Thursday, December 23, 2010

Update: Part 2

A little late, perhaps, but for those of you who do not already know, I wish to share some good news! I have received the lab results back following my surgery, and all is now well and clear, as I have been deemed “cancer-free!”

There will be steps to follow such as monitoring to make sure if it does resurface, we can again catch it early. However, since I am leaving South Africa soon and this will be an ongoing process, I have decided this will wait until I return to the USA in March.

Thank you to all for the love, support, encouragement and prayers! I’m calling this an early Christmas gift. :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday

Today is a public holiday here in South Africa, which to me sounds like an invitation to just “be.” I've had lots of necessary time to rest lately, and now I think my body is transitioning from needing this rest into just really liking the rest and extra sleep, even if I don't need it.

But today, I don’t mind.

So as I write this (on my iPod), I'm lying on my bed with all the windows around me open. Light music is playing in the background. Fresh, cool air is pouring in: I wonder if it's going to rain? If not today then likely tomorrow. I look up and see purple: my mosquito net is untidily swept behind me, not serving it's purpose, of course, but then again on a carefree day like today, who cares?

There is work I could or probably should be doing, but instead, I am doing this: "work" I believe to be good for my soul. It's been a hectic couple of weeks and it's nice to have peace, quiet and rest amidst a day when I'm finally feeling alright. I'm now only waiting on peace of mind that I hope will come with lab results on Monday. ... But that's not today. For today, or at least for this morning, I'm on holiday…

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Update

It has been a while since I’ve updated, and much has happened.

I would like to begin where my last post left off: I am thankful for the many people who read my posts here, and (whether they read them or not) for the countless people all over the world who pray for me.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a roller-coaster. In short, what began as a routine procedure to have a mole removed, turned out to not be so “routine.”

In fact, when I saw the dermatologist, he told me he wasn’t sure it was a mole at all, but rather a skin growth that wasn’t anything to be concerned about. But at my request, he cut it out just to “be safe,” as it was irritating me. This may have been the best decision of my life.

I left with a promise that the results would be phoned to me within about a week. Two days later, I got that phone call that everyone dreads, “Ms. Tyler, the doctor would like to see you as soon as possible. Could you come in within the next hour, or first thing in the morning?”

As I was only a couple of blocks away, I canceled my other appointment for the afternoon and went straight there; the last thing I needed was to worry about such an appointment until the next morning! Unfortunately, the doctor presented me with the very news I dreaded most: the mole he removed was malignant; I had melanoma. The verb here is important, though: “had.” We caught it very, very early, and due to the size, depth, rate of growth, etc., they were mostly sure it had all, already been removed.

As I took in the news, the doctor took the liberty of making an appointment for me: I needed to see a surgeon immediately to have a larger area excised as a precautionary measure: to do so is the only way we can be sure it had all been removed. Because the growth was on my face (right temple), I would be going to a plastic surgeon. Hopefully, this would be the best way to reduce scaring.

I met with the surgeon 5 days later, and watched panic move across his face as he read my lab results as sent by the referring doctor. With a great calm and incredible confidence, he was stern but clear: this could not wait. He checked his schedule and seemed to rearrange a few things to work it out: he would operate the next day.

The operation was a bit bigger than anticipated. The doctor cut out an area just over an inch in diameter and 7mm deep (I didn’t know there was that much skin/tissue in that area!). I was awake for the whole procedure and would be lying if I told you it were pleasant, but it certainly could have been worse. 2 hours and about 50 stitches (internal and external) later, I emerged with a sideways “V”-shaped battle wound covered in layers of bandages wrapped all the way around my head.

4 days later, and I’m feeling worlds better. We’ve removed the giant bandages (now just taping over the sutures), and the doctor is very, very pleased with how it is healing. Amidst celebrations of good healing comes a celebration that I have maintained movement on the right side of my face, which was questionable because he had to cut through areas with critical nerves, leaving a chance I’d lose movement on the right side of my face.

I’m still battling exhaustion from all I’ve undergone in the past couple of weeks (did I mention we moved in the middle of this?), but as my headache gets lighter and the swelling goes down, I’m feeling better by the day.

Later this week I should be able to get the stitches taken out, at which time the lab results should also be back. I’m praying for good news and that this part of the journey has come to an end here. Then, post-holidays, I will move forward with plans to have all my moles mapped and skin evaluated, as if the melanoma chooses to return, I want to catch it as early then as I did this time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite (secular) holiday. It is a holiday that traditionally comes from a historical celebration of the first harvest after settlers arrived in the “Promised Land” that is now the United States. On this day, we celebrate the first harvest by gathering around a table filled with lots of seasonal foods such as pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes and, of course, turkey.

It has become my favorite holiday because there are so few expectations on it. No gifts to give, no huge preparations to make. Just family, friends and food. It doesn’t get any better than that!

I have made it my tradition that, in the season of being “thankful” on “Thanksgiving,” I make sure to record at least one thing I am thankful for every day in the month of November (Thanksgiving is always the last Thursday in November). Also, as we gather with friends to share in a harvest-themed feast, we go around and each share at least one thing we are thankful for. Sometimes it feels a little cheesy or cliche, but really, truly, we all have much to be thankful for, and spent too little time expressing that gratitude.

So this year, as I am far, far away from home and many other Americans, I have done my bit not to let this holiday just pass me by. I was overwhelmed with messages wishing me well on Thanksgiving, and greatly appreciated the thoughts and efforts of especially my friends here in South Africa.

I spent Thanksgiving day with my “family” here in South Africa, and while we didn’t share in a traditionally Thanksgiving meal, somehow, I suppose with a bit of subconscious effort, we did share in an “American” meal: I made (ostrich) burgers, salad, corn on the cob for dinner… and even apple pie for dessert. Certainly a first for a Thanksgiving day meal, but delightfully delicious all the same.

Then came the next day: Black Friday. While Americans all over were out shopping and kicking off the Christmas season, I was preparing for a day-late Thanksgiving feast with friends. Kyle (a fellow American working for the Methodist Church of Southern Africa) and I had planned for it and together joined forces to prepare a feast! We had it all: turkeys (3!), stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, jello salad, sweet corn… and of course pumpkin and apple pies.

At first we thought we’d have too much food, but it turned out we had underestimated the ability of our friends to eat! It was a great feast, a wonderful celebration, and remains my favorite holiday no matter where in the world I am. And today, two days after the official “Thanksgiving” day, I am overwhelmed with the number of things and people in my life I have to be thankful for.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Self Care

Sometimes, an excuse is all thats necessary.

Sometimes, that excuse is as simple as, “its good for my soul.”

Which, I suppose, is to say that I need no excuse at all.

What am I talking about, you wonder? A reason to go. To get away from the city and find peace under the large oak trees at a campground near Stellenbosch.

Why wait for a weekend or a holiday or other “reason” to go, when my very-flexible schedule allows me to go on a Wednesday night?

So that’s what we did. We left after Lisa finished work on Wednesday, and we both went straight back to work when we arrived back in Cape Town early Thursday afternoon.

The weather was perfectly stunning, the timing was right, and we kept reminding each other that this much fun was okay - even in the middle of the week.

Time well spent, and indeed, it was “good for my soul.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jesus Is Our Backhoe

"Jesus is our Backhoe"
If I were to title it, that would have been the title of my sermon this morning.

Based on my experience of life in America where everyone knows what a backhoe is, it made for a great (albeit comical when it stands alone!) visionary tool. So yea! I quite like it when things work out like this.

The problem with this is: Context. I didn’t realize that no one here knew what a backhoe was! After the first service, someone asked me and told me they thought it was a bird. oops! (Fortunately the way the example was staged, it seemed to work fine even without knowing exactly what a “backhoe” is).

So, lesson learned. I easily adapted and made due for the second service, eliminating surprise when the example “clicked” better for them.

So today comes the age-old lesson of not taking advantage of what people know… and today it comes with a bit of reminder that I’m “not in Kansas anymore.”

A year later, and I’m still learning. and to be honest, that’s my cause to smile today. I’m grateful for this small reminder of ways that we are living different but also such very similar lives. And I’m grateful for the ways it has reminded me of ways I’ve been blessed by this community that I now claim as my own. So much so, that sometimes I forget I once wasn’t, and perhaps they won’t understand the same references my church at “home” would.

If I’m going to forget anything, I’m grateful for this kind of “forgetfulness.” and I’m grateful for being able to share in worship with this great community.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Saints Day

Since Monday, I have been thinking about a tradition or “holiday” that I love in the church. A tradition that will be celebrated in churches throughout the world, including United Methodist Churches, this coming Sunday. The first Sunday of November is known as “All Saints Day.”

