One Starry Night

She couldn’t gauge his mood from the set of his shoulders.

He hadn’t said much since it happened. The quiet seriousness of his demeanour when he told her he would not betray her condition, that he would stand by her, take care of her and the child, stayed with her. He hadn’t looked at her, and once he’d said his piece he left.

In a way she was pleased the Romans had insisted on this census, that they had to come to Bethlehem to register. This way, anyone keeping count would not be able to point fingers if the babe came while they were here.

The pregnancy had gone well, the baby moving gently through the weeks. She felt overwhelming love for this little one though he had caused her all sorts of grief.

She would never forget the stricken look on Jo’s face when she told him she was with child. She watched the conflicting emotions play over his strong features, prayed he would not disown her, end their engagement.

The next night she was woken by a vibration, a powerful movement of air pulsed around the house, an unearthly glow shimmered from the walls. Similar to that night. She smiled to herself. She was chosen. Plain Mary. Not the vivacious Rebecca, or the gorgeous Lydia. No! Mary was the favoured one.

The following morning Jo told her he’d been visited in the night, that he had been told by an angel they should go ahead and get married.

Her parents were thrilled. They’d been waiting for this word for months. The house hummed with activity, the smell of spices from the kitchen filled the air, her father gave her a bottle of cologne, cinnamon and bergamot and frankincense. She could barely contain her excitement – she had never had perfume before! Her younger sister, Rachel, wanted to try it, had grabbed the bottle out of her hand. She was terrified it would be broken in the scuffle. Rachel was impossible!

She was so shy the night of the wedding. Jo said nothing, settled her on the bed and slept on the floor next to her. I won’t touch you until the child is born, he said. I asked what the watchers would say. I have a cloth he responded – they will be happy with that.

He had treated her with utmost respect, but she missed the easy camaraderie they had before that night. The night of the visitation from beyond the heavens. It had all seemed so right then, so easy. But these past months had been hard, hard to hold on to that feeling of awe, remember the extraordinary love that enfolded her, the warmth spreading through her body, engulfing her.

Then the news that her cousin Elizabeth was with child well into her old age. They were calling her the modern day Sarah. And poor Zac, quite overcome and unable to speak. No one knew what had happened to him that day in the temple. He was gone so long they began to worry he had died in the Holy of Holies. They were debating whether they should pull on the rope, get him out, when he appeared, white as a sheet and quite unable to speak.

Soon thereafterElizabeth began to swell, glowing with joy at finally carrying a baby. The people of the village in the mountains of Judea wondered if the two incidents were related. There was a lot of talk.

Mary knew she had to go and see her. Their experiences were too similar. Her suspicions were confirmed when Elizabeth cried in excitement that the baby had leapt for joy in her womb as he heard the voice of the mother of his lord! How on earth had she known Mary was with child – for she had told no one, and be sure, Joseph would not have said a word!

She could be brave with Elizabeth, she thought walking home from her cousin’s home. She worried, now, about when she would begin to show, how to disguise her dates, the sadness in her husband’s eyes. He still wasn’t sure about all of this.

Then had come the news of the census, shortly followed by the decree. Jo’s family were from Bethlehem, her family from Nazareth. His brothers and parents had left a few days ago. Jo said they should wait and go at the last minute. That way they could be alone and wait for the child to come. They would also be able to celebrate Passover away from prying eyes. So here they were, on this dusty road on a glorious late winter’s day, a hint of spring in the rays of the sun.

Jo insisted on bringing the donkey, concerned the walk would be too much for her. She liked the donkey and it was reassuring to know she could give her feet a rest. Her back ached – her mother had commented on her size last week, wondering how she would deliver such a large baby. Oh God, it is so hard to deceive those closest to me. And I worry about my man, he is so good, so patient, but I know he is hurting, his thoughts trouble him. As they would me if the roles were reversed.

The strangeness hadn’t ended there. They heard Liz had had her baby. On the eighth day at the dedication at the temple, Zac’s father had stepped forward to name the child, as Zac was still struck dumb. He had spoken forth the name Zacharias as it should be, but Liz interrupted and said No, he will be called John. Unheard of. The relatives argued with her. No such name in our family, or yours for that matter. Her eyes found Zac’s, beseeching.  Ask him, she urged. Him? He can’t speak! But he can write. A piece of paper was found – he wrote: his name is John. Immediately he could speak!

The land was full of whispers and wonderings.

“Where are your thoughts?” She hadn’t noticed Jo dropping back to walk beside her.

“I was thinking about Liz and Zac. Did I tell you about my visit with her?” He shook his head. “You were lost in a world of your own when you returned from Judah,” he said.

“She knew I was pregnant before I even stepped into her home. She said her baby had leapt for joy in her womb, and she asked what the mother of her Lord was doing visiting her. It was so odd, Jo! And then calling him John. They say Liz was adamant. And when Zac wrote the confirmation, he was able to speak once more.”

He grunted.

“What are we a part of, Jo?”

“I don’t know. These past months have not been easy, Mary, but I feel at peace. I keep thinking I should be angry with you, with Yahweh, I should feel betrayed. But instead I have a deep sense of peace, of things being as they should be.”

“I am so glad, Jo. I would hate to lose you in all this.”

He smiled that smile, and for the first time in months the glow of love was back in his eyes.

“I think you should ride now. You’ve walked a long way.”

Gratefully she allowed him to help her onto the donkey. Bethlehem was in sight, they could hear the town: the sound of voices and animals sifted onto the evening air. The dull ache in her lower back pressed into her, the massage of the movement of the donkey easing it only slightly. I walked too far.

The sun was close to the horizon when they passed through the gate of the town.

‘Not long now and you can have a proper rest.” She smiled.

Then began the nightmare. Rather than everyone having registered and headed home or to Jerusalem for Passover, it seemed the whole of Israel had decided to stay in Bethlehem. Inn after inn was full.

It had been dark for a while, businesses were closing. Joseph was panicking, desperate. The pain in her back was worse. People jostled impatient at the donkey blocking their passage. It was getting late. They were hungry. There was only one place left to try. Tears filled her eyes as she saw the innkeeper shake his head, Jo’s shoulders slumped, desperation oozing out of him.

The man was closing the door when he stopped and turned back. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Jo nodded, the innkeeper nodded, his wife came out to her. “You poor child, I am so sorry but we will do the best we can for you.”

She led them through the courtyard to the cattle stalls. “We sold a cow today and her calf, so we have a stall free. Thank heavens my son cleaned it, and filled it with fresh bedding, ready for the sheep to come in tomorrow.”

She stumbled from the donkey and would have fallen, but Jo had her, his arms strong and secure as he easily lifted her. The innkeeper’s wife was fixing straw, making a mattress of sorts. Mary gasped as her muscles cramped. The spasm was gone almost as soon as it started, but if left her breathless.

”Are you alright? Mary, Mary, look at me, what is happening?”

Before she could respond, she felt a hand on her tummy, a discerning look from the Innkeeper’s wife. “It is time, the baby will come tonight.”

Joseph nearly dropped her. The woman smiled and patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry, it will be a while yet. I have had four children, we will manage. Put her down, I will go and get food for you. I am Miriam, by the way.”

The bed was surprisingly comfortable. Until the next spasm. And the next.

Jo began pacing. “Where is she?”

Another contraction.

