I recently had the opportunity to travel with ONE and Heifer International to Malawi in Sub-Saharan Africa. As clichéd as it might sound, the trip was life changing. My short time in that country has given me expanded perspective on so many things, from issues of hunger, to development, and so much more. While I now have a deeper understanding on many of the “big” issues that affect developing countries, the trip also provided profound insight into the “small” things of life that impact us all day-to-day.
While in Malawi, we visited sites that work with and benefit from foreign aid agencies and organizations, including villages and farms that specifically work with Heifer. On our first day, we visited the Mtika family, who has been working with Heifer for over four years. Mr. Mtika is a lead farmer for his village, providing training and support to other families in his community. As the Mtikas described their experiences, they explained that since working with Heifer, their children no longer go to bed hungry and they are able to feed their family three meals a day instead of two.
As they were speaking, I immediately thought about making my kids’ lunches every morning before school. I’ll admit it is one of my least favorite tasks as a parent. I don’t know what my hang up is, but making lunches is such a drag. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way — I hear other parents complaining about it all the time! You have to make lunches every morning and your kids often don’t even eat what you prepare. Add the complexity of trying to keep things healthy while also delicious, and making lunches can sometimes feel like the worst.
But standing there in the warm African sun near the Mtika home, I realized making my kids’ lunches is actually the best. I was overcome with gratitude for the simple fact that I have the opportunity to pack them a lunch each morning. Sending my children to school with a lunchbox filled with nutritious food is a privilege that I should feel grateful for EVERY DAY. Making their lunches is not something to complain about, but something to celebrate.
As I walked around the farm and village that morning, I met a young girl from the neighborhood. She was filled with smiles and light and kept repeating something to me in Chichewa, a language spoken in Malawi. I grabbed one of our drivers to translate, and we discovered she was asking if I had a plastic water bottle I could give her.
Luckily, I had one in my pack and happily handed it over. She then explained to us that the children in their village use the water bottles to carry their lunch to school each day. Their mid-day school meal is simply maize placed in the bottle with a bit of water, so that the maize is softened by lunchtime.
Since that morning in the village, making my kids’ lunches has become a completely different experience. The food I pack hasn’t changed, but my attitude has. Each morning as I place food in my kids’ lunchboxes I think of the beautiful Mtika family and their neighbors. I think of how grateful those parents are to be able to feed their children lunch each day. I think about maize in a plastic bottle. I think about how, even though where we live is so different, the Mtikas and I are connected by the experience of parenthood, of trying to provide the very best we can for our children through food, shelter, and love.
Just a few weeks after my visit to Malawi, I had the chance to hear mom blogger Stephanie Nielson speak at the wellness event Soulstice Retreat in Deer Valley, Utah, all about these little things in life that make a big impact. In 2008, Stephanie nearly died in a small plane crash with her husband and a friend. Suffering from burns on over 80 percent of her body, Stephanie miraculously survived, and is grateful each day for her continued, though evolved, role as wife and mother.
As she shared her harrowing story, she talked about the small victories over the years following her accident, as her body has slowly healed. Stephanie described tasks that used to annoy her as becoming experiences she was desperate to perform again. She and her husband Christian were telling my husband and I that the day she was able to close a zip-top baggie of carrots for their kids’ lunches, they celebrated by going out to dinner. Something so simple as bagging up carrots was an event worth rejoicing.
Most of life is made up of small, mundane tasks. It’s easy to view those tasks as a nuisance, things that have to get done on the way to bigger and better experiences. But the true beauty of life is most often hidden in those day-to-day acts of survival. If we’re constantly complaining about those acts and wishing them away, we are missing out on life itself. I am so grateful for my chance to talk with the Mtikas and Nielsons. I am grateful to have met these parents with greater struggles than mine who are, nonetheless, filled with gratitude — gratitude for being able to make food for their children each day. And now, every morning, as I pull out the bread and peanut butter, the granola bars and yogurt, the little baggies for the food, my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude.