Monday, November 29, 2010


Today is Sunday.

On Sundays our day begins with "Good Morning, Lord."...or sometimes "Good Lord, it's morning!" I know, I old and corny joke, but a joke that we think is funny on Sunday.

7:00 a.m.  Mario comes in with a cup of coffee and says "If you want to be on time to pick up Portia you better get up now,"  I smell the coffee, but am still unmotivated to separate from my foam pillow.  I groan, and he shuts off the fan, making it almost impossible to stay in bed in this heat.  I stir, and then look at Zuzu, my miniature pinscher, laying in her little dog bed underneath my dresser.  She looks at me with her eyes only: "Is it time to get up already??" they say.

7:15 a.m.  Mario comes in to the bedroom and says "Hi honey, I AM elder on duty, but it should be a breeze today because the admin team is starting." He seems remarkably perky for such a hot and lazy morning.  He reminds me I need to get perky soon, just by looking at him.  I have half-an-hour before I leave.

7:45 a.m.  I am dressed, hair and makeup done and am getting last minute touches done when I realize that Delise (our neighbor) still has my house keys.  Since we were in Bloemfontein yesterday, Delise and Andrew promised to lock up our house after it was cleaned on Friday - a disaster mess after Thanksgiving.  Even though we came back yesterday, Saturday, we forgot to get my set of house keys.  Mario rushes to get them next door.

7:48 a.m.  Mario comes in the room, my house keys in hand, and reminds me that Delise and Carick and Priscilla are leaving for Leisure Bay this morning. No vacation...they are moving.  We have known that our long-term neighbors are moving for months, but have been in denial that they are leaving.  I kiss him goodbye and he leaves in his car as I lock up the house.  I look over at the neighboring house (there are 5 houses on our plot-- all except Mario and I are family) and the scene is busy, solemn and a little sad.  I make my way over and say goodbye to Delise, Carrick (her 2 year old) and Priscilla (their domestic Saint) and leave befre the tears well up in my eyes.  I can imagine how the family feels.

8:05 a.m.   Against all odds, I arrive in Diepsloot not far after I said I would (8:00) to pick up Portia and the boys to take them to the Junxion Center Service.  Portia comes out looking stunning, with a gift in her hand.  For once the boys are wearing shirts that don't match (usually they look like twins).  They greet me and Portia hands me the gift.  "Is this for me??" I ask.  Portia smiles and says "Yes, it's for you!" We get into the car and I say "What for?" She says, "It's just a small thank you gift."  I smile, and we catch up while I drive.  She tells me about her new job, her schedule and the kids being finished with school on the 10th of December. We relax into girlfriend chatter we haven't had for two weeks...  The roads through Diepsloot have been affected by rain and I have to pay attention.

8:25 a.m.  We arrive at church and get a pretty good darn parking space.  I even made it on time for prayer. I am so thrilled, and as we come in Costa and his girls greet me.  They look so happy (today is the Christmas Pageant) and they all look so cute.  I am distracted by many friends greeting me, and soon I am swimming in conversation.  Soon I glance over at the visitors table and notice that it is not set up.    I look over and see that Bright (the church sexton) is setting up communion, and is most likely busy with many things.  I ask him if I can help set up the visitor's table.  He says no, and asks me what else needs to be put out to make it complete.  As I answer, I realize I should have done it yesterday (after we got home, exhausted from Bloemfontein) and that now it will just look a little disheveled.  As I tell him, time lapses...and I miss prayer time.

9:00 a.m.  Debbie, the children's pageant coordinator, sees me and asks if we should begin without the Diepsloot kids (the Taxis that bring them are late).  I tell her to do what she thinks best -- but to start when it is time to start, as the kids that are here are ready and raring to go.  They all look so cute, so sweet, so ready for their performance.  The taxis arrive just in time for Debbie and Co. to begin and put on the CUTEST, cutest, cutest singing and dancing festival with a Christmas theme.  It is amazing! I laugh, cry, and smile throughout.  My stomach is feeling unsettled....

9:30 a.m.  Mannie is the elder that will be giving the Word Preach today, and he is wonderful, beginning with prayer and teaching about prayer.  The place is awakened by the kids' performance and somehow it is easier to absorb the teaching.  Come close to God and enjoy Him...let Him enjoy you.  It is wonderful...but my stomach is rolling around like a washing machine.... what's going on??

10:00 a.m.  The bathroom and I have become good friends this morning.  I am wondering if it something I ate...? I am a little embarrassed of running in and out of the sanctuary and decide to hang back in the foyer and listen from there.  It works for awhile, but soon I see my friend, Lara, who has been in the hospital this week.  She is here in the foyer getting some liquid nutrition and supervising her boys as they noisily play with their cars on the table.  We chat about how she's feeling, and soon her husband comes up to us with their new baby.   We all chat as Lara feeds the baby.  Little moments like these are unexpected blessings.  Lara, Derek, the boys and the baby are jewels in our church, and I seldom get to connect - and never on Sunday mornings.

