I am back at Praia do Chizavane in Mozambique after a three
year absence. This was my home, my place of refuge for a number of years, and I
cannot understand how I have allowed so many months to go by without being
I am sitting on the verandah of the restaurant at Nascer do
Sol Lodge, watching lazy whales sidle by.
I am always inspired here. I love walking on the beach in
the early mornings, and find ideas and words flow like nowhere else. I see the
Master’s hand so clearly here, in the dramatic sunrises, the slow signing off
of the sunsets, in the waves, the rocks, the trees, the birds everywhere.
Yesterday the tide was low enough for me to walk to part of
the reef. It is mid-winter and while the days would be considered hot in the
northern hemisphere, here we are conscious of the chill in the wind, and water
temperature that might be normal elsewhere is definitely cold here. So swimming
out to the reef at seven in the morning isn’t an option.
As I looked for familiar gems in the rock pools, I noticed a
miniature Victoria Falls look alike, water pouring over oyster encrusted rocks.
A small wave broke over the far edge, a white edging of foam creeping towards the
ledge nearest me. Small as the residue of wave was, it created a fall that
tinkled and refreshed the pool, an overflow that tinkled on, and on.
I thought of Jesus, how He invited us to drink of the Living
Waters He would provide, and wondered at how far a tiny dose of His grace goes.
One small drop of the Saviour’s blood is enough to cleanse each and every sin!
Here, a tiny wave produced many litres of water, refreshing and filling the
pool in the beach.
I always have to photograph these moments, so out came my
I find it challenging taking pictures in the open air, the
light drains all definition from the screen. So I aim in the general direction
of what I hope to capture and shoot away.
As I took aim, a large wave flung itself over the reef, causing
a cascade of foaming waters to wash over the rocks, my Victoria Falls in full
fall! Living waters! Washing and caressing the solidity of the reef, the rocks
immutable as protector of the beach, of the treasures contained therein,
ensuring my safety.
It was only when I got indoors that I saw that I had one of
those once in ‘a blue moon flukes’ – a picture that not only had the wave
breaking, but its clear reflection in the rock pool. The composition would have
been better if I had been half a step further back, and got the reflection of
the rocks in the foreground more fully (it would also have applied the rule of
thirds better) but it is a beauts pic nonetheless.
Christ again. This time in power. The waters seen by Ezekiel
flowing out from the Temple, first ankle deep, then chest deep and then
overflowing all. And through it all, the rocks unmoving. My Saviour, my firm
foundation allowing me and all His children the delights of His kingdom, not
least the washing and empowering of His Living Water!
What a moment! What a dramatic revelation of His word
displayed in His creation! What joy!
Peace filled my soul as I continued walking.
God is in His Heaven, and right now, all is well with my
People look at me in amazement when I confess that I love Twitter. I do. I love Twitter. I love the freedom of thought, the discussion, and yes, even gasping at some of the insults.
One person who always manages to set Twitter a-tweeting is Helen Zille. Like her or loathe her, she stimulates thought and discussion. That is the best part of living in South Africa as against my home land of Eswatini. The vibrancy of discussion, the controversy, the provocation. You are made to think, to look into yourself and find what your beliefs really are. Almost anything goes.
Helen Zille’s latest foray, initiating an intense argument about white versus black privilege has done that for me. My first thought was, yeah, she has a point. Maybe. Bit of a long shot. Then I read some of the responses from all sides of the divide and began to really think the question through.
Without doubt I grew up in a totally different environment to my Swazi neighbours. I am not sure how different, because there was little fraternisation. I know I loved the food they ate from locusts to sour porridge to imbitfo to lekusha. Lifestyle was simply the way it was. We lived the way we did, ‘they’ lived the way ‘they’ did. There was no overt condemnation, or in retrospect, concern at the distinction. This is the mind-set of privilege.
It was a no-brainer that I would start school as close to my fifth birthday as possible, while my Swazi peers, who knows? I certainly didn’t. Although I do remember when the first two Swazi children came to St Mark’s Primary School in Mbabane in 1964, or was it ‘63. It was a big deal for all of about five seconds.
