Monday, May 30, 2011


Memorial Day Weekend  is more than just a long holiday observed at the end of spring by a nation getting ready for summer.  The last Monday of May in the USA is to remember those who selflessly gave their lives for others who lived inside of the States and enjoyed the freedoms there.
Around this time, people buy bright red paper poppies and wear them in their lapels.  These poppies are sold by Veterans of Foreign Wars to raise money for their organization, which raises money for disabled or needy veterans, usually in hospitals.
 Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. Service Members who died while in the military service.  It was begun just after the Civil War, so that our recovering Nation would not forget those who wouldn’t get a chance to start over.  After World War I, Americans decided to honor those Americans who have died in all wars.

To explain the honor I’m talking about you have to be American.  In some cases, you may have to be a serviceman.  In many cases, you may have to have lost someone in a war.  The blood that was given to keep our flag flying is worth something deep and precious to us as a nation.


Lately, a rare and sick outcropping of anti-war protests have taken place during Memorial Day Celebrations.  Don’t get me wrong....the right to protest is one of the freedoms that Americans hold dear.  We bless and promote others’ right to protest unjust things.   There is a difference between protesting an unjust system and ruining a sacred day for grieving family members on the day that is there to honor them.
When  I heard today from Mario, he said in his e-mail “I can’t believe the warped way that people treat our military...people are protesting at our service men's/women's funerals! - Sick.”

VFW Poppy
The caption always says:
"Wear it with Pride"
This is a deep subject to us.  The subject of honor. The subject of freedom.   My father and Mario’s father fought in foreign wars.  My uncles did as well, one of them earning a purple heart (awarded to only a few for bravery).  My brother served as a US Marine, and our hearts are deeply grateful to them all for the sacrifice, the complete dedication to keeping us strong, fit and free.
I don’t support war at the cost of lives for nothing, but I come from a country that has a distinguished reputation for honouring our fallen, and today, from South Africa, I thank them all.
Without you, our dear veterans, we would not be free. 

Thank you.  

Sunday, May 29, 2011


As a teenager I memorized a poem called "Richard Cory", an eerie and mesmerizing rhythmic verse that told a sad tale: we sometimes wish we could be like those who don't have our problems.  Richard Cory, it was understood by the person writing the poem, was above hardship and common troubles.  The irony is that he wasn't, and at the stunning end of the poem, the writer smacks you in the face with a fact: he never really knew this man.

I can't remember a season where I felt so much that God was with us, but have felt so unsure about the ground on which I stood.  Because full-time ministry doesn't stop (even when people know you are having problems) I've tried to manage the best I can with Mario in the States and so much weighing on my heart.

The hardest thing of all, is that  others can't see on the outside the pain that is on the inside. There are also those who believe that some who serve God should be above pain, or at least above it affecting their game.
While I do go through pain here, I am the most saddened by those who don't know me or my heart;  don't try, don't look or wish to know me.  The blog, this simple little outlet that I look to share our victories, struggles, and journey with as much transparency as is honoring, is meant to help understand my heart.  Or else, it is meant to express bits of my heart... and some I wish would be more curious about what I'm going through may not care to read it.

For some reason, the Lord has called us to Africa, and placed us here in Northern Johannesburg:  the land of contradictions and dichotomies.  One of the wealthiest city in Africa, with some of the poorest squatter camps, townships and high crime rate, Joburg is (like all of us) above description.  Our friends here, (the poor and the wealthy) are people we love and some of whom we have grown close to.  We are brothers and sisters from all ends of the earth, desiring more than anything to reach people with the love of Jesus, and raise people up with God's purposes in their hearts.  The first time we came here, we accepted gladly the tattoo on our hearts; the perfume of its people deep in our souls.

This amazing connection to Africa has taken us away from our families: our loved ones who have the sacred places in our hearts too valuable to rearrange or sacrifice to new things.  Our relationships with these are precariously maintained by phone and SKYPE contacts.  I wish there was a "hugging" option so we could reach out and touch them, especially during hardship.  So as one by one demonstrates stress from the distance we live with constantly, we are forced to admit that some of the most precious relationships may also be the most tenuous we have.

Because I am transparent (even in my writing) some people think twice before sharing with me.  They mistake transparency with social clumsiness, where I share confidential information with others who don't need to know.  My desire to be completely honest and transparent threatens others, but I have a habit of speaking truth carefully.

Being here without Mario is like walking with one leg.  Hearing him on the phone in the next room, seeing him play with the dogs, worship God, study, play video poker, make garlic bread, minister to people, challenge the leaders he's bringing up...makes me Janet. Since we moved here in 2007, we've been together day by day, walking out a very unfamiliar calling, totally dependent on God. Sharing revelations, frustrations, celebrations...all the "tions", we have grown even closer than before.