10:30 a.m.  The service is over and people pour into the foyer as I come out of the bathroom again.  I look over at the visitors table and see it is still left undone.  I try to get what's needed, but the CMG on duty is beginning to serve without forks or utensils there.  The coffee is MIA, there are no serviettes or milk.  I am trying to encourage the people volunteering, but it is hard as they want to know why the table isn't set up properly.   Ooops.  In my mind, I make a mental note to get a checklist for Bright for the visitor's table, a new thing we're doing in this building.  It all works out, and after the visitors are served, I thank the volunteering CMG, telling them that we're pioneering this visitor's section at the new building!!!  They are a little more relaxed now, and even smile at my weak joke....

10:35 a.m.  I catch up with Monica, who asks if we can take toilet paper to Diepsloot.  I go with her to the storeroom and tell her that before we take anything we need to tell Bright.  I see him as we enter, and tell him we are taking two rolls of paper for Diepsloot.  He nods, but I can tell he's a little flustered for not doing the visitor table right.  I tell him that I'll make a checklist and we'll go over it together.  It seems to make him feel worse, and I just say "We love you!  Your're doing a great job!"  He smiles, and says, "Thanks.  I'm trying to do everything on Sunday mornings that everyone asks me to do."  I smile back and say "Maybe we should set up the visitor's table on Saturday."  I'm not very good at shutting up when I should.

11:00 a.m.  Driving up to Diepsloot, Portia and I talk about the children's play.  The kids were so cute!! The whole of the church was smitten with the kids being so bold and wonderful.... As we make our way in, Eby and Darely show me their gift bags, given to them as a year-end present by two of our leaders, Shep and Eve.  They are amazing!!  There's even a new Bible!!  I am amazed that the gift bags look so good this year....(mental note: talk to Shep and Eve to see how they got these!!)

11:15 a.m.  We can't make contact with Michael, our guy usually in charge of the sound set-up.  We have no sound system and there's only one person on the worship team, Angel, at the keyboard singing.  The sound desk guys are dressed sharp and ready to go, but there is no sound system.  Monica says "We can just be voices today."  I am encouraged by the flexibility of our leaders... and a cappella worship in Diepsloot is beautiful and loud.  I love it.

12:00 p.m.   Dumisani is making his way through an incredible preach... all about how far we have come since we planted this satellite church in Diepsloot.  God has strengthened the leaders in commitment, prayer, relationship and knowledge and we are ready for the next step!  It seems fitting that this is the "year-end preach".  Next week we are having a party here in Diepsloot for our Sunday gathering, and we will pray for one another as we all individually celebrate the holiday by "going home".  Dumi and Monica will head for the Eastern Cape, Portia and her family will go to Zimbabwe, Anica will go to Petersburg... and so on.  I reflect silently: we are in Johannesburg to sweat out the Christmas season.  We will miss the cold, the comfort of "home" and our families this time... because we "just got back".

1:30 p.m. We are finished here in Diepsloot and we have all stacked the chairs in the hall.  Mario and I say goodbye until later and he goes out one way, Portia and the kids and I go through extension 9.  We still end up talking about the Christmas play... how much joy it brought all of us.  Portia surprises me by buying a live chicken so she can serve "fresh chicken" tonight.  So, while we make our way through a very busy Diepsloot, our conversation is punctuated by a cluck...then Portia saying "Be quiet, you." to the poor fowl.  Pretty soon, he'll be in chicken heaven...and the family will have a feast.

I get home to Zuzu dancing and yelping with joy at my return.  I get to the bathroom (again) and she comes with me.  I stroke her little face, so cute!  My life is filled with little joys... little sparkles...that reflect like the sun on a morning lake....

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 
(Philippians 4:8)

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Bridget serving at our house on Thursday: Thanksgiving.

In one day, we pronounce thanks for all things, great and small.  This day, both solemn and celebratory in the USA is called "Thanksgiving".

Much of what the holiday is about has been lost in translation- the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and building Plymouth Plantation and inviting their neighbors (and new friends) for a feast after harvesting bumper crops.  This is all told in half-truths, much like the bulk of American History.

Since I am a teacher at heart, I am most happy when I am given the chance to be teaching our South African friends about the first Thanksgiving.  It went down well, this year, after a true Thanksgiving feast, which we served.  The meal. a community effort, was: Roast Turkey and gravy (Bridget), Roast Beef (me), Cornbread (Bonnie), Asparagus pie (Lena), Beans, salsa, tamales, sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, chili rellano casserole, and cranberry and orange dressing (me).

After a Thanksgiving feast (think Fourth of July weather) in the heat, we convened in our living room for a quiz: some trivia on the First Thanksgiving.   The people who had come, twenty one in total, were given a written quiz about the whole affair, complete with Turkey trivia.  Most of the folks really enjoyed the chance to guess, and most did well guessing.  It was a lot of fun.  We later moved on to movie trivia: Scene It.  This is one of my favorite games:  testing  movie knowledge - another way that I am handicapped by knowledge.

Thanksgiving, in my mind, is a time for feasting and families.  A side game (as I was growing up) was to talk about things we were most thankful for.  In reality, the real underlying thankfulness was that we were all family- a gift in this world.

As I am separated by family by distance, my thankfulness is different. Since I am a lonely American surrounded by South Africans, since I am a lonely mother and grandmother, surrounded by people who have their kids and grandkids nearby....

I  am thankful for my husband, Mario -my best friend, my partner in ministry, my lover, my incredible wisdom in times of trouble...a man of God.

I am thankful for my children, who are not cookie-cutter images of who I wanted them to be, but instead, challenging examples of people who I would befriend and love in this world, despite our differences.

