Monday, May 31, 2010


The end of the month means a book review... and this month I am choosing to review a book that I love (and have just re-read).  It's called Abba's Child, by Brennan Manning.

One of the reasons I love Brennan Manning is because he tells a story so well.  The story of salvation; the story of his childhood; his becoming a Catholic priest; the story of a young boy learning the words of God... it is all amazing, and God has kissed his mind.

Before I review the book I must address this: many of my friends who I love and respect do not like Brennan Manning or his genre...they actually call him a mystic.  He has (openly and admittedly) come from a life filled with pride, addiction, and failure.  Still, he is transparent and humble...and I see nothing wrong Biblically with what he believes.   His writings have only encouraged a deeper walk with God and a greater understanding of myself as His I love him.

Abba's Child talks about two people who live inside of us: "The Impostor" (the one we have learned to show the world as a good interpretation of who we want to be) and "The Beloved" - both are real, but both are in constant battle with each other.  Manning writes, "For many years I hid from my true self through my performance in ministry.  I constructed an identity through sermons, books and storytelling.  I rationalized that if the majority of Christians thought well of me, there was nothing wrong with me.  The more I invested in my ministerial success the more real the impostor became."  The words cut straight into my heart... and, of course, fuel a desire only to be healed of any performance orientation- once and for all.

The beloved, on the other hand knows his identity is "One who is loved by Christ" with no questions asked.  In many ways, my "Beloved Janet" is the quiet, unassuming gem that hardly anyone will ever notice, but everyone will want to be around.  That's the presence of God.

As it makes way through our identity issues (or how we truly see ourselves in God's Kingdom), Manning also addresses passion, belonging, and most of all, a deep and abiding love of Jesus --and our life in Him today.

A good read and a good read again (the book I have was published in 2002 and then already had  topped the 100,000 copies sold mark) as I have just done.  I think Abba's Child is on my shelf for a reason (after surrendering 95% of my books when we moved here).  It  is also worn and creased in places for a reason: the subtitle, after all is "The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging".  Our Father (Abba), always wants to remind us of who we are to Him, and Manning splendidly worships Him through the pages.

I think I'll read it again soon....

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I never saw the DaVinci code.  Never read it, don't have any interest to.  Not only because close friends told me that it was a weak story and not "my cup of tea."  Also not only because (according to the plot summary) it devalues the history and works of my incredible brother and Savior, Jesus.

It is because it misses Leonardo daVinci.   By a flipping long shot.

The Renaissance (French for "rebirth") was what modern historians call the period from the  14th to the 17th century.
Europe, primarily Italy (and starting in Florence) started a wave that would reach the world in the area of awakening.  What revival is to the Spiritual World, the Renaissance was to the intellectual/artistic one.

Art, specifically sculpting and  painting, gradually began to wake up the common people and aristocrats alike.  The beauty and precision and quest for deeper things caused widespread educational reform.  According to Wikipedia, the "intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era." ( 

As anyone can guess, the "wide awake-ness" also caused social awareness and  re-landscaping politically slowly but surely accross Europe.  It also gave birth to amazing thinkers, to of whom were Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.   These two inspired the term "Renaissance man".

Leonardo was an incredibly gifted man, and his quest for how things worked was a lifelong obsession.  As soon as he could start recording, he kept a series of journals that together hold a wide variety of sketches, mathematical equations, formulas, diagrams, verse, dialog and recipes for medicines.  

While Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Leonardo's paintings were relatively small (an understatement).  The classic Mona Lisa is 30 inches by 21 inches.  Oh, and the reason he painted her?  Money.  Commissioned for the new home of a wealthy Italian family, Leonardo agreed to the painting of the woman just after the birth of her second son.  (That's not a smile, in my opinion, that's a look of urgency.  "I just had a baby, how long do I have to sit here?")  Most of daVinci's famous paintings were done for the reason that he recognized his talent and would sell it to the highest bidder, so he could pursue what he loved best:  learning how things worked.  

Little is personally known about him, mainly because things like the National Inquirer or Fleet Street didn't exist back then.  His ambiguous sexual identity (he never married and is now depicted by some as a "gay hero") was most likely for an obsessive-compulsive personality and almost non-existent sleep schedule.  Today there are several movements that push "The da Vinci Sleep Schedule", or  polyphasic sleep, which is a type of sleep pattern involving  no more than 5 hours of Z's a day. Some purists argue that to truly do this, you must discipline yourself to sleeping an average of two hours a day, which is (they believe) how much Leonardo Da Vinci himself slept.

The way to know someone is to read their journals. In his, now kept in various museums around the world, we see that Leonardo was busy with many things.  Observing science and recording it with the most incredibly accurate and beautiful drawings was his passion, especially the human body. In obsessed sketchings and re-sketchings, Leonardo depicts muscular movement, flexibility, positioning of a fetus before birth, an arm outstretched, and arm flexed, a hand reaching, a hand in a fist.... All learned from a teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, who insisted all his pupils learned anatomy.  It is said that this affected Leonardo for years, and he could not escape his passion to draw the inner and outer body.  Later, as a successful artist, he was allowed by a hospital to join another doctor in dissecting human cadavers and drawing the sinews and muscle underneath the skin.  

In his journals, Leonardo closely observed and recorded the effects of age and of human emotion on the physiology, studying in particular the effects of rage. He also drew many figures who had significant facial deformities or signs of illness.  So good at drawing, he reached further: to understand.  

The only journal in private hands is in the posession of Bill Gates, a multi-millionaire who is a precise thinker,  if not a .  I wish I could have half an hour to see it.  It is called Codex Leicester, and contains all kinds of drawings and theories on scientific process.  

Obsessed.  Creative.  Sleepless. Vegetarian.  

Years later he is the benchmark of a man with a mind.  

Renaissance man.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Joy with her husband, Don 

On Wednesday mornings I meet with a group of gals that are my friends.  They also are sincere "friends of God" and know Him well, in the dark, secret places where no one else can help.  It is my favorite meeting of the week: Lady's prayer.
Without my meetings with these women I would have lost my mind here in South Africa.  In the early days of my move they were the ones I cried to, grieved with and told my greatest fears to.  They prayed earnestly for me, and encouraged me with words of knowledge, wisdom and prophetic insight.

The leaders' name is Joy, my friend who used to be the secretary at church.  She calls herself a granny to most of the kids at church, but she's mostly noted for being outspoken, and prophetic to the spot.  Over the years I've come to see her as a chaser of God's will, like an Olympic Sport.... and a good friend who loves me despite all of my warts.  She hosts the group in her home, and usually steers us in the pattern we are going to pray.  We have danced with flags, prayed through nations, meditated then personalized scripture...and even walked malls in an effort to find sick people and pray for them.  Sometimes I'm not up for anything but sitting in the sun and praying with my friends, but Joy usually destroys my comfort zones in a desire to dance before our daddy together.  She is an incredibly, creative leader.

Stella is the eldest member of our group, but a pistol and a star to all of us.  Jewish by birth, she made a decision for Jesus and never looked back.  Because of her background she knows a lot of Biblical prophecy and tradition, but because of her love for Jesus she knows even greater riches.  A delight and a twinkle, Stella loves greeting me with a holy kiss that makes me feel loved and cherished.  What a pistol!!  She can teach me from any story she chooses to tell.

Lena is an Afrikaans woman who is close in age to Joy; mother of one of my favorite people in South Africa, David.  She is also quite outspoken, but mostly is known for her wit and knowledge of things both deep and trivial.  Also one to press closely to God, she's endured the winds of change in South Africa for years, being content that God is the only one who doesn't change.  She and Mike, her husband serve on eldership at Junction, so we see each other quite a lot.  Inside of Lena is an authority that is filled with God's justice...which makes me listen to her.

