Monday, April 22, 2013


We had Bronwyn’s one year check up today with her pediatrician in Lusaka. Hepetitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella, you shall not conquer! 85th percentile in height and weight - huzzah!

Doctor Marsden was asking us questions about the things Bronwyn is able to do, like stand, walk, drink from a cup, etc and we found ourselves overwhelming our wonderful peds lady with info on how socially adept our daughter is. Oh first time parents, how over-enthusiastic you we are. We really got thinking abut all of the things that baby girl has picked up on. She has a whole repertoire of tricks up her sleeve that have nothing to do with standard physical development – things that she just sort of picked up... the invisible hand of socialization. Wow! Yikes! Oh my! I have very mixed emotions about this.

First, why I'm thrilled:
Watching Bronwyn play with the kids around her is pretty much the most darling thing I ever did see. I love that she plops herself down in the middle of their card games in our house and pretends like she knows what’s going on.

The boys taught her to drum on buckets and sing along and bop up and down to her own tunes. Last Sunday she crawled from the back of the church up to the front and began drumming on the choir drum while the choir kept singing and dancing around her.

I walked into the Learning Resource Center the other day and found that one of the little girls had strapped a baby doll to Bronwyn’s back. So sweet! They told her (in all seriousness) “don’t drop your baby – this is very important.”

She plays on the playground with the confidence of a five year old, climbing on things, having a grand old time, trying to figure out what mom means when she said, “be nice, take your turn, don’t be miss bossy pants…”

She has become a mini-mom, copying me in my daily chores, which is sometimes cute, sometimes messy.

We’ve realized that, without our noticing, our little girl has become a socialized creature! She has picked up and mastered the culturally mores of group play, rhythm and song, baby wearing, and domesticity. We ask, how did that happen? When did that happen? Who taught her these things?

And herein lies the worry. Socialization is cultural adaption over time, an influence of the general cultural and normative climate that positions an individual relative to the rest of society. The fact that personality and moral formation are happening based on Bronwyn's surroundings is absolutely terrifying. Bronwyn is a growing up as a third culture child. She is being imprinted by both Zambian and American cultures. But both cultures demonstrate characteristics that I really don’t want my daughter to “accidentally” pick up.

Playing with kids on the floor – awesome.
Learning a Zambian hierarchical structure or an Amerian dog-eat-dog mentality – not so awesome.

Drumming away on buckets( and everything else) and dancing and singing – awesome. Learning the Zambian “enticement” moves or the American sexualized dancing – not so awesome.

Growing into a wonderful baby wearing mommy – awesome. Defining herself as a Zambian baby-maker or an American “anti-baby-maker-cuz-I-want-a-career” – not so awesome.

Culture is complicated. There are aspects of every culture that should rightly be whole-heartedly accepted, those that should be outright rejected, and those that are simply waiting to be redeemed. My fear is not that my baby would become Zambian-American, but that she will become Zambian-American in all the wrong ways. How do I help her adopt the best of the two cultures, rejecting the wrong, and discerningly redeeming the rest? It seems to simplistic to think that “just” by raising her in a Christian home or teaching her daily how she ought to live that that will somehow save her from Zambian idolatry, poverty-mentality and degradation of women, or from American power lust, individualism and materialism. As I observe the kids around me, I make note of the fact that no one has verbally taught them the majority of their little nuances. Cultural osmosis has been the defining force in their life. The invisible hand of socialization has turned my little-people-friends into the full fledged Zambians they are – for better or for worse.

I don’t want Bronwyn to struggle with cultural identity. Nor do I want her to go with the flow and let the waves of culture sway her here and there. In my heart of hearts, I want her to belong to a completely different culture of a different world – a culture defined by compassion and justice and holiness – the things that make the joy-pursuit of this life come to fruition.

How do we lead her in that? To me this is the most important question as a parent whose call is to shepherd my child. As Jeremy and I talk about the cultural formation happening around us, we often feel overwhelmed, but at the same time we are thankful. We’ve both acknowledged that living in a place with a culture different from that which we were raised in, gives us a heightened sense of awareness regarding cultural nuances and their affect on our every day life. The typical American family living in a typical American neighborhood may never have a reason to stop and think about what messages society is sending their children and what character formation is stemming from everyday, secular influences. And yet this is the content of our pillow talk and our dinner conversation. Coming from one culture, living in another and trying to raise our daughter in a blended third gives us a keen sense of awareness. Even as we daily work through these questions, we give thanks that we are not passive participants in this giant social arrangement called community, but that we have been afforded the opportunity to parent intentionally. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

the culture of womanhood: babies having babies

I stumbled across this picture the other day. It was taken back in 2006 when Jeremy first came to Fimpulu. It caught my attention when I saw three specific girls all in one shot – Nsonga, Mwape and Rosa. Gosh, I guess we’ve known these girls a long time - look at these babies - was my first thought.