I am thankful for my parents, the chance to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary with all of our family in October.

I am thankful that at 47 I am a grandmother to Harmony, Alicia's daughter who is amazing and loving and every bit of her mother at her age.  I am thankful for Laila, Lilianna, and Lauren, my granddaughters by adoption, David's kids.  I am thankful they all know me and my laugh.

I am thankful that God in heaven saw fit to send His only Son to save me and love me and be the one who stands up for me in times of trouble. No matter what, I am saved by His incredible gift.

In all of this, I am so thankful.  I am thankful beyond my circumstances.

Thank you, Jesus.  Without You, this would all be worthless....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


In the world I grew up in, there were certain unmistakable truths.  For instance, we were a Catholic family.  We believed in God, were not allowed to get close to blasphemy, and were never allowed to skip church, unless we had a fever or were throwing up.

Another unmistakable truth was that I was part of a family: the Ryans.  I grew up in a family where my dad and mom were home most nights I can remember and we ate dinner at the table, with my four siblings unless one of us had a fever or were throwing up.

It makes me smile, at times, remembering my childhood, where the unmistakable truths became my strength; my touchstones.   Even during my periods of rebellion, I relied on them.

When I met Mario he blended into my family and became close with all of us.  Kids produced grandchildren for my parents, we spent most holidays together, and we never lived further than two hours from anyone by car.

Now oceans and plane changes and time zones cause a physical separation.  When you grow up with the family values I did, understanding a "missionary calling" isn't necessarily contagious.  Even though my parents are in full-time ministry, sacrificing their daughter to the Work of God in Africa is a great act of faith.

Nevertheless, there are days when I miss my family desperately.  To be honest, there are days where "I want my mom".  I'm 48 and that feeling of attachment is still so real.

The day of the 94.7 Cycle challenge (three days ago) was one of those days.  By the time I got home I had nothing left, and would have given anything to have Vince and Alicia and my parents here.  I especially was dying to talk to my mom.

The next day I got a chance to call my mom, and we talked for an hour, my dad joining in at one point on the other phone.  There are things in a mom's voice that are easy to tell: concern, love, empathy.  Like the harmonics of a cooing dove, my mom's voice can comfort me across the miles...

The morning after my race post, my mom sent me an email, which I want to share part of.  It's the kind of letter you dream of getting from your mom, full of understanding and encouragement.  In it, is inspiration for all mothers who encourage their children the best way we know how.

It is a gentle peek into my life... and I hope you enjoy the wisdom and love half as much as I did.

Hi, Mija,   (This is Spanish for "My Daughter")
It was so nice having such a nice long visit on the phone last night (morning to you).  I was touched by your saying that you needed your Mamma, so I was glad we had that time together. I spent about 3 hours at Tracy Interfaith Ministries helping people coming in for Thanksgiving baskets in addition to regular food.  On a very busy day we do about 100 interviews.  Today we did 246 total!  We had 5 people conducting interviews instead of the regular 3, so that helped.  Just goes to show you the signs of the times.
I just finished reading your blog.  It was very much like doing a marathon myself!  Lots of painful details that I really do wonder about your taking something like this on.  There's so much I could say, but won't--not now anyway.  

You know, after I raised our kids I learned something I found to be very important--that when your child gets hurt doing something they shouldn't have been doing in the first place, or if they're in tears over a disappointing outcome of play, or work, friends, etc., etc., you should first "validate" them by hugging them, comforting them, showing them sympathy, asking them just how that feels, so that they receive the sympathy and comfort they're looking for FIRST.  THEN you can lecture them afterwards.  Not many parents know about this technique, because as parents we're always trying to correct our children while it's fresh in our minds to do so.  Too bad and sad. 

Anyway, reading your blog brought this to my mind.  So suffice it to say that I will at this time just tell you that I love you very much, I admire you, and am so very proud of you.  Because I really am.  I can't help but be reminded of that little girl of 4 or 5 who would somehow think of different ways to to do ordinary things and get excited about doing it in the process!  Having to have things done today, not tomorrow, not even later, but NOW--very impatient.  And being so passionate about it that if it didn't come out as you planned, you would become emotional over it.  Does any of this sound familiar even today?  

Don't become too discouraged about not finishing what you set out to accomplish.  Disappointed yes, discouraged, no.  I know you must be so grateful to God for your partner in life--Mario.  Have you remembered to give thanks to God for life today?  We as old people give thanks for that every day when we wake up because WOW--We've been granted another day of life!!  Very exciting for us as oldsters.  But I wonder how many young people do this?

Thanks, Lord, for today, thank you for all my blessings, thank you for all the children you blessed us with, and may you keep them strong and eager to face the challenges that lie ahead--always trusting in your love and care.

I love you, Janet


Monday, November 22, 2010


In the movie The Princess Bride a character named Indigo sword fights a man in a black mask, who will later be revealed as the hero, Wesley.  As they progress through the battle, Indigo is thrilled that someone can match his skill in sword fighting, and says so. At one point he asks the man in black for his identity.  When the man refuses, Indigo presses further, "I must know," he says.  The masked man in black says, flatly, "Get used to disappointment." Indigo, a seasoned and artistic sword fighter shrugs and says, "Okay."

