Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday's Reflection

I tried out for a Christmas choir and actually made it. One of the songs we have to learn is the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. I thought I knew the Messiah, but I've never formally sung it. Turns out I only knew the melodies; the alto and mezzo soprano lines are frighteningly - and gloriously - difficult. I've been practising every day for an hour or so and I still don't have the song learned properly.

In my practice the other day, I got to the line, "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ," and it suddenly dawned on me -
  • the kingdom of fundraising, stolen cars, maddening bureaucracy and trying to obtain temporary resident visas
  • the kingdom of advocating for a son with special needs, trying to raise godly children and find time with my husband after a long day at work
  • the kingdom of gym time, laundry time, cooking time, cleaning time, down time and quiet time
  • the kingdom of worrying about finances, weight, cholesterol and wrinkles
will one day fade away. "The kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" will take its place. "And He shall reign forever and ever."

It caused me to think about what I'm doing with my time and if that has eternal value. It also gives me hope and strength for the journey.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:3-9

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday's Reflection

I watched the game between England and Germany on Sunday evening. England scored a second goal, but the referee didn't see it, so it didn't count. Everyone else saw it, the instant replay clearly shows the ball was in, but Fifa doesn't allow instant replay in "The Beautiful Game." Unfair, I cry! Unfair, all the Brits cry! The only one not crying "unfair" is Germany.

And I realised - grace is unfair in exactly the same way. The grace of God freely bestowed upon us through the death of Jesus Christ is completely "unfair." When we benefit from grace we don't seem to complain, however. It's when we have to extend grace that shouts of "unfair" can be heard all across the world.

"Look what he did to me! You want me to forgive that?"
"She irritates me to no end; I can't possibly live in community with her."
"What a corrupt and self-serving leader; he didn't even pass matric. What an idiot!"
"We are on two completely different planes. Can we rather go our separate ways than have to interact?"

But grace says:

"For if you forgive others their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Matthew 6:14)
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18)
"I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority..." (I Tim 2:1-2)
"See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15)

And yes, it's completely unfair. And I struggle with this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday's Reflection

I had this dream the other night that I was sitting with God under a willow tree by a pond, just chatting and enjoying His company. Not doing anything, not trying to prove my worth or gain acceptance, but just... being... with God. And I looked over at Him only to discover - to my horror - that He looked exactly like the KFC logo. I can't have an "intelligent" conversation with God when He looks like Colonel Sanders, I thought. If I look away - at the pond or the horizon - and pretend He doesn't look like that, maybe I can keep the moment as it is. But curiosity got the better of me, and in my dream I looked over at God once again, only to discover that He now looked exactly like Jimi Hendrix.

It was at this point that I woke myself up laughing (much to Dan's annoyance) but as I was falling asleep again I had another conversation with God. He seemed to be saying, "What does it matter if I look like Colonel Sanders or Jimi Hendrix or Mother Theresa or Hitler or the homeless man on the street? Am I not still God? Are not those people made in my image?"

I realised that I tend to judge people based upon their looks, their ideologies, their deeds. But what if, instead, I looked at each person and said, "There goes a person made in the image of a Holy God." Would I treat them differently? Would I respond to them with a little more respect, a little more understanding, a little more grace?

"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." - Matthew 7:1-2

Someone once said, "It is God's job to judge, the Holy Spirit's job to convict, and our job - through Jesus - to love."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on Hot Water Bottles

I've been using my hot water bottle a lot lately, as it's winter here in South Africa and houses here are not heated, and I've realised a few things about hot water bottles:
  • If you touch a hot water bottle directly, it will burn you, but its radiant heat can warm up the coldest of persons
  • There's something comforting about a hot water bottle- like a soft, squishy hug.
  • You have to pay attention to it every day if you want to get the maximum benefit from it (i.e., refill it)
  • You have to stay close to it
And I realised, God is a little bit like a hot water bottle.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


South Africa may be the first World Cup host to not make it past the first round, but I am so proud of Bafana Bafana. They may have been the underdogs, but they're top dog in my book. They made this country proud.

People have complained about the vuvuzelas, worried about crime, wondered if South Africa could pull off hosting a World Cup, but I was never worried. South Africa has welcomed the world with open arms, has been most hospitable, and has given the world a truly African experience. Not a European experience, not a Latin American experience, but a uniquely, wonderfully South African experience.

South Africa, you make me proud.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

This is a poinsettia tree spilling over a bus stop in Pretoria North.

I used to look forward to Christmas to break up the long winter and short days of Northern California. When we moved to the southern hemisphere, Christmas became a summer event and winter became a drudgery that reminds me of a line in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, "Always winter, never Christmas."

This is the first winter that I haven't moped because there's no Christmas. Maybe it's because of the World Cup, or maybe it's because I'm finally stripping off the cultural trappings that are attached to my Christianity. At any rate, I'm learning to accept each season for what it is regardless of holidays, and to celebrate holidays regardless of the season in which they occur.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Quote

"The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God's things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak - even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeared, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. 'Be not afraid," says Another, "for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.' (Matthew 28:20) He says He is with us on our journeys. He says He has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for Him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of Him." - Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Modern Day Psalm

I just finished a Bible Study on the Psalms, and I realised that I tend to only praise God when things are going well. The writer of the study said that we are all psalmists, and to think back on our frustrations, celebrations, highs and lows, and then write a psalm, as psalms are for "real people with real problems." So, without further ado, here's my psalm for today:

1. I will praise You, O Lord, when my fridge stops working, because it's winter and the butter is still hard.
2. Even though the milk went bad I won't complain because the fridge was empty anyway. You are our Provider, not Pick n Pay or the compressor on the fridge.
3. I will praise You when it's below freezing outside and South African homes aren't heated. I will praise you while wearing my coat indoors, which is stuffed with a hot water bottle.
4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of low support levels and broken cars and appliances, I will not fear, for YOU WILL PROVIDE.
5. You are my God. I trust in You. I will not be moved (unless it's to stand in front of the braai where it's warm).
6. You have brought me to a (I would say "heavenly" but it's freezing) place, and we will stand in Your strength.
7. You make me to lie under warm duvets and I will praise Your name forevermore.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Things I've Learned This Week

Since we're running a guesthouse for World Cup, I'm temporarily in the hospitality business. I've learned a few things in regards to that:
  1. I love cooking for large groups of people
  2. I do not like making the beds and cleaning the rooms for large groups of people
  3. You can tell a lot about a person by the state of their room
  4. You meet the most amazing people when you run a guesthouse
  5. Men don't order cappuccinos; they order beer
  6. When you have 19 guests and only two of them are women, the whole place takes on a different feel. I feel like I'm treading on sacred "man" ground
  7. If you have a lot of bread heels left over, cut them into cubes and make croutons. They look awesome on the dinner salads
  8. Some people are really gracious
  9. Some people are not
  10. I really, really enjoy trying to make people feel welcome and taken care of, especially if it involves food
  11. Working in the hospitality business is tiring, thankless job. The next time I stay in a hotel/guesthouse/whatever, I will have a greater appreciation for the staff.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Snapshots of Ministry

Many of you have wanted to hear more about our work and ministry in South Africa. I have always found that hard to explain. On a most basic level, we help start and run small businesses that fund local ministry in impoverished areas. That way the doctor, pastor, nurse, hospice care worker, etc. can do what they're good at without worrying about finances. Worrying about the finances to fund ministry is our job.

This leads many of you to think, "So you do the bookkeeping for a car rebuild business and you're running a guesthouse for the World Cup. How is that ministry? Why should we support you?" The best way I know how to answer that question is to say this: I've always suspected but now believe that while we work for a mission organisation and love what we do, our biggest ministry occurs "off-hours," just loving the people we come in contact with, following Jesus' example as best we can. And God has called us to South Africa.

Here's a snapshot of some people that God has brought across our path. We are so privileged to love them and have a small part in sharing the hope of Jesus with them:
  • discouraged teachers battling large classroom sizes and new education philosophies
  • a homosexual who struggles to believe that God loves Him
  • travelers from England who came to visit a friend and ended up going to his funeral
  • a domestic worker who needs medical care for her daughter
  • immigrants from Zimbabwe trying to start a ministry to families out in the township
  • neighbours who tragically lost two of their children
  • a security guard who never felt like he was treated with dignity by a white person
The other thing I have suspected and now believe wholeheartedly is this: we learn as much from the people with whom we share our lives as they learn from us. Maybe more.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Go England! Go USA!

As you know (or maybe not), our mission organisation is running a guest house during the World Cup. All of the profits will fund local ministries out in Soshanguve, a township outside of Pretoria. At the moment, we are fully booked with 19 guests, all from the United States and England.

It has surprised me to see our guests interacting, exchanging travel tips, information, websites, eating meals together, etc. They have managed in a few short days to form a community of sorts, greeting each other by name, watching games together, etc.

Tonight, they ALL had tickets to see the England/USA match in Rustenburg. As they were waiting for the shuttle, dressed up in their country's team jerseys and waving flags, they began teasing one another. One of them quipped, "It's the Boston Tea Party all over again." They laughed and took photos together (see above).

