Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Latest Theory

I have this new theory: anyone who wants to become a pastor, minister, dominee, etc., should be subjected to a verbal interrogation by my children as their final exam.

My kids ask the weirdest questions about the Bible - which is good, as I want them to develop critical thinking skills and not blindly follow the masses - but half the time I have no idea how to answer their questions:
  1. "Are there going to be animals in heaven? Because if there are, then there won't be any meat because there's no death or sorrow in heaven. And if there's no meat, then there won't be any salami, bacon or boerewors. That doesn't sound very good to me."
  2. "You know that verse in Revelation where it talks about Jesus having the name 'King of kings and Lord of lords' written on His thigh? Do you think he used a sword to carve it in His thigh, or did He just write it with a Sharpie pen?"
  3. "There was this king in the Old Testament, and when he was young he loved God and followed His ways, but when he got older he turned away and started worshiping idols. So... will he be in heaven or not?"
  4. "You know that verse in Song of Solomon where it says 'Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing?' Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
If every future church leader could pass a test like that, I wonder how different our churches would be. And why is it that when we grow up we tend to accept pat answers?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is the Girl...

This is the girl who:
  • walks around the house singing "Here Comes the Braai"
  • tried to teach her seven-year-old brother chord inversions on the piano
  • can find the loophole in any given argument
  • thinks Jonas Salk got a bum deal because Louis Pasteur won a Nobel Prize for "figuring out how to clean milk and other stuff", while Jonas Salk "invented the polio vaccine and didn't win anything."
  • received a term mark of 99% in Economic and Management Sciences
  • refers to her left nostril as "Reginald" and her right nostril as "Beatrice" (and then informed me that Reginald was not cooperating today as he's rather stuffy.)
  • chose Ruby Bridges for the subject of her Hero Speech because "she prayed for the people who were mean to her."
I never, never imagined that having kids could be so wonderful. And the truth is, I think that the soul of a Nobel Laureate lies in each one of us. Everyone is great at something, no matter who they are or where they come from. May we encourage that greatness.

What Do You Think?

"Easy lives don't make great stories. Your life in Christ was meant to be a great story." - Beth Moore

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy... Choose-Your-Holiday!

Today is either Heritage Day or National Braai Day, depending on who you are and what culture you come from. Either way, it's a public holiday, which means I get a day off.

My kids are keen to celebrate South African holidays since they don't get to celebrate American ones any longer (meaning: they don't get the day off from school). A bit of a dispute ensued as they debated which holiday to celebrate today: Heritage Day or National Braai Day.

As a parent, one develops the finer art of diplomacy. "How about we celebrate both? We can braai something AND celebrate our heritage!" My kids were all smiles until they tried to come up with something to braai that was keeping in line with our heritage.

"Great-Grandpa Erickson was from Sweden, and Mommy's family is of German descent, but we're Americans, so....." We decided on hamburgers, which is an insult to the South African braai (how could anyone possibly braai mince when there are lamb chops, wors, ribs and skilpadjies available?), but it fits our heritage, you can braai it, and everyone in the family is happy.

Besides, it was either hamburgers or lutefisk.

Monday, September 21, 2009

War of the Hoses

We have these neighbours who are a complete mystery to me. When we moved in two years ago and our children were playing in the backyard, the kids across the wall started taunting my kids because they didn't speak Afrikaans. I didn't even know this until a friend of ours translated. Oh well, I thought. Our kids will learn Afrikaans soon enough.

Then the rotten granadillas started flying over the wall. My kids threw them back, but for every granadilla they threw back, three more appeared. We ended up just throwing them away.

Then came the vuvuzela war, which we just ignored, because strangely, vuvuzelas do not annoy me.

But yesterday.... my daughter and I were outside reading when we suddenly got drenched by a hosepipe turned on full blast and aimed carefully over the wall. I tried to be kind - I asked them nicely to stop - but they just giggled and kept at it. What really got me upset was that the dad was out there, too, giggling with his daughters.

The only way to actually see over the fence is to jump on the trampoline, so I climbed on- "Please (jump) stop (jump) spraying us (jump) with water (jump). We're (jump) trying to (jump) read!" They just laughed even harder.

I thought of a million mean things to say - "At least I don't jump on the trampoline naked with a giant beer belly flopping up and down - and by the way, gravity always wins!" or "At least I don't sing drunken versions of Steve Hofmeyr songs at odd hours of the night every weekend!" or "You're ruining my sense of ubuntu!" And just as I was about to say something, my daughter sweetly reminded me, "Mommy, when you were a little girl, didn't you and Uncle David hit dog poo over the fence with badminton rackets into your neighbour's swimming pool?" Umm..... yes. We did.

