Monday, February 23, 2015



Studying is a given when you are a student.  At eighteen, studying was optional; at fifty-two it’s mandatory. 

I am living proof that as the human brain gets older, it loses its memory elasticity (this is not a real medical term, it’s just my theory).  When it was eighteen years old , my brain used to be able to remember everything…  Now it needs lots of notes and reminders.  I have a really cool planner that I organize my homework in and it works if I can remember where I put it.

The college has a rule of thumb: for every unit you are taking you should study two hours a week.  A student that is taking twelve units should budget a twenty-four hour study week. 

Unless you are in your fifties, then you have to study longer and harder.  I have to come up with different tricks to remember things, read everything with a highlighter in one hand.  Blogging and networking has taken a back seat to studying. 

I have discovered that micro-nutrients (green veggies and algae powder) combined with multi-vitamins helps me stay alert.  Water is more efficient than coffee (did I actually say that?).  I'm learning to take notes again…  and again… and again.  Annotating, bibliographies, research, critical analysis.  

People ask me why I’m back in school and the answer is so multi-faceted I don’t know where to begin.  “I guess I want to finish,” I say, weakly.  Inside, a stirring is more truthful.  I want to excel at communicating with the written word.  I want to become the best artist I can be under God.  I want to kick ass like I know I can, finish my degree and come out the other side a better person and a better writer. 

Before I do all those things I have to study.  Study, study, study. 

Where is my planner?  My water bottle?  My micro-greens?  


Thursday, February 19, 2015


Mario and Boldo clowning around - 2010

We met Boldo when he visited our church in South Africa.  We had only heard of him – he had replaced Rob Forbes (a brilliant friend of ours) as the lead pastor of the church in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city. 

He was larger than life.  Not only a man who sought after God, Boldo was someone who had walked down the mean streets of life and survived.  He had a persona that was easy to respect, since he knew God’s word and loved God’s people.  His young wife, Ganji, spoke fluent English and had just a baby girl that looked just like her.  We loved them immediately.

In the front yard of our house, Boldo challenged Mario to a wrestling match.  I almost forbid the activity, knowing Mario to have super-human strength that usually wounded our friends.  Instead, I just decided to go inside and have a cup of tea with Ganji.  After about an hour, the men joined us at the table, sweaty and smiling.

“This guy is amazing,” Mario said, obviously worn out from physical exertion.  “Don’t let his size fool you, he is the strongest guy I’ve ever wrestled!”

I looked at Boldo, who was busy explaining the same thing to Ganji in their language.  Ganji looked at Mario and smiled.

“You beat him?” She seemed shocked. 

Mario laughed.  “Is that what he told you?  He should have said that he taught me how to wrestle Mongolian style until I could finally learn the basics.  FINALLY I beat him!” 

The next morning, Mario struggled to get out of bed.  “I’m so sore…” he said.  “But I can’t let him see me limping today.”

I rolled my eyes.  Girls never have these conversations with themselves.

A year later, Boldo and Ganji invited us to Mongolia to host a marriage conference.  We jumped at the chance to go – and saw the Mongolian church close up. 

Living in the upper Asian quadrant of the 10-40 window, Mongolia is primarily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.  When we got there it was easy to see the cultural community the church lives among: reserved, stoic, sometimes hopeless.  In contrast, we found the church in Ulaanbaatar to be filled with the Holy Spirit, a huge blessing and light to all around it.  The church received us with so much love and respect that it was hard not to fall in love with them.   In the environment of seeing him as a lead elder, Boldo became different in our eyes: Pastoral, evangelical, nurturing.

There are some friends that share your heart so much that no separation can make us feel apart; Boldo and Ganji are like that to us.  We respect their hearts so much and will forever see them as friends. 

As Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed, so has Boldo.  Today is his birthday, a day where I thank God for creating him.  May more leaders just like him pursue God until they limp – we need more men in the kingdom like him.

Boldo and Ganji (and baby)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Davies Hall - where most of my classes take place.
I talked with my sister, Colleen, on the phone today – a luxury that I’ve been missing ever since I started school. 

“So, are you as smart as you thought you were?” she asked me, teasing me a little.  I have long considered myself a genius. 

“Not at all,” I laughed.  “One of my literature professors used one of my sentences as an example of 'poor word choice' to the class.  Thank God she did it anonymously...”

“What?”  Colleen was aghast.  After all, we both expected that I’d struggle in math and science; English is my strongly-held territory. 

