Investing and Remembering {The Grove: Staying}

As a teacher I think in school years and so much has changed since the beginning of this past school year. Students have come and gone. Staff have left and new people have joined our team. Everyone has grown and changed. Ghana herself has changed in this last year. The longer I choose to stay here, the more I have to look back and remember.

Staying has allowed me to see progress. I have seen students who have begun to make good life choices and move in positive directions. The road construction near my house just finished. This means our 30-45 minute (or longer) trip to the grocery store or the hospital was reduced to far less than half that time. Staying has meant I have done increasingly better learning my way around.

If I look at today, there is plenty of chaos. There are still students making poor choices. There is still traffic. There is so much about Ghana and life here that I don’t know. It can be discouraging. Yet, when I look back and see the change, I am encouraged. I see how much can change and I have hope.

Yet it takes time to build up stories of those successes and changes. I have only been here for eighteen months. I don’t remember what these students were like six years ago. I don’t remember the days when the power was turned off more than it was on. I don’t yet have a wealth of experiences to draw from and that is okay. I am still new here.

Because I am new, another part of staying has been choosing to invest in the future. Most recently, while moving into a new apartment, I intentionally created a budget to purchase the items that will make this place feel like my home. If I just make due, I am already thinking about leaving.Physically, I may be staying, but mentally I am already putting one foot out the door. Whether it be for 12 more months or 12 more years, I want to make this place my home.

I do not know what the future holds, but for now I am staying. Everyone starts new. You can’t start counting the decades you have lived in a place without passing the one year mark or the three year mark or the five year mark. Even the veteran cross-cultural workers were new once, and they made choices early on that helped them persevere.

When I look at some of those veteran cross-cultural workers who I want to emulate, I have noticed how they look back at their time with gratitude. They remember the successes and the seasons of sadness and setback and frustration. They remember through all those times God was faithful. This gratitude gives them the courage to keep staying.

They also invested early on. This may have looked like language study. They learned how to take public transportation and shop in open air markets. They humbled themselves and asked questions. They built relationships. In doing so, they have developed the skills and the support that make this type of life possible.

I may never be someone who stays in one place for 15 or 20 years. I may never hit double digits. During my teen and adult years, I’ve never even needed a second hand to count the years since I had last moved internationally. I don’t want to keep up this relocation pace, yet I am trusting God who already knows what my future holds.

No matter what my future holds, I want to be characterized as someone who stayed well and lived fully. I do not want to forget the changes, the progress, and the good I have seen in the places I have lived. I do not want my body to be living in one place while my mind and heart are far away. If I move again, I want it to be because God called me to a new location and not because I failed to stay well.

Right now I am learning how to hold that tension of looking forward with hope and backward with gratitude so that I can live fully in the present. This year, I get to stay and I will make the most of it.

What helps you to stay present

Photo by Martin Widenka on Unsplash

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  1. Bayta Schwarz May 25, 2018

    Emily, I love this! The whole idea of “staying well”, not knowing whether we’ll be in a place for another year or another 10 years… I’ve seen the difference even little things can make, eg putting pictures in frames rather than just sticking them on the wall with tape. Right now, I’m feeling challenged by this: “I do not want my body to be living in one place while my mind and heart are far away.” I think I need to spend some time reflecting on what that looks like in my current season, and where maybe I am not staying well. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Emily Smith May 26, 2018

      Bayta, thank you! That is the phrase that was the most convicting to me when I wrote it. It is so easy to just let things feel temporary…especially when everything keeps changing so fast (as you know so well happens even when you stay). It is a good challenge for all of us to stay well.

  2. Alex May 25, 2018

    Hi Emily!
    Thank you for sharing. This really hit home for me as I also am still “new” in my country, although 20 months feels like a lifetime.
    Thanks for reminding me I’m not the alone.
    With love, Alex

    1. Emily Smith May 26, 2018

      20 months does feel like a lifetime, doesn’t it? I feel like life both speeds up and slows down in a weird way once you move overseas. There are days where it feels like I just stepped off the plane. There are other days when I feel like I’ve lived here for 10 years. (and then usually get frustrated that I don’t feel more settled). You are definitely not alone.

  3. Katherine May 26, 2018

    …”the items that will make this place feel like my home”..
    This reminded me of a period of about 6 years when I had to move every 6-18 months. I would always try to put photos up straight away, so I could be at home and get on with life. Then when I moved into a house I knew I would be in for FOUR YEARS we bought proper frames and put them on the wall, but didn’t put any of our photos in them. There was no rush, as we had plenty of time. At the end of the four years laughed as we took down the still empty photo frames. Apparently stay well for me in that context meant not putting up photos!

    1. Emily Smith May 26, 2018

      Oh, that is funny. I could see myself doing the same thing (if ever I knew I was staying in the same place for 4 years. Someday!) There is something about knowing the move is temporary that can spur you on to get things done faster. I just moved into a new apartment (and actually wrote most of this post while sitting on my bedroom floor in the middle of boxes of my stuff…the irony was not lost on me that I was writing a post about staying while in the middle of a move. Thankfully this one was only less than a mile away.). We moved early in the morning and by bedtime everything was unpacked, picture frames were on the walls, curtains hung…we were not messing around. So many people were surprised how fast we did this, but I have moved 8 times in the last 6 years. I am not messing around with a prolonged transition. But if I knew I didn’t need to move again for a long time, I would probably do the same thing as you. I would be so happy I had so much time and certain things would just never happen.

  4. Katherine May 27, 2018

    Wow, curtains and unpacking on the same day!! Our last move was six months ago, still unpacking, only some curtains up…

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