Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Last Word

"But face the facts, all you oppressors, and then wring your hands. Listen, all of you, far and near... Plan and plot all you want- nothing will come of it. All your talk is mere talk, empty words, because when all is said and done, the last word is IMMANUEL, God With Us."
-Isaiah 8:9-10, The Message

Friday, December 26, 2008

I've Been Here 15 Months... What Happened?

I was taking a walk today, thinking, when I realised something:
  1. I don't miss Starbucks anymore.
  2. I'm not sure I'd know how to use a dishwasher if I saw one.
  3. Clothes dryer? What's that? Oh... you mean the sun!
  4. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are great, but I can wait.
All of the things I missed when we first moved here - the things that I begged for people to send in the post - I've learned that I can easily live without (except Mexican food. I'm sorry, but I still miss it!).

The longing for family, friends, people and places familiar - the desire to be where traditions I grew up with and hold dear are practised - that is ever present. I wonder if that will ever go away?

Still, at the end of the day, I wouldn't trade our experiences for anything. All of the loneliness, confusion and discomfort that comes with living cross-culturally is nothing compared to the wealth of relationships and learning. God is growing our hearts, expanding them to know and love new cultures, and that is priceless.

Merry Christmas to all of you, a day late, and Happy Day of Good Will.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Day in Pictures

Here are a few pictures from my day... I have to say the hippo gave me the fright of my life, as we rounded a corner in the road and didn't expect to see him at all! He was not too pleased to see us, either, and I was afraid he was going to charge us (hippos do kill more people in Africa per year than any other animal), but thankfully he turned around and walked away.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Not Just Any Green Beans... African Green Beans!

Last year my garden miraculously grew green beans that I didn't plant. They were really long. This year they miraculously re-seeded themselves, and they are still really long (one bean can completely wrap around my head... not as pretty as a beaded Zulu headband, but it was the best I could do...). This one was 22.25 inches (56.5 cm) long (and now you know how big - or small - my head is!)


We have a new potato chip flavour in this country: pickled onion!

I have always said that you can tell a lot about a country and its culture by its potato chip flavours. Whenever I visit a foreign country I have to try the "weird" flavours - shrimp, chicken and thyme, spare ribs, tomato sauce, etc. Back home in the U.S. my favourite flavours were dill pickle, chili and lime, and cool ranch. I suppose those flavours are just as weird to people who didn't grow up in America.

So who decides what would make a good potato chip flavour, anyway? I think I want that job.... (peanut butter, hot mustard, swiss cheese and white wine fondue...)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On Having Faults and Remembering Scripture

Ever have one of those moments where you become acutely aware of your faults? I had one of those moments last night. I think satan uses those late-night-I'm-tired moments to attack us, but even so, I really DO have faults that I became acutely aware of last night. I wished desperately that I were near-perfect (because nobody's perfect, right?). I even got to the point where I felt so bad that I was irritated with myself for feeling irritated! But then I was reminded of some Scripture (which is why memorising Bible verses is good - you can't remember something you never learned in the first place!), which had for me the soothing effect of putting aloe on a sunburn:

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgression. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me... Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow... Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me... You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." - Psalm 51: 1-3, 7, 10-12, 16-17

To feel so unlovable and then remember once again that the God of the universe loves me - ME - and forgives me... what an amazing comfort I can hold onto no matter where I am in the world. The love of God transcends all reason, all culture, and any contrivance of man.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Bare Feet and Death-Defying Millipedes

I went to the garage yesterday to fetch something, and while I was looking around I felt something tickling my bare feet. I looked down to find this millipede (aka shongololo) crawling on my toes. I screamed, which probably proves that I am still more of a California girl that a South African girl.

There is a story with this millipede, though. It has been living in our garage for a few weeks now, and I'm telling you it's suicidal. It always manages to crawl under the garage door just as we're closing it, or crawl into the car's way just as we're driving into the garage. We have always managed to spare it's life (thanks to my children, who have become quite the advocates for creatures possessing more legs than me) thus far...

Until last night. The millipede with the death wish crawled in the way of the car one too many times, and as it was dark, Dan accidentally ran over it. The children were heartbroken, but as for me... while I do not rejoice in it's death, my toes are rather relieved!

My Kids Are Smarter Than I Am

My kids were sitting around the table eating lunch with their friend, discussing the world's problems - HIV/AIDS, cholera, etc. I was in the other room listening intently, thinking, "I can't believe my children are discussing this stuff... over lunch!" My oldest (who is only 10) piped up, "Well, cholera comes from dirty water, and God doesn't make dirty water. It's people who make it dirty for whatever reason, so you can't blame THAT one on God."

Out of the mouths of children sometimes comes profound wisdom.

Funny how we tend to blame God for our misfortunes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mixed Feelings

It is ten days until Christmas and I am starting to get into these southern hemisphere summer Christmases which are decidedly warmer than the winter Christmases I grew up with.

What is on my mind more than anything else this Christmas season, however, is not the weather but the number of friends I have who are are traveling home for the summer holidays... to Zimbabwe.

So many Zimbabweans live in South Africa. Statistics indicate that there are more Zimbabweans living outside of Zimbabwe than inside due to politics, food shortages, and now the cholera outbreak, which has claimed over 900 lives and infected 18,000.

I am concerned for my friends' safety and for their families. One friend summed it up best when she said, "Cholera? That's the least of my family's worries. What they need more than anything is food."

Empty store shelves. An inflation rate of 11 million percent. Food shortages. Cholera. A president who won't relinquish power. A collapsed health care system. No schools. And this in the country that used to be called The Bread Basket of Africa.

I don't want to dampen your Christmas joy, but these are the realities in parts of the world. Remember Zimbabwe in your prayers. It was for Zimbabweans, too, that Jesus was born into the world, died on the cross, and came to redeem. Pray for them to be strengthened in the face of such challenges. Just... pray.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Rainy Season

I love the rainy season here in South Africa. There is something miraculous about that first rain that cleans the air and signals the beginning of land turning green once again after a long, dry winter. Those powerful thunderstorms which were once scary are now comforting, for they bring the promise of relief and change.

I never thought much about rain in California. Time was marked by seasons - winter or spring, autumn or summer - and sports - football or baseball, water skiing or snow skiing. If it rained, it rained.

But here in Africa... rain is more than just rain, at least for me. Sometimes my heart can grow dry and weary from a long season of trials or difficulties - an emotional or spiritual drought, if you will. But then God teaches me something new of Himself, refreshes my spirit, and my heart begins to turn green and lush once again, overflowing with joy.

The rains of Africa remind me that no matter how dry the season or how weary my heart, God is faithful to come and make all things new, cause things once dried and withered to flourish once again.

I am so grateful for rain these days, and for the faithfulness of God to redeem things (even me!). If you find your heart dry and weary, may God restore it to overflowing with joy and lushness, like the land after an African rain.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things I Learned Yesterday

  1. Never go on a ride called "The Tornado" right after lunch.
  2. Never - NEVER - go on it twice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Humiliating, Embarrassing, Ego-Bruising, Culture-Shocked, Bubble-Bursting Moment

I haven't written in a few days because I've been recovering. I don't even know how to explain this without writing a novel, so here's the facts:
  • I was the guest speaker at a creché (kindergarten) graduation on Saturday out in a township (this is a story in itself as they printed the programmes with my name written down as the guest speaker before they even asked me, so I didn't really have a choice!)
  • I am not a public speaker (I am not afraid of being in front of a crowd at all; I just... don't do public speaking)
  • I worked really hard on this address - I prayed, I studied, I dug deep in the Bible, I practiced, I made sure my illustrations were culturally relevant, I even endured an ant attack at the Botanical Gardens working on this speech - and I was ready!
  • I was asked to speak for 15 - 30 minutes.
  • I was ten minutes into my speech when a woman walked up and whispered something to the interpreter. After another minute or so the interpreter turned to me (I was expecting her to translate what I just said) and said, "The parents say they are bored and can you please stop talking?"
Now what would you do if you had poured your heart into this and were stopped - on stage - by the interpreter? It gets even worse - one of the parents went back to the pastor and asked him to cut me off. He refused. There was also a lady sitting right in front of me making lovely gestures to get me to stop. I somehow ended my speech in a few minutes, cutting most of it short (I had to bring it to an end semi-gracefully, right?).

Dan assures me that I wasn't actually boring. The pastor apologised... but I still had a wounded ego for the rest of the day. I didn't ask to be the guest speaker, but I gave it my best. Ever have one of those "What's up with that, Lord?" moments?

I confess I'm still smarting from it two days later (just a little), but I realised something: Jesus didn't always get a great reception when He spoke, either. Or Paul. Or Stephen. Or many other Bible greats. I am not comparing myself to them, but if they, who were great orators, sometimes got a less-than-ideal response, who am I to think that people should thank me for speaking, or even listen to me? It is humbling, to say the least (on the plus side, they didn't stone me!)

So the moral of the story is.... um... that's a hard one. Maybe the whole point is just to be obedient to God and leave the outcome to Him. I don't really need to know the answers; I just need to obey. (But Lord? Please don't ask me to do any more public speaking!)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Time to Dance

I was reading my friend's blog the other day when I got a good dose of perspective. She was listing all the things for which she was thankful, and I realised that lately I've been letting the little things get to me, rob me of joy. Granted, this is a hectic time of year with school ending, holidays looming, and year-end tasks at work, but if I really stopped to think about each day (like my friend Chris did), I would come to realise that the blessings of each day far outweigh the frustrations.

SO... I am preaching to myself today when I say, "Just stop! Stop worrying, stop feeling frustrated, stop letting the challenges of the day bog you down. Just STOP and take a few minutes to dance with Jesus, if you will, and bask in the blessings of each day." And if this speaks to any of you as well, then by all means - please come join my dance party!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Creativity of God

The animal on top is an okapi. I am sorry his bum is facing you, but that's the most interesting part! The okapi is chocolate brown all over with the most amazing stripe patterns on his legs.

The bird we found in a nest at the Union Buildings. It's called a Paradise Flycatcher. It has the most amazing blue-coloured head and copper body, with a long tail.

The creativity of God amazes me. I could never in a million years think up some of the things I see around me.

I'm not feeling particularly eloquent today, but sometimes I think it's alright to simply say, "That's cool, God. Thanks for making that, and thanks for giving me eyes to see it."

Monday, December 1, 2008

View of the City

Here's a view of Pretoria from the top of the gondolas at the National Zoological Gardens. Isn't it beautiful?

Mary and Joseph

We went to the zoo on Saturday, and as we passed a picnic area, we noticed a creché (preschool) graduation taking place. The kids were all dressed in men's white t-shirts (they were angels) except for two children who were dressed as Mary and Joseph.

I love it that Joseph's staff is an umbrella, and that Mary is wearing a Power Puff Girls bathrobe (the cartoon characters are on the back of her robe). I think Joseph is also wearing a tablecloth.

I think sometimes we (Americans) get caught up in how things look, only using the newest and the best. In all the years I've attended Christmas programmes at schools and churches (in the U.S.), I've never seen Joseph use an upside down umbrella for his staff or Mary wear a Power Puff Girls bathrobe.

Somehow this mismatched hodge podge of using whatever one has on hand seems more fitting to me. It's like the Little Drummer Boy, who had no gift for Jesus except his drum-playing skills, or the woman who put in two cents for her offering because that was truly all she had.

It's not about looking perfect; it's about giving ourselves - giving our best, whatever that may be - as a sweet offering.