I can feel her adoring gaze on my little baby. She is another one – a stranger I have never met, but a mother, and so she is instantly drawn to Lily. She oozes affection for my little one and asks lots of mothery questions. We are in Johnnesburg airport drinking a last South African smoothie before boarding the flight to Pemba.
“Where are you flying to?” the mother asks. “Mozambique,” I reply. “Brave!” she exclaims. And I explain we are based there, and she wishes us well and off we run, characteristically too late, nearly missing the plane.
“Brave!” she’d said. She isn’t the first to think it strange to take an eight-week-old baby to northern Mozambique. Most of the time I am just excited to be living out what I think is best. But sometimes I wonder to myself – is this really right?
We arrived in Pemba, everything familiar but very exciting! We loved the children pouring through our gate, the deep blue sea, the smiles and waves, watching the thrill of our friends meeting Lily. This was total joy – but there quickly came little challenges for our precious one…
There are ants on the playmat. It is hot and she sweats. There is a giant dead spider squashed by her cot, and a dead cockroach nearby. There have been – occasionally – snakes in our garden and scorpions in our house. Mosquitoes buzz at night. She has been held upside down by her ankles as a kind of welcome-to the-world celebration. (I smiled on the outside but inside my heart was doing somersaults.)
And as I sat with a little bowl of soup, recovering from a nasty bout of food poisoning, thinking about the ants – endless ants, everywhere, everywhere – I got a bit teary. I turned to Nick and cried out “I don’t want to bring up my baby here!”
But that’s not true. There is so much beauty to introduce her to here.
Back to the question of being responsible… Am I irresponsible? I secretly wonder. Well, if I am to be a responsible mum, I want to understand what I am responsible for. I am responsible for her safety and her happiness. What else?
I am responsible to bring her up to love. She will learn that from looking at me, from seeing me share my bread with the hungry and from sitting in the dirt with the widow.
I am responsible to bring her up to obey our loved one Jesus. She will learn that from looking at me, from seeing me trust his amazing goodness, and to step everywhere he leads even if it is hard or scary.
I am responsible to bring her up to be free. She will learn that from looking at me, from seeing me not bow to the fear of malaria or keep her away from meeting people who are different to her.
I am responsible to bring her up to see everyone as her equal. She will learn that from looking at me, seeing I do not shrink my hand from a dirty child because I don’t want her to catch an illness (I am definitely still learning that one!) and that I won’t avoid an entire nation because their infrastructure is poor.
I am responsible to bring her up to know this life is passing. She will learn that from looking at me, as I point to heaven by abandoning myself to God’s heart on the earth, not worrying about the temporary things but consuming my thoughts only with the eternal.
Yes, I am absolutely responsible for her safety and her happiness. I will use a mosquito net and I will only let her be cuddled by people who will look after her well. I will also lavish the best on her, because she is utterly precious! But I am also responsible for a thousands other beautiful aspects of parenting, and I am so excited about fulfilling them, wherever I live.
“Brave”? As I stand in my bucket shower, feeling the sweat, pee, milk and dirt wash away, I think about all I’m learning on this heart journey, and I feel blessed, not brave.