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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
As we reach the end of this pandemically crazy year I began my usual tidy up. I like to start the new year with my papers and house in as much order as suits my mercurial temperament.
I am a conservationist, so I re-use paper, making notebooks from printed pages that I no longer need. I also jot down thoughts and ideas on whatever piece of paper comes to hand, and often they remain there for months, unread and unwritten in any manuscript or article. Such are my writing habits, may the Lord help me!
I found a few of these snippets, written at odd times during the year, and in a way they chart my journey from optimism and hope for a great year, to anger and angst, to acceptance and a new level of faith. I’m not even sure if these are all mine, or if I have gleaned them from others whose journeys correlate with mine at some point.
Whatever. They ministered to me, and I hope they minister to you.
I thank you, Father, that every yesterday is written in You.
I thank you for every tomorrow
Where hope will arise
Scattering ashes like leaves in the Fall.
2. Father, I thank You that no matter how dark the night, You always make a way for me to fight.
3. Paul – his disapproval shimmering across the miles of African landscape.
4. Rejoicing in the lucky breaks of others – knowing what they went through to get there. In their success my hope is kindled anew.
5. I’m flagging, but God says in your weakness I will make you strong.
I feel the reverence of the Lord, the need to kneel in my quiet time as an act of submission as I see to make Him Lord of all, because it is only in that Lordship and surrender to Him that I can re-discover my first love.
The Lord is present. He is gentle but unyielding, as He asks, not for more of me, but for all of me. If I can get there, get to that place of total and undistracted communion, I will find the peace, the assurance and so the confidence to meet whatever challenges await.
6. We bumble blindly along the dark pathways of life, so often missing the glint of the sign that would show us a better way.
There is more. Much more as I am sure there is for each of you. For now, it is enough.
I pray this season you will find the measure of faith, the peace that is promised to you by our Lord Jesus Christ, that you and yours will be healthy, safe, and rested enough to face the challenges of 2021.
May the Lord God of Israel bless you and make His face to shine upon you.
Here I am doing the writer thing at a coffee shop in OR Tambo International Airport. As always I am hours early for my flight but better that than racing for the gate, gasping and perspiring.
I am off to see part of my family in the mother city, that fairest of them all, Cape Town. I wanted to drive. I think it is such a shame that we are now so ruled by time that we have to get there, wherever there may be, and time to stop and smell the roses and admire God’s creation diminish constantly.
Who can not be blown away by the beauty of a crisp July morning in the Karoo, unnamed colours flashing their greeting to the day, distant snow-capped mountains proclaiming their presence against a cerulean sky. Or the infinite vista of dull gold of the Free State, small dams reflecting the sky like drops of sapphires.
Onto the mountains and valleys of the escarpment, feeling on top of the world, then gasping in wonder as you descend into valleys of magnificent trees, streams gushing over rocks, birds enticing. Hard to stay on the road. That is another tale.
Whenever I mention taking a road trip I am greeted with a chorus:
On your own? So far? But it is dangerous. And my best: What if you break down in the middle of nowhere?
How many people do you know have actually broken down in the middle of nowhere? I have travelled many miles alone over the years: from Eswatini to Cape Town, to Maun in Botswana, to Praia do Chizavane north of Xai Xai in Mozambique frequently. Those are the long trips. Then there are the runs to Nelspruit, to the Drakensberg, to Durban, to Howick, to Harrismith, Johannesburg.
In the fifty years since I got my driver’s license I have only ever broken down far from anywhere once and that was my fault. I have a bad habit of taking photographs while I drive, because I might want to paint that scene one day and I don’t necessarily want to stop every few kilometres. Travelling from Nelspruit to Eswatini one day a gorge ablaze with flowering aloes caught my attention. I had painted it from memory. Now I wanted to see how accurate I’d been. I was fiddling with my mobile, getting the camera on, not looking at the road. Discordant grinding and a bumping alerted me and I looked up to find I was heading down a steep slope towards a dam. I corrected quickly, but hit a rock on my way back to the road which trashed my front tyre.
So here I was wanting to drive again, and facing familiar incredulity and resistance. My son, who knows me better than most, asked only one question.
“You cool with that, Mum?”
Yes, I answered. Ok.
It was a good 72 hours later that the objection came, carefully worded. We’ve been talking … we think … we really feel … we will buy the airticket. What about all those germs, closed space, airplanes are where I have picked up my worst sinus infections. None of my arguments prevailed.
Which is why I am sitting in OR Tambo International Airport with hours to spare.
