Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New Word For the Dictionary

Today was a rough day. I'm tired of visa paperwork, I'm tired of feeling like I have to prove that I'm worthy to stay in South Africa (sometimes I even wonder if I *am* worthy), I'm tired of our car breaking down, and I'm tired of our carpet smelling like a swamp.

My son, who is very perceptive and quick to cheer someone up when they're feeling down, drew a picture for me with the following anagram:

M - Magnificent
O - Outstanding
M - Marvelous
M - Makeful
Y - Yellow-Looking Curry That Tastes Good

Suddenly swampy carpets and broken cars and bureaucracy aren't so worrisome. Those things sort of fade into the background when I know I'm loved. And not only am I loved, I'm... makeful!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Uniform Review

Not that you really wanted to know (but just in case you did), here are my children modeling the summer uniforms of Northridge Primary School.

Ben is sporting the latest in brown polyester shorts, white dress shirt, brown knee socks with white and orange stripes, and brown dress shoes (which need to be polished).

Lucy is wearing the brown and white checked girls tunic, white ankle socks and brown Mary Janes (which also need to be polished). All girls have to tie their hair back unless it's short, and can only use brown or white hair ties.

Emma is wearing the GMD (Gross Motor Development, aka athletics) outfit - orange and white jersey with the school crest, brown shorts, white socks and tekkies (which seemed to have disappeared).

Of all the primary schools in Pretoria, we got stuck with the one who chose brown and orange for their school colours. Still, I have to admit, after three years the uniforms are starting to grow on me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Pensive Pause

For everyone who's ever felt alone and far from home, or marveled at the sights of the world, or been 'ruined' by travel forever, or can't decide if deep down we're really all the same or so very different:

"I was full of that indescribable waking vision of the strangeness of life, and especially of the strangeness of locality; of how we find places and lose them; and see faces for a moment in a far-off land, and it is equally mysterious if we remember and mysterious if we forget." - G.K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Sharp Contrast

This is the fence outside my children's school. I love the contrast between the sharp points of the fence and the reality of crime vs. the beauty and greenery behind the fence. So much of life in South Africa - maybe all of it - is lived between harsh realities and the beauty of the earth.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Quote

"The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats." - Theodore Roosevelt

"The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand." - Psalm 37:23-24

"Never, never, never give up." - Winston Churchill

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith." - Hebrews 12:1-2

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Good Dose of 'Forced Flexibility'

Today we had a team meeting scheduled but because it's a public holiday we decided to have a braai instead (like good South Africans). We fit our meeting in around the braai, over cups of coffee, and while washing the dishes.

But before the meeting even started - before our colleagues even arrived - some children were dropped off at our house at 09h30 with the explanation, "We'll be back at 17h00 to fetch them."

What was so odd about this is that these are Muslim children who aren't allowed at our house because of religious reasons (I think we're actually considered 'unclean' by Muslim standards). The funny thing is, my first thought was, "What kind of meat did I buy for the braai? I hope it's not pork!" Fortunately I had bought chicken, we had enough for two extra people, and our colleagues were very gracious and didn't mind that there were five children running all over the house.

In the end, it worked out fine. I think I'm finally learning to go with the flow and be flexible, and if I'm honest, I have to concede that being flexible goes a long way toward building relationships. And if I'm *really* being honest with myself, isn't loving your neighbour the whole point?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Gain or a Loss?

Dan asked me an interesting question this morning. He said, "If you were suddenly back in your hometown for good and no longer in South Africa, would you feel like you were gaining something or losing something?"

My answer was immediate, "Except for gaining my family and friends, I would feel a complete sense of loss." And I suddenly realised - as much as I complain about South Africa and as often as I battle with the cultural differences - I would be heartbroken if we had to leave.

I would miss the fresh juices, the summer thunderstorms, the subtropical foliage, rugby, cricket, biltong and braais. But most of all I would miss the people, for they are truly the country's greatest asset. The smiles, the resilience, greeting people in three, four, five different languages in one day... there is no other place on earth like South Africa.

Yes, I miss Starbucks and Target and ice cream that's made with cream. But that's just stuff. When it comes to significant things, my life and ministry are here in South Africa. And that makes the cultural frustrations worth pushing through.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tuesdays With Auntie Hope

"You know, being alone is something I never wished for in life."

This was Auntie Hope's greeting as I walked up the path to her flat this morning. She then recounted the story of her lonely life - not knowing her father because he died when she was a baby, growing up with a working mom who sent her off to boarding school, marrying and then becoming a widow less than ten years later, and now living in a flat at a retirement centre where the silence is sometimes deafening.

"And every time, I just end up back at square one: Lonely."

Auntie Hope's perspective is skewed because of the Alzheimer's but nevertheless - we can ALL relate to feeling lonely and how isolating and painful it can be. There was no encouragement to offer her, no words of wisdom. The only thing to do was to sit and share the loneliness with her. We drank tea together, we laughed about her cat, we talked about the weather and raising children, and we shared our heartaches.

When it was time to go I gave her a hug and the words just slipped from my mouth, "I love you, Auntie Hope." She paused for a split second. "I love you, too. And I enjoy our visits."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Just Want to Replace a Globe

Yesterday I went to the grocery store to buy globes (aka lightbulbs). I bought a package of five, or rather, I *tried* to buy a package of five. When I got to the till the item wouldn't ring so a lady was sent to do a price check. I waited twenty minutes - yes, twenty - before she came back. When she finally returned she said, "We don't have a price for the five-pack, so you can't buy it."

(Take a deep breath, shrug your shoulders and say "Oh well" over and over and over...)