I know we did not have electricity, but somehow I was still put into a hot bath. We had a paraffin fridge, a radio, I slept in a comfortable bed. Were those facilities the same in the police houses adjacent to ours? I doubt it, but cannot say for sure.
We had a motor vehicle. I had a bicycle and a horse too.
Are these criteria for white privilege? Or is it only about
money, how much one has, regardless of how one came about it?
Is it that simple? Is the divide that neat?
Our forebears are decried for looting and taking land and
riches that were not theirs to take, and for this reason we whites must forever
bear the shame and blame for the ignominy and cruelty of the apartheid years,
for colonial horrors the world over.
Do we deserve this acrimony? Again, I am not sure.
What I do know is that I love history as much as I love Twitter, and so my thoughts, whenever I allow them to chew on a delicate question, tend to trundle back in time. I recently watched Braveheart, a tale of dreadful tyranny and oppression of the Scottish people by the English. I read a book recently that outlined repercussions for many as a result of the Irish troubles, I think of the internecine wars that have inked a bloody trail through Europe’s history, and, incidentally substantially changed the tribal boundaries of that continent.
Oppression and colonialism go back to the dawn of time,
across every land, every continent of the world, from Babylonian and Egyptian
times to Alexander to the Picts, Angles, Jutes, Huns, Vikings, the list is
pretty long and I haven’t left Europe yet!
Against this backdrop, Africa cannot hope to be the exception.
The first settlers to be dropped off at that fair Cape were not in search of domination at that point. They were cast offs, people exported from their own countries to the furthest reaches of the known world for no reason except expediency at the behest of their rulers. Australia was a boot camp for criminals, a life sentence of separation from their native lands and families. Can you imagine what it was like being dumped in a foreign land, totally different to anything you have ever experienced, tropical diseases, an inclement climate, vicious animals you have never heard of let alone seen.
These displaced peoples lived a life of oppression and blow all privilege in Cape Town, and so they set off for pastures greener. They had nothing to lose. At this time, blacks were living free, and believing, I guess, they were privileged if they thought about it at all. They themselves fought their enemies to take possession of land they wanted, raided for cattle and wealth in exactly the same way as there paler brethren to the north had done for centuries.
Then came the gold rush. Why did none of the black tribes rush for the goldfields. Prospect for their share of the metal. As far as I can establish they were not prohibited from doing this. Or were they. Or did it not fit into their idea of wealth, and so they didn’t get caught up in the fever.
I have the same question for the Indians in North America.
There were blacks who benefited in California, although they were in the minority, according to Blacks in Gold Rush California, published by Yale University Press. An interesting and telling excerpt:
On a September day in 1848 a black man was walking near the San Francisco docks, when a white man who had just disembarked from a ship called to him to carry his luggage. The black cast him an indignant glance and walked away. After he had gone a few steps, he turned around and, drawing a small bag from his bosom, he said, “Do you think I’ll lug trunks when I can get that much in one day?” The sack of gold dust that he displayed was estimated by the white man to be worth more than one hundred…
South African History on line, when telling about the discovery of gold in 1886, mentions that “blacks had mined gold hundreds of years earlier.”
Why didn’t you guys go for it in 1886? Did you sit back, thinking you were OK in your tribal customs and ways, and decide the whites were all lunatics in their quest for the gold stones, and leave them to it?
That’s where the problem began in my humble opinion. Way back then you lost out! Not because anyone stole it, or held you hostage while they helped themselves. Your forebears sat back and allowed it to happen!
I can just hear the chorus arising from the twitterati if any should read what I have written! But bear with me a little longer.
Can you imagine if the majority of those claims had landed in the hands of Xhosa and Zulu and Pedi and Tswana and other tribal hands how different the history of this part of Africa would be today?
Who would have killed who? Which tribe would be in power, and where would they be based? How would the boundaries of Africa have changed, and what might they look like today if only the indigenous residents of the time had the same value system as those sent into exile to this strange and wonderful land?