All Saints Day is a day when we as a church recognize the saints who have come before us. Often, we read the names of loved ones who have passed away in the previous year. I have taken part in All Saints Day practices from lighting candles to writing names on a strip of cloth that was later weaved together and used as an alter cloth.

It is a day to lift up and remember those who have come before us and led the way for us as Christians, as a body of believers, who claim to be, in the words of the Apostles Creed, a part of the “communion of saints.” “Communion of Saints,” of course, referring simply to a community made up of past, present and future disciples of Christ.

So tomorrow is All Saints Day, and I’m preaching. All week I have been battling with what to preach about. The Methodist Church here does not celebrate All Saints Day. Sure, I recognize that this does not mean the congregation would not appreciate a once-off celebration of the saints among us here. The problem is deeper than that, though: the problem is that I am aware I’m being called to preach on something else.

So the battle continues. I have two sermons: the one I want to preach, and the one that came from the lectionary text.

I have been cognitively aware of the difference in these two, affirmed now by the fact that the one that’s drawn from the text is finally coming to be, while the one I initially wanted to preach has come to a standstill and feels a bit un-inspired.

So there you have it: I feel a bit as if this week I have been wresting with these texts as Jacob wrestled with God, and am grateful that in the end, I am not the one who has won. I am sure this is not the first time such a match has taken place, and I know it will not be the last. I just pray that the next time such a match takes place, the winner is as clear as it has been today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Social Networks

Networks.

Recently I asked the Facebook world how they feel about Linked In. I get an invite about once a week, and wondered if it would be a good use of my time to create a profile. Do people use it? Is it helpful? Or would it be “just one more online source I won’t check or use anyway” (aka a procrastination tool for desperate times). The conclusion reached via facebook, in the words of one friend, is that it isn’t actually helpful for “pastor-types.” So I’ll skip it and stick to my blog and facebook, thank you.

It did get me thinking about the role of Facebook, though. What began as a “social network” for college students only, we know has now greatly changed, both in its use and in its function. I’ve become increasingly less picky as to who I add as “friends” these days, especially now that I’m living overseas. For obvious reasons, I am now unable to communicate as often with my family and friends in the US as I used to, and if used well, the online world can almost always offer an update of sorts on my life (either through pictures and status updates on Facebook, or here on my blog).

One thing about Facebook I have always said is that I don’t want to feel like I have to screen it or worry about what my friends might post. So “when I am appointed at a church,” I would say, “I’ll open a separate professional profile.” But now that seems like it would be a bit pointless, because the reality is, I won’t want to upkeep two profiles.

The other side of that is: I don’t feel I can just not “add friends,” either. So I have “friends” I have never met. Some are friends of friends, some are professional contacts. Some are church people who have supported me but I have never met face to face. Some are even people I indirectly work for (try saying no to that!) but have not yet met in a face-to-face encounter.

And all of the sudden, this Facebook thing that I always called a “social network” has become more than just “social.” I mean, I’m the girl that refused to add my mother as a Facebook “friend” because I insist that if she wants to know what’s going on in my life, she should pick up the phone and call me! But now I’m a world away and am increasingly less picky with who my “Friends” are - and I wonder: is there any point to such a filter?

So I’m curious, and looking for feedback. What do you think? Separate profiles? Give up on having a separation between a “personal” and “professional” page? Just say no? I wouldn’t want to hide my current page, I do want actual friends to be able to find and connect with me. But I also really like having a line between my personal and professional life, as well as a means of separation (such as when I leave a church someday and need to break ties as I start fresh at a new church). Is that break possible if I also have a life that is often communicated through the interwebs?

oh, the internet… and to think I haven’t even had a computer for ten years. and now I can’t imagine life without it...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thankful

Contrary to here in South Africa where there have been huge "HAPPY CHRISTMAS" signs hanging in the shops for a couple of weeks now, in the US, everyone is gearing up for Thanksgiving. and every American knows Christmas is not supposed to appear in the shops or on the radio until Black Friday - the day AFTER Christmas.

It seems these past couple of weeks of preparing and celebrating for some of these holiday traditions (Halloween, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving), I've been missing them. Little pieces of home that go with the changing of seasons. Sure, its a different change of seasons here, but as my fall turned to winter here last year, I still had holidays to mark that change: Easter, for example.

But this time, I'm left without those markers that bring the mark of the new season.

Seeing as how just living in another country doesn't take the American out of me, I've decided there are things about these traditions worth keeping, so I'm seeking to educate and share rather than lament them. To do that, I'm planning things like a Thanksgiving feast for a group of friends. Fortunately, there is one other resident American among that group of friends, so we'll be sharing in the cooking fun.

More than the food and the one day of celebration, I like that Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful. Via Facebook, a few friends have issued challenges to post something each day about what we are thankful for. I love this idea! To be honest, though, I likely won't change my status every day. But I will be writing down at least one new thing each day I am thankful for. Its only one thing - it isn't difficult!

American or not, I invite you to step up to this challenge as well. Feel free to share them publicly such as on Facebook, or to write them down in a journal. But record them, don't just think of them. What are you thankful for. Really? Then at the end of the month, we'll all have lists of things we will remember we are thankful for. As for me, I hope that list will be reflected as I then transition into the New Year - how can what I am thankful for today be celebrated and lived into in the new year? 2011 is just around the corner...

Today, I did post what I am thankful for, with a bit of a precursor, even. After a sleepless night of tossing and turning and eventually an early rise, I realized that I am thankful for shelter and a place to lie my head at night.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music

“Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.” -Coldplay, "The Scientist"

That’s what I love about music. Its poetry with a beat that triggers something, that moves so deep inside you don’t know its hit you until you can hear the words echoing deep inside.

I love that lines which seem so simple on some days, are complex and life-changing on others.

I love the challenge that comes with words that speak truth into my life. Truth that was there all along, but that I needed help seeing and understanding.

I suppose that’s why music is so important. Why it serves as a lifeline. Why most significant journeys or moments in my life are memories triggered by the music that spoke to me during that time. For music has spoken to me in moments of great sorrow and pain, as well as great joy and celebration. It tells of heartache and it tells of struggle. It tells the story of overcoming and stories of new life.

Music tells stories. Stories of your life. Stories of my life. Stories of those we will never meet. Stories.

Who would we be without stories? Our stories make us whole. Make us human. Bring us together. Connect us.

In the end, its the stories that are said so well in lines like this one that draw us back to earth from wherever we are, be it drowning in muck and despair or high on a joyous cloud or joy. And when we are drawn “back to earth” - its there that we meet and encounter and share our stories with “others” - stories without which we would cease to exist. Cease to be human.

We were created for each other. We were created to share stories. Historically, music was used for this. Today, nothing much has changed. Music helps us live, understand and share our stories.

Today, I’m grateful for the music in and of my life.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

In South Africa, they don't really celebrate Halloween

If I were in the USA, I would spend most of today buzzing around and preparing for the evening. I would have a costume picked out by now, and would have at least considered wearing it to church. This afternoon I would make sure all the sweets were ready, and anticipated the arrival of children as they come “trick-or-treating” in the evening.

For me, Halloween is an incredible example of what it means to be in community. While most of the year may pass without seeing some of my neighbors and their families, on this day, a simple porch light left on in the front of the house would indicate that all are welcome. Children would come dressed as their favorite cartoon character or superhero, and parents would walk with them, enjoying one another’s company almost as much as the children enjoy an excuse to dress in costumes and eat sweets.

For this one night, no one thinks about anything but the children. For children and adults alike, bed times go out the window. No matter if you are 5 or 55 or 95 years old, everyone dresses up, at the very least with a smile across the face, and is reminded of the importance of their role in the community. Each porch light left on is another opportunity to say hello, share a sweet, and check in on one another.

In some ways, this big community event reminds me of the Fete we’ve just had. People come out from all over to greet and support one another and to play an important role in the ongoing life of the church. Costumes were optional, but in the end everyone gets to go home with a treat of sorts, whether from the Lucky Dip, the Food Shop, the Good As New stall or one in between. There’s something for everyone, even if more often than not that something ends up being “the one thing you never knew you always wanted.”

