Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Quote

"I know of only two alternatives to hypocrisy: perfection or honesty." - Philip Yancey

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Nightmare, Part 3

It seems that once I realised I'm not so great in the grace area, God has been giving me tons of "growth opportunities." Lately I've been getting cut off in traffic and having grumpy employees at the till. Even the post office man yelled at me for not having my passport with me in order to fetch a box ("That's just WRONG, lady!"). Sigh.

The clincher was on Sunday morning at church. I sat next to a beautiful African mama wearing a traditional dress. The thing was, she was a BIG African mama, and every time she sat down she partially sat down on me! I was trapped underneath her when it was time to stand for worship. I was hampered during communion. And taking notes during the sermon was not so easy. When she started fanning herself with a piece of paper, her elbow was in my face.

I'm still at the point in my foreigner status where I wasn't sure if this was normal, if it would have been rude to ask her to move over (although there wasn't really anywhere for her to move), or even if I would be labeled a racist for exerting my rights to personal space.

That's when I closed my eyes and prayed desperately for grace. It went something like this - "Lord, help me to extend grace to this woman. I really don't want to, she's really irritating me, and I can't see the pastor through her elbow. But maybe she's going through a difficult time, maybe she's had some negative experiences in her past. I don't want to add to that or distract her from hearing Your voice. But I don't WANT to extend grace, she's wrinkling my skirt, and I feel GRUMPY! Help me help me help me help me help me help me!"

At the end of the service they handed out chocolates to celebrate the opening of the new foyer, and I promptly forgot being rendered temporarily two-dimensional.

Sometimes I think I'm really pathetic. The amazing thing is that God loves me anyway, and that may be the best example of grace ever.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Nightmare, Part 2

I'm still thinking about this dream and what - if anything - it means. And every time I think about it I end up thinking about grace.

If grace is, by definition, giving someone what they don't deserve (in a good way), then grace is also, by definition, unfair. Unjust, if you will.

How many times have we - have I - said, "But that's not fair!" This is, of course, always said when I get the short end of the stick, but when I am blessed unfairly, when something good happens that I don't deserve, do I also cry, "But that's not fair"? Hardly. I usually smile through the rest of my day gleefully with an extra bounce in my step.

God extending grace to us is also unfair, unjust. Yet He was willing to suffer that injustice on our behalf. Jesus isn't recorded as saying, "But that's not fair!" as He hung on the cross.

It is easy to accept unfairness when it benefits us, but when it costs us... ah, but that's a different story. And yet I am called to be like Jesus. Which means that I need to be willing to suffer injustice for someone else's good, so someone else can be blessed "unfairly".

And this haunts me because it is so counter-intuitive, so difficult, so mind-boggling, so.... unfair.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Nightmare

I had the weirdest dream the other night. I dreamed that I was paired up with Julius Malema and Eugene Terrblanche, and Jesus was sending us to reach out to people in the community (if you don't know who these two guys are, it is enough to know that they are on *completely* opposite ends of the political spectrum here in South Africa).

I looked at Jesus and said, "You've got to be kidding, right?" He said, "No, and you three are so bad in the area of unity that you need to practice on the animals at Pilanesburg Game Reserve before you work with people."

So off we went to Pilanesburg. We were only just inside the gate when Julius and Eugene started arguing about where to begin. This went on for some time so I just sat down on a rock, and that's when I noticed that I was carrying a backpack full of American junk food.

I was super excited about the junk food and was about to dig in when Julius took my backpack and started eating all of my food. Eugene was still waxing eloquently, going on and on in some impassioned speech, only no one was listening.

I sighed and looked up to the sky. "Why me?" I said to God. He responded, "Because you need to learn how to extend grace and love those who are difficult to love."

And that's when Dan woke me up.

I'm still wondering, several days later, if there's more to this than just a dream. Is God letting me know that I stink in the "extending grace" department or was it merely a bizarre dream? Or both? Either way, it's got me thinking.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Small Victory for Immigrants

I now know what an IRP5 is. And UIF and PAYE deductions. I feel so smug!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Who Writes This Stuff, Anyway?

I have come to the conclusion that you need a university degree to understand the ins and outs of health care. This may strike a nerve with those of you in the U.S. who are debating ObamaCare, but I am happy to say that it is just as horrible the world over.

Here in South Africa health insurance is called medical aid. I think a medical "scheme" is the same thing, but to be honest, I don't really know.

Today I got a letter from my medical aid saying that "Day-to-day expenses will be refunded from OHEB first at NHRPL tarriffs and MPL rates and when it is depleted, from your Savings Account up to cost. Should claims be refunded from OHEB in excess of the allowed tarriffs, the balance will be refunded from Savings. Your Safety Net Level is reached through the accumulation of your claims paid from OHEB and Savings and your own pocket through the year at MPL rates and NHRPL tarriffs."

Umm...thanks. It's all so clear now. But what I really want to know is, if I have nightmares about NHRPL tarriffs and MPL rates and if my OHEB attacks me, is that covered by my medical aid? Will the Safety Net catch me?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Creepy Crawly Incredible Moment

I went outside this evening to say good-bye to some guests that we hosted for dinner. As they were driving out, I noticed a bunch of gnats flying in the air over my front garden. I looked down to see them flying out of a hole in the ground with little maggot-y things crawling around. That's when I realised they were termites, not gnats.

Just as I was about to freak out, a flock of cape sparrows flew in from nowhere and started catching the termites in mid-flight. They were soon joined by two masked weaver birds. It was so cool, even though it reminded me of that scene in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (at least I wasn't the one being eaten!). The birds were so busy catching termites they didn't seem to mind me.