So to my childhood neighbour, I say: I'm really, REALLY sorry for hitting dog poo over the fence into your swimming pool. That was a horrible thing to do and I'll never do it again. And to our current neighbours: I don't know why you torment us so, but I'll try to be good-natured about it. I might even develop a taste for rotten granadillas. But please, be a little bit nicer to us, and one of these nights I might just sing with you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Privy to a Beautiful Moment

I went to a meeting at church this morning. I confess, I wasn't looking forward to it. When I got to the church, the tables were set with the most stunning breakfast imaginable: a fresh fruit salad (pineapple, paw paw, granadilla, apple and banana), fresh strawberries, chocolate muffins, croissants, ham, cheese, jam, etc. It was an absolute feast.

What made the morning memorable, however, wasn't the food, as delicious as it was. I was sitting at a table with six other ladies, and each one of us had a different first language. One lady's mother tongue was Setswana. Another's was Tsonga. Afrikaans, isiZulu, Sesotho, and English were the others (and even then there was American English and British/Zimbabwean English represented). We all communicated with one another in South African English.

I sat at that table and just... sat there. It was so hard to fathom that here we were, representing three different countries and seven different cultures, and we were laughing together and sharing our lives. One woman shared a harrowing experience from the 1960's that happened under the Apartheid government. She broke down and began to sob, and the white refugee from Zimbabwe- who has her own story- hugged her and whispered words of comfort into her ear. I wish you could have seen what I saw: it was like a mini version of the TRC with women from the township and women from the wealthiest neighbourhood in Pretoria (and everything in between) hugging and crying and healing. And here I was - the bumbling American - privy to a moment showing humanity at its best, Chrisitanity at its best.

Why did I ever complain about having to go to church?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I love this photo. When I look at it all the sights, smells and tastes of South Africa come alive for me: roasting mealies by the side of the road, juicy pineapple wedges from KZN on skewers sprinkled with chili powder, the air just before a thunderstorm, winter veldfires, the exhaust from a public bus, biting into a sweet naartjie, the sound of a toyi toyi, the hoot of taxis, the red clay soil contrasting with green grass and blue sky, the hum of a thousand vuvuzelas at a soccer match, the sound of singing in a rural church on Sunday morning...

How many blessings do we miss each day because we fail to notice what's right in front of us?

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

" 'We know that Americans pity Africans,' he told me. 'But sometimes I think Africans pity Americans.'

'How so?' I asked him.

'Americans seem to expect that everything will be provided for them. For us,' he said, 'this ear of corn is a gift from God. This evening's rain is a shower of mercy upon us. This healthy breath is life-giving. And, maybe tomorrow we will not have such things, but our hearts are so full of God's provision.' " - from Hope in the Dark, by Jeremy Cowart and Jena Lee

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the two-year anniversary of our moving to South Africa. In order to celebrate, I've enlisted the help of some special guests to tell you what they love about life in South Africa. So, without further ado, please welcome my family:

Dan (my handsome husband): I love how I can show up at a friend's house and stay for an hour with no warning. I like it that people wrinkle their noses when I ask for my coffee black. I discovered rugby and while I'm not a fanatic, I'm a growing enthusiast. I love the way that traffic has a much more natural flow than a directed flow; it's relaxed and free. I like how people take minor irritations in stride and how they're creative about their solutions. I love the smell just before a storm.

Emma (11 years old): I love the beauty of South Africa and the nature - the animals and birds - our school, our church, boerewors, chocolate and the rain.

Lucy (9 years old): What I like about South Africa is Cadbury chocolates, boerewors, and all the people are very friendly here. South Africa is a very beautiful country ,and I'm glad we live here. Oh yes - the thunderstorms and rainstorms here are awesome! Once, one of them lasted a whole week (well, not exactly a WHOLE week, but six days)!

Benjamin (7 years old): I like it that there are beautiful flowers and there are nice people and there's lots of good food. I also like my school, and I have lots of friends.

As for me, I like it that it's acceptable to put ice cream on waffles and that you can get advice from a pharmacist (chemist) without them having to worry about liability. I love the fresh fruit juices, the awe-inspiring thunderstorms, that you can always tell what month it is by what tree is blooming, that people are more important than tasks or possessions, and the incredible sunsets. Living in South Africa has taught me flexibility, how to be more relational, and how to relax when things don't go my way (okay, so that one's an emerging skill). I love it that on any given outing, I can hear at least three different languages being spoken, and I love waking up to the symphony of birds outside my window. I love calling my children to the dinner table with a vuvuzela (hee hee), and I love rugby (Go, Sharks!).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I've Changed My Mind

I used to think that South African bureaucracy was maddening. I take it all back. I have come to the conclusion that American bureaucracy - the DMV in particular - is enough to drive a person to eat a tub of ice cream in one sitting while watching M*A*S*H reruns.

I am trying to replace my California driver's license after it was stolen. First I went on the website. The website says you have to renew it in person. But what if you're living overseas? I tried to phone them, but it turns out that Monday was a holiday (eek - I'm forgetting American holidays).