Last week while most of the Junction eldership was away at the National elders conference, Mario left for our family - unable to see everyone (including Vince, David and Joe)- but ready to see those he could during the short time he'd be away.  While he was gone, I was happy to fill in where I was needed, mostly at our new community center, where I no longer maintain set hours.  While I was there, I reconnected with the business side of what we do here: scheduling events, maintaining order and managing our small food closet.  It kept me busy, but not overwhelmed.

I didn't become overwhelmed until yesterday, when, during a meeting I felt inadequate and misunderstood. An overreaction, probably, but I started crying on the drive home...and wasn't able to stop.  I was supposed to deliver stuff to Diepsloot after, then go for my workout, but there was no way I could even move... and I realized I hadn't been processing correctly.

I once had a member of our church yell (in total frustration) at me, that I had no idea what it was like to be like him.  He said, with tears and anger that he would look for the next twenty rand in faith, in desperation and many times go to bed hungry.  The time he had said this was the week he had lost his job and a neighbor had died.  I was visiting the neighbor's family when I ran into him.  He was a obviously  upset that I would make a visit to his neighbor's family (who did not attend our church) and not to him, since that week he had suffered his own tragedy.  I chose to say nothing to defend myself, only a simple "I'm sorry," which didn't go over so well.  Later, as he closed his gate to me, he switched languages, swapping English for his native tongue.  This was the final insult: you are not like me.

What I do know is that everyone, regardless of situation or bank account, knows suffering.  This world is a cold place sometimes, and tragedy knows no bounds.   We don't have the luxury of living without tragedy.  At young ages, we are exposed to death, heartache, disease, suffering, hatred, cruelty and even physical harm.  When I was young I inherited my parent's heart for the poor, the church and God.  Still, I don't have the luxury of being heartless, or unbreakable.

I reconnected with a friend from high school days this last week...  She looks the same, only older, and had a picture of a stunning pair of kids by her side.  The young son, it turns out, died a couple of years ago from a brain tumor.  It broke my heart.  Although I had never met this person, he glowed with the same beauty of his mother, who was always tender hearted herself.  In writing back and forth she said something profound: "I don't have the luxury of not dealing with this."

Avoiding our grief is a luxury that kills us.  God help us all to deal with our stuff so that we can move on in health and do the work he calls us to do.

Reconnecting with my friend made me look over some poems I wrote in high school.  I want to close with this one, which I thought was strangely appropriate for what I've been feeling:

The rabbit someone gave me
 is sitting on my bed,
I punched it once, and threw it lots;
 but still, it never bled.

Her inside is some cotton,
 and her outside yellow fur,
And never did a single tear 
    destroy a part of her.

I look at rabbit sometimes and wonder how she'd laugh
At the sight of me crying when my heart's been torn in half.
She never ceases smiling, and no one makes her grey.
I wonder if she'd let me have her insides for a day.  

"The Rabbit Someone Gave Me" 
© Janet Ryan 1981

Saturday, May 28, 2011


The coffin chase, from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities

It has been my long-cherished desire to write something of beauty.  Something that held such volume in its space that it would be impossible to duplicate with any other combination of words.  Even beyond words, a beautiful story or even phrase that would set the heart free, or bind it in chains to the emotion that was inside.  This is my long cherished desire.

In the movie Broadcast News, we meet Aaron Altman in the first five minutes.  He is a 14-year-old valedictorian (and classroom know-it-all) from South Boston making his graduation speech while condescending all who are listening.  Afterward, he is seen being beaten by a group of jocks who take turns knocking him to the ground.  This is what follows on paper (the screenplay):
               Go ahead, Stephen -- take your
               last licks.

                  (points at his face)

               But this will heal -- what I'm
               going to say to you will scar you
               forever.  Ready?  Here it is.

        [He dodges as they come after him.  
        They catch him by the hair
        and hurl him to the ground.  
        As he gets up he hurls his
        devastating verbal blow]

               You'll never make more than
               nineteen thousand dollars a year.
               Ha ha ha.

       [They twist his arm and grip him,
        his face scraped on the concrete]

               Okay, take this:  You'll never
               leave South Boston and I'm going
               to see the whole damn world.  You'll
               never know the pleasure of writing
               a graceful sentence or having an
               original thought.  Think about it.

To this day, the Aaron Altman curse catapults me to the first time I saw the movie, nearly tearful in the opening scene, touched by the way the three main characters are introduced to us as children.  Written by James L. Brooks, it is a movie screenplay that is a thing of beauty...a quotable, fast mind-bending exercise in relationships that are woven in and out of words that depict the hearts of the players perfectly.


In 1849, Charles Dickens published his 45 chapter novel, Tale of Two Cities in a periodical in London called "All The Year 'Round" .  The first paragraph of the now classic novel is one most can identify in its first sentence: 
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
This is only the beginning of Dickens' desperate and haunting story of the evil men are capable of during hard times; and the goodness in our hearts that springs forth so unexpectedly.  For once, the French Revolution is given a face: the faces of people who become so touchable and real and full of life, we could be living next door to them.  Today a less-remembered quote from the story has been rolling around in my head... simply because it depicts loneliness and death as a coffin chasing someone running from it.  It has given my grief words tonight...again.