Its traditions like these - be it Halloween or Fetes or other shared traditions we have - that remind us of the importance of community and invite us to get to know one another better. In many ways, Sunday mornings (for Christians) are like these annual traditions of gathering and supporting one another as a community. Wherever you find yourself today, take time to look around. Who is this community that surrounds you? Have you greeted them? Surely there is someone you don’t know or haven’t talked to in a while: why wait for a holiday or special occasion to greet them?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Plumstead Fete

This afternoon was Plumstead Methodist Church’s “Fete.” For my American friends who also come from churches who are not familiar with the idea, a Fete is a fundraising event, sort of like a Bazaar. For an entire year, people save up goods to be sold (cheaply) at the Fete. There are multiple stalls, and you can find almost anything: “like new” childrens' clothing and toys, handmade items from cards to clothes, used books, and an array of miscellaneous items that could only fit the category “white elephant.”. You know what they say: “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure!”

Of course, the most popular booths, true to human nature, tend to be the ones with food. Homemade sweets (we took home a cake and banana loaf) and jams (got some of those, too!), or the food shop, where people have donated food to be “sold” at a price discounted from what you would pay at the shop. You can get a cup of tea or coffee (or cool drink) inclusive of sweets or biscuits to go with them, or you can stop in for breakfast or lunch: the breakfast of bacon and eggs with toast was such a hit it sold out. Then there are items worth waiting around for: a picnic set and the most decadent cake of chocolaty goodness I have ever seen was a “raffle” item. This cake that was donated was so amazing it raised R700 - that’s $100! For a cake! I didn’t win it, but I did get to try a piece later, and I have to say: it tasted as amazing as it looked!

This huge event, stretching from the front garden (with activities for the children) and all through the church, was a great fundraising success. But its more than that, too. Its a tradition worth celebrating.

I’ve been at PMC for a couple of months now, and this was the first time I’ve been to church and been able to spend time with the community purely for the sake of spending time with them. Sure, there were fun things to look at and everyone wanted to support the cause. But that alone wasn’t reason for anyone to come. Not really. If it were, everyone could have simply handed over the cash they intended to spend and skipped the day altogether.

But then we wouldn’t have had a day well spent in reminder of what it feels like to be in community. I wouldn’t have met the spouses or extended family of people I see in church on occasion, or share in Bible Study with. I wouldn’t have been surrounded by people from both the 07:45 and 09:30 morning services, the Sunday school children, AND the youth, all in one place at the same time. If it weren’t for the Fete, I wouldn’t have been able to catch up with so many people without worrying about time constraints or what order or worship is coming up next…

Sure, the Fete is a fundraiser, and to be honest, it is sadly necessary to help meet the fiscal needs of the church. But its so much more than that. And this year, I’m grateful for the reminder of how great it is to be part of such an incredible community.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Doctors, Doctors and More Doctors...

One of the things that is really great about being where I am right now is how flexible my schedule is. Another is how caring the people I’m surrounded by are. Yet another still would be that I am living with a family who have been here long enough to be able to give me referrals when I need to go somewhere or do something.

When I first arrived, this referral was great, as it took me to the Sport Science Institute at Newlands. After seeing a couple specialists, I’m now going to a weekly knee class with the kinesiologist. Good stuff.

Following the beginning of sorting my knee, I began to focus on wholeness and health in other ways. For example, I’ve been battling with severe stomach cramps for a few months now. To be honest, I’ve brushed it aside and blamed it on stress, hoping that when I was removed from the high-stress environment, the physical side effects of the stress would also evaporate. While I’ve done the former, I’m sorry to report the later has not followed. So while the doctors I’ve seen have agreed it was likely (initially) stress-induced, stress deduction alone can’t make the body magically work properly again. Who knew? So I continue to make visits as we work toward physical wholeness and health. We are making progress, but it is a long, slow journey… and I’m learning to be patient.

I’ve basically decided that while I’m at it - why stop there? So today I went to an optometrist. I only wear my glasses when I’m reading or on a computer, but it has been three years since my last check up. I’ve been aware for some time that I’m in need of an updated prescription, so yesterday I made an appointment and today I had a check-up. Of course, keeping true to my nature these days, it could not be a simple or problem-free visit, so next week I’ll see a specialist and have some scans done. Due to similar scans I’ve had done in the past, I’m pretty confident this will be a simple check up with nothing exciting to discover. Better safe than sorry, though, so next week I’ll see another eye doctor…

Next on my list is a dentist. I wouldn’t want my schedule to fill up entirely with doctor visits so that I wouldn’t have time to get my other work done, so as soon as I finish with one of the doctors I’m regularly visiting now, I’ll make an appointment. I wouldn’t want too much excitement in life, after all.

But hey: at least I’m becoming well acquainted with the medical scene here in South Africa. and I must say: I’m impressed. I’ve had nothing less than quality care, and while medical care is not cheap anywhere in the world, I will confess I’d much rather pay for care here than back in the US of A!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Emily

If you read here often, you may remember me talking about a girl who I now consider like a little sister, and whose parents I consider good friends. Emily is one of the most brave people I have ever known, and her courage and hope and optimism are contagious.

I am happy for them that they have been able to be “home” in the USA for the past couple of months as Emily continues to receive treatment. But I miss them! and I wish I could be there for Jen, Matt and Emily as they continue to struggle. The road has not been easy, and they are still quite a distance from the end.

This week I was able to have a good conversation with Jen (Emily’s mom) over the phone for the first time since August. Emily had been on my heart and in my prayers more than usual lately, and I just felt I had to phone and check in. It was GREAT to talk to Jen and I hope to talk to Emily and Matt soon too, but more than that, I am glad for an update.

The thing about crises like Emily’s is this: everyone is there for you at first, and then people move on. You can’t blame them. People have lives they have to keep living, and while the Kerstetter’s lives have virtually stopped to give Emily time to heal, we understand that this can’t be the case for everyone.

But right now, I’m asking you to stop. And Pray.

Emily is not well, and continues to struggle with a great deal of pain. After being home for two weeks, she is back in the hospital again and facing more operations, as shrapnel remains in her right leg and is causing problems.

We knew it would not be an easy road for Emily, but we also hoped it would not be this difficult. Please join us in prayer supporting Emily and her family. Her spirits are down and the more she struggles, the harder it is becoming to pick them back up again. Pray for her family (mom, dad, sister) as they care for her and try to find balance in their lives that have all but stopped.

Please keep praying with me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There's No Place Like Home...

For me, the most difficult part of living in another country is being away from people. To be honest, most of the time I don’t really miss my friends and family, but perhaps that is because modern technology allows me to stay in touch with them almost as well as if I only lived across the country.

Almost.

The reality is, I don’t. This makes for a few tough scenarios. One is obvious: while I am still technically just a plane ride away (as I was in Chicago), it is a very long and expensive plane ride, making it difficult for me to realistically fly back and forth. This means I have missed several events in my one year in South Africa that I would not have missed had I been anywhere in the continental United States. For example, I have a nephew who will have his first birthday in a couple of weeks, and I am yet to meet him. That simply would not have happened. I have also missed several weddings and even a family reunion to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my grandparents: an event I may never live down (or forget) missing.

Aside from missing events such as these, there is one other thing I really miss: phone calls. For one thing, it is expensive to call here, so it just doesn’t make sense for anyone to phone me when we can speak for free over skype or I can phone the US for something like 1/10 the cost of someone phoning me from there.

So yes: we have skype. Honestly, it has rescued me from more than one of “those days” when I just really needed someone from “home” to talk to. But when those moments come, or when I remember it is a birthday and want to phone and wish you the best, or when I see something that I would like to send in a picture message (from one phone to the next), the computer and internet and skype are not always convenient. Nor available. Nor functioning with a proper connection. Or if they are, the time of the day is off just enough that while I’d like to phone you on my lunch break, something tells me you wouldn’t appreciate a 6am wake up call.

Today was one of those days for me. All is well in the camp here, but it would sure be nice to pick up a phone sometimes. But I’m sure life will go on and all will be well tomorrow. So thanks for reading my rant, and while you’re at it, I invite you to lift up a little prayer for whoever else in the world may be feeling this way at the time you’re reading this.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rocking The Daisies

First things first: Its 10/10/10!!! and its barely past 10:10pm. This only happens once a century, so we should celebrate it! :)

This weekend was GREAT. If you know me even a little bit, there are a few things you will already know. 1 - I love live music. 2 - I love spending time with people and in crowds. 3 - I love the outdoors and camping! 4 - I think it is important that we are mindful of the environment around us and believe we should find eco-friendly, sustainable ways to live.

Lisa, Amy & I appreciating the shade
away from the hot afternoon sun.

