Monday, February 27, 2012

Deriving Meaning From Life's Outliers

An outlying observation, or outlier, is one that appears to deviate markedly from other members of the sample in which it occurs.[1]

"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." - Proverbs 25:2

I never understood this verse until I saw it as a great treasure hunt.  I used to think it mean and even unfair of God to "conceal a matter" until I realised that it's actually a beautiful game of interaction:  God hides things in anticipation, knowing that a treasure hunt will ensue, and our discovery of these treasures gives Him great delight and satisfaction.  I can almost hear Him saying, "I knew you could find it!"

Perhaps, because we have gone on a hunt to discover this treasure, we appreciate and value it all the more. Hard work, awareness and commitment were involved.  Dare I say fun was involved?

Sometimes we stumble upon the treasure, sometimes it is through sheer diligence and perseverance that we find it, and maybe - in rare instances - we trip over the treasure and fall flat on our faces (bruised but laughing at the discovery). In each case, however, the treasure is cherished because it came with a price - time, hard work and tenacity.  Yet we do not receive only the treasure, when at last we find it; we also receive the delight and approval of an Almighty God who laughs with us, cries with us, and affirms us with the words, "I knew you could do it!"

What is this treasure?  It is the explanation of the outlier, the story behind the story, the discovery of meaning in relation to what previously did not make sense.

"You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name." - Isaiah 62:2

... And thus is birthed the alternative story, rich with meaning.

Outliers should be investigated carefully. Often they contain valuable information about the process under investigation or the data gathering and recording process. Before considering the possible elimination of these points from the data, one should try to understand why they appeared and whether it is likely similar values will continue to appear.[2]
1. Grubbs, F. E.: 1969, Procedures for detecting outlying observations in samples. Technometrics 11, 1–21, reprinted in Wikipedia
2. Engineering Statistics Handbook,

Sunday, February 26, 2012

More Thoughts on Grace

Grace is totally alien to human psychology.
How desperately I want to be able to contribute something to the deal - my faith, my effort, my love, my belief. But the bottom line is that Perfect Love meets me where I am and asks only that I open my heart and receive the love for which I long.
It is surrender to love that I really resist.  I am willing to accept measured doses of love as long as it doesn't upset the basic framework of my world.  That framework is built on the assumption that people get what they deserve. That's what I really want. I want to earn what I get. And for the most part I am content to get what I earn.
The Christian God comes to us as wholly other - so different from the gods of my imagination, so far beyond my control. Encountering such a God is terrifying because encountering Perfect Love is an invitation to abandon ego. A god of our own making would be much less terrifying. But such a god could not offer me what I most deeply need - release from my fears and healing of my brokenness.

-David Benner, Surrender to Love

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Own Kind of Biography...

I just realised that writing biographies is a way of signifying a person's worth by attaching value to measurable achievements.  Not only does it make me feel like a loser who can't compete with the CEO's of the world, it fails to mention the fact that my greatest accomplishments in life aren't measurable!  For someone who struggles with not measuring up, having to make a list of my achievements is not helpful.  I decided to publish the biography I wanted to write:
I'm not afraid to jump into a giant pillow display at the store.  I love people, and I love to encourage them.  I like to create art in my kitchen by pretending that I am a mad scientist chef.  I love music and think it's a great way to tell stories, especially your own.  I am a wife and mother. I once got stopped by President George Bush's secret service men (but that wasn't my fault... I don't know how I managed to get on the other side of the roped-off area)!  I live every day as the parent of a child who struggles with attachment issues, and I haven't given up yet. When I travel to a foreign country one of the first things I do is try the different potato chip flavours.  My children's friends once said I'm the "hot mom" at school.  I'm a survivor.  I accidentally led a Christmas parade (I was trying to get the post office) - it was mortifying but it makes a good story these days... I can turn any children's song into a steamy love song without changing the words. I can write with both hands. I know pi to 50 places past the decimal (surely that's a useful skill?).  I think people should laugh more, including myself.  I put peanut butter on vanilla ice cream.  I put peanut butter on just about everything.  I like to write - music, stories, hand-written letters to people, lists, notes, essays, etc.  I notice birds - every single one.  And if I've managed to encourage just one person in this world, that is enough of a biography for me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Portrait of Worship, Part V

kaleidoscope, n.  1. A toy consisting of a tube containing mirrors and pieces of coloured glass or paper, whose reflections produce changing patterns that are visible through an eyehole when the tube is rotated.  2. A constantly changing pattern or sequence of objects or elements.

