This is isn't the blog post I've been planning to write... the one I've been working on.
But as we face another imminent transition in upcoming months... this IS where my heart has been resting, where my mind has been dwelling much...
The story starts with an evening years ago,
hanging out around a campfire with family and friends in one of our favorite Niger spots,
watching the sun set from a West African sand dune...
Three gals, traipsed over the sand dunes - probably heading home before dark. I captured them with my telephoto lens in not the best of light. Their picture intrigued me then. Perhaps more accurately, it haunts me, now.
I wonder about their stories.
They could be sisters. That isn't hard for me to imagine...
I can easily picture my four oldest girls walking along through the sand~ wrapped in wild African print, draped in light weight, flowing scarves, scuffing $1 cheap flip-flops along the sand and munching on a piece of fruit. They'd chatter and meander, enjoying a reprieve from the unrelenting sun that now ducked behind the horizon. Immersed in each other's company just like these girls, mine would be mostly oblivious to any and everything else going on around them.
Then a thought crossed my mind: I wondered if two could be keeping the third company as she'd been sent to a nearby market to buy millet which she'll then pound before preparing her family's meal.
That second scenario isn't so much like my girls' story...
...and not because my girls never run to a nearby shack,
buy then bring something home, and
prepare it for the rest of the family.
They, in fact, have often been asked to do something just like that.
They are, several times every day in fact, still asked to do something similar - something that contributes not to their fun and amusement but to the well-being of our family.
But other times they lay on their bed and watch YouTube or Fairytail videos on a Kindle... read books they've checked out from the library... walk back over to the school next door just to work, earning money they then deposit in the bank and use to fund many of the fun or frivolous things teenage girls love to do... dream of another wedding in Southern California... picture seeing friends from Niger soon... look forward to celebrating a might-as-well-be-a-brother's wedding... imagine a high school graduation and all that comes next... share war stories about working on earning that drivers' license and having to drive with Mama clutching the door and trying to appear calm just to do so... encouraging one another for yet another round of imminent upcoming goodbyes...
My girls loved and miss their life in Niger and are so thankful for the opportunity they have had to spend so much of their growing up time in that place, even knowing all of the things they've "missed" in the States. Now, barely shy of two years back in America, they miss Africa and their friends there something awful, but have come to terms with that because "after Niger" has always existed for them... They've always had something farther off and more away just over the metaphorical horizon.
It is not the same for those three girls growing up in a village in Niger, which, according to the 2013 United Nations Human Development report, is still ranked low... 187 out of 187... Niger is a land whose people are - particularly women, girls and children - almost ALL vulnerable.
The girls in this photo? They probably do not know how to read, even if they were permitted to attend school for 2-3 years. They may have never seen a television, much less surfed the internet. They may already be married and have children waiting for them back by their huts. Their husbands or fathers may have a cell phone... however it is unlikely that they would carry one. For them, their "after" is Niger... and mostly just as they know it.
I hope my girls never forget just how blessed they've been, how much lavish grace they've been gifted. I hope that, in my concerns and sometimes anxieties for their future, I never forget.
I pray that after Niger and that even as we transition from home assignment to a place that couldn't be more different, they never forget... and begin to feel entitled.
I can see that danger nipping at their heels, at my heels, already.
I hope they fight hard against their own entitlement and a culture that increasingly encourages narcissism, and that each time they start to believe and presume desires (even the worthy ones) to be needs or rights, they consciously recall and fix in their minds images like the one above... and then really remember how amazingly gifted their lives have already been...
I hope they remember that their "afters" are ALWAYS gifts to be shared, sacrificed, spent and well-stewarded... for the benefit of others and the glory of God...
...for the rest of their lives.
May it ever be so... for each one of us.
Rewrite/rework of an original post entitled
A Prayer for "After"
and published on Our Wright-ing Pad
April 5, 2013.