Friday, December 31, 2010


Harmony Wishes Me a Merry Christmas!
As you read this, it is better to read it with theme music.  In my dreams. everything I say is punctuated by beautiful music and great views of sunsets and rainbows.  So... to fulfill a dream of mine, load this youtube song, then switch over to reading me again.  :))  Remember, to avoid the "stutters" start the tune, then pause until the red line is all the way across the screen.

Okay, are we back?? Is the orchestra playing???

Funny, but New Year's Eve has always been a bit of a sad moment for me.  It's never been the celebration that it seems to be for all of those hat-wearing, noodle-blowing partiers at Times Square.  I've always seen it as the sad conclusion to a warm and happy holiday season.

Tonight, we say goodbye to an old year.  2010.

2010 was a spectacular year for us...full of delight, honesty, tragedy, pain, heartless cruelty, strength training, and beauty.  The most incredible dichotomies filled my life to show me passion and peace.
A Diepsloot Wedding

This year we had the first year of eldership in full.  We experienced the brilliance and struggle of being part of a new church plant.  Raising up leaders is no small task, because we're all people and we all have different personalities; different lives.  The oneness that's brought in Christ has to be fought for and claimed like a prize.

The World Cup Soccer in May and June was a stunning time of South Africa's unity...and we froze and cheered as the world came to our doorstep.  Spain took home the coveted trophy...and we loved it!!

 The building where we meet as a church was finished and we all, as a church, walked across William Nichol as if we were crossing the Jordan.

Boldo and Ganji in Ulaanbataar

We went to Mongolia, and saw Boldo and Ganji carrying on with the church that Rob and Bridget had left to them...and doing a beautiful job.  Embracing their people with a joy and soberness encouraged us to go on.

Three Generations at Harmony's First birthday

China for a brief holiday...then the USA...long enough to celebrate Harmony's first birthday.  I held her on my lap and read Dr. Seuss to her.  I held Alicia on my lap and did the same.

My parents' 50th anniversary.  I saw the couple that gave me life and nurtured me into an adult dance as a crowning moment to a perfect party: beautiful and tearful.

Vince and Rikki
We reunited with family and were able to process with them what can only be done in person.  It was an incredible blessing...and we were grateful.

I am growing up, finally standing on what is important.

I now can honestly say in truth that I trust God.  I can say this honestly, because I honestly had to in 2010.  Strangely enough, you can only trust God when you are forced to in this way, not for fluffy reasons like "I do because I love Him" (even though I do).  My life, my family, my faith is all in His hands...and I am grateful for His love that is greater than my understanding of why things are the way they are.
Trusting Beijing!

I have been married to the most desirable man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing for 23 years this year...just three days ago we celebrated our anniversary.  We had tamales and steak...and champagne.

I have beautiful friends, a rich life, a heart like a moving ocean, filled with the tumults of joy and pain that only can be found in movies....

Goodbye 2010... you will be tattooed on my heart forever.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


In two days there are 48 hours.  If adults are lucky (or blessed) we’ll sleep for at least 10 hours of that 48 hours.  Others who are more scheduled (or gifted in resting) will sleep for 18 of those 48, making it 32 liveable hours. 

I have lived 48 years today...18 of those years were programmed for me by life’s natural patterns of childhood, school, and being a child in my parents’ home.  Thankfully, most of them were happy and memorable.  I had a strong parental influence; good schools;  painful and helpful loneliness in school; popularity in high school (then the only thing that mattered) and later a great validation of professors and fellow students that I had a fine mind. 

This is when I chose to walk away from programmed life and live away from my parents, rules and school.  I usually call this period my “crash and burn”. 

Everything culminated in my behaviours exposing deep troubled waters in my soul.  Addiction.  Irresponsible sexual behaviour.  Dark, depressive thoughts.  This led to a period of my life I call my addict days.  In these days, even though I was penniless and a drug addict, I was strangely happy...and in love.  My boyfriend and I soon had a child and it was then that I woke up.  The child was a reminder that my life was “off kilter” (then I think I said “f---ed up”) and I ran home, where I was now a child with a child living in my parents’ home.

