Thursday, September 30, 2010

Worse Than a Shock of Cold Water

Agnes is a woman who works at my house one morning each week. This morning, after I threw some old magazines away, Agnes asked if she could have them. I said "Sure," but I must have had a puzzled look on my face (who would want some old, cut-up magazines?) because she explained, "We use it for toilet paper."

I don't even know what to say. I feel horrible.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mondays With Auntie Hope

Yesterday I was late for my visit with Auntie Hope because our car wouldn't start. By the time I arrived at the retirement centre, I had only 45 minutes to spend with Auntie before her lunchtime.

She was sitting outside on the stoep when I arrived. I joined her, and we just sat and watched the birds. There was silence for most of our visit; conversation didn't flow as easily at it usually does (have you noticed that elderly people don't seem to be as bothered by silence as the younger generations?).

When Auntie Hope finally spoke, she said something interesting: "You know, these two trees in my garden - they're small and have nothing to offer, yet you will rarely find them without a bird perched in them. I don't know why the birds bother to spend time in these trees. There must be bigger trees around here somewhere."

I answered her by suggesting that perhaps - by the simple act of standing there and being available - the trees did indeed have something to offer the birds.

People aren't much different from those trees, are they? We compare ourselves to others, think we have nothing to offer, and yet - maybe by the simple act of standing where we are and being available - we can make a difference in someone's life. Maybe the simple act of sitting with Auntie Hope in silence for 45 minutes was enough for that day, though it felt like so little. Maybe...

straggly trees have just as much to offer as giant trees.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Heritage Day

Yesterday was Heritage Day here in South Africa, also known as National Braai Day. And yes, it's a public holiday where everyone is encouraged to braai (barbecue). That may sound like a silly holiday to you, but consider the following:

When you look at Africa, country borders were historically drawn according to the colonial powers and often separated tribes, or worse - put two warring tribes together. In South Africa alone there are 11 official languages and 8 additional recognised languages. Our differences often separate us and foster suspicion and mistrust.

Heritage Day is a day to celebrate our individual heritage but also to appreciate the heritage of our neighbour. To that effect citizens are encouraged to braai with a neighbour of a different heritage and get to know them. There's nothing like good food to break down barriers and encourage communication and understanding.

We had a braai the day before with some visiting professors from Florida, then had lunch with an Afrikaans friend, coffee with two immigrants from Kenya, and another braai today. I got to practice four languages - Afrikaans, Swahili, Setswana and English (and no, I'm not fluent in any of them!)

South Africa has its challenges, to be sure, but it is so very rich in its culture and people. Someone once said, "A country's greatest resource is its people," and nowhere is that more apparent than in South Africa. Each culture is like a sparkling jewel in the nation's crown.

Time to shine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Important Instructions

Our fridge broke in July. We finally got a new one the other day (needless to say, I'm a little more than excited). I figured I should read the instruction manual, just to be responsible, but it turned out to be a masterpiece of badly translated English. Here are a few excerpts:
  • Safety Precautions:
    1. Read instructions.
    2. Keep instructions.
    3. Heed warning.
    4. Follow the instructions of this manual in practice.
    5. All procedures and instructions should be adhered to during operation.
  • The fruit and vegetable compartment is appropriate to the storage of vegetables and fruit. You are allowed to adjust it.
  • Don't let children play with or hang on the unit, as this will damage unit or children.
  • If bickering is heard, it's the sound arising from refrigeration agent when it flows. It is not malfunction.
  • Caution: After using the freezer, don't forget to shut the drawer.
  • Deodorization: Clean up the odor inside and refrain from germ growing.
  • Never put the refrigerator upside down.
  • Water Tray: Screw off the screw and fix it as before after washing.
  • In the event of a natural disaster (such as rainstorm, accidents), the submerged unit shall not be put into use until nominated service center repairs it and proves that it is in good condition.
  • Caution: Tropical fruits, such as pineapple and banana, are not recommended.
  • Any change relating to this manual will result in no additional notice.
After reading the manual, I feel like a technological genius!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Take it All Back

Yesterday, while I was driving and stopped at a robot, I actually gave money to a beggar. But let me back up a bit.

There is a category of street hawker that I haven't told you about yet. It's young men who dress up in the most outrageous costumes and try to collect money for one of two reasons: a sports tournament (usually rugby), or their upcoming marriage (in which case their friends dress them up and make them beg as part of their bachelor party).

Yesterday a young rugby player came up to my car wearing nothing but a woman's tank top (three sizes too small), his underwear and fish net stockings. I figure that anyone who is brave enough to wear that in public deserves R5! And I sincerely hope he raised the money he needed in one day because if he goes around wearing that too much longer he's going to cause an accident - the image of his grey jockeys squished underneath fish net stockings is...

(I'm actually at a loss for words, so I think I'll sign off and laugh now)...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where's an Invisibility Cloak When You Need One?

Car time for me is like gold. If I have to drive somewhere - and I'm alone - I relish the quiet. I love to be alone with my thoughts. Today, though, I was practicing my choir songs, working on a difficult passage from Handel's Messiah, and at every single robot I was accosted by street hawkers trying to sell me stuff. The whole scene went something like this:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
(No thank you, I don't want any cell phone chargers)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal-le-lu-jah!
I already have a pumice stone, thank you.)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
(No sunglasses today, thanks.)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal-le-lu-jah!
(Don't you dare wash my windscreen!)
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!
(Aaahhh. NO! I told you, I don't NEED a cell phone charger!)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
(OR an inflatable Spongebob Squarepants!)
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!
(They're lovely, but I don't need a beaded giraffe)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
(and even if I had money, I still wouldn't buy a cell phone charger!)
The kingdom of this world is become...
(Asseblief, man! Can you just go on to the next car?)
The kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ...
(How can you sell that DVD when it just came out in the theatre this week?)
and He shall reign forever and ever
(You can stand there all you want, and I will acknowledge you and treat you with dignity, but when you stick your face in my window and won't leave me alone after I politely decline your offer for a poster diagram of the digestive system, do NOT try to tell me that something is wrong with my tyre so I will roll down my window because I know you're lying.)

I just want to practice my choir songs in peace. Please? Pretty please?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mondays with Auntie Hope

I had the privilege of spending time with Auntie Hope again a few days ago. As you know, Auntie Hope has Alzheimers and doesn't remember who I am each week, so sometimes I feel like I'm living out the movie Fifty First Dates. I've also told you that she's a sweetie and demonstrates amazing hospitality, despite the fact that I'm a stranger to her each week.

When I visit Auntie Hope there really isn't an agenda. Sometimes she tells me the same story ten times in a row. Other times we just sit and watch the birds. This week we worked on my Afrikaans (I read and translated 15 pages, and she helped me with the words I didn't know and contextualisation).

If I went to these visits expecting something from Auntie Hope, I would be sorely disappointed (or worse - bored). If I expected her to be a certain way, or to somehow meet my needs or do something for me, then I would have a horrible time. But if I go and have no expectations - if the point is just to be with her and love her, no matter what state of mind she's in - then I have a wonderful time.

I realised how much of my love for others is based on what they do for me. I also realised that God's love is very like loving a person with Alzheimers - loving them where they are - and for who they are (not who they used to be or will become one day) - without expectations. God doesn't love us because of what we do for Him. He just loves us. No strings attached. He also loves to just be with us, whether we're watching birds, practising Afrikaans, or telling the same story ten times in a row.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Planting of a Seed

We had the privilege of seeing David Helfgott in concert at the University of South Africa last night. He was amazing! He is certainly not the typical concert pianist, talking to himself and making noises the whole time he's playing. When he finishes a song he runs off stage and then runs back on again. People put up with his eccentricities because he's such a fabulous musician. Which got me thinking...

Everyone is great at something, right? So what's the difference between a David Helfgott and everyone else? Is it that he was able to "specialise" in his strength instead of having to be "average" at everything? Maybe someone noticed his strength in music and said, "Let's focus on this and help you reach your potential."

So many of us focus on being well-rounded adults, having a good general knowledge base, but I wonder if sometimes that leads to mediocrity? What if we're all the equivalent of a buffet restaurant - a place where you can eat anything you want but nothing is particularly brilliant - when we were meant to be specialised, five-star restaurants instead?

I just finished reading a book called The African Way, by Mike Boon, about the power of interactive leadership. He ended the book by saying this: "My belief is that every person is capable of unbelievable achievements, and that the underdevelopment of individuals - of human resources - is a direct reflection of inadequate leadership."

Food for thought, isn't it? I never wanted to be a leader until I read that.

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the third anniversary of our moving to South Africa. I can't believe it's been three years already!

The past year has been filled with transitions - joining a new mission organisation, learning new jobs, meeting new people, and watching our kids mature.

We've had an amazing adventure the past twelve months that involved traveling home last Christmas to see our family and friends, volunteering at the hospital during the strike, and learning new (and often uncomfortable) levels of faith and trust in God.

But the truth is, Pretoria is also home now. And despite the rocky road and challenges we've encountered, we know this is exactly where God has called us to be and we wouldn't change it for anything.

People often ask us, "Why on earth would you leave California and move to Pretoria?" The answer is simple - because there's no safer place to be than inside the will of God. And besides, we love it here!

" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declare the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' " - Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Flower the Size of a Whole Bouquet

This is a king protea, national flower of South Africa. Isn't it beautiful?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday Mornings With Auntie Hope

I went to see Auntie Hope at the retirement centre yesterday. She doesn't remember who I am each week (a symptom of the Alzheimers), but she still invites me in and offers me a cup of tea, which she serves in her best china.

This week I brought a package of biscuits, and as we had our tea I listened to her talk about World War II from a South African perspective, growing up in Pretoria, and whether or not she remembered to feed her cat.

When I asked her how she was feeling, she used an Afrikaans word - dwaal - to describe herself. I asked her what that meant and she said, "It means that I can't tell whether I'm up or down. I just don't understand why I'm here. I have four children; why can't I live with them?"

The problem with Auntie Hope is that she doesn't remember that her family brings her home every weekend, that they love her very much, that she has many friends at the retirement centre and that people visit her. Consequently, she is incredibly lonely. Alzheimers is a terrible disease.

And that's when it hit me: I suffer from a "spiritual" version of Alzheimers. I often forget that God is faithful, that He provides, that He is always with me, and focus instead on the present moment. My perspective is skewed and so I do not have a firm grasp on the truth of my reality: "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3:22-23

Thank you, Auntie Hope, for teaching me another lesson - just by being you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


" 'We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.' And all the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood before the LORD." - 2 Chronicles 20:12-13

Sometimes, even when the answers aren't there, standing before the Lord is the best place to be. Waiting, listening, worshiping.


It's a strange feeling, trying to resume normal life, trying to go about regular chores, when the strike is still on and there is so much need. We went to a rugby game last night, and while we had a great time, I felt twangs of guilt. But on the other hand, it's not good to work yourself to death. One needs times of rest and refreshment. It's just that... when a country is in times of crisis, how much rest do you allow yourself?

I want the strike to be over. I want to volunteer at the hospital, but I have a job that I've been putting "on hold." I want to life to be back to normal. And I wonder... how many people all over the world wish that? I think of people in Afghanistan, Haiti, Pakistan, Iran, who just wanted life to go back to the way it was, but have had to adjust to a new "normal." Often, these new "normals" aren't ideal, or even good.

So how do you juggle doing what's best for your family, what's best for you, and what's best for mankind? Because lately, I really don't know.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Quote

"He looked at Big Lou, whose back was turned to him, and suddenly he felt a sense of her human frailty, her preciousness. For the most part, we treat others in a matter-of-fact way; we have to, in order to get on with our lives. But every so often, in a moment of insight that can be very nearly mystical in its intensity, we see others in their real humanity, in a way which makes us want to cherish them as joint pilgrims, almost, on a perilous journey." - from The World According to Bertie, by Alexander McCall Smith