Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Free Advice

Never get lost in your thoughts, basking in the first signs of spring and enjoying the moment, when there are acacia thorn trees around. You might just walk into one (I'm not... admitting... anything!)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Had This Dream...

I was walking next to Jesus - not in a hurry - just chatting and listening and enjoying His company. He was showing me the world and people all over the world. Every person we saw was wearing a name tag, and every name tag said the same thing: "Beloved of God."

Suddenly we were in a tin shack. It was dark and claustrophobic. There was a man covered in sores lying on a thin mattress. The sores were so infected that maggots were crawling in them. On his chest was the name tag that said "Beloved of God." I was taken aback. Jesus bent down, kissed him, and greeted him tenderly, "Hello, Beloved of God." As we turned to leave, the man's face morphed into mine. It was my body covered in maggot-infested sores. "No!" I said emphatically and in shock. "That's not me!" But the scene disappeared.

We were now in a large city, walking on a sidewalk, dwarfed by the skyscrapers overhead. Everyone we passed had on their name tag. Jesus walked over to a homeless man curled up against the wall of a building. He was dirty, disheveled and smelled of urine. And he, too, was wearing a name tag: "Beloved of God." Jesus bent down, kissed him, and greeted him tenderly, "Hello, Beloved of God." I was repulsed by the smell. As we turned to leave, the man's face morphed into mine. "No! Stop it!" I shouted. "I'm not him!" But the scene disappeared once again.

I found myself in a large megachurch with plush carpets and colour-coordinated banners on the immense walls. An arrogant pastor was preaching against homosexuals - hateful, judgmental ranting - and on his chest was the same name tag: "Beloved of God." "Aw, Jesus! You can't be serious," I protested. But He was. He walked over to the man, kissed him, and greeted him tenderly, "Hello, Beloved of God." And then, a split second before it happened, I looked over at Jesus said, "No. NO!" But I couldn't stop it. The pastor's face morphed into mine. "Take it off!" I screamed. "I'm not like him. You know I'm not him!" I couldn't bear to look at that... hideous monster... so I looked down. And it was then I noticed that I, too, was wearing a name tag: "Beloved of God."

In that moment I realised that all the things I think I am - and all the things I vehemently think I'm not - fall away. It all completely falls away, and the only thing I can stand on - the only merit I have - is being the beloved of God. My identity - what I perceive it to be - isn't actually my identity at all. There are only three words that define me: "Beloved of God."

This is scary because it exposes me for who I really am - Beloved of God. It is equalising because I am no better or worse than the next man - Beloved of God. It is freeing because the only thing I can give, receive, wear, cast off, take, extend, hide behind, hoard or throw away - is the love of God.

Everything else falls away in the end.

Thoughts on Compassion

Christians throughout history have taken the Bible and turned it from a love letter into a list of rules and regulations. I'm just as guilty - maybe even more so than others. The sad part about this is that when God's love becomes a list of rules to follow, criticism and judgment usually follow, especially when people follow a different "list of rules." And when that happens, love flies out the window. I have been mulling this over in my mind a lot lately, feeling convicted and wondering how to be more compassionate and tender. And I stumbled across this today:

"Take a look at a rose. Is it possible for the rose to say, 'I'll offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people?' Or can you imagine a lamp that withholds its rays from a wicked person who seeks to walk in its light? It could do that only by ceasing to be a lamp. And observe how helplessly and indiscriminately a tree gives its shade to everyone, good and bad, young and old, high and low; to animals and humans and every living creature - even to the ones who seek to cut it down. This is the first quality of compassion - its indiscriminate character." - Anthony DeMello, The Way to Love

...even to the ones who seek to cut it down. That is so hard and yet that's the answer, isn't it? That's how far we need to go to love people, because that's exactly how far Jesus went to love us.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I'm Not There Yet... But I Want to Be

"The basis of my personal worth is not my possessions, my talents, not esteem of others, reputation... not kudos of appreciation from parents and kids, not applause, and everyone telling you how important you are to the place... I stand anchored now in God before whom I stand naked, this God who tells me, 'You are my son, my beloved one.' " -John Eagan, A Traveler Toward the Dawn

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Sore Day

On Friday mornings I work with a group of boys who have been through more than most people endure in a lifetime. Sometimes they share a lot. Other times they're quiet. Today they were angry and arrogant. And I understand. Some days are like that on the road to healing.

