Category Archives: A new year

2015 – halfway mark

Suffering For Christ

I don’t believe there is a born again Christian on the face of this earth who does not desire to know Jesus, God the Father more intimately, to have the confidence to proclaim as Paul did in Phillipians 3 v 8:

Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

What a statement of love and commitment!

But one that causes confusion at times. There was a time, a long time if I recall, where I thought I could work my way into God’s favour, and that the more I suffered while doing it, the better chance I had of getting to that extraordinary oneness that I sought in and with God.

When it didn’t work out the way I believed it would, I thought the resultant ‘suffering’ was it, the same trials and agonies as Paul, Peter, John and others went through.

Like Peter, I didn’t really get the message. I had the cart before the horse. We cannot reach Him by causing ourselves to suffer. We suffer because of our relationship with Him, and until we understand that and start seeking His company, we aren’t going to experience that extraordinary joy, that certainty of knowing that He is, no matter what our circumstances

Paul goes on to say in Phillipians 3vv9,10

… be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith,

10. that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death,

Paul desired Christ for Christ’s sake, not his own, and he did not count the cost of seeking Him. As Stephen Fry says in the notes of the New Spirit-Filled Bible, He was a lover of God, not a user of God. Whether he moved in Christ’s resurrection power, or was stretched to his last ounce of endurance, it mattered little in Paul’s journey to truly knowing God.

It is that relationship of total commitment, total yielding, that marks the lives of the great men and women of God. The more they were persecuted the closer they drew to the Lord, until they could say with utter conviction: “count your sufferings as joy.” The pain they went through was as nothing compared to the pleasure of serving Him, and Him alone.

Without understanding and embracing the full measure of God’s plan of grace we cannot get to this place. Without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we struggle to find the courage, strength and wisdom to achieve the goal of the full measure of Christ, rooted and grounded and built up in Him.

It is in this place that we can exercise our faith to do the works we are sent to do. It is here that the words of James begin to make sense:

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith with deeds.

James 2 v 18

If we try to perform Christian duty in any way other than as a response to our love for Jesus, then as Paul says in Romans 4 v4:

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Empty works. It doesn’t mean that they were not good works. But works that are powered by our motives, our flesh, and not in submission to the will of God, are just that: works.

1 Corinthians 3 vv 13-16

Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

14. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.

15. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

16. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Work that you your works may endure, do as the Holy Spirit directs, and you will find yourself coming into that inexplicable relationship, where we take comfort in knowing that no matter what we may have to endure, our Father is constantly on hand to help us through the challenges. We are not left alone as orphans.

So, draw near to your Father. He promises that as you do, He will draw near to you, and as He does He brings the glow of His peace into the essence of your being, and to experience even a minute of that Presence, is worth the suffering that at times must be a part of this process called life.

A Flight of Whimsy

Something different for today. This is a piece I wrote a number of years back for fun, really. I needed to get a flow going and this is what happened. My challenge to you is to finish it, or to add the next scene. Between 200 and 500 words.

Are you up for it?

At the end of the street, near the pastureland, is a small structure, almost hidden by vegetation. So hidden, that it was some three months after I moved into the street that I saw it.

“Who lives there?” I asked of my landlady.

“Oh, that’s old Joyce – she’s as mad as a hatter!”

“Who takes care of her?”

“I think she takes care of herself. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her for ages.”

The next day, as I set off on my daily walk, my feet unbidden set off towards the hidden house. As I came close, I heard singing – a joyous, uplifting sound, the notes lilting on the early morning rays.

The house whispered into view. The windows sparkled in the burgeoning sunlight. I could see a cat indolently sunning itself in the open doorway. I was drawn to the wooden gate, festooned on either side with creepers of old-fashioned dog roses.

The light emanating from the house beckoned, the singing mesmerized.

I stood, uncertain, my hand hovering near the latch on the gate. I wanted to make contact. I wanted to see the owner of the voice, and I oh so desperately wanted to peek inside the little house that nestled gem-like in its Edenic garden.

As if sensing my presence, the singing stopped. A shadow shuffled across the doorway, and the tiniest figure materialised out of the glistening dust motes. Bright eyes pierced towards me.

I smiled.

The eyes twinkled, a finger beckoned.

I opened the gate.

A New Season, a new decade.

Towards the end of November a question was posed: As you near the end of this year, what are the highlights for you of the second decade of the 21st century?