Rebecca is a transplant from England and a doctor.  She also loves the anointing and the manifest presence of God, making her quite giddy at the shadows and whispers of Him that we see.  She lives for healing in the supernatural, so she and Joy have spear-headed a plan to have healing rooms in our new building.  Rebecca is the mother of four children and loves her husband and kids, which makes me flashback to those days of my own growing up...  She is a delight and the first English person I have been good friends I have hope that they all don't hate Americans!

Denise is the most tender, open-hearted daughter of the king.  She encourages me with a smile, or a word literally every time I see her.  Like all of us, she prays with fervor and complete dependency for God to move or else we have no hope.  Her gentleness and wisdom are also accompanied by organizational skills, making her be the one who not only gets prophetic vision to do something, but carries it through to be done.  Because of her we began praying at a local police station before their morning meetings (unheard of here!) with a few outside of our prayer group.  I love her encouragement when things go very wrong for us.  She comforts me with the care and comfort that can only come from someone who has been through it all.

Gladys is a supermodel...who is also as encouraging and prophetic as she is gorgeous.  When I first met Gladys she spent extra time with me to talk and get to know me.  She has a way of making everyone feel as if they are the only person in the room, as well as being fun and funny and delightful, making you want to seek her out when you get to a meeting.  She also has grown children and grandkids, so relates to my position in life well.   Because of her desire to pray scripture, her light during the Wednesday morning meetings makes us all grateful...

Then there's Helen.  She is the one who is our tender warrior as I say.  Glowing with light and grace, Helen delivers a vision with so much gentlesness, it is like a cloud floating into our midst.  Blonde and polished, at first meeting you have to know this person is not just a Bergdorff's model, but a sincere daughter of God who wants with all of her heart to do His will, minister to the poor and be a friend.  I can't help comparing Helen to my own mother, a graceful, glowing girl as well.  I love her more because of this comparison, even though Helen is not old enough to be my mom.....

At times Trish will join us, a local artist who prays on her knees and prophesies openly without fear... I have grown to love her, too.

I've grown to love and value all of them.  When I come into the room, Joy is there with her spiral notebook and the rest of the girls with their Bibles and coffees. They all look up at me and greet me (I am usually late) and we begin by asking for prayer for this, prayer for that, etc.

That is, unless we’re going to the mall that day and we’re going to pray for people to get saved. 

My favourite meeting of the week.... and full of all of my favourite gals here.  My friends; my prayer partners. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I met with my friend, Suzanne for breakfast today then had an extreme workout (where I found out my weight is now back in the "getting up there...." range) and then called Lesego.  

Lesego, a young girl who I'd met just a few months ago, was now a part of our church and the latest person that God had put into my life to help reach her potential.  I met Lesego at a lady's gathering at Portia's where Portia told her she must sit on a stool because the chairs were for the adults.  It turned out that Lesego was a mother...and still a baby.  I guessed she was fifteen.  She corrected me later, and told me she was eighteen.

The relationship accelerated with a phone call one Sunday afternoon where Mario and I were enjoying a quiet moment between services.  This moment was interrupted by call from Dumisani, our friend and co-builder of the church plant in Diepsloot.  He had gone with his wife and a few others to pray for a young girl's baby who was hospitalized for malnutrition.  They had arrived to find that the hospital was allowing the baby to deteriorate because no one was there to feed him (the nurses said it was not their job).  Dumi had said there were bowls of food wrapped and sitting by the crib.  The whole thing seemed so unbelievable to me that I ....didn't believe him.  Still, I promised to go with Monica and Anna (Dumi's wife and friend) to get the baby removed from hospital care and released to the mother the following day.  Dumi said "Thank you, Janet.  You remember her, it is Lesego."

At the hospital, I found what Dumi said was right.  Lesego's baby, Thabo ( TAH- boh ) was severely malnourished, and lacking any nurture from anyone.  The nurses blamed his mother, who was supposed to stay at the hospital and feed him at allotted times.  Lesego blamed the nurses who were supposed to feed the baby if the mother couldn't be there.  The whole thing was a mess... and the bottom line?  Since I was white and standing up for Lesego, the doctor consented to let her be discharged.  Before he did, he took me aside and said, "This girl needs some education on mothering, AIDS, child care.... She seems very ill-equipped for the task at hand, and after all, she is only sixteen."  I shook my head, and corrected him, saying she was eighteen.  Lesego sheepishly looked at me, and I knew I had been deceived.   I brought Monica alongside of me.  I promised the doctor that the church would provide food, mentoring and accountability, come hell or high-water.  He nodded, resigned to release Thabo, but I saw on his face the exhaustion that can only come from hundred of these cases a year.

On the way home we stopped by a grocery store and stocked up on soy formula, canned baby foods, bottles, diapers.  Over cold drinks on the drive back home, I briefed Lesego on her church relationship and included Monica and Anna as "mothers" to her.  We worked out a program that Lesego would have nutrition lessons with Monica, attend home group and church and volunteer twice a week for the church.  In exchange, Lesego would be helped like a family member.  Food, formula and clothing would be given (in reasonable amounts) to help care for Thabo.

The relationship has been flourishing, and like all team efforts, we all keep eachother energized and encouraged.  Apart from a few hiccups and bumps in the road, God has been graceful to us. In a way, Lesego had to believe that her life did not have to be one of hopelessness and poverty.  Born into a severely dysfunctional family, she has been drawing strength from her church family.

Today we were scheduled to go to Home Affairs (the South African Equivalent to the Department of State) to get a birth certificate for her-- something she has never had.  In her dysfunctional family, Lesego's mom, who is defined by every cliche in the book, had never filed for one when she was born.

To finish high school or apply for a grant for Thabo, Lesego needs a South African ID, but can't get one without a birth certificate.  Since she has no written identification at all, we went to her first school for records.  She was recognized by her teachers, and greeted warmly.  It turns out that she was a good student, especially in math.  Because of the time of day and her reputation among the teachers, they gladly obliged and gave her documentation that she really does exist.  We triumphantly high-fived each other and headed off to home affairs.

The process was long, but worth it.  We came away with no birth certificate, as we will still need to bring her mother or an auntie to be interviewed before issuing the important document.  We came away from the day a little closer, a little happier, a little more encouraged.

Pray for us....

Monday, May 24, 2010


The Ryan Kids: Behind the couch: Shari, Colleen and Patty.  Seated:  Janet and Steve.

My brothers and sisters are an integral part of my life.  They light me up from the inside out and give me hope that relationships between siblings can endure anything and still come out beautiful and loving.

Patty was born in 1961, thirteen months after my parents got married.  I came along thirteen months later in 1962. Steve waited two years before emerging in 1965.  Shari born sixteen months after him and Colleen eleven months after her.  Close in age and resemblance, my siblings and I shared bathrooms, breakfast cereals, a community eating table, school uniforms, and one washer and dryer for all the years we were in the same house.  

Last night I talked with my sister Patty for twenty three minutes when I was about to shut off the computer.  She was on her lunch break and wanting to spend about two minutes to tell me something, an answer to my email "I don't do email, should know that!"

She began catching me up on her life (rather turbulent this past year) and told me about her job, the kids, her latest bit of challenges in the world.  I listened and talked excitedly.   Some things we shared were deep; others trivial and silly.  We said goodbye quickly when she realized she exceeded the time she had to talk to me.  The last thing we both said was   "I love you."  

Patty is the sister I am closest with.  I genuinely admire her and have grown to admire her spirit and courage over the years.  I see her as a mother to her children and am almost jealous of the wisdom she was given (in abundance) in the area of parenting.  She is the most understanding of me and all of my dreams, my loves, my faults....  She gets me.

When I was a teenager things were quite different.  Since I was young, my life was cloudy with all of the strife and  memories and reasonings of an adolescent mind.  The way I thought then, the only person I could ever imagine myself murdering was Patty.

