Saturday, March 28, 2009

I love Cadbury Cream Eggs, only you can't get them in South Africa. It's one of the few foods I miss, and I'm not even a "chocolate" person.

Today was the weekend after payday for most South Africans, and the shops were crowded with people. I usually avoid the stores when it's payday, but there were a few items I desperately needed, so I took two of my kids and went to Checkers, one of the main grocery stores here in South Africa.

While walking down an aisle, I stopped, stunned, at a display of (dum da da DA!!!)... CADBURY CREAM EGGS!!!! I was in shock, I was delighted, I bought two boxes. Well, I thought I did, at any rate, except that my lot in life seems to be exposure to bad grocery store experiences, and today proved no exception.

The lady at the till didn't give me my Cadbury Cream Eggs. She charged me for floor polish, which, as it turns out, the guy BEHIND me was purchasing, and charged my Cadbury Cream Eggs - my precious eggs - to the lady in FRONT of me. I was almost to the car before I realised that I didn't have my Cadbury Cream Eggs, and then...

THEN I had to brave my way through the masses once again, through trolleys blocking the aisle, through indecisive customers deciding on which flavour of boerewors to buy, past the performer who plays Bette Midler hits on the pan flute, to the till where my precious Cadbury Cream Eggs lay, unclaimed.

I left with a headache, paid the parking lot attendant grumpily, and was more than glad to be home when it hit me: I went out of my way, REALLY out of my way, for chocolate. Am I willing to put forth the same effort to go out of my way for people, for Jesus? If not, then something is seriously wrong.

On To More Serious Things...

"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves to you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.' " - Daniel 3:16-18

Even if He does not. Even if He does not do what I want Him to do, answer prayer the way I want Him to, respond in a way that makes sense to me (as if I'm smarter than God!)....

I will still believe in the Sovereignty of God. I will still put my faith in Him. I will still trust that His ways are better than my own. I will still believe.

May I - may WE - never waver in our faith in the God who holds the universe in His hands and calls the stars by name each night, yet also knows our name and loves us relentlessly.

An Unconventional Teacher

My second daughter, Lucy, has had a rough time in school this year. Kids can be mean, no matter where you live. I thought I probably shouldn't post this story, but the more I think about it the funnier it becomes...

Last week someone wrote a nasty note to another student, and signed Lucy's name to it. The teacher, Mrs. B, found it and called Lucy to her desk. Before I proceed with the story you have to visualise Mrs. B - an older teacher of retirement age, very proper, perfectly clipped British accent, and a rather expressionless face. Okay, so Mrs. B called Lucy up and said (in her perfectly clipped British accent), "Lucy, spell f***." Lucy looked at her, eyes widening, and kept her mouth closed. Mrs. B reassured her, "I have a good reason for this, Lucy. Please just spell f*** for me." So Lucy spelled the dreaded f-word for her in a barely audible voice. Then Mrs. B said to the class, "I knew Lucy didn't write this note because Lucy can spell and whoever wrote this note can't. You may be seated, Lucy."

Well! That's one way to solve the mystery. I would have thought she would have recognised the handwriting, or known Lucy's character, or.... something. But to conclude Lucy didn't write it based on spelling skills is, ummm, unconventional. Creative. I'm not sure what to think, but every time I think of Mrs. B saying the f-word in her British accent it makes me laugh. We obviously don't use that word but I guess in my experience it's always been said in a rough, American, gang-type accent.

What mortified me more than anything, though, was that Lucy not only knew the word but knew how to spell it. When I asked her how she knew this, she looked at me with that you're-so-out-of-it look and said, "MOTHER... it's all over the bathroom stall walls!" Oh...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Language Barrier?

I was looking for someone today and couldn't find her. I asked one of the guys who works on the grounds if he had seen her. This guy is from Mozambique and speaks Portuguese. He doesn't speak English at all, and only a little Afrikaans. Me? No Portuguese, English and a little Afrikaanas.

I asked him, "Do you know where Asnat is?" His reply was a quizzical look. So I tried Afrikaans. "Waar is Asnat?" Again, a quizzical look. I tried a different tactic. "Samuel. Have you seen Samuel?" He said, "Ah, Samuel," and then waved his hand as if to say, "Over there somewhere." (But does "over there somewhere" mean close by or far away?)

