Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Need of Eye Surgery

I've been thinking a lot lately about how, when we encounter or meet someone, we size them up based on how they're different from us rather than on how they're alike (or even better). We mentally point out what's weird, what we disapprove of and even what's "wrong." If we don't find too many negative things about them, we might consider befriending them. If they really pass our critical eye, they might become lifelong friends.

In my thought processes I remembered a quote I heard many years ago - "Every man is in some way my superior. In that, I can learn from him." When I remembered this I wept. How cruel we humans can be to one another, especially (and I'm sorry to say it) we Christians. Too often we expect everyone to become exactly like we are before we're willing to dole out some love and respect (as though God's love is in short supply??) Or even worse, we demand that they agree with us on all fronts - political, social, economic and religious.

I have asked God to help me see with His eyes. When I encounter someone - whether it be an acquaintance, the woman behind the till or the beggar on the street - I would like to think, "This person is made in the image of a Holy God and therefore worthy of my respect. This person has a unique set of gifts and skills. This person is my superior in some area of expertise. What can I learn from this person? How can I value them? Even if my encounter is limited to a minute or two, how can I connect with this person in a meaningful way - touch them with the fingerprint of God - remind them of their inherent worth and value?"

And so, to the old way of thinking I say, "STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!" To the new way I say, "Lord, help me. I want your eyes."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Coolest Woman I Know

This is a photo of my mom, myself and my grandma. Today is my Grandma's 90th birthday. My grandma is one of the coolest ladies I know. For as long as I can remember, she's had a sense of adventure and a twinkle in her eyes.

Grandma learned to swim when she was 79 years old so that she could go snorkeling, something she had always wanted to do. In her 80's she went parasailing. Now, she's threatening to go sky-diving. I wouldn't be surprised if she did.

I suppose Grandma has her faults, just like anyone else, but still... if I can be anything like her when I'm her age, I'll consider myself truly blessed.

Happy Birthday, Grandma! I love you!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Postive Side of a Broken Down Car

Since last Easter - nearly one year ago - our car has been in the garage (at the mechanic's) at least 20 times. We have actually stopped counting. And we would sell it, but... for complicated reasons (and a long story) we can't. So we grit our teeth, and about every two weeks the van goes back to Sergei, who knows us by face, name, and nearly everything else at this point!

This time, however, while our van was with Sergei, we got to borrow a Land Rover. I love Land Rovers. There's something about driving a Land Rover in Africa that is just... it leaves me speechless, actually. But it awakens this sense of adventure in me that I can hardly stifle.

I decided to have a little fun and dress up in the style of a 1930's Hollywood movie star and take some photos. I don't think I've ever been so happy that my car broke down, which means I should probably focus on the positive side of things more often, eh? "When life gives you lemons, dress up and pose in a Land Rover!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What is Ministry?

"If you know you are living in communion with God, if you know you are the beloved, and if you make yourself available for service, you cannot do other than minister. Ministry is the overflow of your love for God and others. Ministry is when two people toast their glasses of wine and something splashes over. Ministry is the extra.

But what if we cannot solve the problems or change the circumstances of those we seek to help? Alleviating pain and suffering may sometimes be the fruit of our being with those who suffer, but that is not primarily why we are there. Ministry takes courage to be with the sick, the dying, and the poor in their weakness and in our powerlessness. We can't fix their problems or even answer their questions. We dare to be with others in mutual vulnerability and ministry precisely because God is a God who suffers with us and calls us to gratitude and compassion in the midst of pain. You cannot solve all of the world's problems, but you can be with people in their problems and questions with your simple presence, trusting that joy also will be found there." - Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Discipline

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Country Am I In Again?

We went to Swaziland over the weekend to visit some friends. The second night we were there we heard the neighbours singing along to the Gypsy Kings in Spanish. It was really strange because no one in southern Africa speaks Spanish. Portuguese, yes, but not Spanish. And yet they were doing a rousing rendition of the Gypsy Kings.

A few minutes later (and probably a few beers), they sang La Bamba. Ahh.... a karaoke machine. Now it makes sense. But even so, hearing La Bamba in Swaziland is just... unexpected. Dan and I got the giggles and couldn't stop laughing. When we finally did stop laughing we sang along.

Late that night, tucked away in our cosy rondavel being eaten alive by mosquitos, just as we were falling asleep, they started in on the Scooby Doo Theme Song. Talk about feeling culturally nonplussed! It was truly a bizarre feeling, listening to songs from your childhood being sung by a drunk Swazi!

