Today I bring forth an argument: To Shame or Not to Shame.
I saw a post which decried sharing acts of abuse in open fora as is the habit of social media. The reason given was that by doing so the shame experienced by the victim is further entrenched. My first reaction was to agree, but as I allowed the thought free rein, I began to change my mind.
The shame is there.
It took residence when the person was violated. It was introduced, it has infiltrated and it is resident. There is no degree of shame. Shame is shame. The only measure is the extent to which one goes to hide the wounds, the scarring.
Shame by its very nature is secretive, seeking to skulk in the shadows, its long tentacles intruding deep into the recesses of soul and psyche. It is this need to hide, to cover that allows perpetrators to go free.
I see it lurking, flickering hopelessly in the shadow of an eye, the cut lip that pretends to be a cold sore, the swagger of the fist-bearer, secure in the knowledge of his protection, that cloak of shame that will keep silence no matter the cost.
So I am not sure that it should be kept hidden from public view. I’m not convinced that it is a crime to share acts caught on camera. I tend to the opinion that an opportunity to bring into the light Mr flailing fist, Mr Macho rapist, could be the first step in bleaching that stain of shame. I imagine the relief at a burden shared, the knowledge that now, maybe the hell will end, and then that shame can begin its journey into the oblivion to which it belongs.
I love reading. I love books. I love the escapism of tales of love, and mystery, and suspense, and history, my taste is eclectic.
I learnt to read at a very young age, not sure how young, but given I could read by the time I started school, four months beyond my fifth birthday, I guess maybe four.
I was an only child, and for four impressionable years we lived in the village of Piggs Peak in northern Swaziland. Books were my closest companions. I assume, because I have done so much of it, I learnt to speed read, or simply in my lingo, to read fast, always impatient to find out what happens next. I have frequently read through the night, the story compelling me to turn page after page until the last word.
I am sure most people have a favourite ‘go to’ novel, or movie, the place you visit in order to laugh, or cry, or simply to escape for a while. My best is Colleen McCullough’s The Thornbirds. I have had many copies, which somehow disappear, so now I have it firmly ensconced on my Kindle. If I’m needing a good howl the movie Out of Africadoes it for me. I spend the entire film in tense anticipation of Fitch’s death, the funeral, the lions on his grave at sunset…wonderful blub stuff!
Strange, because I avoided Percy Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld because I couldn’t bear to read about the parts others talked of: the baboon fight, the kudu kick, the putting out to pasture, and his end. I was well into adulthood before I managed to get beyond page two!
The wonder of books is you can go from the heat and dust of the Australian outback to the freezing darkness of an Alaskan winter without leaving your armchair, drawn into multiple worlds of intrigue and love and stoic survival.
I have just put down one such book: The Great Aloneby Kristin Hannah, recommended by a friend in our book club who said she had long since read a book so beautifully written, that gripped her so.
She was right.
Kristin Hannah, through the eyes of Leni, took me on a roller coaster of emotion, from tears to laughter, to teeth clenching cold, to glorious views in a couple of pages. I cried, I got angry, frustrated, terrified the cat as I thumped the arm of the chair, yelling “NO!”, gave up on the idea of sleep until my eyes could no longer focus, drifted off on an Alaskan breeze wondering how I dared call myself a writer, awoke in the pre-dawn warmth to continue reading.
As I devoured page after page, I had to pause as I revisited painful places in my own life, wondered at highs, looked at hints of answers for lessons learnt from lows, floating just beyond where I wanted to go at that moment. I now understand fully, if I want to write good books I have to visit those places, feel those emotions, confront those faults, instead of skipping around them, and causing my characters to do likewise.
That is the craft of a great writer, one who draws her readers in to the pages, making them think, feel, search for their own answers, and at best bring a difference to their lives.
I spend hours trying to fit all I need into the opening pages of the books I attempt to write, trying to come to grips with the technicalities of our craft, constantly chaffed as I make the transition from journalist to author.
Kristin Hannah has no such issues as she effortlessly sets the scene, the time of year, introduces the main characters, establishes the ethos of the story, and has you hooked in three pages. Brilliant. From there the story flows, and did not let go of me until the last work.
If you are looking for a good read to while away the long nights of a southern hemisphere winter, get a copy of The Great Alone – it will keep you company!
Thank you for the best 24 hours I have spent in a long time!
I was probably one of the last people to hear about the referendum on legalising abortion in Ireland. As a firm Christian I am opposed to abortion. I believe the bible, I stand on Psalm 139 where the voice of God states categorically in verse 13:
“For You formed my inward parts:
You covered me in my mother’s womb.”
Again in verse 15:
“My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,…”
To verse 16 “…Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there none of them.”
Couldn’t be clearer.
But just to be sure, let us turn to Jeremiah chapter 1. Verse 5:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;…”
The argument has waxed since my school days, and I have never found myself compelled to get involved in it. I know what I believe, I tell it to whoever will listen, but it is not a cause I ever felt the need to champion.
Until last week.
Until I heard the harsh voice of some woman complaining that they were only allowing abortion up to twelve weeks. What? When did it go beyond twelve weeks? In fact, when did it get to twelve weeks?
