Do you remember that first trip, the one on your own? That first passport photo, tickets printed on actual paper and mailed to your house? Maybe you were just out of college, in your early 20s, setting off on some sort of wild adventure (well, as wild as us Good Christian Girls™ get).
Or perhaps, like me, you were just barely on the cusp of adulthood, all 19 years and 119 pounds of fresh-faced optimism, hopping on a plane to Tel Aviv. I still can’t imagine the sheer terror my mother must’ve felt when I told her I was going. I mean, it was a college trip. A Bible College trip. A Bible College Choir trip. So really, what could go wrong?
I mark my trips by bags found along the way. That first trip was an olive green Israeli army satchel, back before I had any real awareness of Middle Eastern conflict. I found it in a second-hand shop in Jerusalem, along with a U2 concert tee with “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday” written in bold Hebrew script on the back. For years, they were prized possessions. The sentimental bounty of a girl far from home.
Then it was a blue and grey JanSport backpack with unnecessary Velcro straps and buckles, presumably for a skateboard. I did not skateboard, but I was going to England with my mother and sister – the plane tickets so dear to us we hid them in the freezer – and I’d outgrown my student backpack days. She saddled herself on my back from the bluffs of Bamburgh to the cliff’s edge on the Isle of Wight and across the sea to the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland.
That was the trip that clicked, a bulb alight with a holy notion. That backpack would follow me back to Europe two more times before she settled there for good, all cozy in a tiny Irish wardrobe.
Eventually diaper bags replaced backpacks, satchels traded in for slightly more mature purses. I spent years trying to find the perfect one, scouring Goodwills (ooh, a Coach purse!) and eBay (a pink, brown and orange canvas diaper tote? Yes, please!) for the best bargain. I thought if I just dug around long enough, my life and look would fall into place.
Something that could hold all of me.
Of course, we know it never really works out that way. Not with bags, nor with life. Matching luggage sets (or even bags with a great back story) suddenly became irrelevant in the face of intercontinental moves, when one finds herself in a Walmart aisle, ten o’clock at night, crying because she needs 30-gallon plastic totes to transport her rapidly vanishing personal belongings as she says goodbye to the only home she knows.
Or so I’ve heard.
The thing about moving and living cross-culturally is we leave so much behind. Maybe even everything. We say goodbye to the person we thought we were, the future we thought we knew. We separate the wheat from the chaff in our soul, strip ourselves down to the basics, discover the raw material of who we are and what we need.
And who am I? An imperfect, impatient woman with a plane ticket, following Jesus back and forth over the ocean. And what do I need? I need Him to go with me, to get me where I’m going, to be there when I arrive, and to hold my bag and my junk. We may be here awhile.
We’re packing for a trip next week. Three kids and three backpacks and three carry-ons, all of which they’re now blessedly responsible for themselves (no longer must I carry a child’s underwear on my person). I have everything laid out, weighing my bag options, my book options, my cardigan options. The blue and grey backpack was sent off to the charity shop/farm upstate last year, the Israeli satchel secluded in a storage container in a Wisconsin basement.
Dozens of purses and totes, suitcases and duffels have moved in and out of my home since those heady, scary days. I finally have the matching set, a gift for my 40th, because what does a modern woman-on-the-go need but four rolling wheels and a USB charging port? Plus, a tote from a shop that employs women who’ve sought refuge in the US, making a home and a life there, too.
I take a good look at this baggage with deferential gratitude—for all they carry, for the gift of going.
Where to next, I wonder. And do they have bags?
Do you have a favourite piece of baggage, one you can’t help but drag along with you? Or maybe a great story to match? How do you decide to let go of some things, and choose to hold on to others?