“I don’t know what to do, Mary! I’m lost here.”

A gush of water. Joseph yelped in fright. Mary wanted to laugh, but the tightening of her belly took her breath away.

“Bring more straw, Jo, so I can wipe this mess. Keep a space dry for the baby.”

“Where is she? Straw. Yes. Okay. Here, I will make it dry. Take it easy. Oh, Mary, I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have left it so late!”

She took his hand. “Look at me, Jo! It is going to be fine. I am having a baby, a baby ordained by Yahweh Himself – do you think He won’t take care of us?”

He relaxed a fraction. “I feel responsible. Yahweh has trusted us both, Mary. If anything were to happen to you or the baby….”

“Nothing is going to happen. Here, big man, you need some sustenance, it could be a long night. First baby?” Miriam was all business.

They both nodded. “They take their time. Ah, your waters broke. That is good, that means the little one is truly on the way!”

It was somewhere past midnight when the air began to change, lighten, a faint pulse, the animals shuffled closer. Joseph drew his cloak tighter, frowning as he looked at Mary, her hair wet with sweat, brow creased in concentration.

The innkeeper came in. “Think you can all do with some refreshment, yes?” Weary nods were his reply.

“Strange light outside. Big, bright star. Thought it was the moon gone mad at first.”

Mary grunted. Miriam was immediately alert. “Have you got your swaddling clothes?”

“Here,” said Joseph.

“Good. Eli, we will need warm water to wash the baby. Maybe you and Joseph can see to that.”

She leant forward to Mary. “It is time, my dear, the next contraction you must push. Hard.”

The men arrived with the basin of water within minutes of the baby arriving. “It is a boy,” Miriam announced as she took the basin. “A beautiful boy!”

“There is a strange humming outside,” Joseph said, “and that star is huge.”

“Am I hearing singing?” asked Eli. “I hear it too,” said Miriam. The animals were restless, pressing against their stalls, straining at their leads. The donkey hovered close to Joseph. The light grew brighter. Footsteps, hurrying. Lambs bleating. Hushed voices.

Before Eli could get out of the barn to see what was happening a group of shepherds peered in, jostling for space. “Is the baby born?” “We’ve come to see the baby!” “The Christ!”

“What on earth…?”

“It’s alright,” said Joseph, “ you can let them in.”

When they were settled around Mary and the baby, Joseph asked them. “How did you know about the baby, and where to come?

“It was the most amazing sight!”


“I thought the end of the world had come””

“The sky was full of them…”

“Of who? Or What?” Eli was gruff in his consternation .



“Singing. “

“Such a joyous sound!”

“Echoing across the heavens, the very air seemed to beat in time with their wings.”

“One, a huge Angel, spoke to us.”

“Yes, told us not to be afraid.”

“Said we should rejoice, that he had great news for us, for the whole world…”

“Yes, he said a Saviour was born, here in Bethlehem, the Christ, the Lord.”

“So we came as fast as we could…”

“How did you know where to find the baby?”

“The light.”

“And the wind.”



“Yes, a great white light streamed from a large star and led us straight here, stopped at the door.”

”The wind was like a tunnel, moving us along.”

“Can we see the baby now?”

The sheep had not taken part in the discussion, and instead were crowded around Mary and Joseph, taking it in turns to sniff the bundle she held in her arms. Mary looked up at Joseph. He was gazing at the baby.

“How can it be,” she whispered, “that even the animals seem to know He is someone special?”

Joseph smiled broadly. “I don’t know, Mary, it all feels right somehow.”

She nodded.

Dawn was wisping its way across the sky when Eli and Miriam left the barn.

“What a night!” Eli said. “Something extraordinary happened there, Miriam. Do you really think this baby is the Saviour, that this truly is Emanuel? Born in a stable. To a carpenter? And a young girl?”

In the Inn people were talking about the strange sounds and the bright light that had woken them through the night. Eli and Miriam listened, and nodded, but said nothing.

Out in the barn, a baby, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of the line of David, lay in a manger, his parents asleep on a bed of straw.

Around them, the animals kept watch.

Each year at the time of the census, people would remind each other of the strange happenings of that one night, and wonder what it was all about.

Some thirty years later a young prophet created a stir throughout the land. Stories abounded of miracle healings, exorcisms, people raised from the dead. Could this be the Messiah, the One they all longed for.

The tales filtered through to an inn in Bethlehem. Then people came from Jerusalem with the news that the prophet had been crucified. They said the sky turned black, the Temple curtain ripped in two, graves burst open.

“I wonder” said Eli to Miriam, “if that is the baby that was born in our barn all those years ago? It makes sense of a sort, that one born in a great light, should die in great darkness.”

From Dark to Light

When my immediate response to a trite question on Facebook, one I would normally ignore: if you were asked to bring something to a party that begins with the first letter of your name? was ‘garbage’ I knew I was in trouble.

There is so much spoken these days about mental health and how important it is to take care, not only of our own mental health but also be sensitive to those around us. I have been through a number of trials the past few weeks that have left me feeling vulnerable, insecure and worthless.

Harsh words, unfriendly looks, innocuous happenings, the actions that contribute to the erosion of self-esteem are so insignificant when taken incident by incident, but depression, anxiety, fear are invidious stalkers, that creep up gradually until one morning you wake up with that familiar dread weight in your solar plexus. It’s horrible.

We had a sermon yesterday on humility and as I drove away with a friend, she remarked that feelings of hurt, indignation, are evidence of pride in our lives. Pride. Opposite to humility. Hard pill to swallow when you are struggling with self-doubt. A premise that needs examining nonetheless.

It is never easy reaching out to others from a position of woundedness – the level of trust required to share those deep misgivings are not easily forged – so the sense of isolation, rejection, non-acceptance, heighten.

it is important to recognise the signs. To act swiftly.

As a Christian I know when this happens I need to go back to the roots of my faith, establish Whose I am. I have to remember that I am who God says I am, not all those voices out there. I have to dig deep, sometimes deeper than I have the energy for, but dig I must for this miry clay is no place to wallow or linger.

It amazes me that often when I am in this place a verse will crop up in various messages, or teachings, or studies that I read. Today it was an old favourite, the oft-quoted Jeremiah 29 v 11: For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The first look and I glossed, or maybe my eyes glazed, over it. “Yeah”, I thought. “Heard that before.” A while later the same verse turned up again in another reading. Hhmm. Time to get up. Reject the invitation to self-pity, take reasonable stock, face forward.

The context of this verse comes at a time when the Israelites were in captivity to the Babylonians, and the Lord had told them through the prophet, Jeremiah, they weren’t coming home anytime soon. This was an encouragement to them, not to despair, not to give up.

The next three verses are equally pertinent:

12. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

13. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

14a. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity:

Freedom from captivity. Freedom from doubt and fear. Freedom from the judgment of those not qualified to judge.

I know there are people out there who have days like I have described, who are feeling sad and wounded. Maybe you are worried about the harm your words have caused to others when you have snapped at them from your place of angst and unhappy. I certainly do. I have the ability to wound as well and as harshly as I have been hurt.

I have a choice. You have a choice. We can stay where we are, incapacitated and miserable, or we can get up and fight against that which would down us.

Take heart! Today is a new day. There is a future and a hope. Start telling yourself the good stuff and reject the lousy.