The words on page are only there for a moment.  To those of us who absorb them into our skin, and eventually into our hearts, they become libraries of life, hope and beauty.  

I remember words that are valuable.

Good writing should be appreciated, and can never be underestimated.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


My sister, Patty was a fiend for the Beatles.  She even got me to listen and memorize most of their songs (very worth doing) and the trivia that went along with them.  The first album that we played over and over again was the one everyone calls "The White Album", simply because of its color and nondescript title:  "The Beatles".

On this album was a song as simple as it was mesmerizing: Blackbird.  The song was recorded by Paul in Apple Studios, their new place to mix their own recordings.  It is an acoustic guitar track that is punctuated by Paul tapping his feet.  Since I played the guitar, it was something I tried to duplicate.  It didn't quite work.

Tonight, I remember the song without the words.   I remember it for its beauty - its tenderness and perfection.  Paul (by now an artist on the guitar) plays the song so soulfully it can't be reproduced by someone for the sake of imitation.  It appears to come from deep in the heart.

Click here if you want to hear the song on youtube

Tonight, as I sing it, though, I am distracted by the words.  "Take these broken wings and learn to fly; All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise..."   I sing, enchanted by memories and distracted by lyrics.  The memories of learning the song in my bedroom with a guitar on my lap, and the phonograph needle picked up and moved back a thousand times... doesn't mesh with the words.

Instead, the words sing of today - my broken heart and my desire to fly back - at least for a little while.  Our family back in the U.S.A. has been going through a particularly tough season, and we are separated by so many miles.  While I wait on God (the restorer of my heart and soul), I yearn and ache to be with family.

Instead of me, Mario is the one to fly home on Virgin Atlantic tonight.  If only for a short while, he'll be the one to reconnect, hug and touch those I miss so deeply in my heart.

For the sake of simplicity and privacy, I can't share what everyone is going through: all of it is painful, but it isn't mine to share.  I can say that in a series of unfortunate and unrelated events, we see separate members  of our family hit by devastating changes which come along with a lot of tears we have shared together, over the phone, through e-mails and on SKYPE.

We were scheduled to attend the National Elders Conference in our beloved Pietermaritzburg tomorrow, but since Mario isn't here, I've chosen to stay home.   The once a year event is held to catch up with friends, soak deeply in what God is doing here, and network with others who are in the ministry of loving and serving others with God's love.   I can imagine bumping into friends who ask how we're doing, how it's going...where is Mario...and it would all be too much for me. Tonight I am alone in my house, save my two miniature Pinchers that think I'm perfect.

During this time of such heart-felt sorrow and disconnection, tonight I said goodbye to the the love of my life for eleven days.  I'll miss him, and maybe be a bit unbalanced,  lacking the strong reason Mario brings to all of my mind-chatter.  He also is my prayer partner, my lover, the one who sees the scared, tender girl beyond the outwardly together woman who can seem fine to everyone else.  I plan on a lot of exercise and a lot of prayer until Mario gets home.  Tonight I had... a lot of McDonald's.

Kind of anti-productive, but comforting.

My hope, as I have said (truthfully) a million times before is found in Christ alone.  He is the only light, the only strength, the only song I can sing in this much sorrow. How do people survive without Him??  He is my comforter, my all-in-all.

Tonight, "Blackbird" takes me back...way back!!  Still... tonight, my meditation can't be in sorrow.   It has to be on belonging to Someone who is the only One who knows all I go through in the deepest part of my heart.

He is the One who loves me.
My song of meditation has to be on Jesus - click here if you want to see it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Apparently, we’ve all survived the end of the world. 

Or else we all need some major teachings...and have a misunderstanding of the rapture. 

Unbeknownst to me,  Harold Camping, the 89-year-old founder of Family Radio, warned the world that the Day of Judgment (Jesus’ return to earth to judge the living and the dead) would begin at about 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, 2011.  Shoot, my dad’s birthday!!  Couldn’t he pick another day??  And what timeline was he using?? PST, Greenwich??

People have warned us all before, but only the real nutcases brave enough to lay it all out there with a date stand out.  The way we all prepared for the year 2000 has significantly changed my mind about how we react to such pronouncements. 

While Camping stands out as the most recent, there have been others before.  Dates, signs, planets lining up.... etc.   He now says that he simply miscalculated, but he said that before: in 1994 when he made the same prediction.   He gave the recent prediction on Family Radio that he was absolutely certain that he had the right calculation now: You have been warned!

Since we no longer live full-time in the States, the word doesn’t travel as fast re: stuff like this.  I heard the whole thing on facebook and had to make sure I researched it for myself.  According to press reports, Family Radio had put up 2,000 billboards in other nations, but I saw none here.

