Saturday, January 22, 2011
|Margaret, or Julia-Margaret, as she was known at church|
Today we went to our first funeral in Diepsloot, and my first African burial. It was for our friend and former church member, Julia Margaret.
As I made the keepsake handout I realized I didn't know her birth date, or even the year she was born. I didn't know what she was sick with, and eventually what she died from. Walking beside people you call friends, the details of what you don't know about them are eclipsed by what you do know of them.
What I did know is that this woman had a hard life. She was married to a man she was sure never really loved her. He had left her for another woman and seemed to shamelessly flaunt the relationship in front of her. She struggled emotionally to find peace, financially to find stability. She worried about the future, especially for her children. All last year she prepared herself (and those around her) for the days of her death...ominously prophetic.
Margaret (what I called her) also knew Jesus in a deep and wonderful way. Her face changed once she thought about Him, and the way He changed her life. She called Him "My Strength", and He was. The Margaret I knew in church would share miseries and woes before church, then dance and sing with abandon during the service. He was the only thing in her life worthy of worship. She was also the first to volunteer for anything that needed a woman's touch. She was very feminine (I never saw her in pants) and delicate (maybe 100 pounds soaking wet). She once saw me crying after church (I was missing my children) and came over to me saying "Please don't cry, Janey," (what she called me). "If you cry, who will I have to comfort me?" She was a good woman, a tender reed in a stormy world.
Today's service began in Diepsloot extension 6, as we met at Margaret's house to host a service for the neighborhood. Underneath the makeshift shelter of church canopies, neighbors and friends sang dirges and worship songs alike to usher in the Gospel, shared by our Diepsloot church leaders: Mario, Dumisani, Mabuti, and Erasmus. There was also sharing by neighbors and friends...some of whom went to other churches...and my heart was in my throat when I listened to them, hoping the true Gospel would not be perverted. It wasn't.
Amidst the mourners were Margaret's children. The eldest couldn't be there, in prison and unable to get a bereavement liberty. The second oldest, Tabiso, (sleepy from the service the night before and possibly drunk) sat next to me as I stood at the back. Themba, the third son, made a decision publically to live his life for Jesus - something Margaret had prayed for till the day she died. Priscilla, the only daughter (14) and the one I know the best, cried openly. Finally, the youngest, Sipho sat blank-faced and stared stright ahead, knowing little about the service and its direction, being only 10. The two youngest knew mostly that their mom was gone, she was dead.
After the service, we went to the burial ground. Past the Lion Park on the 511, it was a large plot with tall grasses everywhere, save the newly mowed parts with telling mounds of dirt one after another. It was here that an orange canopy was erected under which the would be seated. There was more singing in strong African voices, then prayer for the family. It was then that the children were ushered to the grave for a final goodbye, after Margaret's body had been placed there. Such an emotional outpour came from their hearts! While the crying was drowned out with singing, it was gut-wrenching to watch.
I always think that the burials of my family members have been orderly and beautiful, with the tears soft and contained for the sake of dignity. The display of too much emotion in my culture is almost frowned upon, and usually encouraged to be done in privacy. Here, in contrast, the emotional display is not only expected, but understood. There was no one stopping the howling and flailing, only Aunties leading the children back to their seats when it was time to cover the body with the mound of awaiting dirt.
The next scene will never leave my memory: all of the men took turns shoveling the dirt onto the grave. As the women continued to belt out songs of worship and freedom, the men shoveled. In suits and ties, the young and old all took part in burying our sister. Tears filled my eyes, as I watched Mario, still in pain from recent surgery, shovel alongside of Dumisani. When the grave was complete, a wreath was placed on top and there was another prayer.
It was then that a woman began to sing a strong song: "I'm going home, to die no more" were the words to the chorus, which was sung over and over. It said everything.
As we left, we went back to the home of Margaret where a large feast had been prepared to feed all of the mourners. Mario (now in need of a pain pill) went inside the house to apologize for his leaving without eating, and was graciously excused. I said goodbye as well, thanking all of the family and promising to see them tomorrow at church. Before leaving, we gave Priscilla and Sipho school supplies to be used this week as they went back to school after a long absence.