In my adolescent mind, she was the hurdle that I had to jump over to get to happiness.  She lied about me to my parents, ratted out every scheme I concocted with my friends for sneaking out of the house, and personified something I knew I could never be.   Grace; quiet beauty; luminescence.  People used to tell me "Why can't you be more like her?"  Back then I didn't have the answer:  God designed me to be Janet, not Patty. 

Thirteen months behind the firstborn of my parents, I came out cute, fussy and craving attention.  I realized early I had to pull some fast ones to keep up with my older sister.  My mom's favorite story is how, as she was trying to show Patty the little potty chair at two years old, I pulled down my business and showed her how to do it.  Praise indeed, when my mom turned to me and exclaimed "Wow!".  

It began a rivalry we both fought in different ways, with different weapons.  

In elementary school I was what you could describe as a loner.  I was (to coin a phrase used by my peers) weird.  I tried to be lovable to my classmates, but their minds were generally made up.  My sister was two grades ahead of me (based on the design of enrollment months -- she was born in November so she was a young member of her class; I in December, an older member of mine).  When passing me in the halls, she  used to roll her eyes at me as she passed with her group of friends.  They all thought I was weird.  Patty didn't disagree.

In eighth grade something happened.  I got pretty.  I also discovered I wasn't weird.  I knew how to write pretty well and memorized long pieces of text in my mind.  My hair was cut in a page-boy and fell perfectly to my shoulders in a beautiful brown whip.   Patty was in high school and couldn't witness my new popularity in my school.  

In high school,  Patty was a junior (11th grade) by the time I entered.  High school to me was like New York City.  I started with a clean slate and quickly realized I could have a ton of friends.  I could hang out with people who were like me (the Speech Team and Drama Club, mainly) and I was MYSELF!!!  The high school world was my proverbial oyster, and I reigned with sincere delight and love for my fellow classmates.  

There was only one problem:  Luminescent Patty.  Even my friends and potential boyfriends admired her.  

"Your sister is so not like you!" they would would say, "She like is quiet!!"  Still others would say "Your sister looks like Jaclyn Smith!" "Your sister is so pretty!" "Your sister is sooooo......" 

What the exclusive world of High school did not understand about the warm world of family is that Patty and I we were actually close sisters, and I would have died for her...if I didn't kill her first.  Despite our growth and forced juxtaposition in our family, nothing seemed to kill the fact that we were prone to arguing, selfishness and proving the other wrong.

Even a shopping trip together highlighted the fact that our styles were worlds apart.  She wore gypsy and free; I wore classic and tapered.    We both read, but incredibly different genres of books.  She sculpted and sketched.  I researched obscure law briefs and poetry.

As she attended  community college, I conquered high school.  At night we shared the same room, but we hardly saw each other for more that a couple of hours a day.  She worked a full-time job and went to college; I was busy with academics, my social life, speech team.  In all of the activity, our underlying tensions would rear their ugly heads... but we managed to live through it, somehow.

 I graduated. 

My father became a Catholic deacon.

Patty announced she would go on to attend Chico State.

I announced I would attend Stanislaus State, but I couldn't afford to live there, and would commute.

Life marched on.  You would expect that in all the life changes, siblings would begin to grow up....

Two weeks before she left for Chico, we fought hard.  About what I don't even remember.  It was one of our classic fist fights, but we both crossed the line, and the whole thing ended with my mother pulling us apart and shoving me in the hallway.  I remember looking up and seeing Patty, bleeding from her arm, clutching a hank of my hair and panting and crying as my mom shouted "STAY!" like she was a dog.  With that, she closed the door, took me by the arm and dragged me to her bathroom (my mom's private counseling office).  

I knew I was in for it, but I didn't care.  My mom gritted her teeth and breathed out how silly and controlling my behavior was, including biting my sister and making her bleed (...did I do that?...) and how SORRY I would be and how much I would miss her when she went off to college.  I stopped her (a no-no in our house) and hissed... "NO, I won't miss her at all".    

My mother looked at me, horrified. "Just wait and see," she prophesied, eerily.  "Of all the people in this house the one who'll miss Patty the most is YOU.  She won't even be out the door and you'll be missing her."  She opened her door and exited, having the famous last word.  

In two weeks, after packing up my parents car, Patty triumphantly bounded up the steps to our house.  "Bye!" she bellowed to all of us (Patty knew her life would begin the day she left the house).  All the siblings began the hugs and goodbyes, something that was the given as someone was leaving.  The problem was, it was never one of us.  We had never left each other.  I stood in my spot, unable to move, as she hugged Shari, Collen, Steve and I looked on.  She looked up at me and said  "Aren't you even gonna say goodbye to me?"
I put my hand to my mouth and looked out the window.  My mom's evil curse was coming true.  I leaked hot, fat tears out of the corners of my eyes, and everyone was quiet, even me.

I heard her say "Well, alright, bye, Janet" I nodded.  She didn't wait two seconds before bounding out to the car and off to the faraway land of Chico State.  

I really missed Patty.  She was beginning a life of adventure and I would be here, in Tracy.  Our lives became harder that year.  I learned that I was growing, but battled growing up.  The weight of the young girl becoming a young woman came on, and I began a life-long battle trying to stay slim.  I made bad choices in friendships, in boyfriends...I was destined to crash and burn, and I did.

Patty, like a Clydesdale Horse, trudged through her college years working as many as five jobs at a time just to finish.  I abandoned the idea and began working full-time, moving out into a new apartment.  I soon moved to Sacramento, and Patty moved in with me.  Her last year of college, she finished courses long distance and did some internships in Sacramento.   

We still fought, but less and less.  I now saw my sister as someone who was trying to make it in this world, just like me.  We both asked the same questions:
          Is this guy "the one?"
          Is there really a God?
          Why can't I be skinny and effortlessly thin?
          Am I smart enough?
                  ....pretty enough?
                   ...good enough to make it in this world?

Over the next few years we each wrestled with our own demons.  
I was in love with someone who wasn't good for me.  
She was making minimum wage and paying off college debt.
I became pregnant.
She met a guy she wasn't sure about, but wondered...

And on.  And on. And on....  Through the years, Patty and I argued less, and agreement took back seat to respect, which came quickly with understanding.  Our lives gave way to marriage, children...Jesus.

Until today.  I look back, after the 23-minute precious phone call and thank God for all he has brought us both through.  

Each step we have taken has been witnessed by the other, some accompanied with grief -- others, with joy.

Still others, are accompanied by a strange mixture of both.   Lately, the grief, the joy, the everything is shared with the same beauty.    We can, literally, tell each other anything.  

I sit here in the inky blackness of a Johannesburg night, stinging with the bite of an autumn night.   She is halfway around the world and it is 2:00 p.m.  

Of all of the people who misses Patty, I am the one who misses her the most.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


On days like today I am surrounded by people, all wanting to talk to me, most needing my help for something. On Sunday at the beginning of the service people ask me "How are you? How's your family? I hear you're going to _______".

The questions are very inoffensive, intended for quick, rather than soul-searching answers. Three minutes at the most.... I am not designed this way. I always think my friends really want to know my answer, my wordy, transparent, heartfelt answer.

I am a person who loves to be seen into, being known. Sundays are not the best day to learn about me. Here, there is an invitation if that's in play, it's called "having a coffee", and it's done to get to know someone.

When you first meet someone, if you are interested in knowing them better, the next step in getting to know them is "Would you like to go have a coffee?" This is an invitation to sit down, get details on someone and decide whether they are a friend, a good acquaintance or someone God has brought into your life.

Coffees are big here.

The places you go for coffe are not places like Starbucks. The closest we have here is called Mugg and Bean (they even have a "bottomless" coffee!) or other small coffee houses where the java is less advanced and lasts a lot longer. Even among coffee officianados it is not customary to drink more than one or two cups in a sitting.