“Well,” I explained the less-brutal version.  In an attempt to inspire students to choose their qualifiers more carefully, my professor used several sentences from our first essays turned in to her.  We were supposed to judge why a sentence would “work” or fail.  She used one of mine where I wrote: "...the voice of the American Revolution whispered of change".  My instructor said the Revolution “Shouted, exploded...”  Get it right, people.

I can laugh about it now. 

That night I came home incensed.  I saw my wording as correct, possibly the definitive way to speak about the beginning of the Revolution -  it began as a whisper (as all revolutions do).  The more I thought about it, the more I realized she had a point.  In my haste to be beautiful with words, I misspoke of a brutal fight for power.  By the time I went to bed, I was convinced she was right; that’s why she is the college professor, not me.

This is a hard pill to swallow for a writer, especially one who has the immovable adoration of those close to her(thankyouthankyouthankyou).  I also edit myself, give myself my own stamp of approval, and re-read what I've written with a general sense of pride. 

Being back in school makes me realize I still have a lot to learn about the written word and how it’s delivered.  I ended the conversation by telling my sister that humility is a good thing to have when returning to school.

“Good for you,” she encouraged me.  “Stay humble.”

Top floor library
For everything I want to be, this is a life-goal.  I want to remain humble and teachable in all ways.  I am willing to submit my brilliant writing for editing and admit... that it needs work, still.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Cupid, in Roman mythology, was the son of Mars and Venus, the god of war and the goddess of beauty.  According to myth, he was once sent on an errand (by his own manipulating mother)  to go into a mortal’s (Psyche) bedroom to destroy her with an arrow, poisoned to make Psyche fall madly in love with an evil man.  On his way in, Cupid fell and cut himself with his own arrow – poisoning himself and becoming mentally ill.  For the rest of his existence, he followed other mortals around, shooting at them with the same poisoned arrows – in the hopes that they would become as crazy as he was. 

We have taken the Roman god, Cupid, and made him the symbol of romance (and of Valentine’s Day)  often depicted as an angel with a bow and arrows. 

The truth is that his character was a mama’s boy who tripped on his way to poison a woman his mother was jealous of.  He ended up falling madly in love with Psyche – the woman Venus was trying to destroy.  Cupid's weakness and stupidity make him a good mascot for the oddest holiday of the year.

This misunderstood holiday is a day that we celebrate our twisted version of romance.  Commercially, it is the time where the prices of chocolates, cards, and flowers are inflated.  Played well, it can be the perfect day to exploit romance, not celebrate it.

I may sound a little cynical about this holiday.  I guess it is because our single friends feel so unloved and so alone.  I never have been alone on Valentine’s Day, but I’m literally protective and perturbed for the people who are.  These are amazing, awesome people who feel reminded on this one day that their dreams of romance and true love are not being realized.   

The origin of the holiday is supposed to be based on the life of a Catholic Saint, named Valentine.  What we know about him (from the traditional descriptions written in the 1200’s) Valentine was an evangelical man, preaching Jesus Christ and calling everyone to know Him...and His love.  Apparently the Roman emperor at the time (Claudius, in the year 280) opposed proselytizing in any religion, including those his subjects practiced freely.

He called Valentine to his presence and asked for his repentance.  Valentine refused, saying that not preaching the Gospel was to deny Christ. 

The act of wilful defiance to an emperor was punishable by death, and Claudius ordered it for Valentine the following day – February 14.  Before his head was cut off,  the Roman guard (Valentine’s jailer) asked Valentine to pray for his young daughter who was blind and going deaf.   Apparently, Valentine asked for the girl to be brought to him and prayed that God would restore her sight and hearing.

She was miraculously healed (this is why the Catholic church made him a “saint”).  So, St. Valentine’s Day is the anniversary of his execution, not his birthday. 

It was Chaucer (who wrote Canterbury Tales)  that proclaimed St. Valentine’s Day to be “A Day for Lovers” in his poem “Parlement of Foules” (Assembly of Birds). 

I’m not falling for that.  Mario and I celebrate the holiday by boycotting it.  We make a choice to celebrate the day after, when chocolates were 50% off and the cards that didn’t sell were priced to go.  We would try to out-do each other with the cheesiest cards we could find.  I once gave him a “left-over” card that showed the silhouette of an African-American woman (complete with afro and formal gown) and said “With deepest love from your brown sugar.”

This makes me smile... we beat the holiday pressure at its own game.

Want to know the greatest tale of romance?  Jesus Christ was born and died and rose again to make it possible for someone as messed up as me to receive my Heavenly Father’s love.  That’s true love. 

Happy Valentine’s Day.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Cynthia at Annah's wedding.