This weekend with a group of friends to Rocking The Daisies, a 3-day music festival that takes place annually just north of Cape Town. Our initial “reason” for going was to see Greg play with his band, Nomadic Orchestra. When I agreed to go, I literally knew nothing more about the weekend than that. Let me tell you: it was GREAT!

Ok, so to be honest it wasn’t entirely my scene. I appreciate the culture and energy of the vibe, but I’m just not a hipster: never have been, never will be. But it sooo didn’t matter. and I loved it anyway!

So we had hours on end of live music of nearly any type you can imagine. While I recognize I am biased, I must say my favorite act was without a doubt Nomadic Orchestra - trust me when I tell you that it is a music anyone will love, and anyone can dance to. What’s not to love about Balkan music?

To top of how awesome this music festival was, consider its mantra: “Play Hard, Tread Lightly.” They didn’t sell bottles of water, they invited you to buy a reusable bottle (for cheap!) and refill it with cold, filtered water for free the rest of the weekend. They had entire stalls made up of recycled material. Free t-shirts and bags were given away that were, you guessed it: made of recycled material. They had compost and recycling bins at the ready for use of the campers. They offered free tickets to anyone who walked to the festival instead of driving, and tickets were half price if you cycled. They really were creative in encouraging people to be mindful of ways to “tread lightly.”

So we’re camping. We’re listening to music. There’s lots of people. and they cared about the environment.
I’m home. I’m happy. I’m exhausted. Basically, it was a great weekend with great people, and I’m ready to do it again!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Friends.

Here it is nearly midnight and I’m exhausted and somehow WIDE awake. Not that its a surprise, given the excitement of the past week.

This past week I was blessed to have two visitors come and spend a few days with me. My friends Amanda and Hannah, both fellow young adult missionaries with The United Methodist Church, took their leave to come and spend time with me here in the beautiful city of Cape Town. Hannah, my former roommate and co-worker while I was in Joburg/at SHADE, flew down from Joburg to spend 5 days here, while Amanda deserves a medal for flying all the way from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA for only one week’s stay.

The week was filled with tours, site-seeing, wine tasting, coffee drinking, beach-sitting and mountain climbing (well, only a little because my knees are still not well). The weather was very cooperative, as it was clear and beautiful all but one day. Pretty good for this time of year!

We did have a hiccup in our journey, as a puncture on the side of the highway left us with one handbag and very expensive camera being stolen. Certainly one of the most difficult and helpless feelings I’ve experienced in a while as we watched a man run away with all of  Hannah’s belongings. While it is always sad to lose things, the great sentimental value of her belongings that ran away before our eyes were definitely the greatest loss, putting into perspective the things we take advantage of. We could be heard wishing he had taken all of our money and valuables but left behind things like her little red notebook filled with thoughts, memories and priceless writings, while at the same time we were grateful to be safe and were “just glad no one got hurt.”

Despite the struggle and heartache that came with this isolated event, we found ourselves making the very best of the time we had together. We even made light of the unexpected couple of hours spent in the Khayelitsha Police Department, as it provided an opportunity for Amanda to have a small tour of a township and a look into the RSA police. By the way, I must say: I have never, EVER had a better experience with police than we had that day at the Khayelitsha Police Department. To the officers and staff we encountered: well done, and Thank You for your incredible service and dedication. Hats off to you. Really.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances requiring our presence there, the couple of hours spent being well cared for at the PD were more representative of this week spent with good friends than of the 2 minutes that caused much distress. (And for any worried about safety, I remind you of the first words out of Amanda’s mouth upon a discussion about safety: “Wait, you’ve never had anything like this happen? I’ve even been mugged in New Orleans - it happens everywhere!”)

So that’s our check back into reality, and looking back over the rollercoaster of the past week, I am left with few words other than “Thank you.” Thank you, Amanda and Hannah, for your visit. It is SO GOOD for me to have the reality check of friends. Friends who serve as a mirror, really, as through time with them I am able to see reflections back of myself. Reflections of ways I have grown, adapted or changed over the past 12 months. Next week will mark one year since I first arrived in South Africa, and this visit was 2 things for me: a timely reflection back on who I am and how I’ve grown, and time to be refreshed and renewed through opportunities to be surrounded by familiar, welcoming, gentle friendships that offer perspective, reassurance, love and support that can only be given by an “old” friend who knew me prior to this experience.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ysterplaas Airshow

After a beautiful day on Friday and using the public holiday as an excuse to sit in a coffee shop for a couple of hours followed by a stroll around Kalk Bay, I was almost surprised at how great the follow-up weather on Saturday was!

3 of a kind! Can you see
the family resemblance?

By around 9 this morning, breakfast was eaten, lunch was made, and Lisa, Jessica and I were on our way out the door on another beautiful day! On today’s agenda was nothing less than driving out to Milnerton for the Ysterplaas air show! I struggle a bit with the concept of an air show because of the waste and how much fuel is burned in preparation for and during the two-day show terrifies me. But I don’t recall ever going to an air show, so I was excited all the same.

It was another hot day but for most of the morning, the cool Cape wind kept us from overheating.
Lisa at the controls in a military tank
The displays put up were full of information and a couple were even active. Lisa had the energy and excitement of a child, keeping us engaged and excited alongside her as we watched and explored. There were divers from the navy in a tank who fetched our coins for us if we threw them in and tankers we were invited to step into.

In the air there were jets spinning circles and flying upside down, big old planes that looked like they were from WWII-era, helicopters flying in a line, and of course: the mock battle. The mock battle, I must say, was definitely the coolest of all. It all began with 11 people jumping from a plane and reminding me that I want to do that one day soon… and what followed was quite impressive. I know that I understand very little about the skill actually required to fly these aircraft, but in what I have begun to imagine, I am blown away by the precision and skill displayed this afternoon. This is when I realized why people go to the air show. The “mock battle” alone made it worth it. Seriously.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Put Your Right Knee In...

...and don't shake it all about. But for some reason the Hokie Pokie is stuck in my head today. I hope it can be stuck in yours now, too - and bring a smile to your face. :)

The thing with knees is: I began having pains in my right knee (my “good” knee- not the one I’ve already had an operation on) about 3 weeks into the Ride:Well Tour in 2009 (which you may remember was an 8-week tour). During the tour, I just took anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving meds to “get by.” After the tour, I didn’t go to a doctor but was told by my medically-inclined friends that if I let it rest and wasn’t too active for a while, the problem should take care of itself.

Unfortunately, its a year later and that didn’t happen. So after a few doctors visits and an MRI, I hear the doctor tell me, “if you let it rest for about 6-8 weeks, the pain should just go away.” Then I tell him how long its been, and how much activity I’ve been doing lately (not much, its too painful!)… and he’s surprised. So off to plan B.

Yesterday, I returned to the Sports Science Institute to “check into rehab.”

This comes with a mixed set of emotions. First, I’m frustrated because they want me doing so little that if possible, I’m even driving to work now. Yes, to the church that is a 15 minute walk. *sigh* The good news: at least I have access to a car and am able to follow these directions without much hassle! I am aware few would have such a luxury.

Second, I’m disappointed because 8 weeks really cuts into things like… summer that is now around the corner! and what am I looking forward to most as summer arrives? Hiking! Running! Walking everywhere! Getting out, being active, and spending time wandering around in nature. Alas, that will have to wait for awhile.

At the end of the day, though, despite my disappointment or wish for some miracle, I’m grateful it isn’t something more serious. Last week, I was anxious all week as I feared the doctor may request I have some sort of surgery. So at the end of the day, if they think some different stretches or exercises can help my body heal itself from the inside out, I’m all for it. They even have me wearing some pretty blue spider tape on my right knee. And while I was unsure about it at first, one day in and I’m already convinced its somehow working its “magic.” I’m even thinking of going in next week and having both knees taped before Amanda arrives (!!!) for a visit, as I know we’ll be out and about more than I “should” be right now.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Afternoon Tea

Summer is finally getting close. Here in Cape Town, it has been raining a lot… and while I understand that rain is good and healthy and we need it… I’m also just ready for it to stop!

Mostly, this is because I know that the rains stopping are a sure sign that summer is arriving. and I can’t wait for summer! The gloom, the cold, the overcast skies, and now the rain here in Cape Town, have become daunting and old, and I’m ready to move on to new things!

That is why I was so pleased to see sunshine this weekend. It was still a bit cool, but as long as there are semi-clear skies and sunshine, that matters little.

