Life doesn’t stop when you’re living in a foreign country. You still have to go to the grocery, cook, do laundry and clean. Most of our daily routines don’t change, they just look different in how they’re carried out. I can talk more about this another time.

What comes to mind today is that we don’t automatically change just because we’re living overseas or speaking a different language. The tendencies I had in America are the same I carry with me to Africa or the Middle East.

My husband was a shopper — not only for the unique items he could find in the most unlikely places, but for the social interaction. I’ve often told people how I think my husband was the only person who knew the names of all the clerks working in Home Depot. It was a gift.

His love for adventure in shopping led us to some interesting places, and my mind goes all the way back to 1992, when we were living in Ankara, Turkey. We weren’t there for long, just a couple of months to help with refugees from Iraq, but that didn’t stop us from being able to explore the city. One of Raouf’s favorite places was the open-air market.

We enjoyed a spring day visiting the stalls, when Raouf found a microscope. It was made in the USSR (pre-breakup), and it was very precise. We made it his anniversary gift (since I didn’t know what to get him anyway), and returned home with our treasure.

By the time we moved to Syria, Raouf had made a wooden box with brass hinges and a handle for carrying it. He spent many an hour looking through the lens at whatever caught his fancy — a bug, a worm, a piece of skin, a slice of onion. Everything was worth closer inspection and study.

That microscope traveled the world with us and returned all the way to the good old USA twenty years later…along with a few other treasures we picked up along the way.

Why do I tell you this tale? Just to let you know that everything has a story, and it’s good to remember those special moments as the years go by. Tell them to your children. Write them down for yourself and others. Then remember one thing:

Bookends from Kenya

It’s still just stuff.

Though I can look at a lamp, a piece of jewelry, or a trinket box and tell you exactly where we were when we bought it or about the person who gave it as a gift, in the end, it has to be something I’m willing to give up. The memory may remain (or not), but the stuff won’t.

There will be times you have to leave a country quickly and leave everything behind. You may downsize and find you can’t keep every precious keepsake. Your children may look at something and see only a piece of pottery or furniture — they have no “memory” of the moment it was received or the place associated with it. Don’t force them to remain faithful to what’s only precious in your mind.

Treasure the adventure shared, not the stuff.

When I have a bad day and make myself feel guilty about being lazy or wanting to stay home, I remember what has already happened in my life. I remember the people, the places, and even the walks through open markets.

And I thank God for all that he’s allowed me to be a part of. 

Life’s not over, by any means, but it does change and mellow as the years go by. Be grateful for what you have, while looking even more forward to the treasure of the life to come.

Grace and Peace

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