My mother died four years ago, on April 20, 2008. It was a Sunday. I was ordering shoes online when I got the call from my dad, and it changed my perspective on just about everything in my life. I have never liked those shoes.
My mother waged a long, hard battle with diabetes. The disease fought ugly and unfair, as it always does. My mother, however, battled with dignity and courage and in the end, she won. Why do I hail her the victor? Because I never once heard her complain, whine, or rant. She didn’t host pity parties, nor did she give us endless malady reports. In fact, she didn’t want anyone focusing on her. I think it was easier for her to deal with the uncertainty and the injustice of her health if she looked more “to the interests of others.” Maybe it was just diversion, but I don’t think so. I’ve found that my own problems seem to move to the back of the line when I’m paying more attention to the needs of others. It sounds simple, but it’s near impossible. Mother had it down.
That’s a long introduction to the reason why I am taking a trip to Ghana in honor of Mom. It’s not something she would have ever wanted to do – she didn’t own a passport and although she did it with grim determination, flying was simply a necessary evil. No, I’m dedicating this trip to my mother because there are things I learned from her that will serve me well as I leave the comforts of this world and enter the unknowns of another. It seems she was on that path most of her life. So on May 13, I’m taking along to Ghana three things from my mother’s arsenal:
Guts: I chose the destination because, well, it’s Africa. Who goes to Africa because they’re looking for a predictable, cushy trip? But that doesn’t mean I’m a courageous person. In fact, I’m usually pushing myself out past the parameters because I don’t tend to be terribly courageous. I’m just mostly stubborn to defeat things that make my hands sweat. Mom wasn’t a thrill-seeker, but she was gutsy in a kind of “take life as it comes” way. It seems there was always something unexpected around her corner: heart disease, the effects of her diabetes, breast cancer at the end of her life. But she wasn’t one to ring her hands over it all. Me? I’ve been known to have sleepless nights over speeches I had to give the next day. Please. Courage is sometimes nothing more than trusting that however things work out, things will work out. It allows us to look past our pain and suffering and believe that, as Dame Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It takes courage to have that kind of faith and I can think of no better outlook to take with me to Africa.
Generosity: Mother loved to give stuff, but she was mostly ambivalent about getting stuff. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” she quoted this often, and inwardly I repeatedly replied, “Yeah, right.” As it turns out, this is gospel truth. I don’t know how it works, but the blessings that come from getting are pitifully anemic when compared to the blessings of giving. Try it. It’s weird. I am reminding myself that this trip is not about me, my comforts, my thrilling experiences, or my ability to come back with dazzling photographs. I want to go with my arms full, and return with them empty. What I do know is that my acts of generosity will compare not one whit to the generosity that will be shown to me. My mother will be joined by many others across the ocean who will teach me about giving.
Grace: This is my husband’s word for 2012, but it was my mother’s word for life. She showed me grace every time I turned around and did something stupid or brilliant (less of the latter, more of the former). It didn’t matter. So here’s the deal: I’m going to Ghana with my 20 year-old daughter. And we’re a bit alike. And sometimes we drive each other crazy. We have lots of opinions and high expectations and low tolerance levels (we take after my dad, God love him, but we’re all working on it). So my first act of grace is to mute my opinions, lower my expectations, and raise the tolerance level to heights unknown. And I’m not even going to give Erin my opinion that she should do the same. Then, I want to enter into the country of Ghana with humility, extending grace as one who makes a pilgrimage to a place she has never been. That means I don’t grumble about the cultural differences, nor will I assume that my U.S. citizen ways are somehow superior. They are not. During our travel to China last year, I had to continually remind myself that our Chinese friends did not particularly need our opinions on how people drive, what they eat, or whether it’s better hygiene to squat or sit (it’s squatting, but feel free to host your own debate).
So there it is. My Ghana travel resolutions, honoring my mother, who would have been thrilled to see us taking this trip and extending our hearts to children we only know through photos. Will I fail at every one of these resolutions at some point in the trip? Most certainly. It’s a 14-day trip with a loose agenda, one 20 year-old college student, and lots of TIA (This Is Africa). But I’ve made the resolutions, and I’m not leaving home without them.