Thursday, September 27, 2012


The day she was born Alicia had been in labor for two and a half days.  She was in a special room with intensive prenatal care, but the birth was still physically stressful.  The doctor on duty was an intern who weighed maybe a hundred pounds if she was soaking wet and I couldn’t stand her inefficiency and rude manners.  After she was born the nurse in charge pronounced she had “terminal merc” as if none of us knew what that meant. I began praying in tongues as eleven specialists rushed into the room and tried to get the new baby to breathe.

That day changed my life.

It was September 27, 2009.  That was the day Harmony Janet-Suzanne Vosburg entered our world, and after awhile she found her breath and her voice and started nursing from my baby girl, Alicia. 

I went to find a hotel because we had all been up for a few days, but it didn’t work out and I ended up coming back to the expansive birthing room to sleep in a chair.  The night nurse was taking vitals on the new baby and Mama and Daddy were asleep, so I watched and marvelled.  After she was finished she wrapped her in a receiving blanket and placed her in her plastic cot. 

“Can I hold her?” I asked the nurse, a short woman a little younger than myself. 

“Well, okay,” she said, eyeing me suspiciously.  “Keep her head above her feet.” With this piece of advice she showed me how to cradle my granddaughter in my arms as if I had never held a baby.


An adventure in grandparenting 101 – you have ceased to know anything and now you know nothing.  You are treated this way by many people, who claim to know more than you.  Those are the people that don’t understand the depth and breadth of a woman’s heart.  Your heart that has loved too much...loved the parent of this new baby so much you have endured nights of tears and prayers and ache and joy that no person should have to endure.  Your heart that knows that your own child is now beginning a journey that will make them understand this love.   In a way, your grandchildren are not only a reward, but a comeuppance for your children – a chance for them to understand you more. 

Harmony has beauty, like her mother.  In fact her expressions and manners are so similar it’s scary.  She is  a light and a joy with a desire to experience everything, no matter how dangerous it is.  She sits for hours, reading book after book.  She nurtures her stuffed animals as if they are real and breathing. In her world, Harmony is center-stage- always performing for a dazzled audience. 

The last time I was there it was Alannah’s first birthday.  The visit was also during a move where my daughter went from an apartment to a cute duplex with a side yard – during the hottest week of the year.  A lot happened that week and in the busyness and fury of activity I was given the absolute joy and privilege of watching the girls. 

I had a room at the local hotel- a Best Western with two beds that the girls loved jumping on.  They had food I was instructed to buy “Lots of fruit, Grandma!”  I watched Sponge Bob, read books, played puzzles, went for walks – all while Alicia and Brian and Yaya (the other grandma, Suzanne)moved homes and readied the property for a new renter. 

I was in heaven. 

Harmony now talks a mile a minute and is constantly moving.  I should have known. She kept me moving that week in a way that gave me renewed respect for young mothers, especially my daughter.  It brought us closer and made me envious at the same time.  How much I wanted sore muscled and a fatigued brain at the end of my days!!

Harmony lives 10428.4 miles away from us.  That’s 16782.9 kilometers away from the city we live in today, Johannesburg.  It is no distance at all when it comes to the heart and some of you who are separated from kids and grandkids know what I am talking about.  On Sunday she will have a jungle birthday party and I will call her but she will be distracted by the fun and the noise and her mom will be, as well. 

Still, she glows in my heart, burning out a place I didn’t know I had.  A place that is raw and tender and filled with more crazy, stupid love than I could have ever imagined. 

On the last day I was there in August I was bathing both girls in their new bathtub.  Harmony, I noticed, had a scratch on her leg. 

“Where did you get that, Harmony?” I asked, pointing to a neat line that was pink and new across her leg. 

“See that, Grandma?” she said, pointing to her scratch.  “I got that in AFRICA!” 

She seemed to think that our hotel across town was where I lived - Africa. As if I was too lazy all these months to drive across town and see her and be in her world. 

The thought still makes me smile...and cry.

