Saturday, February 28, 2009

That Ballerina Guy

Yesterday I was sitting at a restaurant waiting for my family to arrive when a woman came and sat next to me. I complimented her on her skirt, and she asked me where I was from. I told her I was now living in South Africa, and she interrupted me, "MANDELA! Do you know him?" I explained how we all knew OF him and that he was a great leader, but that no, I didn't know him personally. She looked at me skeptically and then said, "What's WRONG with you?"

Before I had a chance to answer (and I wasn't quite sure what to say, in any case!) she asked me, "And that, oh, what's his name? That ballerina guy?" I was trying desperately to follow her train of thought and come up with answers to these loaded questions when it dawned on me - "Oh, do you mean Archbishop Desmond Tutu?" "YES! Do you know HIM?"

I was afraid to answer but I had no choice. When I explained to her that while I knew of him, both he and Nelson Mandela are quite famous and busy, and most people don't actually.... She interrupted me again to say, in a loud, exasperated voice, "What is WRONG with you??"

Just then her husband came back and she got up and left without so much as a good-bye. As for me, I'm still trying to figure out what to say!

Friday, February 27, 2009

But Patience, To Prevent That Murmur...

Do you ever feel like you have a skill/talent that just sits there unused? Do you ever wonder why God made you good at something if He never wants to use it? I feel like that often, specifically with music. I am bursting with songs, but I feel like a racehorse always stuck in the gate. I have tried so many different ways to serve God through music, but always seem to be beating my head against a wall.

I really do want to have a spirit of humility, a servant's heart, and to be gracious. I pray for this all the time. I also realise that sometimes God has people in a period of waiting, for whatever reason. I feel, though, if someone doesn't let me share my music I'm truly going to explode. I wish waiting were easy. I also wish God would remove that longing during times of waiting.

John Milton wrote this in 1655 (or thereabouts). It's Sonnet XIX, also called "On His Blindness":

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Leisure World

Yesterday I drove down to Leisure World, a retirement community in Seal Beach, California. I was scheduled to speak at a Bible Study at one of the churches there. We ended up being late because of a four-car traffic accident on I-5. Being late in Africa is okay, but not okay in the U.S., especially when you're the guest speaker. Anyway...

When we got to the gate at Leisure World, the guard asked, "Are you here for the clown meeting?" As far as I know, this is the first time in my life I've ever been asked that question. I was tempted to say yes. I was REALLY tempted to say yes. Instead I had to tell him I was there for the Bible Study in Clubhouse 3.

I love the folks at Leisure World. They're so fun! I learn more about faith and life when I am with them, and I think I laugh more with them, too. They are truly wonderful.

I enjoyed every minute of my time at Leisure World but next time (I can't help it; I'm curious) I'm going to the clown meeting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Choices, Choices

Today I went to the store to buy a pair of tweezers. I had sixteen different models to choose from. SIXTEEN! (How many different ways can there be to make a pair of tweezers, anyway?) Whoever said it's good to keep your options open was wrong. Sometimes there can be too many choices.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

Yes, it's true. One does experience reverse culture shock upon reentering one's home country. So far, here's what stands out to me as being bizarre:
  1. The food portions. I'm sorry, but they ARE big.
  2. The toilet paper. It's so soft and fluffy!
  3. The toilets themselves. There's so much water in them!
  4. The electricity. You have it! Even though there's no "load shedding" this year in South Africa, my power still goes out nearly every day.
  5. The things people complain about. I know I do it, too, so I'm not picking on anyone. However, my fellow Americans, you really do have it better than most people in the world.
It's really nice not to have to worry about losing power every day while cooking or getting ready in the morning, and I have enjoyed my "bathroom experiences" immensely, but I have to say I miss South Africa. I guess it's become home for me.

When you love someone, or some place, you tend to overlook its faults.

A Trip to the DMV

I went to the DMV today to renew my driver's license. This has been a most difficult thing to do, as my license expired while I was in South Africa. Normally, you can renew your license by mail, but I was requested to renew my license "in person" due to a "change of address." Not so easy to do when the change of address involves moving overseas! I tried to get a South African driver's license, I tried to get an international driver's license, I tried everything, but to no avail. SO... since I'm back in my home town for a few weeks, I made an appointment to renew my license "in person."