Then I asked him, "Samuel's wife. Do you know where she is?" No understanding. Back to Afrikaans. "Samuel se vrou. Weet jy waar sy is?" He looked at me, then pointed at where a woman's breasts would be (on himself), and looked at me quizzically. "Yes!" I said. "Ja! Samuel se vrou!" He smiled a knowing look of understanding and then waved his hand the other direction - "somewhere over THERE."

I had to laugh. Five minutes of trying to communicate with the end result being that Samuel was somewhere over there, and Asnat was somewhere over in the opposite direction. I never did find Asnat, but I felt like somehow I had accomplished something. I had managed to communicate... sort of.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Has It Really Been 18 Months?

We've been here 18 months now, and every six months or so I like to look back and think about what I've learned, what Africa has taught me. Some lessons I have been learning from Day 1; others are new, but as always, I find my love for Africa ever-increasing despite its challenges. Here's my latest assessment:
  1. Africa has taught me to be resilient. I have never met a more resilient people than South Africans. They can bounce back from their setbacks quicker than anyone I know, which brings me to #2:
  2. Africa has taught me to smile. A smile can cross cultural barriers, language barriers, or "I've had a terrible day" barriers! And... it's impossible to laugh without smiling first, so if you want to laugh more, smile more.
  3. When it's time for church, leave your troubles at the door. Even if the world (or your world) is falling apart outside, when it's time to worship God it's time to worship God. No exceptions.
  4. Africa has taught me that people are more important than tasks. Always. This one is tough for my Western mindset that likes to check things off lists and feel like I accomplished all my goals for the day, but really..... at the end of my life I'm not going to wish I had crossed more things off my list. If I have any regrets (and I hope I don't), it will be that I didn't spend enough time fostering relationships. Besides, "To Do" lists won't come to my funeral. People will. And I have a feeling that they'll remember more who I was than what I did.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Okay So I Wrote a Poem... Sort Of


I hold the bloody bandages
from self-absorbed churches
religious hypocrites and
holy wars, but

every time I
see a sunset
I still believe in You.

"From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised." - Psalm 113:3

Friday, March 20, 2009


"In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? I am under vows to You, O God; I will present my thank offerings to You. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life." - Psalm 56:11-13

"God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all." - I John 1:5

"Send forth Your light and Your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to Your Holy mountain, to the place where You dwell. " - Psalm 43:3

"I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken." - Psalm 37:25

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Daily Resolve

"When you become absorbed by your culture, you become irrelevant... Day after day the world tries to influence you. The question is, will it indoctrinate you or will you indoctrinate it?" - Beth Moore

I'm doing this study on the book of Daniel. It is really challenging me to not let the world characterise who I am and what I become, but rather, Jesus. And it is hard when I am bombarded every day by ads, billboards, movies, whatever - telling me how I need to look and act, what products I need to buy, where I need to take my vacations, who I need to vote for and a host of other things.

In Daniel 1:8 it says, "But Daniel resolved..." To resolve is to decide firmly on a course of action. Our day to day life has to be characterised by firm determination, or we will achieve nothing; we will become like everyone else in our respective cultures. And that would be a waste.

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out..." - Matthew 5:13

Monday, March 16, 2009

That Can't Be Good

The exterminator finally came to my house to get rid of my ants (MY ants?). I am sitting here, working from home, while he and another man are upstairs spraying. I was quite content and excited about the prospect of being rid of ants, except that I just heard something rather unsettling come from upstairs:

Exterminator A: "AAAAHHHH!"
Exterminator B: "Is it still alive?"
Exterminator A: "Yes!!"
Exterminator B: "Don't let your eye off it! Stay there!"

I'm wondering if I should be alarmed.....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Presidential Elections, Take Two

I know those of you who live in the United States must be glad the presidential election is over. I can only imagine how bombarded you were with television ads, mailings, debates, phone calls, radio ads, newspaper articles, etc. Even here in South Africa we got sick of hearing about Obama vs. McCain. It seemed like the only topic of conversation for months.

Over here, though, there is no rest for the weary. Just as the U.S. election was finished South Africa began gearing up for their own elections which take place next month. There are signs everywhere, political rallies, newspaper articles... you get the idea. Here we go again. But it's not as easy as Republican vs. Democrat. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, South Africa has 156 political parties.

And we still have a month to go...

