Just One Suitcase

Is anyone else feeling


Just one suitcase—that’s all that sat by Jonalee’s* dorm room door. She was ready to depart, excited to begin the next chapter of life following her high school graduation the day before.

suitcase“Is this all you have?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Where’s the rest of your stuff?”

“What do you mean?” she asked genuinely.

“What about all your artwork?” I asked. Jonalee was a gifted artist who had created more than a dozen paintings, clay pottery and other creative expressions.

“Oh, I gave it all away,” she cheerfully replied.

I had known Jonalee for just one of her eight years at the boarding school for children of missionaries where I worked. Though teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, Jonalee was one of mine—and one of my best students. She was the assistant editor of the yearbook (the one who did the most work), investing countless extra hours to record her classmates’ precious memories. I felt privileged to be her adviser and teacher.

Jonalee’s parents were “tentmakers”—“undercover Christians,” so-to-speak—in the Middle East, working at an important job that enabled them to bring lifestyle witness to a country closed to Christian missionaries and unreceptive to the gospel.

“Do you have more clothes and personal things at your parents’ home?” I inquired, glancing again at her suitcase, smaller than any of the 10 huge bags my family had brought to Europe for my two years of teaching at this academy.

“Not really. I mean, Mom and Dad have a bed for me and so does my grandma in South Carolina.” “So you probably have stuff there, then, like photo albums and other personal things?” I asked.

“No, not really.”

I was processing the reality of her reply. “So this suitcase contains all your earthly things?!”

“Yep. Why would I need anything else?”

Her words pierced to the depths of my soul. Why would I need anything else?

This experience haunted me as my family of five packed for the return trip to Iowa. We had been renting a two-story, 250-year-old German house and had sold most of our furniture, given away many items and made our share of trips to the recycling center.

Yet our sentimentality burdened us with 54 boxes, which we packed on three pallets, wrapped in stretch-wrap and hauled in a rental truck to the airport. Yes, 54 boxes, plus 10 large suitcases and a large-as-permissible carry-on for each of us. When my sister picked us up at the U.S. airport, I had to rent a U-Haul for our luggage.

It’s been three years since we returned. Ironically, five of those 54 boxes still sit in the garage, containing important possessions that we haven’t had time to use, sell, donate or throw away.

Many times I’ve thought about how blessed Jonalee is! Besides her sincere love for Jesus as her Lord and Savior, it is obvious that Jonalee’s home is not in Germany, the Middle East or even with her grandmother in South Carolina. Jonalee’s home is in heaven, and there is no mountain of earthly belongings to steal her affection from it.

God is still working on me, but I have a long way to go to give up my stuff, especially to the level that Jonalee has done. Her single suitcase continues to help shape my heart and soul in my affection for material things.

Dear God, help me so my stuff does not interfere with my relationship with You.

*Name changed

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