Happy Birthday, Baby.  You are the Harmony of all that is good in this world. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012


This is a short story I wrote today, hoping you will enjoy it.  Janet :))

 Petros and Melva stood in the doorway with the plastic shopping bags still in their hands.  In Petros’ hand the keys jingled and he put them in to his pocket but didn’t move.  Melva made a low sound which escaped from her lips, filled the air and died.
Everything was gone. 
In their one room shack Petros and Melva had previously had a comfortable life: a bed with a decent mattress and a roof that did not leak.  There was a table with a hot plate for cooking that was placed next to their TV cabinet that doubled as a dresser.  Now it belonged to someone else, the someone who left the smoking muti in the middle of the floor. 
Before he could do anything, Petros put his plastic bags filled with pap and vleis down on the floor, just to the side of the door.  He took his wife’s from her as she stared at the nothingness and the muti smoking and then took her by the shoulders and turned her around.  They walked out to the courtyard still not speaking and Petros stood, with his hands in his pockets and Melva looked down at the ground. 
“Now the sangoma has our things,” she whispered.  Petros smiled and shook his head.  He always smiled when he was nervous.
“Woman,” he spoke in their native Ndebele.  “Don’t say such things.”
“Someone has our bed,” she said, now with tears in her throat. 
Petros moved slowly toward a new neighbors house and shouted a greeting through the doorway.  The neighbors TV was playing loudly and he assumed it would be their excuse for not knowing anything of the robbery that had taken place while they were at the shops. 
The neighbor made no answer and Petros moved down a few shacks to find another doorway. 
Again, he shouted a greeting.
An old woman’s head appeared in a doorway.  Her face was wrinkled and filled with black freckles, her eyes nearly blue with cataracts.  Still she bowed in a polite greeting.
“Ninjani, Mama,” Petros said.
“Yes?” The woman could hear his Zimbabwean accent and would not give him the pleasure of speaking Zulu with him.
“Mama,” he said with a smile and a sigh.  “I have been robbed there,” Here Petros pointed toward Melva, still standing in front of their empty shack in the courtyard. 
“Oh, no...” the woman seemed genuinely saddened by the news and shook her head.  Petros was grateful for her reaction and instantly soothed that the neighbors were not involved. 
“I am hoping to talk to someone who might have seen something,” he continued. 
The old woman lifted a bony finger toward the red shack on the other side of his, past where Melva stood watching him.  “Xhoia is home,” she said in a hoarse whisper.  “He is sleeping but he drew his water from the courtyard this morning.”
“I am grateful, Mama.” Petros bowed and the Mama shook her head again.
“It is the children now, Pastor,” she said in the same hoarse whisper.  Petros turned toward her again and became sixteen years old, hearing his granny teach him something new.  “The thieves are getting younger and younger.”
“Mama,” Petros bowed and took his leave.  Somehow he did not smile.
He walked past Melva who did not ask him what the old lady said, past the loud shack with the TV and rapped on the door the Mama had pointed to.  The red shack, as he and Melva had been calling it, was the one that belonged to the man who drank a lot of beer.  Soon the drunken neighbor appeared in the doorway. 
“Are you Xhoia?” Petros was now bold.  A neighbor had referred him to go knock and now he would not be treated harshly, coming here on the orders of the Mama.
“I am Xhoia,” the man responded, but did not offer his hand. 
“I am Petros, your new neighbor here,” Petros pointed to his shack whose open door showed the smoking muti on the floor.
“Look there,” Xhoia pointed to the smoking muti and opened his eyes wider.  “Did your nephew put that there?”
Petros smiled and shook his head, thinking Xhoia was hallucinating and making up family relations that Petros didn’t have.
“I have no nephew,” Petros said, his smile still on his lips.  Xhoia walked toward Petros’ door and looked inside.  Melva watched him with curiosity.
“There were two men here this morning, Pastor,” Xhoia was now excited to be of use to the new neighbor, even if he was from Zimbabwe.  “One of them said he was your nephew.”  Xhoia’s shirt blew in the gentle breeze, and his pungent odor filled the courtyard.
“We have no nephew,” Melva spoke for the first time, causing Xhoia to turn and look at her. 
“He was a liar and he was robbing you!” Xhoia seemed angry he had been fooled.  “I saw him there, lifting your mattress and I said ‘Hello!’ and the boy said he was your nephew and he was helping you to move to your new place.”
Petros listened intently and put his hands on his hips.  Xhoia pointed down the alley that led to the courtyard and showed Melva and Petros the path the young men took to an awaiting bakkie where the furniture and electronic equipment was loaded. 
“I was going to ask if I could help,” Xhoia was now upset with the memory.  “But my back is not good, it’s why I don’t work.”
“I will call the police,” Petros said, after hearing the account. 
“But look!” Xhoia pointed to the shack again.  “They have left the warning, you can’t involve the police!”
“Muti has no power, other than the belief that people give it,” Petros gave this answer to most people who asked him about the traditional medicine, meant to give ancestral curses and blessings. 
“I will not testify and live a cursed life, Pastor!” Xhoia was among the masses that believed in it.
Melva let a low sigh escape from her lips again. 
Xhoia turned to her, and held up his hands.  “Here you live, now!” he said, correcting the judgement he felt coming off of the new Pastor and his wife.  “Here you live!”  Xhoia stamped his foot on the ground, showing the hardened dirt that was now her harsh home, with rules so different from Zimbabwe. “That smoking muti in there?  I would take it as a blessing on your family, that you were not around when the robbery took place!”
Melva turned away from him and left it to Petros. 
Petros dropped his hands and smiled again.  “I am going to the police and I will inform them what you have told me,” he said.  “I will not identify you so you will not have to be deposed.”
“No!” Xhoia shouted.  It was hard to tell if Xhoia was still drunk or if he was more upset about the robbery or the curse that may follow him if he ignored the muti left to burn in the shack.  “You will not!  I will come out of my place and tell the police that you sold your things and staged a robbery if you involve them!”  Xhoia marched toward his shack, muttering how the whole day was cursed and he should have stayed at his girlfriend’s place.
Petros and Melva watched him disappear into the red corrugated metal shack, then appear again.  “If you involve those police they will not even find your things!” Xhoia shouted.  Down the alleyway, the stooped-over Mama was shaking her head, but went back inside her place. 
Petros looked at Melva, whose shoulders were slumped.  They both walked into the shack and looked at the smoking ball of twigs that gave off a sweet perfume and burned slowly.  It couldn’t have been there for more than two hours. 
Petros walked toward it, the only remaining thing in his dirt-floored shack, and kicked it a few centimeters to see if it would burn his shoe. When he saw it didn’t, he kicked it out to the courtyard, where it continued to smoke. 
Melva stood and stared at it for a moment.  Before she could turn toward her empty shack, the neighbor with the loud TV came out and stood in the courtyard; stretching and watching the dumb twigs smoke as if it were a replacement to his television.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