I began to listen. I heard how Iceland has the lowest number of Downs children because they simply kill them off before they are born. I heard how many ‘poor’ women have to travel from Ireland each day to Britain to get rid of unwanted pregnancy – what a drag! So much easier if you could just pop down to the local chop out shop. Oh, no, it is now a tablet. Two tablets to be precise so marginally less barbaric than the old forceps routine. But infanticide nonetheless.
A number of years ago I was part of establishing a centre for the shelter and rehabilitation of abused women and children. Nowhere do you find more grounds for the advocacy of abortion than in such an institution. Young girls being forced to give birth to relative’s progeny after being hideously raped and abused. As horrid as that might be, worse was them being forced to keep the child, so the parents could use it to demand reparation.
For me, and for countless others who believe as I do, there are seldom real grounds for abortion, although those who advocate it always have examples to quote of hideous in utero deformities. I believe in a God who aches with every mother carrying a deformed baby, with every mother who may have to trade her life for her unborn child. I believe, too, that He weeps over every little body that is carelessly disposed of.
None of it is His will.
James Chapter 1: verses 16-17:
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
Perversion and deformity belong to the other side, and unfortunately we are the prize that is being hard fought. The biggest win for Satan is when we blame God for his misdemeanours. And when we allow man to kill those formed in His image without any fear of retribution.
The bitter truth, however, is that the majority of pregnancies are terminated not because of deformity, or as a result of rape. They are the result of flagrant and irresponsible sexuality, people copulating without precaution, knowing they will not be brought to account for their actions. Instead of cautioning against the ever increasing immorality of modern lifestyles, we push the boundaries further, and further to accommodate ever increasing deviant behaviour. Why else would there be such an increase in the sex trade, children sold into prostitution, paedophilia infiltrating every corner of every nation. We can blame no one but ourselves – we have created this mess and instead of trying to stop it, we seek to relax laws to encourage it.
“After all,” said one of those strident voices, “this is 2018!” God help us!
Please do not tell me that a woman who has felt movement in her womb does not know that she is carrying a living organism, a life form that duplicates herself.
Speak to an honest doctor who has performed an abortion, they will tell you they do not feel good about removing a foetus. After all, their oath is to protect life, prolong it, not take it. Maybe that is why they pushed for a pill? A solution that allows them to sleep well at night.
One of the first managers at the centre was a midwife who I shall call D. As always the topic of abortion came up, and a number of the residents were unconvinced of our assertion that life began pre-conception as far as we were concerned, but certainly at conception if you were disinclined to accept the verse from Jeremiah. A few weeks later, D mentioned she had a special teaching that she wished to share with all of us, residents and staff alike.
I was quite surprised to see a projector set up, an air of grim expectancy on the faces of D and her husband.
She introduced the topic of abortion, and then handed over to the projector. The horror of the images that filled the screen that night will never leave me, and as I listened to the dissonant voices last week I wished I could broadcast them to the entire world.
It was one of the first x-ray films taken of life in utero, and it focussed on abortion. It showed the severe reaction of minute foetuses, as yet indistinguishable as human, recoiling and quivering in agony as they were torn to shreds by forceps. Our horror increased as we saw more procedures, performed later in pregnancies: arms ripped off, minute bodies wracked with pain as the brutality of the assault unfolded, graphically confirming that abortion is spelt M-U-R-D-E-R.
D would never tell us where she got the dvd. Why am I not surprised that it is kept under wraps – to broadcast it would be so inconvenient for those relishing their carefree lifestyle, quite apart from the income generated by the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
The horror I felt hearing the old arguments being touted took me back this time to that night of the dvd.
I worry about women rejoicing, believing they have the right to decide what they can and cannot do with their. Yes, that is true. But when you kill your child, it is not your body that is being damaged, it is the one you allowed to be conceived, and I cannot agree that you should have the right to take that life.
What I can agree to, is you accepting responsibility for your lifestyle, living in a manner that is compatible with decent choices, choices that do not lead to you doing something you may regret one day. Like murder a small hapless human being, momentarily hidden from sight, and conveniently relegated to the unliving.
How do you feel today? What emotion predominates and if you were to allow it free rein where might it lead you?
One of my favourite stories is that of Joshua and Caleb, who together with ten others were sent to spy out the promised land. They saw amazing sights, incredible abundance, bunches of grapes so huge they were carried by two men. Two large men. Goliath sort of men. Were they impressed? Absolutely they were. Did they return to Moses filled with excitement and glee at all that awaited them? Er, no.
Apart from Joshua and Caleb that is.
The report that was given is as follows:
“We are not able to go up against the people because they are stronger than we …. It is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw giants….and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
Really? You were so scared you didn’t stick around to find out what they thought!
Fast forward a goodly number of years and we find a similar story. This time a Philistine by the name of Goliath is spitting fear into the hearts of the feeble Israelites. Once more they weep and wail, and it takes the arrival of a young lad, who has done nothing more than tend sheep while his big, brave brothers are off at war, to say “What is with you lot? He is nothing. I’ll sort him out!”
Don’t you just love the brashness of youth? David’s opinion of himself had not yet been hammered into submission by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. He had protected his sheep, he knew his strength and his ability, they had been tested by the lions and the bears he had killed, the giant was no big deal. No talk of grasshoppers from this lad.
