Monday, May 30, 2011

Silent Retreat, Part 3

I left the dassie trail and hiked past the succulent garden to the cycads. On the way, I passed a pond I'd never seen before. It had no inlet or outlet and was filled with leaves and algae. Once again, I stopped and sat down. It's a pity, I mused, that the pond is stagnant and neglected. As I was bemoaning the fate of the pond, the Lord spoke to me again.

"Can the pond clean itself?" He asked.

"No, but it's obvious that the gardener isn't doing it."
(I knew this discussion would somehow have a parallel to my life, so I immediately took the side of the pond - the same pond I was lamenting only seconds before - fickle human that I am.)

"And besides," I continued, "it's not the pond's fault that it has no inlet or outlet, or that autumn leaves fell into it, or that algae grew."

"Whose job is it to clean the pond?" continued the Lord.

"The gardener's. But he's not doing it, so someone else needs to step in."

"Such as...?"

"Well, if I had one of those pool cleaner thingies I would do it myself." I answered God like a petulant child. "And some rubber boots," I added, just to get the last word in.

"Even if the pond wanted to, could it clean itself? Can the pond work against the gardener?"

"No, and that's the part that's not fair. The only thing the pond can do is sit there and wait."
(silence). I began to doubt my words, my thoughts, my feeble arguments.

"Annie, you labour for so many things that you cannot control. You labour for approval and recognition. You labour to 'fix' your son. You labour for righteousness. You labour to resolve and restore what only I can fix. Cease! Learn to come to Me and rest while I do a work in you. Learn to wait as this pond is waiting. You do not know the gardener's plans for this pond any more than you know My plans for you. There are things you cannot see. But that doesn't mean I'm not working. I never neglect my children."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Silent Retreat, Part 2

"Does this look familiar, Annie?" the Lord asked me.

"Yes, Lord, it looks like my life - dry, barren and full of rocks."

"What would you like Me to do with it?"

"Fill it up with fresh, clear, cool water," I replied.

"If I do what you ask, will the rocks still be there?" the Lord countered in reply.

"Umm, yes. I suppose they would, but at least they would be under the surface." (Oh man. He gets me every time, taking away my "quick fixes" to expose the holes in my logic and plans.)

"Will you give your rocky, barren wasteland - as you call it - to Me and let Me make of it what I will? Will you give up your plans to "fix" it and trust Me to fulfill its intended purpose? Whether I spring forth a meadow filled with lush, green grass and wildflowers, or fill it with a cool, refreshing stream, will you relinquish control?

"Yes, Lord! Yes!" I replied excitedly, as images of beautiful meadows and woodlands filled my mind."And if I choose," the Lord continued, "to leave the rocks there, will you let Me?"

"I... I guess so. After all, there would still be a refreshing stream, right? So a few rocks - a few challenges - wouldn't be so bad. I'd just have to watch my step, right?""And Annie, one more thing. What if I choose to leave it exactly as it is?"

"But... but Lord!" I protested.

"Will you still trust Me, knowing that even in the bleakest of landscapes there is life teeming beneath the surface? In a desert, in an arctic tundra, there is still life. Thriving life. I ask you again, Annie, will you give this to Me and let Me make of it what I will? I do not need your help or your advice to complete My work in you. Will you relinquish control? Will you trust Me?"

Silent Retreat, Part 1

I went on a half-day silent retreat at the Botanical Gardens. In those five hours I followed a guide that included Scripture reading, reflection, journaling and listening.

Being silent is hard for me. I think my culture has trained me to fill the silence with noise - music, TV, movies, phone calls, coffee dates. To just sit and be silent with no agenda? That is not an American cultural value. And I have bought into that.