Get used to disappointment.  What terrible, horrible and real advice to anyone striving to be great.

Tonight I am disappointed.  How can I get used to it??

Yesterday, I began the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, touted as Joburg's hardest race, with great enthusiasm. Five and a half hours later, in the at 2:45 in the hottest day yet this year, Mario rescued me from a grueling and hot sun and a myriad of problems to take me home, unable to finish what I started.  The ride home I tried to explain, in tears, what had gone wrong along the way.  Mario was sympathetic, but mostly proud of me, a sentiment I couldn't embrace.  He was also worried.  I was sun-stroked, tearful and urinating blood...and slaughtered by the idea of defeat.

The start of the day was early, beginning at Matt and Jo's (my unofficial race coaches) for breakfast at 6:00 a.m.  Jo's mom, Sandi, welcomed us and we all were energetically anticipating the finish...the end of this day.  After scrambled eggs on toast, we met the rest of our team at a prime location with minimal parking.  We posed for pictures and soon were on our way to the starting line... ready to begin the race at 9:25.

The team had all trained for this day, but I was a mother among a lot of youngsters.  Matt (in the middle) was dressed in a cycling costume of Spider-Man -- the rest of us had the required padded-seat bike shorts, the obligatory helmets ("No Helmet-No Ride" is the race's mantra) and assorted energy sachets, sports drinks and other carb-loaded delights.

When we started, the adrenalin was pumping.  I felt confident and strong, and when we reached the M5 (a local freeway closed for cycling that day) the team began to pull away from least all but Matt, my faithful trainer.  Matt stayed next to me the whole race: as my chain froze in downtown Jozi; as I fell at a water station, as I approached the half-way point, thinking that we wouldn't make our scheduled finish time; and as I walked my bike up Witkoppen, the long and endless climb shortly after our half-way point.  The whole time, Matt could have broken away and achieved a respectable finish time.  Instead, he chose to ride alongside of first race in South Africa.  My first race without my husband.  My first race I couldn't finish.

Mario and I met Matt and Jo because they got married in Junction.  Mario performed the ceremony, after getting to know them during pre-marital counseling sessions.  A friendship was struck, and we've remained pretty close ever since, having a mutual admiration for one another.  Matt and Jo were accomplished riders, and encouraged me to participate in the race, all the while making it easy to enjoy the training process.

Last week, however, was awful for Jo, unfortunately finding her racked with fever on the couch.  It prevented her from racing on Sunday - so she and her mom became the  "pit crew" for all of us, Team Toast.  She dangled a mid-race rendezvous, like a carrot, in front of us, complete with the promise of sandwiches and cold water.  We would meet her at the corner of Witkoppen and Hyperion -- nearly the top of the monster hill ... where I began to cry.

Matt, trying to encourage me as I dismounted my bike and began to walk it up the hill, said, "The next light is Hyperion.  They'll be there to meet us.  Get on your bike and we'll ride to meet them."  He encouraged with everything he had...even tempting me with braai rolls, the promised sandwich of choice.  I shouted back "I'm never eating again as ling as I live!"  My weight, a hindrance for perfection during my normal life, was a stand-out hurdle during a cycle race.

As soon as we reached our cheerleading team, I saw them all.  My friends Terry and Manny with their son, Calvin, joining Sandi and Jo, looking so enthusiastic and encouraging, cheering as we approached.

I barely made it to them.
Approaching Jo and the "pit crew" near the top of Witkoppen

While they were cheering, their faces changed when they saw me.  Matt and I dismounted our bikes, and as Matt went for the braai rolls, I broke into hysterical sobs, begging Jo to fix my bike, it's unyielding chain that kept me from switching into low gears.  I fell into Terri's arms, who handed Calvin off to his dad.  They all looked sympathetic, but were unable to help, being unprpared for a bike emergency beyond a flat tire.  Jo asked real questions, like "CAN you go on?"; "Are you drinking enough?"'  At one point she handed me her cell phone, with Mario on the other end.

Mario's voice was recognizable above the din of encouragers'.  Up the road about 2 kilometers, Mario was parked, waiting to cheer me on.  I answered in mono-syllables, trying to stay out of any area that would lead me to tears... or the emotional plea to rescue me from the heat, the grueling course, the pain of getting here...fifty five kilometers (34 miles) of hills and scorching roads.    With the encouragement of friends (and some persistent strangers), I mounted my bike and began again.

I persevered through a few more kilometers before I saw Mario... his face like a lion, his arms outstretched in triumph to the sky, and without a word cheered me through my self-pity as I made the turn onto another freeway, closed for the race.  Road closures are done for only a specified time, and I knew, as I pedaled along, that the roads were not going to remain closed for long.  The clock was ticking, and I secretly did math in my head of how long I would have to safely finish this race.

It didn't look good... and as I was realistic, I chastised myself for negative thinking.

Before long, I approached a freeway overpass where I saw a crowd of supporters, and then Jo...who yelled "GO JANET!!!"  I smiled and waved... knowing that it was all gravy from here on in.  At the Hyperion Rendezvous, I wasn't sure I could go on.  In a nanosecond, I heard Mario yell at the top of his lungs: "GO JANET!!!"  It was tearful, encouraging, and it was at my back.... as I began to climb another hill.  I waved, then got on with it.

