Unpacking Your Suitcase


Have you ever felt sad about PCSing- and excited at the same time? That seems so weird, and yet it’s pretty normal. There’s sadness over leaving the familiar where you are known, while excitement builds over a new place and a fresh beginning – but there’s the awkwardness of being the new kid – but you’re adaptable because of all the moves! Almost sounds schizophrenic! It’s not. It’s normal, and God is there in the midst of it all.


This story is by a 23-year old author named Raine. It’s her true account of moving back to the States after living in Europe for 15 years.

It was summer time. I had said goodbye to my friends by the last week of school, and like all good kids that have grown up in a military community, I was already moving on to the future. That summer my family moved to Chicago. For the first time EVER I would be attending a real American public high school.

We've all seen those movies where the new kid shows up, they struggle with acceptance, maybe go through some public humiliation even, but in the end they come out on top, either literally, like becoming prom queen and getting the hot quarterback, or figuratively by learning a valuable lesson and gaining true friends. No matter what the journey, the outcome is always the same -- a happy ending. 

I was practically bathed in this naive optimism my first day of school. The movie Mean Girls had come out that year, and I must have watched it 20 times before school started. I had total confidence that someone would notice me the first day, and, by the end of the week, I would be under the wing of a seasoned student who would show me the ways of this exciting new place. 

What happened didn't even come close. I was invisible. I went from a DOD school of 750 people where everyone knew everyone else, and new kids were quickly integrated, to a school with over 2500 students, and I was starting as a senior. Everyone had already picked their friends freshmen year, some even earlier than that!

No one paid any attention to me whatsoever, and I found myself living out every depressing scene in those stupid teen movies. I ate in the bathroom stall, got my books knocked out of my hand, sat alone in study hall, never got asked to a school dance, and the worst part was that it didn't pass quickly like a movie montage with some emo song playing over top. I had to live that for an entire year. 

If I got the chance to redo that year, yeah, things might have gone a little differently. I possibly could have made a friend or two that actually meant something, or found a way to feel included at school; but, the hardest part of that whole year was learning that it had nothing to do with who I was as a person. I hadn't done anything wrong and there was nothing innate that needed to be changed. What happened to me was a transition. It hurt and probably wouldn't have been half as hard if the new school was also DODDs; but, in the end, I simply had to find my way through it and cling to God and my family as tightly as I possibly could. Even though I got through the year and graduated, I still carry some of the pain of the transition with me. It has taken me years to process what happened, and writing this story has helped me move past some of the leftover grief and depression that I’ve had.

*The actual transition phase of the “stages of transition” (Involvement, Leaving, Transition, Entry, and Re-involvement) is when we physically leave a place, but it will probably continue even after you arrive at your new destination. You’ll often feel off balance or even a sense of chaos because the former place and life are gone. This is where we can feel that sadness (grief) in the midst of being excited about a new place.

Be assured that this stage of transition is really normal, and we need to be patient enough to let it progress. But some of us have a harder time getting through this stage because of some unresolved grief. The symptoms and cycle of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, then finally acceptance; often without understanding why we are feeling this way or acting this way.

Here are some action steps to take to help you move through the stages of grief:

  1. Write a list of things you have lost by leaving your last home. Be as detailed and complete as you can be.
  2. Express your sorrow in appropriate ways such as crying, or writing a poem or song, or praying, or reading stories of others who have grieved, or talk to a parent/friend/counselor/Club Beyond leader.
  3. Take the time to express your sadness and don’t skip over it and get on with your new life as if nothing about the old place mattered. Spend some time thinking, praying talking about it.
  4. Ask those you talk with to validate your loss and not just make comments about how much better this next place is. Like many military families, we’re told to ‘deal’ or ‘suck it up’ and engage. Ask friends to let you grieve as well.

(* Many key concepts from this section are taken from Life in Motion; Growing Through Transitions, by Ruth Van Reken and Amy Casteel, 2010, published by YouthCompass International, Seattle WA.)

Bible intro

In this story from the Old testament, a woman named Naomi has left her own country to follow her husband to a land called Moab. Even though this represents a transition, that’s not the one that this story focuses on. While in Moab, Naomi’s husband dies, her sons marry Moabite women, then both her sons die. Through all of this life change, Naomi decides to return to her native Bethlehem (the same city that we later read about in the Christmas story where Jesus is born) and take her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.

Personal Questions
1. Have you ever experienced being the new kid in a way that Raine did in the first story?
2. If you could give her some words of advice, what would you say to her to help her with the transition?
3. What parts of the grief process can you most identify with? What’s a strategy you can use to help you through being sad about leaving?
4. Ruth referred to herself as a foreigner in Bethlehem. Have you ever felt like a ‘foreigner’ when you arrived at a new location?
5. What role do you think a person who knows the ropes at a new location plays in making a healthy transition?

Heavenly Father,
I understand that when Jesus Christ took on flesh through the Virgin Mary he made a sacrificial transition to make his home with us. Let me now pray that he will enter my home and my heart and bless it with his presence. May he always be here in my home; may he nurture our love for each other, share in our joys, comfort us in our sorrows. Inspired by his teachings and example, let me seek to make this new home before all else a dwelling place of love, diffusing far and wide the goodness of Christ.  Amen.


Take a look at Naomi’s home in Bethlehem and where she lived in Moab. This area represents an entirely different culture and customs for living. When she and Ruth (a Moabite woman) left Moab, they traveled back to Bethlehem where Ruth was the foreigner. View the map.


The words Grief or Grieve are based on the idea of a burden or being encumbered. Therefore, to grieve is to carry a burden and be weighed down by a concern or trouble. 

