It has been five years since I worked at the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The distance between then and now felt especially poignant to me this morning as I was coming into work and listening to the reporters talk about the Kenyan elections on NPR. Five years ago, I was a wide-eyed baby intern trying to find the balance between being helpful and staying out of people's way. The 2008 Kenyan elections had gotten out of hand, ethnic violence was erupting in eastern Africa's most stabilizing cities, and we were sending observers to try and sort out what was going on there.
When those observers got back, they had an intimate briefing with the Committee staff and some Congressmen. One of my bosses sent me to transcribe the meeting and report back. I sheepishly walked into the gorgeous congressional hearing room with a glossy oak table at the front, and rows of chairs in back. I took a seat at the back of the chair rows, trying to minimize my nervous fidgeting.
One of the observers (I believe he was with the United Nations) looked over at me, smiled, and invited me up to the table. I waved my hand and said "Oh no, I'm only an intern!" and he looked me right in the eye and said the thing that stuck with me more than any other one thing in Washington: "You're an intern now, but someday you'll be in charge, and you'll need the things you learned here today."
Five years later, I am using the information I learned in that room, but not the way I expected. I learned to sit at the table. I learned to observe from people who observe for a living. I learned not just how to make an action plan, but that action plans must be made, and if not by you, then who? I learned that we are stewards of each other. I learned that no one wants to pay for logistics, because logistics aren't sexy. I learned a lot of stuff about Kenya that I don't remember as well as I wish I did.
Those words would also have a wicked double-edged sword. They would torture me for the 18 months after the committee, when all I did was answer phones and get "important people" their sandwiches. They would haunt me when I wasted my time. They would nag at me as I slowly drifted away from foreign policy, moved back to the Rocky Mountains, got married, and settled into personal happiness and domesticity.
Ready for a light bulb five years in the making?
I've been in charge all along.
No, I don't work at the State Department observing elections in Kenya. I'm not a Congresswoman. It's been 4 years since I did my humanitarian trip to Europe. But I'm a human being, who was born a steward of my fellow everythings- people, plants, pets, principles. And every day, I wake up trying to figure out how I can do that better.
Right now, stewardship means using my free time to turn a mustang mare into an ambassador of her kind, which are in terrible peril. Most people think mustangs are flighty, unmanageable muts with poor conformation and no potential in the show ring. But the people at my barn are in love with her, shocked by her, and believe in her. Whose mind can we change next?
Right now, stewardship means using my "other" free time to build an online network of local horse people to share information, build a network, and help them improve their odds of keeping our industry alive as barn after barn is torn down to make way for an Ivory Homes subdivision. That world I'm making now is small, but it's growing, and maybe I'm crazy, but I think it's working.
Right now, stewardship means growing the love and laughter in my home and in myself. Lovingly forsaking my treasured single self and embracing my role in a new family unit has changed everything. It makes me a better steward of ALL the things that are important to me.
So today, I send a prayer to Kenya. I hope their elections will be fair, free of violence, and result in a president who will be mindful of his people. I pray their country will bring their young ambitious minds to the table and say, "someday you'll be in charge, and you will need the things you learned here today." I pray that all of us in the position to give that dream to someone, will.