I also spent time with my friend. Her husband died yesterday. I just sat and let her cry. Words are so empty at times like these. I played with her seven-year-old son and gave him a break from the grieving while giving her a break from having to be "mom" for a few minutes. There wasn't anything else I could do.

Africa is teaching me to enter into people's suffering, share their journeys, and get "dirty" with life. I think my Western upbringing taught me to fear that - to shy away from pain and grief and suffering. My culture tends to medicate sorrow with food, entertainment or music to avoid the feelings that come when it is quiet and all distractions are removed. Here in Africa, however, you sit in the silence while a lifetime of feelings echoes loudly in your mind, bounces across the walls of the room and stampedes out the window into the veld like a herd of wildebeest. And you weep.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Little Tuesday Fun...

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square hole. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
~ Jack Kerouac

You might think I'm being a bit too liberal here, but if you stop and read the Bible, you might - might - just discover that Jesus fits this quote perfectly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cotton Ball Grenades and Red Fingernail Flowers

Okay, so technically they're the "Kapok Tree" and the "Koraalboom." In any case, they're the first sign that spring is on it's way here in South Africa. When I see these two trees blooming, I feel a surge of hope that winter is almost over.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I've been wearing my coat 24/7 for the past three months. Indoors, outdoors, you name it. South African winters - while short - are cold for the simple fact that homes are not heated like they are in many other countries. Whatever temperature it is outside, it is inside. My nose is perpetually cold. My fingers are always icy. I wear a hat inside to retain body heat.

Today, in my garden, I found a sunflower. It was straggly and small, but it was blooming. In winter. In my garden. And hope rises once again; spring is coming.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thoughts on Risking Failure

I cut my hair off. I've been wanting to cut it short for a long time but was too afraid. Today I finally took the risk and guess what? I love it.

This makes me wonder how much we miss because we're too afraid to risk failure. Brennan Manning, author of Souvenirs of Solitude, puts it like this:
"Each of us pays a heavy price for our fear of falling flat on our faces. It assures the progressive narrowing of our personalities and prevents exploration and experimentation. As we get older, we do only the things we do well. There is no growth in Christ Jesus without some difficulty and fumbling. If we are going to keep on growing, we must keep on risking failure throughout our lives."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Quote

"And behold I have found that which is greater than wisdom.
It is a flame spirit in you ever gathering more of itself,
While you, heedless of its expansion, bewail the withering of your days.
It is life in quest of life in bodies that fear the grave.
There are no graves here."
- Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thoughts on my Name

Throughout the Bible there are stories of people whose names were changed after an encounter with God. Abram became Abraham, Simon became Peter and Saul became Paul, to name a few. There was always a significance to the meaning of the new name, which was given by God to that person.

My actual name is Angela. It means "angelic" or "heavenly messenger." I've always wanted to have a nickname, but somehow "Angie" never quite fit. And I've never liked the meaning of my name; it also never seemed to fit me.

Over the years, I have had many encounters with God that changed my life. One of the most memorable was when a pastor sat and cried with me over injustices I had suffered, and then gently - through his tears - encouraged me to "extend grace." It was at that point I realised I had no idea what grace was or meant, despite the fact that I had grown up with church and the Bible.

When we moved to Africa I had another such encounter with God in which I decided that I want my life mission and offering to be one of extending grace to the world. I feel so strongly about that call that I had the words "extend grace" tattooed on myself, partially so I won't forget (because if you want to know the truth, I'm still learning about grace. It's a hard concept for me to grasp as it generally means giving up all forms of selfishness, which I'm also not good at.)