If you know the Bible and this prediction startled you, you are in good company.  Harold Camping apparently said  that God has revealed to him the exact dates of Biblical events and the timeline of the judgment. 
Others, like Charles Taze Russell (the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses) and  Joseph Smith (Mormon founder) have said the same thing...and have led many many desperate people away from the simplicity of the Gospel, and the real work of Jesus.

It’s easy to point the finger the day after and say what a nutcase this guy is... but what is difficult is telling others that all Bible believing Christians do agree that the event will happen one day.   They group us together with Camping, Russell and Smith.  My goodness, don’t even want to be in the same neighbourhood with those guys!! 

No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come.   Not angels in heaven nor people on earth, Jesus didn’t even make such predictions while he was on earth.  Only the Father knows, and it will come like a thief in the night: when we least expect it.  Don’t believe me??  What I just wrote is in the Bible.  (Mostly from Matthew chapter 24)

It’s a wonder why more people don’t read it.  

Monday, May 16, 2011


Pamela drives a point home with a young Zulu student at Sunday School.
At Junction Church every Sunday, there are several things going on.

Situated at the northern end of Johannesburg, the Junxion Center (our new building) is positioned strategically between Dainfern (one of the wealthiest suburbs in Africa) and Diepsloot (one of the poorest townships).  At 8:15 most of the leaders arrive to begin setting up for a day of activity, followed by early arrivals in their cars;  the first taxi arriving not long after.  Out of each taxi (and there are 6) every Sunday morning, there is a "spilling out" of folk coming to church from surrounding townships.

A taxi arrives at Junxion Center.
Taxis here are not yellow and black, nor are they sedans.  They are large vans (combis) that carry as many people as they can stuff in, usually breaking every law to get to their destination.  Driving is usually a time-driven, cocky man that can take most people who would give him trouble.  Accompanying most drivers are their co-pilots, in charge of collecting fees and keeping order.  Taxi drivers are usually the biggest jerks in the world - or the only ones who will yeild to you if you need to turn against traffic in the busy city.  It is impossible to sketch them accurately.

On the first taxi most mornings is a young girl named Pamela.  She's been coming to the Junction longer than I have, and lately has become one of the greatest helps to us in building this church.  In Pamela's heart is a sweetness that is rare, and a wisdom that is even more so.  I have grown to love her for her faithfulness and her desire to help us

Last Sunday, as I greeted the first taxi, I saw her, and asked her who her freind was.  She introduced me to Ruby, another girl about her age, who said she had met me before (I wish I could remember every face).  We chatted a bit, then I went back to meeting taxis.  After the last taxi arrived, I made my way to sit with Mario in the front row of  church.  The service is always wonderful, strong and uplifting, no matter where you come from or where you are going.  This week was no different.

After the service, Mario and I meet new visitors and maybe help people who need food parcels or Bibles.  It feels good to sit and talk with people who have come to try out a new place or a new church looking for a church family or the Gospel.

The second service at Junction is a service with translation to Zulu or Sotho, depending on our translator that week.  The worship is Zulu, with a choir feel, and worship that appeals to the native people.  It also has a way of sweeping you off your feet if you are worshipful by nature.   The children's ministry  is also taught in Zulu or Sotho, depending on the teacher.  If  the Children's church is led by someone English speaking, it is also translated.  Biblical concepts are meant to reach the heart, so translators are the most valuable group of people during translated services.  To tell a child that they are valuable and belong here, they must believe it without a doubt, and they have an easier time believing it when you speak in their language, and to their heart.

For the kids who stay for the translated service, we have special games, special treats and special  lessons, all designed to be fun and motivating to learn the Bible, bring a newness to their faith and provide a place of acceptance and joy that they can count on.  This is where Pamela comes in.

Pamela is a teacher of children by nature.  Every child at the second service sees her as a big sister or a teacher who knows them.  Although just 17 herself, Pamela has a motherly role in these kids' life, encouraging them to see their lives beyond the townships, beyond their culture and enter into a destiny that will be the only thing that sets them free from stereotypes, rudeness, prejudice or the bad influences in any culture.

Last week, we broke into groups to know each other better.  The groups were led by the teachers and helpers and later joined the larger groups to share things they had just learned about each other.  During the assignment when they were learning each others' names, Pamela broke into a song with her group, helping them memorize each other's names with music.  I turned around to see her, singing with her group and bringing them together as one, and I smiled.  She looked up, smiled at me and continued.

Without people like Pamela, there would be no hope or encouragement of the kids in the townships.  She brings a light to them as an example that no one living outside of their neighborhood can.  She transcends every cliche that people have of young South Africans.  I am supposed to "bring her through" as a leader, making sure she feels supported and enabled to lead as God intended her to.  Instead, she teaches me.  She teaches me that she can shine beyond poverty, separation, housing and language barriers.  She teaches me that more like her exist in a world that we tend to see as disadvantaged.  She teaches me to be prepared for not having anything, but to celebrate with the things that cannot be taken away.