Soon the whole thing became like an old spaghetti western, with cactus and Mexican men with sombreros watching me as I trudged along under a scorching sun.  I was sure Clint Eastwood was pancoed and watching me with a rifle slung over his shoulder and a cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Where was Matt?  I forgot to look for him at the last turn.  He was most likely waiting for me at the top of some hill... and now I was irresponsibly alone in the middle of  the N14 freeway, riding without a chaperone.   I stopped at a water station to refill my camel pack.  The volunteers looked worried as they filled my assorted bottles, and even asked "Are you okay?"   I nodded, then went to the toilets, the blue porta-potties that are familiar to any road race.  It was there that I felt the pain of pissing blood... dehydration.

Enough was enough, and I left the water and toilet station to meet the road again, all the while looking for Matt.  At the top of the next hill, I surveyed the scene.  Matt was nowhere to be found, and probably looking for me.  I took off my camel pack and called Mario, the only number I could see without glasses.  When he answered his first question was "Where are you??  Matt is looking for you."

 I told him (in messy, pathetic tears) that I thought I was done.  He told me he would call Matt and tell him to go on without me... and that he would be waiting at the next overpass...the entrance to Diepsloot.  Could I make it there?  I looked into the distance.  I saw two overpasses, both on the downhill.

I pulled up to him a few minutes later, where I tried to hug him, but he brought me into the shade as he helped me off the bike.

Then he hugged me.  I broke hard, crying hysterically and nearly fainting at the same time.  I asked him how far it was to the finish.  He told me it was sixteen kilometers, but they weren't easy ones - they were mostly uphill and it would be hard to get there before the roads opened again.   I agreed (as he hugged me) that it would be best for me to stop.

It wasn't for about five minutes that I realized we were in the midst of a refugee camp of shade...everywhere were fellow cyclists with their bikes.  They were either resting or giving me.  While Mario went to get the car,  I surveyed the scene.  It was heartbreaking.  These folks had trained (like I had) and spent money on shoes, shorts, water receptacles and helmets   to end this day here, in the shade sixteen kilometers from the finish line.   One of the girls I recognized from a few k's back - watching her husband (or boyfriend) be loaded into an ambulance before mounting her bike and beginning again.  At the time, I wondered if he had fallen, or if it were a case of heat stroke.

By the time I got into the car, I was committed to my choice, never once questioning it.  Even now, as I type, I don't question my choice to stop.  I did my best.  I did eighty kilometers on a bike that was borrowed four days before the race, in a borrowed helmet, rooted on my my great friends, and my incredible husband.

Still, I am deeply disappointed. I didn't enter a race only to give up.  I know I'll know more for next year, but I am disappointed.

I remembered Indigo as I hung out the laundry today (that's right, I did my laundry today!) as he was brilliant in sword-fighting and still was defeated by a masked man.  He came back, in the story, and accomplished what he will I.

I pray...

Friday, November 19, 2010


 Baobab just outside of Mozambique

Because we are in full time ministry there is not a lot of opportunity for us to share about ourselves to other people, even our friends.  I enjoy Brazen Princess because it's a cathartic.  Now and then I have a chance to rest in a thing of beauty- a work that only God can do.

Here in South Africa we are witness to many healings, the physical kind that people say God doesn't do anymore.  We also participate in loud and celebratory worship that sets our souls free, enough to dance around as if we were born in Africa.  I've seen the most amazing sunsets people should never be able to see- a pink sky that meets a purple horizon, with red, glowing cirrus clouds.

The baobab, the worlds largest succulent grows here, it's appearance like being pulled from the earth then planted upside down, roots up.

It is the most amazing thing to see a great tree against a dry brilliant blue sky.

Nevertheless, there are times when my soul wants nothing to do with beauty.  During times  when I am meditating on my wounds that someone else has unjustly inflicted, I want to hear nothing about beauty or truth.  I'd rather talk about how I left everyone in my family behind (including my kids and my granddaughters) and sold our house and gave away most of my belongings JUST to move here and be misunderstood.

That's what I want to talk about.

If my offender came to me with an apology or an explanation, I might even forgive them, but they should have known better.  Especially if they are Christian.  I'd almost be inclined to torment everyone around me with  uncommon silence and definite change of my personal climate.  When I'm hurt, I'm miserable; and can cast a miserable shadow.

There comes a time when I have to snap out of it.  I realize, at some point, that I can't live here.  Besides, the people who have the power to anger me are the ones I love.  These are the folk I live side by side with, spreading God's awesome kingdom with... and I can't stay mad at them forever.

A miracle has to happen.  This is when God comes in and changes me... and I am humbled to say it, but I usually don't even know He's sneaking up.

Here's what usually happens:  A friends greets me, then gives me a hug.  Maybe someone else will serve me tea.  I get a little shaken up when love challenges my anger.  I have to make a decision: do I lay down my right to be hurt or do I continue with my self-absorbed behavior?

Tonight I laid down my hurt.  When I laid it down, I was humbled.  Who was I to put on the Ice Queen routine so late in my Christian life?  Tonight I was being loved by all my friends, how was I supposed to resist it?  After all, a hurt is a hurt...and usually it's not intentional.

