Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Different Kind of Book Review

For the past eleven years I have had the goal of reading 24 books a year (two books per month).  In all but one of those years I surpassed my goal.  I added it all up today, out of curiosity's sake, and here are the stats:
  • 333 books in 11 years
  • an average of 33 books per year
  • an average of 2.75 books per month
Interestingly, this did not impress me.  I felt no sense of pride or accomplishment.  In fact, it caused me to wonder:  Did reading those books make any difference?  Did it change me for the better, have an impact on my life, or better yet, cause me to have an impact on others' lives?  If not, then... so what? 

For me, the real question is:  Did I love people in those eleven years?  Did I love my children?  Did I love my husband?  Did I love the lady at the till who was rude to me, the hurried driver who cut me off in traffic, the beggar in the street?  Did I love my neighbour?  Did I even (though we don't often like to mention this one) love myself?
"If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all... For our knowledge is always incomplete and our prophecy is always incomplete... In this life we have three great lasting qualities—faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love." - excerpts from I Corinthians 13

I'm still going to keep my goal of reading 24 books a year (because quite frankly, I enjoy reading), but I also want to live with a sense of purpose and intentionality.  I don't want to amass knowledge just for the sake of amassing knowledge.  I want it to work towards achieving a greater purpose; I want it to help me fulfill my calling.  In short, I want to love people better.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Journal of the Spa, Part 12

“Anna (for that is what God calls me), do you see the path outside the window?”

 “Yes, Papa.  It looks venturesome and inviting and bends teasingly around the corner to where I cannot see.”

 “Would you step onto this path and follow it, not knowing where it leads?”

 “Yes. I believe I would, for the path looks safe and as I said, it bends playfully out of sight, almost beckoning me to chase it in a game of touchers.”
 “If you can trust a forest path, which is but man-made, can you not trust Me, even though you cannot see where I am leading you?”

“Yes, Papa. I want to... but I am also following the lead of other voices, and I do not know how to stop.”

“Would you allow Me to accompany you on that path?”

“Oh, no! You don’t want to walk on that path! It is dark and dirty and rather hopeless!”

“Anna, I am over all the paths of the earth.  How do you expect to move from that path to My path except that I show you the way? Yet I will not merely show you – I will walk with you and guide you by the hand because I love you. Wandel met My, Anna Grace. Let My light direct you.”

I am tired, I have no arguments left and so I hop into God’s strong arms. He carries me back to my room, where I sink into His love. He does not leave, but holds me tight against His chest where I can hear His heartbeat. It is beautiful, and in His beating heart I can hear a Love song.

Outside it is dark and the insects sing in response to this Love song. I fall asleep to their lullaby.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Journal of the Spa, Part 11

Dinner, 18h30 - I have ingested more kilojoules in this one day than I have in the past several days combined. I hate that – I feel guilty and fat – though I choose not to listen to that voice today. Today is a gift in which the voice of “not measuring up” has no place. (In truth every day should be like this but that is a battle I still must fight.)

So... what is today all about, then, for I know that tomorrow I shall go back to my "regular" life. Tomorrow I shall be back with the burdens, challenges and busyness of life, and I shall expect them to be there like family members. If today was a gift, then what must I glean from it to take into tomorrow? Because the truth is, I want tomorrow to be different.

I do the only thing I know to do:  pray and listen.
Papa? I have spent a lovely day with You – a day that engaged all my senses, tilled the soil of my soul, stirred the sediment of exultation, suspended me in Grace and Joy, brought a fresh perspective of creation (both mine and the world’s) and connected me once again to You and to the beauty of the earth around me.

You know that my desire is to love You more deeply, know You more fully, and serve You wholeheartedly. You know my strengths and weaknesses, You know me better than I know myself, and so I ask You – what is the lesson You would teach me? Or am I again getting ahead of You, looking too far into the future rather than basking in the present moment?
I sit with the questions and listen.  Outside the birds are singing their lullabies, the insects are just waking up, and I imagine it is God's favourite soundtrack as He calls the stars by name...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Journal of the Spa, Part 10

17h00 - I am in my room. There are zebras and impala outside my window, a host of mosquitos inside my window, and the power is out. There is a holy hush and I listen to the sound of a bird whose song I have never before heard. I feel as though I am intruding on an intimate moment and then realise that all of life is made up of intimate moments if only I am aware.

It thunders in the distance and begins to rain. The electricity comes back on.  Then off.  Then on again. It, too, seems to join in the Love song by its staccatoed entrances and exits. I do not sing, for it seems inappropriate to this passage of music, but I am still very much a part of the song. I am engaged, even in my silence.