On our way to the car, we saw Richman, our friend and Margaret's neighbor, who had been instrumental in planning the whole funeral. He was waiting for us, and had poured us cokes ( a real treat). We thanked him, and toasted Julia-Margaret together and reflected on the events of the day. We all agreed that it went well, and that the day would be well remembered. We thanked him, and Mario went home in his car, with Petrus to drop off on the way; I went home in my car, dropping off Portia on the way.
The way home I thought of the world I was leaving: a township family that had lost the beautiful mother and leader of the home. The kids would be given help, but always be missing the presence of their mother here on this earth.
Please pray for them as you think of them.
I once did a blog about the kids of our friends in the township (Brazen Princess August 12, 2010, "township") and Julia Margaret's son, Sipho was one of the kids in it. Click here if you want to see it
|Julia-Margaret's Keepsake for the funeral|
Posted by Janet Rodriguez at 5:33 PM
Thursday, January 20, 2011
|Mario on the morning of surgery|
It all happened last week today. The burglary; Mario's back pain.
When I usually find something in my life that is unwanted, I haul it away, or ask God to take it away. He does, and the whole thing is removed. Away from me.
Thinking back on the last week I see a surreal picture, one that is hard to digest as a whole scene, but one that happened piece by piece. Pain. Doctor. Emergency Room. Surgery. Recovery. Coming Home. Prayer.
Mario, after the whole ordeal, is feeling much less pain. He's at home, but on a limited activity load. He's gone from being the non-stop blur of activity who worked out and lifted weights everyday to letting his exercise be walking our dog. Still, he's happy to be home, and it's good to see him as himself (kind of) again.
This came as a surprise, after all, and it was so unusual but on Thursday last week he complained of back pain (he never complains much when he has pain) and soon couldn't urinate without seeing blood. That same night we went to the hospital and he was admitted to emergency and a brilliant doctor admitted him for tests. The next morning (Friday) they scheduled surgery for the next day. The doctor (who bore a striking resemblance to our son, David) told him that not only was it a kidney stone, but it was 8mm (a little less than a centimeter) which was quite large, and looked so on the MRI.
It was lodged in the ureter (the fine tube that runs from the kidney to the bladder) and was backing up the urine back into the kidney. One of Mario's kidneys (on the x-ray) looked like a kidney -- the other looked like a water balloon!! His main concern was that the kidney wasn't damaged, so he suggested putting in a stint to drain the kidney. THAT is what his surgery was for on Saturday. The 22 cm stint is still inside of him... running from the kidney to the bladder and insures that urine will flow into the bladder then be eliminated. The surgery was painful, but relieved the concerns about the kidney...and for the time, that was the important thing.
On Tuesday we saw the young doctor in the morning, who asked Mario if he was still having pain and how bad it was. As Mario described it, the doctor said that was fairly normal pain and should be expected (he has pain capsules to help take the edge off). This is when we learned that the stint is only to "un-stress" the kidney and that the stone can't pass through it as it is now. It may have even gone back into the kidney when the stint was put in place!!
So, he scheduled Mario for another surgery for next Wednesday. The only way to see the exact position of the stone is with an MRI, which he'll do on the morning of the operation. On this one they will find out exactly where the stone is, send shock-waves (sonar) to break it up and then possibly remove it if it is still in the ureter. If it has gone back into the kidney, we don't know if it will be able to pass through the ureter (even if it is broken into smaller bits)which has been so stressed by the stone. So...the stint may have to stay in for another ten days after the surgery next Wednesday!!
To see your husband hampered by such a small thing and to witness, first hand, pain and discomfort is excruciating, emotionally. When I think of how it's not over, and possibly won't be over for a long time, it hurts even more.
I feel very disappointed now...but there's nothing much else I can do.
It doesn't come all at once...all we have to do is go through it piece by piece.
Posted by Janet Rodriguez at 8:28 AM
Friday, January 14, 2011
|Mario at his mom's retirement party...about two months after we met.|
Today we woke up and began our day as normal as ever... whatever that means.