My first reaction was to avoid the issue, a familiar sinking feeling of failure, of unmet goals, rising up like flotsam on the tide after river floods threatened to overwhelm. But the question lingered and as I went back to 2010, and slowly wound my way through the next ten years, the ‘teens’ as a friend calls them, slowly my emotions changed and I was buoyed by the result.

I really did not do too badly in the achievement stakes as I am sure you did not.

2019 was a year of mixed blessings. Healthwise it was challenging, but in many other ways it was an exciting year, and I find myself skipping over the nasties and focusing on the positive emotions, the general feeling of happiness that I experienced through the year takes precedence over the negativity, and that I will take forward into the next decade.

I believe this life is about stretching forward towards that goal, that prize of which the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9 vv 24 to 27, and again in Philipians 3 vv 13,14:

Brethren I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forget those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

A new season begins. May it bring all that is positive and uplifting to each of you, to my family and to my friends far and wide, a season of hope, of joy.

Happy 2020!

Happy days!

Please, please, speak English!

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 not stupid.

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 the cat.

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 madness began.

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!

A Small Round Stone

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The mountains may be high, the waters may seem deep, but there is a Light!

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.”

Goodness me!

Then:

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

And that Grace is yours for the taking.

 

It’s Christmas!

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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!

The Wedding on the Banks of River Khwai

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I’m a tree. I’ve been a tree for a long time. I live on the banks of the Khwai River. It is a peaceful spot and I am tall enough to see a good distance all around. I have a couple of close companions, the Shepherd’s Bush tree has entwined her branches with mine, and a little distant from us is my sister. She got hit by lightning and almost died, but she is managing to produce some branches and leaves at last.

About ten days ago strange happenings got us all talking. The men who patrol this place arrived and began to clear the grass. We had never seen such a thing. In places they pulled it out by its roots, leaving the earth bare and unprotected. And then they cut a section, making it as short as it is at the end of the dry season.

Themba, the elephant who likes to rub the itch out of his behind against my trunk couldn’t decide whether he was put out or not. The hippos didn’t care too much – there was still enough grass for them. No one else seemed to notice.

Today things really began popping around here. Vehicles arrived, people fiddled around the trunk of my sister, suspending tables from her branches. Chairs were brought and set up on the cleared earth.

Soon vehicles arrived, filled with people, who they left with us. Now the lush African bush glimmered in the mid-afternoon sun, the sky clear and domed over all. An air of expectancy hung over the small gathering, milling around the clearing, protected by our shade.

I love being fanciful, but now I will take back the narrative. For once in this pristine environment where they normally rule, the animals gave way, seeming to understand that this was not their time to parade – it was Dwayne and Maike’s turn to be on show.

I had visited the site with Dwayne earlier in the week to make sure all was as it should be. The staff of Mogothlo Camp had cleared it beautifully: a dusty aisle leading from a small, multi-stemmed bush, to the altar canopied by the entwined leaves of a Leadwood and Shepherd’s Bush tree. Another small pathway led to a second Leadwood, old and gnarled, not many leaves left, where drinks would be placed for guests as they waited for the vehicles to bring everyone from the camp.IMG_3000 (1024x768)

The river was fuller than anyone remembered it being for a long time, with parts of the road underwater, much to the glee of Sylvie and Ben, my grandchildren, who had never been in a car that went swimming before. Everyone was assembled, the drinks had refreshed and people began to take their seats.

Dwayne handed me his glasses. A few minutes later he asked for them back again.

“I won’t be able to see Maike!”

Mark and Darron had sorted out the music, the hi-fi camouflaged at the base of the small bush, that would also screen the bridal car when it arrived. It was a game vehicle, and no one needed to see how Maike would get out of it in her wedding dress!

“There are bones under that tree,” Mark said quietly.

“Hopefully that means the lions have eaten,” I answered.

Sound carries in the still of the bush, and we heard the Game Vehicle long before it came into view.Maike arrival

It is translucent in the oblique rays of the sun. Maike is bathed in a soft glow: she looks like a Princess! She smiles, and waves. We all cheer, not too loudly. The Leadwood tree is caked with mud deposited by an elephant as he daily rubs his rump, and we are not sure what time this ritual takes place, or how irate he might be at having his space invaded.