But it makes a great memory, eh?

Swaziland Is...

  1. geckos, lizards, frogs, stick bugs, mozzies, brightly-coloured birds and large beautiful scary insects
  2. cows on the highway blocking traffic, potholes in every direction, mud, giant morning glories along the roadside fences, and people walking everywhere at that leisurely, African pace
  3. misty sub-tropical forests, pineapple fields, rolling green mountains, sugar cane fields, green mountains topped with smoke and the smell of roasted mealies
  4. like being in the Sound of Music only with loin cloths and spears instead of nuns and habits
  5. just under one million people, 40% AIDS rate, life expectancy of 33, entire country in one phonebook, and a king who throws lavish birthday parties and has 16 wives.
  6. sleepy, forgotten by time, lacking movie theatres or many amenities but content, peaceful.
I love Swaziland. Time stands still in Swaziland, and that speaks to my soul.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Than Just Coffee

I found a place in Muldersdrift (west of Johannesburg) that sells green coffee beans (if you're interested, check them out - www.greenbeancoffee.co.za). Dan and I love to roast coffee - it's much cheaper than buying pre-roasted beans and in a way, it's an art form. It's taken us two and a half years to find a place that sells green beans here in South Africa, so I am pretty excited.

I made a trip there today to select my coffee. The woman who roasts, Iris, is truly an Out Of Africa lady. Her grandparents owned the first coffee plantation in Tanzania. She has been a pilot for over 30 years. She flew the first Red Cross plane into Rwanda after the massacres. She was attacked by Somalian bandits in the 1990's. She has flown former President Jimmy Carter, Audrey Hepburn, former UN Secretary Koffi Annan, and has received numerous civilian awards for her humanitarian work. And now she is in Muldersdrift, of all places, roasting coffee. Spending a few hours with her is like listening to a movie script. And she keeps you supplied with fresh, wonderfully roasted coffee while you're sitting in a garden overlooking a beautiful estate in rural South Africa.

Today I bought some coffee beans grown in Zimbabwe. Iris told me to enjoy them because the coffee plantations won't be there much longer. With farm seizures still being authorised by President Robert Mugabe, and the farms going to "war vets" who aren't really war vets and who don't farm, there won't be coffee coming from Zimbabwe much longer. This makes me sad. But it's not about the coffee beans, it's about the loss of everything in Zimbabwe - so much agriculture, so much beauty, so much culture, so much talent. These days, they say there are more Zimbabweans living outside of Zimbabwe than in it. And all because of politics.

I cry every time I drink this coffee. I feel like with every sip, a little more of Zimbabwe is gone forever.

Modern Technology

I had to go to the grocery store today. I came across two items that I've never seen before:
  1. Dermatologist-approved toilet paper, and
  2. Dairy-free cheese (called "Cheezely", no less)
If you want to be a vegan, fine, but then why create a cheese substitute? Anything that says "tastes like real cheese" can't be good, can it? And what's with the dermatologist-approved toilet paper? Do people have sensitive bums? And WHY, if they can make these products, do they not have ice cream made with real cream?

Sometimes I wonder about our modern world...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thoughts on Home

The story is told of a Dutch soldier who was captured and made prisoner of war. He was far from his homeland and completely isolated from family and friends. He did not hear a word from home and felt very lonely and afraid. He didn't know if anyone at home was still alive or how his country was doing. He had a thousand questions and not a single answer. He soon felt that he had nothing left to live for and quickly fell into despair.

One day, he received an unexpected letter, crumpled and dirty because it had traveled so far and long to reach him. He opened up and read these words: " We are all waiting for you at home. Everything is fine. Don't worry. We will see you back at home and we all desire to see you."

This simple letter changed his life. The external circumstances of his life - his imprisonment and isolation - did not change. He continued his labour, endured the same difficult things, but he felt completely different on the inside. Someone was waiting for him. He still had a home.
At first, when I read this story, it made me think of friends and family back in California that I have left behind. Then I thought of those I loved who have died, and finally, I thought of Jesus Himself speaking these words to me - "We are all waiting for you at Home. Everything is fine. Don't worry."

There's something powerful about home. Even if you didn't come from a good home, just to know that there's someplace where you belong, where someone is waiting for you, where you are accepted and loved, makes all the difference in the world.

I pray that all of you have such a place, whether it's a literal home, an adopted home, or a figurative home. May you know how much you are loved by God and belong to Him. It might not change your circumstances, but it will change everything on the inside.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Need a Place to Stay for the World Cup?