ORIGIN Middle English (also in the sense [harm, oppress] ): from Old French grever ‘burden, encumber,’ based on Latin gravare, from gravis ‘heavy, grave’ (see grave 2 ).

Now look at what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30
28 Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30 For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.



In a new home (or even your current home if you haven’t moved recently), try inviting Jesus Christ into every room by asking a blessing as you move from place to place. 

Here are some suggested prayers:

At the entrance: 
O God, protect our going out and our coming in; Let us share the hospitality of this home with all who visit us, that those who enter here may know your love and peace. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 

In the living room: 
O God, give your blessings to all who share this room so that we may be knit together in companionship. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 

In the bathroom: 
Blessed are you, Lord of heaven and earth. You formed us in wisdom and love. Refresh us in body and in spirit, and keep us in good health that we might serve you. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 

In the kitchen: 
O God, you fill the hungry with good things. Send your blessing on us, as we work in this kitchen, and make us ever thankful for our daily bread. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 

In the dining room: 
Blessed are you, Lord of heaven and earth, for you give us food and drink to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad. Help us to be grateful for all your mercies, and mindful of the needs of others. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 

In the bedrooms: 
Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, we may rest in his peace. 
Grant this through Christ our Lord. 



I wrote this poem after my first month at a new school. It's about the disposition of the people who I met. 

On Display
by Kristen Perkins 
A room of two-way mirrors is my fate,

with strangers looking at me,

dissecting my body and mind

with their cold eye
and even colder words.

Forced to deal with their cynical

views of those that surround me.

They entrap me in their webs of self- consciousness.

But -
despite the empty stares,

and demeaningly harsh words,

I untangle myself from their webs of destroyed dreams.

Then, I break the two-way mirrors

they watch my every move with.

I did not receive a spider bite,

or a cut from the broken glass.

Instead, I find myself in a world of refugees,

like me.

They, too, escaped their dooms.

Together we work at rebuilding

ourselves into the people we once were;

the people we admired before.



I’ve included two different stories here. One is in a picture and the second represents a military brat and her experience of not helping a newcomer to her community.

Story # 1
Here’s a ‘story’ in a picture drawn by a 6th grader named Shekaylah. She was attending Macdonald Intermediate School at Fort Knox, KY, when she drew it. The she moved. It may be simple, but it tells a story that we are all familiar with. (This is from Military Child Education Coalition 2011 Calendar - March)

Story #2
When I was a sophomore I became friends with a group of 4 other girls. The 5 of us pretty much hung out every day. We'd eat lunch together and do things on the weekend. Some of us hung out one on one, like Marie and I; but, not all the girls in the group were equally close to each other. You probably have had a few groups of friends like this. 

One of the girls, Bethany, moved to our base halfway through the school year. She joined our group soon after arriving, and I liked her a lot. She had come from being stationed in Japan and had really cute clothes and a wicked taste in movies and music. Every lunch she was there and on the weekends, if we were all 5 together, she came along. I considered her part of the group, even though I never got that close to her or hung out with her alone. 

It wasn't until my freshmen year of college, after having a few experiences as the new kid, that I looked back on Bethany and that time with feelings of guilt. I realized that even though I was friendly and let her tag along, I never sought her ought directly. I never tried to specifically make her feel welcome. 

I found her on Facebook that year and apologized. I knew from my experiences that having someone intentionally pursue a personal relationship can do so much to make you feel as though you belong. I wanted her to know that I was sorry for never making that effort, and, if I could go back, I would have done things differently. I now understand what it was like to be an outsider.

A Good Friend 1

Unpacking Your Suitcase 1

Unpacking Your Suitcase 2

Unpacking Your Suitcase 3

Unpacking Your Suitcase 4

Unpacking Your Suitcase 5


Daniel 1:1-21 - This is a story of a young man who found himself in a very different place, yet he adapted well in spite of being forced to leave his home.

Genesis 2:8-17 and Genesis 3:21-24 - Adam and Eve, the very first humans lived in a beautiful place called Eden. Yet, because of their disobedience, God moved them out, and life was drastically d

Exodus 12:31-39, Exodus 13:17-22 and Exodus 14:5-14 - The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years! God finally provided a way for them to leave, and while

Philippians 2:1-8 - Jesus ‘moves’ from his home in heaven to come to earth as a man.


Josh Radin sings an interesting song called No Envy No Fear. Perhaps an attitude like this would help us in the transition form one location to another. It’s actually pretty biblical advice; Job (NIV) 5:2 says, “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” And 1 John 4:18 (NIV) says, “There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment.”

(Check out the lyrics here: JOSHUA RADIN - NO ENVY NO FEAR LYRICS)

Recording artist Michele Tumes talks about moving to US

Check out this scene from Cheaper By The Dozen when the family is told they are going to move! I think you’ll find some of these things very familiar!

Unpacking Your Suitcase - the move from Dave Sanders on Vimeo.

Life Questions
1. Sit down and write a list of things you have lost by leaving your last home. Be as detailed and complete as you can be. Take some time to deal with your feelings and talk with someone. Even though your last PCS may have been a year ago, you may find that you haven’t handled this process well. Going through it now can help heal past wounds over unresolved grief.
2. Find someone to show you the ropes at a new location. Maybe that’s someone you already know who lives there, maybe it’s the Club Beyond leader, maybe it’s someone at the school. Also consider the Youth Sponsorship Program. Just paste this link into your browser: http://bit.ly/XdeoAd
3. Ask God to show you he is with you and that he cares. Remember, you can cry to him, talk to him, and even express anger to him. He loves you!!!!!