The vehicle comes to a stop behind the bush. There is a rustle. Mark takes his daughter to meet the bride. Sylvie is the perfect flower girl dressed in a lovely, lacy, lay18920373_10158972193525093_972454792950330557_nered dress, as she leads the retinue down the dusty path, strewing bougainvillea petals before her. Dwayne gives me back his glasses as Pastor Chris summonses him. His brother stands next to him.

Maike is assured, only her eyes seeking the approbation of her groom give a hint of her nervousness. Her dad, Stefan is tall and proud as he leads her to her future. The ceremony begins. It is simple, full of love and joy. As the sun begins to reach for the horizon it catches the diamantes in Maike’s veil and she is silhouetted in a halo of light. The vows are 18952684_10158972213420093_6608664925218973324_nspoken, the register is signed, the paperwork completed.

Pastor Chris turns them to face each other.

“By the power invested in me as a minister of Jesus Christ, and the Republic of Botswana, I declare you man and wife, and I present to you Mr and Mrs Elderkin. Dwayne, now you may kiss your bride.”

Sylvie turns to me and exclaims: “They are like us! We are also Elderkin.”

With that the gathering surges around them and shows them with rose petal confetti. Congratulations resound in the golden air. The photographer, Lilani, allows us time, and then begins to organise everyone for the shots that will be so important later on.18920663_10158981079795093_2704545013130258265_n

The guests are taken off to a spot further upriver for sundowners while the family photographs are taken. Soon, we too, are carried off to join the rest of the party, leaving Dwayne and Maike with Lilani. The first thing I see when we join the rest of the group is a restless pod of indignant hippos in the pool, unsure of this intrusion into their space. Kim, the Manager of the group is anxious, concerned for the safety of all as one hippo keeps standing up out of the water, looking quite menacing.

“Keep the children behind us, as far from the water as possible,” she tells me.

But I think there iss safety in numbers, and the hippo soon settled back into the water in IMG_3004 (1024x768)a happy huff, staring balefully at us as we enjoyed canapés and whatever on the bank.

All too soon it is time to return to camp and the wedding feast. The boma looks amazing. Stefan had painstakingly ringed the area with strings of tiny led lights that twinkle like a profusion of stars. Tilley lamps and candles cast a soft glow over tables bedecked in white and green. Ramona, Maike’s mum, had handcrafted white butterflies which seemed to hover over the tables as they perch on wine glasses. Closer inspection reveal they carry our names on their wings.IMG_2996 (1024x768)

Conversation swirls, sparks from the fire outside rise star-wards as we wait for the newlyweds. Soon they arrive to a fanfare of bubble blowing, and the evening begins.

Home Help or Hindrance

I read an account in our local paper a while back of a woman who had been robbed by the person she employed as domestic helper. The help had made off with thousands of emalangeni worth of jewellery, and I have no doubt, a lot more that the employer will discover over the months to come. The article talked of the abuse that is meted out by these helpers as they lie, cheat and steal from those who employ them.

I wonder why this is? What makes this particular strata of society feel it is their right to help themselves to whatever they fancy in the homes they are paid to clean and take care of?

My first bad experience of this was after the death of my mother. As an only child whose father died when I was nine, and was now a relatively young twenty one, the trauma of losing my only parent was huge. When the funeral and various formalities were over, I turned my attention to the home we had lived in for the past however many years. The house belonged to the Swaziland Government and I had a limited time before I needed to vacate it.

I started in my Mother’s bedroom, because that was the most painful, and slowly moved through the rest of the house. All went relatively well, until I opened the linen cupboard. What had once housed been shelves brimming over with table cloths, matching napkins, sheets, pillowcases was now a cupboard with bare shelves.

I called to the woman who had shared most of my life with me.

“Where are all the table clothes, the napkins, all the things that were here?”

She shook her head. No idea what I was talking about. There had never been anything in that cupboard, all my imagination. It got worse. When I got to the dining room plates of all description, together with most of the cutlery, was gone. She’d moved fast.

What hurt was not so much the value of the items taken, although there obviously was a cost involved: silver forks and spoons with the Warburton and Leary family crests might have some commercial value but that was not what mattered right then. It was not only the loss of that tenuous link to my past, but the feeling of betrayal, that trust that was shattered. Items that I could have held as I remembered precious moments, gentle words spoken beneath my father’s piercing blue eyes, my Mum’s green eyes flashing merrily as we laughed at some piece of fun – that aura of comfort so necessary in a world suddenly lonely.

