“…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way;
bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” --Colossians 1:10
On the outside looking in, just about anyone would describe me as a workaholic. In truth, that is not me at all – I’m really quite lazy and would prefer to not invest so many hours into my job. The problem is that I have an equally competing voice in my lazy head that tells me I can give nothing less than my best, whether to my employer or whatever project I’m working on. It’s this strong work ethic and strive for excellence that makes me work the crazy hours that I do, and it’s this same work ethic that seems to get my work-life balance out of whack repeatedly.
Every few years, the Lord hits me upside my hard head to remind me that my calling is first and foremost as a wife and mom. It’s why we sold our company 9 years ago, and most recently, He clearly showed me that I better make some immediate adjustments once again. It was very clear that my family was getting only the fumes left in my tank, and my priorities were not where God wanted them to be. (I'm proud to say that so far, so good...successful implementation of those changes and less hours are being worked!)
I used the time in Tanzania to gain a new perspective and try to retain special memories with my children and husband. This is yet another one of those memories, written from the perspective of my true calling – a mom. Perhaps only mothers who can act ridiculously crazy without reserve will really understand the details below, but I’ll do my best to explain how it all went down. All I know is that I must live my life in a manner worthy of my calling, and my actions must be consistent to reflect the love of Jesus within me.
It was our last day of ministry, and as mentioned in the last blog entry, I was teamed up with Jacob & Amber for the day, my own two children. Our guide and translator Willfred led us up the mountain to our first stop in Kubiterere. Willfred worked to gather together anyone who would listen. Adults & children started to circle around, and I randomly snapped the below picture of others making their way toward us.
Little did I know that the little guy in the orange shirt would make such a great impact on me.
In total, we had about 15 kids and quite a few adults who sat and listened as I shared the gospel. After I shared, Amber presented the Evangecube, and by the time we were done, nearly every adult and some of the older children within earshot had made a decision to put their faith in Christ.
As Amber shared, I looked at the children. One by one, I made eye contact with them, trying to get a little smile out of each one. Two of them, Sabena & Joseph, were determined to remain solemn. I don’t know if Joseph was afraid or just shy, but try as I might, this momma couldn’t get him to understand that I offered only unconditional love, nothing more. His Mr. Tough-Guy façade stayed for the duration of my time there.
The little guy in the orange striped shirt is Joseph, aka Mr. Tough Guy. I never could get him to crack a smile, not even once.
As the people went back to their daily work and the children dispersed, one of the adults proudly asked if he could show Amber & Jacob where he lived. Willfred gave me a nod that it was ok, and off Jacob & Amber went. I stayed behind with the specific intent to win over the one remaining tough guy.
I snapped this picture without him knowing it. The minute he saw my camera, the tough-guy face re-appeared.
He kept his distance, and no matter how hard I tried to get a little grin from his round face, success did not seem to be in the cards.
Enter on the scene a little girl named Rachel.
She was fearless, full of precious smiles, and little did she know that she would be my pivotal partner in winning over Sabena.
Rachel let me take her picture and waited anxiously to see the image pop up on the screen of my camera.
She started climbing on me and let me hold her. Eventually, she landed right on my lap.
Her lack of fear drew Sabena over a little closer and closer, until he eventually seemed comfortable standing next to me…but still no smile.
I knew there was a smile inside dying to get out, but Sabena was determined to stifle it. You can ask either of my kids, I’m a pretty strong-willed momma who likes a challenge. If Sabena was going to be a pickle, then I wasn’t leaving until I had successfully taken the vinegar out of the pickle.
I’m not sure how long Amber & Jacob were gone, maybe about 15 minutes. However long it was, it was too quick, because they were back with me before I was ready for them to be back. I knew that their return meant that we needed to move on to the next hut. And Sabena had not even cracked a smile.
It was time to go, and in my heart of hearts, this little boy was only still hanging around us because he longed to be loved-on, the way I was hugging on Rachel. I held up my hand as if to ask for a few more minutes of precious time with these children. I believed that I was close to a breakthrough with Sabena. I think Amber could sense the special moment building, too. Providentially, she grabbed my camera and began snapping pictures – pictures worth more than 1000 words to me.
My gut tells me Sabena had never seen a white person (mzungu) before, let alone one as scary-looking as me.
As I continued to pour out love on Sabena, the magic of tickling took over. He finally dropped his guard, allowing Mr. Tough Guy to vanish and the child within to emerge. He let me pick him up, and he started to drop the walls he had built up.
Trust began to build as he eventually made his way into the half of my lap that Rachel did not occupy.