Journal of the Spa, Part 9

16h00 -  I step into the warm water of the jacuzzi and then fall backwards, yielding to the buoyancy of the liquid. I allow myself to be carried and supported by the water and relax all of my muscles. I am suspended in Grace.  It is thunderous and yet it whispers. It is tumultuous yet it is a gentle, rolling wave but it is always – always – moving.  Only when I cease striving – when I stop trying to tread water and move myself in its current – does Grace carry me effortlessly in her flow.  It is almost... easy.  Why did I struggle so?  Why did I not give up control sooner?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Journal of the Spa, Part 8

15h15 - Sylvia works on my feet. I look upon these feet and muse over their history:

  • These are the feet that danced through almond orchards as a child.
  • These are the feet that ran, terrified, from a leather belt.
  • These are the feet that stood once again in resilience and healing.
  • These are the feet that traversed the globe, finding purpose in a path not chosen but greater than they could have imagined.
  • These are the feet that flounder from time to time, losing their way or stumbling over a rocky trail.
  • These are the feet that occasionally run like the wind, discovering a course and momentum perfectly suited to their unique construction and ability.
They are tired feet.  They are strong feet.  They are blistered and they are beautiful. They are my feet and they are every man’s feet.

Journal of the Spa, Part 7

13h45 - Sylvia gives me a facial. I feel guilty about this day, which has been so unproductive on my part, but I remind myself that it was a gift from Dan.  I fall asleep praying about my head...

Lord, these eyes of mine - you know how fiery they can be. Help them to instead reflect Your love and compassion.  My smile, which is often upside down - I want my smile to somehow echo Your joy.  The rest of my face - I would like it to display Your peace and contentment. And Lord, there is so much knowledge in the world to be learned.  Help me to have the discernment to learn only that which would teach me of You and help me step into Your call upon my life.  Help me not to waste my time amassing knowledge that I do not need.

I desire that my mouth would speak words of encouragement, truth and inspiration. I want my story – my life – to be one of redemption that lends courage to the downtrodden, hope to the disillusioned, and strength to the weak.  And my voice, Lord... if I sing, then let me sing of You.  For You. Would You give meaning to my song so that it would sweetly beckon the world to follow You, to find healing and wholeness in You?

Would you infuse every cell of my body so that my very being is a unique interpretation of Your love for creation, for mankind, for me? Would you sync my heartbeat to Your rhythms, my ears to Your melody and my eyes to the dynamics of Your music?  Lord, you know how great the distance from where I am to where I would like to be...  what my life is and what I would like it to become... I have so much to learn, so far to go...
Words begin to fail me; my thoughts become less and less coherent. I am sinking into the earth – into nature – and the more empty I become the more room there is to be filled by Jesus. Paradoxically, the more I “lose” myself in Him, the more I find my truest self.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Journal of the Spa, Part 6

12h00 - Sylvia works on my arms and hands. The exfoliating hurts when she gets to my left hand which is still healing from a rather bad burn. I am thankful for the gift of having two functioning hands after having had the use of only one for two weeks. I tell God of my desire for these hands – my right hand, which writes and draws in black, and my left hand, which does all else and shades in colour. May these hands encourage people – through writing, through music, through touch. May my right hand point people to God and write only that which is true and meaningful. May my left hand add an element of creativity and fun which brings joy, humour and a playfulness that also points to God. Together may these hands create a beautiful counterpoint that fulfils God’s call on my life.

Lunchtime, 13h00 - I do not worry about the food I am ingesting or the kilojoules I have consumed. I can only bask in the presence of God and wonder at His love for me.

The words of Genesis 28:16 come to mind and suddenly I am Jacob stirring from a dream in which I wrestled with God and upon awakening said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.”

Surely God is present in each of my days, in every one of the 86,400 seconds.  Surely God is active and moving all around me if I could just remove the veil from my eyes, the deafness from my ears and the hardness of my heart to be sensitive to the evidence.  Surely God is in the dark places I don't want to acknowledge as well as in the places of joy and mirth.  Surely God is present in my weaknesses and failings as well as in my strengths and successes.  Surely God is as much present when I am alone with my thoughts and nakedness at night as He is when I put my best foot forward in public during the day. Surely God is present.  Surely God is.  Surely...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas, Unplugged

One of the noticeable things about moving from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere is that all of the days you celebrate and hold dear are in the "opposite" season.  My birthday, which used to be in autumn, is now in spring.  All of the things I associated with my birthday - crisp mornings and evenings, beautiful autumn foliage and pumpkin pie - have been removed.  Or replaced, to put it in a positive light.

It's the same with Christmas.  My Christmases over the years have been a bit schizophrenic. I have:
  • Gone innertubing in the snow
  • Gone swimming
  • Hiked through pine forests
  • Hiked through the bushveld
  • Drunk hot cocoa and gone Christmas caroling
  • Had a lekker braai and cooldrink
  • Bundled up in my warm woolen mittens
  • Harvested summer vegetables
All of the things I used to identify with Christmas disappeared when we moved to South Africa.  I spent the first two years pining for what I lost.  I spent the last two years enjoying what I gained.  In the process I learned that most of the traditions I associate with Christmas are just cultural trappings, if you will.  They have nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Christ and everything to do with the season and country in which the holiday occurs.