It was also at this point that I discovered the name Annie as an alternative nickname to Angela. I liked it. I had no idea what it meant, though, and wanted to find out. Turns out that Annie means "grace." It might not make a big difference to you, but to me, it is as significant as any other name change in the Bible.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Long Road

My son had his biannual check-up with the paediatric neurologist today. I dread these appointments because they bring back memories of sitting in Children's Hospital realising that our lives would change forever. They bring back the feelings of loneliness and isolation we battled (and still battle) to accept the path that befell us, a path no parent would choose.

I dread these appointments because I always enter with high expectations and leave disappointed. I come in with a list of concerns to address - I keep hoping for the doctor to give me a key that will unlock the door I am banging my head against, but every time I leave the doctor's office I realise there is no key. I must continue banging my head against the door until perseverance finally breaks it down. And that will cause a lot of pain and bruising. The cost is high - almost too high - yet there is no other way.

The fact is, parenting a child with special needs is lonely. It is an isolating journey, because in a sense, no one can relate to what you're going through, as each child is unique. Is it worth it? Of course it is, but when I'm feeling raw and wounded, please don't placate me with bumper sticker encouragements: God put him in your family; there are no better parents for him than you; God causes all things to work together for good. I know those things. What I want to know is that someone will still love me when I melt into a puddle of goo on the floor because I don't have the strength to go on. I want to know that someone will sit and cry with me and say, Yes, this is hard. I want someone to validate my anguish and listen without having all the answers. And I want someone to intuitively know when I need vanilla ice cream topped with peanut butter for dinner.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Not Lost in Translation

When we were in California last month we spent time at a church that has Indonesian, Chinese and English services. We attended both the English and Indonesian services.

I felt like a U.N. delegate because I got this cool headphone set and machine thing-y with live translation. The problem was, I couldn't make the volume work so I couldn't hear the translation. I ended up just following the people around me. I stood when they stood; I sat when they sat. I sang songs (or rather, tried to sing songs) that I couldn't understand. I had no idea what the words meant. But you know what? I didn't need to.

The love was so evident on each person's face that I couldn't help but want to join in the singing. I know most of these people could tell stories of what it's like to be a Christian in a Muslim country. They could share stories of heartache, stories of immigration, and stories of trying to follow Jesus despite it all. But the love... the love told a story all it's own with no words required.

Here was the only thing I managed to write down from my time there:
FirmanMu p'lita bagi kakiku Terang bagi jalanku

Which means, "Your Word is a lamp that gives light wherever I walk." - Psalm 119:105 (CEV)

Monday, August 8, 2011

...May it Be The Same One Day

We live our lives to close the gap between who we think we are and who God knows us to be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thoughts on Psalm 23

"And so, long into the night, David wove the day's saga into a song. He hurled that hymn to the skies again and again until he had taught the melody and words to every angel that had ears. They, in turn, became the custodians of this wondrous song and passed it on as healing balm to broken-hearted men in every age to come." - Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings

"He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul." - v. 2-3

Lord, let me not be selfish with Your love and mercy but rather let me be a conduit that Your grace can flow through to touch a broken world. May my life never be blocked by hypocrisy or hoarding. Keep me authentic. Help me to love sacrificially. Teach me more.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not a Hero... Yet

I am not a hero because I live in Africa. The real heroes are the ones who live incarnationally among the poor, the disenfranchised and the dying. The ones who aren't afraid of brokenness, suffering and death. The ones who love like Jesus loves and don't care about status, reputation or wealth. The ones who aren't afraid to be lonely and misunderstood in order to touch the world with the love of God Himself.

I wish I were a hero but I'm not there yet. It's hard for me to separate what I want from what Jesus wants. I wish I were better at that. I really, really want to be better at that. I have been doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and all I can come up with is this:
Jesus, make me like You... completely, wholly, and entirely like You. That's all I want.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Long Way to Go(d)

I have been so challenged lately - convicted, actually - that my actions don't match my words or what I say I believe. I could do so much better at loving my neighbour, extending grace and a whole lot of other things. I find myself looking like a Pharisee or a hypocrite rather than loving people the way Jesus did. And the thing is, I really want to be like Jesus.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me." - Matthew 25:35-36, 40

I have such a long way to go.