Category Archives: A new year

2015 – halfway mark

Fighting The Blues. And Winning. Mostly.

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!

The Hearts That Care

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!

The Covid Months

There is a palpable sense of lightness this week in South Africa, after moving to Level 2 of lockdown. In retrospect the Covid journey seems to have taken forever, five months equating to so much more, and yet it the year has flown by. I am intrigued at how I have dealt with certain aspects of this journey.

The first days I was fearfully optimistic. If I obeyed all the rules to the letter, there was a chance the angel of death would pass me by. Three weeks. I could manage three weeks. Except I knew it would be many more weeks than three.

Lockdown. A watercolour.

I made a list of things to do. I always make lists. There were parts of the house that need sorting, work in the garden, murals I wanted to paint. And, of course, my current manuscript to finish. I tackled house keeping with new energy; I joined a painting group and practised my art; I looked at old lists and brought them through to the new one. (I seldom tick every chore off my list, and the Covid list is no exception.)

I read copiously. Every report. My cell pinged hysterically. Soon I removed myself from a number of groups. The data consumption was prohibitive, the hysteria infectious, the repeated forwards mindless.

In spite of my initial optimism, fear hovered subliminally, and then manifest in panic filled terror in the second week. The ‘what if’ questions, the long days filled with strange emptiness, the roads empty of traffic, the silence at night made it difficult to sleep. It was a bad bump. Fear raged out of control, I cried for no good reason, worried that I would never again see my sons, grandchildren, friends. I imagined the hot fluid of Covid in my lungs. I’m asthmatic so I know what it feels like not being able to draw breath.

The panic subsided after about three days, and I got on with getting through the rest of the lockdown.

I loved the silence of the night hours. I took pleasure in walking outside, standing at the gate to our complex, praying unhindered for healing, for wisdom for our leaders, for friends, and mostly for protection against the pandemic, while a recording of a shofar calling the faithful to worship played out. I hoped my neighbours would not be alarmed. They sky was extraordinary, lit up with stars, unpolluted by light or sound.

There was no one around except a fast walker, who interrupted the peace with his flip slap flip slap scuttle, the sound of which resonated sacrilegiously in the  silence of the early hours. There always has to be one person who thinks they are beyond the law.

 I came to grips with technology. I lead the ladies’ group at my church. It is a vibrant group ranging in age from 40 to 84, their humour is quick, their laughter infectious. It was soon apparent that messages via WhatsApp were not going to be enough to keep morale high. Some of the single members were not coping so well. I learnt about zoom and soon had the weekly bible study meeting going again. A few members resisted, but most came on board and it was such a relief getting to see each other, albeit in strange colour and cut off at the chest.

For those who live too far away, or who really eschewed the technology I began to record each week’s lesson and put it on You Tube. Years ago I was a broadcast journalist and I felt had come home. I enjoyed the discipline of having to prepare a teaching each week. I have always found comfort searching the Scriptures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDV0ItFxPRk&t=36s

I convinced my sons to come to a zoom meeting. I so badly needed to see them. I got to have video calls with my grandchildren, and friends far away. Virtual sundowners lifted the spirits.

We shared videos of exercise routines in those early days, realising how important it was we keep fit. I live in a complex so we walked up and down the driveways as well, masked and distant.

Level 5 lockdown was extended. We were in this for the long haul. Forget the list. Get back to your normal work routine. Did I? Huh!

At last an easing came. We could exercise between 6 and 9. Great. I was out there. Every morning. Until they extended the hours to 6pm. No pressure. My walks dwindled. Always the thought, ‘I can go this afternoon’.

My enthusiasm for painting waned. There is only so much space to store canvases that are unlikely to sell. I offer them to my neighbours.

I am not a drinker. Too many alcoholics in my past. I do, however, enjoy an occasional splash of wine in a glass well filled with ice cubes. Until I was told it was verboten, whereupon it became a glass a night. I made sure I had a good supply when the ban was lifted. Happy to say I was able to bless a friend with a bottle, and I had the last glass of my stash on Monday night. How was that for planning! Now to go back to my old ways where it matters not a jot if I have wine in the cupboard or not.

I have always worked from home, so lockdown should not have made much difference to me. All that changed was my freedom to come and go, socialise. These were replaced with well planned forays to the shops, a peaceful environment in which creativity should have thrived, and many hours in which to accomplish all that I have struggled to accomplish over the past however many years I have been working on this manuscript.

I did make headway on my manuscript but somehow the walls closed in on me. The uninterrupted routine of making meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, watering and weeding the garden took precedence and drained me of creativity. The days stretched long and lonely, the nights I filled with Netflix.

The move to Level 3 meant we could meet for coffee. Outside. But we could meet. So we did. What a reunion! Thirteen ladies, excited at our daring, our chatter unabated. I met with the odd friend too.

And I went to the Kruger Park.  Oh what heaven! The first thing we noticed was the state of the roads – dirty with grass and poo, and branches. Game rangers had been posting pictures of animals sleeping on the roads, and this was the evidence that tar was no longer something to be avoided. The animals had changed. Zebra not flicking their tails in irritation when you stopped to look at them and moving away into the safety of the bush, Giraffe staying put in the middle of the road, ellies calmer than I have seen them for many years. One trip we saw a heard of usually shy Sable antelope, happy to carry on grazing in spite of the proximity of our vehicles. What a spoiling! I went as often as I could, knowing this was a special time, not likely to be experienced again.