Later in his life, doubt crept in, leading many times to bleak despair. But he never backed away, the lessons he had learnt early in his life formed his reactions, his ability to pick himself up and carry on regardless of the height or intensity of the obstacle in his way.
Interesting how we are formed by our experiences, our emotions, which then inform our perceptions, which dictate our reactions to situations, or people, and sometimes small insignificant incidents in the grand scheme of things take on a life of their own, and become monsters, leaving us feeling lowly in our own eyes, and, we are convinced, in the eyes of those around us.
We talk of a chain of events: one thing leads to another, to another, to another, and suddenly you are out of control careering down a slippery slope, the brakes don’t work, and before you can blink you are buried under the pile of garbage your descent has brought down with you.
I’ve certainly been there.
What causes me to be oversensitive at times, to take um where none was intended? The answer is not one that I particularly like, because it points to a part of me I would prefer remain hidden, the part that isn’t as squeaky clean as it should be, where the still small voice niggles, and that niggling makes me wriggle. It might be a word out of turn that I spoke, or an act of kindness I didn’t make, that causes anything that happens to take on a menace, a meaning that is usually devoid of rationality.
Guilt is an obsequious emotion. It grovels and bends, sometimes real, sometimes imagined, but always hard to admit to. Even harder to put right. So I try and squash it. Put it away where I can’t see it, hear it, feel it.
What we don’t fix, however, doesn’t go away. At some point the container cracks, the yuk starts to leak out. The prophet Ezra puts it this way:
Ezra 9:6 : And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.”
v8. “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God., to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.”
That grace is so precious, that redemption from guilt, from sin. But how do we appropriate this release, this revival in our bondage?
The answer is simple. Own up. Admit you blew it. We all do. You are not exempt. You are not the only person to get it wrong at times. And, chances are, you will do it again. We all will. So what’s the big deal? Losing face? Nah! That’s the lie – owning up takes a special kind of courage, a moral strength that is easy to come by – you only have to do it once. The sense of relief and release is so heady that it will be easy to say “sorry” next time. Or, should I say, easier.
The right way always looks harder than the easy way for some strange reason.
That is what verse 8 is about. For a while we have peace, and enlightenment, a way of escape. This recipe is echoed by that most sincere and earnest of the disciples, John, in his first of his epistles:
Chapter 1 verse 9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Chapter 2 v1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
And He himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
What comfort do these words offer? Ah, I love them. Again and again I am able to come to my heavenly Father, bow my head and say, “I blew it, again, Lord. Help.” And He who knows the inmost secrets of my heart, says gently, oh so gently, “Rise, take up your mat and walk, your sins are forgiven!”
Don’t allow circumstance, unintended insult, hurtful words, spiteful spats dictate how you behave. You have a choice, pilgrim: you can act or react. Be kind, or be cruel. Be tough, or be gentle, be loving or be hateful.
Generally when I feel like a grasshopper, I am miserable. And in my deep unhappiness, my cheeks raw from tears, I am horribly sensitive. If you ask me how I am the wrong way, I take it as your opposing me. If you don’t see me in the shopping mall, I take it you don’t want to talk to me. I read into each and every situation what I am feeling at that moment. I interpret your actions according to where I am in myself at that time. If I am not feeling good about how I have treated someone, chances are I will put that motive into your actions, and react accordingly. Ouch! And the longer I leave it before putting it right, the harder it becomes.
The Israelites had been holed up for forty days, ridiculed and denigrated by Goliath, before David arrived. And when he questioned their fear, they got angry with him. Guilt does that. Makes you angry at the wrong person. David persisted. The problem was not insurmountable. It had to be confronted and dealt with. If we can learn this one small lesson, how much better our lives might be, how conflict might be deferred, peace restored, communities revived.
All it took, was one small, round stone, no sharp edges, fired from a simple catapult to end the scorn, the pain, and bring relief.
Deal with your Goliath. You are not a grasshopper in anyone’s sight. You are a precious child of the living God (note all the ‘G’s’) whether you subscribe to Him or not.
For most of my life I have downplayed the importance of Christmas for a variety of reasons, the main one being that my grandmother and my father both died in December, casting an air of sadness over this season that seems to have lasted a lot longer than it should have.
My mother hated the hype of Christmas after my Dad died, so she would pack us up and off we would go to Ponta do Ouro in Mocambique where happy trappings did not prevail. I tried once I had children to counter this, determinedly decorating the house, trying to generate excitement which always seemed hollow. This year I haven’t needed to do that. I’m in a temporary home, not going to be here, no grandchildren to impress, and I suddenly realise that I am missing the fun and the pretty.
I realise, too, that I like Christmas!
I love the buzz of excitement, the decorations, the music in the shops, even the harried faces of desperate shoppers. The shops overflow and there is a bustle that crackles. There is a faint sense of panic as various businesses and firms close, happily displaying “open in January” signs, and so one comes to a place where you have to decide: surrender your reservations and go with the flow; or keep them and be uptight and lose a chance of happiness.
It is good to have a season where we can be silly, where children can escape into a land of fantasy and wonder for a while. Let’s face it life can be daunting, and we all need a trip away from harsh reality every now and then. I have been watching a friend on Facebook who has a naughty elf that is bouncing around her house, rummaging in stockings and checking the chimney, and I can imagine the joy it is giving her children as they watch to see what it is up to each day.