We were greeted by all of our wedding china and crystal dirtied from a dinner party the night before, but I knew it would be there...and it was worth it. The dinner was great and the company was better.
Mario left early for a meeting at the church. I would follow him later, after getting cleaning and preparation done.
He called me right before I left the house...which usually meant he forgot something and wanted me to bring it. I answered my phone and heard him talking to someone else... "Hey, babe!" I said, to interrupt him.
"Hello, my lovely bride," he said, sweetly, breaking away from his conversation to talk to me. I asked him how he was and how it was going. "Well," he said, "I've been better."
The church building had been burglarized and many things were taken. We had just finished an inventory and he told me to bring a printed copy of it to the office when I came in. I sat, in shock...and then asked what had been taken. As he rattled off a few things, so many thoughts went through my mind: "Who would do this?" "This sounds professional", "Where was our security guard?" "What does this mean for us on Sunday?"
"I gotta go," Mario said, and then said goodbye.
Who in the world would have the audacity to rob a church? I was indignant. Whoever did this would pay... someone's gonna pay!! I worked myself into a full lather on the way to church, and when I got there I found everyone else relatively calm... collected. Charles even joked that the computers that were taken needed to be upgraded anyway. I was humbled. My attitude was so bad, and I wanted to borrow everyone else's who was around me. Peaceful, cool, prepared.
Then I saw him. Mario. Walking toward me in a golf shirt and shorts, my heart skipped a beat. He is so beautiful, so gorgeous. So hunky... *sigh*. And he was on a mission.
"Hey, babe," he said, when he saw me. "Did you bring the list?" I said that I had, then got the scoop on what was taken and how the dirty little nasty thieves entered our sacred building (there goes my attitude again). He was with our good friend, Dave, who I chatted with, telling him about our dinner party the night before... and just like that, Mario was gone from me again.
After working on the building set-up for awhile, we made a plan for Sunday and dealt with the misfortune of the burglary. Our level-headed lead elder, Craig, seemed purpose-driven and nonchalant at the same time. Mario and Mannie were just like him, arranging for different things to be done for clean-up.
At some point, Mario came near me and said "Do you have an aspirin?" I told him I didn't then asked why.
"I must have pulled a muscle, or something." he said. "My back hurts really bad." I gave him a kiss and told him maybe he should go home. Knowing Mario, he'd work through the pain and probably ignore for as long as he could. As soon as the elders could break free from the center, Mario kissed me goodbye.
A couple of hours later Mario called me while I was in a meeting. He was in pain, and was sure it was more than a pulled muscle now. We made plans to see the doctor at two. When I got home, Mario was at a new level of pain, showed me where it hurt and pointed to his kidneys. I winced.
"Maybe you have a kidney infection," I said, recalling my recent past and back pain memories. He shrugged and said "Maybe so."
The doctor confirmed Mario's pain by telling him (after he pulled out a computerized analysis of his urine test) that he had way too much blood in his urine and no sign of infection. This most likely meant he had a kidney stone.
I looked from the doctor to Mario who had turned white... He looked at me, and my heart swelled with the most protective love I had previously only felt for my kids. I wished I could take the pain and the problem away...endure it myself, if need be. Still, Mario's response was calm and cool and he asked what the course of action would be. The doctor prescribed meds, sent us on our way and told us to call if the pain got worse.
The pain got worse. Tonight as we watched a dumb movie on our big screen, Mario laid flat on one of our couches. To see him taking the pain in silence both worried me and made me admire him. Finally, we decided to call the doctor, who told us to go to the hospital.
The best part of going to the hospital when you're in pain is the pain injections you get -they work. Mario felt relief for the first time today, and said so. The emergency room doctor came back with another computerized read-out and said that Mario's urine had gone from bad to worse. "We may have to surgically remove these," the doctor said in a French accent. He stood with a chart in his hand, six feet one or two, looking down at my reclining husband, pretty giddy from the injection.
"Whatever," Mario said. I could hardly believe my ears. Surgery was a big word and it freaked me out, kind of like the burglary did.