I used to tell girls I counselled: ‘God doesn’t make rubbish’, so when you put yourself down you insult the God of heaven. He made us in His image, and whilst we may be a little battered and bruised, not as great as we would like to be, He only sees the perfection He had in mind when He created us.

Like the loving Father He is.

His world tells us over and again: you are precious in His sight. He delights in you. He laid down His life for you! He made you as you are to fulfill His purpose – find what that is, focus on it, and go forward! There will always be dissenters and ne’ersayers, critics and judges. Learn to put their words into perspective:

How important are they to you? How much does their opinion matter?

Are their words true? If so, even a little true, what are you going to do about it?

What positive accolades have you received that you can focus on?

Each one of us has the freedom to choose what we are going to do, how we are going to react, what we will believe. We can turn the tide in our own lives, by being willing to change, to take charge of our thoughts, bringing every thought captive unto Christ, allowing our minds to be renewed, transformed by the life-giving love of God, even reaching out to a friend, allowing them the privilege of walking with us through the dark and scary valleys, until we come to that place of light, where the sun shines once more and birdsong fills the air.

I would like to be that friend.

My God Wins!

Have you noticed how the world of commerce has stolen Sundays?

What started as a slow erosion of the day set aside for Godly worship and family and rest is now a total blurring of any lines of division with the rest of the week. This insidious encroachment regularly puts many Christians in a place of conflict: church or the market? Church or work?

Where I live, farmers’ markets and other similar activities traditionally took place on a Saturday. No longer. Now they are held on Sundays, from 9am onwards – right at the time most Christians go to church. When I pointed this out to an artists’ group, of which I am a member, designating Sunday as the best day for their market, the answer was that Saturdays are awkward as it is the day most people do their shopping!

Do you see the illogicality of this disingenuous argument? What are you doing at a market if not shopping? Until now Saturday seemed to work just fine for the numbers that attended the various markets combining them easily with their weekly shop.

It would be interesting to compare figures of attendance.

My observation, for that it was rather than an objection, was countered with the suggestion that those of us who went to church should spend less time there in order to accommodate the organisers of the event.

I tire of the unchurched presuming to dictate to Christians how we should spend our Sundays, how we should behave, why we should not believe as we do, and then demanding that we choose between serving our God and pandering to their whims.

There are those for whom Christianity, Church, Faith is seemingly an inconvenient truth, but that does not give them the right to dictate to me how much time I should spend in the presence of my Lord each Sunday. That is His prerogative!

We had an incredible day in church yesterday. We are still on two services to accommodate Covid protocols, and as I was on service duty I attended both services, each vibrant with much Holy Ghost ministry taking place according to the needs of those present. The nearly six hours I spent there flew by: the worship was amazing, voices soaring and lifting us heavenwards; a powerful, pertinent word given by Ian Weeden that lines up closely with my diatribe today; hurting people ministered to in love; people given hope.

The smile of release on a face worn by worry, shoulders that relax as burdens are lifted, the sobs as a grain of truth liberates a person from years of dogged fear – I find it intoxicating! I cannot wait for Sundays to see what the Lord has planned for His people, to hear what He has to say, to know that I am a part of something so huge that the universe cannot contain it! These are the moments that impact eternity, that dictate where I go after my time on this ailing planet is over.

The sweet sense of union and unity, of love and compassion made us linger long after the service ended yesterday, the rain a symbol of the refreshing time we had spent in the presence of the Lord.

I find it hard to understand how everyone doesn’t want this wonder, this sense of security in their lives, this feeling of being totally and intimately loved by a God who was and is prepared to go to any length to have communion with us.

But what about your art, your need for income you may ask.

Would I like to sell my paintings? Do I long for a publishing contract for my books? Too right I do. Will this matter in the next life? What is the true gain if I achieve these goals, but don’t take care of my brother and sister in need in the process?

The words that resonate with me are found in Mathew 6 vv 25 – 33:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life., what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;

And yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these

Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, o you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

I have seen God’s provision in my life, sometimes miraculously, sometimes so gently I don’t recognise His hand in events until later when I reflect on how something panned out compared to how it should have been. I have seen food stretch to feed far more mouths that it was made for, I have seen people healed, physically and emotionally. I have sensed His working in my life supernaturally more times than I can remember, times I was delivered from harm, healed from illness, given the tools to minister to others.

It is in the presence of God on a Sunday together with like-minded people that I find the strength, the under-girding, the release and the direction I need to fulfil His role and purposes in my life, which include my art in all its forms.

You want me to curtail that for desultory hours at a flea market hoping that someone will buy a painting or two? No way! There is no choice for me – watching God in action is way too exciting to miss one second for tawdry commerce – my God wins, hands down, every time!


A while back I joined a group called Globe Soup. The name alone intrigues, but it is a group that offers a forum for writers and runs various competitions and challenges.

One of these is a short story challenge. Entrants are divided into eleven groups and on a given day are given a theme and a genre, after which you have seven days to produce a short story of not more than 2000 words.

The date of my first challenge drew close and I prayed I would get something like historical, or crime, anything but dystopian, or, heaven forbid, Science Fiction! So the day dawned, my email arrived and yes, I got Science Fiction, theme betrayal.

I had to do it, I had to try and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the challenge. This is what I wrote – would love to hear comments and feedback!

The change in motion woke her to an unseeing fright. Eyes still dark from the nightmare, she lay still, searching. Where was she?

The ship. The storm. She uncovered the porthole. Light reflected off the white mountains in the distance; closer, pancakes of ice slushed past. An unseasonal icy storm. An omen? She shivered.

Her mind returned to the dream. She felt again the horror of her stomach swelling through her mouth, shutting off the air to her lungs, closing down her organs. It was the one aspect of training she wished she hadn’t had to learn about. The effects of the release of pressure when coming up from great depths in the ocean. The abyssal fish their mouths wide in bulging rigor as their stomachs erupted through an aperture too small.

She allowed the full horror to overwhelm as Peter had taught her. Look at your fear, feel it, discard it. Focus on the positives, the outcomes, the recognition for outstanding achievement and let that emotion drive you.

A knock on the door. Peter, no doubt.

“Yes,” she called.

“Meeting. Ten minutes.”

She sighed out her frustration, allowed herself the luxury of a good stretch and rolled out of her bunk. Would she go down today?

The team was waiting for her. Jeremy Grunding, team leader and renowned astrophysicist, Garnett Mayberry, respiratory and metabolic physician, Charlotte Clark, dietician and analyst, Siegfried Hunter, engineer, Polly Sharp, marine biologist and Peter Oliver psychiatrist – her counsellor, mentor, lifeline.

Peter handed her a mug of coffee.

“Enjoy it.” He stared intently into her eyes, looking for doubt, for fear.

“Let’s get started.” Jeremy, impatient as always.

“We have decided to bring the launch forward. The storm, the gathering ice, we have a window now and we may not have another. Jess?”

She stilled the flutter of fear. No, not fear. Excitement.

“I’m ready.” The calm of her tone surprised her.

“Good. The pod is packed. Garnett, will you give Jess her final injections? Can we be ready to launch within the hour?”

My mental picture of the Pod

A frisson of excitement rippled. She met each pair of eyes head on.

‘These might be the last people I ever see.’ A picture of Themba flashed. She should have been allowed to tell him. That awful row, the ultimatum he’d given her. He was the first person to see beyond her skin, her shame. She loved him, but this was bigger than love. There were fears he would talk her out of it. Jeremy was adamant. Total secrecy.