I can hardly bear the thought that one team has to lose tonight; we're enjoying each other so much (hey - maybe it will be a tie!). Whatever happens, I hope it doesn't dampen the camaraderie that has formed. I think it's made their travels so much more fun.

Go, South Africa!

Yesterday was the opening of the World Cup. South Africa played Mexico in Johannesburg. I happened to go to the grocery store during the game.

All of the employees (except the ones who had to run the tills) were standing or sitting in front of the TV in the electronics department. There were also a lot of other people watching the game - people who couldn't afford televisions, customers from the store, etc. The funny thing is, everyone was dressed up in Bafana Bafana colours (green and yellow), blowing vuvuzelas and wearing makarapas.

Every now and then a yell would come from the electronics department, which caused all of the grocery shoppers to run - with their trolleys - over to the TV to ask frantically, "Did they score? Did South Africa score?" Then they'd go back to their shopping, and every few minutes the cycle would repeat.

Up at the till, the employees were giving each other temporary tattoos of soccer balls and the South African flag, and listening to the game on the radio. The sense of team spirit was incredible.

I love watching things that unite this country. That's when South Africa shines like no other place on the planet.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I'm Sleepy but I'm Happy!

Yesterday Dan and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Our co-workers gave us the night off and we had a romantic dinner for two consisting of... warthog! If you want to know more about some amazing fusion cooking with a South African twist, click here

Then, all last night, our neighbour blew his vuvuzela. I guess he couldn't wait until today's game. Just when I thought he was going to stop, he started in again at 6:00 this morning.

Gotta love South Africa!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The School Term Ended With a Bang... Literally

Yesterday was the last day of the second school term for my children. They had an assembly in the school hall to close the day. The term leaders for next term were announced, school songs were sung, and there was a speech from the headmaster. Typical school assembly. Except...

One of the Grade Sevens (who sit in the back of the hall) threw a stink bomb. There was a loud bang, the teachers went back to investigate, and one of them yelled, "It's just a stink bomb." So the assembly continued as planned.

"I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart..."
The children began to sing as the smell of rotten eggs began to permeate the hall. "I will enter His courts with praise..." Children began to cough, giggle, plug their noses. Teachers gave dirty looks... you WILL song the song properly and orderly. "I will say this is the day that the Lord has made..." The sulfurous cloud had now permeated the whole hall. "I will rejoice for He has made me glad..."

The whole of Grade Seven was punished and had to stay after school and clean the hall. I think it's funny - there's nothing like the smell of rotten eggs to put one in a spirit of thanksgiving and gladness!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thoughts on Doubting and Praying

I've been having a crisis of faith lately. In all my years of being a follower of Jesus, I've never doubted His sovereignty or His goodness. Lately, though, after a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-year, I've had trouble trusting that God will provide, that He is good, that He actually cares. The academic side of me still believes, still follows, still clings to the truth of God's Word. The emotional side of me is weary, tired, discouraged, and wanting to cry.

I read a bit of Frederick Buechner today, and something he said spoke to a deep crack in my soul:

"According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it...Be importunate, Jesus says - not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God's door before He'll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there's no way of getting to your door...

Believe Somebody is listening. Believe in miracles. That's what Jesus told the father who asked Him to heal his epilectic son.... [But] what about when the boy is not healed? When, listened to or not listened to, the prayer goes unanswered?... Just keep praying, Jesus says... Even if the boy dies, keep on beating the path to God's door, because the one thing you can be sure of is that down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer the God you call upon will finally come, and even if He does not bring you the answer you want, He will bring you Himself. And maybe at the secret heart of all our prayers that is what we are really praying for." - Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

And I realised, I do want God. If nothing else - if no answers or easy paths are to be had - I want God's presence. "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." - Mark 9:24

Potato Chip Heaven

In honour of the World Cup being hosted in South Africa, Simba Chips is having a "Vote for Your Lekker Flavour" contest and introduced four new potato chip flavours. For those of you who know me, you know the first thing I love to do when visiting a new country is to check out the potato chip flavours. I'm not exactly new to South Africa, but I still get excited about new chip flavours. And without further ado, here they are:
  • Vetkoek and Polony (vetkoek is deep fried bread, polony is sort of like bologna)
  • Snoek and Atchar (snoek is fish, atchar is pickled mango chutney)
  • Walkie Talkie Chicken (the feet and heads of a chicken)
  • Masala Steak Gatsby (an Indian spiced steak sandwich)
For the record, it's a toss-up. I can't decide if I like the Masala Steak Gatsby or the Snoek and Atchar flavour better.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursday Quotes

"A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us." - Henri Nouwen

"The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests." - Epictetus