To someone who started drinking coffee at five (cafe con leche, is what my mom called it) I think coffee drinking is a good accompaniment to socializing. In the movie "Good Will Hunting", Will (Matt Damon) tells Schuyler (Minnie Driver) when she suggests going out for coffee "Why don't we just go somewhere and chew caramels." joking about the random attachment of the consumption of one item in getting to know a person.

I don't agree with Will. After all, coffee drinking (or tea, if you prefer) is the backbone to all socializing that is done in "catching up, getting to know, or drawing up a contract with someone. Coffee keeps me alert, but not always talking. It makes me energized but not weighed down. And simply... it makes me coo over the poetry of hot water being filtered through dried, roasted legumes.

It makes me happy that we have chosen it as a centerpiece of communication. It could be worse.

It could be tea.

Friday, May 21, 2010


In America, Soccer is for young kids learning how to play a sport (part of what I'm good at is overgeneralizing). Our kids played and were good...I wasn't nuts about the parents, forcing their children to do well and stressing if they weren't getting enough play time; but I was completely loving my kids loving soccer.

It took me several years to realize the importance of soccer around the world. For instance, what I knew as "football" was called "American football" and soccer was REALLY "Football".

I still call it soccer.

Our first trip to Africa (2000) was to a small country called Malawi, a third world poverty-stricken country where I witnessed extreme conditions in small, rural villages trying to make enough food for everyone. We preached the Gospel faithfully, and I saw firsthand the power of faith in these people. Their lives were simple, poor, filled with faith and relatively different from anything I had ever seen.

Still, on Saturdays, the whole village cleared off their world-class green grass field (one of the prettiest I had ever seen) and held a tournament of our guys (white, black, Indian...from all over the world) squared off against the poor village team who played with no shoes....and they kicked our butts. The only one who held is own on the field was our rather big goalkeeper - Mario.

Our first trip to Brazil in 2001 was surrounded in bright yellow and green (Brazil's colors) and chants of "REYNALDO!!"... (there's always a Reynaldo, by the way) and I soon found out that my sport-loving husband would rather go to a soccer match that shopping with us at the famed bazaar called "The Hippie Mart". He went and came back changed. I even got a Brazilian jersey out of the whole thing. The back said "Reynaldo" with a number 7.

I have to admit to being less than literate (completely clueless) when it comes to most sports. I always cheer for my friends and kids...or husband, but have no idea what the rules are. When it comes to soccer, I know my classic "almost-nothing".

So, when South Africa was given the honor of hosting the FIFA (Federation of International Football Association) World Cup in 2010,the whole country erupted into cheers while I stood back, politely clapping. This country has had to endure plenty of negative foreign news reports and its own self doubt in the six years since it won the right to host Africa's first World Cup, but with a kick-off date of June 6, most of those reports are discredited...or ignored.

Instantly, I watched a lazy country "snap to" and begin to widen its freeways, expand (or build) its stadiums and fall into a stupefied hype unlike any I had ever seen before. The 10 stadiums that were ordered to be ready for the Cup were indeed ready on time. In fact, they were early. Six of them (five built from scratch and one extensively expanded and rebuilt) are churches of architecture, wowing even the most jaded of critics. I wish I could attend a match just for the acoustics.

Although there are plenty of areas of concern to test the nerves of organizers, our country is pulsing with a heartbeat that can only be compared to an expectant father.

Here are some tips if you are planning on coming to the Republic of South Africa (RSA) for the cup. I've thought of all the things that I wish I knew before I moved here:

1. -- SOUTH AFRICA IS A DEVELOPING COUNTRY -- Don't expect everything you're used to!--

Power outages; traffic on small roads when there's room for big ones; slow service, no service; people who don't know the meaning of "personal space"; no seat protectors, etc..

Being in a developing country means that your western conveniences are almost everywhere, but still very different. KFC has one recipe of chicken. It takes a long time to get served in a restaraunt. There is no mexican food. Manners are different, in some places, non-existent. Street vendors are everywhere, so is begging. At street lights (robots) taxis shove in front of your car and honk (hoot) at pedestrians to see if they need a lift, then stop suddenly, if they do.

Sometimes tourists don't want to tour, they want to be at home in another country. South Africa is half first world and half third world. The blend means you give up a lot, mainly your preferences.

A good tip? Keep your heart ready for new things, be patient and enjoy the wild ride. Oh yeah, bring hand sanitizer!

2. -- YOU'RE COMING TO THE WORLD CUP... so is everyone else! --

I'm sure that people think that RSA will be busy. I don't think they know it will be like Bethlehem during the census. Because of the influx of people here, patience of everyone may become thin. Try to prepare for the worst.

Lines will be long. Bathrooms will be not-so-nice, and the whole event may be "So not worth it!" if you have an impatient attitude. The people waiting with you will speak other languages, and may be impatient as well.

If you haven't booked a place to stay yet, GOOD LUCK!! Call us and we can help you find a place... within reason.

A good tip: If you are coming, plan a lot of time to get from place to place. Take little snacks and water bottles with you. Be prepared for a lot of people asking you to share, and don't be afraid to smile and politely say "no".

3. -- BE ALERT, CAREFUL, and for the love of GOD don't look frightened!! --

As with all events of this magnitude, street crime increases. Local hawkers, confidence schemers, pick-pockets, and thugs come out to play, especially at the event gates. Once you're in the match, there's very little to worry about, but while you wait in line (in the cue)be very aware of what's going on.

Our national press has started warning people to be aware of their surroundings ranging from violent crime to being followed... use your common sense, and remember my favorite catch phrase "What would Mario do?" If I can speak from a foreigner's perspective, this country is basically friendly and doesn't want to disturb you, they want you to enjoy yourself and come back.... get ready for some good contrasts.

A good tip: Do a Google search for "common tourist traps" and get the low-down on being in a foreign country and not looking like a target.

4. -- EAT LOCAL FOOD!! --

The good news on South Africa? Food is cheap, and it's good!! Local fruit bursts with flavor (EAT ALL
YOU CAN!!) and chicken tastes like it did when I was 12. Try something called "boerwors" (BOO-er-vors)and paap (pup). Biltong is better than jerky, samoosas are from God, and get ready for the best meat... and I'm almost a vegetarian. Most of the meat here is free-range, so pretty healthy and delicious.

By the way, prepared food is tricky. Seasoning is either English, Dutch, Portuguese or African. All are not what you're used to. If you order fish and chips, it comes with the skin on, if you get a hot dog it will most likely be mushy, and the french fries are not as crispy as we like them in the states. Oh, and Mexican food? Just come to my house. It's the only place I've found it.

A good tip: Ask a South African for the best place close by. Experiment with stands and "Wors-roll" hawkers. They usually do pretty well, and need your business. Mario's favorite chain is called Spur (a local family restaurant that is politically'll see) and my favorite chain is good ol McDonald's- there's tons of them here, and may God smite me with a wicked allergy to all their food!!


A personal pet peeve of mine is how many people do this.

Poor people don't beg. Beggars beg.

If you want your money to go to the poor I can help you find a deserving family who really needs it because of a devastating something that's happened. Street beggars usually work for someone and live in communities that are rife with alcoholism and drug abuse. If you really are moved to give, try giving an energy bar, or a bottled water.

Anyone who wants to have a job can hand out fliers for 70 rand a day, but has to work a full day. Many people who work for others have a salary that is less than these street beggars make.

Oh, the ones that make the most? Ones who have babies, ones who have no shoes, ones who are disfigured. These are the gold of a creepy business. Don't fall for it.

A good tip? Keep your windows up and your doors locked, especially when you exit a venue.

Smile, make eye contact. Clap your hands together and show them your open hands. This is universal for "Bless you, but I have nothing to give you". Most will smile back. The ones who are terribly successful will point to their belly or their mouth and keep begging....