When I first met Cynthia I was blown away by her voice.  She belted out songs that required operatic training and I knew she had never been to Italy to study with the masters.  Being a resident of Diepsloot, it was unlikely she had studied voice anywhere.  She had been given the gift that most Zulu women received from generations before them – the desire to worship and sing from the depths of their being.

She appreciated the chance to sing and was asked to do so wherever she went.  At weddings, gatherings, the church worship team.  The desire and the ability to sing made Cynthia’s life worth living -especially when she could sing to God.

Cynthia was raised in Kwa Zulu Natal and moved to Johannesburg for the same reason most people do – work.  Her family searched out opportunities to find steady and gainful employment; the tradeoff was that they had to live in Diepsloot. Cynthia was married to Michael, a man that Mario and I referred to as “the Pedi prince”, having an air of royalty.  Wherever he went, Michael could be put in charge – he was a big man and could inspire people to do something just by showing up.  Cynthia and he had a son together, Michael Junior, who was killed when he was only three years old.  A friend of theirs backed his car up and ran the child over, crushing him (and the hearts of his parents). 

Life after Junior’s death wasn’t easy for the couple.  Losing a child makes even a spiritual person go down paths one would never walk.  Somehow they bounced back; somehow God brought them closer to Him.  I met them when they returned to Junction Church after a brief absence.  I didn’t have any knowledge of the accident and casually asked Cynthia if she had any children.  She replied:

“I do.  But he’s in heaven.”

I apologized and I told her I was sorry.  She smiled and said “How could you know?  I know no one has told you.”

Michael was a great help to Mario as we built up the church in Diepsloot.  Mario used to say that Dumisani was his right hand and Michael was his left.  They translated everything for us.  We were (unfortunately) clueless about a lot of things.  What we weren’t clueless about was the worship – Cynthia and Portia  taught us the songs  and we sang them the way they did – belting them out.  The louder the praise the more sincere it was – that was the way we were taught.

Two years into the church plant, Michael fell ill with tuberculosis and was taken to Helen Joseph hospital to recover.  He never came out.

Michael's death rocked us all.  Especially Cynthia – Portia and Dumisani drove with Mario and I as we took Cynthia to the hospital to make the identification and sign papers.  It was a terrible, grief stricken drive.  Wailing and tear-filled shouts were made by those in the vehicle.  The louder the tears, the more sincere the grief. 

Somehow Cynthia bounced back.  Somehow she was surrounded by a good support system.  We did the best we could to comfort her…but there was so much we didn’t understand.

Right before we moved back to California, Cynthia asked me out to tea.  We went to our favorite place – a small garden in Fourways. 

“I have to tell you something,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked. 

“I have kidney disease.  Bonnie knows, but not a lot of other people do.”  Bonnie was a mutual friend – the leader of the widows and orphans program, she worked closely with Cynthia.

“What does that mean?” My heart was beating madly. 

“I am alright until I go into failure.  When I go into failure I will need a kidney transplant.  If I don’t get one, I will go to heaven.”

She told me at the beginning of our time together and we were quiet through the rest of our tea.  When I dropped her off, she turned to me.  “I had to tell you.  Don’t be angry.”

“Why would I be angry?”

She laughed.  “I don’t mean angry at me.  Don’t be angry with the doctors.  Don’t be angry with South Africa.  Don’t be angry at God.”

I smiled.  “I could never be angry at God, Cynthia,” I said.  At the time, I believed that statement to be true.  It was before the great testing of our faith.  Before we left South Africa and our calling; before the great upheaval….

“I won’t be angry,” I promised her. 

It turned out the reason Cynthia told me was that she was going in for surgery.  Our mutual friend, Bonnie told her to let me know out of courtesy, so I wouldn’t be in the dark.  Thank God.

At our going away party, Cynthia, dressed in royal purple,  sang with her whole heart – a song I loved: “’Mandla Nkosi” – or “God holds all the power” – loud like she meant it.  It is in my heart like a tattoo. 

Yesterday my beloved  Portia texted me (thank God for whatsapp) that Cynthia had passed away, stepping from the earth to the clouds to heaven. My heart sank. 

I know Cynthia longed to be with Junior and Michael – and most of all, Jesus.  Still, there was an unfinished grief I felt since I had not been there when she died.  She is the first of my friends to pass away after we moved back home.  It is enough to believe that she is out of pain; out of the poverty she endured in this life. 

I wish I could be there to wail- to cry aloud and expunge the grief in my heart.  Cynthia taught me how… I can do it now. 

Below is one of the videos from our going-away party.  You'll get to hear Cynthia (in purple) sing - even though she was sick by this time