From the Greek kalos 'beautiful' + eidos 'form' + skopeo 'to look, to examine', hence 'observer of beautiful forms.'

Why am I pointing out random stories of Sunday morning worship at my church?  Because it is a kaleidoscope of the Imago Dei - the image of God - imprinted upon every person there.  And as we turn the kaleidoscope, we see different angles, different facets of people's stories and what makes them who they are, what brings them to church, and why they worship the way they do.  The more we turn the kaleidoscope, the more beauty we see, discover and can marvel upon.

I want to become a kaleidoscope of people - an observer of the beautiful forms in which the Imago Dei manifests itself.  I would like to focus on the inherent value of people regardless of their utility or function.  And I would like this to be the permanent lens through which I view them - a lens which overshadows my own (limited) perceptions or opinions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Portrait of Worship, Part IV

She sits in the same seat every Sunday.  The head-to-toe black clothing and dyed black hair are in stark contrast to her pale, white skin.  On the outside she is in her late 20's, thin and fragile, yet on the inside she is an old soul who seems to carry a heavy burden.

Another woman, who is in many ways the complete opposite, sits next to her each week.  Big, black, beautifully exuberant and aged by decades of life, she wears the bright colours of traditional African dresses.

They look for each other every week, these two women.  Whoever gets there first saves a seat for the other one. And when they finally meet, there is a joyous reunion as if they haven't seen each other for years.  The older woman embraces the younger woman with as much warmth and love as I have ever seen for someone who isn't a family member (in the genetic sense).  The young woman loses her façade and smiles as their souls connect.  And then...

Then comes my favourite part.  These two women dance together during the worship time.  No one else dances at church; only these two ladies.  And it's not a performance.  For reasons beyond my comprehension, the walls that would separate these women during the week - the walls that say they have nothing in common and should even judge one another - disappear completely.  Why?  How? 

I have no answer.  I only know that they dance, and in that dance there is more Love and Healing than I have words to describe.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Portrait of Worship, Part III

There is a man who always sits in the front row at church, a row typically occupied by brave and enthusiastic congregants or by pastors.  He is neither, upon first glance.  He sits through the worship with his head bowed.  From all appearances he looks bored, disengaged with what's going on around him, or perhaps even sullen.  So why does he sit in the front row?

He sits in the front row because he is deaf.  By sitting as close to the platform as possible and by sitting down in his chair, he can feel the vibrations of the music and thus participate fully in the worship. He looks down so that his eyes don't distract him from what he's feeling. Because he is lacking a sense of hearing, his other senses are heightened and more acute than mine. Consequently, I can only imagine the nuances between the different instrument and voice vibrations. In some ways he is more engaged than I am in the music; and in that I can learn from him.  I love watching him because he has something truly special to contribute to worship on Sunday mornings.

A Portrait of Worship, Part II

"Into Your hands, I commit again, all I am, for You Lord..."

The woman in front of me at church kept her eyes closed the whole time she sang.  Her arms were lifted towards heaven, as if to say, "Pick me up, Daddy.  My legs are too tired to walk anymore."  I realise that for people who aren't as expressive in their worship, this could be a distraction.  You might even perhaps make assumptions about her motives or beliefs.  Yet...

There is often a story behind the story, isn't there?  If we could suspend judgment for a moment, hold our conclusions and honestly seek to understand, we might discover new meanings and ways of looking at things that give us a fresh perspective.

