September is quickly approaching. AHHH! Many of us are back in school and work routines. My son’s new school is under construction, so we are still off until next week….but things are about to get cray-cray!

The nature of the blog and of being a mom means that with great intention, you begin projects ultimately putting them off until later. All that to say, my secret experiment is back in full effect–starting September–I will reveal my findings later this year. In the next few weeks, we’ll finish up our series on contentment and begin Advice I’d Give My Younger Self, with my contributions from YOU- Thank you!

For now (unless some government official does something crazy again, and we have to digress), a blogger that I follow, Rachel Held Evans, is featuring a series on Women of Valor. Other writers are sharing beautiful, hilarious, and tear-inducing stories. You should definitely check them out.

In honor of her series, I wanted to offer a couple stories of my own. The first, is a devotion I prepared for my mentorship with author, Shannon Ethridge.

The Woman of Valor in this story is my friend, who through the birth and death of her son has been an image of beauty in the broken. You may have watched this before. But, if you haven’t, I’d like to share it with you in honor of her and in honor of any mom who cares for a sick child, you know who you are…You are Women of Valor. I nominate you. I announce you the winners of the Mother of the Decade Award. I am praying for you.

I’ve also mentioned my friend Busaka, from Ndola, Zambia. Below is a piece I wrote for her.

Who are the Women of Valor in your life?  Your mom? A stranger? Your best friend? I’d love to hear your stories and add them to the blogosphere conversation this week.

Beauty

The first time I walked into Busaka’s mud-brick home, she was groaning in pain while her five-year old daughter, Leesta, kept a coal-fire burning and swept the floor with a makeshift broom. They had a poster of Britney Spears hanging on their wall—the one where she’s standing in a high school hallway, in thigh-high socks and pigtails. On that first day, Leesta looked right at me, pointed to Britney and smiled.
I met Busaka, a twenty-year-old woman dying from AIDS, during the year I spent in the Copperbelt of Zambia working with the Bemba tribe. I’d envisioned Sub-Saharan Africa as a land resplendent with savannah sunrises. I expected to be transformed by the power of the Zambezi River and the wonder of Victoria Falls. Instead I found myself praying that I’d find beauty somewhere amidst the ashes of this disease-stricken and poverty-ridden nation.
Bemba witch doctors promote twisted traditions of sexual cleansing. Have sex with a baby; cure your HIV. Have sex with your brother’s widow; his spirit will stop haunting your house. Stick parching herbs into your vagina and have painful intercourse with a neighbor; heal your illness. I worked with a Zambian Christian grassroots organization who tried to dispel these myths while ministering to the dying—victims of these traditions, rape, and philandering spouses.
I’d visit homes that reeked of sickness, only to discover children in the dark corners, feeding death-bed mother’s, while their own stomachs distended from starvation. I didn’t speak much Bemba, beyond a greeting—Muli shani—and I kept pleading with God. Show me beauty here, somehow. I don’t often claim to hear the voice of God. But, as I stood in Busaka’s house on my first visit, I swear I heard God say This is not about you. Get over yourself. My prayers began to change. God, show this little family beauty, somehow.
After a few visits, Busaka asked me to sing to her. I learned one Bemba song, Mama yo yo yo Ba Lesa ba weme (It blows my mind how good God is) and it felt like a cosmic joke to be singing that over her, while she lay dying in front of her five-year-old. But, songs, blankets, and nshima (a staple of the Zambian diet) was what I had to offer. I brought them to Busaka and Leesta daily, like a vigil, like an addict faking it until she makes it.
After a few short months, Busaka died. It felt sudden to me, but I had come into these ladies’ lives at the end, when death had already taken up its giant space in their little hut. Leesta was shipped off to an orphanage on the other side of the country.  
Bemba funerals last for days. The community camps out at the home of the bereaved, almost making nuisances of themselves, eating too much food and overstaying their welcome. There was no funeral for Busaka, no respectful send off, no obnoxious family members. After a life of tragedy, I thought, the least she deserved was a dignified end. But, how much of that was just my American Evangelical need to make all of the ugliness seem pretty?
A few days after Busaka’s death, a female pastor from her community brought me a gift— a photo of Busaka lying on her side, suffering. God did not change her life situation. He didn’t transform ashes into beauty. But, in her final moments, Busaka had enough sense of self-worth to want her photo taken. She desired a gift, a remembrance for a friend.  
At the time, I may have seen a glimmer of hope in the photo, in her sense of dignity. Now I see that Busaka’s true valor is in that she convicted me—a privileged white American—that a greater beauty is needed, a greater hope for Busaka, Leesta, and for all of the Bemba tribe. She lived a life filled with rape, hunger, and sickness, and she taught me not to shove her tragedy away—not to try and wrap it up in a perfect little Britney Spears bow.

Busaka taught me that God is not just in the wonders of the world; He is in the darkest, lowliest, and humblest places. He wants to unsettle us, and use us to bring His justice, redemption, and love there.
Before the pastor left that day, I tried to give her back the photo.
“You keep it. You knew her better.” 
“Busaka wanted you to have it.”
“Thank you, this is lovely. I really miss Bana Leesta (Mother of Leesta). She was beautiful.”
She smiled at me, “Do you know what her name means?
“Busaka? No. I didn’t know it even had a meaning.”
She paused. “Her name means beauty.”  

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