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I don't know what it is about going to the doctor in a foreign country that's so daunting to me, but it is. Maybe it's the idea of sharing intimate details about my health and body with someone who isn't a native English speaker... do they really understand what I'm saying? Or maybe it's the different philosophy of medicine...while the medical care is good here, it's quite different (when Emma had her tonsils removed, instead of giving her ice cream they gave her a bag of potato chips!). Whatever it is, it makes me feel lonely and culture-shocked. Especially when the news isn't all that great.

Yesterday I took my son to a neurologist. This was a check-up of sorts as he has had some issues since birth. The doctor was wonderful. I'm so thankful we found someone who listened and understood; I really can't complain. We got some news, however, that wasn't all roses (don't worry; he's fine. He's just not perfect, but then, are any of us?). I suddenly felt the distance between old home and new home keenly.

When life is tough we want something familiar to cling to, something comforting that convinces us everything will be okay. Most of us turn to family and friends. Some of us turn to things - food, a favourite blanket, a good movie. We hide from the world in an attempt to "recover." But when all of that is removed, I find that the only thing I have to hang onto is Jesus Himself, the very One we should turn to in the first place.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." - I Peter 5:6-7

"Surely God is my help, the One who sustains me." - Psalm 54:4

Not Just Any Car Wash...

I went to the petrol station to fill up my car and noticed this sign. It is supposed to be for a car wash company. What's even funnier is the sign behind it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Quote

"The supreme desire of my life is to give myself in reckless abandon to Christ." - Ed McCully

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." - Hebrews 12:1-3

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rainbow Ants in the Rainbow Nation

South Africa is called the Rainbow Nation, due to its many cultures and skin colours. I have rainbow ants in my house to prove it.

As I mentioned, my house has been taken over by ants (the exterminator can't come until Monday, by the way... five more days!). I still can't figure out where they're coming from, but Dan noticed that they were eating my food colouring. What's funny is that every time we squished an ant they left a little rainbow mark - blue, green, red or yellow. And every time I squished one, five more appeared.

We had a guest come over for dinner, an electrical engineer/pastor from Zambia whose wife is the Speaker of the National Assembly for the Zambian government. And here I was in the kitchen frantically killing ants, leaving little rainbow spots all over the place while my stew was burning on the stove! I was so embarrassed.

I suppose it's funny, but what came to my mind was a conference I attended years ago in which a woman from Russia spoke on hospitality. She said that we Americans are really terrible at practicing hospitality because we care too much about how our homes look and not enough about people. We think everything has to be just right before we will invite someone into our home. I suppose she was right, although I know many Americans who have the gift of hospitality. In any case, I decided to swallow my pride and serve the burnt stew to my guest while enjoying my new....umm.... kitchen decor. And you know what? I had a lovely evening!

Yup, it's good to be home...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You Can Learn a Lot From the Phone Book

We have ants. They are in my cupboards, on my calendar, in my sink, everywhere. I can't figure out where they're coming in, or why our house is suddenly overrun by ants. I decided that it's time to call the exterminator, except... I couldn't find them in the yellow pages.

I looked under "exterminator", but there was nothing there. It went right from "Explosives" to "Fabric Bonding." I looked under "Insects", but again, the listing went from "Indoor Plants" to "Instruments - Industrial, Nuclear and Scientific." (I'm learning a lot about Pretoria from the yellow pages, but I still have ants...)

Finally I found what I was looking for under "Pest Control" (which fell between "Pearl and Bead Stringing" and "Pet Transporting"), and oh, was I impressed! Nearly all the pest control companies promised to rid my house of not only ants but bed bugs, fish moths, bats, beetles, and get this - safe and effective snake removal!

I would continue my praise of Pretoria Pest Control Companies, but there's an ant crawling up my leg and I need to make a phone call.

Monday, March 9, 2009

More Thoughts On the Toilet Paper Lady

When I was a teenager, I was repulsed at the idea of working at a fast food restaurant. That was beneath me, I felt. I would *never* have worked at McDonald's (or worse, Hot Dog on a Stick). How arrogant I was!

After yesterday's meeting, I have to say that I truly hope that woman achieves her dream of owning a toilet paper factory, and you know what? It would be an honour to be one of her employees.

"...But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it." - I Corinthians 12:24-26

Sunday, March 8, 2009

If I Could Choose Any Career, I Would...

