Six suitcases and three carry-on bags lay open on the floor of the nearly-empty back bedroom. As the calendar pages flew by, the memorabilia of 31 years of life in west-central Brazil alternated between one suitcase and another or the give-away box or the trash can.… Decisions! It was our choice to stay within the airline limits for luggage as we sold our home and moved with our teenage son from Brazil to South Africa.

Furniture could be sold. Cesar, a young Bible-college graduate, whose wife Roza I had led to the Lord 25 years ago, would take our 800-volume library in English. Another friend, Josiane, was happy to receive the filing cabinet of flannel-graph and Bible-study lessons that I had prepared and used over 30 years of ministry. We still wondered: what treasured items could adequately seal the bonds of friendship and provide the ties of memories on both sides of the ocean?

It was my husband who coined the name for the idea of “remember-me” gifts that I chose to leave with various women who had had a significant impact on my life over the years. The burdensome challenge of disposing of items that just did not fit into the suitcase weight-limit became a joy as I searched for just the right item to help these friends remember me over the years to come. “Forget-me-nots” were distributed as parting gifts to various dear sisters in Christ.

Tania insists that she taught me to speak Portuguese, and she asks for chocolate-chip cookies each time we talk. She tried to match me up with a few Brazilian men and was delighted when I married my husband after six years in Brazil. What better “forget-me-not” could I leave with her than two wedding presents I had received, the one she gave me—a ceramic swan planter—and a ceramic picture frame with her favorite picture of my husband and me.

As a gift to my daughter, Wilma spent an entire day preparing and serving a delicious meal for 60 guests for my daughter’s high-school graduation/piano recital. Our oldest son loved working with Wilma in the kitchen at camp, where she was frequently invited to be camp cook. Over the years she and I have cried together, exhorted each other, and participated in various growing-up stages of each other’s children. As we walked into Wilma’s home for a farewell dinner, I saw draped over the back of her sofa the afghan that my sister had made for me during my first furlough. After the delicious meal of chicken stroganoff, my daughter’s favorite, what better gift could I leave with Wilma than my favorite platter, an apron that she had previously used in my kitchen, and a new set of tea towels and an oven mitt (rarely seen in our area of Brazil).

Jaci’s husband, a well-respected and beloved pastor, died of cancer a few years ago. The two of them were the surrogate parents of many neighbors and church members. She continues the loving acts of receiving people into her home, making clothing for needy people, serving in the church, and just loving people. With Jaci we found a good home for sheets, pillows, cabinets, and odds and ends of material scraps.

One could always count on a good Dutch Blitz or Phase 10 game at camp if Daniella were present. She and her husband Thedy were both pastor’s kids, active in the church, and they both lost a parent to cancer. At her baby shower, just days before I left for the States, Dani was delighted to receive a gift bag including five of her favorite card games, including Dutch Blitz, of course.

Shirley, a pastor’s wife, was grateful to receive my Thomas Kinkaid puzzles to occupy her mind a bit since her two children left for Bible college in another state. A wooden fruit tray went to Stefany, wooden parrot-shaped wall hanging to Deja, and the list goes on.

The walls of our Brazilian home no longer echo with the footsteps and voices of our family, and no longer do we have the joy of stopping by the homes of these friends just to say hi. The suitcases have moved a continent away. After so many years of good times, sad times, and growing times, the memories of times spent together with others are what we treasure most in our hearts. The “forget-me-nots” were merely tangible reminders left behind to show that we value the gift of friendship.

© 2012 Women of the Harvest.

Questions to Consider: What are the treasured “forget-me-nots” that you’ve left behind? What was a memorable event that marked your departure from a field of service?