my suitcase heart
I held so many people in my suitcase heart
The Weepies, "Slow Pony Home"
I have a suitcase heart. The image does come from The Weepies, not me, but it’s quite apt for my life. For starters, I am about to move to a new city for the third time in three years. I have spent my many weeks this summer in Manhattan, Maryland, Florida, England, and Pittsburgh, and soon I’ll be moving to Philadelphia. In other words: I am no stranger to suitcases.
I love to travel. I love seeing the world. To borrow a line from Belle, I want adventure in the great wide somewhere—I want it more than I can tell. From taking trips up and down the coast and across the country growing up, to studying abroad in England for six months, to spending five weeks traversing much of Europe mostly alone, I have come to notice that I feel more fully alive when I travel. It is invigorating to encounter people from all sorts of places vastly different from my home, and I rejoice to recognize our shared humanity across the globe. Traveling fills me with wonder and awe.
And another priceless gift I’ve gained through my travels and moves is that I’ve had many homes. Pittsburgh became such a familiar and welcoming haven for me in my four years of undergrad, and York, England felt so much more than a temporary resting place when I studied there. And now, as a missionary, I’ve settled into life both in Northern Virginia and New York City, and soon I’ll add a third to that list.
Above all, in the midst of these long drives with cars full of my earthly possessions, or sleepless redeyes marked by curious anticipation, my heart has infinitely grown. It’s grown to fit more and more people, people to love and to know and to share myself with. Yes, there are seasons to every friendship, and not each one can last a lifetime, but God has blessed me with countless kindred spirits to walk alongside in this journey of life.
And that growing of my heart has only sped up in my time so far as a missionary. To feel at once like a mother and sister and friend, even to one student, is a true joy. Sometimes I’d look around during Bible study or Holy Hour at the students I’d come to know and my heart would fill with such tenderness for them all, a bittersweet tenderness, knowing our time together was passing and would eventually be through.
It hurts to love. Yet, somehow, God’s grace propels me on. With each move and each new adventure, He allows my heart to break at leaving then gently puts it back together with more room for the next brothers and sisters He’s calling me to love.
But back to that whole suitcase heart business. You know how suitcases often have those extra zippers that expand them to open up more room inside? That’s my heart. Each time as I leave a home and prepare for the next, I feel as if my heart is full to bursting, as if it couldn’t possibly fit anyone else. Then, without fail, in His perfect timing, God unzips it again. I’m entirely sure that, at this point, there’s no way I’d come within the 50-pound limit. His love for me goes far beyond that of an airline employee—never has He made me repack my heart because it’s too full.
And this brings me (finally) to my mission trip. I didn’t move to Stoke-on-Trent, no. Two and a half weeks, in the grand scheme of things, is not very long. Yet there’s something precious about the friendships we 12 missionaries formed. There was something timeless about our time together, time that seemed to pass in the most delightfully leisurely way. Near the end of our stint in Stoke, people said they were stunned to learn that most of us had met mere weeks before. There’s nothing like suffering and rejoicing and failing and triumphing in solidarity that brings a group together.
I grew in such understanding of, affection for, and kinship with my brothers and sisters. And not just those 11, but with the crowds of teenagers we spoke to. The dozens of kids we taught (and entertained). My dear host mother, Pat, and our wonderfully fatherly Fr. Julian.
But, once again, I packed up my suitcase. After 19 days, our season of being together had come to an end. We have hopes of all reuniting, but never can we return to the way it was.
And it seems unfair. These are the times when I ask God, Why? Why do You make it so hard? But then He consoles me in His perfect way, granting me a joy-filled trip to Pittsburgh and a week of family vacation where I’ve never quite felt so grateful to be alive. And here, in these short days at home, days of fundraising, unpacking and repacking, investigating insurance and buying a car, I am buoyed by those joyful memories, and I am drawn by hope of what’s to come.
I can already feel Him unzipping my heart.