Seven years ago became a two-girl family. No, we hadn’t had a baby—that would have taken a class “A” miracle! Missionary friends sent us their daughter in 2009 when she became college age. Then in 2011 a second missionary family, who are great friends and live out of the country, sent their oldest daughter to live with us. We became something we never imagined—a haven for young adults who were formerly ex-patriots.
Our two girls could not have lived in countries that were more different. Emily came from Mongolia, a dry, barren part of the world that spends nine months of the year below zero and where the main diet is meat and root vegetables. The other girl, Sarah, lived in a poor fishing village in Mexico, two blocks from a beautiful beach in that lush, semi-tropical country where seventy-five degrees is considered really cold and the diet consists of a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables but very little meat. One thing they both have in common is a familiarity with a large variety of people and living conditions. Needless to say, there was a never-ending list of topics for conversations at our home.
One thing that experiencing other cultures adds to your life is an appreciation for the little things we are blessed to have here in the United States. Sarah speaks of putting an electric rod in a bucket of water to heat it up and then using the heated water for showering. Emily talks of how she enjoyed going to their outhouse on forty-below-zero mornings just as the sun was coming up and being amazed at the glorious colors of the sunrise. Their shared bathroom at our home may have had the most unusual green fixtures ever seen, but at least they functioned in the normal American way. There wasn’t, however, the sound of the surf or a view of the sky.
Somewhere along the way, Americans have come to believe that the way things happen in the United States is normal. We consider our mere existence as being enough to make us deserve comfort and ease. Too many Americans function as if the world owes us something. Fortunately, most of the world cares nothing about our petty demands. Millions of people accept abject poverty as a way of life, working together as communities to help each other through the difficult circumstances around them. Much of the world scrubs their clothes in rivers, digs trenches for latrines, and cooks their food over open fires. The idea of a bedroom for each child is unheard of in most cultures. Many of the rooms in my house are larger than the average home for much of the world. People are too busy making a life for their families to complain or even contemplate that there could be a different way to live.
When is enough enough? The idea of contentment is becoming a foreign concept to people in our country. Instead of being thankful for the blessings we have, we protest that we can’t have it all. After all, we deserve it. We are Americans.
As I listened to our girls talk with delight about the places where they grew up, I realized their fond memories were not about things they had but about the people who surrounded them. Emily enjoyed putting on plays with friends and having deep conversations with neighbors. Speaking of cooking together as a community and freely dropping into each other’s homes makes Sarah’s eyes sparkle. The joy of working together to accomplish a task and sharing resources so the entire community could celebrate together are highlights of their lives. There is no talk of personal rights or accumulation of “stuff”. The joy of their lives are more basic. It’s all about family and friends.
I may have been the “mom” of the family, but I had much to learn from our “daughters.” Traveling into other cultures is not new to me, but I must confess that a public water closet in Evion, France that was a simply a hole in a concrete floor was way beyond my comfort zone. But as we lived and worked together, my list of basics shrank and my “Dream List” came to contain more relationship goals than physical stuff. Sharing our home for a few years was very good for me.