Being surrounded by flying termites and a flock of birds swirling, diving, catching insects all around my head was like.... well, it was actually a little like seeing snow fall for the first time. It was absolutely magical.

I'm a little mystified that I just used the words "magical" and "termites" in the same sentence, but that's the mercy of each day - there's always something new to learn. And if you've never seen a masked weaver bird, you'll have to come to South Africa and then you'll understand.

Friday, October 16, 2009

To My Husband

Do you realise in the past six months we've
taken the car in for repairs
at least fifteen times
listened to a neurologist diagnose our son
lost our jobs and reputation
spent more sleepless nights
worrying, wondering, praying
huddled together
through the cold South African winter?

You have been a pillar of reason, strength,
pointing me to grace
and I wish I had your wisdom, could
encourage you the same
so let me start by saying

I'm sorry about the hamsters;
they *told* me they were both girls
(but at least your silk worm made a cocoon)

and if I pour some fresh granadilla juice
we can sit on the trampoline
under the stars
watch the Southern Cross
until a summer thunderstorm comes
waters the red soil
cleanses the air in preparation
for another day which you and I
will get through

because we made a toast to Hope
here in South Africa

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two-Minutes of Politics and Then I'm Done - I Promise!

In case you were wondering what South Africa thinks of Barack Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize win, I'm attaching two quotes. And that's all I'm going to say on this topic (except that if anyone asks me, I'm pretending I'm from Canada for the next three months...)

"The Nobel Peace Prize is an odd thing. It has gone to institutions, to those involved in attempting to make peace despite having blood on their hands, to symbols of peace, and to some questionable figures. Most notably it has gone to relentless campaigners for human rights, equality and the ending of violence. What unites the best winners is not simply an inspirational discourse but the sense they stand for something. Actions achieved or a long commitment to an ideal, often through hardship

Which is what makes the awarding of this year's prize to a president who has been in office for a mere nine months an odd departure. It is as if the prize committee had been persuaded to give the award on the future delivery of promises.

The question now is whether having being anointed perhaps too early by the committee, a Nobel prize earned so cheaply and at so little cost will help him in his efforts on the international stage or rather be an albatross around his neck." - Guardian News and Media 2009

"He's not even finished a year in his first term of office of a relatively young president. It's an award that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all." - South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Downside of Being an Immigrant

After two years of living in South Africa I really thought I was settled (for the most part). I know to say "robot" instead of "traffic light", "jersey" instead of "sweater" and I've stopped saying "Dude, that rocks!" But not only has my English changed; I've also changed the way I hold my fork and knife (which I now use to eat pizza and sandwiches instead of my fingers), the way I dress (no more holey jeans) and I try - I *try*- not to be too loud or obnoxious. But every now and then culture shock still rises up to bite me in the bum (notice I didn't say "butt").

Lately I've been wishing that my nationality didn't precede me when I enter a room. That is to say, sometimes I just want to be me and not me, the American. Does that make any sense? People are constantly pointing out what is different about me or teasing me when I say something funny or look confused because I don't get the joke, but if they only knew how hard I've worked to fit in, to learn the culture, the mannerisms, the language, the ways of being and doing things here....

It is, at times, an isolating feeling to be an immigrant. It's par for the course, I know, but still - I feel lonely today.

The Challenge of Forgiveness

"I have often said, 'I forgive you,' but even as I said these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return - if only the praise for being so forgiving!

"But God's forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive." - Henri Nouwen

"To bless the people who have oppressed our spirits, emotionally deprived us, or in other ways handicapped us, is the most extraordinary work any of us will ever do." - Elizabeth O'Connor

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Safety Belts, Rental Cars and Legislating Morality

Once again, our car managed to die in spectacular fashion. This time it was the entire steering mechanism that needed replacing. Despite the fact that our car seems to have ambitions to make the Guiness Book of World Records, what I really want to talk about is the rental car we have been using.

This car, apparently, has a weight sensor in the passenger seat. If you don't fasten your safety belt, an alarm begins to beep. If you *still* don't fasten your safety belt, the beeping accelerates, not unlike to a bomb about to explode. I was actually frightened into buckling up!

I am usually conscientious about wearing a safety belt, but on occasion, I forget or feel lazy (no lectures, please, Mom!) This rental car made me feel like some sort of safety derelict that needed to be locked up.

On the other hand, the curious side of me wanted to know what would happen if I let the beeping reach a frenetic pace - would the seat issue an electric shock? Would the engine shut down? Would I be ejected through the roof?

And the philosophical side of me wonders - if you have to enact laws to get people to do the right thing - if you have to legislate morality - what does that say about mankind? I don't mean to go off on a tangent, but the idea that man is basically good just doesn't wash with me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Philosophical Friday

"To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself. Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art." - Ben Okri, Nigerian author

What do you think? Do authors, songwriters - all of us, really - have an obligation to use our gifts responsibly? And what does that mean, in practical terms?

All I know is that the people who inspired me weren't the ones who pointed out everything that was wrong with me but rather those who saw my potential and nurtured that into flame.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Man Walks Down the Street, it's a Street in a Strange World...

I think one of my all-time favourite albums is Paul Simon's Graceland. I first listened to it at my friend's house years ago. Over the years I've never gotten tired of it. It contains so many different styles of music - both American and South African (I had no idea I would end up in South Africa one day).

I was driving down Zambesi Road the other day, listening to my favourite song on that album, "You Can Call Me Al" when it dawned on me: I'm actually IN South Africa listening to Paul Simon's Graceland album. I smiled. I feel so blessed.

(By the way, that friend who introduced me to this album? He is my amazing husband of 14 years).