Remember, we all are human, and EVERYONE needs Jesus. Make the most of every opportunity, but be wise. Above all, have fun...and bring face paint!!

Oh yeah, Bufana, Bufana!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


When I'm sick I start to question where it came from. I do a lot of work in the township and sometimes with a lot of kids... maybe that was it. I work out at the gym...maybe that was it. I was around this sick person, maybe they gave it to me.

Because lifestyle expectations we can think of ourselves as invincible; unstoppable; made for the job before us! In reality, a common virus can knock us down and render us five year olds and vulnerable to greater infection. Most invading viruses are usually gone in ten days. Cold, flu, and other viral invaders are attacked by our incredible Immune system; we are created by God to fight invading viruses. Even so, some viruses have had a hey-day with us. The most recent one, H1N1, or the Swine flu.

In the early 1900's worldwide, the flu pandemic wiped out more people than all of the fighting in the great World War (1). Today flu can be deadly, but for babies, toddlers or senior citizens, those whose immune systems are not as effective, a flu vaccine has been made available. Vaccines usually make a shield against the viral components of things that are deadly, but in the case of the flu vaccine, the effectiveness rate is pretty much at 50 per cent, depending on the year and the virus.

The common cold can be a deadly door, with the diseases it can lead to, such as pneumonia and other secondary infections. It's not until these enters us, that we need help of antibiotics. It is man's first reaction to cure himself, with the help of medicine, and get better. Be germ-free! It is impossible, in reality.

When we made the move here, to South Africa, we realized the difference between a virus and a VIRUS. Some superviruses can wipe out a village - tuberculosis (a bacteria) is airborne and multiplies faster than cancer. Malaria, a mosquito transmitted bacterium can kill someone in 24 hours... not to mention cholera which is transmitted in water. All of these are not viral, but are transmitted like viruses, easily and without much to protect the underdeveloped countries.

HIV, a level 3 virus is not easily contracted. Even so, in South Africa, the nation-wide infection rate of HIV was in 2007 at 28%.

It's hard to describe to people living without an endemic virus how bad this is. One in four people in South Africa have HIV. Most of those people are black and live in townships. If you look at things this way, you can say every other person in the township has a deadly virus.

One in one hundred will admit having it.

Since it is a completely "new" virus and nearly impossible diagnose from one testing, it reproduces rampantly, by the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk. The crippling effect of the virus here is ignorance and poverty.

It is also the crippling cause of contraction.

I am reminded of Dickens' Ghost of Christmas present, when saying goodbye to Ebenezer Scrooge, shows him too shivering orphans underneath his cloak. They frighten Scrooge so much, and seem so foreign an attachment to such a happy spirit that Scrooge asks, "Are these yours?" The Spirit answers, "THEY ARE MANKIND's!! The boy is ignorance and the girl is want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." How prophetic for Dickens, seeing into a worldwide handicap that will doom us all -- not knowing, maybe not caring.

It is sad to see a world, like Scrooge, pre-occupied with their lives, their small viruses - their great challenges as well - that we forget the poor with this life-threatening thing killing off every other one of our friends here. While a few doctors and celebrities chisel off a percentage of their time and resources to dedicate a portion of themselves towards a remedy; the rest of the world can seem (to me) lost in i-pads and big screens and liposuction and implants.

In reality, the sub-human orphans cling to all of our ankles and look up at us for an anwser. Will we ever be removed from you?

Or is this a secondary infection that won't go away?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I have several guilty pleasures.

One of them is McDonald's. The other is mexican food...the kind that is flavored with lots of frying. Another is cheese. I love food. Food is a way to bring people together, celebrate life and get lost a sense that God gave us (like all of the others) to praise Him. God is good...and so are the fruits of his creation.

To decipher the difference between "good" and "good for you" doesn't take a rocket scientist. My trainer drives me hard, as I do myself, to meet new fitness goals and continue in a lifestyle that is active and fit.

My guilty pleasures should not be a regular part of my life.

Depending on busy-ness or stress, food can become more than my sustenance. It becomes my friend that comforts me by being dependable hot and ready from a drive-through window or my friend whose smells invade my house and make me feel warm and secure with the flavors of my childhood. It also adds weight and fat that I don't need on my body.

My choices influence who I am.

Today I rest, or fast, from food. My focus is on my real food, my Father's love. I meditate on Him and accept all kinds of Revelation from Him. John wrote "Revelations" the last book of the Bible while fasting, and the incredible insight and power and pictures God gave him for the future makes Nostradamus look like an idiot.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is almost lost among modern day Christians. Fasting is the body's natural state of rest (we all fast when we sleep) and is meant to encourage and cleanse the body of impurities. Even so, Christians fast to enter into warfare prayer and show absolute dependency on God and mastery over their physical body. After all, we are not animals, we have control over what we do.

In reality, life moves fast and we find ourselves needed nourishment to bring us through for energy. During times of fasting, life doesn't stand still, it just shows you how much you rely on other things, rather than the grace of God. Today we pray and reflect and declare God to be our true sustenance...

But I have to admit, I'm a terrible there such a word? I tell everyone I'm fasting (the Bible encourages not attracting attention to yourself when you do, and to be cheerful and not angry). I also read magazines or books as much as the Bible.... and the truth is, I've never once...and I mean, not once!! regretted that I was fasting.

It has always been a good time for me to hear God, who really understands me and loves me more than anyone else. It also is a journaling time (although my journal is now kinda my blog) for notes and revelation. Even so, one thing that defies the written word is the heart change and change of focus that is much needed in our hurried world. Ministry takes a back seat to relationship and prayer. It is, in short, like a honeymoon with God.

We have losts of jokes about fasting. Christioans kind of collect them. One is: "I don't know why it's called fasting, the time goes by so slowly". And then we all laugh. A harsh word, but true.

We all realized how spoiled we are when we give up something...

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Yesterday we were at Rovos Rail, a train company in Pretoria with a high polished, wooden Victorian feel. The event was the wedding of Matt and Joanne, a couple we've been walking alongside through a personalized marriage course.

Their nuptuals were beautiful, their families, warm, the venue spectacular. Every detail was perfect, in place and taken care of.

As with most events of this nature, the heart behind the event was to celebrate and support this young, beautiful couple starting their life together. To see them now, they are the most prepared, stunning kids in their twenties. They're successful, in love, and surrounded by support.

I met Matt's aunt and uncle, married 54 years. Jo's grandparents, in their 90's and still cute and in love.

Mario did the ceremony. He was witty, funny and handsome. Confident in a new role of a preacher/pastor, he effortlessly guided the vows, the scripture reading, the rings, etc. in a way that made me proud.

Twenty three years ago I made this walk with him. Things have not been easy. Years have a way of exposing truth, like how different you are, how you process stress, how you become more territorial and selfish of the things "he should know".... And with all of this said, Mario and I have experienced the 23 years as rich and exciting. The closest thing to heaven on earth.

We are not a perfect match. In the course that we guided Matt and Jo through, we scored very low. Our friends, John and Corrine (a definite perfect match) were shyly approaching the subject of "agreement" in fields such as "Lifestyle Expectations", "Friends and Interests", "Finances and Investments" carefully, as we seemed doomed...and headed straight for divorce (if you believe test results). It makes me laugh. In some things our thunder and lightning sessions (fights) are predictable and lame... and easy to agree about eventually.

Mario is a saver; I am a spender. Mario acts cautiously; I tend to be more impulsive. He is and introvert; I am an extrovert. He values privacy and room to think; I usually hate being alone except at the end of the day. Shall I go on?
Mario parents in boxes -- there are definite rights and wrongs. I want to know every square inch of my children's heads before I say what is right and wrong. Mario has no regrets about our parenting....