In those days of "waking up", I experienced more miracles than I ever had imagined I could.  I sought God out to know Him myself, not just live in a house where He was.  I chased Him, and He was found... and spoke to me with a voice that was validating like no other, causing my wounded places to become crowded with healing.  Soon, my low valleys were there for a purpose, and my high places were wonderfully unconquered and beckoning to me. 

Then I met Mario.  That name...that image...that intense time of destiny is indescribably delicious, but still... a little off-kilter.  I was a mess and he was a mess...and we sought healing together (thank God) unwittingly from a pastor’s wife who was a licensed counsellor.  She reflected back to us an image that was functional, but filled with unhealed places.  She invited us to church and that’s when the whole thing began.  Our church family beginnings....

We got married in the dead of winter, one day after my 25th birthday.  He came to me with David and Joe, I came to him with Vince and soon after we had Alicia.  We moved to an idyllic mountain retreat where we both worked full time, but nestled into a truly beautiful church and we were introduced to the power of the Word of God...and the Holy Spirit.  This is the time I call our (my) Spiritual Awakening.  Prophetic words... speaking in tongues... dreams, visions, songs, worship.  Friendships that ran deeper than blood.  Memories of fishing, snow sports and hot chocolate.

As with most things, we had to leave that place for a reason.   We began again in the asphalt jungle of Sacramento- an unholy place devoid of tall trees and separate our new church family.  Still, a career and life change was at hand, and as Mario began the pinnacle of his career, I left the workplace to home-school Vince and Alicia.  This season I call “The Home-schooling Years”.   I was the new owner of a new home and a new life in a newly developed place with new parks and new schools surrounding us. 

It took awhile to find the right church, but we finally made a home at the Vineyard and soaked in more of the same “Awakening”, only to go through radical change as the church grew.  As it grew, so did we, moving into new and dangerous waters of serving God...not just knowing Him.  God spoke to us during those years, and I was always wishing I was more sure of myself – more sure of myself in marriage, in parenting, in teaching, in this Christian life.  I experienced depression for the first time in my life, decided against medication, and slowly trudged through the uncharted waters that lay before me.  Those days were a mixed blessing.  The pain and sorrow could only be balanced by the major blessings of loving and being loved... I loved my children more than my own life and really began to stress if I were doing the whole thing the right way....?   

Was it me, or do kids just take over your life?

At some point, the kids broke away and ran ahead.  We enrolled them in a small private school that seemed like the right thing at the time.  They became gifted in sports, drama, academics, friendships and I struggled to keep up.  I returned to the workplace teaching there, trying my best to remain in their lives.  It was then that we took our first trip to Africa. 

Whatever I thought I knew about life, blessings, God, knowledge, happiness....was blown out of the water.  It was there that all of my life came together and made sense.  I looked beyond my surroundings to see an entirely larger picture that we were a part of, and as I looked at Mario, I knew he saw it too.   This period I call “The decision-making days” where we began to travel internationally with the kids, and plan a future that would mean deciding to move to Africa, or deciding to stay in the States.  Our church family now circled the globe. 

To pre-emptively strike our decision, Vince moved out (a very painful time), and we grieved and continued....  Alicia grew and challenged us and our decisions to leave, then finally came with us.  We moved in 2006.  The move was miraculous and painful at the same time... and we began to know the glory and pain of living whole-heartedly as “Christian Missionaries”, even though we didn’t fit the normal connotation.  We separated from our families (our families of origin and our church family) and moved to the wild, untamed South Africa that everyone told us was so like America. 

The first year here we learned a saying in Afrikaans: “The boer mak a plan” which means “The farmer will make a plan”.  It sounds relatively harmless, doesn’t it??  Know what it means??  It means that you can’t count on anyone in the end but yourself and you’re gonna have to make it work when everything breaks down.  Ugh.  It’s true.  We took our first-world attitudes and chucked them out the door.  No one even applauded.  It’s expected here that things will go wrong and you musn’t complain, you must just make it work. 

