“I wonder if I’m not the only one who panics when people ask that dreaded question—what do you do? There is so much wrapped up in it, so much that has nothing to do with a job. We worry it says something about our identity to say we’re a waitress, or a barista, or a lawyer, or a student.”
–Allison Vesterfelt, Packing Light
Allison used to live in Portland, where she grew up, and taught middle school classes. She probably would have told people she was a teacher, but what she left unspoken was that she actually wanted to write a book.
She also wanted to travel to all 50 states of America. A friend liked the idea and convinced her to take a road trip. She could write her book while her friend played music at gigs across the country. And so Packing Light was begun.
They would have to give up almost everything to make it work: quitting jobs, selling belongings, and putting relationships on hold. They packed everything they thought they would need in Allison’s 1999 Subaru Legacy GT and left the rest behind.
Over time, their perfectly organized car becomes a mess. They can’t find half of the stuff they brought with them, and yet somehow the belongings accumulate and multiply. Several times, they stop to throw unnecessary and unwanted items in boxes to either ship home or give away.
The book’s opening quote by Rick Steves does well to sum up the lesson: “You’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: ‘Every year I pack heavier.’ The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels.”
But there are other intangible things, such as parts of Allison herself, that are harder to give up. Changing locations doesn’t change who she is or free her from the challenges she doesn’t want to face. Life on the road is surprisingly similar to life at home.
For instance, it takes her several chapters to realize that she already was a writer before driving one mile. All she needed to do to be a writer was to simply write. Yet in the first week of travel, a new acquaintance asks a question that particularly resonated with me.
“Are you a Christian or are you not? That question stuck with me for weeks, even months, after he had asked it,” Allison wrote. “It was an important question—a helpful one—even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time it felt like an attack, like a headlock I wanted to wriggle my way out of. Why did we always have to pick a side? I was a Christian, and I wanted to be a writer, but was I a ‘Christian writer’? I didn’t know.”
What did it mean to be a Christian writer? And was that what she wanted to be? I’ve asked these same questions before.
Perhaps the first question to ask is: what does it mean to be a Christian? I believe Christianity is about more than how I spend my Sunday mornings. It’s not even weeknights at church or going to special conferences and retreats. None of that makes me a Christian.
Being a Christian is a way of life for every day. It means every day is devoted to following Christ and loving him more than I did the day before. This doesn’t allow for any compartmentalizing. Either Christ is part of everything I do, every moment that I’m alive, or he’s not. There’s no sitting on the fence or being lukewarm.
And if that’s the case, how could I not be a “Christian writer”? If being a Christian affects everything else in my life, then of course my writing should be no exception.
Since her trip, Allison has written multiple books and started a business to inspire and coach others to pursue their literary dreams.
“I prayed that He would whisper words to me, and I promised I would commit them to paper,” Allison wrote about one night camping in the Grand Tetons. “Is that what it means to be a ‘Christian writer’? I asked God. Because if it is, that’s the kind of writer I wanted to be.”