And so, after five months of relative isolation, we have arrived at level 2, and as I look about me, and reminisce, I cannot help wondering what all the hype has been about. The figures are not as dastardly as we were led to believe they would be, both globally and here. Let’s face it, 20 million infections out of a population of 7 billion, less than 800 thousand fatalities globally are hardly the millions we were told about in the beginning. True, there are still new infections, but they are decreasing, as is the death rate. I am not callous, but do these figures justify shutting the world down? Bringing country after country to its economic knees? Mass unemployment? Talk about World Interrupted!

Conspiracy theories have abounded since the first murmurs trickled out of Wuhan at the beginning of the year. Fear is an awful weapon, and it is fear that has caused this scenario. Fear and fear alone. And because the carnage seemingly isn’t enough for those orchestrating this ‘pandemic’, we are now being threatened with the, wait for it, SECOND WAVE. It sounds like the title of a cheap novel, or a horror movie.

If there is a conspiracy, what is it about? Economic control? Global domination? Or is it an act of benevolence, ensuring respite for the earth from rampant pollution, a time for families to regroup, re-evaluate relationships, bond, maybe reconcile? To ensure weaknesses of governments are made manifest, rampant corruption exposed, fractures in political ideals laid bare, leaders tested as never before?

I am saddened by the suffering of the past five months, the loss of life, lonely and unattended, the isolation that has led to increased suicides, domestic abuse and other horrors. But I am also aware of much good that has happened and I know I need to balance the two, and then figure out my way forward from here.

We were told it would be a different world after Covid. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. The world I look out onto looks much the same. People back in the park, leaving as much litter as before, the same speed freaks keeping us awake nights with their raucous engines in spite of curfew, the same arguments, the same riots and demonstrations.

The balance between the haves and the have nots is altered, but hopefully it will swing back better than before now that we are so much more aware of the chasm between the two.

I worried about how I would cope when this all ended, how I would begin again. But I think my life will crank into gear and soon I will be back in a familiar routine and these months of Covid will fade into the distance.

I pray, however, that the lessons learnt will not.

Our African Dream

Friday, middle of the month, it has been a frenetically busy day here in White River. I can only think it is the thought that maybe, just maybe, lockdown restrictions are about to be further eased, and people are getting ready to get back to work.

In a province that is heavily reliant on the tourist industry, there is a feeling of desperation at the continued travel restrictions. Lodges and tour operators are crashed and crushed after five months of no business. Those that can have tried to continue paying their staff, but the string is now stretched as far as it will go.

The line outside our local Post Office does not diminish, many people queuing, their shoulders hunched, their faces lined with worry as they wait hours for a pittance, with which they are to feed hungry mouths. The chatter and banter that is part and parcel of queues in Africa is missing.

Those that are fortunate enough to still have an income are nervous. There have been hold ups, robberies, hijackings. Be aware. Be careful. More to fear.

We can expect no less. People are desperate; desperate people are moved to desperate acts.

I have just listened to Kimi Skota sing My African Dream , a recording from when she was with Andre Rieu. She now lives in White River, so we feel proprietorial towards her! It is a song made famous by Vicky Sampson back in 1996, that speaks to the dream of a new tomorrow, an Africa that honours its people, its resources, that moves ahead of its history.

It is one of the go to songs in this part of the world, together with Johnny Clegg’s Great Heart

There is a spirit in African people that will not lie down and die, but right now it’s as close to breaking as I have ever known it to be. It is going to take great courage, and sacrifice, and unplumbed levels of selflessness to come back from this.

I was reading Romans 12, and therein I found what looks to be the perfect recipe to ease our survival, if we can manage to do this, to live this:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another;

Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;

Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

I have a dear friend, a busy lady who lives a little in her own world. She enjoys a few glasses of wine after a hard day’s work and, like many, she ran out before the first ban was lifted.  Then sales opened. Time and again she would wander off on a Friday or Saturday to buy her wine for the week, totally forgetting she should have done so before Thursday. Poor Su!

When I heard Ramaphosa slam liquor sales closed that Sunday night, my thoughts immediately went to her. Needless to say she didn’t have a single bottle in stock. She has been ribbed mercilessly by all of us these past weeks, and she has dealt with it all very well.

The other afternoon she called to say she was baking bread, was I home so she could deliver a loaf to me. Where else would I be? As I waited for her, I felt a nudge. I had two bottles of wine in my cupboard. ‘Give her one,’ said the nudge. ‘But what if the ban goes on and on?’ ‘Give her one. Open up your mean little heart and give her one bottle’. I lost the argument with my better self I am happy to say, and the look of glazed delight on her face made it worthwhile.

But what of all those who don’t have a friend with two bottles of wine. Or surplus food. Or a few cents to spare. Or a heart hardened with meanness after a life of uncertainty and insecurity.

As I said earlier, if we are to recover from these catastrophic five months, it is going to take a degree of courage and selflessness such as has never been asked of us before. I believe we can do it. I believe in the indomitability of the African spirit.

As Master Kg featuring Nomcebo’s heartrending cry to the heavens in the song Jerusalema, has people dancing across the globe , so, I believe, we will we walk in jubilant freedom in one day.

I want to play my part – do you?

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!