This is the time when we traditionally think of others, find gifts to delight, imagining the smiles that will light up little faces, and even old ones. I remember when I was a child, the excitement of the build-up to Christmas Day, wondering what was hidden inside the bundles of pretty paper. In Mbabane every year there was a production in Coronation Park, where an outdoor carol service took place. Tableaus of nativity scenes would be staged, local residents in full costume, spotlighted in various poses, as the relevant scriptures were read, and appropriate carols sung. A huge Christmas tree stood at the entrance and we would all bring a gift for children in hospital.
The wonder of the story of this amazing baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes (whatever those were) laid in a manger, the shepherds, the three wise men, all of it created a sense of wonder and gave some purpose to Christmas, that I find lacking today. It taught about love in its truest form, about humility, about giving, sharing with others less fortunate. It is the Christmas story and it should be told in all its simplicity to everyone, not heeding the voices of the cynics and the demands to ignore our tale in the relentless face of “Interfaith” – there would be no silly season if there were no Christ Child, no Emmanuel!
I was thrilled last night to find a programme on TBN featuring an older looking Paul Baloche singing Carols, and found the words easily filling my mouth as I sang along. Instead of the tableaux of my youth, children read the scriptures, and the pictures they evoked were down to imagination. It filled that hollow of longing that I hadn’t realised was there!
It is also the season when we can take time to sit quietly with friends and family, drink tea together, share a meal, catch up after a year of threatening to do just that, the pressures of work and obligation put aside for a couple of weeks.
So, as I prepare to fly north to spend Christmas with festbon, Dwayne, and Maike, I would like to take this time to wish each person reading this the silliest of seasons, filled with laughter and joy, and of course, peace.
May the essence of the Nativity story bless you, may the peace promised be your portion, and may the God of Israel keep you safe.
I look forward to hearing of all the fun that was had in the new year!
I have often found that people who claim the bible to be a collection of fables, a series of tall stories, or historical references that have little relevance today are generally those who have never read it.
When the call of the Lord on my life became such that I could no long ignore it back in 1979, the first thing I did was look for a bible I had been given a couple of years previously. I needed to find out about this God, who drew me with such insistence. I began reading, as advised by the good Samaritan who gave it to me on the flyleaf, the gospel of John, the book which contains more uplifting promises than any other. But as I read John, and then Luke, and some psalms, I found myself being drawn more and more to the old testament. I needed to know where Moses began and Noah ended. I needed to know about Abraham, I remembered who Isaac was but Jacob was a bit of a blur.
I am a voracious reader, able to read before I went to school and years of ingesting books have made me a speedy reader. I devour books. So was it such an impossible feat to read the bible as most people suggested? Certainly the nuns who had trained me at school seemed to think so. I’ve read novels thicker than this without any problems.
So I decided that if I was to understand how and where I fitted in this business of Christianity I would have to read The Book. All of it. My dearest second cousin, Margaret Leach, who had much to do with my conversion, had recommended a bible commentary: What the Bible is All About by What the Bible is All AboutHenrietta Mears. It is still available – I saw it in Cum books a few months back. So armed with Henrietta and my Good News Bible, I read both from cover to cover. It took me about six months. Since then I have re-read the bible twice in its entirety, once in the New International Version and once in the New King James Version.
The ‘begats’ are a challenge, but without plodding through them how would that great student of the Word, Bruce Wilkinson have stumbled upon The Prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10, and taught such invaluable lessons from one tiny verse, and then followed that with teachings on the Fruit of the Vine, A Life Worth Living and more besides. Ah, Swaziland, one day you will answer for chasing this man of God and his vision away!
Where those ne’ersayers are possibly right is that it is impossible to take in all that is in this tome in one sitting, probably even in ten. The truths, the stories, the poetry, the ups and downs of the amazing love affair that God has with the pinnacle of His creation, Man, cannot be ingested in one, two or three read-throughs. It has to be a lifelong study, little bites each day, refreshing revisions of certain stories, or simple enjoyment of the poetry of love and of prophecy.
I recently read a book about a widow mourning the loss of her husband. It was achingly yearning in its description of her pain. Throughout I wondered when she might turn to a higher power for comfort. She didn’t, and grieves still. I sorrow for her, and for all who spurn God, determined to find their own way in this morass we call life. At least my grieving widow did not blame God for the loss of her spouse, as many do when catastrophe strikes.
That is another frequent debate generally preceded by the question: how can you believe in a loving God when you look at all the suffering in the world? How can He allow it?
I believe that He hates what happens to His children, I have no doubt that the broad carpenter strengthened shoulders of Jesus are frequently wracked with sobs as He watches His children mauled as forces of evil struggle for supremacy.
For I firmly believe in a spirit world, where good and evil are in constant opposition. That mighty man of wisdom and wealth, King Solomon, writes:
He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
The Bible tells us that God is Spirit, and He is truth. John 4:24. It also tells us that when the great confrontation took place in the heavenlies between the Father and Satan, He gave Satan dominion over the earth. For a limited time. A time I, and others like me, believe is close to its end. The signs are all there, politically, metaphysically, humanly.