We go and go and give and give until we end up sick, drained and exhausted. And then we push through and go and give and do some more until we end up on anti-depressants or at a day spa. How is this healthy? We value the "doers" of this world and look up to the "heroes of ministry" who did all but take care of their own bodies, which are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

So I found myself alone at the Botanical Gardens (by order of my boss), where I hiked up to the top of the dassie trail (a dassie is a rock hyrax, I think?). It was rocky and barren and full of succculents and other scrubby plants that didn't look very lush or green. And I just... sat... down.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The First Bloom

Only in South Africa can you harvest winter vegetables from your garden while simultaneously growing subtropical flowers. The other day I harvested my first batch of spinach (score one small victory for lousy gardeners all over the world). Earlier in the year I planted a bauhinia tree and a hibiscus bush. And today - ta ta ta dum! - the very first flower bloomed on my hibiscus bush:

I feel like such a proud parent. Grow, little plant, grow!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Art of Throwing Bricks

Building a house in South Africa is a fascinating thing. Or rather, watching a house being built is a fascinating thing. I especially like to watch the brick-throwers. Here's how it works:
  1. Truck delivers pallets of bricks.
  2. Construction workers form assembly line.
  3. Guy on the ground throws two bricks at a time to the next guy, and so on, until the guy on the top floor gets them.
  4. Bricks are always thrown two at a time, and form is never broken.
  5. A line of five guys can have two pairs of bricks going at any one time.
From a Western perspective it might seem a clumsy way to work, but I'm telling you those guys work so fast and throw the bricks with such grace that it's truly amazing.

Here's my point: it's easy to point out ways of doing things as being cumbersome, inefficient, archaic or just plain dumb. If you look a little closer, however, you might just find not only resourcefulness, but art and beauty. And that's worth setting aside a Western perspective to take a closer look.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday Quote

"A path led off into this stretch of bush, as paths will lead off in Africa, well-defined, tramped bare by passing feet, appearing like dusty veins when viewed from above. These paths knew where they were going, and would meander - never a straight line - turn and twist until they reached some human place, a collection of huts perhaps, a rough wooden stockade for cattle or goats, some place of gathering or labour. Or they would peter out, as if the people whose feet had made the path had suddenly remembered something and turned back, or had just forgotten why it was that they were walking that way and had had given up, handing the land back to nature." - from The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, by Alexander McCall Smith

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I Promise to Stay at Room Temperature

If you've ever had a child with special needs, you will appreciate this. There are moment in which you want to give up entirely, moments when you can't take anymore, moments when your patience is sorely tried, and moments when you want to go back to bed and hide under the covers.

And then there are moments which make up for all of the other moments. Moments that make it all worth it. Moments that cause you to wonder why you ever questioned God. Moments that make you feel unworthy as a mother. Moments that cause you to cry for all the right reasons.

Yesterday my son wrote me a letter. It was entitled, "My Promise Scroll." Now you have to understand that this came on the heels of one of the roughest parenting weeks ever. Ben got his first detention at school. Lies were flying. Homework was missing. Parents were crying. Despair was encroaching.

Here are the contents of Ben's letter:
1. I promise not to disobey.
2. I promise to be honest.
3. I promise not to lie.
4. I promise to be loyal.
5. I promise to forgive.
6. I promise to love you forever.
7. I promise to be at room temperature.
8. I promise to be kind.
9. I promise to make the right choice.
10. I promise to be there when things are right.
11. I promise to be there when things are wrong.
12. I promise to be in the family that is forever.
13. I promise to be an Erickson.
14. I promise to be (and here he inserted his full name), who I am!!!
Love, Ben
I promise, too, Ben. I love you soooo much! And if I fail, at least I can stay at room temperature. That's one thing I can promise you for sure. (Oh, Jesus, help me to be what Ben needs me to be. Give me grace for each day and help me to see Him through Your eyes.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sky Blue Jesus

I'm not a big fan of lawn ornaments. South Africans seem to love them - from water features to metal cranes to stone turtles to... sky blue Jesus?

I would like to ask, "Why sky blue, of all the colours to paint a stone statue of Jesus? And why didn't you finish painting Mary?" But I have learned that when you move to another country, there are some questions to which you will never know the answer. And that's okay, because sometimes the mystery is more entertaining.