"You hold my world in the palm of Your hand, and I am Yours forever..."

As it turns out, I know this woman.  Her husband was brutally murdered three weeks ago.  The fact that she was in church at all, let alone singing praise songs to God, touched me profoundly.  I stopped singing. I couldn't sing... I was witnessing a holy moment.  I felt as though I was intruding and yet I was mesmerised, held captive by such a sacrifice of praise.

"I'll walk with You, wherever You go, through tears and joy, I'll trust You, Lord..."

Even now I don't have the words to adequately describe what I observed, but in the future, when I see or hear the word "surrender" I will think of the image I saw this morning.  It was poignant.  It was beautiful.  It was heartbreaking.  It pointed to an unwavering trust in God.  "Pick me up, Daddy.  My legs are too tired to walk anymore.  I trust You to carry me to where I need to go."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Portrait of Worship, Part I

I stood next to an elderly Indian man at church this morning.  He radiated friendliness and greeted me with a thick accent as he shook my hand vigorously.  During the worship, he sang loudly.  He sang with as much passion and love for Jesus as I have ever seen.  And he sang... terribly... off... pitch!

I like to sing harmony, but this seemed to cause confusion for the warm soul of a man.  When I sang harmony, he sang as though he were completely tone deaf.  I switched to melody in an effort to help him.  The situation improved, but only slightly.

You might think - because I am a musician - that this would distract me or that I might in some way "disdain" his singing.  But this could not be farther from the truth!

I learned a long time ago (the hard way) that sincerity of heart counts for a whole lot more than musical ability.  God doesn't want a performance;  He wants us to come to Him in authenticity and vulnerability! Anybody can perform - good musicians are a dime a dozen - but a true worshiper is harder to come by.

I was so grateful to be standing next to this man.  He inspired me!  I am thankful that he sang so wholeheartedly and with reckless abandon, not caring what anyone but God thought.  That is as it should be!

I can only imagine what a sweet, sweet sound his offering was in God's ears.  I know how much it blessed me.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Colour of Sand, Part II

The size of sand particles directly affects the amount of water that can be retained:  the smaller the particle, the more retention. This factor largely determines how much life can be sustained in between the grains of sand. Bacteria, algae and minute animals will make their home where sand can retain a watery cushion between its particles, and this, too, shades and tints the sand.  We might even say - if we were comparing sand to humans - that abundance of life (or lack thereof) will add to or diminish the colour of sand.

There is one other factor that determines the colour of sand - perhaps the most important factor of all:  sunlight.  Sand is coloured by its mineral composition, by the refining and polishing of nature's elements, by ocean waves moving it and causing it to mix with other sand particles, and by life sustained between its grains due to its ability to retain water.  But when the sun shines - the sand sparkles and glistens with beauty so unparalleled it is often blinding. We might even say - if we were comparing sand to humans - that each grain of sand refracts a unique colour of light given its history, journey and holy 'otherness.'

Sand has to endure quite a lot to reach a position of being defined as "sand." Harsh elements, challenges, and constantly being in a process of movement and change are what ultimately gives sand its shape and its beauty. The problems sand faces on its journey to becoming are framed in such a way that they serve as a springboard for purpose and meaning.  Difficult circumstances are harnessed for a glory that could come no other way - certainly not from an easier life.  This is redemption in its most extravagant form:  not merely restoring something to a position of functionality, but making it more beautiful than it was originally.  We might even say -  that if God can do this for sand - how much more will He do this for humans, made in His very image?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Colour of Sand, Part I

Once upon a time there was some sand.  It was composed largely of silicon dioxide, otherwise known as quartz, but also contained feldspar, clay minerals, calcium carbonate, and fragments of rocks worn down by wind and ocean waves. The colour of this particular sand - as is the case with all sand - was determined by the rocky material of the adjacent land.  We might even say - if we were comparing sand to humans - that sand is coloured by its home culture and environment.