Then God gave us free will – the choice to believe what we will. Being a sinless Deity He is unable to controvert or go back on his word. His protection can only cover us as far as we are willing to walk within its parameters. If we refuse His invitation, He will do nothing other than continue to reach out to us in the hope that one day we will accept His hand.
The cry of the Saviour when He walked this earth was, and still is: “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Mathew 11:28. And Again: “….I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”
This God is so moved by the plight of man that He made a way of escape for us. That way is Jesus Christ. John 3:
“16.For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten on, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.”
That is the power of Christ, He took the fall, endured the beating, the shame of the cross, so that we could walk freely into eternity. That this love is unconditional is told in Romans 5:8:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Onto verse 10
“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Wow! I don’t know of any other religion where the deity worshipped reaches out to bring his followers to redemption, into communion with Himself. The opposite. The onus is on the follower to prove their worthiness, through diligent self-effort, with dire consequences should they fail. Or the questionable promise of a virgin or two should you blow yourself and a few others to smithereens.
My God is a God of comfort, whose heart contracts in pain each time one of His children is wounded, abused, or killed, and His constant call is: “Come, come now, come!”
One of my favourite scriptures is found in Romans 8. Paul ends this amazing chapter by saying:
“38: For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, no angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
39: nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The words of the Psalmist, that Royal David, echo as strongly today as when they were written millennia ago:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
As in the day of trial in the Wilderness,
When your fathers tested Me, though they saw My work.”
The love of the Father, of His Son Jesus, and of the Holy Counsellor, the Spirit who searches the hearts of men, is boundless. He invites you to come, just as you are. There are no conditions, no works, no words. Just come to Him, He will show you the next step.
I’m a tree. I’ve been a tree for a long time. I live on the banks of the Khwai River. It is a peaceful spot and I am tall enough to see a good distance all around. I have a couple of close companions, the Shepherd’s Bush tree has entwined her branches with mine, and a little distant from us is my sister. She got hit by lightning and almost died, but she is managing to produce some branches and leaves at last.
About ten days ago strange happenings got us all talking. The men who patrol this place arrived and began to clear the grass. We had never seen such a thing. In places they pulled it out by its roots, leaving the earth bare and unprotected. And then they cut a section, making it as short as it is at the end of the dry season.
Themba, the elephant who likes to rub the itch out of his behind against my trunk couldn’t decide whether he was put out or not. The hippos didn’t care too much – there was still enough grass for them. No one else seemed to notice.
Today things really began popping around here. Vehicles arrived, people fiddled around the trunk of my sister, suspending tables from her branches. Chairs were brought and set up on the cleared earth.
Soon vehicles arrived, filled with people, who they left with us. Now the lush African bush glimmered in the mid-afternoon sun, the sky clear and domed over all. An air of expectancy hung over the small gathering, milling around the clearing, protected by our shade.
I love being fanciful, but now I will take back the narrative. For once in this pristine environment where they normally rule, the animals gave way, seeming to understand that this was not their time to parade – it was Dwayne and Maike’s turn to be on show.
I had visited the site with Dwayne earlier in the week to make sure all was as it should be. The staff of Mogothlo Camp had cleared it beautifully: a dusty aisle leading from a small, multi-stemmed bush, to the altar canopied by the entwined leaves of a Leadwood and Shepherd’s Bush tree. Another small pathway led to a second Leadwood, old and gnarled, not many leaves left, where drinks would be placed for guests as they waited for the vehicles to bring everyone from the camp.
The river was fuller than anyone remembered it being for a long time, with parts of the road underwater, much to the glee of Sylvie and Ben, my grandchildren, who had never been in a car that went swimming before. Everyone was assembled, the drinks had refreshed and people began to take their seats.
Dwayne handed me his glasses. A few minutes later he asked for them back again.
“I won’t be able to see Maike!”
Mark and Darron had sorted out the music, the hi-fi camouflaged at the base of the small bush, that would also screen the bridal car when it arrived. It was a game vehicle, and no one needed to see how Maike would get out of it in her wedding dress!
“There are bones under that tree,” Mark said quietly.
“Hopefully that means the lions have eaten,” I answered.
Sound carries in the still of the bush, and we heard the Game Vehicle long before it came into view.
It is translucent in the oblique rays of the sun. Maike is bathed in a soft glow: she looks like a Princess! She smiles, and waves. We all cheer, not too loudly. The Leadwood tree is caked with mud deposited by an elephant as he daily rubs his rump, and we are not sure what time this ritual takes place, or how irate he might be at having his space invaded.
The vehicle comes to a stop behind the bush. There is a rustle. Mark takes his daughter to meet the bride. Sylvie is the perfect flower girl dressed in a lovely, lacy, layered dress, as she leads the retinue down the dusty path, strewing bougainvillea petals before her. Dwayne gives me back his glasses as Pastor Chris summonses him. His brother stands next to him.
Maike is assured, only her eyes seeking the approbation of her groom give a hint of her nervousness. Her dad, Stefan is tall and proud as he leads her to her future. The ceremony begins. It is simple, full of love and joy. As the sun begins to reach for the horizon it catches the diamantes in Maike’s veil and she is silhouetted in a halo of light. The vows are spoken, the register is signed, the paperwork completed.
Pastor Chris turns them to face each other.