My friend, Mike, asked a question that drew me out,  "Were the Maya really all that bad? How were they different from the Aztecs?" Ha!!  How could I resist??  Then someone told a funny story, and I laughed.  Everyone laughed at my laugh.  We ate together, told stories together, had coffee.  I made a decision to come out of my angry place and be part of my own family.

Laying down the right to be angry is the greatest miracle I have ever experienced.  In some ways, the miracle is in the realization that I am no good at being the center of my own universe.  I'm surrounded by people who know I can't live there.

I hope that my hurt never hurts others...but that's seldom true.  Hurt, like miracles, are a part of life.  Sometimes the former is healed by the latter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


After yesterday's post I want to follow up by saying I got on the saddle of the road bike this morning.

The gears are different.

The tires are different.

I made it up 'heartbreak hill" this morning and now have a smidgen more confidence.

Maybe that's all we need from time to time-- a smidgen more confidence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Now that I'm blogging I can no longer hide something, because it's the story.

I have to admit it: I've entered the 94.7 cycle challenge and Sunday I am beginning a race that will cross Joburg from one side to another -- a total of 94.7 kilometers (roughly 59 miles).

Johannesburg is a city of hills, like Sacramento: rolling; gradually inclining.  Sweet in a car but a bitch on a bike...pardon my French.  French I speak fluently as I ascend hills - if I have the breath to speak at all.

For the last five months I've been cycle training.  One day in the winter here I was talking to a friend who just completed a long cycle race, and he dared me to do  94.7 Challenge, Jozi's most popular cycle race.  The race is considered a friendly one, not too harsh, and certainly not a huge feather in a seasoned cyclist's cap.  For me, however, it would be a matter of reacquainting myself with a bike- one with gears- and balance.  It has become a monster of a challenge, and I have to admit that tonight I am not sure I will finish.

I hate not finishing...anything.  I absolutely hate the feeling of giving up, even though I am not an athlete and not competitive.  I do know that I have (as most people have) been raised to finish what I start and "give it my best"; and I've been faithful, my whole athletically-challenged life, to do that.

The problem is this: I have asthma.  I weigh more than I should (usually).  I am 47.   All of these things together mean that the 94.7 Challenge is just that: a challenge.

I've joined some friends (all younger than me) in their training and we will start the race together.  Our name is "Team Toast" so it shows you that they all have a great sense of humor.  Last week I rode with them - for the first time on pavement -  in an area called The Cradle of Humankind.

I barely kept up.

As we were finishing our 30 kilometer ride, one of them said "Yeah, let's go get a drink then do another 30".  I quickly inventoried my stamina and realized I could probably do another 30...but never come close to finishing with all of them.

Since I learned bike basics on a mountain bike, I had only experience riding trails.  The morning of the ride my friend, Jo, deftly removed my worn mountain tires  and replaced them with "slicks", the tires that were meant to carry me through the race itself.  I was sure that since I could navigate rock-ridden mountain trails I could surely brave the smooth paved roads.  

I realized, that morning as I rode with Team Toast, that the experience of road riding was much different from Mountain biking.  As I went from one  point to another, all I could think was my bike wasn't right.  It felt heavy and sturdy, not sleek and light like my teammates.  I struggled to find the right gears and method of ascending the hot, paved hills.  It was different.

My sympathetic team mates waited from one point to another for me to catch up.  I stood out as an older lady trying her best to navigate the hills on her old mountain bike.  Yuck.  I hate even admitting that.  As I read it again, I'm embarrassed.  Yuck.

I completely resolved to figure out pavement, and changing gears on the road.  I met my teammates at the cyclists' raceway the following Monday.  I suited up and set up my trusty (albeit heavy) bike.

When I reached for my gloves I realized I forgot my helmet  -- and couldn't ride.

I went the next day (yesterday) and rode alone.  I huffed and puffed up and down the track three measly times, each time committing to get the gear-changing correct next time.  It was exhausting; and much different from mountain biking.

I met Mario afterward and confided in him that I didn't know if I could finish the 94.7.  Tearfully, I explained about the bike, my breathing.  I was running out of wind during crucial uphill times.  My bike was too heavy.  The other cyclists passed me easily as they deftly changed gears.  It was humiliating.

Mario's answer was scary.  "Why not borrow a road bike?  After all, this is a road race."  I shrugged.  I winced.  I died inside.  But I thought about it.

This morning, we called Dave, our seasoned cyclist friend, who gladly offered me the use of his road bike.  We arranged to meet him and pick it up at 2 in the afternoon.

In between the time we called Dave and the time we picked the new bike up... I got the wind knocked out of me.  I was confronted by a friend who brought to light some incredibly bad attributes of mine.  He even added that others noticed this about me: other friends. It was the worst possible time for me to feel so wounded... and I struggled to not take it personally.

It was useless.

The whole thing was personal and I racked my brain out to figure out when I had offended so many with my careless, clueless, large personality.  

By the time we collected the bike, Mario and I had fallen into a stunned silence, processing what was said and maybe what was imagined.

As Dave took the bike out of storage, I smiled.  There was the sleek, light  road bike that could be mine for the day of the race.  All I would have to do is test it out at the raceway tonight to see if I could change the gears and negotiate those paved, unyielding hills.

Who was I kidding?  I couldn't ride tonight.  I could barely walk.  I was consumed in sadness that can only be described as the familiar ghost: What am I doing here?? Should I go back home??