"I'd like to admit you," the doctor said. "We'll run more tests in the morning and then have you seen by the urologist. He'll know a lot more than me." Mario smiled, and asked him where he was from. The doctor was from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which led Mario and him through a long chat about Africa and how we pray constantly for her leadership and common values.
I was still reeling from the "s" word. Maybe things would change in the morning. Maybe I should just mellow out.
After the doctor had left Mario told me to get home. It was now after midnight. He told me to sms him as soon as I was locked in our house. He also told me how it was the last time I was in the hospital and he had to sleep in our bed without me. "It will be sad," he said, trying to comfort me.
Looking at my husband, after a long day of surviving pain in many forms, I saw not only beauty, but a familiar grace and strength that had become my borrowed comfort in times of stress and trouble. I was suddenly filled with love for him.
I prayed for him, kissed him goodnight and shut off the light. A small light shone behind him, glowing from a corner that couldn't be seen before in the brightness of the overhead. I smiled.
Such is life.
|Mario at a party at our place washing dishes...just a few weeks ago.|
Posted by Janet Rodriguez at 2:16 AM
Sunday, January 9, 2011
|A South Sudanese goga (grandmother) smokes her pipe|
If you had to pack one suitcase that you could carry and run with, what would you take?
Let's say you could never again return to your home...your nest where you kept everything. Clothes, toothbrush, pictures, medicines... Think hard, then ask yourself this question: what would I pack?
In three weeks the suitcase would be filled with clothes that needed washing, books that have been unread, pictures that reminded you of how it used to be. All the time, your existence would be in this one suitcase, and each night you and your family would have to find somewhere safe to wash, bathe, sleep and have the closest thing to a normal life possible. All the while, you and someone else would have to take turns sleeping, as the other kept a watchful eye on the children and the old.
In the Sudan, these evacuation packs are kept near peoples' beds. After a period of intense "civil war" (is that an oxymoron if you've ever heard one?) that lasted for almost fifty years, many Southern Sudanese are ready to flee at a moment's notice.
Two years ago we drove in caravan to the country of Sudan with three other vehicles. The trip was part of a promise to see Africa, and we did. It also held a daunting task: to share the hope of Christ with a people that had forgotten how to hope. We started from Johannesburg and traversed seven countries to make our way into middle Sudan, where a base for local Christian Pastors was being built. Our leader, Hennie Keyter, was the most fearless man we had ever met, and for this reason, we trusted and followed him into the trip. He had done this a few times before, and it was his most challenging of all the trips he led.
We had been briefed about the Sudan's history and had read about the war (one of the longest civil wars in World History). As with most history, the story changes depending on who you hear it from.
Some see the conflict arising from racial or cultural prejudice (Arabs vs. Africans). Others see it distinctly as a Spiritual matter (Muslims vs. Christians), which in my opinion is closer to the truth. If you trace the roots, the effect of colonization in the South(English) and its failure to protect the interests of those left behind from the controlling North(Arab) can be cited as the precursor to years of conflict.
In its entirety, the war (beginning in1955) killed a documented 2 million people. Others still have died as a result: infection, famine, disease and depression ("She died of a broken heart" is spoken a lot there).
It is estimated by the U.S. Committee for Refugees that 4 million people in southern Sudan have been displaced at least once (and often repeatedly) during the war. The civilian death toll is one of the highest of any war since World War II. In the war, tactics from land mines to food and water poisoning were not unusual, so soldiers were not the only ones wiped out by weapons of destruction. It appeared to be all-out genocide, with the wealthy North trying to wipe out the resisting South.
The result of this kind of war on a people that have endured it for 50 years (the “conflict” officially ended on paper in 2005, with a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA) is that they become untrusting of life. Scared. Permanently scarred... and in all of our travels we had never before met a people as hardened as a whole as the Southern Sudanese.