Taking a shuttle bus was one danger too many, and it was mooted that I should drive. Now I have to tell you I find driving to cape town a lot less daunting than driving to ORTIA This airport is the most terrifying destination, a fraught expedition involving finding the correct lane, outsmarting death-defying feats of Gauteng drivers, misreading the signs into the Airport resulting in having to drive around and start all over again, leaving me with an accelerated pulse, gasping in shock and disbelief as I dismount shaking from my vehicle. So for years I have opted for the shuttle in spite the limitations it places on flights and connections.
I had two days to get my head around this, prepare myself. I can do this. Done it more times than I can count. Butch up. Self-speak going flat out.
The trip was uneventful, except for getting off the N14 onto the ORT highway at Boksburg. Whoever designed that interchange should be taken out and shot at dawn. You have to negotiate getting across a lane that is introducing traffic from another highway, and the spacing positively does not allow uninterrupted flow. Cars to the left, one up my bum, another in the front, a fourth somewhere on the periphery of my vision. I hate Ford Rangers. They are the most obnoxious of all vehicles on the road and of course it was a ford ranger pushing his way ahead of everyone that caused the whole confusion. I believe firmly God sent a couple of angels to lift me out of harm’s way!
The Valet people had kindly sent me a video to show me where to meet their driver. For some reason when I played it coming into ORT it was mute. Throwing caution to the wind I found a safe spot, put on my hazards, to watch the silent directions.
Amazingly I was in the right place and it was an easy hop from there.
Another crisis, another upheaval I have no idea how to deal with. A friend sent a link this morning and as the powerful words of I Surrender by Hillsong wash over me, I fall to my knees, my arms spread wide. I don’t know what to do, Lord. What to say, how best to say whatever needs to be said. Because I do have to say something.
“Like a rushing Wind, Jesus breathe within, Lord, have Your way, have Your way in me… “
I’m flagging, but God says: ‘In your weakness I will make you strong.’ I feel the reverence of the Lord, the need to bow low as an act of submission brings me to my knees. I seek to make Him Lord of all, because it is only in that Lordship and surrender that I can re-discover my first love.
“Here I am down on my knees again, surrendering all, surrendering all…”
As I kneel at the foot of the cross, my face wet with tears, singing familiar words, I feel peace encroach. The atmosphere is gentle. I see myself among the rocks, the shadow of the cross over me. I sense a presence, a quiet comfort. Jesus is gentle but unyielding as He asks, not for more of me, but for all of me. If I can get there, get to that place of total and undistracted communion I sense I will find the peace, assurance and thus the confidence to meet whatever challenges await.
“Drench My soul as mercy and grace unfold, I hunger and thirst, I hunger and thirst, with arms stretched wide I know you hear my cry, speak to me now…”
Surrender is not simply a giving up of my life, but offering all the strands that make up who I am. My fears, my likes, my dislikes, my anger, my need to defend, to justify, all of it, until all that remains is the love with which He fills me, the love that I must appropriate in order to share it, unconditionally with those around me, no matter the hurt of thoughtless action, the anger at unreasonable behaviour, or simple irritation.
“I surrender, I want to know You more…I’m desperate, for You”
The flow of tears slow, the ache recedes, as He breathes His light within, exchanging the weight of my burden for the easy yoke of His concern, His care.
“ Like a mighty storm stir within my soul, Lord, have Your way … “
The notification of a charge on my credit card got my attention. It was from a company with whom I had signed up for a free trial.
In irritated haste I checked my emails, and there it was: the notification announcing my month’s free trail was up and I would be charged 14.95 US Dollars. Which translated to the R260 debit on my credit card.
Oh no you don’t!
I went to their website where my sense of injustice ratcheted up a few notches when I saw the normal charge was 12 dollars and a special was on offer for 6 dollars! They, of course, charged me the premium rate.
I was annoyed. With myself because I know not to do this. That these deals are usually cons. But mainly, I was annoyed with the concern.
Where is the ethic, the morality of this action? Surely it is a simple matter, in amongst the myriad mind numbing emails they send to you about their product each and every day, to simply inform you your trial is ending, ask if you have enjoyed the service, and would you like to now become a fully paid up member? It is respectful of my rights, it gives their company a tick, and it’s the right way to do business!
I found the contact space, sent the message. Very sorry to lose me they are, will of course reverse the charge, but please note it will take five or six days to reflect in my account. Insult upon injury!
