Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Packing, Three Stories and a Picture Book

“My yesterdays are all boxed up and neatly put away…
but every now and then you come to mind…”

--Sheryl Crow

I literally almost had a panic attack about packing. It came down to the point that I actually, physically, couldn’t do it. My decision to “be all there” hindered any ideas of organizing… stuff. Buying presents, giving away nearly all my clothes and household items, and fitting what was left over into three bags [or the trash] was an overwhelming task. What I couldn’t bear was knowing that there was a clock somewhere inside of me that was just ticking away. Every moment I spent packing and cleaning my apartment was one more moment not spent with a friend. All the times I had previously wished to be in the States ran through my head like a slideshow and I deeply regretted those moments—thinking, “If only I felt then the way I feel now, I would have approached those days so differently.”

I didn’t want to leave.
But for my sanity, for my emotional health,
for viable living, I had to.
And so I packed up and I left.

I approached my last 10 days or so with a treasuring in my heart, with audible whispers in my soul telling me, “You’re going to miss this.” [By now, you know TYD dramatic flair—imagine it in full force with anticipatory nostalgia fueling it all.] With every [dumb] material item stuffed in a bag, I exponentially bottled up an emotion and a memory. Even today, I am still unpacking [or maybe ignoring] some boxes from my one year in the ME.

Some really good advice that I got was to prepare three different stories:

1. A story for someone who says, “Hey! Good to see you! How was your trip?”
First of all, it wasn’t a trip. This person has an attention span of approximately 14 seconds, so share some sweet, light-hearted, cultural/language faux pas story. They’ve got places to go, and, really… you might cry when you look up to see their reaction and find that they’ve… left you. Standing there. Talking. To yourself. [Yes. This happened to me.]

2. A story for someone who says, “Ah! I’m so glad you’re back! What do you miss the most??”
This person knows your name, read your blog/newsletter and might have actually prayed for you. They deserve a 2-3 minute story about something of your newly past life and are actually willing to listen to you for a few minutes.

3. A story for someone who invites you to coffee or dinner and says, “Tell me about...”
This person is invested and is setting time and distractions aside to know. To know your day-to-day life, to hear about your friends and to see how you’ve changed. [You know you’ve changed, right?]

For me… well… I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to share. I felt like—no, I’ll be honest: I feel like I have too much context to set up, and everyone’s apparently already an expert on the Middle East and “A-Rabs,” that I didn’t don’t have much room to… unpack. I can’t do an entire world justice in the 34 seconds someone gives me, so instead of having three stories ready, I just smile that Sarah smile and say, “I loved it and I miss my friends so much. The food was delicious and I can’t wait to go back.”

And that about shuts everyone up—at least the #1s and the #2s. And I keep smiling. [Because I like throwing people off and smashing their (false) ideas of the ME.]

For the #3s in my life, I hand them a picture book that my dear, dear friend made for me [by sneaking onto my computer when I wasn’t home and copying photos]. Each picture has a story and so I let them ask me about the photo that most interests them and then I share that story. This picture book has saved me a million times over—unlike my advice, I didn’t have those three stories prepared. [I was serious when I said I didn’t want to talk about it.] When you share, though, be completely positive about your experience in the first 8 minutes. Why ruin an opportunity to tell of His great works with a complaint or hardship? [Save it for later—He’ll send you someone who can carry that with you.]

I think it’s both good and bad that my joys and trials are safely tucked within me. I’m approaching 10 months away from my desert and I’m still protecting my “yesterdays.” They’re alive inside me, so precious to me, and sometimes I let them out. [I know I should more often than I do.] They are most easily coaxed out when someone actually asks me a thoughtful question, when they sit down, point to a photo and say: “Tell me about her.”

It happened.
At [an early] coffee.
So I made her take this picture:


  1. Sarah, you are an amazing writer. You have a way of writing that allows a person to step into your shoes and see things from your perspective. That is rare. I'm glad to call you my friend.

    Also, in reading this, I was taken back to when I returned to America after having lived overseas. In an instant all the fear, anxiety, and emotions from that time came back and I had to stop and take a break. I remember that time all too well and all the people that wanted to know about my time, but who really could have cared less. There were few who asked the right questions that were able to get me to open up and share.

  2. "protecting my yesterdays" - that is such a great way of putting it! The memories feel way too precious to be let out in front of people who don't understand. Bittersweet.

  3. Jon: You are the masculine form of "lovely." Thank you for your never-ending well of love, encouragement and support. You make my heart sing. :) I appreciate how you're willing to engage with your own experiences and how you're ever-ready to meet people where they are--including me.

    Bayta: You get it!! You get me. Thank you.



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