One of the Sudanese pastors told us a story of how as a boy, and a soldier, he was part of a battalion left to guard a trench and wait for the enemy. The boys, many under the age of 12, were equipped with a cache of guns, but very little food and just a rationed amount of water. In the Sudanese heat the boys started to faint and dehydrate. Between the three left conscious, they decided to go look for water (abandoning their post meant death) out of sheer desperation. Before they could disperse, they heard a lone elephant advancing toward them. An idea came into their heads: let’s shoot the elephant for food and water!! The story concluded with the pastor telling me how he offered to accept blame from his commanding officers for shooting the animal, which he did. He quickly took his bayonet and cut into the animal, removed the bladder and drank from its contents. He passed around the bladder to the rest of the conscious, dripped in the mouths of the unconscious, then began to fillet raw bits of meat. It revived the boys for the days ahead. I sat, speechless. Then he smiled. "It was the best water I ever had," he said.
Another mother told us of the time she woke up alone. Her far-away stare said it all: she didn't know where her family had gone to or who had taken them. She didn't say much after that.
Water from a bore hole that our team had dug a year before was constantly being pumped to fuel the work of building an ablutions block for the center. Constant work of digging trenches and hauling bricks took the greatest portion of the day. A team from KZN flew out especially to erect the buildings (brick by brick)that would stay behind us. Mario and Roy swunng pick-axes and shovels to dig the pipelines from the block to the water. All under a sweltering sun that left everyone tired and drained...and sunburnt.
Everyday the ladies were given a third of a bucket of water to bathe in; the men were given a half of a bucket.
Every night we went to bed with no wind and plenty of mosquitoes....and slept fully clothed with our "evacuation packs" next to us. It was a "stay-alert" trip, where all the members had a job to do.
I am reminded today of the life-changing trip because of this morning's newspaper headlines:
4 Million Southern Sudanese VOTE.
Today begins a "referendum", or a special vote where the Southern Sudanese will line up at polls and cast their one vote to decide whether their region will remain united with the north or secede. The referendum was a major item in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Even on facebook, I saw my friend Debbie (our team's doctor) ask for prayer for peace for the vote. The last time there was a vote in Sudan, all-out riots took place at the polls, and the elected vice-president was mysteriously killed in a helicopter accident the same day. 14 other party officials were murdered.
So far, today has been very good at the polls. I pray it will stay that way. In easing a generation out of the hyper-vigilance of a people that have survived a half-century war, it is imperative that things remain peaceful. I don't believe in peace at all costs, but I do champion the free vote and the power of democracy.
I see hope being brought by the world's eyes watching.
In its hope, I see God.
Posted by Janet Rodriguez at 6:26 PM
Thursday, January 6, 2011
|Henry Holliday Woodcarving illustrating demonic attack on a person's thoughts|
Most humans find time to inject stress into their lives.
Some stress is good and necessary, like physical exercise. Running puts the body under physical pressure to perform in a way that usually benefits a person's heart by cleansing the blood with cardio-vascular activity. Most stress is totally unnecessary, and self-inflicted teaspoonfuls at a time to a boiling pot that eventually boils over.
Here in Johannesburg, there is a given that people take "holiday" during the December and January heatwave where most residents run to the beach or mountains for a cooling or beautifully picturesque escape from their usually busy lives. The Joburg culture is so close to the American treadmill that it is familiar...and not even a little threatening to Mario or me.
The truth is...God didn't intend our lives to be like this. Stress (even good stress) has its place in our lives, but it's not meant to be the thing that makes us scream to escape. Escaping our lives is impossible, and at the very honest pinnacle, when we're overwhelmed, it's something we all want to do.
We've just come out of the said "holiday" season here. We didn't go anywhere...just stayed home and held down the fort while all the other elders went away. Still, Joburg got calm...still. Traffic eased up. The church office was a place for flip-flops. We set our schedules to include relaxing spurts...and naps. Workouts were unusually relaxed. At some point I felt guilty for taking it so easy.
So today, as we prepared for a wedding tomorrow and the upcoming Sunday, I felt the pot boiling again inside. It made me think of the upcoming rummage sale I was supposed to coordinate...the upcoming party and advertising deadlines. Mario was clicking away at the computer and I could feel Freddie Mercury and David Bowie start my theme music in the kitchen.