The DMV is a funny place. If you think South African queues are long, you should try waiting in line at the DMV... There is a digital sign just inside the building:

Estimated wait time at reception desk: 13 minutes
Estimated wait time without an appointment: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Estimated wait time with an appointment: 22 minutes

True to their word, I (who had an appointment) waited about 20 minutes. Fortunately, renewing it was a breeze and I am a happily licensed driver once again. Score one for American bureaucracy, even with the long wait.

Monday, February 23, 2009

On Picking and Choosing

Since I'm only back for two weeks, and most of that time will be spent meeting with people through church, I am really having to scramble to fit family and friends in. There just isn't enough time in the day to see everyone or do everything. But how do I pick and choose? I can't choose one family member over another or say that I'd rather see this person than that person.

It makes me think of Jesus. Some people complain that He hasn't come back soon enough. Some people think He ought to punish the "bad guys" faster, more severely, or just put an end to all the suffering now. But how could He pick and choose which of His creation goes to heaven or hell? "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence." God takes His time because He loves us. He chooses all of us. The trouble is that we don't always choose Him.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

First Impressions

I had a pretty uneventful trip to the U.S., which was nice. The only things worth mentioning about the 31-hour trip is the hairy-toed man who sat behind me on the airplane (on second thought....) and running into the Soweto Gospel Choir at Heathrow Airport. I did the whole crazy fan thing ("I LOVE you guys; you ROCK!").

Going back to my home town is a little like running into an old high school boyfriend. Nice but slightly awkward and surreal, like something from another lifetime. I can't shake this feeling of "It's so great to see you again but I'm glad I didn't marry you."

I saw so many people from my home church today. They are SO wonderful. Apart from the aforementioned surreal-ness (is that a word?), it is amazing to be somewhere where everyone knows my name and loves me. I'd almost forgotten what's that like. ("You need a cell phone? I have an extra one you can use. A hair dryer? No problem; I'll drop it off tonight!") Who am I, that I am so blessed by such wonderful people? Kindness is such a gift.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Will Miss You, Too

Last night I awoke with a jump. There was a thunderstorm so near that the windows were rattling and the lightning was so frequent I could have read by the light. It's impossible to sleep through a storm that loud, so I just lay in bed and enjoyed it - all the more so as I leave today for two weeks. As the storm moved on and I drifted back to sleep I remember thinking, "I'll miss you, thunderstorms."

This morning on my way to take the children to school, I drove past acacia trees with thorns as long as toothpicks, beat-up taxis bringing workers into the city, fresh potholes in the road from last night's storm, bouganvillea climbing through the razor wire of high walls, and I savoured every sight and sound.

When I returned to my house to get ready for work, the electricity was out... again. I smiled. Africa was giving me its best send-off. And yes, Africa, I will miss you too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Going Home

In two days I'll be flying home. At least I think I'll be flying home. The trouble is, I've been living in South Africa for over a year now, and it's starting to feel like home as much as my "old" home, California, ever did.

It will be good to see family and friends, but there are things that - truth be told - I am nervous about:
  • having to drive on the right side of the road after mastering the left
  • no longer fitting into my home culture
  • having changed so much that my friends can no longer relate to me (and vice versa)
  • using South African English in America and being laughed at
  • experiencing reverse culture shock ("Why are the food portions so BIG?")
I will be gone for two weeks, and it will be good to see everyone again, but when the trip is over, I wonder if I will feel like I'm coming home or leaving home.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Disco

Yesterday I helped out at my children's school during their annual Valentine's Disco. It's really just a chance for the kids to eat boerewors rolls, buy sweets, and hang out with their friends after school while their favourite songs are played over the speakers. I was the assistant DJ, taking song requests, dedications, and handing out prizes to the best dancers, best dressed, and wackiest kids.

Being up on the stage gave me a great view of all the kids. Knowing some of their stories really tugged at my heart. One kid is neglected at home. One child's parents just divorced. One child is an incredible athlete but struggles tremendously in school. This child lives out in the township but comes to school in the city because his mom is a domestic worker. That child is paralyzed on half of his body, but still manages to play on the soccer team.