They used to come back to the farm and kick balls around and play cards and make fun of bachelor Jeremy having to cook for himself. When we got married, I spent a lot of time with the trio as well – having sleepovers, painting our fingernails and talking to them about school and boys and HIV, and trying to encourage them that good choices now would bring much reward later.

We also tried to work with these girls a lot on their English, realizing that language would be their number one pitfall in school. When they all failed 9th grade, we weren’t terribly surprised since, despite our efforts, they could hardly answer the question, “how are you?” They all opted to repeat 9th grade, hoping for better results. Unfortunately, their English comprehension levels didn’t improve overnight and again, they failed. We’ve believe that the girls actually anticipated their pending failure and opted for plan B – make babies. Before they ever sat for their final exams, all three girls were with child and showing. Mwape ended up marrying her baby daddy, Nsonga reluctantly revealed the father when her mother demanded compensation and Rosa pled the 5th and still won’t talk about it.

No more school, mommies by age 16, the cycle of poverty continues, and we lament. Girls, GIRLS – WHY? Where did we go wrong? I thought we talked about the challenges of having a baby and the opportunities out there and our commitment to support you and… and… and… Clearly we missed something. Or, on second thought,  maybe it has nothing to do with us. Maybe its not that we missed something but rather, society missed something.

Our suspicion is that these three realized that if they failed out of school, they would no longer be school girls, they would just be girls. Boring, immature, insignificant, little girls. According to Bemba culture, girls do not become women until they produce children. Mwape, Nsonga and Rosa determined that if their education (and therefore acceptability as little girls) was coming to an end, then it was time for womanhood to begin. To be out of school and not a woman would make them spinsters. Spinster - even I bristle at the word. How bleak and unlovely does that sound?

And so to avoid the embarrassment of both academic failure and spinsterhood, the girls played their cards according to culture’s rules. They produced babies, swiftly stepping into womanhood. I understand the game that is played. I’ve been laughed at twice this month alone because people think I’m lying about my age.
Almost thirty?  Haha, funny Bethany. You only have one child, therefore you are clearly not a day over, like, 20. (my sassy translation of the Bemba)
I’ve heard comments regarding my seemingly late debut into womanhood from old and young, men and women, educated and not. Furthermore, the tone and the respect level communicated has improved significantly now that I am a mother. Motherhood is highly valued in this culture. And therefore it makes sense that each of these three girls choose to be poor-but-respected mothers rather than well-off-but-disrespected singletons.

Culture has told these girls that, apart from having children, they are tiny, insignificant, incomplete and simply waiting to become. I wish so badly that I could find the right way to interact with young girls such that they hear the message that they already are. They’ve been women in the making since birth and will be until their last as children only teach us a different dimension of womanhood, not the whole of it. Their self-worth is grounded in who the Creater himself dreams them to be – so much more than “just” baby making abilities.

We are resisting the temptation to beat ourselves up over our perceived failure with these three girls. We will continue to love them, and their babies, through the ups and downs that are sure to follow. And we remember, that new girls are born every day here; important, significant, beautiful girls.







From afar, will ya’ll help us love on these ones in the same way you love in mine?

Monday, April 8, 2013

new years resolution

I’m making a new years resolution, and no, I’m not three months late. I’m right on time. My life clock hit the reset button on March 25th 2012 when Bronwyn entered our lives and changed us forever. Now, one year (plus a few weeks) later, I find myself reflecting on the nature of that change. Just the other night Bronwyn lay sleeping at an angle in the bed, leaving Jeremy and I to cozy up on the other side and gaze upon our slumbering babe. All stretched out, I saw how long she is getting and I whispered to Jeremy, “she’s huge… I remember when she was half this size.” And that’s when the tears started to fall. I do remember when she was half this size, and I remember how much I wanted her to hurry up and get big so that I could get back to work. A rolly baby without the ability to sit up on her own meant that I carried her everywhere, holding her even while she napped and talked often about how I was “stuck” with this infant and felt guilty that I wasn’t doing something more impressive, and worried that I was a truly pathetic missionary.

“Why did I ever complain?” I said to Jeremy. In the grand scheme of things, that season was a blink of an eye. I’m so ashamed that I wanted it to go faster, that I valued my freedom over the gift of beholding my ever-changing child. “I shouldn’t have been so concerned with multitasking,” I said. “I should have just sat there and stared at her. I mean look at her now! She’s gorgeous.”

Bronwyn’s first year has been full of transitions for our family, but I think I’ve changed more than anyone. I’ve learned more in the last year than ever before about dying to self, living in humility and finding my worth in Christ. I still regret the fact that I didn’t cherish every second of Bronwyn’s first year in the ways that I should have, and I’ve amended my heart’s priorities in such a way as to assure that year two is different. Bronwyn’s Bemba name, Bupe, means gift, and that she most definitely is. As we recover from her crazy birthday party and return to life as normal, we reflect on the divine nature of this gift, hand selected for us since eternity past, entrusted to us for the present, and instilling in our hearts a passion and anticipation of the future.

Thank you Lord for the gift of a child. She is first and foremost yours – but thank you for letting us shepherd her for now. May we treasure these days.