The porter knocked at the door. He was ready for us, with his heavy brass trolley, and we began loading up our suitcases. Willow crawled on her tummy on the plush carpet. It was a stunning hotel, much more than we could afford really, but we had been exhausted from Pemba and it had been our first night in Johanesburg. We splashed out and it had been beautiful. The morning after, refreshed and rested, we loaded up our bags to continue our journey to Cape Town.
Where’s Lily? I asked Nick. She must be in the room he replied, as we stood in the corridor loading our things. She wasn’t. She must have gone down the corridor? I asked Nick, slight panic rising in my throat. He ran off down the hall and I checked the room again. I couldn’t see her. Nick returned after circling the floor. She wasn’t with him. She was gone.
The next few minutes felt like a terrifying blur. Like free falling into a nightmare. Because my husband is calm under pressure, he reached for the nearest phone and called reception to report his missing daughter. Because I am not calm under pressure, I fell prostrate on the ground and cried out from my guts GOD, throaty and primal. I looked out the window into busy Johannesburg and my heart raced – I had no idea what to do. My world was falling apart in seconds. She was gone.
And in a flash, the lift arrived in the corridor and a beautiful South African lady with a warm smile was carrying my daughter in her arms. My knees buckled and I clung onto her tiny frame. And as I wept over her hair, Lily also began to cry and we held onto each other tightly. She had – in a moment of seconds, while we were loading our bags – run into the corridor, pressed the lift button and stepped in. A little Mozambican toddler, she had no idea it would whisk her away like it did. But she came back, carried in arms, and I was so grateful I carried her the entire morning through the airport, even though my body ached.
I scroll, just like any other person, through my Facebook feed, and I see pictures of sunsets and new babies and date nights and mission trips. And then one night, just like any other person, I saw the story of Philando Castille. He was murdered for being black and it’s so shocking, everyone is saying, and it is.
I think of all of the mamas. The brown-skinned mamas in today’s America. Holding their tiny newborns, kissing round, warm cheeks. Smelling hair, counting tiny toes. Singing lullabies as they rock their precious ones to sleep in the dark. Swaying side to side, the holy dance of motherhood. Believing good things for their tiny babies of promise. Who knows what this little one will become? Kissing the nape of the neck, wrapping the squidgy arms up in a blanket, their hearts full and heavy with a love only God knows.
And one day those mamas look up and have to send their babies out into the world. A world that will not be kind to their babies, their precious black babies. A world where white men might open fire without reason, where white women feel afraid without reason. And I think of those mamas, waving their babies off, as if they are going into a lift, down, down, down. And they don’t know if their beloved ones are coming back.
I am really just living normal motherhood here, in my corner. I hang clothes on the laundry line and stir soup and read stories and wonder where all the crumbs come from all the time. It’s sweet and draining and frustrating and wondrously beautiful. And then I hear shots over the wall in the night or I hear stories from the friends we are making and I remember there is a lot of other stuff happening in streets and homes around me. So as I hang clothes and stir soup I think. I think about where those shots are landing. I think about lives cut short, violently and brazenly, at eighteen years old. I think of those men differently now I hold a son in my own arms.
I think of all of the mamas. The brown-skinned mommies in Manenberg and Hanover Park and other communities near me. Holding their tiny newborns, kissing round, warm cheeks. Smelling hair, counting tiny toes. Singing lullabies as they rock their precious ones to sleep in the dark. Swaying side to side, the holy dance of motherhood. Believing good things for their tiny babies of promise. Who knows what this little one will become? Kissing the nape of the neck, wrapping the squidgy arms up in a blanket, their hearts full and heavy with a love only God knows.
And one day those mamas look up and have to send their babies out into the world. A world that wants to ensnare them into the torturous trap of heroin. A world that convinces them to abandon their sweet, strong bodies to gun death on the streets. Bodies that were made to run breathless and grinning on a football field, that were made to protect and defend, that were made to lick ice lollies in the summer and build with wood. And those mamas see their children, and it’s like they can’t stop the road their sons are taking. Their sons are eleven years old now, thirteen years old, and drugs and violence have pounced. They are in the lift going down, down, down. And they don’t know if their beloved ones are coming back.
They still remember the way his hair smelled the morning he was born.
I know what it was like to lose my daughter. Only for a few minutes, but it is etched on my brain and I cannot forgot how it felt. And I think of all the mamas. What it’s like to watch before your eyes your own beloved slip away and never know if they will be brought back, carried in somebody’s arms, safe and yours. The world is not very safe for someone of colour. I am tired of that, and I am just watching. I cannot fathom the exhaustion those mothers carry.
We have to sit with that next to us, even though it digs into our sides. I don’t know what on earth I can do about it, I have three tiny children that are more than I can manage – really, if I wash my hair and cook a meal it’s a good day. I feel like I have no time or energy to tackle these things, but I know what I can do. I sit at His feet and I ask Him what to do. I know if He can honour a widow with two coins, I know if He can break bread and feed five thousand, I know that if He can take twelve people and change every nation, I know that if the kingdom is yeast and mustard seeds, then He can use a tired, tenacious mother.
So I try not to be afraid when I see children seemingly lost into the world and I imagine beautiful things instead. I imagine tiny ones playing with toys. I see girls learning maths and holding their heads high. I see those sons on the football field. I see them licking ice lollies on a summer day. I see Jesus laughing with joy over these ones, the ones He created for life. And I see the mamas, smiling a quiet smile, remembering how they held their tiny frames and said Who knows what this little one will become? And now, they know.