I got involved in a discussion a couple of years ago about the merits of dating sites. I am part of a single ladies’ group and it was cause for much hilarity, resulting in most of us rushing to our laptops to check out various sites. Here again, the ethics of the companies offering these services is off centre. Free, they all shout. So in you go, find someone who could be a match. At which point you are directed to the accounts page listing all the payment options.
Why not simply list your charges on your home page and give your potential customers the option to decide if they can afford your fees, want to afford your fees. Why the subterfuge? Why is it so hard for these companies to be upfront and honest about what they are doing?
Free, my foot! Free as in bound, as a friend of mine once described this fallacy.
Apart from the deviousness, I feel it is an infringement on my rights and my intelligence but I guess because it works for them which is why so many of them operate this way.
Hopefully, I have now learnt the lesson is well and truly. The next time I see the word “FREE’ emblazoned on anything, I’ll delete quick sticks and I suggest you do too!
Writers like to joke about their work. Usually how little they manage to do as they search endlessly for the creative genius that will catapult them onto global best seller lists.
One way of avoiding putting words to paper is to ‘work’ on your author platform via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, whatever will get you into the public eye. The myth is this activity will get you noticed, hopefully by agents or publishers desperately looking for a new hit and there is a chance your name is the one they are going to investigate.
My morning sport is to check on my fellow scribblers and see what distractions they have come up with. Amongst my wanderings last week I came across this question: What’s the title of the current chapter of your life?
No brainer. My fingers typed the response before my brain got there: Fighting the blues. And winning. Mostly.
The blues for me, is a desolate landscape, littered with shapeless mounds, lumps of bodies, ghosts flitting between them, determined I should define my future by the past. It is a battle that at times overwhelms and causes a paralysis that keeps me from any productivity.
I am put in mind of Moses during a battle against the Amalekites found in Exodus 17. As long as he held up his hand the Israelites prevailed, and when he dropped it, the Amalekites prevailed. Aaron and Hur came to the rescue and held up his hands so Israel eventually won the day.
Another analogy that always makes me laugh is found in Isaiah 35 v 3: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. It is such a vivid and real image of how I frequently feel. Paul puts in another way in Hebrews 12 v 12: Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.
Such sage advice, but how in times such as these, when two questions dominate?
‘If’ is a big word. So is ‘when’. Put them together and you have uncertainty doubled. It is hard to keep moving forward with ‘if’ and ‘when’ hanging over our heads. It’s all very well to say: ‘live in the moment’, but to effectively do so, we need to have some idea where that moment will lead us.
This time of separation and fear has taken its toll. We are almost through it and I believe many of us are tired. Tired of being vigilant against crossing the border into fear and despair, tired of playing our part in encouraging those around us to endure, tired of not knowing the end and the outcome, tired of being unable to plan.
The opposite of despair is hope, and all over the world as days pass in relentless and often fruitless progression hope flags. There is a strange parody that accompanies this: the days drag but time moves fast.
I realise part of my sorrow is all that I have not done in this time, the sense of loss is due to my own failure to achieve all I set out to do with such determination that first week of lockdown. I have said before, I have a masters in procrastination, and I have refined the art further these past months.
I know I have a choice. I can walk that land, look at the bodies, remember the pain. Or I can give them a fitting memorial, learn the lessons, and walk into a future filled with hope. I can discard the persona that I have allowed life to develop in me, and change the parts I don’t like. No one says I have to stick with this. It’s a wrangle, for as much as I detest the blues, there is a part of me that revels in the misery of it all.
And therein lies the rub.
If I am to defeat this foe, I need to look him squarely in the eye, and shout ‘No More you time thief!’
Time to defy the habits of decades, lift up my hands, strongly, stiffen the feeble knees, straighten my shoulders and move confidently into the future, regardless of what might happen, if and when!
This year Women’s month in South Africa has passed in a haze of Covid-19 lockdowns, fear, tales of unending corruption, and muted concern over domestic violence.
I had a conversation many years ago with my then boss, Tars Makama. He and I had many interesting conversations. It was the era of apartheid, the atmosphere in our part of the world restless and unfair.
He made a remark that resounds in my heart until today: When the women of Africa arise, watch out!
The Women of Africa arose that day in August 1956 when 20,000 marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the pass laws. Since then they have played an integral role in many aspects of African life all across the continent.
These past five months I’ve been humbled and blessed by the actions of a number of women, how they have dealt with the Covid pandemic. They are separated by a border, two countries, but the same heart of empathy and compassion that reaches out to touch others, to help them, beats within.