That was the first time, sadly not the last. It is a way of life, the sudden discovery that something is missing. You learn to accept that it is going to happen, your only decision is how much you allow to disappear before you act and diplomatically remove the offender. It isn’t always stealing. Sometimes it is simply carelessness and glasses, cups, even furniture is broken. Responsibility for repairing or replacing these items is eschewed with a shrug of the shoulders.

I have been pondering all this for a while, trying to decide whether employing someone to assist me with housework is a help or a hindrance, how much more damage and loss can I afford. As always, God has a happy knack of showing up with a reasoning argument just before I descend into active dislike and resentment.

Our Ladies’ Bible Study started up last week after the Christmas break, with a study on the book of the prophet Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. All my complaints and mutterings seemed to be duplicated in the first chapter! God is talking about the behaviour and attitude of the children of Israel, who had come to such a parting of the ways between themselves that they were now two kingdoms, quite apart from deserting God, and insulting Him by consorting with other gods, and deliberately flouting every one of His injunctions!

To demonstrate His point, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute, which he does. Thereafter follows a tale of love and despair, of faithlessness and forgiveness, the story of a God, tried to the utmost by the actions of His chosen people, yet determined to claim them as His own, to bless them and honour them as His adored creation.

I think I have a small glimmer of how He feels, because I have treated Him in much the same way as domestic assistants down the years have treated me. In spite of all my wrongdoing, He still proclaims in ringing tones:

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth,

And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy;

Then I will say to those who were not My people,

‘You are My people!’

And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’’

Hosea 2:23

There are many gems throughout this book:

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,

And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’

Hosea 6:6

Again:

‘My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge’ Hosea 4:6

– we presume to judge God, to insist He should act as we would have Him act, and when He doesn’t we thump our chests and say ‘See, what kind of God is He?’

As in all things, we have a choice. What I do about my domestic situation is in my hands, I have the authority to decide how much ‘abuse’ I am prepared to take, if any at all. There will be a cost, and again I get to decide how much I am prepared to give.

Does our Father not get the same right? To decide how much He will take from us, give us warning when we go too far. The difference is God’s love is so much greater than mine, and if He can forgive me all that I get up to, how do I deny forgiveness to others?

 

Clumsy, Thy Name is Glenda!

It all started before Christmas. I was on my way home from Nelspruit when I did something really stupid.

On a previous trip, during winter, I had caught glimpse of a gulley that looked as if it was on fire. It was aloes, in full bloom, clinging precariously, victorious in their ability to hold themselves fast in the rock clefts. There is nowhere to stop easily at that point, so I had to imprint the picture on my mind because I knew I wanted to paint it.

A few months later, after playing with the picture in my mind, I decided I needed to take a picture of the spot. I had to go to Nelspruit, so I knew I would have my chance. I have learnt over the years that even the simplest of cameras takes a pretty good snapshot from a moving vehicle. As I turned onto the stretch of road leading to my ‘Flaming Kloof’ there was a line of fairly slow moving vehicles in front of me. Aha! My chance!

I would put my swanky new cell to the test. A little problem – my driving glasses reduce everything within the car to a mild blur, most particularly anything on the screen of a mobile. While I was squinting, trying to figure out where the camera icon was, something felt a little off. I looked up to find myself trundling merrily off-road, down a pretty steep hill straight towards a small dam!

A quick manoeuvre brought me around. But. There was brick edging to the road at that point, and I crunched over it with a sickening thud, followed immediately by a screeching scrape. At the point where I steered back onto the road was a small but deadly rock! It had completely massacred my front passenger wheel. Yes, wheel. The tyre was shredded, the wheel buckled, the hub cap protruding at an odd angle.

Shaking like a leaf, I called the friend with whom I had spent the night. Her husband immediately made a plan to rescue me, until reason prevailed and I told him to wait a while, surely some intrepid soul would stop to assist. A minibus trundled by, hooted in greeting. Didn’t stop. The ubiquitous white Fortuna, much loved by most of the population in this part of the world, slowed, took one look at me, and drove off.

Pray! That small still voice penetrated my panic. I did. Within minutes a spiffy white Audi appeared. I tentatively put out my hand to flag it down. Relief allowed some moisture back into my mouth as It pulled over. The man behind the wheel assured me he had been in the tyre business for decades and proceeded to change the wheel for me.

