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I Have an Incomplete Set of Silverware (and Other Things I Can't Care About Anymore)

When I was at the grocery store as a child, I regularly rearranged canned good displays so all the labels faced out. I also avoided stepping on sidewalk cracks, and meticulously lined up every item in my school desk. While (thankfully) I have outgrown many of these compulsive tendencies, I've remained quite particular (read: difficult) into adulthood.

And then we moved to Africa, sight unseen. I am still difficult to live with, but God is slowly unraveling my perfectionism here. We've trained several cooks in our kitchen over the past year, which has resulted in countless items being broken. Most African cooking equipment is indestructible (cast iron, aluminum, wood), so working with "white man" plastic and silicone presents a steep learning curve. I would regularly repeat the following mantra aloud: "It's just stuff. Stuff can be replaced. People cannot."

A few months ago, I noticed our spoon pile looked shorter. I lined up all the flatware. We moved to Africa with flatware settings for twelve (occupying a large proportion of the fifty pound weight limit for one of our checked containers). We hadn't lost any in our first few years of marriage, or in trans-Atlantic travel. However, in less than 18 months, we had lost 4 tablespoons, 1 teaspoon, and 1 salad fork in Cameroon. I won't even begin to conjecture about the manner of their disappearance. Instead, I'd like to focus on my initial desire to give away everything down to a complete set of 8.

That is crazy. As I explained how much it would cost to buy another set of four in the same pattern to our Cameroonian friends, they just looked at me blankly. "Do all the silverware need to match, Ma?"

Of course, I had never even considered such an option. Lead in aluminum sold here aside, the very idea of two different types of spoons in my drawer seemed ludicrous. Because, well, first world privilege.

Any time I walk through the hospital I see a child missing a limb, a parent about to bury a son or daughter, or a middle aged person who will die from a condition treatable in my birth country. These people are missing things that matter. If I am missing metal utensils while they are missing life itself, I am wrong.

So every thing that drives me towards neurosis is actually an opportunity to reorient. The bleach stains on my yet unworn Marmot rain jacket, acquired from a vehicle floor unknowingly covered in chemicals? A reminder of my privilege: both in the initial gift of the jacket, and in access to private transportation. The dangling brake handle on Josiah's secondhand bike, noted several days after allowing some of the older boys to ride around our yard? Evidence we can afford a bicycle and are sufficiently empowered to confess when we break things, without fear of retribution. The dripping in our crawlspace attic and the perpetual, losing battle against mold in our bathroom? We have a real ceiling, and indoor plumbing. We have much, much more than the people around us.

Comparing our advantages to others' poverty is not a long term solution, though. Comparison does nothing to level the very uneven playing field, unless it drives us to action. However, if I am busy about things that matter eternally, I simply won't have time or energy for things that don't. Like silverware. Or jackets. Or bikes. Or rain. Or mold.

Most things we are conditioned to build our lives around on earth have no eternal value. But people! People are eternal. If our thoughts and prayers are focused on the imperishable, we will not be swayed by things that perish with use. So I am committing to taking every imperfection as a chance to direct my thoughts to perfection: not mine, but His.

Neonatal resuscitation training
with imperfect equipment:
a reminder that life matters
more than perfection.


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