The Broken Suitcase

Fridays with Robynn

A typical suitcase

I was on my way to Turkey to speak at two back to back women’s retreats with my friend, and the coauthor of Expectations and Burnout, Sue. It was the first time I had travelled internationally in four years. For someone who has had a passport since she was eight, who’s traversed the globe multiple times, who’s childhood was expended overseas and who’s birthed two babies on the banks of the Ganges river– this was a really big deal.

And I was excited.

I think because travel is built into my DNA and I love it, I’ve always had this quirky but simple fantasy. I long for the day when I can travel with matching luggage. We’ve always had mismatched pieces. We’ve scrounged them at yard sales and thrift stores or we’ve found them on sale racks. Most of the time they’re sturdy pieces, hardy little things that carry the weight of our burdens on their little wheels. Often they have a slight warble to their frame, or a snag in a zipper. But we make do. They work. And when they no longer work we replace them quickly, easily, cheaply.

But I would love to have matching luggage. Streamlined and floral perhaps? Or I’ve seen some interesting pieces in unique colours. Luggage that says “Travel is my priority. It’s what I do”. Bags that wear the Panera Bread name tags that declare, “My passion is Travel”. That’s what I’d love. I think I would look impressive pulling such bags behind me. I would look calm and collected, ready for the world and whatever it might bring.

On this particular trip to Turkey, matching luggage was not to be. I had two small bags packed and ready to go. One was black and tidy, the other flaming red and flamboyant. The red one housed copies of Sue’s and my book to sell at the retreats as well as gifts for the attendees. It was a heavy bag. I had probably asked too much of it.  To make matters worse, as Lowell was loading it into the back of the car, one of the wheels fell off! The timing couldn’t have been worse. We were on our way to the airport. There was no time to stop and buy another bag, or to really even repack. Lowell ran back into the house and brought out a bag that was bigger. He cleverly set the red bag inside the bigger bag zipped it up, threw it in the back of the car and off we raced.

When we got to the airport and weighed my babooshka Russian stacking doll suitcase it was too heavy. We took the red one out of the bigger one and Lowell advised trying to purchase another bag en route at the next stop. It was annoying to say the least, to have this gimp bag, but I really didn’t have any other immediate solutions.

Of course the first flight was delayed which meant my opportunity to replace the broken suitcase was gone. I checked it in, through to my final destination, and hoped for the best. I also ran a prayer tape around it asking God to please, at the very least, hold it together. It seemed to me that copies of Expectations and Burnout would do better in the hands of the women than strewn from here to Istanbul and back! We needed those books and treats for the women.

Please God protect my little worn out suitcase!

When I reached Ankara, I couldn’t find my bags at all. Neither one of them. After some limited exchanges in English and sign language, I discovered a whole other terminal with a whole other set of conveyor belts. There, forlornly, going around and around were my two bags, one black and the other red. To my shock and great amusement (it was either laugh or cry at this point!), both the wheels were now off the red case. In their place were the two spiky attachment posts. The case was too heavy to carry and I couldn’t find a trolley so I dragged the case toward the exit.

Turks take their travel very stylishly. Matching suitcases are a given. They also wear fashionable clothing and amazing footwear. I was surrounded by beautiful men and women wearing beautiful things and carrying beautiful bags. It seemed no one had travelled very far…no one had the glazed over fog of jet lag in their eyes. Everyone laughed and smiled glamorously. There were reunions and joy and beauty all around.

Meanwhile, feigning confidence, I dragged my bags to the exit, successfully carving out two parallel scratch marks in the Ankara arrivals hall.

A couple of days later while Sue and I were preparing to teach the retreat, I had a wave of thick insecurity and raw paranoia. Suddenly it struck me: who did I think I was to come to this place to teach on burnout? I am not an expert. I am not educated in these things. Expectations and Burnout was born from Sue’s Masters Thesis. She is the expert. She is well read and researched on the topic. She has read the surveys and she has studied the materials. It was natural that they would invite Sue. Sue is the obvious candidate to speak on these painful issues. I am not Sue. I shouldn’t have been there.

And then we got word that one of the women had decided not to attend. She said she wasn’t well enough to come.

I knew the real reason she cancelled….she decided not to come because she heard I was speaking.

As ridiculous as that sounds, that was the “logical” conclusion my soul came to. I was beside myself with nervous self-consciousness. I was tying myself up in knots of fear and insecurity and self-pity and inferiority and shame and embarrassment.

I excused myself early from lunch to go to my room to pray. I needed the Outside Voice of God to speak calm and reassurance to my soul. I needed to cast my cares on Him. I needed to hear loudly from Him that He did still care for me–as ridiculous as I was being.

As I sat on my bed, I looked down at my little red suitcase. There was a bedraggled bag, worn out from use, broken from being mistreated. If God could use that little suitcase to successfully deliver books and treats, truth and love to these women in Turkey….surely he could use me. I am worn out. I’ve broken and been misunderstood. I’ve carried too much for too long. I’ve barely held it together. I have disappointed people and I’ve been disappointed by people. I’ve fallen apart repeatedly. I’ve obsessed. I’ve given into self-pity many times. I often don’t match the suitcases I’m travelling with. I’ve felt lonely, and sad, insecure and miserable.

Graces of graces, God has still used me to bless others. As mysterious as it is…He has used me, in my brokenness to deliver truth and beauty, love and laughter, hope and encouragement to my kids, to my community, to the sisters surrounding me.

Like my suitcase, I’ve often left two parallel lines behind me, as I’ve dug in my heels and dragged my feet, stubbornly resisting where I’m going, or what I’m carrying. God mercifully keeps letting me be involved in what he wants to deliver. He keeps using this middle-aged case… He keeps me together!

I’m a case alright…..But I’m His case.