It was one of those things I gave up when we first came to Niger.
Not the fresh-off-the-griddle-hot stack of fluffy pancakes.
Not the drizzled syrup.
(Sometimes, we even have friends walking off tarmacs bearing gifts of real maple...)
But the butter...
There were lots of reasons. Butter was... even more so now... expensive back then, and?
Not always available.
So I just stopped eating it and then never started using butter on my pancakes again, even when we were back home in the States.
At least not until just recently.
I'd forgotten just how delightful syrupy AND buttery pancakes could be.
So what does this have to do with anything?
Three weeks until my family boards a plane that will take us away from Niger for at least the next year... maybe longer. My oldest graduates from high school - and knows he may never be back. And really, no one knows what the next day may hold, so that reality could be true for all of us.
We've done (or are in the midst of doing) the giving away, the selling, the distributing, the packing, the planning, the ticket buying, the scheduling... all of the preparing to be ready to leave. The freezer and pantry are mostly empty; we really are down to not much more than those things we'll take with us in our suitcases. There are a few books to return to the library, and two community garage sales to sell the remaining small stuff. Our three cats need homes, but even the rest of animal menagerie is spoken for.
All that lingers is winding things up, purchasing a sufficient supply of malaria medications just in case, and remembering to "slather our remaining stack of days with butter."
Sometimes missionaries play the martyr. After all, living in a place like this place should earn some brownie points, right? I can easily choose to focus on the dirt and poverty all around, all of the unavailable impossibles here, the myriad of possibilities back home laid aside and left behind, every one a carefully counted and mind-recorded sacrifice made. But often times, these thoughts about the cost of following Jesus evolve into habit and are no longer passionate, intentional, and worthy choices. Rather, they are just like the unbuttered pancakes that flipped into my life as the new normal.
Sacrifice is real. It is hard. But it is also true for anyone... no, for EVERYONE... who follows the Lord whenever and wherever that or they may be. Jesus warns those who follow Him to count the cost. International faith workers, however, often relish in letting everyone know just how significant of a price they've paid... that they've spent the last however many years sacrificing, stacking and eating pancakes minus the butter all for the sake of Jesus, obedience and a worthy cause. They somehow get this idea that adding the voluntary doing without makes their sacrifice and service more worthy and impressive
In that sacrificial mindset, in the throes of burnout and ministry fatigue and heat exhaustion and everyday-life-in-developing-country frustrations, God has been reminding me to go ahead and enjoy some moderate binge-ing as well as the luxuries that come with life in Niger. They DO exist! After all, we are making memories and stowing treasures that may have to last us and those who will miss us - for awhile.
So you can bet that for the next 20 or so days, I'm not only going to enjoy butter on my pancakes, but also:
- munch on fried bean cakes with my friend at her restaurant on the side of the street,
- sip tea sitting on the terrace with visitors,
- devour doughnuts with the dorm one more time,
- wave at and greet the gendarme manning the security checks,
- relish the local peanut butter that my sweet friend makes and sells - and which will hopefully soon be featured at a local boutique,
- chatter with the veggie man as I buy fruit and veggies and still find it amazing that I'm speaking a language other than English or even French... all of the time,
- ask the parking attendant how his twin boys are doing,
- go out to breakfast, order an omelet only to have the waiter inform me that the restaurant is out of eggs... then laugh and decide that a pain au chocolate will suffice instead,
- buy baguettes right off the street,
- deliver clothes and toys to some friends who don't have much,
- invite playmates from many nations over to hang with the kids,
- brave the heat of the kitchen and spend time cooking and sharing recipes with my friend and house helper,
- eat street meat,
- let bedtimes slide,
- snuggle with the cats,
- and the dogs,
- watch the sun set over the river every night, if I can,
- visit one more school where servant hearts teaching in seemingly impossible situations still try and meet the needs of a child with disabilities simply because that is what Jesus would do,
- stand outside in a dust storm... if we get another one and then run inside to listen to the pounding rain on a tin roof,
- sit at the side of the pool and visit with friends while the kids splash and play,
- listen to water rushing over the barage when the electricity goes out,
- sing my favorite hymns and worship songs to drum accompaniment and an African tempo,
- laugh aloud and enthusiastically join in as the whole church sings and does the motions to a Sunday School song,
- listen to the everyday music of an African tribal tongue... and my Zarma friends keep on keeping on, patiently helping me to communicate with them in their heart language......
Sometimes it is easy in the busyness and the hardness of life as an expat to flounder in the frustrations instead of basking in the beautiful - of which there is much if we only open our eyes to see and drop the martyr habit.
As we prepare to leave, we don't want to whitewash the hard, but we do want to celebrate and treasure the gift we've had to be a part of life in this amazing place.
For, make no doubt about it - it is a gift.
Knowing the hard, we'd still overwhelmingly choose it again... and again... and again.
All of the prep up to this time has been to hopefully
give us the luxury of time to finish well...
Saying good bye... or even just an extended see you later...
to places and people will hurt.
But it can also be done well and that helps the hurt to be worth it.
That's our prayer.
Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field: