Saturday, January 31, 2009

Childhood Imagination

I remember as a child making doll clothes out of fabric scraps, and even using aluminium foil to make "astronaut suits" for my Barbies, but my daughter, Lucy, has taken the creativity gene to a whole new level: she made a complete line of Barbie fashions out of - get ready for this - popped balloons (the doll sitting down is a mermaid wearing a recycled book cover).

I remember as a kid I also used to play "mad scientist" in the kitchen. I was sure that if I put the right ingredients together (mustard, dill pickle juice, unidentifiable leftovers, a few potato chips...) I could invent the world's greatest food. When I wasn't busy doing that I wanted to be a chemist and a ballerina.

Why do we lose that imagination when we grow up? Are we too busy being adults (and what is that supposed to mean)? I can be a responsible, productive member of society AND still be creative, can't I? I'm 36 now, but I think I'll go dust off some of that childhood imagination and do something fun (like get into my car and pretend it's the Zamboni at an ice rink).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Giving God our Best

"In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering." - Genesis 4:3-4

How easy it is to give to God out of our leftovers, rather than give to Him from our firstfruits. Giving from our leftovers requires no faith. Even gifts of time - how often I "bargain" with God ("Okay, I can fit in an appointment with this person after I do this and that first."). But if a person comes to me, needs my time, and I have yet to do those other things.... I am not so quick to offer God my "firstfruits" of time.

In my culture we tend to hang on to our things - our time, our possessions - but I think God is pleased when we show faith and give to Him before we know if we will even have leftovers. Does it not all come from Him in the first place? I am challenged by this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Day's Final Score

South Africa: 67 Me: 0

But tomorrow - oh yes - is another day. Annie se blus is nog nie uit nie, which loosely translated means, "There's life in the old dog yet."

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning." - Lamentations 3:22-23

Did you hear that? New every morning! Every morning. I can go to sleep with the hope that tomorrow.... Well, the truth is that tomorrow might or might not be better, but whatever tomorrow holds, God will see me through. You, too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Random Thoughts on School From A Sick Foreigner

I've been sick for two days and feeling pretty uninspired, but here's a few random thoughts:
  • We watched a video on astronomy, different galaxies and star formations, and the vastness of the universe, and afterwards my daughter Lucy said, "I think God is so big that compared to Him I am one millionth of a grain of peri peri powder!" This is funny for two reasons: 1) I love spices, so she is definitely a girl after my own heart, and 2) peri peri powder is a hot chili powder - REALLY hot - and very South African. (Lucy, you are officially bi-cultural! And you know what? Being small isn't a bad thing! God loves and knows us; we are special to Him no matter what our size is)
  • Our kids have to learn a musical instrument in school. Their choices are the glockenspiel or the marimba. I love Africa! (but please, choose the marimba!)
  • I still don't understand why the teachers here yell so much. I don't think kids should be terrified to ask a question in class. It really is a different culture here, especially in the academic setting. I am trying to figure out if I should talk to the headmaster at the risk of looking like the "overbearing, opinionated American" that the rest of the world hates, or teach my kids how to deal with yelling teachers. Or both.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Embracing Solitude

Do you know what I've noticed about Americans (I hope I don't offend anyone, but since I am American I feel like I can safely talk about my own culture)? They don't take time to grieve. When life is filled with pain - whether from death, a broken relationship, disappointment, or just everyday challenges - instead of allowing ourselves to feel those emotions and begin to heal, we distract ourselves with busyness or noise in order to avoid the pain.

I'm reading this book on silence and solitude; at first I thought, "I've been away from friends and family for over one year... reading about solitude is the LAST thing I need!", but since a friend sent it to me, I felt it only fair to take the time to read it. Am I glad I did (thank you, Kathy)! I am learning that I don't take enough time to stop and listen to - or just BE with - God. This stuck out to me today:

"Elijah's wilderness experience is a powerful metaphor for the vast emptiness all of us must walk through on the way to encounter with God. But how we as human beings seek to avoid this truth of the spiritual life! The experience of our emptiness is so painful we will do almost anything to avoid it - and most of us do for a long, long time. But try as we might we cannot escape the fact that willingness to walk into the empty places is a precursor to finding God... While the experience of being empty is painful, emptiness is a prerequisite to being filled. As it turns out, the presence of God is poured out most generously when there is space in our souls to receive Him. In the vast emptiness of the human soul there is finally room for God." - Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Quote

"In the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationships. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa - giving the world a more human face." - Steve Biko (1946-1977)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hidden Blessings

If you read my post awhile back about handling disappointment, you'll know my paperwork deadline for taking a music class at UNISA was today. I had to produce an original document from my home country that they wouldn't reissue, and UNISA wouldn't accept the certified copy that they DID issue. Ah, the joys of being stuck between two bureaucracies....

So today... while I thought about it several times, wondering if the paper would show up at the last minute (it didn't), I was also at peace. Sad, but at peace. I know God must have a better plan.

I think God knew it could be a difficult day for me, so He provided little pockets of blessing all throughout the day. One came in the way of having lunch with a new friend and enjoying some wonderful, encouraging conversation. The other came in the way of two visitors this afternoon (sometimes I think there is a neon sign over my house that says, "Stop here unexpectedly!") I think God knew I needed some distraction, and there is no better distraction than building relationships with people.

Tonight, as I get ready to go to sleep, while there is still a small ache in my heart, I am mostly filled with gratitude. It is strange but wonderful. God knows the desires of my heart, and I have no doubt He will fulfill them in ways I never dreamed possible. In the meantime, there are hidden blessings each day - like tailor-made hugs from God - that remind me I am known and loved.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm Sure This Has Never Happened to You...

Have you ever tried to learn another language, and when the moment comes to put it into practice you give it your best, but what you *actually* said isn't what you *thought* you said, and you can't understand why people are laughing hysterically until someone finally takes a breath and explains it to you, which causes you to become horrified and want to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich? Uh-huh....

No, I'm not going to tell you what I said, but let's just say I'm feeling very ostrich-y today!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What I Do All Day

Sometimes people ask what I do each day. I don't always know how to answer that, as my schedule changes from day to day, so I thought I'd share what I did THIS day:

Got up, got dressed, fed children
Left house at 6:45 a.m. to take children to school
Back to house, answered emails, ate breakfast
Went to work at 8:00 a.m.
Morning meeting/prayer
Packed 120 food parcels for orphans
Fetched children from school
Cooked lunch
Unexpected visitors
Helped kids with homework, packed snacks for school tomorrow
Did a load of laundry
Washed dishes
Another unexpected visit from a neighbour
Cooked dinner
Spent time with children
Bedtime for children 7:30 p.m.
Weekly meeting online with a friend
Exercised, took a shower
Talk with my husband
Bedtime 10:00 p.m.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Someone Knows My Name!

They say it takes two to three years to establish roots and build friendships when moving to another country. After being here 16 months, I believe it.

This morning at church, four people greeted me by name. FOUR people! You don't realise what a blessing it is for someone to know your name and greet you until you find yourself alone in another country. It is huge.

We sang a song about the King of Glory, and I almost cried! I felt a strong sense of family as I looked around me at the different nationalities represented. To think that some of them know my name! And to be in that room together, worshiping the King of Glory, who is over all earthly leaders... that is beyond words. Whether your President is Robert Mugabe or Barack Obama, whether you are under a king or a communist leader, the King of Glory is over all, and you know what? He knows your name, and He longs to bring you into His family.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

South African Number Facts

Number of language preferences to choose from when using an ATM: 8
Time of day when the shops close during the week: 6:00 p.m.
And on weekends: 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, 3:00 p.m. on Sundays
Number of friends we have who didn't come back from Zimbabwe after the holidays: 1
Number of provinces: 9
Number of provinces with reported cases of cholera: 9
Number of periods in the school day: 9
Number of times we pay a road toll to go to church on Sundays: 2
Number of geckos found in our house: 3
Number of giant millipedes living in our garage: at least 4
Number of giant millipedes we've accidentally run over: 3
Number of times someone has mistaken Dan to be their brother: 3

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Food For Thought

"That is still the way of life in what we call the developing countries, where they still make their own bread, thresh their own wheat, pluck their own chickens, and gossip endlessly in the square. What we have developed is only society, the collectivity, the organisation, regimentation, planning, bureaucracy, economy, mechanics, and anonymous impersonal technology. As for man's need to be treated not as a machine for production but as a person, to assert his personal identity, and to have genuine relationships with other people, in short to live in conviviality, we are incontestably under-developed - not even developing, but regressing.

" Everything is sacrificed to profit and to material prosperity. If only it could ensure a living wage for the whole of humanity! But the West with all its scientists and all its machines has not achieved that. It would have the whole of the Third World on its side if it could do so. On the contrary, it turns out that our wealth depends on low-priced raw materials, on the poverty of others. If at the very least our material prosperity fostered culture! But culture has slipped away from the silence of the library, where there was a chance to sit down and think, into the racket of the media. Even our pleasures have become mass movements, radio-controlled by advertising and exploited by commercial enterprises.

"Caught in this universal conditioning, man too often capitulates and allows himself to be trapped in a net of routines. He loses his natural creativity."
- Dr. Paul Tournier, Creative Suffering

Thursday, January 15, 2009

First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school for my children. Yes, in South Africa the school year starts in January and ends in December. My kids were so excited to be back at school. When they came home, my ears were assaulted by a barrage of chatter from all three. "Guess what?" "Do you know who's in my class?" "There are new computers in the library!" "And THEN.."

I love listening to my children's excitement. It reminds me that God likes to hear about our day as well, and to talk to him as a child would talk to parents, not just complaining or asking for stuff, but spilling over with the events of the day, what made us happy, excited, nervous. "Guess what?" "Do you know what happened?" "There are new computers in the library!" "And THEN..."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Handling Disappointment

I really wanted to take a music class at UNISA (University of South Africa), but they require my original diploma (matric certificate), which mysteriously disappeared. I obtained a certified copy of my school transcripts which show every class I took, every mark I received, what my national test scores were and my date of graduation. But still, UNISA won't accept it. They want an original diploma, which, like I said, mysteriously disappeared. My old school won't issue another one. Ever been caught between two bureaucracies?

I have until the 22nd to produce the original, or my application will be canceled. I was really bummed (still am), so I took a long walk (when I do my best thinking) and came up with this:

1. Do I really trust that God's plan is best for me? If it is His will, He can produce the original diploma (and I'd really like to know where it went because I don't usually misplace things). If it isn't His will, then I have to trust that He has something better in mind for me. Am I willing to entrust my life, my plans and my desires to Him, or do I think my way is better?

2. One of the biggest lessons I can teach my kids is how to handle disappointment. If I mope around the house, get angry or complain, what am I teaching them? If I show them how to pray, how to trust, how to do their best, when to let things go, and that it's okay to feel disappointed every now and then, I am giving them skills for life (sigh.... but it's so hard!)

"Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You." - Psalm 9:10

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Sobering Reality

Maybe I overreacted a little about the sheep organ membrane (the curry turned out well, by the way!). Especially in light of some sobering realities:

One of our workers at the mission, who went home to Zimbabwe for the holidays, never returned. Thoughts of cholera, starvation, trouble at the border, police intimidation, etc. run across our minds, but then, maybe he decided to stay with family? We have no way to contact him, so all we can do is wait and pray. It is amazing to me that even today, in some parts of the world communication is incredibly difficult, let alone access to clean water, food and jobs. Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

I spent the day contacting friends I know who went to Zimbabwe for the holidays to make sure they were safe and alright. Fortunately they were all accounted for except the one. Please keep him in your prayers; his name is Respect.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Go Ahead, Have a Laugh at My Expense

I went to a butcher shop in Pretoria for a leg of lamb. I try - I really do try - to learn Afrikaans, but I must have asked for something different because I ended up with half a sheep. Yup, a whole half (can you say that?) of a sheep. They graciously cut it up and handed me about twelve packages of meat, and I was so embarrassed that I just took it, figuring I could use all of that meat eventually, right?

Today I opened the package of what looks like leftover chunks (you know, after the leg and ribs are cut, you're left with... miscellaneous chunks). I figured I could make a curry out of it. I began cutting the chunks into smaller pieces when I came across one that was rather... squishy.... and attached to a big blob of fat. Dan looked over from the computer and said, "I think that's an organ."

So I stared at this thing trying to come up with a strategy for removing said mystery organ from the fat when I discovered (drumroll, please)... a membrane. I realised that if I removed the membrane from the organ, I could free it from the fat, but the sound.... well, let me simulate it for you: squeeeeechhh shhhhh loshhhh! Dan started laughing hysterically, which made me feel rather defensive:

"I tried to speak Afrikaans, okay? And I accepted my lot of ending up with half a sheep, and I even accept the fact that my curry will contain mystery organs, but it's NOT my fault that I don't know how to peel a membrane off, okay? When we signed up to move to Africa, they made us take Bible college classes, psychological testing, marriage counseling, took our children's ages into account, our education, our backgrounds, made us read history books, take cross-cultural training, but nowhere - NOWHERE - do they teach you how to peel a membrane off a sheep organ!!"