She finished her coffee and nodded at Garnett. He smiled as he stood back and allowed her to lead the way to his room of medicines – chemicals that would conceivably allow her to breathe many hundreds of metres below the surface of the sea; assist her body move from oxygen dependency through photosynthesis to chemosynthesis, depending on chemical processes and alternative energy production; to live as an abyssal creature.

There were those who believed humans originated in the oceans, so to the oceans they should return.

It was a bold plan, born of desperation. The earth’s supplies had shrunk, no longer able to sustain its nine billion inhabitants. Water was scarce, hardly enough to drink let alone irrigate crops and livestock.

The few families translocated to Mars had made little difference to the situation on earth. The majority of people were off their heads from dehydration and deprivation, productivity in the workplace was minimal, crime had rocketed out of control as bands of brigands roamed the earth in search of food and drink.

Jess had been training for this endeavour for two years. Two years of sitting on the bottom of lakes, learning to control her breathing, or not breathing,  to still her body, allow it to slow down to reptilian pace. She had learnt to listen as her heartbeat slowed, feel her veins constrict as her body adapted to its watery environment. She could hold her breath for 16 minutes and 23 seconds at the last count, without any depreciation in her physical and cognitive ability.

After a year, her training had moved to the ocean. The north Atlantic. Her body had to adjust to the cold – icy water would slow her metabolism further. They moved to Iceland. She learnt to control her shivers in sub-zero water temperatures, to embrace the cold. Their ultimate destination? Antarctica.

Over the months they calibrated her body’s needs. How much fat, how many carbs, how few greens she could survive on.

Garnett and Charlotte believed she needed more time. She wasn’t totally adjusted as yet. Jeremy said we have no more time. He believed she could do it. Peter was almost convinced.

And Jess?

She hadn’t allowed herself to think too deeply about whether or not she was ready. She focussed on what she had to do, thought about good things as Peter taught her. For once her lack of melanin was an advantage. As an albino she would benefit from the limited penetration of light rays, red in particular, at 800 metres below the earth’s surface. She would be invisible in the deep, not a bleached, pasty target for bullies and sorcerers. She wondered if being cloaked in red would enhance her beauty.

The prick of the needle interrupted her reverie. She felt the familiar tingle as the blue liquid flowed into her vein.

“Alright?” Garnett was gentle.

“Yes, thanks.”

“How’s she doing?” Peter, concerned.

“Fine,” they chorused, then laughed at their synchrony.

She would miss these two men. They knew more about her than she knew herself.

The pod looked insignificant against the background of ice and sky. They had debated long and hard whether the experiment should take place in freshwater lakes or the sea. The sea, they decided. If she could live on the bottom of the coldest ocean, then surely life could be sustained in the freshwater lakes of Antarctica, or melted water from the ice caps.

They lined up to wish her well. She wished they hadn’t. Easier to simply go. But she smiled and shook hands, a quick hug from Peter and she stepped into the pod. She took a deep breath and forced her shoulders to relax before turning and sealing the door. The lights from the equipment twinkled at her. Siegfried, ensuring all was in order.

A shudder. She lurched against the counter ledge. A blur of white and blue, then bubbles filled the small viewing hatch. She checked the gauges. Nothing amiss. There wouldn’t be at this stage. The light dimmed. She closed her eyes, only opening them when she felt the bump of her arrival at ground zero, as Peter termed it. Better for adjustment to the almost total darkness.

She settled down to wait – compression needed to happen slowly.

A faint crackle. She stirred, moved closer to the speaker. They hadn’t been able to sort out effective communications at this depth. She caught the word ‘time’. Five days, she thought. I have been here five days. She had switched off the machines to conserve battery life. Her eyes could see vague shadows through the murk. They had wondered about visibility.

Her body was light, her heartbeat low and steady, her temperature colder than she had experienced, but she felt fine. She drew the vacu-bag out of its holder above the door, pulled it over her head and slipped the ridged border into the groove. She checked with her fingers to make sure there was no space. No way for the water to enter her pod. Slowly does it. She almost forgot to clip the rope onto her belt.

She turned the handle with both hands, braced to withstand the rush of water as the door opened. It was fiercer than expected. She felt the water swirling, pulling, investigating her. She wanted to breath. So badly. She winced with the effort of keeping her mouth closed, her tongue firmly pressed against the back of her mouth to block any errant trickle through her nostrils.

At last it settled and she took her first step into the deep unknown. She sensed more than felt organisms brush past her. She was filled with wonder: I am at the bottom of the deep blue sea, part of an outrageous experiment to save the world. She felt jubilant.

She reached the end of her rope and stood for a moment, noting the changes in her body, wondering would she ever be able to breath under water A flash distracted. What? A light moving through the murk. It came closer. A figure guiding it. No! She stepped back involuntarily, seeking cover.

He passed within a meter of her, his light diffuse and vague at this depth. She noted the extra-large diving cylinders, thick wetsuit, double glazed mask. He looked at her, and continued swimming. She realised he couldn’t see her. She was invisible! The spark of excitement faded as she remembered the pod. What if he found the pod? It couldn’t happen. She would have to make sure he didn’t find it.

She began to pull herself back along the rope, slowly so as not to disturb the water. The light veered to the left. She saw a strange amorphous creature stealthily stalking the intruder.

She had to watch the time. She only had about four minutes left.

She bumped against the pod. Should she go in or wait and watch the intruder? It would take two minutes to empty the vacu-bag of water before she could enter the pod and breathe again. She had to let the team know. The light approached once more. There was a wrench pinned to the inside of the door in case it jammed. She felt for it.

Jess had worked too hard and too long to allow anyone to rob her of victory right at the beginning of the trial. She knew with icy clarity she could and would kill if needs be. Her worry was contamination, especially if he bled into the pristine environment. He was too close. She detached the wrench. Her lungs were beginning to ache. Not much time left. Closer. The light sweeping an arc. Too close. He couldn’t miss the pod. A tiny flare on the rim of the door. The torch swung back. She saw the glint of mask, eyes beaming victory. Still he didn’t see her. I have one chance. She balanced herself, felt the support of the pod at her back, raised the wrench. Before she could swing, the figure jerked back, the flashlight circling a new route. An encrusted tentacle, a lethargic eye, the hint of a mouth. The man’s legs flailed as he clawed at the menace around his neck, the water swirled.

She waited, heartrate increased, lungs bursting, her ears ringing. No sign of man, light or beast. She stepped into the sack, closed the hatch, inserted the hose and started the pump. She lifted her head, seeking air. Too soon. A beep. She unzipped the vacu-bag and felt her lungs expand with relief, the rush of air making her lightheaded.

She lay on her cot, waiting for her heartbeat to settle. She couldn’t allow that to happen again. It was imperative her heartbeat remained below 25. There was movement. Something was rocking the pod. She went to the view pad.

An uneven shape waving around an eye. The Creature. She felt a sound. What? It couldn’t be. Or could it? Telepathic communication? They had spoken of the possibility.

 She heard it again. I see you. And I see you, she thought. She had no idea how long they stayed together in silent communication. Let the team know, she thought. They’ll take me up. I’m not ready to go. It was my first walk. And I was invisible! He didn’t see me, only the pod.