I could be clueless and controlling there, but I'd be closer to my family.  Closer to Mexican food.

Tonight... click click click.  I type and I mourn for the loss of this day. It is a hard thing to feel like giving up.  I hate it, but it's a reality.  I don't fear my emotions; I'm not governed by them.  I just wish they weren't so loud.

I fear I may not have enough wind for Jozi's hills.  I fear I may not have the wind to finish the race.

God help me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It's loud.  It erupts and pierces silence; dangerous in closed spaces.  Once it was banned from a ministry trip we took to Egypt.  I have been approached years after I had been somewhere and someone remembers me simply because they heard it.

It has to be one of the things I'm known for -- my laugh.

It is not easy to describe and when someone imitates it I get hurt - even if they're meaning it as a compliment! It has never been successfully duplicated by a human being...but my friend's parrot does it perfectly.  That says something , right?

Tonight some friends and I are taking a trip to a prison to laugh our heads off.  Let me explain what I mean:  Sue Jameson, one of my friends, is going to speak tonight at another friends church that meets in a tennis club on the grounds of a prison.

Sue, whom I met in the States, is a cheerful, happy-go-lucky woman that I didn't believe was a stranger after 2 hours we spent together.  We became instant friends...and many of our mutual friends have had the same experience meeting her.

The thing I remember most about our first meeting is that I almost didn't breathe for three minutes.  I was "silent laughing" so hard that squeals were coming out of my ears and people were watching...smiling.  Sue was laughing along with me, doubled over and red-faced; Nicole (my long time pal) was fanning herself with her own hand and "shriek laughing".  I am laughing even as I type this.

I love to laugh.

No kidding, Sue's job title is "Joy Activist" -- Life, Love and Laughter Coach".  If I didn't know her and found her business card I would think she was certifiable.  Since I know who she is, I get what she means.  People need help learning how to laugh.   No matter how they laugh, when you see someone caught up in the act of laughing, don't you want to join in??  Laughter is truly medicinal.

By itself, it's a serious evangelism tool.

It's almost time to go and I'm ready; I'm going to not drink water, bring two inhalers and wear waterproof mascara.

Can't wait.

Sue has recently published a book called "Imago - a Metamorphosis"  it is a story of the name of Jesus.  It is an amazing story of every Christian woman that is delivered into a life of joy.  You can order it for $6.95 by clicking this link:

Monday, November 8, 2010


Ana and Simon at their Wedding:   Nov. 7, 2010

When we first came to South Africa (3 1/2 years ago) we witnessed our first Christian Wedding among traditional Africans.  The couple was adorable; already had two kids; and lived in the same house.  They had the blessings of the families and he had paid a large sum of money for her hand in marriage: labola.

Compared to the system I had only heard of in America (dowry) where the women's family "pays" the man, the labola system here seemed odd. Both customs were originally designed to bring the two families together, but always reeked of "sale" to me and left a strong distaste in my American mouth.  I have since learned to keep silent on this matter.  

Anyway...back to the first wedding.  When I saw the dancers come in, dancing a complicated step to a traditional African beat...all looking like bridesmaids but dancing like Zulu princesses, I was so happy!  The families were jumping up and whooping at the entrance and making the greatest excitement that I began to jump, too.  Easy to celebrate at a wedding...I just never had this much loud company before!!  

Yesterday was such a wedding.  

The ceremony itself took place at The Junxion Center (our new building) and was a basic, sweet ceremony that was beautiful and simple at the same time.  Mario led the vow exchange, even though the couple, Simon and Ana had been traditionally married in 1989.  Since their recent "reconnection" to Christianity and a church community, Simon asked Mario if he could perform a marriage ceremony "under God".  No labola; no traditional hoops to jump through....just a simple wedding at the end of church.  Mario agreed happily.  

Cynthia, Ana's friend (and home group leader) asked me after church a few Sundays later if I would mind helping them find a dress for Ana.  Like most couples in Diepsloot, Simon and Ana struggled to make ends meet and needed help with even basic needs of a wedding.  Because we are the sole "white people" (there is no word or understanding of the term "Hispanic")  at The Junction Diepsloot, I am usually approached for help with ideas and connections

I suggested borrowing a dress from a slim recent bride at Junction Dainfern, but also suggested we begin to pray for help for the wedding.  God (who knows Ana) would see the need and be the help we all needed. 

Within two weeks we were flying out of Johannesburg for a six week trip to Mongolia, China and the States.  At one point (Cynthia told me) Ana asked if we were gone for good.  While I was in Tempe, Arizona with my sister-in-law, Shirley, garage sale shopping, I came upon a few wedding dresses for sale.  The prices were outrageous ($700 for a $3400 new wedding dress is a steal...but not exactly a garage sale item).  

At a small sale near Shirley's house, we came upon a few wedding dresses, which seemed more reasonably priced.  The lady, an African-American woman  was selling the smallest one (Ana is a size 0-3) for $120.  I gasped.  It was a beautiful dress, and the most reasonably priced one we had seen that day,  but in my purse was eight insult and an impossibility.  

As I chatted to the lady (who was quite friendly) I asked why she had so many dresses.  It turned out her daughter had them (she collected them from sales like these) and she was now selling them to raise money for college.  I told her Ana's story, and how I was part of a team praying for a dress.  The lady was visibly moved - a Christian (and especially moved about Ana in the township), her heart went out to Ana. She asked me how much I had to spend, and I showed her my last money: a five and three ones.  "Just take it," she said, at the verge of tears.  "Take it and tell her that she is doing the right thing getting married under God." 