Sand is also a product of weathering processes such as rain, freezing and thawing, wind and chemical reactions.  These processes break down rock into fragments, and as the physical abrasion and chemical weathering take their toll, the rock fragments become smaller, rounder, and more polished.  Wind is the worst culprit, as it keeps the sand particles constantly shifting and hitting against one another, thereby refining them further.  In other words, sand would not be sand without enduring the hardships of nature's elements constantly rubbing against it.  The sand develops a sheen and glimmer that could not be achieved by easier means.  We might even say - if we were comparing sand to humans - that sand particles are coloured by friction and conflict from contact with other sand particles.

Ocean waves also affect sand. As each wave strikes the shore, its turbulence lifts the sand into suspension and carries the particles further along the beach.  Offshore currents can carry sand for many kilometers along the coastline and redeposit it.  The heavier particles will tend to sink to the bottom, while the lighter particles will be found on the top layer. Because this process never stops - because there is a constant rhythm of changing and moving - the sand mixes with sand from other beaches, commingling and creating layers of colour. We might even say - if we were comparing sand to humans - that sand is coloured by living in community with other sand and by the diversity of mineral composition between the grains.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Story of Attachment Disorder

Once upon a time and halfway around the world, a little boy was born.  He was not born into ideal circumstances and spent the first month of his life in a hospital where no one held him, cuddled him, or rocked him to sleep.  The next year of his life was spent in an orphanage. 

By the time he joined his adoptive family, the scars of the first year were seared into his little heart. He did not know how to trust, how to bond, or how to relax in the care of adults and submit to their wisdom, knowledge and authority.  He resisted, fought, poked and tried to hurt the ones who loved him most (because he himself felt so hurt and wounded).  Sometimes he even told his mother that he hated her, didn't want her to be his mommy, and that he wanted to hurt her. 

There were days when the mother went in the other room and cried.  On other days (if she were completely honest), the mother silently admitted to herself that she didn't like her son, either, and wished that she weren't his mommy.  But even on the worst of days, the mother loved her son very much (for loving and liking are two different things).  Every night she hugged her son and said the following words, "I love you, little tiger cub.  I'm so glad you're my son."  And every night she prayed that God would heal the wounds in her son which she could not reach. 

Loving a child with attachment issues is like hugging a porcupine.  It hurts.  Every time you reach out you are pierced through the heart by sharp quills, hurtful words that cut the soul quicker than a double-edged sword.  When you wake up in the morning, still nursing yesterday's wounds, you are pierced again.  Your body is a mess of old, faded scars, fresh pink ones, and open, bleeding wounds.  But you can't stop trying, stop reaching out, stop loving.  You must die to yourself and learn how to hug porcupines. 

The mother in our story cried out to God one day and said, "I'm not sure I can do this anymore.  It hurts too much."  God tenderly replied, "Take my hand; I'll walk with you."  As the mother reached for God's hand she noticed that His hand was also pierced.  And suddenly she realised:  she was pierced for love of one child, but God was pierced for love of the world.  Anna loved Benjamin, but God so loved the world... 

With this thought the mother's ears were opened and attuned to the rhythm of God's heart.  With every beat she could hear whispers of His lifeblood circulating around the world, coursing in every language to all of mankind - "I love you, little tiger cub.  I'm so glad you're my son.  I love you, princess.  I'm so glad you're my daughter."  The mother wept, and as she wept she felt her own wounds begin to heal. 

The next morning was no different in many respects.  Yet in this it was vastly changed: the mother's pierced hand held tightly onto God's pierced hand and together they journeyed.  She was no longer afraid of porcupines.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Comic Relief

Do you ever have a bad day - a really bad day - and then something which isn't supposed to be funny strikes you as funny and you can't stop giggling about it even though it's completely inappropriate (I suppose this is a good thing and relieves the stress of the bad day...)?

