There are those moments when everything in your life gets put in sharp, pointed, and sometimes painful perspective. Last Thursday, I sat at a friend’s kitchen table with two women from a small village in Uganda who taught me more about life than anyone has in years. And that is not an off-the-cuff statement. I mean it.
One of the women is a widowed mother of twelve children, some biological and some orphaned, and the other a young mother of eight biological children and six orphaned children. They live in the midst of sorrow because they watch as death and abandonment unfolds on a daily basis. Consider this:
In the months of December 2011 and January 2012, 14 women in their tiny village died in childbirth.
Many of the orphans that are housed in the complex they live in (a church, parsonage, orphan homes) are members of large sibling groups whose parents have died of AIDS.
Children as young as eight and nine come to the church for help with younger siblings in tow because they have run out of food. The parents have died and these young heads of households have nowhere to turn after having exhausted their food supply.
Some of the children in their complex have been infected with HIV and must receive antiretroviral medicines daily.
In the midst of all this suffering, the women have no time to sit around and lament the conditions that surround them. Why? Because there is work to be done. Work. Here is a typical day in the life of a woman living in a Ugandan village:
Wake up early
Sweep the house (floors get dusty and dirty overnight)
Walk 2-3 miles to fetch the water (no taps, faucets, or indoor plumbing)
Clean the dishes to prepare for breakfast
Make breakfast (this is a longer process than you might think)
Get the children up, get them ready for school, prepare something for them to take to school to eat midday
Take the goats out to pasture, feed the pigs
Fetch firewood for cooking two more meals (this is done with baby on the back, baby on a hip, and firewood on the head…wanna try that?)
Prepare lunch (again, a longer process than you might think)
Make the trek to fetch more water (still juggling the babies)
Work the crops
Welcome the children home
Bring the goats in from the pasture
Fetch more water
Prepare dinner (again, a longer process than you might think)
“We work like horses,” one of the women said with a wry smile. It was amazing that in the midst of relating the sorrowful conditions in their village, the plight of the orphans they care for, and the hardships of women in their country, my two new friends sprinkled in lots of laughter. Not the polite, phony kind of laughter, but sincere, joy-filled laughter that comes from a deep place of contentment. These are women that do not, and cannot, depend on their circumstances to produce this laughter, joy, and peace. I, however, spend far too much time allowing my circumstances to determine whether I am up, down, or somewhere in between. Oh, I fake it well by not sharing these ups and downs with everyone around me, but they are there most of the time. And so many times they are petty: a frustrating work experience; an off-handed comment from someone; a sore knee on a day when I want to run; not enough money in the savings to buy something I think we need (I confuse needs and wants); parenting struggles. I know these are real issues, but on certain days I’m so driven to a sour mood by these circumstances that you would think I was carrying firewood on my head and two babies on my body. I only admit this because I’m hoping there are those of you who struggle with this same thing. If not, I’ve gone too far out on the limb, which wouldn’t be the first time.
We live in a culture riddled with depression and anxiety, but we live cushy lives by the world’s standards. It really doesn’t compute, however I don’t have an answer for it. All I know is that when I am with people who are joyful despite their circumstances, it puts things in perspective for me. So I’m thinking that perhaps it would do the people around me some good if I was this type of person as well. I have it in me, I just forget that. I let the circumstances control me, instead of remembering that I have control of my attitude toward those circumstances. The thing is, I don’t want to be phony about it and I don’t like the philosophy that says you have to smile first and then you’ll feel it. Those are usually phony smiles. I’d rather find the way to actually feel this and live it from the inside out, not from the outside only. There are too many of us playing that game and I think most of us can tell the difference. Any anyway, faking it probably causes a fair amount of depression and anxiety.
Every day, I must be driven back to the truth that everything I need, I already have. There is a different message that gets blasted at me every moment of every day, but it’s up to me to remember that I don’t need a life that is bigger, better, faster, louder, smoother, more predictable, or less chaotic. I need a life that is lived from a deeper place than the surface stuff that pulls me in all directions. And I need the perspective of those who live this out with gracious joy. Thank you, sisters. Your life is a testimony and your laughter gave me vision.