To celebrate the beautiful weather and (almost) cloud-free mountain, we had afternoon tea at Kirstenbosch gardens this afternoon. As much time as I’ve spent in Cape Town, and somehow I had never been to Kirstenbosch, so this was really a treat! It was a perfect day for it as I sat with Lisa, Amy, Jess and Greg and took in the day’s final rays of sun, watched adorable children take turns rolling down the hill, and snapped a few photos.

All in all, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon/evening.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blessed to be a Blessing

My friend Veronica runs a school for 3-5 year olds in a run-down, difficult community. Appropriately named "iThemba," which means "Hope," this school in Capricorn (part of the Vryground community) is across the street from a drug house and few houses down from a shabeen. There is no sense in trying to protect the children that attend her school from what comes alongside such settings: they already know. By the time the children (ages 4-5) reach her classroom, they’ve seen it all. They know more about life and its hard lessons than most pre-teens. Or at least more than I did when I was that age.

For example: one morning this week, they had a discussion about how things were going for them at home. As they sat innocently in a circle on the carpet, two of her pupils (again, 4-5 years old) told a story of how they’d accidentally lit a bush on fire: while smoking cigarettes. Last week, she reports, they had a conversation about condoms and what they’re used for, because one of her students brought one and asked, and other students snickered in disbelief that they didn’t know. If she doesn’t talk to them, Veronica says to me, someone else will. It may as well be a conversation in a safe, controlled environment.

I will never be one to tell you that I had an easy childhood. I didn’t. From a young age, I too saw and experienced things no young child should ever have to. And yet, I cannot even begin to imagine what life is like for these children.

So today, I asked if I could just come and spend the day with them. I had no agenda except to support my friend who has a very, very difficult job. After being shown around the school, I made my way the the playground where the children were carrying on doing what these children should do often but seldom get the chance to: play. I ran races, spun in circles, pushed swings, climbed on a jungle gym cheered as they took turns on a slide.

I saw and experienced what I was told to expect, but how it felt cannot be so easily described. The pain, the distress, and the need to be loved was more evident in this group of 50 children than in any other group I have ever encountered. It was heartbreaking.

and yet… while it may be selfish, it also absolutely made my day. Not to see the hurt and the pain and the need, but to be able to see them be loved and cared for. Not by me! Good heavens, I hope I was able to love them a bit, but they need more than an afternoon. They need consistency and discipline and structure: these too are forms of great love. At this school, I know they have that.

They have that because my friend Veronica and her colleagues are the most committed, hard working, loving people I have ever seen at work.

Others told me what a strong, wonderful woman Veronica was and that maybe a visit would be an opportunity to encourage her. No doubt this was true, but it also served as something more: an opportunity for me to see the hands and feet of Jesus hard at work in the form of a beautiful woman who knows nothing less than how to love people well.

I pray that my own ministry can one day be even a remote reflection of what hers looks like. and I pray for Veronica’s continued courage and passion as she works to share the love of Christ with the children of her school in Capricorn.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moving Uncomfortably Slow

Its been a while since I updated, and things have been slow to get moving here. It is taking time to get to know people, to network, to become acquainted with the community I will be working with over the next few months.

It has been a slow journey to get moving, and, honestly, I have resented that at some times. I am used to being busy, all the time. When at SHADE, it felt like there was always something to do, always a deadline to meet. While it was (mostly) fulfilling work, we worked hard, long hours, and it was exhausting. Now that I’m on the other side of the spectrum, I don’t really know what to do with myself!

I am grateful for the support I have received and the encouragement to “take advantage” of this time. I know those words are right, but it is a difficult shift of mind and body (and spirit). I am working on not feeling guilty about not working when there is not work to do. Or not feeling guilty for having time off during “business hours” even when I know I have to go back to “work” for evening meetings or Bible Studies… or on Sunday mornings, for that matter.

Truly, I know better than to complain about there not being work to do in a church. There is ALWAYS work to be done in a church and I am well aware of that! But I am looking forward to investing more in the work I have come here to do, and until that ball is rolling a bit faster, I imagine I will continue to struggle with the “in between.” I just pray that until then, I will find a way to appreciate the gift of time that has been granted to me.

After all, after everything I have been through in the past few months, this “time” is likely just what I need. Now I must just make a way to live into that more fully…

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It Is Well...

This week I had one of “those moments” when all felt like it was right and good in the world again.

It had been a while since such a moment passed for me, and it was quite a relief.

I am always marveled at the passion, hard work and dedication of people who have served through important ministries for long periods of time. Once a week, Plumstead Methodist Church hosts a soup kitchen-type ministry known as “Hands and Feet.” It is a ministry to “street people” in the area, takes place each Tuesday morning, and has been led by one such dedicated individual for the past seven years. I appreciated the time, thought and effort he offered as he introduced me to a few people and offered some thoughts on the community, the program, and why its important. I am looking forward to returning and hearing more.

Following my visit, I entered into another conversation about the history of the ongoing mission related ministries at the church. I discovered a space to learn, a space to ask questions, and a space to reflect on my “outsiders” perspective of what mission in a church  - in this church - does/can/should look like. Though a brief conversation, I discovered it to be a life-giving one. and in the midst of that discovery, I discovered something else: that perhaps this is the conversation I was called here to have. It certainly fits into my “job description,” but more than that, I am realizing that these are the questions I feel called to ask alongside the support, leadership and hope I feel called to give.

It has been a while since such a short, simple conversation was so rejuvenating - and I am grateful to be called awake for such a case as this.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reception

Well, friends: it is official. I must be back working in a church again; I can consider no other good reason for sitting in a meeting for nearly 3hrs in the evening!

I have spent this week as a bit of orientation as I prepare to dive fully into work here. In the short few days I have been here, small but important steps have been taken toward settling in. I have been given an office at Plumstead Methodist Church, I have made my first home visit and as a result a few new friends. We have even come up with a contract and job description, which we presented for approval at a church meeting tonight.

No matter where I go, no matter what titles I am given, no matter how much experience I’ve had, there is still one thing about any sort of ministry that remains consistent: it frightens the daylight out of me! Perhaps this is why, though I anticipated a warm welcome by this church who has been nothing but kind to me, the reaction I got tonight was somehow both overwhelming and incredibly humbling.

I was not just welcomed as another order of business, as perhaps I expected. My reception came with responses of genuine joy that I would be able to stay for longer than a few days this time. I received an overwhelming response of joy and thanksgiving that I am not sure I can express in words except to say that it could not have been warmer.

The warm welcome, of course, only humbles me more in acknowledging the privilege and power of change that can come in the next five “short” months. I am reminded of what great opportunities lie before us - both for me and for the congregation. I am reminded of who has called me, why I am called, and that for these reasons, I must push on regardless of the circumstances that have brought me to this place.

I am grateful that today I have been given more reasons to celebrate this journey, difficult as it may have been. and I look forward to more days of celebration and joy in the months to come.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Running Start

Today was my first full day in Cape Town, and it was certainly an eventful one.

It started beautiful with a peaceful (dry!) walk to the Plumstead Methodist Church, where I how great it is to be in “family worship” and to have a sermon be just the words I didn’t know I needed to hear. It was a good reminder of why I have come to love the church and faith communities so much. It has been a long time since I have had a church I could call home, and yet there is something about PMC that gives me that feeling every time, even as I am only beginning to get to know this community.

After church I had breakfast and spent the rest of the morning/early afternoon doing one of my favorite things that I haven’t done in months: I spent the morning reading the newspaper. Funny how its the small things that can make one so content.

Mid-afternoon I went with Pete and Lisa to another church in the circuit. The youth at the Methodist Church in Vryground, an informal settlement within our circuit, invited us for a program they prepared. They had spent time learning about their culture and invited us so they may have an audience to share it with. This was also their effort at a delayed “67 minutes” of volunteer service in honor of Nelson Mandela. (Mandela asked that for his birthday this year, every South African give 67 minutes of their time back to the community. 67 - in honor of the 67 years of his life he has given to community service. The youth were on retreat on Mandela’s birthday, so they decided to make it up today instead of skip it). The singing, dancing and sharing of food were incredible reminders of the beautiful mix of cultures and traditions we are living so nearby, and yet have so few opportunities to interact with and live into.

This evening, we (the whole family and I) went to see a stage production of Mama Mia! It was the first time I’ve been able to see it live, and it was great! As happens every time, I was marveled at the genius of how so many hit songs were put together to form this story line. The talent was incredible, from the acting to the dancing, and least of all the singing: the vocals really were phenomenal- and made the show. The costumes didn’t hurt much either, though, with an abundance of hilarious sequins and sparkles reminiscent of the age of ABBA. As great as the show was, I must confess: topping it off for me was an adorable little girl sitting in front of me who would get my attention every once in a while so she could say hello and get a smile and wave from me. She was great, and really added to the show in her own precious little way.