“By the power invested in me as a minister of Jesus Christ, and the Republic of Botswana, I declare you man and wife, and I present to you Mr and Mrs Elderkin. Dwayne, now you may kiss your bride.”
Sylvie turns to me and exclaims: “They are like us! We are also Elderkin.”
With that the gathering surges around them and shows them with rose petal confetti. Congratulations resound in the golden air. The photographer, Lilani, allows us time, and then begins to organise everyone for the shots that will be so important later on.
The guests are taken off to a spot further upriver for sundowners while the family photographs are taken. Soon, we too, are carried off to join the rest of the party, leaving Dwayne and Maike with Lilani. The first thing I see when we join the rest of the group is a restless pod of indignant hippos in the pool, unsure of this intrusion into their space. Kim, the Manager of the group is anxious, concerned for the safety of all as one hippo keeps standing up out of the water, looking quite menacing.
“Keep the children behind us, as far from the water as possible,” she tells me.
But I think there iss safety in numbers, and the hippo soon settled back into the water in a happy huff, staring balefully at us as we enjoyed canapés and whatever on the bank.
All too soon it is time to return to camp and the wedding feast. The boma looks amazing. Stefan had painstakingly ringed the area with strings of tiny led lights that twinkle like a profusion of stars. Tilley lamps and candles cast a soft glow over tables bedecked in white and green. Ramona, Maike’s mum, had handcrafted white butterflies which seemed to hover over the tables as they perch on wine glasses. Closer inspection reveal they carry our names on their wings.
Conversation swirls, sparks from the fire outside rise star-wards as we wait for the newlyweds. Soon they arrive to a fanfare of bubble blowing, and the evening begins.
Whenever the Lord starts giving me scriptures about trusting Him, it’s a sure-fire certainty that I am about to be tested in this area. The last two weeks seem to have lasted at least a month, but I rejoice that along with the testing come answers, and lessons that amaze in the simplicity of their revelation.
One of the hangovers of the victim mentality is a feeling of abandonment, and I am particularly susceptible to these negative emotions when I am tired. Of course the person who gets the blame at these times is God: where are You, why are You not helping me out here? Why no answers? Why must I always fight for everything? I am so tired, so very, very tired!
It was with sinking heart a couple of Fridays ago, after a particularly gruelling battle with bureaucracy, that I realised I was descending into this pit, one I had not been in for a long, long time and I really did not want to go there again, longing instead to be where God is, secure in the knowledge of His love. I battled with my thoughts all day, with the fear that threatened to overwhelm once more, the knowledge that while people seem to think I am strong, I really am extraordinarily weak. The feeble hands hung down, the loins remained un-girded as I silently did battle with my Maker.
Late that afternoon I stopped prevaricating, and sat down with Bible in hand, ready for a “session”! Oh how He must laugh at His children, when He is not in despair at our antics!
He led me to Jeremiah 10 v 6: Inasmuch as there is none like You, o Lord (You are great, and Your name is great in might). Like it or not, He is God, He can do as He pleases. A friend in Mozambique once said this to me when I questioned God’s role in events. At the time those words left me with a faint sense of indignation, although I could not argue with them. Now He was telling me the same thing Himself!
Thereafter I heard this insistent voice saying: “When are you going to leave things in My hands?”
This led to a fresh outburst, which was good in that for once I was able to answer honestly, instead of apportioning blame: Because I am scared, I am scared you won’t answer, I’m scared of the future, and I don’t want to be alone anymore.
The answer really is very simple: God is Lord. He does as He pleases and that is His prerogative. My part is to do as I am told, as long, of course, as I clearly hear the instruction. I am usually so busy off to sort everything out, I don’t hear His voice trailing into the distance behind me!
The next day, after a good night’s sleep I was better positioned to listen. The Lord led me to Deuteronomy 31 v 6: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
Old, well-known, comfortable and comforting words, but this day they leapt off the page at me with new meaning. God truly does go with me, I am the one who gives into fear. He knows that, so He says: “Don’t fear them, for they are impotent in My presence, they may not touch you! I go with you.”
The cross reference to this discussion is found in Psalm 27, another old favourite. “Though an army may encamp against me my heart shall not fear…” and again that injunction: …”wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart;…”
It couldn’t be clearer. Or could it. My cell beeped with the tune indicating a message from my home group. it was Fi, with our daily lesson which this day came from Proverbs 4 v12: When you walk your steps will not be impeded, and if you run you will not stumble.” Not on ly did she send these words, but she then sent a prayer for us which began:
“If you don’t learn to thank God in advance, you won’t have the strength you need to wait for the promised.”
Day led into day. We had a dreadful storm, a tornado which ripped through our community, uprooting trees, destroying buildings, leaving us without electricity or water for almost a day. Funny how the Lord tests one’s resolve – I don’t like storms, and strong winds terrify me, but through this storm I was able to keep calm, even filming the gusting rain to send to my boys. Having to deal with the after effects, however, in addition to what seemed like pressure to perform in various aspects of my life on all sides, and pretty soon I felt as if I were in free-fall again.
A new set of questions: You say I must leave things in Your hands. You also say that I am Your hands, that I must be ready to act, to move, to have courage. How do I know when to move and when to wait? The anxiety began to mount once more. A sleepless night, a gnawing in the pit of stomach, a cry for help.