Today I was at a meeting out in Soshanguve to prepare for an upcoming women's conference at one of the local churches. When the women were asked what they wanted to hear/learn, many of them said they wanted to learn how to start small businesses so they could support their families (most of these women are of a generation that was not allowed opportunities in either education or choices). When we asked them what sorts of skills they wanted to learn and what kind of businesses they wanted to run, one woman said that she wanted to learn how to make beaded jewelry. That, I could understand, for South African beadwork is stunning and intricate.

The next woman said, "I have some skills in baking, but that's not what I want to do with my life. I never wanted to be a baker. I want to own and operate a toilet paper factory!" I think I almost fell out of my chair! She continued, "Well, toilet paper isn't a perishable item, and EVERYONE uses it EVERY day. It's something you NEED. If I had the right machines to make it, I could sell it. I've already done research!"

At first glance it sounds funny. I would never have imagined that a woman would want to learn how to open a toilet paper factory (and can you really host a women's conference where that's one of the electives?), but on second thought, it's brilliant. Truly brilliant. Kudos to that woman for having a dream, for doing research, and for having the guts to be honest about who she is and what she longs to do with her life. She has my total admiration.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I'm Back!

I am SO happy to be back in South Africa. It is wonderful to see my family again and be home. I didn't sleep well on the two flights, however, so in an effort to stay awake until bedtime I made the following list for you -

  1. I heated up some lunch and remembered to eat it two hours later.
  2. I forgot what I was saying mid-sentence.
  3. I made a pot of coffee but forgot to put the coffee in.
  4. I went into my room and forgot why, then went to get something downstairs and forgot what.
  5. I put hand lotion on my lips.
The good news is, I remembered to drive on the left side of the road!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Answer to the Question

Tomorrow I leave for South Africa. Two weeks ago I wondered if, when it was time to leave, I would feel like I was leaving home or coming home. Tonight, I have an answer to that question:

It's both. I am both leaving home AND coming home. I cannot help but have one foot in each country, as those two countries make up who I am. I am richer for having experiences in both, despite the occasional confusion of wondering where I truly belong. And yes, there are times when I wonder where I best fit in. I cannot always answer that question. Only one thing remains constant throughout the changes of my life: I will still follow Jesus.

One Last Post From California

  • Good-bye Mexican food.
  • Good-bye pumping your own petrol (gasoline).
  • Good-bye dearest family, friends, and church. If I have anything to give to South Africa, it is because you made a difference in my life and I am the better for it.
  • Good-bye bad roads (wait a minute...)
  • Good-bye Starbucks.
  • Good-bye driving on the right side of the road.
  • Good-bye northern hemisphere.
See you next time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wait a Minute...I'm Not Ready for This

For twelve days I've been saying "hello" and reconnecting with family, friends and my home church. Today, after some more wonderful hellos I suddenly had to start with the "good-byes." It hit me by surprise. I guess I should have expected it, but I truly was caught off guard to instantly go from joyous reunions to bittersweet partings.

I have been slowly seeping back into my home culture, enjoying my three-year-old nephew, having coffee with my sister-in-law and brother, going out to dinner with mom and grandma, getting together with my prayer group, enjoying Mexican food, good coffee and the encouragement that can only come from people who have known me for a long time.

You might think that saying good-bye is easier the second time around but it's not.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Better Than a Hallmark Card Moment

Tonight I spoke at Catalyst, one of the services at our church. I was just speaking for a few minutes, sharing about what I do in South Africa. The "real" speaker at tonight's service was a man who happened to be my pastor when I was in junior high.

After I spoke there was a time of worship (before the main speaker), and during that time this man came up and told me he was proud of me. I cannot tell you what that meant to me. I (who grew up without a dad) felt a sort of fatherly approval from someone who had been in a position of authority over me during some critical years. I looked at him and said, "But I wouldn't be where I am today if people like you hadn't influenced my life, especially when I was unlovable." He looked at my, got teary, and said, "Thank you." I looked back at him and said, "No, thank YOU."

I cannot describe in words what it meant to have a mentor be proud of me and to be able to thank them for their influence and tell how it made a difference in my life. I am so thankful for that opportunity.

I feel SO blessed. I am going to bed with a smile on my face and my heart bursting with gratitude.