Indeed, this was an eventful day and a certain kick-start to my stay in Cape Town. While I anticipate a bit of a slower start to work and daily routines as I begin to settle in, I am grateful for such an incredible introduction to the local church, community, and recreation all in one day. I look forward to what the days ahead hold.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Promise of Hope

As I sit to type this, I’m curled up in a blanket next to a heater in the living room of my new home.

Today I moved to Cape Town. The gloomy, rainy weather greeted me with a shared emotion as I walked off the plane contemplative of my new life that begins today. It has been a difficult several months that have brought me to this place, and it is difficult to bid the people and places I have grown to love farewell. It is with a heavy heart that I move forward, and with a joyful one that I celebrate this new chapter as it begins.

I have to tell you - this time, the joy doesn’t come as easy as the sorrow. But I move forward as I remember the countless blessings that are before me...

I celebrate because I am blessed to be welcomed as a part of the family with whom I will now share a home; there is no better feeling than to know I am truly welcome, and know no one else with whom I could better trust to walk with me through this transition. Beyond family, Rev. Grassow has also been a great mentor to me, and I look forward to learning from him through the work and ministry we will share over the next few months.

For though the rain may come and the challenges roll in with the Cape wind, even through the gloom and gray skies, I cannot forget about one significant part of this gray, gloomy day: a rainbow was shinning brightly today, revealing itself from between the house and the trees. So goes life. No matter the challenges, to matter the struggle, no matter how great or difficult life may be, there is always a rainbow: there is always something to look forward to. Always something shinning brighter, something more to strive for. Always a hope of what tomorrow may bring.

So as I look forward to easier days of sunshine and clear skies, I give thanks for days like today when the reality of life changing before us has opportunity to sink in. and I give thanks for the many people in my life who have walked/are walking through the gloomy days with me, who are patient with me when I am the one in whom the storm brews, and who are the rainbows in my life: constant reminders of the promise of hope, love, and life that sits before us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For Every Thing There is a Season...

As I sit to write this, I realize I should be packing. However, I remain true to the procrastinator within, and think this is as good of a time as any to write a blog that has been a long time coming.

The past few months of my life have been anything but stable. If I told you all of the stories of my life from these last few months, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe me. I’m not sure I would, if I hadn’t lived it. The good news is this: I have had a couple of weeks and some really great friends who have helped me to process many of the events, and life is slowly but surely turning around.

This is my attempt at a “short” version of what I have been up to the past few months.

First, the good news: Our (SHADE’s) Education Centre closed at the end of June. It was a bitter-sweet closing. I truly loved my time teaching and getting to know each of our students, and was sad to see them go. I also experienced for the first time the joy of a teacher when she (or he) sees her students succeed. In many ways, I felt like I was more proud on graduation day than they were, and I have an entirely new appreciation for the teachers who helped me along my journey. I had no idea the work, hope, love and joy that come not just from teaching, but from watching students succeed or walk across the state. To all of the students of Espoir Centre: Congratulations!

The week after graduation was when the whirlwind of my life began to pick up. SHADE has undergone a lot of changes since moving to Johannesburg in January. As the Training Centre prepared to close, concerns about SHADE had begun to grow. Is the work (and financial need) of SHADE sustainable? Will there be enough work for THREE Mission Interns to keep busy? Would it perhaps be in the better interest of SHADE to not have Missionaries they needed to be concerned with while they were also undergoing other large changes that had little to do with us, but that would affect our work? One of the biggest questions had little to do with our work, but with growing concerns over our housing situation: it was increasingly clear that it would be best if we could move to a safer, healthier place near people, especially as tensions grew with our landlord. Basically, all of the concerns for SHADE we have had over the past several months boiled down to one big question: is the best place for us (Mission Interns) really at SHADE?

As Hannah, Rachel and I each took time to pray and reflect on some of these questions, so did some of the staff at GBGM. In the end, the decision GBGM came to was that it would be best for all parties if the three of us were re-appointed to work with other ministries for the rest of the duration of our international placements. This means we were looking for work within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and preparing to begin placements all over again. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the anxiety over my placement I had while waiting to hear in June and July of 2009, or again in September 2009 when it was changed last minute.

This decision was not an easy one. The days that followed, the questions that have been asked and addressed, the move that took place: these are the encounters that create the unbelievable stories that are now to be tallied in my crazy book of life. We have new memories of the sad day we packed up our desks. We have crazy stories about the day we moved all of our personal belongings out of our house in 15 minutes. Stories of adrenaline, of joy, of sorrow. Stories that make me sad, bring me joy, or just make be laugh in unbelief.

One of our biggest concerns was free time: we had already wrapped up our work at SHADE. The World Cup ended two days after we told Papa David we were leaving. Would we waste away with no work to do for the next month?

Of course, God has this all under control. On Tuesday, 13 July, 4 days after we were officially done with our work at SHADE, I wrote this blog about meeting my friends Emily and Joanne for the first time. Little did we know this would not be a one-time pastoral visit. Quite the contrary, we returned the next morning to greet and pray with their newly arrived family from the US, and basically, we never left. We took so well to Jen and Matt (Emily’s parents, Joanne’s son and daughter-in-law) that they were soon telling the nurses we were immediate family so we could spend more time with them in the ICU. They were in South Africa nearly a month, during which time we saw them every day, blessed with opportunities to love, laugh, pray, sing, watch movies, share meals, etc. with them. We even took our turns staying overnight with Emily; Emily had become like a little sister to me, and it was as if I had known them my entire life.

As they prepared to leave, it was only then that I realized how much we needed each other during this time. God really did have it under control: we could not have made it through that trying, difficult month of change without them and without another ministry to keep us busy. As the Kerstetters packed up to go home, I made may way to Durban (a much needed vacation I wrote about below). Another week at home in Johannesburg to pack and get ready to go, and here I am: Saturday I move to Cape Town, where a new chapter of my life and work will begin. I am moving nearly 2 months after serious conversations of moving began, and I somehow do not feel like I have had enough “down” time to even process all of these changes. Yet I am grateful to be moving forward before I have begun to feel stagnant. Balance is everything, so though I am not yet sure if I am ready to go, I move forward this week, leaving Rachel and Hannah in Johannesburg, where they still await their appointments.

Though I know this “update” is long, vague and nondescript, I hope it also serves as a small window into some of the changes that have occurred. My next updates will be from Cape Town, where I slowly put the pieces of my life and work together again, hopefully gleaning valuable lessons from the challenges of the past several months. As I do so, and as Rachel and Hannah continue in a state of transition and uncertainty, I ask your continued prayers and support. For if there is anything that can be said with absolute certainty from the past 10 months, it is that we would not have made it through without prayer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Real Life

I just got home from what turned out to be one of the most restorative and life-filled weeks I have had in the past two months. Where was I, you ask? With friends. In Durban, to be precise, but then that’s just a city. The location didn’t matter. The conversations with people-who-get-me, the hospitality and no-expectations, the just-be-yourself-safe-space did matter.

This combination of days turned to a week were just what I’d been looking for. and to think: the day before the journey, I was still debating if I should cancel it. I just have too much to do, important people I want to see and spend time with here in Joburg, packing and planning to do. What terrible timing for some “holiday” I planned months ago, before I had any idea how much my life would change between then and now.

How my life has changed is a blog I’ve been mulling in my head as I try to figure out a way to share about it: when that comes, or when I am more settled into those changes (whichever comes first), I’ll be sure to share all about it. In the interim, I’m resting in one of the things I have taken away from this week.

Now: This moment: That’s all that matters.

In the past few months, perhaps since moving to South Africa, I have been overwhelmed with stress or anxiety. For the first time in my life, I was made physically sick by all of the stress in my life. If you know me at all, you know the magnitude of that statement, as I have certainly been no stranger to stress. Some of this was self-inflicted, the most of it wasn’t. But I suppose the result of stressful things you can do nothing about is often more stress. So the cycle continued.

This past week, I stepped out of my growing bubble in Johannesburg and visited some American friends living in Durban. It was good to spend time with them and digest some of my life from the past few months. They understand all too well the elements at play in my life here, and it was healthy to digest and process my life with people who understand but are outside the situation. The opportunity to be honest and take down the walls of protection over involved parties was like a breath of fresh air.

