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I’ve been thinking this week about carrying things.

Our church began regathering a few weeks ago, and a critical part of our Sunday mornings is the flamingo bag.

My husband and I are co-pastors and our three kids are school-aged, normal kids. They need a lot of stuff to keep them occupied on Sunday mornings before worship, sometimes during worship, and often after worship. And this stuff travels to and from church with us in what we affectionately call ‘the flamingo,’ a bag purchased from Old Navy on a whim 16 years ago. The flamingo has traveled the world with us, functioning for many years as a diaper bag – you could easily fit the diaper roll and some snacks and extra clothes in it – before its current role as our church bag. The sequins have mostly fallen off, but the structure remains sound.

A week before we resumed meeting in person for worship, I got the bag off the hooks near our kitchen for the kids to go through and make sure they had what they would need for Sunday. It was a surprisingly emotional moment, both in the realization that I hadn’t taken it off the hook for over a year, and because of what we found inside. In addition to coloring books and work books and markers and wadded up tissues, there were the bulletins from our worship services in February of 2020.

It reminded me of the eerie feeling of stepping into the sanctuary early in the lockdown to retrieve a music stand for home recording, and seeing the bulletins left in the pews, the song books open on the piano, the water still standing in the baptismal font, and the sense that time had just stopped. And there were notes written to my kids from church friends, some of whom they haven’t seen in over a year. It reawakened the ache of missing them, knowing that some of them might not be back when we regathered. Unexpected reminders of some of the losses of this season.

Together we replaced my son’s first grade math workbook with his second grade one, and my daughters added their pencil bags and sketch books. On Sunday morning I put in my Bible and sermon manuscript, and off we went, arguing about who would carry the flamingo on the walk to church, and who’s turn it was to carry it back home.

And while my kids are old enough to carry their own stuff these days, more often than not, I end up carrying it for them.

I even find myself dreaming about carrying stuff. This week I had a vivid dream about carrying a small, dark, heavy package – the weight of it in my hands feeling just like my son’s backpack full of library books the day before. In the dream I was struggling to carry it with both hands, even though it was small. I was on a crowded street when someone I couldn’t see gave me a bag to put the package in. The bag was made out of bright orange batik fabric, with a thick shoulder strap that crossed my body and when I put the package in it, it wasn’t so heavy anymore. I could carry it.

I woke up the next morning, and remembered Mary Oliver’s poem “Heavy“. In the poem she quotes her friend Daniel who says, ‘It’s not the weight you carry/but how you carry it -/ books, bricks, grief -/ it’s all in the way you embrace it, balance it, carry it/when you cannot, and would not put it down.’

And later that morning, I read Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, called ‘Living with Shadow,’ not expecting that it too would be about carrying things. Two sentences stood out to me. Rohr wrote: “All of us, it seems, are trying to avoid the mystery in human life, instead of learning how to carry it patiently, as Jesus did.” And, “Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality.”

Those images – from my dream and from Rohr’s meditation — of someone giving me a bag in which to carry my package and lightening the load, of Jesus patiently carrying the mystery in human life, and of learning to hold together (carry?) an ‘always-mixed reality’ instead of looking for perfection – are images I want to remember this Sunday, as we repack the flamingo and I carry it again to church.

Elizabeth Vander Haagen

Elizabeth Vander Haagen co-pastors Boston Square Christian Reformed Church with her husband Jay Blankespoor.  They live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with their children Emma, Brianna, and Peter, and their dog Luna.


  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Thanks for this lovely and thoughtful piece, Elizabeth!


    Oh my, thank you for sharing this family array of details – so vivid and down-to-earth – and then also the Mary Oliver poem “Heavy” and words from Richard Rohr as well. Amidst all else, you leave me musing – as a 73 year old female raised in the CRC – how my understanding of the journeying of faith might have been enhanced if I had heard such (female) voicing as part of all the sermonizing that came my way. Thank god for gender balance, these days. For onward!

  • Eunice Bossenbrook says:

    I loved everything about this piece. Thank you for the view into your life, the (God-led) connecting points, and the reminder to hold things loosely.

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