• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
on memories and pieces of our life. . .

on memories and pieces of our life. . .

We arrived in Kenya 4 years ago with only 13 bags between the 4 of us. We are leaving for a brief furlough now with a house full and overflowing. David and I have always felt like anything decorating our house should carry a memory or a meaning, so as I look around our house and love seeing all the pieces of our past that came in those bags scattered throughout our house . . . physical pieces of memory that remind us of the people that have carried us here. . .

So here’s a tiny tour of the nooks and crannies in our house and the memories that accompany them.  . .

:My sister in law Erika gave me these signs the last Christmas before we left for Kenya, a perfect reminder everyday that we have crossed the world as a family to be present in the place where we are . They hang in the kitchen and are the first thing I see everyday when I walk in the door. Mugs from our wedding sit beside a pewter plate from my Grandma Betty’s home. We take them down almost daily to serve tea to guests. They are a reminder of my roots and the generosity of our church family when David and I first got married 16 years ago.

Cut canvases of pictures our friend Sarah took of our family sit on the book shelf with a photo of my best friends from high school on our first big trip without our parents, and an Irish secret box given to me by my mom almost thirty years ago. These things have followed me from Burlwood Dr, to Furman, and to every home since as our family has grown.

Below those is a lantern Grace or Shelly gave me for our wedding and two books called Tell Me the Story and Tell Me the Secrets given to me  by my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Rullman. The stories in the books are about wisdom passed down from generation to generation, and I still read them to my girls, my trainees, and myself.

On the other shelf is a framed card given to me from the ICU nurses when I left Kijabe after our first short term trip here, signed by my first teachers in Kijabe. It reminds me of partnership, the need for genuine humility, and teamwork in this beautiful place.

On the refrigerator is a magnetized piece of art given to us on our wedding day by my cousin Karissa. She made the homemade paper and marbled paint background and wrote the verse that was on our wedding invitation.  Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:3.) Not your typical wedding verse, but the words still describes so much of our outlook on life and remind us of who we were then and who we hoped to become.

Most people know about my obsession with marshmallows by now – but my friend Stacy found this and gave it to us on our last home assignment. It makes everyone laugh that comes through the door and reminds us of the thoughtfulness of our friends. This canvas has followed us to every home and was the first thing I hung on the wall in Kijabe. 3×4 feet wide, it is a photo David took of Madeline and I on her first trip to the ocean, taking her first steps. It was taken near my friend Susan’s beach house, a place that has been a physical marker of  her constant support and generous presence. This picture was possible because she insisted Madeline see the ocean for the first time with her. This painting is from our year in Taiwan. We bought it  in a Beijing market from the artist while we traveled through Asia  while the paint was still wet.  We had wandered from market to market looking for something that reflected our year and bought it in the  final week. When we moved into our house in Kijabe it tied together the orange and yellow walls with the blues that I tend to buy.I took this picture on a sunrise on my 21st birthday after my friend Joy surprised me with a trip to the beach.  It was also, ironically, the first picture I took, that David noticed.  I gave  him a blown up version of it  for his birthday when we were dating. This frame, and countless others, have also served as gentle reminders of our friends.  Chelsea sent me several on David’s first trip back from America after we moved here, after I lamented that I couldn’t find frames for pictures here that weren’t covered in bone, animals, or feathers. Pictures clearly carry so much weight in our lives, and I love that even their frames have a story. On our bedroom wall is a cross  painstakingly carved on my Dad on his scroll saw down to the tiniest detail. . It is a daily, visual reminder of the intertwining of our lives and faith and work. It is the last thing I see before I go to bed every night.  This mug was hand painted by Shelly and Grace for my 21st birthday – their names are signed on the bottom, and I drink from it almost every day.  The coaster painted like grass is long gone, but it is a reminder every day of the depth of friendship that has strengthened me for so many years and the detail and insight that my friends have poured out on me.

This tiny bear was purchased in a tiny curio shop at the southern tip of Taiwan on a trip with Ann to Kending. I was still a third year in medical school, and looking for something to remind me of where I was headed. Ann had challenged me in the journey forward on her visit, and now this bear has come with me around the world. His story is hidden, but he is a constant reminder of that year that made us fall in love with a world so different from any we had known before.

This picture frame was a wedding gift from my highschool friend Erin. She is one of the first people that taught me the power of a thoughtful and practical gift (she also gave me the sweater madeline is wearing in the picture above)


The buyers of this mug probably don’t even remember. When we were interviewing for Serge to stay in Kenya longterm, I had seen it at 3 different coffee shops, but felt silly buying it when there were so many other things stretching our finances. The friends we were with saw me look at it, placed it on the counter to purchase, and then handed it to me without a word. It is one of the most popular mugs in the house, and a simple reminder of the power of nonchalant generosity.

Every year at Christmas, decorating the tree is an all night event as I tell the stories of each and every ornament – of the places and people and events behind them. Our home has become a more year long version of that. As I ponder how we came to this point in our lives, these small things remind us of the journey – forgotten gifts that encourage me daily.

Here’s one last story, of the cover image for this post. This is a seed pod that had supposedly floated across the ocean to America and then been painted by an artist. It was given to me by my friend Eli sometime during college. Eli was one of the first people who challenged me to ask deep, unobvious questions – who taught me the power of listening. When we moved to Kenya, I brought it back across the ocean with me, and it sits on the desk in our room. A reminder of good advice, and the people that stay with you.


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