Monday, February 28, 2011

Did You Know?

  • South Africa has penguins.
  • Johannesburg gets more rainfall than London, yet has one of the highest averages of sunlight per day in the world (8.5 hours per day vs. 3.8 in London). This means that when it rains here, it pours. Literally.
  • South Africa is the only country in the world to have voluntarily dismantled its nuclear arsenal.
  • South Africa's tap water is rated #3 in the world (I am not sure about this one as our water varies from brown to yellow to green...)
  • There are over 900 species of birds - 10% of the world's species on only 1% of its land mass.
  • The biggest, smallest, and fastest mammals are all found in South Africa, as well as the tallest creature, largest reptile, largest bird, and heaviest flying bird. In fact, there are more mammal species in South Africa than North and South America combined.
  • South Africa is the sole producer of the Mercedes Benz C Class, right-hand drive vehicles (so why are cars so expensive here??)
  • Enough about cars and mammals; South Africa has over 5,000 species of spiders (what's not to love?)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And That Pretty Much Sums It Up...

"We all have wounds. We all live in pain and disappointment. We all have feelings of loneliness that lurk beneath all our successes, feelings of uselessness that hide under all the praise, feelings of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantastic - and that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them affection, affirmation and love they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we are guilty of idolatry. We say, 'Love me!' and before long we become demanding and manipulative...

"...But human beings, whether it's your husband, your wife, your father, mother, brother, sister or child, are all limited in giving the level of love and acceptance we all crave. Since we want so much and we get only part of what we want, we have to keep on forgiving people for not giving us what we want. So, I forgive you since you can only love me in a limited way. I forgive my mother that she is not everything I would like her to be. I forgive my father because he did the best he could. This is of enormous importance right now because constantly people look to blame their parents, their friends, and the church for not giving them what they need. Many people are angry. They cannot forgive people for offering only limited expressions of an unlimited love. God's love is unlimited; ours is not. Any relationship you enter into - in communion, friendship, marriage, community or church - will always be riddled with frustration and disappointment. So forgiveness becomes the word for divine love in the human context." - Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's a Dead Flower, Yes, But How Did it Live?

I've been staring at this photo for days. I don't know what it is that grabs me, but I'm captivated by it. I'm not intrigued by the type of flower or colour it may have been, but by what it did in its short life. Did it bring someone joy? Did it sit in a vase on someone's desk? Did it cause a smile or two, a moment of pause and marvel at God's creation? In short, did it live well?

These are dumb questions to ask of a flower, I realise, but they naturally spill over into my own life. Do I please my Creator? Am I willing to sacrifice myself - to be "cut" - to bring joy, share hope, and do that which God has called me to do? Am I willing to risk, to bloom boldly and totally, no matter what else is going on around me? And what if no one ever sees but God? Am I still going to live well?

"The supreme desire of my life is to give myself in reckless abandon to Christ." - Ed McCully

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday Quote

"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 'But what about you?' He asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.' " - Matthew 16:13-16

"Remember this, keep it in mind, take it heart... I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me... My purpose will stand... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do." - excerpts from Isaiah 46:8-11

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesdays With Auntie Hope

Today Auntie Hope was more lucid than she usually is. She knew that she was forgetting things and that her memory isn't what it should be. I was happy that she was having a good day until I started to wonder if she ever wonders
  • How much longer will I remember how to make tea?
  • Will this be the last day I remember my children's names?
  • How much more time do I have before I forget everything?
Auntie Hope spoke about her husband, something she rarely does. She mentioned that even though he's been dead for years, she still misses him and finds herself looking around the room to tell him something or wanting to share something with him. When you lose a best friend - even though you push through the grief - you never really replace that relationship. Others come but they will never be quite the same.

Sometimes there are no words. I just sat and listened, drinking tea out of a dirty teacup, and tried not to cry.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thoughts on Corruption

The corruption in Africa is, at times, astounding. I want to believe that it's the exception and not the norm, but when it occurs in government it affects everyone.

Today is the birthday of Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe. A country that was once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe now has more citizens living outside the country than in it. Lack of medical care, schools, food and jobs has reduced the country to ruins and stripped its people of hope.

I find that I want to be outraged at what goes on in South Africa and its neighbouring countries, yet I am called to pray for the leaders of this world. And that humbles me. I want to think that I'm better than them, but I cannot ask for mercy for myself and judgment for another. Grace doesn't work that way. And I don't like it, because that means I have to love my neighbour and pray for God's best for them as much as I ask for it myself. It means I have to realise that I, too, have failings and make spectacular mistakes. It means that Jesus died as much for Robert Mugabe as He did for me. It knocks me off my pedestal. And that just plain hurts at times.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Not Strange Anymore

The other day I was at the grocery store when I realised, "This is totally normal. Nothing is foreign or out of place anymore." Not the shelf stockers who stock shelves during business hours and make it impossible to push a trolley down the aisle, not the floor moppers who turn grocery shopping into an obstacle course, not the police arresting people over by the ATM machines, and not even the citronella candles sitting in between the bread loaves to keep the flies away.

While you may detect a hint of irritation in my voice (and it's true - I will probably always compare grocery shopping between my home and host countries), on the whole I have made progress. I have accepted that it is what it is. And I am grateful to be here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Inspiration from Toy Story

My son had a bad day. Not your normal bad day, but the terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day sort of bad day. The thing is, I have no idea why. Ben joined our family through adoption and every now and then he just goes on a mission to destroy the day.

Tonight as I was tucking him in I gave him an extra long hug. He needed it. While I was hugging him the most random idea popped into my head. I ran downstairs to fetch a permanent marker, ran back up and said, "You know how in Toy Story, Woody had Andy's name written on the bottom of his shoe because he belonged to him?" Ben said, "Yes. Buzz did, too." I said, "Well, I have an idea..." and I wrote "Mommy" on the bottom of his left foot. He giggled and said it tickled. Then I wrote "Daddy" on the bottom of his right foot. He giggled even harder.

"There," I said. "That proves it. You belong to us and no matter what happens or how bad your day is, no one can ever take you away from us. You are ours and we love you no matter what." Ben smiled really big.

When you love someone, you will do whatever it takes to get that love across. I hope that love will one day sink in so that he learns to trust us and begin to heal from the wounds of his early days. Because I really do love that little guy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Laughter is Good Medicine, Part II

I love medical aid here in South Africa. They send these newsletters every few months that are so full of "helpful information" I can't stop laughing. Today's topic was "Getting Over the Embarrassment of Seeing the Doc." Here are the main points of the article:
  • Keep in mind your doctor sees naked, and sometimes extremely unattractive, people every day.
  • If you have gonorrhea, you are probably the third case of the day. Besides, in a fortnight your doctor will confuse you with the teacher who is suffering from anemia.
  • You do NOT have to tell the receptionist that you have a boil on your bottom. Be firm, even if she asks.
  • Go first thing in the morning; otherwise you will obsess about it all day.
  • If the doctor feels you deserve a lecture, chances are you do. Smile, nod and sit through it.
  • Wear the kind of underwear that would have been appropriate swimwear forty years ago.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesdays With Auntie Hope

Today Auntie Hope was having a bad day. I found her wandering outside her flat. I asked her where she was going and she just looked at me and said, "I don't know."

Once inside she asked me if I wanted tea three times, forgot where her cups were, forgot how to make tea, forgot where the sugar was, and reminded me that she'd only moved in "just last week." My heart ached to see her like that.

I brought her a 500-piece puzzle, as she loves to do puzzles. She seemed genuinely pleased until she read the side of the box and suddenly got serious. When I asked her what was wrong she said, "This is only for children over three, so I guess that means you and I can't do it!" And then she burst into laughter.

I *love* that woman. If she can recover from a serious bout of forgetfulness on one of her "bad" days to catch me completely off guard with a joke like that, then I want to be like her when I'm older. I admire her for having a strength of character to laugh on days when crying would be so much easier.

They say that children laugh on average 300 times per day while adults laugh only 15 times. I don't know about you but I want to be more like a child.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Many Pigs of Afrikaans

vark = pig
vlakvark (shallow pig) = warthog
ystervark (iron pig) = porcupine
krimpvark (shrinking pig) = hedgehog
padvark (road pig) = one who suffers from road rage
aardvark (earth pig) = aardvark (and, incidentally, the only Afrikaans word that English "borrowed")

I am sure there are even more "pigs." Let me know if I missed any.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Music of Your Life

I kind of had one of those "duh" moments today. I've been trying to figure out what to do with my music this year - whether to sing in a choir again, or pick up my clarinet and really pursue that, or... So many options, so little time. I love it all, to be honest, but just don't have the time to fully devote myself to more than one activity.

I've really been battling with what to do (I hate having options; they make me feel like a deer in headlights). Last night I poured my heart out to God and ended with the question, "What IS it You've called me to do??"

God actually answered me.

God: "Annie, do you know that I've called you to the city of Pretoria?"
Me: (pause) "Well, it's not the city I would have chosen - no Starbucks or Mexican food, and the ice cream is made with vegetable fat instead of cream..."
God: "Annie."
Me: "Yes, Lord. I do know that You have called me here, and I have never doubted that calling."
God: "Then let your life be your instrument. Whatever I ask you do on any particular day, let that be the sound you produce for Me."

This might not mean anything to you but it is profound for me because it frees me up immensely. I don't have to figure out every little detail. I just have to do what God requires of me each day. And that's not to say I have to give up music. I just don't need to hyper-focus on things when there isn't an immediate answer.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Cake Decorating and Worship

Someone once said, "All of life is worship." I think they meant that worship shouldn't just be confined to Sunday morning at church, and that if you're doing the most mundane of tasks as though you're doing them for the Lord, then that, too, is worship.

There is a lady who works for me one morning a week. She lives in a shack with seven other people, she's a single mom, and life is challenging. I knew that her daughter's birthday was today, so yesterday when she was here I offered to make cupcakes for her to take home.

She asked for a cake. A big cake. With pink and white frosting.

I have never made a "big cake." I'm not even sure that what I made qualifies as "big," but I poured my heart into that cake. I hated making it girly and pink, but then, it wasn't for me. I frosted that cake "as unto the Lord," filled up every inch of white space (probably a no-no in the cake decorating by-laws), and this is the end result:

I really hope she likes it. It's not going to change the world or even her living situation (and, truth be told - I think the cake is hideous), but maybe it will put a smile on her face for a day. At least she knows she's not alone. And if I can serve God by helping her - even in an "unimportant" way such as this - then that *is* worship. No singing skills required!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wednesday Quote

"What does it matter how well we know the Bible if we don't aggressively love the folks Christ died for? What good are the gifts of the Spirit if they're only for people like us - people we feel comfortable with? Is this Christianity? Is it found anywhere in the Bible? The greatest deception of all has nothing to do with New Age philosophy or the occult. Rather, it is the idea that we can represent and preach Christ while being strangers to His heart of love." - Jim Cymbala