Fresh air. Spring is in the air. In Durban, some days are so warm you forget winter has not yet passed in full. Fresh air on the beach, soaking in sun on my first full day in Durban could not have been a more welcome treat. We sat for hours in silence, listening to the waters crash, the birds chirp, the people laughing and talking around us. Beautiful Serenity.

Days that followed brought trips to good coffee shops (finally- good espresso!!), watching movies, non-work related chatter over countless shared meals and games of cards. We played with their 3 cats and I visited with their Monday night Bible Study group. I even read an entire book - the first time I’ve managed to finish a book since February or March.

All of this, and as I sit home reflecting on this “ordinary” week that didn’t involve typical site-seeing tourism as may be expected on a vacation (and first trip to a new city), all I can think about is how great it felt to be back to “normal.”

No negative stress. No overwhelming anxiety. No to-do lists looming or people questioning my actions. No one to check in with. Just time with friends, space for honesty, and a bit of healthy competition over a few too many rounds of “Nertz.”

At the end of the day, I can’t help but wonder:
    Maybe this simple stuff is what life is really “about.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trading My Sorrows

Today I was at the hospital visiting with my new friend Joanne - an incredible woman of faith - when the words to the song "Trading My Sorrows" came to mind. I haven't been able to shake these words since then, and I am realizing that this song which already has great memories tied to it, will now take on new meanings in my life.

Today, as I hum this old tune late into the evening, I realize that I am thankful for the way the most unexpected, unanticipated things can turn into such rich blessings and moments of joy - even in the midst of sorrow and pain.

Joanne has served as an incredible example of what it means to "Trade our sorrows" over the past week, and I am incredibly thankful our paths have touched - even if they could not have done so if it were not for the pain and suffering she must endure.

Trading My Sorrows

I'm trading my sorrows
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord.

I'm trading my sickness.
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord.

Singing yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord...

I am pressed but not crushed,
persecuted not abandoned.
Struck down but not destroyed.
I am blessed beyond the curse
For his promise will endure,
and His joy's gonna be my strength...

Though the sorrow may last for the night,
His Joy comes with the morning

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

United In Prayer

One of the things I loved the most about the World Cup is how small it made the world feel. It truly was a blessing to celebrate “futbol” with others from around the globe, and to be able to celebrate together even when cheering for opposing teams.

Sunday night was the final game. All over the world, people were tuned in to see who would win the cup this year: Netherlands or Spain. I was no exception. I went to a fan park to watch the match on a big screen in Johannesburg with thousands of others. People gathered in this way all around the world.

They gathered that night in places in Kampala, Uganda, too.

My night ended in celebrations with new and old friends.

Uganda has a different story to tell.

During the final match, the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, who is linked to al-qaeda, sent suicide bombers to two places in Kampala where people gathered to watch the match: an Ethiopian restaurant, and a rugby club.

I first heard about the blasts on Monday afternoon, when I heard through friends that Nate Henn of Invisible Children had been at the rugby club and didn’t make it. His death is a huge loss to all humankind… read a bit about him in this IC blog.

As news travelled, I soon learned through a blog posted on CNN by Thomas Kemper, GBGM General Secretary, that there were two UMC Mission Teams in Uganda at the time: One team (from Alabama) was completely unharmed, while the other team (from Pennsylvania) reported that 5 of its 6 team members sustained injuries (some very serious), though all were in stable condition.

This morning, we got a phone call. Due to Rachel’s connections to home and the Pennsylvania Conference, she had been put in touch with the pastor of the church where these missionaries are from. At the time we were told three, we now know only two, of the missionaries (a high school girl and her grandmother) were being sent to Johannesburg for “specific or higher quality medical services.” It took us all day to find their names and which hospital, but as soon as we retained that information, we made our way there.

Both are in ICU, where the medical staff are truly taking great care of them. They even let us break the two-at-a-time rule so the three of us (Rachel, Hannah and I) could greet them together for the first time.

It was a privilege to hold the hands of, speak with and pray for these two incredible women tonight. It is humbling to see their unstoppable desire to be of something greater than themselves, even when they have been through so much. Had it not been for the bombing, they would have made their way home today after serving in Uganda for the past month. No doubt, they are longing for home more now than ever. Yet that was far from the first thing we heard. What did we hear first?

Prayer requests.


Prayers for their three beloved Ugandan friends sitting next
to them at the restaurant, who did not make it:
Pastor Peter, Becky, and Francis.

Prayers for their only teammate who did not sustain severe
injuries, as she stays behind to bury their friends.

Prayers for their 3 teammates who also sustained injuries and were

still to travel to hospitals outside of Uganda
for further medical help.
(We have now received word that they are at a hospital in Nairobi)

Prayers for everyone they left behind: the church, children and

community they worked with and grew to love during the past month.

Lastly: Prayers for themselves: for healing, coping with
pain, for the difficult processing as they try to
wrap their minds around it all.

Their request is a humble one, and yet so urgent. Tonight I was reminded of what a very, very small world we live in. I am grateful that our God hears our prayers, no matter how great or small the world feels. I am grateful for this, and for opportunities to laugh together at a bedside as we decided that the prayers of the children they left behind are probably reaching the ears of God long before ours: there is nothing like the faith of a child!

These are two women of tremendous faith, and no doubt their intense prayer and love for others have sustained them. Wont you please join me in praying with and for them?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Soccer Fever

The seas of people keep us warm in the bitter cold. It was about 20 degrees last night... and I was warmer in the crowd than in my house. Yet I was never uncomfortable or inappropriately touched, etc. There was one near-instance of a creepy drunk guy one night last week, but I didn't even have to say anything - some guy I'd never seen or met sent him away, with a simple turn, smile, nod from me as a thank you... before I went on celebrating with the multitudes of others around me. Can you imagine that - from a guy who wasn't even interested in anything but general comfort in the crowd. (and he wasn't the security guard - I'd already made friends with her, ha)

The fan parks are a world in and of themselves. We went the night of the USA-England opener. Soccer is one of those few places/times I feel I can proudly proclaim I am an American - especially on foreign soil. I (we - my roommates and I) proudly sang our national anthem at the top of our lungs with the few faithful around me (surrounded by England fans prepared to cheer against us). As we did so, people literally lined up to take photos of us singing. One guy said I was helping him fulfill his goal: He wants photos of fans from every country entered in the World Cup. Knowing all the words to a national anthem is a pretty sure sign we weren't lying about where we are from, even if many argued with me because I don't have (as thick of) an American accent, like my roommates do. I guess my accent has changed more than I thought?

Its a beautiful thing, isn't it? The World Cup? I have connected with so many friends from all over the world because of it, and met countless more while out and about. Even if temporary, this is exactly the start of community I was hoping and praying for one month ago. I am less lonely when I get to meet people, feel like I'm alive, dance to my heart's content, watch soccer more than I've been able to in my entire life (I watched at least part of every game the first week… and have done my best to keep up since then, though life must also move on...).

The days are full of energy and excitement, and the nights are COLD but kept warm with Soccer FEVER! With no insulation and no indoor heat here in good ‘ol RSA, its kind of like camping when its 20 degrees outside - every night - without a campfire! woot!

This only adds to why I like to go out as much as possible. It is warmer outside than in (really - unless its terribly windy), and the crowds make it even warmer! AND - the one place we can find a heater is in the car. so I like it there.

There have been more adventures relating to the World Cup than I can count. Perhaps I will have a chance to recount some of them here. But until then… I hope you are watching and may the best team win! That being said… GO USA!!!! (this photo was taken immediately following Donovan's AMAZING goal in the 95th minute of game 3!)
...can YOU feel it?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wavin Flag

If we are friends on Facebook or you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed I’m a little excited about the World Cup. We’re one week, several celebrations, a few heartbreaks and many good memories in. It is a good time to be in South Africa, and I’m doing my best to be a part of the excitement.

If there is one thing that has been consistent throughout the past 12 or so years of my life, it is that I have been deeply tied to the music which surrounds me. For me, music isn’t just about a good beat to dance to or fun lyrics to sing along to (though I do enjoy both of these things), but often about the heart and soul that has been put into it. These aren’t just lyrics… they’re poems with powerful stanzas put to music that helps me to feel the words. Words on a page can be powerful… but there is nothing like the spoken (or sung) word.

I can tie most moments of my life to music. Or the reverse - when I hear songs from the last 15 years, I can usually tell you what year it is from simply by tracing the memories closely tied to it. Just like before, there are many songs that will forever remind me of this moment now - the World Cup. Earlier this week, two incredible young people in my life (7 and 11 yrs old!) gifted me a mixed CD titled “Prince and Pricilla’s World Cup Mix.” It has lived in our car since then, and I have probably heard it played 10 times over.