I will take care of you, she heard. Yes. I believe you will.

The team will wait.

Refreshing Waters

I woke up this morning, my head aching from a neck that seems to have become more stiff and rigid as the Covid pandemic has progressed. I felt a cry bellow out of me: No! Enough! I can’t do this anymore! I want the fear to go, the helplessness, the endless worry of what about tomorrow. Right now there is no tomorrow, there is only today.

 I am in isolation again. A part of me rejoiced as I thankfully accepted that all the entries in my diary for the next week could be crossed out. I didn’t realise how tired I am.

We talk so glibly about what a tough season this has been, but we jolly along regardless, making the best of each day, pretending we are ‘back to normal’.

When I was a child I went to boarding school in Pretoria, a long haul in 1965 from my home in Mbabane. It took us most of the day, rattling over corrugations, negotiating bends and rises through the dust. Or in summer slithering through the mist, the person in the front passenger seat given the honour of keeping the windscreen free of blinding condensation as the wipers clacked rhythmically at one speed only.

The roads improved until my final year we made it in under 5 hours, giving us a few more precious moments at home. Later I lived in Johannesburg for a couple of years, trying to get some qualification that would equip me for life. No matter from where, the journey home was always exciting, the flat windswept fields of the Highveld gradually giving way to hillocks and at last we would round a corner and there would be the mountains of home, victoriously etched against the sky, the valleys boundless and intriguing. We would sit up, fiddle for passports, look out eagerly for the first sign of Ngwenya.

A gentle highveld river in eSwatini – I call these Refreshing Waters

And it never came. We would crest one hill after another and no sign of home. The evening journeys when we left Johannesburg after work were the most fraught, the 10pm border closing deadline ominous.

This pandemic is similar. We no sooner think we are at the end of it, than another wave rises up in seemingly unending progression. Now, exhausted by the restrictions, constrictions, and anxiety of the past eighteen months, we have to deal with the lunacy of anti-vaxxers waging hysterical warfare that sounds more like galactic dystopian fiction. If only it weren’t so real we could treat it as such.

The Christian mongers are among the worst. Heaven knows where they find the stuff – I have read the bible from cover to cover three times, study it daily, and have never come across what they proclaim it to reveal. The issue, of course, is they don’t read for themselves. They listen to self-proclaimed scholars and prophets who sprout anything, it seems, to gain notoriety. I pity many of them when that great book is opened and they are asked to give account of their work, possibly even explain  why they felt it necessary to help others die, no matter how well-meaning they may think they are.

Rock pools being refreshed at The Beach

For me, when I am tired like this, my heart turns to one of two places: Kruger or similar bush and the wide expanse of what I call The Beach in Mozambique. The one offers balance in the form of the natural scheme of things, the other refreshing waters. In both places I am made aware of the enormity of God, the expanse of His heaven encompassing in unrivalled majesty. I am a star gazer and as I look heavenward in places where light pollution is minimal I am awed by the celestial canvas spread out over us.

It is  here that I find a measure of peace, where some order returns, I feel my diaphragm release, my shoulders drop, and I can breathe again. It is here that I can exclaim: My God, how great thou truly art! God is so big, I am so small, yet He honours me with His love and His presence, His reassurance when I feel lost and desperate.

In Isaiah 55 v1 the invitation is given out: Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.

Later Jesus said, to a woman, let us note, in John 4 v14: … whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

A little later, still in the gospel of John 7 v 37, Jesus cries out to the crowd: If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.

This morning as I was praying, seeking that peace for which there is no understanding, I saw a picture of the sea, with a cobbled beach. The stones were all round and smooth, the light playing over them, revealing hidden depths of colour. I had a sudden glimpse of what they were like when they were formed: jagged, black lumps of hardened lava. It has taken centuries of washing and bumping and grinding to make them rounded and beautiful.

Elemental ll by Laurel Holmes

Water does it for me. I think that is why I am so attracted to the art of Laurel Holmes – her fascination with water and her ability to portray its movement and depth with such subtle emotion resonates deeply within my soul. I love the rock pools that border the beach, waterfalls in my home country of Swaziland, some crashing abundantly into potholes, others gently moulding the land to their passage. Others still without grandeur flowing purposefully to wherever, nurturing those whose land they share.

I was at one such spot recently and the movement of the water over a large flat rock drew me like a magnet. The texture of soft over hard and implacable, clarity and translucence over opaque solidity. The silence of a Sunday morning in the country, the indolence of cows, the nervous fiddling of donkeys, the intention of a Malachite Kingfisher, soothed.

The Master Artist : soft over hard and implacable, translucent over opaque

So I felt the call of the Holy Spirit to linger in that place a while, let the rhythm of the waves, the jostling of the stones, the light, the birdcall restore my sense of well-being, strengthen me to face this day and the ones that will follow.

Then the scriptures of the day began arising, one in particular a clarion call to get over myself from a friend: Isaiah 40 v 31: But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Won’t you join me in this place of rest where the waters of life wash over you, restore you, make you whole? Together we are so much better than when we are one.

If My People …

The story of Moses and the burning bush resonated this morning. It speaks to unsettled and unsettling times, the cries of the oppressed in Egypt were heard by God, it was time for Him to put His solution into action. He had Moses in mind, but how to get his attention? Flames will do it every time, so He got a bush burning. It was such a strange phenomenon that of course it drew the attention of the fugitive, Moses. Imagine his surprise, and I am sure fright, when a voice came at him out of the flames.

It is interesting how often voices bringing change originate in the flames of desperation, hurt, and hunger. As I listened and watched reports coming out of the land of my birth these past weeks, I found myself in dark territory, such as I have never experienced. My imagination kicked in.

A pall of smoke, the smell of teargas, the sound of intermittent gunshots. Fear prowled, but determination continued undaunted. It is time. We have had enough. We cannot take any more.

Over the years the same scenario has played out in the Kingdom of eSwatini. Protests. Met with force. Bullets and teargas instead of words. Police brutality. Maybe a death. At worst. At best extreme physical abuse. Then life settles back into its old routine. Except that it doesn’t and hasn’t: the scars don’t heal, the wounds fester until once again an incident triggers the pain and outrage breaks out once more.

I could feel all of it, I couldn’t stop crying. The desperation, the fear, the pain, the courage that allowed one young man, there is a picture that will be forever etched on my mind, to stand arms spread as if on a cross, facing a line of armed policeman marching towards him, the act of surrender Christ-like in his willingness to die.

Another posted on Facebook how he was setting off in the full knowledge and acceptance that that day could be his last on earth. Beside he posted the photograph of himself that he wanted used at his memorial. There have been more in similar vein.

One clip, which many found amusing, of a crowd surging into a mall, the sound of gunshot rings out and the crowd reappears in terrified flight had me on my face sobbing uncontrollably. As weird as the burning bush. From some place far in the dark I thought I heard the Lord saying: that is My grief, the tears I cry, how deeply I ache for my children.

Paul Coelho writing in ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ talks of each life representing a world: what might be achieved by that life; the impact of those achievements; that life’s longevity through its descendants. When we take a life, we kill a world. It is a powerful premise.

I hate violence. I hate intimidation. I recoil from cruelty, bullying. I hate anything that seeks to control and manipulate. We are surrounded by so much of it. The African way seems to want to control by force. Dialogue and negotiation are not a part of the equation.