I rest my case.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Quite the Challenge... Ouch!

"Until the day you can greet a man as a man and not be conscious of his face, except for its individual beauty, you are still acting as judge." - Gladys DePree

"Love your neighbour as yourself." - Leviticus 19:18

I think I'm guilty of sometimes doing the opposite. I *know* I'm guilty. I'm wearing a shirt today that actually says "Love your neighbour", but do I take it to heart? Or am I so concerned with what I want to accomplish each day that I take little or no thought for my neighbour, except to pass judgment?

Food for thought, and an area in which to grow....

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I Wish...

...there was a Culture Navigation Fairy that would magically help me deal with confusing bureaucracy, tell me what's normal and what's not, what I must say and do, which queue to stand in, how to respond in unfamiliar situations, when a person is being rude and when it's just part of the culture, and encourage me at the end of each day.

Anyone know where to find one?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Home Sweet Home?

When we crossed the border from Lesotho into South Africa, I sighed a huge sigh of relief. "It's good to be home," I said to the border guard as I handed him my American passport. Wait a minute - that's puzzling... I crossed the border into South Africa, and while I live there, is it home? Would I feel more at home if I were at a U.S. border crossing?

Living in another culture is like having one foot in two worlds. The longer we are in South Africa, the more familiar it comes, the more "at home" we feel. But the fact remains that we are Americans, and most of our history and lives have occurred there. If I were to go back, would I feel less at home now that I've lived in South Africa, or would the culture come rushing back, like catching up with an old friend?

I wonder sometimes if I will ever fully belong to either culture, having been impacted by both. They both have their quirks, their strong points, their flaws. I love them both, for they make up who I am. I hope I can freely move between the cultures, bridge the gap, and learn a little each day. I hope it gives me a better perspective on the world, and a greater love for people. That's worth the sometimes-disconnected feeling of having one foot in two worlds.

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." - Ephesians 2:19

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Road Trip, Day 5

Today we said good-bye to Semonkong - to stone rondavels:to horses and donkeys, the ultimate 4 x 4:
to terraced mountainsides dotted with quaint villages:to wandering rivers:
and to wandering animals:But not before having one more adventure...
Our van, which has always been in excellent condition, decided to rebel. We weren't fifteen minutes on the road when our car overheated. Luckily, there is a wealth of water in Lesotho, so we were able to solve that problem. It had rained the night before, so the roads were a bit muddy, which also slowed things down. But THEN...

We hit a big pothole. Our speedometer quit working. Then our fuel gauge stopped working. Then our transmission wouldn't change gears, since our speedometer wasn't working. Luckily, we could only travel slowly on mountain roads anyway, so we didn't hold up traffic, but it took a good five hours to get to Maseru before we could fix the van. Oh, I forgot to mention the two police roadblocks in between all of this!

In Maseru, Dad and Dan dropped us gals off at the tourism centre, where we watched the "Welcome to Lesotho" video enough times to memorise it, while they hunted down a mechanic's shop. They ended up fixing the vehicle themselves (turned out to be a wire that had come loose from the computer system), buying the tools and paying a mechanic R30 to use his vehicle lift.

Once we crossed the border, we encountered our first dust storm in the Free State. I grew up where there is dense fog, so this was similar in terms of visibility, but very different in terms of colour and wind! We drove through the dust storm for 150 km. It was immense, intense, and awe-inspiring!

After that we hit a good old South African thunderstorm, then Johannesburg traffic, and finally - 14 hours later - seven very weary travelers arrived home in Pretoria. (Did I just say "home"? More on that tomorrow...)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Road Trip, Day 4

Today we hung around and relaxed, went to the market to buy food for meals (it was a fun challenge to plan meals without the use of a fridge or ice chest) and enjoyed the scenery. Here are a few photos from our day:

The Police Department's Stock Theft Detection Unit vehicle (apparently stealing cattle and bringing it across the border is a huge problem): A man in a grey blanket. Wearing a blanket is tradtional dress, even in the summer (I don't know how they do it; I felt hot wearing a short-sleeved shirt!):Silver potjies. The ones in South Africa are usually made from cast iron, not aluminium (I don't think they call them potjies in Lesotho, but I only know the Afrikaans word!):The spiral aloe is the national flower of Lesotho and only grows in Lesotho, high up in the mountains. Stunning, isn't it?This is one of my favourite birds, which is found in Pretoria as well. We call them the Little Red Riding Hood birds because they look like they're wearing a red cape, but they're technically called Red Bishops:After a long day, Ben fell asleep on the front stoep, wearing Dan's jersey:"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast." - Psalm 139:7-10

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Road Trip, Day 3

Today we took a tour of Semonkong Town with Catherine, our guide. Catherine has an amazing story, but I don't feel like it's mine to tell here on this blog. Needless to say, even in a small village in remote Lesotho, people have broken hearts and need Jesus. Catherine is an amazing woman. Pray for her; she has a difficult life.

Catherine took us to a dress shop which makes traditional Basutho dresses: the high school: the police station (can you see it?): the sheep shearing station (wool is one of the main exports of Lesotho): the health clinic:and the airport (there is a doctor who flies in once a week): In a small town like Semonkong (whose population is no more than a few thousand), Catherine said that about 60% of the people are HIV-positive. There is a funeral every weekend for someone who has died of AIDS-related complications.

We passed a shop that sold horse saddles, book shelves, and caskets: I think one of the saddest things I've ever seen happened at the end of this day: we saw a man on a horse riding up the mountain to his village, having just come from Semonkong, balancing a baby-sized casket on his horse.

"But the Lord said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Ninevah [or Semonkong... or wherever you live] has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people... and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?' " - Jonah 4:10-11

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Road Trip, Day 2

We woke up to discover a stunning view outside our rondavel: Here's the view from the other direction:We decided to be adventurous and go on a horse trek. The Basutho ponies are a special breed of horses which are amazingly suited to the rugged terrain of Lesotho. I guess that's why they're only found in Lesotho! Really, getting around by horse is the only way to go. In high mountains with no roads, horses are invaluable:Dan's mom was the only one who had any experience riding a horse, so for us it was quite an experience. Our trek took us over mountains, across streams, alongside a gorge, to a fabulous view of Maletsunyane Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in southern Africa (196 meters). It also holds the Guiness Book of World Records for the longest commercially-run abseil, so if you're into that, go to Semonkong!
On the way back, we passed two young girls who were coming back from Semonkong town. They live in a village on the other side of the mountain. It takes them at least two hours to walk to town, do their shopping, and walk two hours back. To think that it takes at least half a day to go to the store made me realise how much I take for granted (I complain that the shops close at 6:00 each evening!).
At the end of the day I am struck with a sense of the vastness of the world, the greatness of God, and how small and easily self-absorbed I am.

"Oh Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely." - Psalm 139:1-3

Road Trip, Day 1

We took a five day trip to Lesotho, our first holiday since moving to Africa. On the way, we drove through the Free State, one of the provinces in South Africa. The Free State is mostly flat and agricultural - perfect for farming - so for the life of me I couldn't figure out why these "Hazardous Object" signs were posted along the major highway. I was half expecting a cow to drop out of the sky:Driving through the South African countryside is amazing - open land, blue sky, puffy white clouds... South Africa really is a beautiful country, despite the weird road signs:Lesotho, on the other hand, is entirely mountainous. It is the only country in the world whose entire land mass is above 1,000 metres in elevation (3,280 feet). Lesotho is an independent nation bordered by South Africa on all sides, has a population of nearly two million people, and is called the Rooftop of Africa: After crossing the border, we soon met our first obstacle: a tour bus was completely blocking the road. The road, I should mention, was a small, winding, mountain road that hugged a cliff. The only options: be stuck for hours (maybe days) with a traffic jam slowly forming on both sides, or carefully make our way around the bus. As you can see from the photo, Dan didn't have six inches to spare between the bus and falling off the cliff. Scary!Here's another picture of the road we had to travel. It took four hours to travel 120 km (74 miles):
The countryside of Lesotho is dotted with small villages. The typical house is a stone rondavel with thatched roof:
Upon arrival in Semonkong, a small village in the middle of Lesotho, we were struck by the night sky. I have never seen so many stars in my life before! We had the idea that someone should establish an Observatory up on the mountain, but then, too much traffic might spoil the remote beauty. "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?... O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!" - Psalm 8:3-4, 9