Tonight, as I pray, I thank God for Pamela, and others like her, who know the Gospel of Jesus Christ as more than just words on a page or another identity of theirs.  I thank God that Pamela is here for today; and I pray for her tomorrow.

Friday, May 13, 2011



The word itself brings a flood of connotations.  My early memories of marriage are all in the color of a sunset, a burnt orange hue, probably because the one I grew up with belonged to my parents.  It was the 70's, and burnt orange was "in and trendy".  I used to wish for my own marriage to be surrounded in all of the burnt orange romance that my parents was.

The memories are all like a series of snapshots, each one on  photo paper with a matte finish.  My earliest impressions were as romantic as they were staunch:  a noble institution that my Catholic parents believed in as deeply as Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Kisses.  Housecoats and slippers.  Newspapers.  Coffee.  Tears.  Kisses.  Children.  Beer. Family gatherings. Church.  Books.  Music.  Opera.  Kisses.  Grandma and Grandpa. Church.  Nuns.  Family.  Station wagons.  Singing.  Kisses.  Anger.  Bills.  Tears.  Kisses.  Nana.    Kisses.  Dogs.  Patio furniture.  Swimming pool.  Station Wagon. Movies.  Tears.  Funerals.  Family gatherings.

Like each snapshot, the stories these memories tell about marriage are only bits and pieces.  Put them all together and I believed, as a young adult, I could tell you how to be married and make it work, just by watching my parents.

There was one problem:  marriage isn't exactly learned by osmosis.  It helped a lot, having the model of this marriage right in front of me, but I was remarkably clueless, a passenger on a cruise ship.  Nevertheless, I had made up my mind at a young age I was going to have a marriage just like my parents.  I was determined, also, to marry the man of my dreams: Hector Rodriguez.  In the fourth grade, he was the most handsome, most athletic in the whole classroom and I was determined to make him fall madly in love with me.  Poor Hector.  He didn't really care much for needy, anxious, clumsy girls.  He seemed perfectly happy with kickball.

That needy, anxious, romantic fourth-grader later grew up to be a beautiful, needy and anxious 25 year old girl who married Mario Rodriguez (no relation to Hector) in 1987.  Mario  surpassed the "man of my dreams" and was the kind of handsome that made me weak in the knees.  It  became my life's ambition to make him outrageously happy.  I got to it quickly, and I must say, I was very good at being a wife.

Strangely enough, within seven years, I was finished.  After so long (seven years) doing the best I could, I was growing weary of failing, and also growing more depressed from feeling unloved.   One afternoon, standing in the kitchen of my new home, loading my built-in dishwasher, I found myself dreading  him coming home from work.  We had spent three days not talking, being civil enough for the kids, but icily filled with blame for each other for the same, draining conflicts sucking the life out of both of our hearts.

I looked at the clock and thought, "He's going to come home and ask for a divorce or  he'll say we're getting counseling."  Mario did come home in a similar mood.  He stopped at the counter, glared at me, exhaled, and said what I'll never forget:  "I've signed us up for counseling in a month.  You're going, and that's it, that's final."  He threw a piece of paper on the counter, and turned away, for upstairs.

I looked at the booking he had printed from his work computer and thought, "Well, at least we're not getting a divorce."

The booking was for a place called Elijah House, and signified to me, more than anything, that Mario was committed to staying with me.  The counseling, it turned out, was a good idea, but not at all what I had expected.  No one on our counseling team cared who was wrong or right.  It didn't matter if Mario was the good guy and I was the bitch.  It didn't matter to them that sometimes Mario was the bastard and I was the saint.  At first I felt invalidated, but then I realized that we kind of took turns filling the roles, but the players were always the same.   As much as it is championed as the thing that matters most in a relationship, the counseling didn't even address love.  I always loved Mario, and in my heart, I knew that he always loved me.

What it turns out mattered the most in that pivotal place in our marriage was: where do we go from here?  Are you staying, or are you leaving?  Once we made up our minds to stay with each other and not cut and run, we focused.  What were our habits, our genuine beliefs, our memories...and finally, who were we, down in the secret place, at our most insecure core?  What was it that made us who we are?  What was it that made us scared, terrified or sad?  How were we different from the way we were at eight?  Finally, does our faith in God really mean anything?  Are we ready to reprogram our thinking, our habits, our expectations?

As pieces of harm and hurt and disappointment began to chip away, there was a point when I realized our marriage was not all about me and him.  It was more - a covenant with God that we were given grace to make and live for in Him.  I realized I was living with a man who was a miracle.  Beyond the exoskeleton of who I thought Mario was, I realized he was a masterpiece of God's work ... in progress.

I remember the moment it clicked: and I remember how he looked at me when he saw newness in my eyes.

That was 1995.