When you strip all of that away, you have nothing left but the holiday - holy day - and yourself.  When you remove the distractions from a celebration you find out what you really believe. Take away the birthday cake, presents and party and you find out how you really feel about the fact of your birth.  Take away the Christmas tree, gingerbread latté and Western consumerism and you find out what you really think about the birth of Jesus.

A Raw and Gritty Christmas Quote, Part 3

"But 'like a root out of dry ground,' he came, Isaiah says (53:2), and it was down to the roots of things that he moved all his life like a mole - down at the undetected sickness fiercer than flesh, the buried sin, the hidden holiness. 'Cleave the wood, I am there,' he says in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. 'Lift the stone, and you will find me there' (77), and it is always far beneath that he is to be found and deep within that his most shattering miracles happen...

"Because of this story of Jesus, each of our own stories is in countless ways different from what it would have been otherwise, and that is why in speaking about him we must speak also about ourselves, and about ourselves with him and without him too because that, of course, is the other story we have in us to remember and tell.  Our own story...

"To live and look beneath our own stories is to see glimmers at least of his life, of his life struggling to come alive in our lives, his story whispering like a song through the babble and drone of ours. Where he is strong, we are weak, God knows. Where he is faithful, we are what we are....

"And in the meantime, this side of Paradise, it is our business to speak with our hearts and to bear witness to, and live out of, and live toward, and live by the true word of his holy story as it seeks to stammer itself forth through the holy stories of us all." - Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Raw and Gritty Christmas Quote, Part 2

"He was born, the story begins - the barn that needs cleaning, the sagging steps, the dusty face - and there are times when we have to forget all about the angels and shepherds and star of it, I think, and just let the birth as a birth be wonder enough, which heaven help us it is, this wonder of all wonders. Into a world that has never been famous for taking special care of the naked and helpless, he was born in the same old way to the same old end and in all likelihood howled bloody murder with the rest of us when they got the breath going in him and he sensed more or less what he was in for. An old man in the Temple predicted great things for him but terrible things for the mother who loved him in what seemed to have been all the wrong ways. He got lost in the city and worried his parents sick. John baptised him in the river and wondered afterwards if he'd chosen the right man. It wasn't just Satan who tempted him then because for the rest of his life just about everybody tempted him - his best friend, his disciples, his mother and brothers, his enemies. They all of them tempted him one way or another not to go off the deep end but to stay on the bearable surface of things - to work miracles you could see with your eyes, to feed hungers you could feel in your belly, to heal the sickness of the flesh you could touch, to be a power among powers and to avoid the powerless, the sinful, the deadbeats like the plague in favour of the outwardly righteous, the publicly pious...

"But 'like a root out of dry ground,' he came, Isaiah says (53:2), and it was down at the roots of things that he moved..."  - Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Raw and Gritty Christmas Quote

"The story of Jesus is full of darkness as well as of light. It is a story that hides more than it reveals.  It is the story of a mystery we must never assume we understand and that comes to us breathless and broken with unspeakable beauty at the heart of it, yet is by no means a pretty story, though that is the way we're apt to peddle it much of the time.  We sand down the rough edges. We play down the obscurities and contradictions. What we can't explain, we explain away. We set Jesus forth as clear-eyed and noble-browed, whereas the chances are he can't have been anything but old before his time once the world started working him over, and once the world was through, his clear eyes were swollen shut and his noble brow as much of a shambles as the rest of him. We're apt to tell his story when we tell it at all, to sell his story, for the poetry and panacea of it. 'But we are the aroma of Christ,' Paul says, and the story we are given to tell is a story that smells of his life in all its aliveness, and our commission is to tell it in a way that makes it come alive as a story in all its aliveness and to make those who hear it come alive and God knows to make ourselves come alive too." - Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Journal of the Spa, Part 5

11h30 - Sylvia massages my neck and head. I see only the forest in front of me. I am hyper-aware of every moth, spider and bird that makes its presence known. Two monkeys peer curiously from behind a rock. 

 There is music playing in the background – Asian music – and I smile. I could be in Japan, in the bamboo forest of the Hamilton Botanical Gardens in New Zealand or here in the Republic of South Africa.  God’s love and presence spans the globe and though I am displaced from my culture and all things familiar I am very much at home.  This is home.  I settle into a deep contentment.

I am so humbled and thankful that God brought me to this country. I wish only to live with a great respect for the people of South Africa who have allowed me to make my home with them. My life has been incredibly enriched by all they are and all they have to offer the world. Who am I, to be so blessed?