Today our Homeowner's Association emailed a memo with the following notes of concern:
  1. Please note that the dustbins at the security room are not for your use.  (What is a "security room"?  I didn't know we had one, but I could use a security room as I'm feeling rather insecure today.)
  2. Please also do not make use of your neighbour's dustbin.  (I'm detecting a theme, here...)
  3. Contact the Council to replace the bin at your house if it is broken.  (There is a Dustbin Council? Wow!  I feel like I'm living in a Star Wars movie... or maybe a secret spy movie... "Your time has come to appear before the Council of the Dustbin and plead your case.")
I did not know there was such a brouhaha about dustbins around here.  The only problem I have with dustbins is that mine disappears every time the garbage service comes (if they come), forcing me to play Hide-and-Seek when I come home from work (a game which I will gladly play with my children, but not-so-gladly play with my dustbin...).

I think I should report them to... The Council (cue eerie music and maniacal laughter).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Touching With Words

Mark 1:41 (English) - "Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' He said. 'Be clean!'"

(Afrikaans) - "Jesus het hom innig jammer gekry, sy hand uitgesteek en hom aangeraak met die woorde: 'Ek wil dit vir jou doen. Word gesond!'"

(My direct translation of the Afrikaans) - "Jesus became profoundly sorry, stretched out His hand and touched him with the words: 'I want to do this for you. Become healthy!'"

Jesus... touched him with the words.  This translation leaves a bit of ambiguity (though it's more likely my poor translation) - did Jesus just stretch out His hand toward the man and use His words to heal, or did He touch him both physically and with His words? This imagery of touching someone with words - touching them enough to bring some sort of inner healing - is strong.

Maybe the primary healing you need is emotional. Maybe I have words to touch you, to heal you. Maybe the healing I need is spiritual or intellectual. Maybe you can touch me with healing words. The question is, do you want to do that?  Do I want to do that? Do we have the time in our busy schedules?  Time to be flexible?

We're all lepers in one way or another. Jesus wanted to heal the leper in Mark 1:41, and I believe He wants to work through us to heal people today.  May we all become "profoundly sorry" - especially when we can do something about it - and may we touch others with words that bring healing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Potholes on the Road to Acculturation

Let's bring this back to living cross-culturally, shall we?

When I first moved to South Africa, I tried so hard to fit in that I pretended I wasn't American (or just kept quiet so no one would hear my accent).  I rejected my home culture and tried to be 100% South African.  This, of course, was not possible nor wise.

I then swung to the other end of the pendulum:  I'm American; so what?  I like celebrating Independence Day, I like eating peanut butter with chocolate, and I'm proud of my country's history of ingenuity and optimism (yes, we have our weaknesses, but let's focus on the strengths for a moment).

After that I settled somewhere in the middle:  I appreciate South Africa.  I appreciate the United States.  I'm now perhaps a little bit of both, and while I may never completely belong to South Africa (while also never belonging fully to the United States now), I have the added richness of seeing two different cultures through a unique lens.

There are rough patches on the journey of acculturation, though, that sometimes leave me feeling disoriented and jarred (even now I'm debating whether to write 'disorientated' or 'disoriented' because the English is different between the two countries).

It seems that people around the world enjoy picking on the United States and Americans. I am making a sweeping generalisation, but it comes up often enough that I find it worthy of comment.  In having to listen to jokes about Americans, I have gone from laughing with the joke teller ("We deserved that one!" or "So true!") to taking it personally ("You pick on us, but look in the mirror... are you really that different?") to feeling confused these days.
I have reached an eddy in the river of my cultural adjustment and I find myself going around and around in circles of thought whenever I hear someone picking on Americans ("We're not all fat.  We're not all stupid. I do know where Azerbaijan is on the map! I know you're not directing the joke at me personally but I do take it personally!  I am American.  How am I supposed to feel when you say 'those people' - which instantly puts a wall up between you and me?  If you only knew how hard I have worked to understand you, to learn your language, to study your music, art, literature, cuisine and history... would you still make the joke?").

