Friday, December 31, 2010

The Last Post of the Year

It's New Year's Eve, and I'm at home with my family (I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I really loathe New Year's Eve parties). We've been playing games, reading, being silly and generally having fun, but something else special happened tonight as well: I got to share pictures of my son's birth mom with him.

I have been saving these photos for years, waiting for the day when I thought Ben would be old enough to appreciate them. When we moved to South Africa, the photos were misplaced, and I've been praying to find them ever since. I finally found them today (in a pile of banking stuff, no less). The timing is perfect as Ben has been verbalising that he wished he knew what his birth mom looked like.

We had a really sweet time in my son's room, just talking and explaining and going over his adoption story once again. I wish you could have seen the look in Ben's eyes when he saw the photos for the first time; it was so precious. I was able to say, "Look, Ben - you have your birth mom's eyes and her beautiful brown skin." His eyes lit up (while mine teared up) and it was like a puzzle piece fell into place - one of life's mysteries was solved.

Ben belongs in our family, yes, but for eight years he's had to deal with the fact that he doesn't look like us; he's different in some ways. Tonight he was able to feel - albeit in an unconventional way - like he belongs. Some history and a sense of identity was cemented for him.

And that is a great way to usher in the new year - far better than any party, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

I need to renew my passport. I live in a foreign country. That doesn't sound too hard, right?

I tried to fill out a passport application (form DS-11) online. I was stopped, however, by the following warning:
"You may only submit this form if you have never been issued a U.S. passport... If the above statement does not apply to you, you may be eligible to apply for a U.S. passport by mail. See 'How to Renew Your Passport.' "
I clicked on the 'How to Renew Your Passport' link, which took me to the handy DS-82 form, which is a "renew by mail" application. I was stopped, however, by the following warning:
"U.S. citizens residing abroad should renew their passports at the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate."
This pops up a list of U.S. Embassies listed by country. The nearest U.S. Embassy in South Africa is in Pretoria, which happens to be where I live. The problem is, they will not only not help you, they will not even let you in the front door. For all U.S. citizen services, you must go to the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg (this is not a big deal, but you will only learn this by experience, not from the U.S. Department of State's handy website).

I went to the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg's website to make an appointment (which you have to do, as they only help Americans between 1 and 4 p.m.). When you book your appointment online you have to select the reason for your appointment. I could select "Renew passport for minor" or "Renew passport for some over 18 whose last passport was issued while a minor", or even "Replace lost or damaged passport," but there was NO button to select for "I am just an adult who lives abroad and wants to renew my passport."

If there is a magic bureaucracy fairy, I could use some help right about now.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thoughts on Joy to the World

I have verse 3 of Joy to the World stuck in my head. The funny thing is, that's probably the least sung verse and yet the lyrics stand out so vividly to me.

I don't know why I've always sung Christmas songs with Bethlehem images in my mind, but this year my mind has been flooded with images of South Africa - my South Africa, for whom this song was also written:

No more let sin and sorrow grow

Nor thorns infest the ground

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found

Far as the curse is found

Far as, far as the curse is found

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thoughts on the Little Drummer Boy

Most of you probably know the Christmas carol, "The Little Drummer Boy." I used to think that was the dumbest Christmas song because I never understood it. In fact, it wasn't until I was in my early 30's that I finally understood the meaning behind the song, and once the "lightbulb" lit up over my head I began to weep.

Fast forward five years, and you will still see me trying hard not to cry when I hear this song. Inside I feel embarrassed for crying at what I had once deemed "the dumbest song ever." But the words are so real, so honest, so unlike modern society, that I can't help but be moved by them.
Come they told me... a newborn king to see... our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King and so to honour Him.

Little baby, I am a poor boy, too... I have no gift to bring that's fit to give the King... Shall I play for you on my drum?
I can just see this little kid saying, "I'm not a wise man, I'm not a shepherd, I have nothing, but... I can play the drum pretty well. Maybe I can play the drum for You and that can be my gift?"

How often do we compare our gifts, our talents, our skills (and I won't even get started on our houses, our fashion, our weight...) to what others have to offer? Yet I firmly believe that everyone is great at something, and whatever it is that you are great at, do that for Jesus. There could be no more acceptable gift for a King - for the King. Be who you are, be who Jesus made you to be, and give that back to Him as a gift.

Be honest this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesdays With Auntie Hope

It's been a few weeks since I spent time with Auntie Hope and I was really looking forward to my time with her today.

Today Auntie Hope offered me some tea. She does this every week, but when she went to fetch the teacups and saucers, they weren't in the sideboard where she keeps her china. I helped her look, and we found all of her teacups and saucers in another cupboard in her kitchen. She must have put them there and then forgotten, but while Auntie Hope forgets where the tea is every week, she never forgets where the teacups are. This made me feel sad.

After a nice cup of tea I sat down to listen to Auntie Hope tell stories of going to boarding school at Pretoria Girls High and of her mother owning a laundry business. I used to dread her telling these same two stories every week, but now I rather look forward to them as "our little tradition."

Auntie Hope then told me of how she went to draw money this morning but was told she must phone her daughter. I think her daughter handles her finances for her, but from Auntie Hope's perspective, she can't figure out why she gets such "strange instructions" to draw money. She feels confused and helpless.

I have to say I can actually relate. Just trying to renew a passport at the U.S. Consulate can leave me feeling confused and helpless. And maybe it's just me, but I find that much of life leaves me feeling confused and helpless. If I would only remember to lean on Jesus and look to Him for guidance, things would be much easier than trying to "manage" on my own.

I don't know why it takes a visit with Auntie Hope to remind me of these things, but it does. And I'm so thankful.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." - Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Colourful Creepy Crawlies

I am not a fan of bugs, but I can appreciate God's creativity in designing them. Here are a few insects from the Soutpansberg Mountains, one hour south of the Zimbabwean border:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

At Long Last!

I have often wondered why all the popular Christmas songs are written from a northern hemisphere perspective. They're all about winter, snow, warm drinks, cosy fires, etc. Yet half the world experiences Christmas in the summer season, so why don't people in the southern hemisphere write Christmas songs?

This has bugged me for three years now, but I am happy to say that I discovered an Afrikaans Christmas song this year that was written here in South Africa (there's actually quite a story behind the song, but that will have to wait for another day). I can't figure out if it's called Somerkersfees or Welkom O Stille Nag van Vrede, but here's the first verse and my feeble attempt at a translation (and I do hope my Afrikaans friends will forgive me if I've done it any injustice):

Welkom o stille nag van vrede
onder die suiderkruis
wyl stemme uit die ou verlede
oor sterre velde ruis
Kersfees kom, Kersfees kom
gee aan God die eer
Skenk ons 'n helder Somerkersfees
in hierdie land, o Heer.

Welcome, O silent night of peace,
under the Southern Cross,
While voices from the ancient past
rise o'er the starry veld -
Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming,
Give all the honour to God
Grant us a bright summer Christmas
in this our land, O Lord.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Random Opinion of the Day

South Africa has its challenges, to be sure, but on the plus side it has some of the most beautiful public toilets the world has to offer.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Shocking Statistic

I just read a news article stating that 4 million South Africans submitted tax returns this year, which is a 1% increase over last year. This may not seem like big news to you, but it stopped me in my tracks.

There are 45 million people in South Africa. If only 4 million submitted tax returns (and this is an increase, remember) that means that 9% of the population is funding 100% of the government. Chew on that for awhile.

It is true that unemployment is high here - latest statistics show it at 25.3% for the 3rd quarter of 2010 - but that means that 74.7% of residents are employed. So why are only 9% paying taxes?

I'd actually like to research this one. There is probably much I don't understand, but still - the fact that 9% of the populations pays for the other 91% is mind-boggling.

(statistics courtesy of and

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

...just in case you wondered what it looks like.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday Quote

A friend reminded me of this quote, and it is so applicable to what I'm going through this week that I wanted to share it with all of you.

"I am determined that if all my senses contradict God, I would rather deny every one of them than believe that God could lie." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Prize Giving

I never get tired of seeing kids in their school uniforms. It's still in many ways "foreign" to me, as I never had to wear a school uniform.
(and if you will allow me to indulge for a minute... that's my son on the right. He received an award for reading the most books in his grade. I remember well the day back at Children's Hospital in Central California when the neurologist said most children with his MRI results can't walk or talk. Thank you, Jesus, for small miracles!)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on Face Painting, Statistics and the Future

Yesterday we volunteered at a primary school out in Olievenhoutbosch, a rural area south of Centurion. Our church had gathered presents for 1,400 children, and we put on a Christmas party for them complete with boerewors rolls, jumping castles and face painting.

I always end up getting stuck with the face painting, and I'm terrible at it. Everything I paint looks like it needs phsyical therapy. But I had my orders.

It was hot as I sat in the dirt and kids crowded around me. They didn't speak English and I don't speak Sepedi, so we had fun trying to communicate. Most of them wanted "South Africa" on their face, which meant that they wanted the South African flag. And as I painted their faces, statistics started running through my head...

1 out of every 3 of you will lose a parent to AIDS in a few years. Everything will try to pull you down and keep you from completing your education - crime, rape, prostitution, poverty, hopelessness. And you are the future of this country and I see the potential reflected in your eyes and I wish I could do more than just paint your face with "South Africa."

It was all I could do to keep from crying at their Christmas party (and wouldn't that be the worst - to take away the little bit of fun and joy they have?). So I prayed. I prayed for each one as I painted their faces beaded with sweat and dotted with tomato sauce and bread crumbs. God, protect them. Protect them so they can reach their full potential, so they can grow up to be who You created them to be.

I came home with a nasty sunburn, but it is my heart that is raw and sore as I type this. I ache for them. I ache for them so much.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tuesdays With Auntie Hope

(I'm a little late on the post, but the lesson is still with me...)

This has been a rough week - busy, challenging, and full of personal weaknesses, insecurities and room for growth. I was looking forward to my visit with Auntie Hope so I could just sit, visit for a few hours and not have to think about "the real world." I actually wanted to hear Auntie Hope tell the same stories - about boarding school at Pretoria Girls High and about growing up around her parents' laundry business - that she tells every week.

On any other visit I would try to steer the conversation elsewhere, try to avoid anything that leads to hearing the same two stories over and over again. It never works, though. Auntie Hope always tells those stories and there is nothing I can do about it. It is what it is, and those two events obviously made an impact on her.

But when things are difficult, when life is challenging, we look for the familiar and the stable, don't we? We want to hang onto things that are known. We like to be able to count on something solid because much of life is fluid, shifting and unknown. And it's funny to me that the things that would normally drive me crazy are the things I seek to comfort me when I'm feeling down.

That's when I remembered that my favourite adjective to describe God is "immutable" - incapable of change. The God I read about in the Bible is still that God today.

"Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30