Regardless of any supposition, however, we are where we are today. I am privileged. So are many other people. Of all colours and races. Many more are not. They live in hovels, eeking out a living in conditions I hesitate to imagine they are so awful.
The real question is what are we going to do about it? Black and white if you have to discriminate.
“… for I was hungry
and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and
you took Me in;
I was naked and you
clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Mathew 25 vv 35,36
The only question any of us should be asking is: what am I doing to alleviate the suffering of
my fellow man, how am I making his
load easier to carry?
As important as debate is, action speaks louder than words.
The cardboard mound is eerily pale in the early morning light. It looks sepulchral. It isn’t there by chance. It is the night’s shelter for a young man, a boy really. People ask how old he is. Fifteen. Maybe. It is hard to tell age in Africa, especially for these young ones.
Depravation stunts their growth, so twelve-year-olds look no older than eight. He could be twenty. But he looks mid-teens. He is a sad youngster. Life has robbed him of all joy and bracketed him in despair. Not even the raucous, drug induced hilarity of other street dwellers can make him smile. If he gets a smoke, he draws on it with studied pre-occupation, glaring at it as he inhales deeply.
For the rest he sits on the edge of the pavement, his focus inward. At times he finds bottles and breaks them. He uses the pieces of glass to shave his skin, slowly, deliberately sweeping the chips down first one leg, and then the other. Red stripes appear in places. He strokes through them. His arms are black with the scars of deeper cuts.
Each day I worry that he has died in the night in his coffin of cardboard. Each day I thank God when I catch sight of him. I have spoken to many people, but no one seems able to offer any solution or help for this boy. I know his name, and where he is from. He claims to have forgotten his surname.
I wonder what atrocities were perpetrated on this young soul to bring him to this place of bleak and hideous despair. More than that, I wonder what my role must be, what is the best help for him? I fear putting him into a system that might harm him more, but leaving him to the mercy of the elements seems equally cruel even if it is his choice. Reaching him will take time and patience, and wisdom.
People warn me against getting involved, believing he will attack me. He won’t. I have given him a wrap for the nights, and food. He said ‘Thank you’. I trust that the Lord has put him in my path for a reason, and it is about him, not me. I hear the words of my Saviour reminding me that whatever I do for the least of these, I do for Him.
This past Saturday night for the first time in many weeks, he did not come ‘home’. I worried all through the weekend. I mentioned his absence to an employee on Monday. He said he had seen people talking to him, together with the police. Maybe, just maybe, he has found proper shelter.
Later I saw him walking past. He had a haircut, but his left arm was pressed into his side in an odd manner. Again he slept elsewhere. Yesterday he was back. His dejection seemed more intense.
I went to him. “How are you?” he won’t answer. He doesn’t have to. The depth of misery in his eyes, the imperceptible shake of his head say more than words.
On the pole next to us are two billboards. One says “Fight back!” I think that’s the translation. The other says “Protect our Borders”. We have elections soon. how I wish there was a sign that says “We Care” and then shows that they do.
Shortly after I left him a man walking past began to harangue my boy. I went out but he left before I could stop him. The boy went and hid himself under his pieces of cardboard although the sun was still shining.
The pile has not moved. I am scared. I want to pray that he is still alive, but a little voice says ‘Why? Why would you want this life for anyone?’
Are there any other sixty-somethings out there who are
intimidated by the internet, have empathy for flies trapped in spider’s webs as
you battle the arcane intricacies of the world wide web?
I am trying to revamp my web page, make it work for me as I
am assured it should. Over the years odd kindly-hearted souls have sent me
advice on how to improve it, or pointed out errors, and I have dutifully tried
to ‘fix’ what is ‘wrong’ resulting in clicking confusedly on various links,
reading snippets of utter garble, finally giving up in favour of a cup of tea.
This week was crunch week. After all, I am not dumb, I told
myself. I have an above average IQ. Yes, I am not good with names and have
caused mirth and consternation in equal proportions in this regard. And I’m
clumsy, and fumble fingered of occasion, particularly when texting. But I am
On Tuesday I approached my web site with determination. I can
do this. I can figure out what all these bits and pieces mean, and end up with
a fetching site that will draw millions, including the much needed publishers!