It was amazing.

But..the dress was huge.  We had to stuff it in our already bulging suitcases to make it home.  We did.  

At the wedding, Ana wore the dress (which fit her like a glove) and also a veil Lindiwe (our mutual friend) made for her.  She glowed.  I had made the wedding cake (a two day process) and cupcakes for the kids and all the flowers for the wedding party.  

As expected, the service yesterday was not the main story.  Before the wedding, the cake had to be set up, the bride had to be picked up, the whole cake dropped off at the hall.  Nothing went according to plan, and most of the time, I found what I had arranged to happen...didn't.  

In any case, the wedding was wonderful.  The vow exchange at the Junxion Center was where Mario was brilliant and Ana spoke up and Simon was hilarious, kissing his bride twice.  Afterwards we all headed to Diepsloot for the reception.

The reception, as everyone knows, is where the real party starts.  The hall (which was dirty and unswept in the morning) had been set up now, under the supervision of Mrs Sibonyani, a local pastor's wife famous for hosting events.  The head table was beautiful, and we all gasped as we came in.

Here is where the cultures divide.  Here is the tradition exposure.

In Diepsloot, things are famous for running late.  The reception began one hour after we arrived.  The food was half-way through preparation, there were no drinks (even water) offered upon arrival, and in the heat of November I felt it.  I finished my water bottle at the main service and now was getting parched.

Still, by the time we began, the worship team sang in spirited voices, the dancing started and soon, the procession of the wedding party began...the families were jumping up and whooping at the entrance.   There were women dressed in "traditionals" heavier than my own I was wearing, dancing and singing and showing no sign of stopping.  I have to admit, my perspective had changed.

Soon, there were speeches by family (graciously translated into English) that were moving; there was worship and praise and dancing.  Mario delivered a salvation message that made me cry.  Dumisani drove it home as the MC and was amazing and eloquent.  All the while, songs and dancing were interspersed....the program, though long, was incredible and full of joy.

Still, I felt strange.  I had been part of planning this wedding as much as anyone, but I felt disconnected.  My urges to "hurry the program along" were not heard.  My suggestions for serving food earlier were smiled politely at, but no one listened.  No one offered us a copy of the program; water or a tray of snacks.   No one said it out loud, but all I "heard" was "This is how we do it in Diepsloot."

Explaining to Mario my concerns, he smiled (while he danced) and said "Babe, this is their wedding. You are not in control."  He was right... and I decided to "enjoy myself" like he was.

I took pictures of the celebrating, most of the time smiling and dancing.  I joined in the circles (women dancing and men dancing).  The crowd was mostly people who were familiar from church, but many family members who I had never met.

At some point I felt like an outsider; like someone who wasn't invited.  It dawned on me that as much as I joined the dance circles, I could never be part of the "inner circle" of Diepsloot.  All the talk of being one body... I was a foreigner.  Not because I was American, but because I wasn't Pedi; Zulu; Seotho... someone who was a daughter of Africa-- this wild and untamed place where everyone had a place...and knew it.

I felt  more and more strange, and soon I was crushed and just wanted to go home.  Was this a revelation, or did I just have a bad attitude? All things considered, I also realized it was 2:30 and I had not had any water since 12.  I hadn't eaten all day.  I felt faint and dehydrated.

It was then that two new vehicles arrived outside of our party.  Driving them were tutors that were here to pick up our Hlanganani orphans they had volunteered to help prepare for exams (next week).  According to our schedule, the reception should have been  wrapping up right now.  Instead, we had just started.

The local Communist Party arrived to have their meeting and we usually were vacating the hall by 1:30.  Still, they saw it was a wedding, and took their seats outside.  They all were from Diepsloot and were resigned to sharing (even with the Christians) during times like these.  

Meanwhile, the kids were either falling asleep or asking for money to guy buy fruit.  One of them made off with my empty water bottle and filled it outside, taking turns passing it around to the other kids who were thirsty.

At one point, I saw another course come out of coolers to be cooked.  It was three o'clock when I realized we were probably not going to eat for another hour.

I surrendered trying to have a good time and told Mario I was leaving.  He agreed it was probably wise (probably thanked God he wouldn't have to tolerate my questions anymore), and said goodbye.  I went out to the car, only to realize I was blocked in by the tutors, who were standing in the back of the hall, watching the dancing.  I asked them to move their vehicles only to let me out...and I left.  Mario was in my rear view mirror, a puzzled look on his face at this new experience: his wife leaving a party before him.

I came home and downed a liter of water.  I filled up another glass and began to drink it.  My dog was dancing at my feet, happy to see me finally home.  I looked out the window at our willow tree, being blown by the same storm winds ushering in  black clouds.

I grabbed an apple and bit hard.  Was I still a foreigner?? Was I important here?? Was I just the lady who got the dress, made the cake and did the flowers??  Am I part of this family?? Who listens to me?? Do I matter?? Am I a woman of influence, or am I just swimming upstream??  

Swallowing the first food I had all day, I realized I hadn't chewed properly, and started choking. It wasn't an easy thing to swallow.