I am overly sensitive at this stage.  I know that I take "American jokes" - which are general in nature - personally.  I become defensive.  I feel embarrassed.  I want to become invisible so that nothing I do gives myself away as being American.  I even want to cry at times.  Why, after four years, does this still affect me so much?

It affects me because I want to belong.  On most days I feel like I do.  I forget that I am an American living in South Africa.  I am just me - with my work, friends, ministry, life and neighbours - and I fit in just fine.  The jokes jolt me out of that security like a splash of cold water in the face, like potholes on the journey.  And I'm not very good at navigating potholes... yet.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Benefit of Solitude

"One can be instructed in society; one is inspired only in solitude." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peace in the Busyness

 I feel such a sense of peace today.  Oh sure, my schedule is hectic and I have more work to do than I have hours in the day (and how do I prioritise it all?), but my heart is at peace.  For five minutes - a mere five minutes - I just sat with my coffee and let myself be.  In the presence of God and aware of the beauty around me, I felt my heart rate slow, my muscles relax, and my soul find rest. 

I know that life is busy for most of us but I really do think that if we can find a few minutes each day to be still with no agenda other than to sit and be in God's presence, we will be pleasantly surprised.  We will discover a keener awareness of the beauty that is all around us.  We will anchor our spirit in God's love.  And we will find the strength we need for each day.

"Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence. He is inviting you - and me - to come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created. His arms are stretched wide out to receive us. His heart is enlarged to take us in. For too long we have been in a far country: a country of noise and hurry and crowds, a country of climb and push and shove, a country of frustration and fear and intimidation. And He welcomes us home... you are welcome to come in... with simplicity of heart we allow ourselves to be gathered up into the arms of the Father and let Him sing His love song over us." - Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dancing on the Freeway

I once watched a TED talk on "The Shared Experience of Absurdity."  In it, Charlie Todd suggests that we have to be willing to look absurd in order to bring joy to others (specifically strangers) and cause them to smile.  I thought, "Okay, as long as it's not me!"  Today, however, it was apparently my turn.

I got stuck on the freeway for over an hour - not inching along slowly, but literally stopped for one hour.  I noticed that everyone around me was hot and bothered and grumpy, including myself.  I decided to see if I could turn the situation around.  I turned on Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba (the 1967 version) and started to dance in my car (you can't *not* dance to that song!).  Some people gave me funny looks while others smiled - their whole countenance changed and we waved at one another.  I decided to take it a step further (no pun intended).

I rolled my windows down.  I turned my music up.  I stepped out of my car, and I danced on the freeway.  ON the freeway!  There was a construction vehicle behind me.  The construction workers got out and danced with me.  For forty minutes I connected with other people... people with whom I never would have connected had I not been stuck in traffic and had I not been willing to look a bit foolish.  It was incredible!  

When the traffic finally cleared and we began to move, the whole truck of construction workers waved and shouted "Good-bye!" to me. And as strange as it sounds, I actually felt a connection and solidarity with these strangers.  For an hour, we were fellow travelers - not just on a freeway that wasn't moving - but on the journey of life.  For one hour, we shared a bit of joy.

Was it worth it, given the multiple other vehicles filled with drivers who thought I was a complete idiot?  Most emphatically, definitely, absolutely ... YES! 

By the way, here's a video of the song that got today's dance party started:

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Quote on Why We Need to Make More Mistakes

 "The book Art and Fear brings us the story of a pottery teacher who tells half his class they'll be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produce. He'll even use a scale to weigh their output and determine their grade. Fifty pounds of pots would rate an A, for example. The other half would be graded on quality and need only produce one pot - a perfect one - to get an A.

"'The works of highest quality,' the authors reported, 'were all produced by the group being graded for quantity... while they were busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the quality group had sat theorising about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.'