South African Ladies Praying
photo credit:

There is a certain point of no return you reach in relationships.  The person you know and love is solidly in your heart and you can’t pull back into normal friendship where everyone is supposed ti mind their own business and be friendly and not too familiar.  It’s no different in ministry, where you begin relationships that grow and grow and in your heart and then....BOOM!  You realize that the person is no longer someone you are “working alongside with” or “helping” or “praying for”...they’re someone you really care about in a way similar to family.

One of these ladies that has worked her way in to my heart is a young woman by the name of Forget.  That’s right, her name is Forget.  It kind of makes it easy to remember.

Forget lives in Diepsloot extension 11 where there are more shacks than brick houses and only a section has reliable electricity.  Her own shack is nothing so special, it’s small and has a double bed, a dresser and a table for her food preparation.  It’s been clean every time I’ve visited, even when I’ve surprised her. 

Forget runs a prayer group that meets in the courtyard of four separate shacks that face each other.  The courtyard is covered with old carpet and sometimes puddles in the rain.  Still, the sound of joyful shouting and salvation come from inside of its corners.  The ladies are all known to us as “Forget’s Prayer Group”, but they do all have names and I promise I remember them all.  These ladies have made a bond of friendship in a harsh place and do their best to take care of one another when things are tough.

Things have been tough lately. 

One of the ladies was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago and it has spread aggressively.  Last week at church Forget told me that Teresa could no longer feed herself and that her breast seemed infected and swollen.  I made an appointment to go see her the following day, and when I met her I found it was as she said: bleak.  In Teresa’s shack Anna was bathing her and caring for her like a mother cares for a baby.   I was touched.  How often have I done this for a friend?

“How are you Teresa?” I asked after sitting down.  I could tell she was not well.  Teresa cried and pleaded for anything to get the pain to stop.  We made arrangements for her to go to the hospital the following day and I left after a few hours of planning with Forget’s prayer group.  One person to take Teresa, one to wash the bedding while she was gone, how much is taxi fare...etc., etc. 

Forget never wavered, speaking matter-of-factly about every detail that would need to be covered.  At one point she told me the washing powder was finished and we went to get more at a neighboring spaza.  Bessie and I left the place after a good holy dose of prayer that can only be felt if you’ve been in a shack with eight strong Christian women from South Africa.  By the time we were done, my ears were ringing.

I kissed Teresa on the head and she began to cry again.  In a way I didn’t want to go.

This morning I called Forget to see how the whole thing went at the hospital.  She told me some glitches and hiccups, but Teresa was in Helen Joseph where the doctors presented her with even more bleak options for treatment. 