The first quote I got put the damage far beyond what I had in my budget for “whatevers” – oh the cost of folly! I made it through Christmas, determinedly ignoring the fact that I was driving around with no spare tyre.

As we do every year, I determined that 2017 is going to be a good year. I lost my way in 2016, largely due to taking on the chair of our local equestrian federation. Writing schedules went out the window, the days became substantially shorter, a new system, accepted by some, agreed to begrudgingly by others, took huge mental effort to understand, and resolving age-old differences tested my conciliatory skills to the nth degree. I was tired, irritable, desperate to get my writing back on track, and 2017, that magical number for whatever reason, was going to do it for me.

Until I came home from work, opened the car door to get out, realised the windows were open, turned the key in the ignition to close them, got out and went to talk to the gardener. The next morning keys stubbornly missing, I decided to look in the car. I saw them in the ignition through the window, and was turning away when a mournful beep, beep, beep, made me open the door. I hadn’t only left them in the ignition, but left the ignition turned on.

A kindly neighbour, who agreed to let his watch of the cricket be interrupted, got me jump-started, but an annoying yellow light, reflecting the letters ABS persisted in mocking me.

Things happened in quick sequence hereafter. A phone call asking me for a reference for a domestic helper who had once worked for me. Except it wasn’t once, she was currently working for me. How dumb is that? Giving my name as reference when you haven’t given notice? I now had to lock my poor Lexie into the house when I had to shop, or work, or whatever.

My life took a swift turn to the stressed. Washing I can handle, vacuuming I can manage, but ironing and mopping floors are a challenge as yet unattained. Then there is Lexie. With none to keep an eye on him he has refined his skills as a worthy follower of Houdini to a fine craft. He has my cat as teacher, so windows are to be jumped through, the gate scaled, and furniture is there to be chewed when boredom threatens.

Trying to make him feel better after one day of long incarceration in the kitchen, I bought him a new ball and a hide bone. He immediately buried the bone with great ceremony and secret ritual. When he was done he returned, and eyed the ball with an expectant glitter in his eyes. I went to cut off the label, and get rid of plastic bags and life continued.

Until two days later when I needed my spare house keys. I searched, and searched. I went around the garden thinking Lexie may have made off with them. at last I decided I must have thrown them away with the label of the ball. The packet with the hide bone had two in it – I only gave him one – the other is also missing. Conundrum: Lexie or the refuse bag?

It was refuse collection day, so I decided to go and check through the bag I had deposited there a couple of hours earlier. I knew exactly where it was, to the side of the pile. It would be messy but quick. So I thought.

But no. Life in this cycle is not that simple. In this country we have people, men mostly, who eschewing the psychiatric facilities live on the streets, where they laugh and sing and dance to whatever beat they alone can hear. Our resident chap was having a whale of a time going through all our stinking bags, and mine was no longer where I placed it. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to recognise it, confident I had tied mine differently to those I was looking at.

I mean, really?!

By the time I had opened the third one, been covered in flies and sickened with stench, I gave up. My decision was hastened by one of my neighbours driving past and waving cheerfully. Then the farm manager rode past on his bicycle.

“Afternoon, Madam,” without a change of expression.

I took stock. Here I was, with the village imbecile, looking through refuse bags in full view of all the world on a Tuesday afternoon.

Is 2017 going to be a better year? With a start like this, it has to be!

 

 

When there is no cake

I try and walk most mornings, weather and lungs permitting.

A few months back, much against my better judgement, I allowed myself to be talked into taking a young puppy, who came with the claim of being a purebred Jack Russell. Well, judge for yourself! But he is a character, very enthusiastic about many things, and ‘walkies’ is high on the priority list. Each morning he watches me like a hawk, and at the first sign of the possibility of a wander, his tail begins a silent tattoo, and he inches closer and closer to the gate in expectation. But should I show no sign of compliance, his demeanour crumbles piteously, hurt eyes dart towards me from under still expectant eyelashes, until at last with a sigh he closes them to escape the horror of another day within the confines of the yard. Such a guilt monger as you have never met!

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My faithful Lex, whose nagging ensures I exercise regularly

 

It was on one of these perambulations that I was stopped by a young man, gently insistent when I tried to walk on past him after the usual greeting.

“Please look at this,” he pleaded, pulling documents out of an ubiquitous brown envelope.

It was his school report, together with the offer of a place for Form 1 at a local high school. His finger trembled over a paragraph towards the bottom of the page. I saw the amount in, typed in bold. E4990. An impossible amount for me, and for many of us, but totally out of reach for some 65% of the local population. He had passed Form 7, the last grade of junior school with a second class pass, making him deserving of further education in my book, and obviously in that of the school to which he had applied.

That was me netted. How do you tell a kid who wants to better himself that there isn’t a hope of him finding that sort of money, you don’t have it and the chances of your convincing anyone to help are slim to non-existent.

It’s the same story each January. Parents and children alike, desperate for that chance of a better life, unable to find the wherewithal, take to the streets in the hope that they will find some good Samaritan willing to part with some ‘bucks’. For some, employers will take pity and lend them the money – they spend the rest of the year paying it back.

Anyway, I tried, very aware that it was not only the preposterously high school fees that I was looking for. School uniforms are not cheap, although at some stage in our independent history there was a suggestion the same uniform be adopted throughout the country to lessen the cost. Then there are books, endless school building funds, whatever. I knew the E5k would end up closer to E8k. and if we didn’t find all of this, by the end of January he would be sent home from school until such time as he could make payment in full.

Every day thereafter Siboniso was at my gate, his eyes pleading, his shoulders desperate. After a week, I knew I had to be honest with him.

“Siboniso, you need to accept that this is not going to happen.” His shoulders slumped. “But I have an idea. Distance learning. You can get some part time work, and study part time.”

“How?”

“Emlalatini.”

So the next day saw us off to Ezulwini, that sometimes lives up to its name and at others seems to represent the other place! (Ezulwini means ‘heaven’ in siSwati)

Emlalatini was strangely quiet, but the principal was in and after a short wait we were invited into his office. I told him our story, he looked at the paper work, and gave the nod for Siboniso to register. The delight on the young man’s face was a picture to behold. The excitement and exuberance that accompanied me home was fabulous.

And that was the last I saw of him. I found him work. He was due to report that Saturday to find out the details. I kept checking my gate, the road. No show. We were supposed to register last week. No sign of him.

Now, he did lie to me, told me he was an orphan, that neighbours took care of him. I gave him food one day because he was so hungry. I then discovered he had both parents, his father was employed, but that is no guarantee that he would be able to shell out what amounts to a large fortune to most of the people of this land of eSwatini to ensure his oldest son’s education.

Was it a scam? If so, to what end? Did he think I would hand over E5000 crisp brown or green notes, without making sure they went where they were intended? Was it a test of some sort? The bible says we will be tested by men and angels?

Whatever. The issue represented in this tale is what really concerns me. Why have we in Africa made it so difficult for our people to be educated? In this country the increase from primary school fees to secondary is huge. After much fuss, a programme was rolled out to offer free primary schooling, which used to be around E500 a year, but to jump from there to approximately E8000 a year, in a country where the average worker earns less than E2000 a month is disproportionate.

The end result is a large portion of population, barely educated, trying to eek a living out of the soil, handicrafts, or their wits. Surely we would all be better off with well-equipped, enquiring minds, bringing new inventions and businesses and ideas to stimulate our sagging economy? The same goes for most of Africa.

In neighbouring South Africa the #Feesmustfall campaign was born of a desperate need by youngsters who believe they deserve to be equipped to succeed at their chosen careers, to have the same opportunities as many children they see daily in television programmes and the internet from around the world.

Is there a deliberate, covert policy to keep the masses uneducated? Do the minority that constitute the leadership fear that if these young minds are trained to think, they may ask too many questions that cut close to the bone? Why is it that only the well-off, the well-connected can educate their children, and so perpetuate a system that is not beneficial to the vast majority.

I fear that our laxity in addressing this issue will lead to our downfall. There is a tale told of a conversation in the French court at the onset of the revolution that changed the ways of governance in the European world. The queen, Marie Antoinette, asked why the masses were so unhappy, so restless. When she was told that it was because they were hungry, her replay was: “Tell them to eat cake!” Her words were called back to her as she knelt in front of those hungry people, put her head on a block, and waited for the blade to fall that would sever it from the rest of her body.

I am a great proponent of the lessons of history and I think we in Africa would do well to become conversant with them, before we, too, lose our heads for living in lavish excess while our people die hungry and our children are denied their right to a better future, one that comes from being adequately educated and equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern world.