The second song on the CD (second only to Shakira and Freshly Ground’s Waka Waka!) is K’Naan’s “Wavin Flag” - the official World Cup anthem. I LOVE this song! It is overplayed, for sure, but it is so uplifting! Lyrics like,
    See the champions, take the field now,
    Unify us, make us feel proud!
    In the streets our heads are lifin’
    As we lose our inhibition.
    Celebration, it surrounds us,
    Every nation’s, All Around Us...

Hearing someone sing this song in South Africa is almost as common as hearing a vuvuzela being blown. Almost.

Earlier this week, I googled the full lyrics to this song. What I found was a huge surprise…

Did you know this isn’t the original song?

See full size imageEvidently K’Naan was approached by Coke - they wanted to buy rights of this song b/c the chorus and beat would be PERFECT for the official anthem! But the lyrics? A little down and harsh, and NOT what they were looking for. Knowing what this could do for his career, he volunteered to re-write the song for them. What resulted is this song I love.

So what about that old song? I looked it up. and downloaded it. and what did I find? An intense, powerful, meaningful few stanzas packed with truth, pain, stories of survival and hope. Filled with harsh realities I’m not surprised Coke wanted to get rid of - who wants to think about realities of suffering in our world today when we are trying to focus on a global celebration and sports event?

I’ll leave space for your own criticisms for the many variables here. The truth is - had he not re-written this song, I may have never found the old one - and I’m glad I did.

The intense verses and deep, painful truths lined with hope in the chorus draw me into this song. Its a keeper, and one I will continue to reflect on in days (or more) to come. For now, I invite you to consider the “original” lyrics of the official song of the World Cup - a song that has been made into a song of celebration, and started as something very, very different. The music and chorus are the same… the other words are all (very) different.

When I get older, I will be stronger,
They'll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag,
And then it goes back, and then it goes back,
And then it goes back

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
but Violent prone, poor people zone,
But it's my home, all I have known,
Where I got grown, streets we would roam.
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest,
Among the hardest survival.
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak,
Except no defeat, surrender retreat,

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we'll be free,
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day,
It's not far away, so for now we say

[Chorus]

So many wars, settling scores,
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor,
I heard them say, love is the way,
Love is the answer, that's what they say,
But look how they treat us, Make us believers,
We fight their battles, then they deceive us,
Try to control us, they couldn't hold us,
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers.

But we struggling, fighting to eat,
And we wondering, when we'll be free
So we patiently wait, for that faithful day,
It's not far away, but for now we say...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup

If the world is focused in on the World Cup right now, then South Africa has been taken over by it. and to be honest, I am LOVING it.

I love the sport we Americans call soccer, while most of the rest of the world calls it football. I love the energy of it. I love the global community created by it. I love the passion found in small children everywhere in the world as they play it. I love watching the games here with the wild and crazy crowds. I even love the overwhelming noise of the vuvuzela that goes almost nonstop.

It is good to be in this beautiful, friendly country called South Africa for this incredible event called the World Cup.

(more soon…)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What it means to be loved.

Excerpts from an email sent to a trusted friend today in regard to the situation I wrote about in my last post: “The Face of Injustice.”

2 days later, I'm still angry. But mostly I'm sad. and equally helpless.

The situation I wrote about is deeply personal. It is not just “a man” I wrote about, but a friend. It is difficult because I feel like the whole situation has "moved on" and nothing has been done. I spoke with my friend - the man who has still not been paid - this morning. His boss has "apologized," but still no money has been seen. He says there will be pay tomorrow, we'll see. Poor guy. He can't go anywhere, he literally has nothing and no one.

As with any human situation, there are just so many layers. They have no place to go, and so life goes on. It is such a delicate situation. I want to act on their behalf, but I can't because I know in the end it may very well NOT be better for them. The last thing they need is us making his boss even more angry, pushing him away and reducing chances that they would receive any money. And with xenophobic attacks increasing and threatening to get worse again, they would rather be "safe" here and not paid than being in danger out on the streets of the city. Or freezing in the cold with their 2-year old.

Its difficult when these situations that would make great ethics situations to argue over in a classroom become real-life, and action is so difficult.

Its also difficult when the last two mornings began for them by being yelled at by their boss/landlord. Yesterday her. Today him. Will it ever stop?

Also - I feel sorry for their boss. I have not stopped thinking about this situation, about these people. Though I could easily say a dozen terrible things about him, the reality is I can’t stop thinking about him; I feel so, so sorry for him.

The more I know about this situation and the parties involved, the more this is true. The boss doesn't know how else to treat people. He has learned from his own terrible experiences. He has shared stories of his own life: people have always taken advantage of him, stolen his money, broken his heart, etc. He is lonely. I wonder if he has anyone who really, truly loves and cares for him? The stories I have heard suggest not. They suggest a life of being taken advantage of, being used, abused, and spat upon. If this is what he knows, can we expect him to display different actions?

Don’t get me wrong- I am not excusing him for his actions. He is still responsible. But hearing his story - it helps me to be compassionate, and it breaks my heart for him.

Can you imagine living that life? How can I not feel sorry for him? How can I not see his broken side and also seek to love him as Christ calls us to love, to help to heal the broken, even when it calls us to see beyond a thick black cloud of sin and brokenness?

Music. This is what I do when I am too full of thoughts to function: I listen to music. First, I thought of him when I heard a song called “Either Way” by Guster: “Were you ever kind? Were you always cruel? Who’s ever seen that other side of you? Happened every time, so it must be true: where did you learn its either him or you?”

Seeing both sides of the cycle of brokenness and pain is important to staying grounded in why it is we are called to “love our enemies” - a difficult but foundational part of our call as Christians.

That brings me to point 2 - A prayer that is Scriptural and that we've heard a thousand times, but so honest and realistic and appropriate here - "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do..." It goes on and describes pain, ways of people hurting others. Yes, I believe deep down inside, the boss knows what he is doing is selfish and wrong. But truly don’t think he is capable of comprehending the extend to which this is true. I dont think he can, because it requires the presence of real love to understand the ways we hurt each other, the depths to which we dig into one another's souls.

So this is where I've been the last couple of days. Silenced but wanting desperately not to be. Yet trying to act in love. It is a difficult, difficult burden to bare, but an essential one, I believe. Central to all I believe, perhaps the most important thing that influences my life and makes me who I am - even if I know I fail at living it out sometimes - is the idea that Christ came in LOVE. As a Christian I am called to LOVE. To LOVE my neighbor as myself. Specifically, Christ calls us to love our enemies...? I read Scripture often that talks about love, it is central to who I believe Christians SHOULD be. Its challenging, though - like this passage (from Luke 6 - Jesus is speaking):

27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. ... 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. ... 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Challenging, but I believe this is perhaps the greatest truth of Christianity. or at least it should be. How different would our world be if Christians truly strived to live this out?

The reality is, I don’t LIKE this man! I don’t know that I would have the courage to stand with him, to be the friend to him he so badly needs. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see beyond my emotions that are tied up. I can see that deep within is a broken, hurting child of God - who is, like me, created in God’s image. I also know that as a woman of faith, I am called to LOVE - and not just those who love me. I know that I cam called to love my neighbor… and not just my neighbors who love me.

So. Where does this leave me? Thinking about how my emotions are one thing, but I believe love is something entirely apart from that. I am grateful it is. Can you imagine if love rested solely on emotions? I think people letting love rest only in our emotions is a source of so much conflict and heartache in the world.

I desire to move beyond that.

But I don’t know how.

I'm still praying for guidance. I'm still praying for wisdom to know which action to take. Praying that I remember that every great action requires great risk. I am willing to take risk, but this is more difficult when that great risk is also someone else's. I cannot make that decision of risk for them, and we cannot be sure any action I take would be for the greater good.

This does not mean that I must take no action. There must be balance somewhere. I am praying for a clear vision of what the “third way” might be. For now, I remain in hopeful prayer. I remain hopeful because of the hope I am able to share. Because I am told by my friend that the trust we share as he has come to me offers him hope. Because I am able to be a source of light in the darkness. Because I know that in Christ there is hope for all things, and for all people, and because tonight, I am choosing to look for the good in all people - even in the very ones who have persecuted us. It is not easy. No one said it would be. But Christ is my strength, my hope, my redeemer. Christ is the strong rock and foundation on which I stand.

That is what brings me hope.