February 7, 2012

Finding Purpose in a Bag of Beans. ~ Amanda Stuermer











People across the globe are struggling for daily survival, and I am asking for guidance on my life’s purpose.

Does God think I’m a total whiner? Does he look at all I have been given and think, “When will she be satisfied?”

Sometimes, I worry that my life’s purpose is like that proverbial pony that every kid badgers his or her parents for at some point. Could I be driving God to drink in the same way that those spoiled, whiny children drive their parents straight to a bottle of gin after a long day at work?

The other day, I was scheduled to lead a women’s workshop around, ironically, finding purpose. It was one of those mornings when the entire universe seemed conspired against me—the alarm clock didn’t go off, I burned the toast and my daughter realized she forgot her lunch box halfway to school. By the time I made it to the studio, I was feeling frenzied, stressed and completely incapable of helping anyone find their purpose. I couldn’t even find the key to unlock the studio door. I stood in the freezing rain, digging through my bag and cursing my bad luck. Then, I found a tiny brown bean.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down—it’s the way you carry it.” ~ Lou Holtz

A few years ago, I traveled to Uganda with Off The Mat Into The World on a humanitarian aid trip. While visiting the Acholi Quarter—a slum area where some 15,000 displaced persons live—we helped distribute food to several families.

These families have little to nothing. They live in one-room, mud homes with no electricity or running water.

Most of the women and children work in the adjacent rock quarry for long hours and minuscule pay while the men spend their days in the bar shacks spending what little their wives make on homemade beer. The Acholi women sang songs to greet us then waited in line to get bags of flour, rice and beans.

I watched as they carried the heavy bags atop their heads, usually carrying a baby strapped across their back as well. I had met a young woman named Christine whose baby I was bouncing on my lap. When it was her turn to get provisions, I handed the baby back and told her I could carry the food to her home for her.

I wanted to lighten her load. It looked easy enough.

I put the bag on my head and followed Christine down the red dirt street past mud shack after mud shack. The men snickered behind their beer bottles, the children openly laughed and called out “Mizunga, Mizunga.” It means “white person”, or maybe crazy white person in my case.

I tried to smile and act as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me to be strolling through an African slum with a bag of food on my head.

Suddenly, the bag ripped and I was showered in beans and flour. Christine quickly began collecting what she could. She even grabbed a handful of beans from down the front of my shirt. I raced back to the distribution center for another bag.

When I returned she was picking beans up off of the road. She laughed at the flour stuck in my hair. Then she thanked me for the new bag, placed it atop her head and continued on down the road to with her sweet little baby strapped to her back. No, I would never know the way to carry her load.

It’s been two years since that tiny brown bean fell into my bag.

I leave it there as a reminder. Each time my fingers fumble across it while searching for keys, gum, chapstick, or coffee change, I am reminded of Christine and with what grace she carried such a heavy load.

During the workshop, I shared the story of the bean. I told the women how Christine, along with many other Ugandan women I met on that trip, had inspired me to start a non-profit devoted to empowering women worldwide. One woman looked at me with tears in her eyes,

“How dare we spend our time asking for spiritual guidance when other women spend their time asking for beans?”

I assured her that I had asked that same question many times. Then I gave her the answer that my teacher, Seane Corn, gave me,

“How dare we not. We have been given the opportunity in this lifetime to explore our spiritual growth, to discover our life’s purpose, to find ways to be of service. How dare we not do those things?”

It’s a powerful answer.

Sometimes, it resonates. Other times, I still feel like a spoiled brat pestering God for purpose when he obviously has more important things to get to such as preventing a famine or drought.

It’s a wonder he hasn’t put me in permanent prayer timeout. Yes, I can get that cynical. Thankfully, I have a tiny brown bean hidden in the bottom of my bag. It reminds me that it’s not the load, but the way you carry it that counts. Christine and I have been given very different loads in this lifetime.

She carried all the weight of hers with a deep sense of strength and grace. How dare I not carry mine the same way—regardless of how light it might be in contrast? And how dare I not ask God to put a little more on my shoulders?

Maybe we should all consider carrying a little more.

So, if you’re listening God, please put down the Tangueray. I’m not going to whine for another purpose pony. I know you’ve had a long, hard day at work. I just want to know what I can do to help. I want to carry my weight in this lifetime. I’ll try not to drop any more beans.


Amanda Stuermer runs a non-profit that uses yoga, art, service, and travel to empower women to be catalysts for change. She is a mother, wife, yogi, activist, writer, and world traveler who collects cowgirl boots, leads service trips to Uganda, and loves to curse. She has written for Outside Magazine, Yoga Journal Blog, Yoga Modern, and Play Outdoors. Email her at [email protected], and to learn more visit: www.globalshineproject.com or www.shinestudiobend.com.





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