I tried to phone the DMV yesterday but I got the "All operators are busy; please call again" recording. So I phoned again. And again. In fact, I set Skype to phone every 2 minutes, and it still took me over an HOUR to get a real live..... recording.

I had to go through this whole voice prompt menu: "For license plates, say 'Vehicle Registration and Licensing Information Services.' For driver's licenses, say "Replace Lost or Stolen Pre-Existing Valid California Driver's License or Identification Card."

Honestly, the voice prompt was so long that I froze and said something like, "I'd like a small cheeseburger and a diet coke, please. Oh, and make that to go." This, of course, led to a very pleasant recording of "I'm sorry; I didn't understand you. Please hang up and try again."

When I got through four or five levels of voice prompts (Do you get bonus points after the fourth level? Or at least an extra life?) I finally reached the "My license was stolen and I'm currently residing out of the country" category. Which led me to another recording that basically said, "You have just wasted ninety minutes. Please hang up and dial the following number..."

So I dialed that number (and I will spare you the painful details) but when I finally got to a real person, she just said, "I can't renew your license. You have to renew it in person. Didn't you check the website before phoning?"

I begged. I pleaded. I tried reasoning ("Why do you have a 'My license was stolen and I'm residing outside the country' category if you aren't going to do anything about it?"). The best I could do was get her to issue me a temporary license, which won't have my picture on it, but will be good for four years.

I don't understand why, if they can send me a temporary license that's good for FOUR years, they can't just mail me a replacement license? And why can't they put the photo on it?

Time for some M*A*S*H reruns....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

More Thoughts on Giving Grace

In order to extend grace, you have to give up your rights - rights to your time, your money, your things, your intangible rights as a human being - in short, whatever you think you're entitled to. And when you come to a point where you can release those things and live a life fully abandoned to Jesus, extending grace becomes fun. It actually becomes rather reckless, because you have nothing left to lose.

All rivers flow downhill. May we, too, flow "downhill" from our moments with the Saviour to touch and "bathe" the world in grace.

Time to Put it Into Practice

Our pastor has been speaking on the theme of "Giving Grace" this term. Last week we all had "grace assignments". It has been good to not merely sit in church and listen to nice words, but to put them into practice.

Last night we had a special worship service at church. During the service, I was robbed. Someone got into my handbag and took everything of value - my cell phone, my wallet, my driver's license, bank cards, etc. When you live in a foreign country, those things are hard to replace. I felt violated, but I decided not to let satan rob me of my joy.

As I lay in bed last night, I began to think, Is it possible to extend grace - to give grace - to someone you've never met? The more I thought about it, the more I thought that yes, perhaps through our prayers we can speak grace over someone whom we've never met. I made a conscious decision to forgive the person who took my things, and to pray God's blessing and favour over that person. I prayed that last night's theft would be a moment that God redeems, a moment when good triumphs.

I don't know how, when, why, who or what, but I know that this morning I woke up feeling joyful. I have released my losses, and I am choosing to have a good attitude. I will keep my eyes on Jesus, not on my circumstances. I am learning (note the present active participle there) to give grace.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Creative Solutions

I saw something interesting yesterday. As I was on my way to work, I was coming down a mountain with two lanes of traffic in either direction and no centre divide or shoulder on the side of the road. We heard an emergency vehicle approaching from behind us, and I thought to myself, There's no way he's going to get through as there's no place for any of the cars to pull over.

Suddenly, in Moses-like fashion, the cars in the left lane moved over to the left, and the cars in the right lane moved over to the right (barely edging into the oncoming traffic lane) and the emergency vehicle went in between them, straddling the line that separated the two lanes of traffic on my side of the street. My first thought was, "That would never happen in the States." On further thought, I decided this is one more reason why I love South Africa.

Conventional wisdom says that in such-and-such situation, certain protocol must be followed. Often, however, conventional wisdom can't be followed due to circumstances. When that happens, we Westerners tend to complain. But here in South Africa, when circumstances prevent "normal" protocol from being followed, people just find a way around it. It's creative, innovative, resourceful and a very positive way of dealing with challenges.

Thank you, South Africa, for teaching me another lesson.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Food For Thought

"Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to Your will can be transformed.

"Therefore I begin to think, my Lord, You purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed. Perhaps that is the very reason why we are here in this world, where sin and sorrow and suffering and evil abound, so that we may let You teach us to so react to them, that out of them we can create lovely qualities to live forever. That is the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good." - Hannah Hurnard, Hinds' Feet on High Places

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is There a Botanist in the House?

I love the trees in South Africa. You can always tell what season it is by what is blooming. Right now the poinsettias are finishing their bloom season, the coral trees are beginning to bloom, and next month the Jacarandas will be blooming.

And then there are these trees. I don't know what they're actually called, but our family calls it the "Cotton Ball Grenade" tree. The tree produces these big pods and then drops the "shell" of the pod, leaving a cotton ball explosion. Cool, huh?