Alicia decided to go back to the States.  We objected, but supported her decision in the end.  Vince and she seemed so remarkably SEPARATED from us... after a lifetime of us staying so closely to one another.  Here, the work of God included international travel, delightful presence of God and love, love, love of the people.  It was wonderful and painful.  The best and worst of times... everything that the Bible talks about.  Take up your cross and follow me.  Leaving house and home and country and family to answer a call to make disciples of all nations.   The Africa Years... and me here.

Here I am. 


I have four grandchildren now.  My daughter has a daughter.  She just got engaged.  Vince is in love and works a dangerous job.  Two of my nephews hardly know me. 

One of my best friends here lives in a township.  I went to a wedding last week given by a family that makes less than eight hundred dollars a month.  Our church just built a Community Center in the North of Joburg.  Mario did two weddings last week and will do another next week.  In the last month, we have had electricity for 12 days.  

For most of my life I have been wide awake... but at 48 I am fully alive and barely touching my destiny.

Pain.  Growth.  Change.  Miracles.  Tears.  Laughter...

Life... abundantly.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The summer sun is mercilessly seeping through the office window now, leaving me no choice but to close the curtains.  I grew up in North America and will never, never get used to December heat.  Today, as I write about my favorite holiday story: Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", a chilling, frosty and wintery tale if there ever was one,  I write in a bata, sweating. . .  Go figure.  

For those of you who have never read the story or seen one of the many adaptations, let me give you a synopsized version.  The story is one of Ebenezer Scrooge - a stern and uncomfortable miser bent on making everyone's lives miserable.  He does this everyday, but the day we meet him is Christmas Eve.  Instead of being warmed by the holiday, we see a dramatic hatred for it, and "all those who keep it".  For those close to him, mainly his nephew, Fred, and his clerk, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's hostility is so normal that they barely flinch at his behavior.   It is easy to tell that the two of them are as kind and warm and Scrooge is apathetic and cold.   It is this night that Scrooge meets up with his old (equally miserly) ex-partner, Jacob Marley.  There is only one catch:

Marley was dead.

I love that line.  It's the first line of the book, and usually it is the first line of the movies that adapt it, since there is no improving that chilling introduction.   The story evolves with an eerie reality:  Scrooge must repent, or he will walk (as Marley has walked since death) in chains and horror and hell he has ever dreamed of will be as bad as the one in store for him.   To give the precursor for repentance Marley has ordered "Three Spirits" - all of which will visit him within three days.  (THAT'S right...if you know the story, Marley tells Scrooge he will see one Spirit each night!!) Instead, in one night, all the ghosts come- all looking different and all having one purpose- to show him Christmas. 

The night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge takes a journey of discovery  through memories, emotions, other peoples' opinions of him, and finally arrives at a perfect and unexpected repentance: fear, trembling and redemption.   Perfect story.  

So when I reached for my copy of Scrooge, my favorite movie adaptation of the book, I couldn't  find it. I called friends to see if they had borrowed it.  It was nowhere to be found.  I went to the closest warehouse of DVDs and found nothing, nothing except a new (to me) animated feature with Jim Carrey (who has personally butchered much of my favorite Seuss characters) and I wasn't too happy.  Still, it was the only one I could find and I bought it.

Last night, curling up with a few jellies and a good glass of red wine, I loaded the DVD, expecting mediocrity, or perhaps an over-the-top portrayal of Scrooge.  Instead, I was welcomed by an incredible beginning: "Marley was dead..."  

From that point on, it was an incredible delight to see the story unfold nearly word for word Dickens.  

Robert Zemeckis (most known for his breakout "Back to the Future" series) directed and co-produced the "live animation" that is the film's deepest and brightest achievement.  Set in Victorian London, animation holds a favor that live action can never have: perfect backdrops, with Victorian structures; perfect skies discolored by coal; perfect carriages pulled by sickly horses, etc.  

