Packing Light [a review]

When I first heard the title of Ally's book, it made me think of that old song "Traveling Light." I like to think of myself, on a trip and otherwise, like a ray of sunshine coming into a new space, the Spirit within me bringing light to darkness. I believe that there are books which find me at just the right time. Packing Light is such a book.

On the surface, it looks like another entry in the stunt nonfiction genre (which I love, by the way). Two young women hit the road for a 48-state road trip (and a 2-state plane trip). Sharaya, Ally's friend, is a musician who planned to play shows along the way, Ally wanted to write a book.

In every book, there are treasures to keep and ponder, as well as words I don't need. Ally encourages me, unlike many of those books, to sift through, finding the things meant for me, and jettisoning the rest. Such a lovely freedom there.

On a completely unspiritual note, Ally won my heart when she mentioned my hometown hockey team, the Spokane Chiefs, as she describes passing through my little city.

Ally writes her own story, even as she urges her readers to write theirs. This book isn't definitive, and it isn't prescriptive, which is important to good writing, I've found. She writes honestly about her struggles and fears and hopes and desires. I share some of those things, I relate to some of her words. She doesn't give me the answers, or tell me that her path should also be mine.

This is not a story of glamour. I did not read it and think: I wish my life could be like that. I read it and thought: my life is like that, an adventure, with God. Hard, wonderful and messy.

It is a beautiful and hopeful thing, for me, to see many people writing about real things: struggle, pain, joy, heartbreak. As these stories come into the light, I am finding that my own burdens are loosened. They are shared by others. Together we can find the courage to give them to Jesus. Ally writes about some of these taboo things: alcohol, fighting with friends, making decisions she wishes hadn't been made. I think that this wave of vulnerability, clearly seen in the lives and works of many Christians, will provide safe places to talk openly, bringing healing, growth and peace.

"This was the hardest part of writing: if we write it as it really happened, we have to bleed on paper. We have to let people in on the fact that we don't have all the answers. We have to let people into the dark places of our story. And if we don't write the real story, isn't it just a waste of paper?"

As with many good stories, Packing Light extends beyond Ally and Sharaya, and their story. She writes about courage, questioning the rules we've made for ourselves, the provision of God in times of need, letting go of expectations of God, and of ourselves. As I walk through my own life, these words challenge and comfort me.

I am reminded, as I read this book, that the joy of reading is that I am able to look, for a while, through someone else's eyes. When I do this, often, I am able to see a truth a different way, to let go of something I've been holding onto, to shore up a part of me which was lacking.

Packing Light took me on a journey, through the United States inside a car, inside the mind of another, and into my own heart. I still can't shake the feeling that when I pack, I want to pack glorious light. How else will I be able to see?


Allison is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.

I've enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Ally through her blog, social media and other random connections. She was kind enough to give me a copy of Packing Light to review.