"I see the pottery metaphor play out at conferences. Some speakers are buttoned up, flawless, measured, and practiced, with an expert-focused answer for everything.  They don't risk much - or ultimately - give much. They are too involved in relentless self-monitoring, creating the perfect pot. Others learn as much from the people they are speaking to - they give and they take, they ride the wave that is in the room at the time, not the one they hoped might be there or the one they planned against as some do; instead, they stumble over new insights and acknowledge the stumble. They co-create meaning with the people in the room, they are subject-focused - they make a lot of pots, taking me along for the ride, letting me see myself in their story." - from Life is a Verb, by Patty Digh

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Yet Another Strange and Beautiful Story

I... I don't know where to begin. I've been at a worship academy conference this weekend. I want to learn how to worship more authentically; I want my very life to be an act of worship.

Tonight a man who is visiting from Cardiff, Wales, prayed with me. He looked at me and said, "Anna... that's a beautiful name" (My nametag said "Annie"... how could he have known that God calls me "Anna"?)

He then looked me in the eye and said, "You don't need a university qualification to measure up with God." I was speechless. I struggle with feeling that I don't measure up and my biggest regret in life is that I don't have a university qualification. He couldn't possibly have known this, and yet... his words cut to the marrow of my soul. I felt as if God Himself was speaking to me.

God has been blowing my paradigm completely out of the water this week. Things that don't make sense are happening to me each day. I can't explain them or even comment on them except to say that God has my full attention and I am listening and aware with every fibre of my being.

My first name means "Grace" and my second name means "Pure". Pure Grace. I want to step into that name and wear it as though it were the most natural thing in the world. I want to be a reflection of Jesus. Every cell in my body cries out for this. Oh God, make me like You! Let me be an instrument of Grace that touches the world with Your love, that offers a cool, refreshing drink to those who are thirsty and that shares hope when all else points to despair.

I love Pretoria. I love South Africa. Thank You for bringing me here. I am blessed beyond words.

Another Strange and Beautiful Story

A woman came to my door yesterday.  She was a stranger, and she was holding a beautifully-wrapped gift in her hand.

"This is for you," she said.

I was puzzled.  "But... why?"

"It's from Josi," she replied.  "For your birthday."

My birthday was four months ago, and Josi - who used to be my next-door neighbour - moved away several years ago.

I invited the woman in, offered her something to drink, and in the course of our conversation discovered that she had formerly been a colleague of Josi's.  Through a strange string of events, she was in the town where Josi now lives (a two-hour's drive from Pretoria).  Josi knew she would be passing through Pretoria and asked her to give the gift to me.

I am amazed and humbled at how God seems to be lavishing His love on me this week.  I know my issue is not measuring up, but I really don't deserve this.  And the truth is, none of us do... and all of us do.  God chooses to lavish His love on us.  He declares us worthy of that love.  This is just beginning to dawn on me, and I feel a smile beginning to creep across my face...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Strange and Beautiful Story

I had a meeting with my boss this morning.  We met at a café, and in the course of our meeting a woman shyly came up to our table and addressed me:

"I'm sorry for interrupting, but I have to tell you something.  Every day I come here with a newspaper, and while I'm doing the crossword puzzle I pray for the people in the café.  I feel like I'm supposed to tell you this: You have a very sensitive spirit and you shouldn't think of that as a bad thing.  You should use it to share with others; God has given you a gift of sensitivity and you need to embrace it.  I also feel like I'm supposed to share 1 Peter 4:10-12 with you."

She turned bright red and said, "You probably think I'm crazy and didn't take my meds this morning."

I looked at her with admiration.  "No, I think you're a beautifully brave woman to come up to a complete stranger and share from your heart.  Thank you so much for having the courage to do that. I appreciate what you said."

I'm not sure what to make of it except to do what Mary did in Luke 2:19 - "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

I share this with you for two reasons:
  1. Encouragement often comes from the unlikeliest of sources.  Be open to the surprise!
  2. If God puts it upon your heart to share something, be brave enough to do it.  You never know what fruit it may produce.