I realise that being unable to buy globes is low on the list of "important things in life," especially given recent world events. But the frustration of just trying to live life and do daily tasks still gets to me sometimes. I guess I still have far to go in terms of cultural assimilation.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Little Milton to Start Off the Week...

This is my favourite sonnet by John Milton, and probably his most well-known. It just resonates with my soul.

Sonnet XIX
On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
'Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?'
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, 'God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is Kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.'

- John Milton, 1608-1674

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Bureaucratically Beautiful Day

  1. After a two-week wait, I finally got the password to access my online bank statements (when we switched to eStatements the bank failed to give us the password, which they set).
  2. After two and one half months of collecting documents and proving that we're medically and mentally sound, our application was finally submitted to the Dept. of Home Affairs to renew our temporary residence visas. There's still a long wait ahead to see if they approve it or not, but for once the ball is in their court!
  3. The icing on the cake: After a three-year wait, we finally got a phone line installed in our house so we can have decent internet access. Yippee!
I'm so happy I think I'm in shock.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Jarring Juxtaposition

Every Tuesday morning I meet with a group of moms to pray for our kids' school for one hour. We pray for the teachers, students, and a host of other school-related issues. What's amazing about these ladies is that every one of us speaks a different language at home: Zulu, Venda, Nyanja (from Zambia), Afrikaans, Portuguese and English. We come from different backgrounds and yet for that one hour, we are sisters.

There is so much in South Africa that would tear us apart. Every day the newspapers blare headlines that point out our differences and cause us to become angry, outraged, and disgusted with one another. But every week we moms pray for unity. We hold hands and pour our hearts out to the Lord. We cry together. We hug each other. We carry each others' burdens.

Today as I arrived at school a man was walking his daughter to the high school down the street. He was wearing the AWB khaki uniform (the AWB is an extreme and racially-polarising political group) and carrying a sjambok (a long whip). My children's school is 70% black, so he had more than a few people feeling nervous.

Inside our group of ladies felt that we needed to stand our ground in prayer and sing a song over the school. We walked out to the school field, held hands in a symbol of unity and began to sing, "We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angels all around. Let us praise Jesus now, for we are standing in His presence on holy ground."

Those ladies are willing to lay aside their cultural differences to pray for unity. They are willing to speak a second language so that we can all understand one another. They are willing to work together to make the school - and this nation - great. And they are heroes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thoughts on Culture and Christianity

It's funny how much of your culture flows into your Christianity. To truly follow Christ in a manner consistent with the Bible - absent of cultural trappings or influences - is a challenge. Case in point:

The word "reverence" is not often used in American English. In some ways it's a foreign concept. Because the U.S. is not a hierarchical society, people aren't revered because of age, status or position. Respect is earned. If you're in a position of authority and you aren't respected, chances are you'll get "voted off the island."

So when it comes to having reverence - a healthy respect - for Christ, that's a hard concept for me. It's not that I don't want to, or even that I don't try to, it's just that I don't have a lot of practical examples of what reverence actually looks like.

I've had this song stuck in my head for awhile now, and one of the lines is "Lord, I stand on Your merciful ground, yet with every step tread with reverence." I've been pondering this all week, and it led me to the book of Malachi:

"You have spoken arrogantly against Me," says the Lord. "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out His requirements... Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test they get away with it.

"Then those who feared [reverenced] the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared [reverenced] the Lord and honoured His name.

"Surely the day is coming... All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays." - Malachi 3:13-4:2

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Wounded Soldier's Lesson in Grammar

yet, adv. 1. still; even. 2. nevertheless; in spite of. conjunction 1. but at the same time; but nevertheless

We've been battling trying to renew our temporary residence visas. I knew it would be a long process, but I had no idea it would push me to the breaking point. Yesterday I wanted to give up, literally. And I'm not a quitter.

When you work so hard for something, when you've left everything to follow God and then He seems to be silent, what then? When your faith is stretched so that holes of doubt peek through, when you feel exhausted to the point of tears, when you find yourself whispering "I can't do this anymore," what next?


The truth is, I know myself. I know that I won't give up because I'm stubborn. I know that I will go down fighting rather than quit because I know what God has called me to do. My path forward is understood, so it doesn't matter if all of my circumstances and senses say, "Doubt!" - I still have to trust Him. And that's really where the heart of the battle is, isn't it? The battle is not with the Dept. of Home Affairs; it's with me.

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights." - Habakkuk 3:17-19

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesdays With Auntie Hope

Auntie Hope was standing in the doorway when I walked up the path to her flat.

"Did you phone?" she asked me.
"No, I didn't. Was it the front gate perhaps?"
"Are you Olivia?"
"No, I'm Annie."
"No matter. Come inside. I have two teacups sitting out for us, and I've started the water boiling."

Thus began my weekly visit with Auntie Hope, a visit filled with dirty teacups, misplaced tea, forgotten questions repeatedly asked, laughter, confusion, the same two stories of her childhood and profound loneliness.

Why do I drink out of dirty teacups? Why don't I rummage through the cupboards until I find the tea that I know she has? Why don't I correct her on how many children she has or how long she's stayed at the retirement centre or any number of things? Because I want to give her whatever dignity she has left. I want her to feel that for the duration of our visit, she's on top of her game. I want her to feel like there's something she can still do.

"I'm afraid I'm not much of a conversationalist," Auntie Hope said, half apologetically.
"That's okay," I replied. "Tell me a story. Tell me what it was like to grow up in Pretoria and go away to boarding school. Tell me about your mother who owned a laundry business."