I love him. He is, in few words, the best guy I know. He loves me. I catch him listening to a story I'm telling and he's got a twinkle in his eye that can only come from admiration. He loves me... how? After all, I've had moments of tearing him to pieces and being a complete bitch... and he recovers and returns as my protector when I'm a little girl inside, crying hopelessly for my losses and failures and misunderstandings. There's an undeniable love he has for me that everyone can see... that I can see.

Yesterday, at the wedding, there was a cello and violin duo before the ceremony. At one point, from the lobby, involved in a deep conversation, I heard them play a tango. I smiled, thinking of the many tango lessons we've had... and I heard his voice (from the patio)say "Where's my wife?"

We danced in the lobby, a very brief dance... and I love him.

I love him, I love him.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


In the film "The Bounty", the 1984 adaptation of the story "Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian" by Richard Hough, we see Lt. Bligh as a sympathetic and competent leader. In previous stories of the famous mutiny of Her Majesty's ship, The Bounty, Bligh was portrayed as a slave-driving egocentric. In this story, he's a cool customer, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins well...English, but with a heart.

To ward off depression and fatigue, Bligh arranged for festive jigs to be played on deck, and encouraged the men to dance. The whole thing sounded strange to me, but after checking it out, I found it was true. YES, Bligh let his men dance, and YES dancing cures depression.

Okay, I'm oversimplifying this.

Let's just say that dancing encourages fun, partnership, movement and art all together. Patterns that take our minds off of what we're into for the moment, except for the dance.

I love dancing. Mario and I can tango...the most romantic dance. We've taught our dog, Zuzu to dance. We love it. For the moments we dance we have joy in each other and in ourselves.

Some people say they can't dance, or they have no rythm. This doesn't matter, especially to your friends or your significant other. One of my favorite scenes in "Sneakers" a Robert Redford film is when Mary McDonnell dances with all of the men at the small party, their dancing showing their personalities, their hearts. It's a great clip... and shows that anyone can dance.

My friend, Terry sent me today a youtube link of something called "The Gratitude Dance" which defies description. One man's desire to go everywhere and dance everywhere. I laughed and cried, then ran to Mario and asked him to watch it. He did, and his face was fifteen years old again.

Today we are off to a wedding.

I hope we dance.

Watch it!! The Gratitude Dance on youtube:

Thursday, May 13, 2010


In its day (about the 8th Century B.C), the Roman Empire became the standard of everything: Government, architecture, family, education, agriculture, conquests, and even storytelling.

For instance, according to one legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus(twin brothers), who were raised by a she-wolf when their parents were killed. Some modified the legend confessing the she-wolf was probably a neighboring Shepherd's mother. In the class system of old Rome, one was closely akin to the other.

By the time the Empire was known to the world as the very first Super-power, it had victoriously conquered agricultural communities surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Their new subjects were taxed, patrolled with Roman armies and taught to speak Latin, as their new national language. The Empire promised protection from marauding neighbors, and a voice in the government.

In reality, Rome was centered around a controlling Senate, who had gangs pummel the citizens into voting for them, securing the power they craved inside of a bickering Senate. Most of the new members of the empire were not given Roman Citizenship and could have anything, including land and civil rights taken from them at any time, for any reason. Because of this, land reform "bills" pelted the Senate.

Just before Jesus was incarnated, three men, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, formed a secret pact—the First Triumvirate—to control the Republic. These men would take the army, split it in three parts, go out and conquer for Rome and eachother, new lands, then come back and gloat and feast together. It's amazing to imagine the bonds and jealousies that were formed between them.

After Caesar's victory of a famous rival- Gaul, a fight between Caesar and other members of the Senate led to Roman civil war.

Julius' ally, Pompey, led the opposition against Caesar. In great determination, Julius ventured against a sworn friend and he and his forces won a bloody and painful civil war. Caesar pronounced himself "KING OF THE WOOOOORLD!!"...ahem, I mean "Emporer for Life".

You all remember the famous line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, when Caesar is stabbed, he chokes out "et tu, Brute?" ...(You too, Brutus?). It all comes from this next part of Roman History: In short, the Senate thought that Julius Caesar lost his mind. He was drunk with power and must be stopped, or who knows which one of us will be next? Some 60 senators conspired to assasinate the dictator, and Brutus, who was close to Caesar, became one of the leaders of the plot. It would be easy to do, they thought, during a senate meeting, since Caesar had disbanded his bodyguard. If they all acted together, no ONE guilty of murder.

In the wake of his death, Julius' heir, Octavian, took the reigns of leadership and bulked the weary Senate with more Senators. He then formed another alliance, called the Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Lepidus.

As it was with his Father's Triumvirate (and most power-sharing arrangements) the three entered into a legendary struggle for dominance.

Lepidus was exiled. Later Octavian defeated his weakening Antony at the Battle of Actium (because he was so distracted by a woman - Cleopatra of Egypt). Octavian, like his father, declared himself to be "KING OF THE WOOOOORRRLD!!!!", um the undisputed ruler of Rome.

He also named himself Augustus, which means "Bow down to me, underling." Not really...Augustus means "Revered":respect with a little bit of fear.

The decline of Rome so began. From Julius to Nero, 12 men led the Roman Empire. They were fearless in many ways; had the most powerful army, the smartest leaders, the most cultured citizens. Even so, they all fell prey to a classic cliché: Pride comes before a fall. Any super-power can tell you that they were completely unprepared for their fall, even their slow fall.

It was during the Roman reign that Jesus was born, grew up, performed miracles and was crucified. He died and was buried and guarded by Roman soldiers. There is a book of the Bible called Romans, written to the church in Rome that met in the city of the greatest oppressors known to the new church. In the book we are introduced to a brave, new church that is used to opposition. Aquila and Priscilla, a couple who were local business people, are addressed as leaders in this new church...caught up in their new-found love and allegiance to Jesus. Their names continue to appear in the epistles, making them people we want to emulate-- a normal couple with an extraordinary love for Jesus. A couple like Mario and I.

Today was our day off and I IM'ed (instant messaged) with Matt Roome (pronounced like ROME) while I was researching some stuff. He was off to run, but had found us on SKYPE and we "spoke" for the first time in a long time. He chatted about his life, the season, possibly moving back to the USA next year, etc. It was a refreshment to chat, remembering that when I first met him he was a boy inside of his family that had tons of kids. Now he was a man, a young man who had been living in Sao Paolo, Brazil for the last few years. He was speaking fluent Portuguese and bookkeeping....

Todd and Sheri Roome were incredibly good friends of ours in Sacramento. We went to the same church together for years, our kids grew up together. They had decided to move out of the USA to Brazil after we had decided to move to Africa, they just left first! They packed up their house and all of their kids and did it.

I always thought it meant they were gone and would never return. Our friends would be lost to a bunch of nameless, faceless people who were in no position to know who they were. We understood their value, their love, their sacrifice. To hear that they are returning to the States makes us see that their season in Brazil has ended. They've said good bye and left all their friends in the USA. Now they will do the same to their friends in Brazil.

At one point Matt said "I've said hello and goodbye so much it seems normal." I know what you mean, brother.

The Roomes are heroes to us...and their decision is one we support and understand. Their love for God isn't dependent on where they live or what they do. They love people with beautiful, comforting love, and God used them for a season for Brazil. Now Brazil will mourn like we did when they left.

Nothing on earth is permanent.

A good read-- From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68 by H. H. Sgullard, Methuen, London, 1959)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I changed my blog again. My goal is to get the most readable inoffensive background so that the story can speak above the din of color and pattern.

So what do you think?

Doing something like this reminds me how much I don't like change. Change makes me feel impermanent...a state that I should be used to by now.

