The Sound and Smell of Packing Tape

The ripping sound of packaging tape echoed throughout the emptying room as I cut off yet another sticky piece and stuck it firmly on the bottom of the newly formed box. The tape was that cheap blotchy kind found in the local stationery shop. It gave off a distinct chemical kind of odor that permanently lodged into my brain’s memory bank of smells. Handling the tape was not for the clumsy. By careful experienced maneuvers I could avoid having it stuck to unforgiving surfaces. And if I were very careful, I would make sure the new cut beginning was folded over a little to begin the next strip quickly. If I weren’t careful, the new beginning would somehow magically disappear into the roll and countless minutes would be lost in digging it out.

How many times have I done this? How many rolls of tape have I bought over the years? And what about all the precious bubble wrap I would gather and hoard from various sources, some of which had hardly any notable bubbles that folk would be tempted to pop, let alone re-use. And then there was that stash of sturdy boxes unfolded and stacked somewhat indiscreetly in back of a dresser for lack of a proper closet or basement.

Yet the sound and smell of the tape alone stirred mixed emotions as memories of past packing and moves began to flood in.

Moves— Changes—a Life of Transition

New city

New apartment

New neighborhood

New work

New teammates

Transition from the old and familiar to the new and different.

Why did I ever think after making that first major transition from the USA to overseas that moves and changes would stop? That somehow after language study and initial cultural adaptation were over that I could somehow settle down into a job, team and home for the rest of my overseas life? And then transitions would end?

My first team leaders were not only mentors but also like father and mother figures to me. But then they were asked to move back to the home office to work. And that began decades of changes for me —in work, locations, teammates, each change demanding transition, each and every time.

I learned to listen to God and follow. Excited emotions and fear. Physically exhaustion from packing up and unpacking. Curiosity and interest in new foods and cultures. Emotional goodbyes that tore my heart out but also hellos that spoke hope of new friendships and relationships and tasks. I also learned to let go—of teammates and expats who left, of closeness and shared life with local friends, of dreams that weren’t going to happen, ….

Transitions speak of change, of growth, of never quite settling down and getting comfortable because one is wondering what is that next move and when. It’s often an unspoken part of life overseas.

Remember the Israelites when they were in the wilderness and had to follow the cloud in obedience to God? At times the cloud stopped for a day, so they settled for only a day…sometimes it was a year. They never knew how long.  Always living somewhat in transitory kind of life and never quite settled. But it seems from scripture they clearly complained a lot and their hearts weren’t resting in God in the transitions, in the changes, in the unknown future.

I know I can be that way. Even today. After decades of living overseas. I am still living in transition—perhaps the second biggest in my life. I’m back in the USA again… to live. All my boxes are unpacked. Everything I own in this world is now in a rental under one roof. I threw away boxes and bubble paper. I recently bought one decent roll of packing tape just in case I would need it for something. Perhaps subconsciously I’m thinking I may need it.  I feel like I’m in a transitory kind of life once again. My heart is heavy with sadness and fear and grief mingled with expectation.

I cry to God.

He said He hears.

He cares.

He loves.

But I don’t want the cry to be from a heart of discontent and complaint like the Israelites. I want a heart that cries to God and clings to Him as I wait and listen for His voice to lead me, knowing He is with me.  He is with me today, right now… here. As He always has been in every move, change and transition.

Do certain sounds and smells trigger memories of changes, moving and/or transition eliciting strong emotions?


  1. Danielle Wheeler May 11, 2015

    Yes! One of the hardest things for me has been the lack of a permanent/long term home on the field.  There’s been way more transition than I ever knew I was getting myself into.  And yes, there really is an emotional trigger that comes with the sound of packing tape!

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    1. Joyce Stauffer May 11, 2015

      Danielle, thanks for writing.  I know of some overseas workers who do end up in the same city for years/decades but perhaps still have to move to another place but in that city. But in a way even that is still a major change and transition unless you end up in the same housing estate or apartment complex.  Oh, another emotional trigger for me is pulling out the suitcases and dusting them off.  Even though I may use them for a “fun” trip, there is still sadness attached to seeing them and packing! Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Ashley Felder May 13, 2015

    I was so naive before coming over, too. I thought…we’ll make the giant move there, then be in one spot until He calls us elsewhere. I must’ve missed the memo that we were going to have to move for language school, and unplanned things happen ALL the time, so stop being surprised when you get the email that you have to be out of your home in a week. I don’t usually handle moves well, but it does remind me of where my real Home lies, and I so look forward to being there!!

    1. Joyce Stauffer May 13, 2015

      Oh Ashley, so true!  I know of overseas workers who bought places instead of renting for various reasons. You would think that would give one a sense of stability and security in a world that keeps changing.  We women often like our secure little nests! However, even sometimes they had to give up their homes –in the country I lived you could buy the apartment but not the land, so the gov’t could decide to take down the whole block.  So there again, as you said our permanent Home is in heaven and we continually have to allow our nests to be enjoyed… with open hands… and ready to “fly” to the next abode.

  3. Debbie May 14, 2015

    For me, it’s the sound of suitcase wheels going ‘click click click’ on a tiled floor. That is the airport sound for me. For our kids, now young adults, it is Nutri-Grain granola bars. We would get them up at some unearthly hour, and I would try to get them to eat granola bars in the airport when they were little. I figured they needed breakfast. To this day, one of them cannot stand them, those granola bars, due to the association with change, travel, early mornings, lack of sleep, car-sickness, and airport stress.

    1. Joyce Stauffer May 14, 2015

      Debbie, yes that click- click of the wheels on the tile floors…as soon as I read that, I could hear it in my head. And the granola bars… I hadn’t thought about food associations with change before but it totally makes sense! Fascinating how our God-wired brains work. I can’t think of any foods connected with change/transition/travel but maybe as adults we ate various things. Granola bars would be perfect for kids…and then memories would lock in. Thanks for sharing.  Next time I see those bars I’ll probably think of your story! Associations once again!

  4. Monica F May 19, 2015

    Thank you for such an understanding and beautiful post.  I really despise that cheap, brown/transparent, packing tape from our local stationary store that seems to stick to my fingers but not the boxes!  Being content during transition can be so difficult, thank you for that reminder to cling to Him!

    1. Joyce Stauffer May 19, 2015

      Thanks, Monica, for commenting and sharing.  I’m often not very content yet I know God allows me to cry to Him and wants me to rest in His strength and stability.  And I know He hears my frustration when I have to go buy one more roll of tape, or the tape is ripping into thin unusable strips when I’m hurrying to tape one more box.  He wants me to look to Him, cry  and then press on…. and to share with others.  You are not alone!

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