I clicked on the help button and found the tutorials. Decided
to begin at the beginning. Pressed the ‘get started’ button and was on my way. Two
hours later, neck stiff, eyes struggling to focus, back bent I staggered into
the garden for a stretch and a breather.
‘I’m not letting this get the better of me,’ I growled at
Now it’s Friday, and with dread in my heart and a deep reluctance to connect to the internet, I realise I need to have a stern conversation with myself. Very pleased that I did. A light came on in my brain: These are children, who write these programmes. All this jargon is nothing more than childish twaddle.
I was still recovering from the time spent trying to find
out what an avatar is, bumping into gravatar and blavatar along the way, only
to discover the words mean ‘icon’! For heaven’s sake why can’t you simply speak
English! is it because you are all so young you haven’t learn the language yet?
Is Star Wars to blame? Dr Spock?
I remember making up a gobble-di-gook language when I was a
child, but once I discovered the magic of real words I grew out of it. Is there
any chance the same might happen to the computer generation? Or will we have to
live in this perpetual wonderland, that not even Alice would comprehend, until
the end of our years, which thankfully are less than they were when this
My other peeve is the need for initials. Everything is described by initials, run together un-separated by full stops, that leave one nibbling at possible meanings. URL? Underlying railway lines? Understanding real … ? upsetting royal laws?
If you said ‘Link address’ I, and I am sure many others of
my generation, would understand immediately. No wonder we retreat in increasing
numbers to the relative safety of senile dementia and Alzheimer’s!
I haven’t got there yet, and I still have to find a way to
circumnavigate this obstacle course of febrile imaginations, so think of me
dear friends, as I connect once more to my page to uncover its secrets and
produce the best website ever!
Close to 40 years after giving my life to Christ I obviously have many Christian friends, and right now a number of them, including me, are broke. Broker than we can remember ever being!
Of course, we understand the principle behind the lack of funds – learn to trust the Lord, and we quote willy-nilly all the platitudinous scriptures;
All my needs are met in Christ Jesus
I am blessed according to the riches I have in Christ Jesus
My Father knows my needs
Look at the sparrows, they do not worry about where their next meal is coming from
And so on and so on.
The fact remains, a number of us are broke. No money. Kute mali.
I am good at whining, particularly at the Lord. He is the recipient of all my wisdom and moans, and has to listen to my wails, and then wipe my tears of repentance. My Father God! What an amazing Person He is. As is His son, Jesus. And the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the One who leads us into all truth.
So there I was, early the other morning doing what I do best. Drinking coffee and talking to God. Let me amend that. Talking AT God. Reminding Him of the promises He has made over the years, my needs, and in between reminding Him too of what a little goody two shoes I am – all that I have done for Him. MY WORKS!
As I paused to draw breath I heard a quiet voice:
“Will you dance with me?”
“Will you dance with Me?”
“Well, I suppose so, but…”
Slowly the lights came up in my brain. My God, my Heavenly Father, wanted to dance with me, for no other reason than it would be a fun and happy thing to do.
He knows my whines, my fears, my needs. He knows my works, every little and big thing I have done for Him. He knows too all the things, big and small that I have not done. What He wants is a loving relationship, special moments spent simply enjoying each other’s company.
Because He loves me.
There is nothing I can do, or say, to make Him love me more.
I’m broke. So what.
I have a roof over my head, and clothes to wear. There is food in the larder. Not as much as I would like but as much as I need. I have family and friends to love, and who love me.
I feel myself cracking. God’s people are broke, I said. Maybe I should amend that. Possibly, just possibly, if God’s people were broken, taken apart by His love, we would focus more on Him and less on our own worries and concerns. If, our of our brokenness, we would allow Him to put us back together again, the broke would become whole.
Slowly I stretch out my arms, I felt the joy beginning deep down, ending as a smile, then a laugh, as I begin to dance with my Father.
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!