I grew up in a house that was predictable and boring. And safe and comforting. My dad arrived home every day from work at 4:45. There was dinner soon afterwards, where all five kids and my mom and dad would sit at the table. The meal would be a meat, a starch and a vegetable. Milk to drink; rarely e a fancy dessert, but many times a sweet end to the meal.

It was before sports and extra curricular activities threatened families...and our house was untouched by the hustle and bustle of outside. My dad had a wide variety of music he listened to: Big bands, folk, Broadway musicals, classical, Johnny Cash, or easy listening. On a good night he would include someone we knew, like Simon and Garfunkel or Barbara Streisand.

Our kids grew up in a house that was similar until they hit the seven year old mark and they all played sports in city leagues...all of which disrupted meal times. Later (when we got lazy) we began to eat with the TV on. As I look back, our family dinners became filled with tension, and the joy had gone out of having meals together. It became easy to split everyone up and all of us eat at different times.

Looking back, the house was a mixture of silence and music. We were either a happy family or we were a family that was sinking in busy-ness or chaos. The last five years of us all living togehter was busy busy busy....

Change came when the boys stoppped coming out. When Vince moved out. When we moved to Africa. When Alicia left. Change is the only predictable thing in my life.

I look today at myself in the mirror. I am rarely without glasses... rarely at the weight I want to be. I have changed.

I look at Mario (my hunk...I still can't believe he married me)and see the same. He always knows where his glasses are because he hooks them onto the front of his shirt.

So when we meet new people, we never say things like "Hey, we were once cool like you!" or "We weren't always in Africa, we weren't always kid-less." We have changed.

That's not so bad, is it??

How do you like the new layout?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Yesterday was Mother's Day...a traditionally hard day for me. It has become even harder since we've moved to South Africa.

Yesterday in the Diepsloot service I was asked to share the message - the closing on a series on gossip. Diepsloot, as a unit, struggles with the temptations of this world, and the whole of the church can get sucked in quickly. The problem is, Christians are not supposed to gossip about one another...about anyone, actually.

My "preach", as they call it here, was designed to address lightly how this problem falls into the paths of women. Since women like to talk and openly process things (I can't believe I'm making this generalization) the trap is set for us to fall in to.

The whole preach was translated by my friend, Anica, who translated for her first time. In addition, she didn't translate English into her native SisPedi, but rather into Zulu. She did the best she could, but it was her first time. My preach was also my first in a local church context (I have preached in "the bush" before, but only to groups that were LTT crowds).

I struggled to get my point accross, then ended with a story...the story I heard when Vince was in kindergarten. It's called "I Love You Forever" - a children's book meant to make grown people weep.

On Saturday I realized that the whole book could possibly get lost in translation and asked Portia, Darrell and Ebi to translate the book for me into Zulu. I practiced reading it aloud to see (mainly by Ebbi's eyes) if I were getting the pronunciation right.

The story begins with a young mother holding her son in her arms after he was born and singing a simple song, called I love you Forever. It continues on and on as the boy grows into a man, and the mother is still the same mother to him, singing the same song. It's a touching story of how a mother's love endures even when the kids misbehave, rebel, smart-mouth,etc.

It is also a parallel of God's love for us. God sees us as His precious children all the time, even during periods of rebellion. The story makes me cry deeply when I read it...and I did let a few tears roll in the service.

When it was all over, the hall burst into applause, mainly for my attempt at Zulu, but also because the people enjoyed the story. I could see many mothers had been crying.... especially the Zulu moms.

I see the stroy as one that transcends time and boundaries. It grips us to know that Mothers will do anything, absolutely anything for their children.

This is where my heart is, but for many who observe from the outside, it may look like I don't put my money where my mouth is. I love my kids, and would do anything for them. Even so, God is my incredible all-consuming fire, who requires everything from me, and I really feel His will here. I will do anything for my God. Anything for Him above anyone else.

He loves me forever...and I can turn and love my kids (no matter what age) with the same love.

Or try to.

It was a great Mother's Day. Everyone called me... my kids that is!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010


The day Alicia was born I had pancakes at Lyon’s restaurant on Clover Road in Tracy.

The doctors had sent me home because the pitossin drip had not worked (could have fooled me, it sure felt like labor!!). Since I had been fasting for a whole 12 hours I insisted that we stop at a restaurant on the way home to the Corral Hollow Canyon. The pancakes were delicious, but I had to stop every five minutes to allow labor pains to pass.

I should have known.

When I delivered her, 40 hours later, she came out “sunny side up” , face toward the sky, like she wanted to see her own birth. At the moment she made her full exit I looked up at Mario, who was nothing but tears, watching his first daughter be born. Our midwife, Arlaine, asked me if I knew what I had delivered...and I guessed a boy. Arlaine shook her head, indicating “no” (she later told me she was waiting for the doctor or Mario to tell me the news...our girl was born, but realized there was only one other option, and she was the bearer of the news) . I instantly hoped for the best. “Did I have a girl?? A girl?? Mario?....” Mario was cying his eyes out, and nodded. His hand was clutching at his mouth when I heard her first cry.

Twenty one years later, I stood in a similar delivery room with Alicia, the girl I delivered sunny side up, delivering her own child. I had watched her go through thirty hours of labor and two and a half hours of pushing . I never thought any birth could be more painful than hers. I was witnessing Harmony’s as she struggled to enter the world. The delivery room had Alicia, her boyfriend Brian (Bud), his mother, Suzanne; his sister Ashley; his step-father, Steve; and Alicia’s long-time friend Patrick...and me. I tried to silently be there for my own baby while she labored to get her own out. She begged the intern to give her a C-section, but she sternly told Alicia to push and stop whining. I could have assaulted the almost-doctor on the spot. I glared heavily at her...something I had saved only for the very worst of enemies.

Harmony eventually arrived, barely breathing and full of “terminal merconium”...and I began rebuking every dark force in the world that would try to steal the life out of this young one that came from my daughter.

My daughter had a daughter. I saw my mom two days later and took pictures of the most amazing sort: Four generations. The whole thing was surreal. The last time I had done this was when Vince was born, and I stood next to my mother as my grandma held the baby son I had delivered just three months before. Now I was the grandma. I have no desire to stay can’t write worth a damn when you’re young...but I did have a desire not to lose my daughter. I felt like day by day she was slipping away.... but when did I not feel that?

Alicia has always been an independent sort.

At four she organized an outing with two girls across the street who were not allowed to go further than their front lawn. I packed a picnic lunch and saw her march across the street with it purposefully, and knock at the door as if she were a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes rep. The girls came outside for a second, then asked her back inside. She waved at the porch where I stood, and disappeared into the new neighbors’ house. I waited all of ten seconds before I went after her... and when I knocked on the same front door the neighbour answered. She was a small, beautiful Viet Namese woman, and said the table was a better place for the girls to share the lunch. I looked past all of the jade, bamboo and Buddha statues to my daughter, unpacking the sandwiches and handing them out to the girls. She waved me off saying “I’m fine, mom. Go home now.”

I stood on the porch, praying beyond my panic. What if they start teaching her Buddhist traditions?? What if she wants to have lunch there every day??

She didn’t and for a couple of seconds I relaxed.

At eight she had several irons in the fire. She was in a community choir, drama, a play group where she discovered an artistic talent... the other mothers called her “a handful” with smiles and fondness. I still took offense and told them all she was a great daughter, the most stable girl of any one I had seen in any group her age.
The same year she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes...and my heart and life sank. I tried to adhere to the strict eating schedule and program that the doctors had given me. Alicia was compliant until it cam to diabetic ketchup. “There’s no way I am eating that!” She’d say, in a soft but firm voice. “It’s like eating red glue...” I never bought it again. Let her have Heinz, I thought. What will they do to me?