What came after was wonderful.  A gift from God.  To keep the newness of our vision for each other, we now inherited the marriage we had always wanted and dreamed about.  To keep focused would be a battle.  By "battle", I mean a full-on fist fight with the devil, the world and my own selfishness, to keep my relationship with this man healthy.  All the while, Mario was in the same battle for the same goal.  On the other side of the battle was a new life with each other, our hearts, our trust and love, our family, our deep need for being worth fighting for.

It sounds cliche, but this kind of marriage is worth fighting for.  Everything in this world is built for single-ness, selfishness and self-promotion - marriage is a union of two people to become ONE.  The greatest dream of people: to be absorbed, with love into each other, where you can't tell where one begins and one ends.  It is also our greatest fear.  We scream and shout anytime our individuality is threatened, and yet want to become one with another.  How is it done?

While we have, as a world, become obsessed with advancement, we have regressed in this one area: marriage.   We have, as people of the world, become faster, smarter, brighter than any generation before us.   We are, however, as a world, becoming failures at keeping promises - specifically marriage vows.

Today I started thinking of all of these things during research.  Do you know that you can prove most things that you want to prove with statistics?  Mario and I have been compiling statistics for our marriage class we are hoping to do in June, and I was amazed to see varying statistics in the area of South African divorce rates.  While the American divorce rate is easier to keep track of (it is a country that keeps fastidious records and regards a marriage as a legal status) the country of South Africa had been all over the map with marriage and divorce rates.  For instance, during the Apartheid regime, marriages between colours weren't recognized, with the occasional coloured-black unions. Because of this, we have had to rely on "world divorce rates", which have (in the most conservative estimates) tripled in one generation.

One generation: A lifetime that includes a child being born and growing up while the world changes around them.  They become adults, and live though most of their adult life, usually seeing their children having children.

In 1954 (Mario was just born) Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes.  Most experts of the human body said it couldn't be done. Bannister, an athlete and med-student, was part of a group of friends who were out to prove otherwise.  He ran the mile with a time of  3 minutes 59.4 seconds.  In 1954, many Americans were happy that the war was over, and busy celebrating, making a large number of babies.  We call this delightful little increase to the population "The Baby Boom".  In 1954 most Americans could own a home with one person working.  At the time, divorce rates world-wide were at 2 per cent of the world's population.  Only 9% of Americans were divorced.

In 1999 (Mario and I were considering our first trip to Africa) Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco set the new record for the mile with a time of  3 minutes, 43.13 seconds.  Amazing.  Absolutely Amazing.  In 1999 the USA actually won the world cup for Women's soccer and Brandi Chastain stopped the whole celebration by stripping off her jersey and whooping it up in her sports bra.  In 1999 the world-wide divorce rate was at 24%.   In the USA, half of the marriages that were being performed were ending in divorce.  50%.

We have become wealthy in technology, communication, and understanding.  We have even made our bodies, supposedly compromised from pollutants and carcinogens, disciplined enough to be machines that can obey us to break astounding records, beyond the pain and resistance we feel.  We have become fitter, faster, stronger, smarter.  It's our relationships (or our honor for them) that have become out of shape.  Why?

I type in 2011, after a day of compiling statistics for our upcoming marriage class: Relationship Fitness.  We have been busy in the preparation of this for our whole lives, and the minute we step out and do it I know, without a doubt, that our marriage will face a trial that will seem new and alarming.  I'm not as young as I used to be... but I have a cache of weapons that are chipped and rusted and full of the blood of any demon that will get between me and the man I have vowed to walk with forever.  I have conviction to protect this sacred covenant, and not become a statistic myself.

Our  marriage has not been so pretty to watch being made.  If you were hiding out in the corners through the years you would accuse me of truth: I'm really not fit to teach any marriage class.  The snapshots you'd have been able to get through the years may be unflattering of us.  So, today as I remember my own memories of my parents' marriage, I am wondering about my kids' memories of mine...and I sigh.

Burnt oranges from the 70's  faded into beiges, then turned into jewel tones, and finally gave way to a monochromatic  black and white that became the 90's color palette.  Maybe our kids' memories of our marriage will black and white...?

With a little red mixed in.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


My first memory of my mother, Jennie, was when I was on the couch at East 22nd Street in Tracy.  I had been playing in the backyard and had stepped on a bee, and ran in the house screaming.  My mom soothed me the usual way, but her mannerisms changed as she later looked at my foot, which had swollen, and reddened.  She went to our refrigerator and got a cold 7-up in a glass bottle, poked a hole in the top with a nail, and let me drink it there on the couch.  She called our doctor as I drank the soda, like a baby drinks a bottle.  I was looking at her, and knew something was wrong (it was the first time I experienced a mild anaphylactic shock - I was allergic to bee stings) but I knew, at the same time, I was safe and I was going to be okay.

My mom has a way of making me feel safe, like everything is going to be okay, still.