Dan and I work for an organisation that develops and manages businesses to fund ministry in impoverished areas. The latest project is a 100-year-old guesthouse that will be open for the upcoming World Cup in June/July.

If you happen to be coming to South Africa, check us out. All the profits from the guesthouse will fund local ministries.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Trip to the Veterinary School

Emma's been begging me to take her hamsters to the vet because they have - I'm guessing - hamster cholera or something similar. And only because she wants to become a veterinarian someday, I caved and made an appointment at Onderstepoort, which is close to our house and, incidentally, one of the best veterinary schools in the world.

We had to go to the "Exotic Animal Hospital" (since when did hamsters become exotic animals?). In the waiting room was a woman with a pygmy marmoset stuck in her hair (at least, that's what it looked like). She was a sweet grandma-type and said to me, half-apologetically, "He has strange seeds in his poo." So... why is he on your head? I willed myself not to laugh (I will not laugh, I will not laugh). I had to turn and look at the wall.

Then a woman came in with an iguana. She cuddled it, she caressed it, she kissed it on the lips. REPEATEDLY! It's okay to love your pets, but you don't need to loooove your pets, if you know what I mean. I stared at the wall even harder and bit my tongue.

When the parakeet was wheeled by with an oxygen mask, I had to excuse myself, go outside, and laugh hysterically. I'm all for saving animals, but honestly, let the poor bird die and be with its Maker! (do you think they have little defibrillator paddles for parakeets?)

When it was our turn, I - not Emma - had to tell the doctor that our hamsters have swollen bums and diarrhea. Do you know how humiliating that is (probably more for the hamsters, but that's beside the point). And guess who gets to force-feed them antibiotics every day?

On the other hand, I laughed all the way home, and that's worth something. ("Hey Dan, guess what I just saw...")

Someone's at the Door

Yesterday I heard a knock at my door. The top half of our door is frosted glass, so you can always tell if there's a person there or not, as well as see a vague outline of them. I looked up, but there was no one there, so I thought I must have imagined the knock.

A minute later there was another knock at my door. Again, I looked up, but no one was there. Puzzled, I went to the door and opened it anyway. And then I looked down. Here's what I saw: Our little neighbour from three doors down, roughly 18 months old, had ridden over and wanted to play. Isn't he cute?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bathroom Advertising

When I was a kid there was always bathroom graffiti on the walls at the public school I attended, and it was rather entertaining. South Africa, on the other hand, boasts the cleanest bathrooms you will ever find worldwide.

You will, however, find advertisements in public bathrooms here in South Africa. They're in every stall, they're next to the hand dryers, they're even IN the sinks, and every single one of them advertises products for embarrassing issues ranging from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to period pain to constipation to diarrhea.

I have been frightened by talking ads in my stall (and it was a man's voice, no less!). I have laughed hysterically at the stickers in the sink in the shape of a giant, ahem, feminine product advertising superior absorbancy, and I have been entertained by the constipation medication ad inside the stall that said, "By the time I get out of here, my clothes will be out of fashion."

But WHY??? Are public bathrooms the only place women can address these issues?

I have learned that "Why?" is not a good question to ask when moving to a new country. Rather just enjoy the adventure. And if you ever come to South Africa, you will not only be impressed by the incredibly clean bathrooms, but highly entertained as well.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What I'm Learning

"After everything has been said and done, what we have to offer is our authentic selves in relationship to others. What matters most, what transforms, is the influence of a humble, vulnerable witness to the truth...

To be a witness means to offer your own faith experience and to make your doubts and hopes, failures and successes, loneliness and woundedness, available to others as a context in which they can struggle with their own humanness and quest for meaning. Instead, we often hide behind our many emotional, mental and spiritual masks. Who really wants to make their struggles available to others as a source of growth and understanding? Who wants to be reminded of their weaknesses and limitations, doubts and uncertainties? Who wants to confess that God cannot be understood, that human experience is not explainable, and that the great questions of life do not lead to answers but only to deeper questions?

When God enters into the centre of our lives to unmask our illusion of possessing final solutions and to disarm us with always deeper questions, we will not necessarily have an easier or simpler life, but certainly a life that is honest, courageous, and marked with the ongoing search for truth. Sometimes, in living the questions, answers are found." - Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My New Favourite Afrikaans Word

In American English it's called cotton candy.

In South African English it's candy floss.

In Afrikaans it's spookasem, which means "ghost breath."

I love how descriptive language can be.