Somewhere along the line I ended up at Deuteronomy 8 v 1-10, again dealing with the need for courage, but telling of God’s presence through every difficulty, of His provision, of how we will suffer lack at times, but never for long. Another day I was impressed to turn to Psalm 37 where almost every question and concern I was struggling with is answered with amazing assurance, but also throughout the verses is the injunction to wait, be patient, wait on the Lord, be controlled, forsake anger, chose instead to trust Him who is able to do abundantly more than we can ever imagine.
I began to understand properly for the first time how worry can lead to wrong doing, but in trusting a door is opened for peace.
Ps 37 v 11: “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”! When we allow ourselves to fully trust God, it induces humility – we are stating that we are powerless, He alone is able and worthy. If we can get to this place, this state of simple being, the reward is an abundance of peace, in which we are able to delight. Strong words, powerful promise!
Another lesson learnt, a step closer to my Lord, a walk in the fertile sunshine of my Father’s provision.
And so, as I face the questions that confront me, the choices placed before me, I know that I have to walk in my own integrity, regardless of the actions of those around me. I cannot treat others as they may treat me, I have to treat them as God directs, and above all, I need to guard my heart, so that no hint of resentment paves the way for a root of bitterness to grow from what sometimes seems grossly unfair.
I read an account in our local paper a while back of a woman who had been robbed by the person she employed as domestic helper. The help had made off with thousands of emalangeni worth of jewellery, and I have no doubt, a lot more that the employer will discover over the months to come. The article talked of the abuse that is meted out by these helpers as they lie, cheat and steal from those who employ them.
I wonder why this is? What makes this particular strata of society feel it is their right to help themselves to whatever they fancy in the homes they are paid to clean and take care of?
My first bad experience of this was after the death of my mother. As an only child whose father died when I was nine, and was now a relatively young twenty one, the trauma of losing my only parent was huge. When the funeral and various formalities were over, I turned my attention to the home we had lived in for the past however many years. The house belonged to the Swaziland Government and I had a limited time before I needed to vacate it.
I started in my Mother’s bedroom, because that was the most painful, and slowly moved through the rest of the house. All went relatively well, until I opened the linen cupboard. What had once housed been shelves brimming over with table cloths, matching napkins, sheets, pillowcases was now a cupboard with bare shelves.
I called to the woman who had shared most of my life with me.
“Where are all the table clothes, the napkins, all the things that were here?”
She shook her head. No idea what I was talking about. There had never been anything in that cupboard, all my imagination. It got worse. When I got to the dining room plates of all description, together with most of the cutlery, was gone. She’d moved fast.
What hurt was not so much the value of the items taken, although there obviously was a cost involved: silver forks and spoons with the Warburton and Leary family crests might have some commercial value but that was not what mattered right then. It was not only the loss of that tenuous link to my past, but the feeling of betrayal, that trust that was shattered. Items that I could have held as I remembered precious moments, gentle words spoken beneath my father’s piercing blue eyes, my Mum’s green eyes flashing merrily as we laughed at some piece of fun – that aura of comfort so necessary in a world suddenly lonely.
That was the first time, sadly not the last. It is a way of life, the sudden discovery that something is missing. You learn to accept that it is going to happen, your only decision is how much you allow to disappear before you act and diplomatically remove the offender. It isn’t always stealing. Sometimes it is simply carelessness and glasses, cups, even furniture is broken. Responsibility for repairing or replacing these items is eschewed with a shrug of the shoulders.
I have been pondering all this for a while, trying to decide whether employing someone to assist me with housework is a help or a hindrance, how much more damage and loss can I afford. As always, God has a happy knack of showing up with a reasoning argument just before I descend into active dislike and resentment.
Our Ladies’ Bible Study started up last week after the Christmas break, with a study on the book of the prophet Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. All my complaints and mutterings seemed to be duplicated in the first chapter! God is talking about the behaviour and attitude of the children of Israel, who had come to such a parting of the ways between themselves that they were now two kingdoms, quite apart from deserting God, and insulting Him by consorting with other gods, and deliberately flouting every one of His injunctions!
To demonstrate His point, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute, which he does. Thereafter follows a tale of love and despair, of faithlessness and forgiveness, the story of a God, tried to the utmost by the actions of His chosen people, yet determined to claim them as His own, to bless them and honour them as His adored creation.
I think I have a small glimmer of how He feels, because I have treated Him in much the same way as domestic assistants down the years have treated me. In spite of all my wrongdoing, He still proclaims in ringing tones:
‘Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth,
And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy;
Then I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’’
There are many gems throughout this book:
‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’
‘My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge’ Hosea 4:6
– we presume to judge God, to insist He should act as we would have Him act, and when He doesn’t we thump our chests and say ‘See, what kind of God is He?’
As in all things, we have a choice. What I do about my domestic situation is in my hands, I have the authority to decide how much ‘abuse’ I am prepared to take, if any at all. There will be a cost, and again I get to decide how much I am prepared to give.
Does our Father not get the same right? To decide how much He will take from us, give us warning when we go too far. The difference is God’s love is so much greater than mine, and if He can forgive me all that I get up to, how do I deny forgiveness to others?
It all started before Christmas. I was on my way home from Nelspruit when I did something really stupid.
