long shot, but I called the Tedders to see if maybe they had grabbed my phone. In the darkness of the Cheesecake Factory, Carrie had grabbed it.