Mario giddily tapped away at the wedding preach, and looked up at me. "Hey," he said, "After this, we're kind of free, right?" He was thinking of the relaxed schedule giving way to three days of "no schedule". What was he talking about?? Couldn't he hear the creaking avalanche of activity above our heads??
"Actually, I was just thinking of the Rummage sale I was supposed to coordinate," I said, getting a juice glass down from the cabinet. (Did I mention I'm also on a diet?? Holiday fat creeps up on me.)
Mario groaned, and the smile left him. "What do you think? Does that sound like fun?" Mario's sarcasm masks his disappointment. I shrugged and said "Well, I'm okay, I knew it was coming."
This gave way to asking about our stuff for sale...if we wanted to invite the church to participate in bringing stuff to sell from their house (I'm also supposed to coordinate a phone bank of people getting addresses...I forgot about that) or if the church just wanted to sell off what we didn't take in the move.
I reached for unsalted, un-anything-ed almonds. "Oh, yeah, that's a good idea." Do you want some nuts??" Mario shook his head. "Not now," and returned to his work.
Stress is the result of my mother's mother's mother's mother's (and so on) hunger for that strange forbidden fruit. I think some historians say it was quince. Quince isn't worth it.
Eve never had to diet. Never had stress. Never had to worry if she looked fat in the clothes she never had to wear...and there were no other women to tempt her husband around...anywhere. Until she ate that fruit.
Retreating to bed now... and I pray that 2011 is void of all the unecessary stress that can tip over my apple cart. I'm committed to making it manageable??
Who's with me??
Posted by Janet Rodriguez at 11:45 PM
Sunday, January 2, 2011
|Michaelangelo's Creation of Adam painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel , Vatican City|
Google searches are the most curious things for teachers. They yield results that are either outrageous or predictable. Want a great google search? Go down the rabbit hole on the word "Genesis".
Albums, stories, books, definitions, bands, medicines and vitamins, clinics, films, energy... and none of them able to tell you with any certainty about Genesis- the reason for a beginning.
If you look at dictionary.com the definition of genesis is an origin, creation or a beginning. WHY? Why would something begin? Wikipedia gives several links to take us further: the first says "Book of Genesis, the first book of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible". This is where "Genesis" is seen as the most popular hit: the one that explains the beginnings of everything we know of in this world.
I didn't become a Christian to check my brain at the door. I've read Lambda Cold Dark Matter (ΛCDM) and I admire Stephen Hawking. Here's what I believe, however. When it comes to origins, (our genesis) this world was created. It didn't come from a series of complicated events based on random warming and cooling patterns, nor did it result from an explosion. I can't scientifically prove it...but I believe that it was created by a creative God.
This is where Genesis begins. It begins with a belief that God created all things that are seen and those things we can't see.
In believing this, I separate myself from many people I love and respect (even though they're wrong) that believe in The Big Bang. They're not fooling anyone either...they can't prove scientifically that The Big Bang happened. They can't even defend their theory without calling it a working assumption. In this one area, we instantly become believers, and are forced to have faith in our own belief.
In other words, no one can scientifically prove how the earth began. Instead, Creationists and Cosmologists both agree that what we can hypothesize our origins, but at best, "proof" is only what we see now. We are believers in principles and theories that support our belief in origins.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." is how the Bible begins. It is found in the first line of the first book, called Genesis.
Because of this one line, I believe that we (created in God's image) are born to create. We love the idea of creating, some are artists, others are writers. Still others love creating a safe home or environment for all to come to. Many of us find things and make them even better, or restore them to their original beauty, re-creating a thing of goodness.
It has held my thoughts today. We are born creative. We are born to create. Even in Lambda Cold Dark Matter is the thought that periods of time and space "gave birth" to others. The thought makes me giggle... it's almost an explanation of the second verse of the Bible: "And the earth was without form and empty. And darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters."
If you continue to read the first book of the first book of the Bible, you will find that God created things and said about each one that it "was good". And then, He rested.
This year, as we begin, remember who you are. You were created in the image of God. Everything He created was good...and He said so.
I go forward into this year and pray that what I create out of it each day will be good...giving light to the darkness.
Blessings this year...and create good things. It's in you.