Admittedly, I acted crazy.
I was a total goofball as together the three of us laughed incessantly.
I found myself reaching over to kiss Sabena's forehead. It wasn't planned; it just happened, because that's what moms do. They kiss the children they love. Somehow in such a short time, a special bond had formed between us, and in that instant, I loved Rachel & Sabena as if they were my own children!
I had known their names only a short time, yet my heart was overflowing with so much love that I would
swear under oath that they were my own flesh and blood. It was a priceless memory.
Against my wishes, I knew my time with these precious children was over, and we had to move on to the next hut to share the Gospel. If it were up to me, I might still be on the top of the mountain with Rachel & Sabena in my arms. I walked away trying to fight the tears of the experience.
Even as I write, the memories can be described as nothing more than a momma’s pure joy. Jacob, on the other hand, described it as something else.
As we walked away, he began to tell me that I acted inappropriately. You see, being the youngest, he’s really never seen his mom love on children that weren’t my own flesh and blood. I tried to tell Jacob that I couldn't help it; it was the momma in me that took over. Apparently, though, Jacob wasn’t done lecturing me. “Mom,” he said, “I don’t think Dad would have acted like that. You can’t blame it on being a parent.” I agreed with him, for sure; Frank would never have acted the way I did. It’s not in his Ph.D. reserved nature or DNA. But me, I don’t have that degree, I only have my MOM degree. I’m just a mom who loves children, so I vehemently defended my actions with my son.
In Jacob’s defense, he really was not trying to steal my joy; he was simply trying to shed light on how foolishly I had behaved. That’s my Jacob: I can always count on him to share his perspective with raw honesty, without reserve. For sure, he did just that.
Therefore, he was not yet finished with the critique of my behavior.
“Mom, you were completely cuckoo. Totally cuckoo, mom. It was really bad & embarrassing, mom. I mean, you were completely crazy.” (Insert his imitation of me goofing around with the kids and don't forget to include a high pitched unintelligible voice.)
As he searched for the words to further describe my inappropriate behavior, I cut him off and told him, “Yes, Jacob, I know. I get it. I'm guilty, I am. I’m cuckoo. I’m just cuckoo for kids. That’s what a mom does; it’s part of my nature; and I can’t help it.”
And about as quickly as I said that I was cuckoo for kids, both of us simultaneously added, “Cuckoo for cocoa kids.”
Yeah. Let that one sink in for a moment.
A few seconds passed before any of us realized exactly what we said when alluding to the well-known Cocoa Puffs slogan.
The three of us stopped and laughed uncontrollably while our Tanzanian partners looked at us with bewilderment. Even with their grasp of the English language, I don’t think they could ever imagine what exactly was going on or what was said.
It was the perfect ending to that perfect memory. It was also a perfect example of Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” God knew my heart needed that massive belly laugh to get through the moment.
As I’ve tried to detail my story about Rachel & Sabena on the mountain, I can’t help but think of the spiritual applications of each person in the story.
Mr. Tough guy Joseph went away, never knowing what it was like to open his heart to a stranger and trust them. I pray that he will one day know what it’s like to trust Jesus as his best friend.
Rachel allowed herself to be vulnerable, not letting fear of the unknown grip her. Because of it, she was influential in helping her friend experience love. Granted, I’m not God by any means, but I hope that those two children will have a memory of when the mzungu woman came to their village to show God’s love. I pray that I was an expression of Him.
And Sabena…he overcame his fear, dropped his guard, and experienced something new. If nothing else, I hope he learned to fear a little less and trust a little more. (I think he definitely learned that tickles and laughter are good for the soul, too!)
I don’t know what memories Rachel & Sabena will retain from the time in my lap on the mountain, but I know that these two impacted me pretty deeply.
And me, I’m reminded to be a friend like Rachel. I’m reminded to persist when I believe God is leading me to (with Sabena), and I’m reminded to give up when He isn’t (Joseph). I’m reminded that God’s timing is perfect, and finally, I’m reminded to count my blessings, each and every one of them.
It’s also just another reminder to me that my first calling is being a mom. It’s innate and natural. I proudly wear the title Mumzy (so given to me by Amber several years ago). I love the fact that I don’t have to stick with any nice and neat persona in a box just because Jacob wants me to, and it's ok to be cuckoo and crazy when God leads you to do it.
All I know is that I loved those children in the way that I believed Jesus wanted me to. I pray that I lived in a manner worthy of my calling. Finally, I hope I showed my children that it’s ok to be cuckoo, as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons... Even if it means being cuckoo for cocoa kids.
-- Beth Banfill