By the time I became a mother I was only recently removed from my own mom, and on most days, crying out for her.  I didn't know what I was doing, really, and she made it all look so easy.  As I talked to her last night, we both had agreed to remain light and not burst into tears.  I have the greater task when we make this agreement.  I wanted my mom last night, like I was five.

Mother's love is the most tragic, beautiful, dramatic, crazy kind of love that there is.  A mother hen will charge a moving vehicle if it headed toward her chicks; a mother bear can rip any predator to shreds that endangers her cub; and a mother of a child, in most cases, can turn from logic and overreact to any threat: person, place or thing, that threatens the happiness of her child.

Vincent was born when I was 23, and I knew I was in love the first time I saw his face.  I had a hard time putting him down, resting without him near, hearing him cry or letting others have a turn holding him.  My whole life changed with him...instantly.  I later met Mario, my one true love, who had two children of his own: David (6) and Joe (4).  I met them and became enchanted with the way they saw life, were drawn to their father and loyal to their mother - even as young boys they had an other-worldliness to them.   We became a family, with David and Joe living only part time with us.  The following July we had Alicia, and we were all overjoyed at the gorgeous little blessing that flooded our lives with pink.

Tomorrow is Mother's Day.  The day that has always been a hard one for me has become the hardest day of my year, as I spend most of it in a fight to hold back tears and live inside of God's presence protecting me from my own emotions.  I will not have my mother, my sisters or my children here to hold (or hold me).  I  have to be content with waiting for the next visit out to see Alicia have her second baby.  SKYPE is a God-send, but not a replacement... and the day becomes a test of endurance and strength as I watch other mother-daughters enjoy each other.

Still, as I sit here typing, I can remember each: My Mother (her glowing beauty and peace), My sisters (all sparkling with delight over their young children), even my kids... David (the gentle husband to Lennae and the fun father to his girls, Laila, Lilli and Lauren) told me to SKYPE them in the evening.  Joe (deep and reflective) will most likely call us later.  Vince (camping with friends in Colorado this weekend) called me yesterday to say Happy Mother's Day.  Alicia (pregnant with her second and mother to Harmony, our sweet grandchild) will spend with her beloved Brian, and their family.  They all reverberate in my heart, my memories, my veins... I love them all so much.

I have loved them so much in this lifetime I feel filled with love... and delight in this.

Mario told me today we'll go out to dinner tomorrow night, just the two of us. It will have to be after all the SKYPE dates, so it may have to be McDonalds.  So much for my diet!

Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Osama bin Laden is dead. To read the news stories today in South Africa, I am suddenly filled with a mixture of unexpected emotions.  One of the first things I felt was homesickness.  To hear that the man who orchestrated so much damage, so much hatred is now dead, makes me want to talk with those who felt the pain of the 911 attacks, close up.

I can’t believe I am hearing the news on foreign soil.  
As an American I cannot begin to tell you how overwhelming and immediate the effects of September 11th,  2001 had on us as individuals, and as a country.   We had never, in my lifetime, been as devastated by a terrorist attack, with the exception of the Pearl Harbor.   Even so, those bombings in 1941, while the World around us was at war with Hitler, Stalin and Hirohito, was with their own planes, and not so unexpected.   On this day, our commercial flights had fallen victim to hijackers bent on jihad, a word that I had just heard. 
That day in September was a shock to all of us – our beloved Twin Towers in New York City crumbled after the planes crashed into them and caught fire.   The Pentagon became a four-sided building that morning, with the remnants of another hijacked plane burning next to it. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed mysteriously into a field near Somerset County, Pennsylvania. It was later revealed that crew and passengers attempted to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning.
It seemed as if our whole world had come to a crashing halt.  Our airports instantly shut down, and flights were cancelled.   Canada received 226 of the diverted flights and launched “Operation Yellow Ribbon” to deal with the large numbers of grounded planes and stranded passengers.  We watched, horrified, as the reports of destruction multiplied.  Many police officers and rescue workers (the untouchables of public servants) were killed trying to rescue the barely alive, or recover bodies from the twisted remnants of the Twin Towers. 
Regardless of what people think, Americans aren’t strangers to destruction.  We’ve survived a myriad of natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and drought that changed the landscape of the Midwest.  This was so different: it was an unexpected terrorist attack designed to hurt and cripple us, and inflict fear into our beloved country and its people.  In our hearts, we were (in true American fashion) both devastated and stirred to get the bastards who did this.
Who would do this?
It didn’t take long to find out. 

“We’re making a list,” one of the interviewed Army Generals said later at an impromptu press conference.  “And it’s not a long list.”