I remember years ago having a conversation with a clerical friend who told me about a friend of his who went missing. They found him in the forest, up a tree with a rope trying to hang himself. Their response? “We beat him!”

I was stopped by traffic police in Mozambique and, against sage advice, argued my innocence with them. I was with two friends and the officer assumed two of us were both wives. When he eventually gave up the struggle, he said to my friend’s husband: “When you get home, beat this one.” We laughed, but he was serious – that is the way in this part of the world.

It was the way elsewhere, too, for many decades, history offers much evidence of this, – why did it stop? What happened to make communities, nations, tribes and governments realise that there was a better way? How did rights and empathy and compassion evolve? Why is much of Africa so far behind in this?

These questions hovered at the edge of the darkness that overwhelmed as events unfolded. A dear friend always reminds me that there are three truths: yours, mine, and then there is The Truth. Somehow we have to try to negotiate our way to the third and final truth. I try to focus on facts, the most glaring of which to come out of the mayhem that gripped Eswatini is that people armed with sticks, stones and matches were confronted by teargas, stun grenades, bullets, rubber and live.

I shuddered day after day at what might be unfolding behind the wall of silence erected by internet and communications being cut. This action did not save lives, as it has been claimed, how could it? it was meant to inculcate fear and insecurity. Isolation always does that. As breaks came at odd hours through that silent barricade, the videos and reports were all and more that I feared they would be. Figures of dead, injured, missing are quoted and disputed by both sides. The number of arrested only mentioned by one side.

One death is too many. One world destroyed is unacceptable. More than that and you have a human tragedy. Why is that so obvious to some and not to others? 26, 49, 70, over 100 precious lives, created by God for His purposes, senselessly destroyed, because talk is deemed too expensive, too costly, rather take a life, it is cheaper. So many worlds lost, so much potential snuffed out.

As Christians we have cried out for years to our God to hear our pain and relieve us of our national sufferings, basing our cries on 2 Chronicles 7:14:

“If My people, who are called by My Name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I ill hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

The catch word for me is “Humble”. What is humility? For me it is the ability, the willingness to acknowledge when you have got it wrong. To be able to say “Sorry” and mean it.

In a number of interviews I have watched I see the Eswatini authorities quickly correct the number of dead quoted, killed, but not once have they admitted that maybe, just maybe, they should have listened before they fired. If that is a step too far, surely some remorse, particularly from men who proclaim they are representative of the gospel of Christ, to show a little humanity by offering some thought, show some empathy to the families of those killed these past weeks. Not all were protesters, some were children, some mothers who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My heart breaks and bleeds at the senselessness of it all. Yes the protesters lost control, they admit as much. The damage is massive, the economic consequences dire. But for people who have nothing, the figures mentioned are meaningless. There is fault on both sides and I doubt we will ever know The Truth. But of one thing I am certain: nothing equates in value to the life of a person – God is very, very clear on this point.

My contention is that most of the destruction could have been avoided if only we, as humanity were as good at demonstrating God’s love in action, laying down our lives for our brothers, considering each better than ourselves, as we are the devil’s cruelty.

It is time to put down arms, to stop posturing, to find the humility and courage to listen to one another, respectfully and carefully.

And to say “Sorry. Sorry for your loss, sorry for your pain.”

Time To Go

As my time on the banks of the Thamalakane River draws to a close, I find myself taking especial note of all that goes on around me.

Mopane Mornings

The feel of sand road under my feet on early morning walks, the squirrel high on the branch of a Mopane Tree silhouetted against the morning sky, the hint of blue reflecting a break in the clouds in a diminishing puddle. And the sky. Always the sky with its extraordinary gallery of clouds, lit up by the sun from break of day to the ending of the same in a brilliant shower of splendid colour.

It has been a wet season and the earth shows its appreciation in the lushness of the bush, the brilliance of the trees. Birds abound and celebrate the plenty with industrious nest building, some producing two clutches of young. I am going to miss this ceaseless activity when I return home and the sound of birdsong is replaced with the hum and grind of traffic.

Breathtaking Splendour

The mornings wake up with the call of the Woodlands Kingfisher, the cry of the Fish Eagle, the endless song of the White browed Robin Chat. The African Jacanas cluck in the riverbed, Black Crakes, Red billed Teals, Gallinules and many others joining in the harmony. The other night I fell asleep to the boom boom of Giant Eagle Owls calling to each other, the short sharp whistle of bats, the racket of frogs.

The first to call each morning, the last each night – Woodland Kingfisher

Living in a place not yet fully cluttered with civilisation, I have been fascinated by all that has gone on around me. How quickly eggs hatch, how young birds are fed even when they are out of the nest. I watched two Black Crakes dare a leguaan to harm their young, or their eggs I couldn’t figure out which. I have discerned the different nature of three types of dove. The Mourning Dove a miserable aggressive fellow, always fighting, their wings clapping the beat of beak on breast. They bully the quieter Red eyed Dove and the Laughing Dove.

Then there are the Hartlaub Babblers who hop stiff legged in search of food, and sometime gratify with a raucous performance, their heads bobbing.  The pretty fussy paradise flycatchers flitter through the bush cheeping excitedly to each other. The list goes on and on. I have listed over 70 species of birds, most of them seen here in this garden.

I have taken many photographs, some videos, to complement my memories as I look out over the park framed by streets when I am home. And it is in those moments, as I reflect on these two mystical months, that I will raise my eyes and silently shout: My God How Great Thou Art!

Forever Land

The Storms of My Life

I am not the bravest person in storms. I was born and lived most of my life in the Kingdom of Eswatini, a small ovoid shaped country squashed between South Africa and Mozambique on the east coast of Africa.

Eswatini is about the size of Wales yet it boasts 4 geographical regions: high mountains to the north and west that gradually make way for what is called Middle Veld. Then we have the Lowveld, a warm scrubby area good for growing cotton and sugar cane. Framing the eastern border and separating it from Mozambique is the Lebombo Mountain Range.

Eswatini has a few records of which its citizens like to boast: Our Sibebe rock is second in size to the Ayers Rock in Australia: we have a strip of road that has more per capita deaths by road accident than any other piece of highway;  we have more lightning strikes per square metre than almost anywhere in the world. It is this last one that has done more to form my fears of elements raging out of control than any other.

Large granite rocks and boulders with a high iron content on our mountain sides attract lightning. Deep valleys and steep mountains create ideal passageways for winds to hustle through, turning in on themselves, gaining momentum and fury until they burst out onto open areas where they unleash mayhem. Hail is a frequent visitor in the summer months, shredding crops, houses, smashing whatever gets in its way.

Eswatini’s Mountainous Northwest.

It is one such storm that brought about my conversion to Christianity. I, together with three friends, was riding my horses from Mbabane to Piggs Peak. The horses were young, and one in particular, saddle broken but not backed, was impossible. There were many streams and a couple of rivers along the way and he would not cross any of them. He wouldn’t step onto a bridge, or put his foot in water, so our journey took a lot longer than we planned and it was closer to nightfall than any of us would have liked when we got close to where we were to camp for the night.

We’d been aware of the storm building to the southeast, moving along the valley behind us, but it looked as if it would pass us by. Until the wind changed direction. Within seconds we were in the midst of a maelstrom of utter fury. Hailstones almost the size of tennis balls, lashing wind, eye-blinding lightning, deafening crashes of thunder.

