She was ten years old when she was captured by enemies and carried away into captivity. There she was raised as a servant, learning the language and skills of her new people. At the age of sixteen, she was sold to a white trader who made her his wife.
It was at that time when she expecting her first child that she met two white men whose lives would change the course of the new American nation’s destiny. It was the winter of 1804-1805 and these American explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were wintering on the Missouri River near the villages of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians where they had built Ft. Mandan. Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian girl who had been captured as a ten-year-old girl and who was now the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian trader living with the Hidatsa Indians met the two explorers who were exploring the new American continent.
On February 11, 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste; when the explorers left in April for the West, she, Charbonneau (and the baby) went along as guides to the unknown territory.
All summer the group followed the Missouri River west across what is now Montana. When they reached Three Forks, near the mouth of the Missouri, Sacagawea recognized she was in the Shoshone area where she had been kidnapped years earlier. When they reached the end of the river and knew they needed horses to continue, they approached a tribe to purchase horses; it was the tribe Sacagawea had been kidnapped from years earlier, and the chief was her brother. Not only were they able to trade goods for horses, but they were also given a guide who knew the way through the Bitterroot Mountains to the Clearwater River which emptied into the Snake and Columbia River and eventually drained into the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and Clark and their company were able to map and open the whole area for western expansion of the United States.
Sacagawea played a central role in helping Lewis and Clark blaze a trail across the western part of the American continent and made the “Louisiana Purchase” an integral part of America. Without her help, it may have taken the expedition much longer, or they may not have been successful. Sacagawea was truly prepared for her “mission” in life—leading these explorers across the unknown territory. Sacagawea’s kidnapping, her knowledge of life as a Shoshone and a Hidatsa, and her relationship to the chief of the Shoshone was priceless. Sacagawea was carefully prepared for her important mission in life, and she fulfilled it.
Another valiant woman who was prepared for a special role in her life—to save her people, the Jews—was Esther in the Old Testament. Esther was a righteous young Jewish woman who along with the other Jews were in captivity, but King Ahasuerus of Persia and Media had chosen her as his queen. A wicked man named Hamman was jealous of the Jews and wanted to destroy them, so he made a law that on a certain day, all Jews throughout the 20 providences of the king would be killed. When Esther heard about this decree, she asked her uncle and all the Jews to fast and pray for three days that she could influence the king to cancel the degree.
Her uncle Mordecai told Esther “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Of course, Esther saved the day, even at the risk of her own life—she went into her husband in his chamber without being asked (which was punishable by death), but he spared her life, and granted her request to cancel the wicked decree to kill all the Jews, and killed Hamman instead. Esther had been prepared all her life for this mission–to save her people, the Jews, from death.
I know each of us came to earth with a mission, great or small, to fulfill. I’ve often contemplated what my mission in life is. I know my mission is not a great important mission like Sacagawea or Esther, but it is important for me to understand my mission, prepare for it, and then do it.
I think one of the most important missions in my life has been to be a mother. This is not easy in this day and age when motherhood, especially for a stay-at-home mother, is denigrated, devalued, and careers are seen as so much more significant in a woman’s life. Although I stayed at home with my children for 25 years, I also worked for most of the years of my youngest child’s school years, while my husband who had retired from the military became the “primary caretaker.” During those years I often prayed and struggled to understand what is the best thing to do–best for my family, my child, me?
Life isn’t black and white; our mission in life isn’t clear-cut or crystal clear as Sacagawea or Esther’s was. Is it to be a good neighbor? Involved in community service? Involved in government service? How much time do I devote to volunteer work?
I read about women who have organized service projects to help hundreds of people in Africa, and I wonder if that is what I should do. I see women who write books and hold down full-time jobs and still have six children and are wonderful mothers. I see women whose musical voices touch hundreds or millions of people, but I know that is not my talent or my mission.
All I can do is to live each day the best I can; to pray for guidance to know what I should do TODAY. Then I can listen for inspiration and look around every day to see what I CAN do. It won’t be earth-shaking, world-notable things that history will record that I have done in my life, but the words of my favorite poet has been my touchstone all of my life.
“If I can stop one heart from breaking, or ease one heart the pain, or put one robin into his nest again, I will not have lived in vain.” Emily Dickenson.