While leaders of most Middle Eastern countries, and Afghanistan, condemned the attacks. Iraq came forward with an immediate (almost rehearsed) official statement that "the American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity".  Our President, his Vice (Dick Cheney) and his Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) seemed as if they could see this was coming.
The afternoon of September 11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was issuing rapid orders to his aides to look for evidence of Iraqi involvement; Dick Cheney was taken somewhere secret for the purposes of protection and stealth command;   Bush kept making statements, trying to rouse our courage as a nation... and most of the neighbourhoods in the country met their neighbors for the first time, to have prayer in the street or to sing “God Bless America”.
The FBI released information the following day that the ones taking responsibility for the bombings were a small sect calling themselves “al-Qaida” (in Arabic “the Base”), led by a man named Osama bin Laden.  I had never heard about him, so I researched about who he (and al-Qaida was).

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden in Arabic is spelled  أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن  and cannot really be translated into English, so there are many spellings of his name.  I was shocked to learn that this man, who didn’t look much like an old ayatollah, was born into a wealthy Saudi family.  It turns out that the real fatherly influence came from his step-father, a devout Wahhabi Muslim, an orientation most other Muslims consider ultra-conservative, or even heretical.  Wahhabism upholds the letter of Islamic law, with much focus on dealing with the surrounding infidels, or enemies of Islam.  It is, to this day, the fastest growing religious sect of Islam for young people in the Middle East, able to show considerable influence in the Muslim world in part through Saudi funding of mosques, schools and social programs.

As he became a man, it is said that Osama appeared to be gentle, and loved to read and write poetry.  He was enrolled in a small but elite secular Al-Thager Model School.  Although he never completed his courses or earned a college degree, it was widely circulated that he did.  At university, his main interest was religion, and it was there that his ideology began.  Convinced that the restoration of Sharia law would set things right in the Muslim world, and that all other ideologies—"pan-Arabism, socialism, communism, democracy"—must be opposed.

In mid-1979, he moved to Afghanistan, then under the rule of the Taliban, believing it was "the only Islamic country" in the Muslim world.   About the same time, the Soviet Union deployed troops into Afghanistan, making the Taliban victims of a new order: communism and a full-fledged army.  As the Soviets began to claim Afghanistan as part of the USSR, the United States began giving several hundred million dollars a year to the Afghan Mujahideen ( "strugglers" or "people doing jihad”) fighting the Afghan Marxist government and the Soviet Army in Operation Cyclone (remember Charlie Wilson’s war?) The most famous of the Afghan Arabs was Osama bin Laden, known at the time as a wealthy and pious Saudi who provided his own money and helped raise millions from other wealthy Gulf Arabs.

As the Afghan war neared its end, bin Laden organized al-Qaeda in order  to carry on armed jihad in other venues, primarily against the United States — the country that had helped fund the mujahideen against the Soviets.

If you asked Osama WHY he would bomb the twin towers, why he would advocate such violence, he would answer that he was only exposing us as perpetrators of the same thing.  It is 1982, during the Lebanese war, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre (at least 800 civilians were slaughtered by Israeli backed troops) that he made up his mind to commit Jihad against the USA – the main supporters of Israel.  Bin Laden became consumed with the need for violent jihad (literally translated: “the struggle”) He preached, with great conviction that the crimes against Muslims were perpetrated by the United States and Israel, convincing his followers that violent jihad must be done if necessary.
"Allah knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers but after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed – when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way (and) to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women." 
                                                                                        – Osama bin Laden, 2004

As a result of his dealings in and advocacy of violent extremist jihad, Osama lost his Saudi citizenship and was disowned by his billionaire family.  Although he didn’t seem to care, the blow to a Muslim man when his family rejects him is usually fierce.
Settling into our lives here, I had never thought I would see the headlines I did today.  Osama found??  ...and KILLED??  Where is the proof?
Apparently the CIA had knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts for awhile.  They also seemed to know something else: that Osama was at death’s door from advanced kidney disease, based on the drugs he’d been taking.  Although  he only had six to 18 months to live, the terrorist leader was in good health last night since it is reported that  he fought with the American invaders who eventually had to kill him.

While the world waited for bin Laden’s body to be shown, it was reported to be “not recognizeable” as the once fit revolutionary.  Bin Laden’s body had to be identified genetically with a match from his sister, and was later disposed of in the North Arabian Sea , off the deck of the USS Carl Vinson.   With so many in doubt, it will be interesting to see what  will be said of capture, death and burial.  The Vinson’s official, noted the burial at sea in his log, though, making the death and the dispose of the body official.  In his notes, it reads:  
"Preparations for at-sea burial began at 1:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and were completed at 2:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.  Traditional procedures for Islamic burial were followed. The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased body eased into the sea."
Today from the gym I watched “alerts” for USA travellers: Be careful, as you travel overseas.  Don’t go somewhere where there will be large crowds.  Don’t identify yourself as an American.... blah blah blah.  I refuse to live safely, and refuse to be dictated by fear.
Is the United States any safer today than it was on September 10, 2001?  Experts mostly believe -- some strongly, some tentatively -- it is.   

The real question is, can we live without fear?