We scrabbled for our hard hats, tried to cover the horses with sleeping bags, anything to protect from the hail that bounced off us. We were wearing rubber soled shoes which provided some insulation from the lightning. It was as dark as pitch, the noise indescribable.

My horse broke free in its panic and disappeared down a bank. I tried to go after him. Kevin yelled to leave him. He bounced back a few moments later, obviously deciding we were safer than the unknown. I knew there was a kraal nearby and yelled that we should try and reach it, allow the horses freedom to turn their backs to the storm. We set off down the road, but before we could get there, I felt an almighty thwunk, as if someone had hit me on the head with a huge rubber mallet. Everything went quiet. The storm hadn’t abated, only the noise. I looked at the other two riders. Both were standing still, holding their horses, as if in prayer.

This is it, I thought. We’re dead. Must be when you first die you are in the same position as when it happens. Too late for any repentance. Any last ditch plea for mercy. I looked over the crest of the mountainside to see who would be coming for me: angel or demon.

Patently it was neither, but it got me thinking. And forever after those horses were an early warning system of approaching storms!

As the years went by my fear never got any less, but it also didn’t increase until a few years ago. I moved to a new area not realising it was a pathway for some of the more vicious tornado type storms that wind up from the valleys. A couple of bad storms and I became neurotic. I would check the weather forecast, get into a much sweat long before any cloud appeared in the sky. If I had to go anywhere, chances are I would cancel in case there was a storm.

The irrationality of fear. I allowed this situation to continue for a number of years. I moved again, and in my new home storms were not so violent and I began to relax somewhat. Until I had to drive to Eswatini for any reason in the summer months. Again, I would scour every weather forecast, plan my trip, stomach churning, shoulders tense. It was so bad that one trip I asked a friend to go with me.

After that trip, I knew the time had come to deal with this phobia. The bible is clear: For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2Timothy 1:7

And again in Romans 8:15 Paul writes:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba Father”.

Somewhere along the line I knew I had to deal with this fear, that it is not of God, and that the only person who could get me over it was me. I have a choice – believe God or believe the lie that fear implanted in my psyche?

In the verse in Timothy, Paul writes that we were given a spirit of power, power to make a rational decision based on love, the perfect love of the Lord. In Romans, Paul assures me of my sonship in Christ, the ability to cry out to my heavenly Father, whose heart and motive is for me to live a life free from fear, free from bondage.

We make so many resolutions, try to do things in our own strength. It is not a resolution that needs to be made, it is a decision that needs to be taken. A decision to choose life, to choose freedom, to choose Christ.

I made that decision without understanding that I had done so, only realising when the next lightning bolt flashed across my lounge and I got up to look at the storm instead of cowering in  the farthest, darkest corner.

So, done, you might think. Wrong. Peter warns us not to let down our guard. Ever:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Here I am in what could easily pass for paradise, staying with my son in Maun, Botswana, in his house on the banks of the Thamalakane River: birds abound in enormous skies, animals wander around even where they shouldn’t, hippos graze on the bank, the list goes on.

Towering Thunderhead

So why did my heart fail one afternoon when I saw massive thunderheads building up? That old anxiety eating at my innards. Am I so fickle that a couple of years of freedom is enough for me to forget the lesson?

I could hear familiar words churning through my mind, begging, pleading for the storm to go away, not to happen. I thank my Lord that there are times when He ignores my implorings! The wind blew, the light was sucked into dark clouds, thrashing rain churned the river into a froth.

About twenty minutes into the panic I heard that still small voice: Are you really afraid? Or are you thinking you should be frightened? Is it habit? That distracted from the fright. Then, through the sound of drumming rain. I heard a bird cheep. The birds are ok and they are out there. I ventured a look outside. A bedraggled Golden Weaver was pecking at the seed I had put out before there was any sign of rain.

‘Scopsy’ sheltering from the storm

An African Scops Owl lives in a small shrub on our fence line. His perch was blowing around, swaying every which way. ‘Scopsy’ was hanging on, might be he was enjoying the ride, who knows. So what the flip is wrong with me? I have a roof over my head, my Father has said I am worth more than those little feathered ones, how dare I whine about stopping the rain!

Friends, fear is as real as we allow it to be. If we are in Christ, and He is in us, fear has no place in our lives. Be cautious and prudent by all means, don’t rush in where angels fear to tread for the fun of it, count the cost of your actions, but don’t allow fear to rob you of a sound, rational mind.

As I look now at the picture of that storm, I see a different picture. I see evidence of a God who is so much bigger than I am, Who controls the winds and the storms, Whose arms keep me safe.

Where, O Death, Is Your Sting?

The end of January is approaching, and still the plans for this year are up in the air. Uncertainty, fear, sorrow surround us. How are you bearing up?

I have lost a number of friends to Covid, to cancer, to heart problems this past year. Each loss brings its own sadness, its own regret at a life potentially not yet fulfilled, a gap that I have no idea how to fill.

A young friend sent a message this morning crying out her pain as she struggles to come to terms with the death of a friend, a young man with a powerful testimony of redemption, who leaves a young family. As I prayed for words of comfort I realised that I need to think through all the people I have lost since the outbreak of this awful pandemic and ask myself: How am I dealing with the losses?

I have been through a gamut of emotions from fear to anger to grief to numb acceptance. I have gone from crying at the sight of musicians comforting neighbours on balconies in Italy and elsewhere to dry-eyed non-reaction to the news of another shocking passing.

A few weeks into hard lockdown I woke up one night, fear pulsing through me, panic took over. I am asthmatic and I know how it feels to not be able to draw breath into your lungs. There were many gruesome descriptions flooding the ether of the cruel, horrendous death covid-19 inflicts. I imagined the warm mucous filling my lungs; the isolation; the horror of not being able to say goodbye to my sons and grandchildren.

I am emotional, so every picture of brave souls singing from their balconies in Italy, the flypast to the strains of Nessun Dorma had me bawling, I listened to the Four Tenors, and their one number Anchor Me filled me with a sense of what we were facing, and I didn’t think I could bear it.

Thank the Lord I am the leader of a group of ladies in our church, and knowing I had a responsibility to care for them helped me get out of bed each morning. The same sense made other leaders in our church check on me and within a few days the worst of the panic subsided. I needed to go through that, to understand my own fears and weakness, to test my resolve and my faith, not for my wellbeing alone, but to be capable of taking the role the Lord had given me to minister effectively to those who needed His word and comfort.

As the reality of Covid moved nearer home, the figures from the Western Cape were concerning, hospitals filled, equipment was in short supply, people began dying. Soon a familiar name appeared on the list of the ill. Then the first acquaintance died. Then a close friend went home to be with the Lord. I was devastated. I have no idea if his death was Covid related, it didn’t matter, he was gone.

The disparagement of some around me was hard to deal with. The questions asked on WhatsApp, Facebook and other fora by denialists:

  • Do you actually know of anyone who has Covid?
  • Do you know anyone who has died of Covid?

annoyed me. I found them tasteless and derogatory of the suffering of those who were ill, and insulting to the memory of those who died breathless and alone. Their deaths should not be taken any less respectfully regardless of number  or cause.