“Forget,” I finally said.  “How are you?”

“I am feeling fine, Janet.”  As is their custom, African women don’t complain.  They think it is selfish to unless you are bleeding from the liver or bruised and can’t walk. 

“Are you feeling well in your heart?” I ventured further.  HOW DO YOU FEEL?  I wanted to know.  She takes care of everyone and does she feel taken care of?

“I have had an incredible time with God today,” she said.  I could tell she was smiling.  What a woman!  What a rock!

“Okay, Forget,” I said.  “If you need to reach me please give me a missed call.”  There was silence.

“I think I am alright, Janet.”

“Okay, but just in case...” I persisted. 

“Yes, Janet.” A bit of silence again, then “Pray for Teresa.”

“I will,” I said.  “I am.”

And then we hung up. 

I walked to the car with Mario who was on his way to another meeting.  I wanted to go back to extension 11 to check in on Forget.  I have never had this feeling before about anyone other than my own kids and Portia. 

“Babe,” I asked Mario as we got into the car.  “Do we have time to go to Helen Joseph?”

“Not today, babe,” he said.  “What happened?”

And as I told him, I asked him if we might go tomorrow.  Our day off, but no appointments. 

As I type now, I am supposed to be answering emails. I keep getting distracted and returning to thoughts of her. 

Forget, my strong friend who needs a hug.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Hush- a -bye,
Don’t you cry
Go to sleep little baby....
When you wake
You shall take
All the pretty little horses
Blacks and Bays
Dapples and Greys
Coach and Six little horses
Don’t you cry
Go to sleep little baby. 

When I was pregnant with Vincent a mommy friend of mine gave me a cassette tape of lullabies that I loved.  I was a single mother, a recovering addict and had no idea where my life was going.  I had one thing: renewed hope of a life with my son and a new Savior I had just put my hope in.

For some reason, as I sang them to my infant son, I sang them to myself.  I sang in hope that the peace cooed over my baby would somehow bring me comfort.  It did.  It brought a soothing hope that calmed me down.


It is the thing with feathers. 

It pits itself against tragedy and lifts its head up to the sunlight.

There is something better tomorrow, even if today has my heart broken.

I think it has been one month since I last blogged.  Blogging is a normal part of my life, an online journal.  To say I’ve been unable to blog is not so true.  I’ve been able, just not desirous....

I came home like a wet dog that comes in from a storm and collapses on the tile floor.  It took me awhile to bounce back and sing this lullaby to myself again. 

I had gone home to the USA for my granddaughter Alannah’s first birthday.  I had a short (and incomplete) visit with part of my family.  I had to leave in a way I had never done before, leaving me weeping as I took off.  I lost my passport in Dubai (found it in the airport lounge) and almost didn’t make the plane.  By the time I recovered from jet lag I was still coping with the heartbreak of living in two worlds.

Did I mention that I came home with my original manuscript of my newly completed novel, inked-up with re-write suggestions from my editor?  I also submitted a proposal to an agent my editor recommended ...and she rejected me... or at least rejected my “project”. 

So here I am, back again.  Back in the blogging saddle, writing as an update of how things are going.  It sounds so bleak, but I have seen the light and I am uplifted again.

I have hope, the thing that will not disappoint me.  I miss our families and I think I always will while I am here, but nothing can change the distance that separates us, other than us moving back, which we are not doing right away. 

In the last week, I started reading a new book that my neighbor, Gill lent me.  It is written for people who find themselves disappointed in life.  It is called “The Secret of a Radiant Life”  by W.E. Sangster, first published in 1957 (I wasn’t born yet...). 

I want to end my post with the last part of the second chapter, which I have just finished.  I think I want to end this post with it because in all of our lives we are desperately in need of hope, hope that can only come from God.  I am hoping that it will encourage you, like a lullaby so that in an ocean of emotion that will not stop churning you can find hope in the simplicity of His arms, like a lullaby. 

“We need God! There is the truth of it.  The demands of our turbulent nature are not to be calmed and controlled by the human will alone.  The stupid purposelessness of a universe without meaning sickens us in the very soul.  The vanity of still supposing our race can save itself from destruction even while we drift to the things we dread is a conceit we can no longer entertain.  The ache for inward peace, and the outward sheen which tokens its presence, are not made on this earth.
We turn to God.
‘Help us, O God!’
Where the saints and seers of all the ages have found victory and peace, we will find it too.”