At twelve she was already turning heads of boys. No matter the looks I brandished, some of the boys would not look away. Alicia loved being admired, and didn’t listen when I warned her to “ignore the idiots”. “Mom,” she’d say, “you’re so judgemental!” Was it true? I don’t know, I just thought boys were of the devil...but I felt her slipping away.

The first boyfriend came soon after. The first rebellious talk. The first secrets kept from me. The first friends I didn’t like. Slipping, slipping, slipping.

At seventeen in Africa, a boy of 25 proposed to her. She agreed, and later asked us what we thought. I felt unnecessary...and grieved and longed for my baby back. Where could I go to get her back??

The love I feel for this girl is unreal. It kills me; stuns me; knocks me down from far away.

I think of her and cry. I want my baby back....

Today is her first Mother’s day and I’m not there for her. She loves me and misses me. I see her daughter, the amazing Harmony and I weep for loss. How am I ever going to get beyond this??

My Mother once told me that having a daughter was like seeing a reflection of yourself...but better. It’s true. To see Alicia I see great potential, a beautiful mind, a wonderful mother. I think of her today and think she has three times the strength I do, maybe more.

I should have known that first night when they said that inducing labor wasn't going to bring this baby out that Alicia would be waiting to prove them wrong. She has been the antithesis of pattern and predictability. No one can set their watch by her.

She was born sunny side up. “Came out the hard way,” the doctor said, stitching me up.

I should have known.

How much I love her....

Friday, May 7, 2010


My friend, Lance asked if I could come and address a group of mothers today at his school (he is the headmaster/administrator). He asked on Monday, and later confirmed that I would come with a message, 15 minutes to encourage the young mothers at his school, Everwood Pre-primary.

The mothers are parenting children between the ages of 2 to 5 (before kindergarten) and are fluctuating between being inspired and exhausted. How familiar their faces were!! I'd seen those faces in the mirror twenty years ago!! As I got to the school I recognized that the event was a big deal. The parking lot was brimming with cars, even overflow parking was accessed. The reception for the school was filled with pitchers of facy waters and barely alcoholic fancy drinks, finger foods, lots of a girls' favorite things.

I had a problem: I had prepared to address a small group of mothers and this was a school assembly. My favorite dream had been realized (I love speaking publically) but I was woefully unprepared. You see, I had come home after the gym and lunch with a friend only to find the computer hijacked (Mario obviously needed it for the meeting he attended) and my notes were on it. I improvised piling a load of books into my arms and took off.

So, my surprise at the size of the group was more than just was more like panic. Then a wonderful thing happened. The kids performed before I could have a chance to speak. They sang and danced to oldies from the 50's. It was hilarious fun, and the kids were so beautiful! The mothers sat in the chairs, taping the performance on their iphones, cameras and video cams... I stood back in awe as I was given the gift of watching the most beautiful exchange between mothers and children performing for them.

By the time they finished, I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude. It was just last week (it seems) that Vince onstage hosting his class as they recited poems from Maurice Sendak's "Chicken Soup and Rice" in Kindergarten. Or that Alicia was performing as Alladin in Sacramento. Performing kids and the mothers who watch them have a deep tender place in my heart.

I surveyed the scene. I asked the mothers to turn their chairs from theater seating to a large circle. They obliged, their kids on their laps. I read a story from a book called "Love You Forever", the tear-jerking stroybook about a mother singing to her little boy, even as he grows up. I barely make it through the book without crying, and tell them that they are heroes. Sleep deprived, beautiful heroes.

I encourage them to love their children and their mothers, relaying that I have not been with my own mother on Mother's Day for the last three years. I also will not see my kids (or grandkids) this Mothers' Day either. Still, I am a blessed woman because I adore my own mother and love her so much...and look forward to talking with her on that day. I love my own kids with so much love it feels like me heart contains a moving ocean....

I end with the tale of the single swan feather from Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club. Some ladies are crying. Most thank me for the love and tenderness...and understanding. They turn into sympathizing mothers to me, in the absence of what they would consider dealthly calamity--no mother or children to be with on Mother's Day.

I leave and barely make it to my car when I burst into tears. Filled with emotion, I wonder why I agreed to do this.... my heart is so full. Like an ocean that's moving, love gushing out everywhere.

How much I miss them.....

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Today is our day off. Thursday, the sixth of May. Mario and I decided last night we would make the most of our day and be blobs.

As I type this now, Mario has just woken up from a nap and is walking around like a five-year-old boy with chinese eyes and a mop of silver hair in a heap. I am happy to say that I had been sitting on the couch prior to blogging. I ate lunch in front of the TV...which was rather a sedentary thing to do. My healthful chicken breast (complete with fresh broccoli and carrots and mushrooms) was accompanied by a diet coke ....and five cookies. Ha!! Only on a leisurely day do I get a chance to do this kind off garbage.

On our day off, we tend to schedule stuff we want to do, rather than stuff we have committed to do.

This morning I had breakfast with Suzanne, my friend (and lead elders' wife). We chatted and chatted and chatted... This was followed by a workout with Natalie, the most incredible trainer. I looked up in the middle of sweating and saw the most amazing hunk on the machines in the cardio area. He was wearing a new beanie that he got at the petrol station the night before for free when he bought a large pump water and two power-ades. Thank God I married this guy!! Cute and practical.

After about two weeks of non-stop begging, Mario agreed to go check out a Jack Russel puppy at the SPCA that I thought would be a suitable companion for our psycho dog, Zuzu. She was already adopted. While we were there, we checked out the thrift shop on site, and bought lots of cool stuff: Trivial Pursuit, Balderdash, a standing mixer, a crystal beer mug...and a cribbage game.

Since we were in separate cars, I asked Mario if I could do a quick grocery shopping, and headed off to buy essentials.

I came home to a clean house because Lorraine was here (the girl who helps with housework) but soon rescued her from the bathroom, where a water pipe erupted and was splashing hot water everywhere. After shutting the main water source off we summoned help, where our resident plumbers (We live on a property with 5 houses and an office for a construction company) told us we needed new parts, since the rusted pipes gave way. I asked if they could wait twenty minutes.

I finished cooking lunch for Mario and I, and also our friends, Terry and Manny who have been in the hospital for three days with their son, Calvin, who has had a variety of health concerns. I had whipped up a curry and rice with a couple of sauces...and gave a box of cookies for dessert. (I actually was surprised when I found them. "Hey!! Where did these come from? We shouldn't have cookies in the house!! I'll eat all of these.") Behind the first box of evil cookies there was another one. Kept those.

I drove Elvis (our plumber...yes, that's his real name. Black. African. Elvis.) to Terry and Manny's house where I dropped off the meal... and woke her from a nap. I apologized and handed off the food. Kiss, kiss, gotta go buy plumbing parts...

Builder's Warehouse is a terrible shop that wants to be Home Depot. Both stores drive me nuts, but Builder's Warehouse drives me insane with schizophrenia. We bought new pipes, new faucet, a new wrench (a dog and a wrench...I guess we're planning on filing for permanent residency here) and checked out as quickly as I could. On the way home I chatted with Elvis about south Africa and traditions and God.

Home. Mario napping, Lorraine cleaning, kitchen spotless... no water. The guys worked furiously and repaired everything in twenty minutes. I sat down with my lunch determined to eat healfully and stay on my diet.... Until I remembered the cookies.

Zuzu thought the cookies looked like her dog biscuits, and she has mastered the yearning look -- one that can say she would like to be given a dog cookie since her master's wife is enjoying human cookies. I caved in and gave her a beano (the name of the dog bicuits here) and hide one in the room (her favorite game is to sniff it out).

I was watching an old DVD - "Shining Through" - where Melanie Griffith is actually good and still has the body and face God gave her. It's a cool moment...until I remembered that I wanted to blog.

Boom... 6:15 p.m. That is a faithful narrative of our day off so far.

I am going to tell Mario to hide the cookies.

I can't sniff them out like the dog.