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.

Hope through Jewelry

“Very disturbing and certainly deeply effects the “beauty” of the city as just experienced.  You can know about something but not really know.  It is very convicting.  The wounds …… the pain……. so much work of healing to be done” these were the words of my sister-in-law, Carol Brown, after viewing this special last night on PBS

She sent the link to me immediately after my initial publishing of this post and it is powerful.  She and my brother Dan have just returned from speaking at a conference in Istanbul.

Istanbul, with a sky-line that makes one think they have died and gone to Heaven and a grand bazaar where legends are made, is currently home to my daughter Stefanie.  Taking a gap year, she first traveled to Milan, Italy for 3 months, moved on to Sicily for a month and arrived in Istanbul a week after her 19th birthday.

Stef is loving döner kebap, bargaining, and exploring this amazing city. She has also learned more about a troubling issue: that of human trafficking.  Working with a group that assists women who have escaped from forced prostitution and gendercide, she inspects jewelry they have made, ensuring it meets quality control standards in order to be sold abroad.  Through the art of jewelry-making women develop relationships, skills, and the comfort of community and safety as they gather around a table.  As they craft beautiful and unique pieces the slow healing process takes place and my hope would be that they are reminded that they aren’t cheap costume jewelry to be used and thrown away, but rather the real deal – gold and diamonds.

My daughter’s unexpected involvement in this work has convicted me that this is an area that I know far too little about. As a woman, who believes  deeply in the value of people made in the image of God, I need to know more. Stef’s work has challenged me to learn more to be able to do more.

*The Victims • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year • 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries) • 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls • 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56 per cent are women and girls

But it’s the rare person burdened by statistics alone.  It is usually the compelling narratives that bring us along and force us from a place of complacency to a place of action – and action can mean anything from buying a piece of jewelry to support women, to getting heavily involved through organizations who are working specifically in the area of human trafficking. A fellow blogger and third culture kid wrote a post in December that I am linking here. It is just one of the 1.2 million and counting stories but at least it is one. Called “My First Hooker” (don’t be put off by the title!) it tells the story of the bloggers trip to Mali and meeting with a Dutch mission worker who weekly visits a brothel to counsel prostitutes. Take a look and watch the accompanying video.

I am thankful that my awareness of human trafficking as more than an NPR news story came in an unexpected way –  through the eyes of a 19 year-old and her gap-year.

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