I saw her when I turned the corner; she nearly took my breath away. A more stunning woman I hadn’t seen in all the villages we visited that trip.
Savi was sitting on a log, washing her naked baby from a tin bucket, sun beating down on her bare shoulders, her smile telling me without words that I was welcome there.
I approached her to talk and gush over her sweet baby but she didn’t speak English and that was okay, in fact, expected. We chatted back and forth to each other anyway—sometimes words are just words and it’s the being together that is the real conversation. Her baby cried a little and squirmed, seemingly unsettled but robust for a five-month-old. Baby Henry was adorable and perfect. I melted with admiration for him while also feeling the pang of grief for the baby I had lost just four months before. My womb felt so empty.
After a few minutes her husband approached, their small son tucked behind his legs, peeking out at the first white person he’d ever seen. They reminded me of our family not that long ago; their boys looked about the same age gap as mine. Immediately I felt that human connection that comes through shared life experiences, even though clearly our lives were vastly different.
Michael spoke excellent English and translated the conversation for a little while as we asked about each others’ families and work, standing under the shadow of their bamboo house balanced up on stilts above the mud.
They were the most beautiful family. I couldn’t wait to tell my own about them.
I asked if I could take some photos of all four of them—something I never do since I prefer to get more candid images and slices of life when I’m on the field with my story-telling gear. But this family reminded me so much of my own, I wanted to remember them. They were kindred somehow.
I took some more photos of Savi and her family and then made my way back to the clinic. Meeting them had been a highlight not just of my day, but one of the highlights of my entire outreach to the Western Province, Papua New Guinea. It helped me to remember that although we were so different, we were much the same, too.
Later that night we received an emergency radio on the ship—a baby was struggling to breathe and they needed our help. Our medical staff treated him, doing all that they could before his parents decided they needed to go home and be with their village while the inevitable approached.
It was Henry. It was Savi.
I sobbed when I realized the family I spent time with earlier that day was now fighting for the life of their tiny son—a stark reminder at how very, very different our lives actually are.
They floated away from us on their small boat into the darkness of the Bamu River toward their village—one that wouldn’t even been written into most maps. We never saw them again and I don’t know what happened to that tiny baby boy. I like to think that perhaps God did a miracle and spared his life through divine intervention… but I feel sad every time I think of them, knowing the reality they contend with tucked away in a village off the map, away from the public eye and modern medicine and social media pleas for prayer and help.
As they left I sent them with family pictures from earlier that day after printing them with the small, portable photo printer I had brought with me deep into the river villages. It no longer seemed strange that I had spent the time with them or broken my norm to gather them up for some posed, smiling family photos.
I don’t know if they still have their little boy with them, but I know they have photos of their entire family together on an innocent happy morning before it all came crashing down.
For that, I am grateful.
Friends, when we are living our lives intentionally we stumble into opportunities to be a blessing just by being ourselves and doing what we do. I had no idea that spending time with this family was for anything other than me walking away from them with a greater appreciation of my own husband and children, and a greater understanding of how alike we all are—even with those who live so differently.
Truly, I felt richer for having been with them.
And yes, I was deliberate about how I made time for them, how I shared my life with them, and how I honored their little family, but I had no idea that within all of that I would do something almost unintentionally that could turn out to be so profound. Families like theirs would never have the opportunity to get a family photo taken of them, much less printed, and yet God placed me there in the last hours (most likely) of Henry’s life so they could have a photograph to remember what it was like to be a happy family of four.
I can only imagine what that photograph looks like now. Is it tear-stained? Is it wrinkled from the clutches of a heartbroken mother or a grieving father? Is it hung, pierced with a twig, on a bamboo wall above those muddy floors? Is it now priceless to them—a moment of happy and complete caught in time to help them always remember?
I’ll never claim brilliance or forethought in how it all unfolded—it was a few simple photos and laughter and shared experiences and appreciation for family—but I’m so glad I didn’t ignore the little tugging of my heart that day that drew me to a smiling mother and a bathing baby under the hot morning sun hung in the sticky New Guinea sky.
What are you offering the world today, friend?
Perhaps we don’t know the big picture, or what exactly is going on behind the scenes, but our lives can be an offering if we’re intentional about doing the things we’re good at—a little at a time—for those already in our lives, and for those we “happen” to find crossing our paths.
The 2014 Love A Mama Mother’s Day Drive is around the corner
Mother Day is coming up my friends… that means the Love A Mama Collective’s Mother’s Day Drive is right around the corner, too. We’ve already rallied over 10,000 clean birth kits, close to 200 baby slings, a solar powered maternal health suitcase, and a whole slew of other maternal health resources for the women of PNG during the last three years. Amazing? I think yes. Are you following on facebook or twitter to keep up-to-date on how we’ll serve these sweet mamas this year? Some announcements coming up soon for the 2014 drive…. Please stay tuned!
*Names have been changed for this story. All photos were taken with permission.