As a Christian I believe in life after death, I believe in Heaven and I believe there is a place called Hell. I believe the visa requirement for heaven is through Jesus Christ, whom I believe to be the Son of the living God, the great I AM. I do not believe that I am evolved from a fish, or any other life form, I do not accept that some arbitrary cosmic explosion created the world I inhabit, its  workings are way too genius to be accidental. My response to death and suffering are, as I assume are most of ours, formed by my beliefs, and in times of grief I turn to Scripture for comfort.

Such interdependent diversity can not be the result of some arbitrary cosmic accident.

It is in these familiar words that I am able to change the narrative of my fear and grief because I have learnt over the decades to trust the promises contained therein, and as I focus on them I find that peace, that which passes all understanding promised by Jesus on the eve of His sacrificial death, slowly encroaches my soul, and I can breathe again.

In the past six weeks the number of people I know who have died is fast approaching double figures. The sadness is dry, the words I send the best I can think of to express an emotion that I am not able to recognise right now. How do we deal with this, day in day out, month in month out, and soon maybe year in and year out? How do we retain the compassion we saw a year ago, when the horror of the pandemic broke in Italy, and all over the world people reached out to people? How is that we have succumbed so quickly to Covid fatigue, how easily we have returned to bickering for our rights, complaining about every move Governments take to protect us, or the moves they have not taken to protect us.

My parents’ generation knew what it was like to do without year after year, residents in countries torn asunder by civil war have learnt to live with depredation. Yet all I hear is whingeing and complaining. My heart breaks for those whose businesses have collapsed, for all who have lost jobs, homes, whatever. But if you don’t have a solution, or a better idea of how to manage this, then please try and look for the positive.

I have heard of so much creativity during this time, people willing to change their mindsets and as a result they are making it. In most cases they have put aside their own agendas, their own standards possibly and are happy to make do with less in order to have something. They see beyond the immediate, they look with hope to a future they intend to be a part of, and to ensure others have a hope in that future too.

These tales put me in mind of God’s love, His redemptive plan of salvation wrought on that cross some 2000 years ago, that sacrificial love that led to an act of unutterable mercy that still reaches out to each one of us today, promising a future where the sting of death is no more, where peace and joy exist.

Paul, writing to the Hebrews, cries out: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Why? Why should we not harden our hearts? Quite simply because Jesus Christ not only died for that we might be reconciled to the Father, but because He rose from the dead.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, their power throughout the Universe Displayed

Paul again, in 1 Corinthians 15, vv50-57:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: death is swallowed up in victory.

O, Death, where is your sting?

O Hades, where is your victory?

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself told us this in John 14 vv1-4

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also. And where I go and the way you know.

Thomas said to Him, “Lord we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him. I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’

This statement has been called arrogant by many unwilling to believe His claims, but He was the one Who laid down His life, died an excruciating death, for you and me, because He loves us enough to do whatever it takes to make sure we spend the rest of eternity with Him, in Heaven. I think that gives Him the right to make the statement. No other deity, in any religion, has gone that far for their followers. His death has never been disputed, only His resurrection, and that too was, and is proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

For those who have died in the Lord, I see them being taken home, to one of those rooms, removed from the burdens of this life, with a ringing “Well done, good and faithful servant!” For those who have denied Him, I grieve and pray that at the last they repented and that I will see them when it is my time to join that happy throng.

A Selection of Verses that bring Comfort

John 3:16 For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Revelation 3:20 Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door I will come into him and dine with him and he with me.

Romans 8;37-39 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, no things present nor things to come,

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.

Psalm 23:4 Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.

Psalm 91:1-16 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in Him I will trust.

Surely He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence

He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day

Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.

Only with your eyes shall you look and see the reward of the wicked

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High your dwelling place

No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwellings;

For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.

In their hands they shall bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name.

He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honour him.

With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.

All scripture references are from the New King James Version.

My Land, My Africa

As I sat on the stoep catching up on the news of Cyclone Eloise to the south of us, my thoughts cloaked with birdsong, the familiar sound of Sunday worship gently floated across the river.

There is something wonderful about African voices, raised in unselfconscious praise to God, their harmonies distinctive, the timbre sincere. It is a sound that has gilded my Sundays for four decades and it brings comfort with its familiarity, its certainty of the faith it proclaims.

I love this continent, its complexities and its wonders, the contrasts of rugged stoicism and gentle pathos that seem so contradictory and yet are so right. Vicious thorns guard delicate blooms, harsh landscapes are home to colourful gems. It is here I see my God most clearly, His wonder throughout the universe displayed. No detail was too small for Him to overlook in the act of Creation, ecology is so finely balanced and so genius that no freak accident or cosmic blimp can account for it. It just can’t!.

I have been with my son in Maun, Botswana for the past month. A mouth-watering month for one who loves the outdoors. Each daybreak ushers new gems, from African Jacana trotting over lily pads, Black Crakes darting from one morsel to the next, to birdsong that deafens, clouds decorating the vast sky, to people who care for this land and all it has and are interesting with all they have done and experienced.

Yesterday we went west south west to Toteng, and then to Talipan, a stretch of water on the far edge of the Okavango Delta near to Lake Ngami. The drive was littered with red pod Terminalia and Camel thorn Acacias, interspersed with Apple Leaf, and cows and goats and donkeys and people doing what people do on a Saturday afternoon. The bush was lush and thick. We left the tar road and the vegetation changed subtly. A few Shepherd trees, scrubby shrubs replaced trees. Dwayne explained this was the Kalahari, the undulations in the road a continuation of the dunes of Namibia.

We were relieved to see the sign, we had thought there would not be one – Africa is not renowned for its signage – and began to look for the pan. We had hoped to find an incline that would give us a view over it, but not to be. We backtracked to the faint markings of a road we had passed, and drove into a vista that was so immense I shrank immediately, humbled by the enormity of my surrounds.

Water reflecting a cobalt blue sky in the extraordinarily flat landscape

Nestled among bright green reeds, stretches of water reflected the cobalt blue sky. Red billed Teal and Egyptian Gooses sailed lethargically along waterways, egrets and sandpipers, Stints and stilts waded around purposelessly, watched by indolent cows.  A donkey mare, hobbled, watched over her foal. In the distance a flock of Marabou Storks. Over all an enormous sky protecting the serenity of God’s creation.

Such a variety of water birds, you had to sit still and allow your eyes to find the movements, the firm shapes on the waterways.

It was hot. We looked for a tree. There was one on the other side, far from the water but we didn’t mind. The relief of a cup of tea and we were on our way again. The Maribou storks spread out along the water line looked like professors at some austere gathering, then a new find, a double banded courser hoped we wouldn’t see him as he hovered close to our wheel, an indeterminate LBJ taunted from the top of a thorn bush.

Some fifty Marabou Storks feeding and cleaning and generally just hanging together!

It sounds cliched to say there is no place as special as this, but this is a unique part of our world, this little piece of Africa. The Okavanga Delta broods to the west, desert to the south, the thickets of Moremi, Chobe, Savuti to the north, a few of the mystical names that evoke pictures of elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, crocodiles and hippos, to name but a few, of breathless safaris and nights under stars as bright as lanterns, oh, I could go on and on!

I loved this cow! For me this was the pic of the day.

In the greatness of all this, I see the hand of my Maker, my God, the great I AM and am stupefied with awe and lost in wonder as I listen to the heartbeat of Africa worshiping the King this Sunday in Maun.

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