I don't remember much about the music that was played, how the kids danced, or even the food. What I remember most was looking out at these hundreds of children and just wanting them to do well in life, wanting all obstacles to be removed from their futures so they can stay the course and reach their full potential. I want every one of them to become who God created them to be.

Statistics say that some of them won't live until adulthood, some will make bad choices, some of them won't get the necessary nurturing or encouragement that they need, 30% of them will contract AIDS, and I guess what I am really wishing for is a perfect world. But I can pray for them, and that is no small thing. And while I'm volunteering at the school, I am going to love these kids as much as I can. They are this country's future leaders.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What Do You Put on YOUR Toast?

My colleague raved so much about the joys of fish paste on buttered toast that I figured I should try it. The words "fish" and "paste" have never been put together in my vocabulary before, but far be it from me to pass up a food adventure. I like Bovril and Marmite, after all, so maybe I'm missing out on something good?

I bought the smallest jar, which looked just like a baby food jar filled with a thick pinkish-brown paste made from ground sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies. [cringe]. When I opened it I was instantly taken back to my childhood and the rare times my cat got tinned cat food. Afterwards she would crawl up on my lap, purr contentedly, and breathe cat-breath into my face. This fish paste smells exactly like her cat breath.

I've gone too far to back out now, so I made Dan eat a piece of toast with me. We each made a toast to our... toast, and then took a bite. I regret to inform you that it also tasted like the smell of my cat's breath. Dan suggested that if you put it on rye crackers or a hearty grain bread it might taste better. I don't know...

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go clean my whiskers and take a nap in the windowsill.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Want to Go For a Walk?

"Enoch walked with God." - Genesis 5:24
"Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God." - Genesis 6:9

My heart longs to live in such a way that at the end of my life it can be said of me, "She walked with God."

Apples of Gold

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." - Proverbs 25:11

My bad day has been turning into a bad week. The power was out again yesterday, so we ended up eating crackers and liver spread for dinner. Then we discovered a leak in our roof (it was raining hard), and a new "water feature" appeared in our house, namely a small waterfall running down the walls of our scullery. And my son is still acting out in school.

So when I got to work yesterday morning, I was tired, I was grumpy, I was discouraged. I was on the verge of tears, but trying to remember to "give thanks in all circumstances." My team members - co-workers - all came around me and just prayed for me. It was unexpected, it was appreciated, and it was comforting. Then my dear friend, Tove, gave me a big hug and told me I was a good mom. I needed to hear that.

I am so thankful for my co-workers. We don't always get along perfectly. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes we throw lemon meringue pies at each other. But we love each other, and we really do care for each other. That was a huge blessing to me yesterday, and gave me a surge of energy to keep going.

So.... let's pass it on, shall we? Let's look for people today that we can encourage, give them a hug, pray for them, give them a word of affirmation. You never know what a difference it might make in their lives.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." - Hebrews 10:23-24

Monday, February 9, 2009

I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up if I Tried

"The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense." - Tom Clancey

Today was one of "those" days - the kind where you wish there was a "do-over" button, the kind where you want to hide from the world, the kind where you end up eating ice cream for dinner because..... well, just because.

It all started at 2:00 a.m., or at least, that's when we noticed the power was out. Dan set his cell phone alarm so we would wake up at 6:00, which was a good thing as the power was still out then. It is very difficult to get three children ready and off to school, and two adults off to work, with no power. I'm not complaining, as I know having electricity is a luxury that many in the world cannot afford, but I just felt "off" all day.

The power finally came back on at 10:00 a.m. (eight hours later) but by then we were at work and had bigger fish to fry, namely, a mysterious bill from the City of Tshwane for property taxes, totaling R17,000. They were charging more than double, as though we owned an empty stand (it costs more to own an empty stand (lot) than it does to own one with a house built on it). Dan went to the City office to try and sort it out, and was sent to another office to get an "Occupation Certificate" to prove that we lived there, and then was sent to another office to prove that there's actually a house there (I am NOT making this up!), and then to some guy's office up on the sixth floor of some other nameless building. THIS man said he could help, and left the office for a few minutes. When he came back in, he was refastening the belt on his trousers (yikes!). He informed us that everything was taken care of and we would get a refund on our next statement. "Yes, but you see, we still need to PAY the bill. We just need to pay the right amount..." but it was too late. He was gone.

