Friday, June 3, 2016

With African Eyes

It was one of those weeks when the phrase from the Morton salt box from my childhood had to occasionally be batted from my mind: When it rains, it pours.
It started on the way to the airport, where my husband would fly to Kenya for two weeks. (Perhaps you’re already seeing the writing on the wall with me.) That was when neither of our ATM cards were working; problematic in a nation nearly entirely functioning on cash. Of course, it wasn’t until paying for my parking that I realized I didn’t even have the eighty cents to make it out of the parking lot. (“Kids! Start looking under all the car mats! In the cupholders!” We were still about forty cents shy.)
The next day (thankfully not spending the night in the car park) was the day my son was hit on his bike by the motorcycle. Liberally sprinkle in some hormones (that would be mine), mix vigorously with three rowdy boys without a father to wrestle them to the ground, marinate in intermittent water and power…and it was a recipe for one of those weeks where a momma resorts to Lamaze breathing. Of course that would happen this week.
But part of the beauty, honestly, was living last week in Africa.
kids+in+africa+at+schoolIt’s hard to complain about being 35 years old and having to bum gas money from a friend, when I have a car—and a cash source, once we get that pesky card issue straightened out. (About .8% of Uganda owns a vehicle.) It’s hard to be disgruntled about kid-wrangling on my own when a) my husband is serving God doing something he’s incredible at, and b) Uganda is flooded with single moms who have no rescuer scheduled for arrival in a week and a half. It’s hard to make too much of a deal at being without electricity, considering only 15% of the country is wired for it. It’s hard to make too much of my son walking away from his accident with an injured arm, in light of the roughly five deaths per day from motorbikes in the capital city alone, or the 40% of taxi-related trauma cases at the main hospital.
Author Kristen Welch writes in Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, “Nothing makes us more grateful than perspective. Nothing. I think it’s the key to loosening the chains of entitlement in our culture.”
Welch tells of her daughter begging for a new toy she longed for. Everybody has one, Mom.
I have so much respect for Kristen’s reply:
“Well, do you think Ephantus [one of the children we’ve sponsored for years from Ethiopia] has one?”
She thought quietly. “No, his house isn’t even as big as my room.”…
“Honey…If we are going to compare ourselves to those who have more, we must also compare ourselves to those who have less.”
Clearly the goal isn’t to compare ourselves with one another anyway, but rather to cast a wide, truthful net as we search for what’s ideal. As more than one person has tearfully told me as they prepare to go back to the West, I don’t want to forget. If roughly 80% of the world is in poverty, it is indeed the majority world.
See, Africa has marked me.
It has not altered me in a way that most people who see me will ever witness, though the difference is almost bodily. It’s as if I’d had eye surgery, and the world would never look the same, or as if I carried constantly a sensation in my right hand. And its mark is indelible, now, on my decisions; my perspective. (I’ve wondered if Jesus tells us to invite the lame and the blind to our parties partly to give us just that.)
I wrote in this post that looking back, sometimes I tend to shove some events into the category of “I want to forget” instead of training my eyes to find God in all that happened. As C.S. Lewis pens in The Magician’s Nephew,
What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.
A quote I once read from novelist Elizabeth Berg does remind me, The person with the bleeding finger doesn’t hurt less for the person next to him with the bleeding arm. And there’s still value (spirituality included) to be had in my honesty that last week was discouraging; angering; painful. I’m not seeking to encourage anyone to gloss over what hurts; dishonesty doesn’t set us free. But perspective, and gratitude…?
Last week, they just might have set me free.

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