 The characters are a mixture of live action and animation - with Scrooge being portrayed by a rubber-faced Jim Carrey, not resembling him in the slightest.  The others are a different story.  Scrooge's nephew, Fred, is a dead ringer for Colin Firth and Robin Wright Penn's face and voice are the "Buttercup" of Belle.  

Still, I have one thing against this adaptation: it drops key lines that are meant to include the salvation message (and a salvation conclusion) that is key to purists looking for this in the story.  It's like doing Hamlet without the famous soliloquy.  The ghost of Christmas present is perfect, but the ghost's visit with Scrooge is noticeably "forgetting" to visit the homeless shelters that serve food and preach the Gospel.  His famous declaration that resounds Christ's birth must be celebrated "all 365 days of the year".  

Without an outward declaration of Christ, the film is less than perfect, but (I almost regret to say) not to be missed.  I enjoyed it deeply -- would have enjoyed it a scoche more if my Savior was better preached, as Dickens did shamelessly.

Even so, this Sunday night Portia and the boys are coming over and we're showing it on the big screen...where I hope the kids will have the "Dickens" scared out of them (it is rather graphic) -- and see the beautiful conclusion to a perfect story.

Especially looking forward to it is Ebenezer Mabhena, Portia's youngest.  He can't wait to see his namesake's redemption!  

If you're curious, check out the original "Scrooge" with Alistair Sim and Jack Warner, also available through Amazon.  

Friday, December 3, 2010


Today I woke up...and (without coffee)  I soon became a sobbing mess in from of my own TV.  I would do it again.  

I'm glad I did it.  

I cried in great God and His beauty.  Mainly because I forget... how GREAT God is. 

Life lately has been a hurried year-end rush to get things put back together orderly and not miss phone calls or appointments.  The work of the Kingdom can be so busy!!  On top of that, our relationships are the most taxed... and phoning and connecting takes a back seat to working sometimes.  

I didn't even know I was getting to this place.  

It brings me back to my tears... in front of the TV.  Mario greeted me as I woke up and made me watch something before I got dressed.  "Lindsey just emailed us a link and you HAVE to see it!" he said, in his usual chipper-in-the-morning voice.   I looked over at him, following his voice to sit in front of the TV -- he had burned it onto a disc, which meant it was worth saving...and sharing.  

It was then that Mario played me the video of the people in the mall singing Handel's Messiah.  It seems like a fun sing the Messiah in the middle of a food court in a mall, doesn't it??   

In the summer of 1741 George Frideric Handel, depressed and in debt, began setting Charles Jennens' Biblical libretto to music.  Anointed or sleepless (perhaps a bit of both) Handel finished in less than a month – more specifically  In 24 days: August 22 - September 14.

The musical work known as “Messiah” gave the world a view of the Christian belief of the Messiah, or "the anointed one" as Jesus.  The whole piece is divided into three parts: The Annunciation, The Passion and The Aftermath.  The story (or in musical terms, libretto) covers the prophecies concerning the Christ, the birth, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and finally the End Times with the Christ's final victory over death and sin.

Today Christmas concerts often feature only the first section of Messiah plus the "Hallelujah" chorus,  a prophecy of Salvation from the book of Isaiah, in the Bible.  Some classical venues will feature the entire work as a Christmas concert, but mostly the Hallelujah chorus is what we all know from the Messiah.  

It is the antithesis of "Happy Holidays", proclaiming that Jesus is coming!  It is beautiful and wonderful and passionate - with a chorus of song shouting that our problems are over... and He will be the King of Kings forever...His Kingdom will have no end.  

This morning I was reminded of passion...of hope...of homage.  If you haven't seen it, look closely.  It is -like Jesus- unexpected and full of glory.  Too beautiful to behold and too truthful to ignore.  

God is GREAT...Beautiful, worthy of all praise!! Hallelujah!! 

 If you want to see it, click this link

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.