In a way, that red suitcase became a symbol of them releasing me to follow my heart to places that would not be where they were. Looking back, I can see how this simple, practical gift was really their blessing to launch out into the world.
“I think it’s time to get rid of it. Are you going to be sad?”
“No,” I quickly answered my husband while shaking my head. But as I looked at my old, red suitcase with its missing legs and torn exterior, nostalgia swept over me and landed as a lump in my throat.
I’m not naturally a sentimental person. I attribute that to how much we moved when I was growing up and the constant change that never allowed me to hold too tightly to anything. I can de-clutter and scale down with the best of them. So when a material item tugs at my memories and my heart, I listen.
It was Christmas morning and I was a senior in high school with big dreams for the future. We had gathered with my mom’s side of the family in Dallas and the mass chaos of gift-unwrapping was about to ensue. At this point in my life, I had graduated to the “gift cards and money” phase, but there was an exceptionally large present with my name on it that piqued my curiosity. When it came time to open it, my parents watched proudly with smiles on their faces.
It was a red suitcase.
I’m not sure how well I hid my disappointment/confusion. A suitcase wasn’t even on my Christmas list. What were my parents trying to tell me? That they were ready for me to leave home? Rude. I gave them an obligatory thanks and rolled the red suitcase off to the side of the room to make way for my younger cousins’ expanding pile of toys.
As I think back on that Christmas morning, I had no idea the places that red suitcase would go with me. Shortly after I received it, it would carry my belongings from Georgia to our family’s new home in Utah. It would accompany starry-eyed newlyweds to our honeymoon in Cancun a few years later. It would make the cross-country treks with us when we moved to Georgia and then to Texas. It carried our new son’s clothing and toys across the ocean when we traveled to South Korea to bring him home. It went with me to China for a life-changing two weeks. And it would be one of the 12 checked bags carrying all our possessions when we said tearful goodbyes in Houston and boarded the plane to move to Laos.
I doubt my parents envisioned this magnitude of travel in my future when they gave me the suitcase. There was no way they could have known that I would not only travel all over America and Asia, but I would also end up moving to the other side of the world. Although they may not have seen this life coming, on that Christmas morning they gave me a powerful gift:
Permission to go wherever the Father would lead me.
In a way, that red suitcase became a symbol of them releasing me to follow my heart to places that would not be where they were. Looking back, I can see how this simple, practical gift was really their blessing to launch out into the world. The effect of that blessing has empowered me to make the choices I have and go the places I’ve been, knowing my parents are cheering me on every step of the way.
Now, as a parent myself -- my oldest in middle school -- and the thought of her launching out on her own looming in the near future, I wonder if I can be so brave as to give her a gift like my parents gave me. Because the reality is, you're giving your child permission to go where the Father leads -- even if it is on the other side of the world away from you. Well, that’s easier said than done. I want my kids to see the world. I want them to love different cultures and places and people and experience things that I could never dream of. But wanting that for them and actually giving them my blessing to do so are very different things.
I am deeply grateful to my parents for the gift of the red suitcase, and the adventures that I've been on because of their blessing that came with it. I'm grateful they've been my biggest supporters in every move I’ve made, even when it meant I wouldn’t see them for over a year. They gave me an expensive gift that Christmas morning, not because of the price of the suitcase, but because they chose to release me rather than keep me close. I may not know how deeply that cost them until a few years from now when I will do the same for my three children.
I unpacked the last of my things from our trip and pulled the broken zipper to close it up one last time. The rips, stains, and missing legs didn't diminish my affection for the suitcase -- they actually endeared me to it. And it reminded me that, at the end of this journey, we are supposed to show up well-worn from a life fully spent for the glory of the Father. I opened the closet where my faithful travel companion would now serve as a storage container and wedged it in to its new resting place.
It has served me well over the past 18 years and the trips we've taken together have exponentially increased my love for the world and desire to travel and see even more of it. Would all this have happened without my Christmas morning suitcase? Perhaps. But there's something really beautiful about being able to look back and pinpoint a moment in time where you received permission and blessing from the people who matter most to you.
So don’t be surprised if in a few years you see Christmas morning pictures of my kids unwrapping a red suitcase their last year at home. I’m pretty sure the wrapping paper may have a few tear stains from this mama who will be learning what it’s like to not be the one going, but to be the one letting go. Oh, what a gift I’ve been given in the blessing of having children to send out into the world, just like I was sent. The cost may be great, but the gift is greater.
And one day, when I smile through the tears and let them walk away with their suitcase in tow to have adventures of their own, I’ll say a prayer of thanks for my old red suitcase and the two heroes who did the same for me.