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Roxane B. Salonen, Published April 05 2013

Living Faith: What a little red suitcase revealed

I must be seeing things, I thought at first.

As I pulled into our driveway one frigid evening a few weeks ago, I couldn’t miss the red object nestled among the snow walls encasing our front steps.

A suitcase, it turned out, precariously placed on the edge of the concrete entrance.

The kids, up to their antics again, I thought.

“It couldn’t have been, could it?” I asked aloud.

My mind returned to a much warmer evening long ago when, at age 8, frustration took hold of me and the only recourse seemed seeking refuge on the other side of the rainbow – or reservation, at least.

In haste, I placed just enough provisions for the first leg: an apple, some cheese and a change of clothes. And off I tromped into the big world with its promises of unbound freedom.

I made it to the backyard fence when barks from the unleashed dogs that ran wild in our Montana town seized my imagination.

Gripped with fear, I took cover in our nearby bike shed and crouched down in the cold, cramped space. While nibbling away at my snack, I disappointedly came to terms with my defeat before reluctantly turning for home.

Stepping back into the house, I realized with great disappointment that no one had even noticed my disappearance.

Now, sizing up the small, red suitcase, I wondered if I might be witnessing the aftermath of another attempted escape.

The next morning, I learned our 7-year-old had indeed tried slipping away into the crisp night and made it only a few steps before surrender.

“Well no wonder,” I muttered as I yanked up the luggage by its handle to bring it into the garage. “Did he pack a couple of bricks or something?”

The day came and went without a chance to ask my youngest what had prompted his daring, desperate move. And then, the next morning, after dropping off the kids at school, I nearly tripped over the suitcase, now open in the entryway of our home, its contents revealed.

Included was a change of clothes, boomerang, framed photo of Grandpa Beauclair, toothbrush and bag of pennies, not to mention, conspicuously placed among his pajamas, a 20-pound dumbbell.

“Why the dumbbell, do you think?” my husband asked later that evening.

“Maybe to build up his muscles in case of danger,” I posed.

But our oldest daughter, who’d witnessed the near-escape, soon filled me in. Turns out her sister had planted the weight to prevent her little brother from getting too far.

“Yeah, she learned that from Ramona Quimby,” our 10-year-old offered. “One time, when Ramona tried to run away, Beatrice put a bowling ball in her suitcase.”

Aha! Beverly Cleary to the rescue!

As pieces of the foiled flight collected in my mind, my heart melted.

This wasn’t a story about a runaway after all, but a sister’s love for her brother. And for me, a story, too, of God’s love.

How many times had I tried to run, to find a way around problems, to escape from the grasp of the one who knows me more than I know myself, only to find my “suitcase” weighted down?

Later, I asked my son to put away his clothes. “We don’t want you to leave, you know,” I said, smiling at him, receiving his smiles in turn.

We can try to do it on our own, and sometimes we’ll learn a few things that way. But eventually we’ll also find, mixed in with the frustrations of life, a heart-shaped space reserved just for us.

It’s a space that contains no growling dogs, no frozen snow hills in the dead of night, and a weighted-down suitcase that stops us in our tracks, nudging us to retreat to the place where warmth and unconditional love awaits.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com.