When I fetched my children from school, I got an earful from my son's teacher, his music teacher, and his sports teacher. I won't post it here to save my son embarrassment, but needless to say it was one of those mortifying parent moments.

The rest of the day wasn't much better, but while I was scrubbing toilets (to burn off some frustration), I suddenly burst out laughing, remembering that yesterday's sermon at church was on giving thanks in all circumstances, and here - when not even 24 hours had elapsed - I had completely forgotten. Oops.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." - I Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever." - I Chronicles 16:34

Saturday, February 7, 2009

On Death, Faith, and the Delete Button

I was updating our database this evening, preparing to mail another newsletter. In addition to some email addresses that needed correcting, there were four names I had to delete because those people had passed away since our last mailing.

It was one of those pause-and-make-you-think moments. It felt so disrespectful to hit the delete button, erasing those names forever. I wanted to keep the names there, as if they were a memorial of some sort to all that those people represented and had acccomplished. But of course, there's no sense in mailing letters to people who will never get them. [Delete.] I felt awful.

Then my mind wandered to the story of Abraham, where God promises that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abraham had no children at that point, and it was fourteen years later that Isaac was born. I wonder if I would have enough faith to hang on to a promise of God that took fourteen years to fulfill? I also wonder if I would think someone else crazy for doing the very same thing. "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed..." -Romans 4:18

Some of the people I deleted from my database possessed such a faith. "All these people were still living by faith when they died... [and] the world was not worthy of them." Hebrews 11:13, 38. I am so grateful for their examples. Can you imagine not having someone to look up to? It makes me want to live in such a way that when I die, other people pause and think before deleting me from their database.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Beginnings of Something Beautiful

Last night we hosted our first cell group (Bible study). Of the three couples we invited, only one showed up. And of that couple, only the woman came. But that's not my point.

The woman who came is from Congo (not to be confused with the DR Congo) and speaks French. Her English is limited, and while I (sort of) speak more than one language, French is not one of them, so communication was sometimes a challenge. But that's not my point, either.

We have the common bond of both being foreigners in South Africa, but what really made the fellowship sweet was that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. It is amazing to me that I can meet someone from all the way around the world, be total strangers, not share a common culture or even a common language, and yet be "family" because we both follow Jesus.

When it was time to pray she asked if she could pray in French as she was more comfortable with her native language. During her prayers, I heard a lot of "merci" and "papa". Thank you, Papa. It touched my heart to hear her call God "Papa". We often call God "Father", but the word "Father" is so formal. It isn't the same as "Daddy" or "Papa".

This may sound silly, but I love the love of God. There is nothing on earth that even comes close. It makes me feel like saying, "Merci, Papa."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More on Free-Range Yoghurt

Okay, I read the small print. Here's what it says:

"Why our cows are happy, healthy 'Fair Cape Free Range' cows:
  • They live in super comfort in spacious surroundings
  • They can choose between the sun or shade
  • They eat only natural feeds
  • No artificial hormones added
  • They receive daily health check ups, and,
  • At Fair Cape, we're serious about keeping the environment in tip top shape"
I guess that's why they used plastic packaging.

Seriously, I am neither advocating nor speaking against free-range anything, but it seems to me that sometimes when we desire to treat animals "humanely", we do just that - treat them as though they are human. Even this doesn't cause harm, I suppose, except that the above-mentioned cows get far better treatment and medical care than most people who live in South African townships. I have a problem with that.

Bacteria Have Rights!

Yesterday I went to the grocery store and discovered a new product in the dairy aisle: free-range yoghurt.

I know what free-range eggs are (the chickens aren't cooped up and can run around as much as their little legs desire, thereby producing better-tasting eggs??), and I know what free-range beef is (happy cows come from California, as we all know), but free-range yoghurt?

I can just picture this Moses-shaped bacteria talking to the pharaoh of the petri dish "Let my lactobacillus bulgaricus go.."

I'm the sort of person who, when I go to the store, just wants to buy eggs. I get confused when I have to choose between medium, large, extra large, jumbo, grain fed, free-range, organic, fair trade, etc. No wonder people are stressed out!

But free-range yoghurt.... this one stumps me.