On a previous trip, during winter, I had caught glimpse of a gulley that looked as if it was on fire. It was aloes, in full bloom, clinging precariously, victorious in their ability to hold themselves fast in the rock clefts. There is nowhere to stop easily at that point, so I had to imprint the picture on my mind because I knew I wanted to paint it.
A few months later, after playing with the picture in my mind, I decided I needed to take a picture of the spot. I had to go to Nelspruit, so I knew I would have my chance. I have learnt over the years that even the simplest of cameras takes a pretty good snapshot from a moving vehicle. As I turned onto the stretch of road leading to my ‘Flaming Kloof’ there was a line of fairly slow moving vehicles in front of me. Aha! My chance!
I would put my swanky new cell to the test. A little problem – my driving glasses reduce everything within the car to a mild blur, most particularly anything on the screen of a mobile. While I was squinting, trying to figure out where the camera icon was, something felt a little off. I looked up to find myself trundling merrily off-road, down a pretty steep hill straight towards a small dam!
A quick manoeuvre brought me around. But. There was brick edging to the road at that point, and I crunched over it with a sickening thud, followed immediately by a screeching scrape. At the point where I steered back onto the road was a small but deadly rock! It had completely massacred my front passenger wheel. Yes, wheel. The tyre was shredded, the wheel buckled, the hub cap protruding at an odd angle.
Shaking like a leaf, I called the friend with whom I had spent the night. Her husband immediately made a plan to rescue me, until reason prevailed and I told him to wait a while, surely some intrepid soul would stop to assist. A minibus trundled by, hooted in greeting. Didn’t stop. The ubiquitous white Fortuna, much loved by most of the population in this part of the world, slowed, took one look at me, and drove off.
Pray! That small still voice penetrated my panic. I did. Within minutes a spiffy white Audi appeared. I tentatively put out my hand to flag it down. Relief allowed some moisture back into my mouth as It pulled over. The man behind the wheel assured me he had been in the tyre business for decades and proceeded to change the wheel for me.
The first quote I got put the damage far beyond what I had in my budget for “whatevers” – oh the cost of folly! I made it through Christmas, determinedly ignoring the fact that I was driving around with no spare tyre.
As we do every year, I determined that 2017 is going to be a good year. I lost my way in 2016, largely due to taking on the chair of our local equestrian federation. Writing schedules went out the window, the days became substantially shorter, a new system, accepted by some, agreed to begrudgingly by others, took huge mental effort to understand, and resolving age-old differences tested my conciliatory skills to the nth degree. I was tired, irritable, desperate to get my writing back on track, and 2017, that magical number for whatever reason, was going to do it for me.
Until I came home from work, opened the car door to get out, realised the windows were open, turned the key in the ignition to close them, got out and went to talk to the gardener. The next morning keys stubbornly missing, I decided to look in the car. I saw them in the ignition through the window, and was turning away when a mournful beep, beep, beep, made me open the door. I hadn’t only left them in the ignition, but left the ignition turned on.
A kindly neighbour, who agreed to let his watch of the cricket be interrupted, got me jump-started, but an annoying yellow light, reflecting the letters ABS persisted in mocking me.
Things happened in quick sequence hereafter. A phone call asking me for a reference for a domestic helper who had once worked for me. Except it wasn’t once, she was currently working for me. How dumb is that? Giving my name as reference when you haven’t given notice? I now had to lock my poor Lexie into the house when I had to shop, or work, or whatever.
My life took a swift turn to the stressed. Washing I can handle, vacuuming I can manage, but ironing and mopping floors are a challenge as yet unattained. Then there is Lexie. With none to keep an eye on him he has refined his skills as a worthy follower of Houdini to a fine craft. He has my cat as teacher, so windows are to be jumped through, the gate scaled, and furniture is there to be chewed when boredom threatens.
Trying to make him feel better after one day of long incarceration in the kitchen, I bought him a new ball and a hide bone. He immediately buried the bone with great ceremony and secret ritual. When he was done he returned, and eyed the ball with an expectant glitter in his eyes. I went to cut off the label, and get rid of plastic bags and life continued.
Until two days later when I needed my spare house keys. I searched, and searched. I went around the garden thinking Lexie may have made off with them. at last I decided I must have thrown them away with the label of the ball. The packet with the hide bone had two in it – I only gave him one – the other is also missing. Conundrum: Lexie or the refuse bag?
It was refuse collection day, so I decided to go and check through the bag I had deposited there a couple of hours earlier. I knew exactly where it was, to the side of the pile. It would be messy but quick. So I thought.
But no. Life in this cycle is not that simple. In this country we have people, men mostly, who eschewing the psychiatric facilities live on the streets, where they laugh and sing and dance to whatever beat they alone can hear. Our resident chap was having a whale of a time going through all our stinking bags, and mine was no longer where I placed it. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to recognise it, confident I had tied mine differently to those I was looking at.
I mean, really?!
By the time I had opened the third one, been covered in flies and sickened with stench, I gave up. My decision was hastened by one of my neighbours driving past and waving cheerfully. Then the farm manager rode past on his bicycle.
“Afternoon, Madam,” without a change of expression.
I took stock. Here I was, with the village imbecile, looking through refuse bags in full view of all the world on a Tuesday afternoon.
Is 2017 going to be a better year? With a start like this, it has to be!