The first is a young lady I have known since she was a toddler, Jeanine von Wissell van Wyk. A few days after lockdown Jeanine called me to say she was deeply concerned about the poor in Eswatini. There are many poor and hungry people in that small Kingdom who struggle at the best of times, now with extended families faced with job losses, how would they live?
Jeanine had an idea that she wanted to pass by me. What an idea it was!
Jeanine is a horse-riding coach and the Technical Liaison on the committee of the Equestrian Federation of Eswatini, of which I am president. She wanted to do something that would help her peers, the riding community as well as the poor. Her plan benefited all. She wanted to ask the top Show Jumping Athletes around the world if they would agree to appear on a webinar, free of charge, allow her to sell tickets and have all the proceeds to go to charity.
She called it The Big Food Ride, designed a compelling logo, and went to work.
She wrote many letters, got no positive responses, until a young Irishman, Cian O’Connor, caught the flame of her vision, agreed to the proposal, and convinced a number of his friends to do likewise. Thus was set in place two seasons of six Webinars apiece where young and old, riders, officials and horse lovers alike got the chance to talk to, and learn from the best in the world, for a season ticket that cost little more than an hour’s tuition in the saddle. In other words, eminently affordable.
She has raised R126,000 so far, shared between five charities. What a win-win idea.
I have no idea what I am going to do on Monday nights after the last episode airs in a couple of weeks. It has been a wonderful journey for many of us, and, I believe, for the horsemen and women who so generously gave of their time, their talent, their experience, hearts to help those less fortunate. A generosity of spirit that deserves the most honourable of mentions.
My second tribute goes to a group of fourteen, sometimes fifteen, ladies who I have the privilege of leading in Bible Study each week. Our group ranges in age from late thirties to the eighties, and I am not talking about decades!
As we dispersed into isolation way back in March, there was much fear, especially amongst the over sixties. So many questions, so many concerns: would we see each other again? Would we see our children again? How would we manage with shopping and other needs?
A couple of weeks before lockdown we got news that the daughter of one of our number had pancreatic cancer. She couldn’t get a passport in time to get to her. All we could do was pray and support our friend. It was a tough journey, some days hopeful news, others the call would go out and as one we would pray. Sadly, the Lord took her home, and that day we cried together. What was extraordinary was the strength of our sister, the peace she felt underneath the sorrow, she was an example to all of us with her positivity, her grace and dignity in the face of tragedy.
We were led to Zoom. As one the ladies signed up, downloaded the app, lost their way, connected, faded, persevered until one Wednesday soon after lockdown we met for a virtual bible study. The relief and the joy of seeing each other radiated over the ethernet. These ladies proved that age is no hindrance to conquering the idiosyncrasies of technology.
We met each week until the day we could meet again in person, albeit masked and distanced.
These amazing women, from such diverse backgrounds, kept our WhatsApp group alive with chatter, serious and amusing, each person offering something: a word of encouragement; a song; a scripture; each concerned that every member of our group come through these times in one piece, stronger and better than when we went into isolation.
I was reminded of the story of the geese:
When geese fly in formation, they create their own unique form of teamwork. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in their ‘V’, the whole flock adds at least 71% more flying range than if each bird flew on its own. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back in the ‘V’, and another goose flies point.
When a goose gets sick, or is wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with their companion and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly, or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with the group. https://ccednet-rcdec.ca/en/about/logo
For five months this group took care of one another, and by extension, our families and friends.
This week we recorded our version of The Jerusalema Challenge, most of us managing to take part. Our routine is not perfect, but we had a lot of fun, rehearsing, putting it together, learning the routine, finding new ones, and finally recording it. Our older members took the back line We had two names for them: Corps de Aged or Corpse de Ballet.
Whatever, no one was being left out. What an example to those we hope to reach with the message of Christ’s love, the hope that we have in Him.
Ian van der Walt, a precious young man, was the videographer and editor, and he has done a great job.
Our oldest member gave us a name, Galaxy Girls, because she said we were like stars in the milky way, each a tiny pinprick of light, but together we make a bright show, a highway of stars. No matter how small your contribution, it is an important part of any whole, and the whole we are a part of is humanity.
Age, circumstance, situation mean nothing if you have the ability to rise above them.
The common denominator in both these stories is the unselfish consideration of others, being prepared to give time and effort to nurture and care for the lives around you.
Jeanine and the Galaxy Girls, I salute you this Women’s Month. You have done us proud!