When we lived in Uzbekistan we had an indoor kitchen for the winter and an outdoor kitchen for the paralyzing summers. Despite the heat, flies and unpurified water, it was culturally important to keep up the appearance of cleanliness. So every evening, just as the sun lowered itself to rest behind the Aral mountains, my mother would join thousands of Uzbek women and sprinkle water on the concrete kitchen floor before sweeping the dust away.
Sometimes my sisters and I were called upon to help too, and you'd hear nothing but the steady swishing of four brooms sweeping across the courtyard grounds. Us girls hated this chore and only did it when asked.
But my mother, like her Uzbek neighbors, would faithfully sweep the earth.
I look back on this with wonder at my mother. She and my father both felt a fire in their bones to move to Central Asia, to nurture a newly founded country, to give of themselves.
But while my dad served in the schools, teaching English and starting up the city's free Internet cafe and meeting with other humanitarian aid workers, my mother's sacrifice was so much more.
I think it's easier to give up everything in your life for a wild adventure. It's harder to give your life to daily sweeping dirt.
As a child I never understood the love offering my mother was giving. How it helped my father's standing and respect in the community to have a wife who did what was expected of a good Uzbek bride. She wasn't wild, she didn't wear jeans or make up. She let go of her western identity to gain trust, to build relationships that would last a lifetime.
Her role was vital, but I know it didn't feel that way when she'd pick up the broom for the fourth time that week and sweep the courtyard.
I know she never dreamed hand-washing cloth diapers. Or boiling pots of water for us to drink day in and day out. Training for their time overseas never prepared her for fighting for self-worth in the face of the mundane. But she did. She swept the courtyard, brushing away that persistent desert dust, knowing it'd be back again tomorrow.
It's these things I think about when I share my own doubts of self-worth in ministry to my mother over the phone. Holding back tears to prove I'm brave. I never thought my biggest contribution to God's calling on my husband and my life would be lifting boxes. But I know and have faith that somehow it fits in.
"I know when you're in the middle of it, it feels like this is it forever," I can hear my mother smiling on the other side of the phone. "But it's not, a new season will come and you'll realize God was growing you and preparing you for something more beautiful than you could ever imagine."
How can I not believe her? This is coming from the woman who swept dirt for nine years.
Some seasons we're just called to face the dust. Not a new challenge, not an exciting one, but the same stubborn dirt that'll be back the next day. I'm learning in these seasons, victory is simply faithfully facing it again and sweeping it away.
Success is sometimes just showing up again and being used again.
"You're my girl, and I'm proud of you," she says before we hang up.
And I go to bed, ready to face the dust.