Thursdays With Auntie Hope

Yesterday Auntie hope was in a much better mood. Her only complaint was that her daughter hired a cleaning lady to come twice a week. I wondered why she would complain about this rather than appreciate it until I considered both sides of the story:

The daughter's perspective: My mom is 84. She shouldn't have to work so hard and has earned the right to take it easy in her final years. I will hire some help for her to relieve the burden. She will be so glad.

Auntie Hope's perspective: You have taken away the one thing I can do and control, the one thing I'm still good at - the ability to clean my house. What am I supposed to do now? I feel so useless.

It's amazing, isn't it, how we can approach a fact from completely different perspectives. I wonder sometimes how we humans get along at all (and yet it explains all that conflict...)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's All a Matter of Perspective

"I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to go and seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there a new life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer - and then it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison." - from The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances." - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Monday, May 9, 2011

Oh, the Things We Can Learn From Each Other...

Today at the grocery store there was a group of special needs adults on a "field trip". This in itself is unusual because you never see special needs adults- or kids- anywhere in South Africa. It's like they're all hidden away somewhere. I hope I'm wrong, of course, but I'm not the only foreigner who has commented on this.

I think this group of guys were learning life skills - how to buy food, count money, etc. Each one of the 15 or so men waited in queue at the till to buy chips and a cooldrink. They were all so friendly and polite to the lady behind the till. One of the young adults even hugged the lady when he had completed his transaction.

On their way out (I was at the till a few rows over) the guys were beaming at their accomplishment. I smiled at them. One of them waved at me. I waved back. The guy behind him giggled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back. The guy behind him blew me a kiss. I blew a kiss back. He blew me kisses all the way out of the store. I think I embarrassed my daughter, who was with me, but I don't care.

Now if I tried to hug the lady behind the till every time I went to the grocery store she'd probably think I'm a little weird, but it got me thinking... how often do we smile, greet and thank those who serve us? More often than not I get irritated when they have to do a price check on an item or when they don't have any change. I have a feeling, though, that those guys made that lady's day today. And I want to follow their example.

Because Chickens Aren't the Only Ones...

... who cross the road, especially here in South Africa.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pretoria National Botanical Gardens

I love the National Botanical Gardens here in Pretoria because it's not a "fussy" garden. It's committed to growing, cultivating and showcasing plants indigenous to South Africa. There are trails all over the Gardens and you could easily spend the day there. Picnicking is welcomed. Kids are welcomed. Outdoor concerts are welcomed. And the best part is - it only costs about R20 to get in ($3.00).

I love it that the kids are allowed to climb on this tree. I think it's a wild fig tree... gone... wild.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Can't Believe I'm Saying This

The grieving process is a funny thing. A few days ago I needed to go to the bank to deposit some cash. I waited in the queue for - I kid you not - 90 minutes. Because the queue was that long.

Normally this would drive me absolutely mad, but lately I've been feeling like life is moving by too quickly. I just want some time to be still and process my dad's death, but it seems like I've had to plunge immediately back into life. There are people to host, work to do, children to parent, not to mention the daily chores that seem to be silently screaming at me ("Wash me!" "Cook me!" "Dust me!")

Standing in a queue and not having to speak to anyone for 90 minutes was, strangely enough, therapeutic. I got to be alone with my thoughts for longer than I've had since my dad died. I know it's bizarre, for under any other circumstance I would be frustrated. This time, however, the long queue was a blessing.

I wonder how many other things are like that - irritations to most, but for some (or even one) a real blessing?

Free Indeed

The inmates at a nearby prison wear orange clothing with black circles. The black circles are actually made up of the word "prisoner." Last night Dan helped out at a prison outreach sponsored by our church.

For many of the inmates, being convicted of a crime and sent to prison was a wake-up call and they are using this time in prison to turn their lives around by studying the Bible and learning trade skills. If you have ever seen these guys worship God, you will know what I mean when I say that in many ways they are more free than those outside the prison walls.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." - John 8:36