Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

As I was driving home the other day, I passed near to the home of a friend, James Thomas, who was killed in the Nairobi Westgate Mall shooting on 21 Sep 2013. I began to contemplate the events and its consequences, and was surprised how quickly my anger at both the fact of James' death and the manner of his death rose to the surface again. Grief is a strange animal, walking in circles and spirals, never fully resting.

(Some great articles were written about it at the time. Here are a selection: iol news, Mail & Guardian, Daily Maverick.)

In allowing my rage a voice, I found myself quoting from Dylan Thomas' epic poem to God, so I wanted to share this poem with the world again. James was one of those individuals who simply did not consider getting old. Every moment was one to grabbed by both hands and exploited to the fullest. He had a deep and abiding joy, and a zest for life, that is rare. He was a 'wild [man] who caught and sang the sun in flight'. I know that it came from his deep faith in God. I miss him terribly. I know the world is poorer because he is no longer in it.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas1914 - 1953
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Is there any hope for the SA education system?

One of the sessions at the Global Leadership Summit was a talk by Allen Catherine Kagina. She heads up Uganda's Revenue Authority, i.e. the tax collection system. Over the past 10 years she has taken this corrupt and inefficient system and turned it around completely. 

Granted, she did take some pretty dramatic steps, like firing absolutely every single person in this government department and making hem reapply for their position. She did this so that only this most honest and competent people would end up working for her. 

If we tried that here, with our education department, to get rid of both incompetence and corruption, there is no doubt that SADTU would throw a frothy. (I doubt that Naptosa would, because they aren't politically motivated the way that SADTU is.) Never the less, that remains a tempting action.

Yet, all that she has accomplished, she did in a relatively short space of time. The URAhas gone from vying for first place as the most corrupt organisation in Uganda to having her staff head hunted by UN, WHO, etc. because of their high level of integrity.

Is it possible that this could happen in SA's education system? Is it possible that this failing institution, rife with incompetency, could be turned around?

I was sure that it couldn't. I had washed my hands of this system, given up, content to just influence the small number of children I teach and colleagues I interact with. I had become completely disillusioned with the DBE and the provincial governments. 

But now? 

Having heard Allen speak about what God can do, having heard about how the URA has changed completely, I believe the same is potentially true for us. 

YES, I believe there is hope for education in SA. Why? Because The God we serve is a big God, for whom nothing is impossible. NOTHING.

What will it take to make this happen? Prayer, and lots of it, and leadership - strong, ethical, visionary leadership. 

I hear God call - 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' And my heart responds - 'Here am I. Send me.'

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What will you do with your dash?

Having been on a leadership conference the past two days, I wanted to share some of the moments that really touched me.

While many of us may choose to be cremated when we die, the principle illustrated in this photo is true for all of us. Our lives can be summed up by that little dash between our birth date and death date. It's such a little thing, and, cosmically speaking, our lives are actually that insignificant - unless we choose to make them significant.

What are you doing with your dash?

You only get one life. It will probably only last about 80 years (excluding the possibility of a dread disease or accident killing you before then). 

One of the most recent Nobel Peace Prizes was given to the youngest ever person - a 17 year old girl who, at age 15, had already been campaigning for the rights of girls to receive education. At age 15 she had already angered a group of people to such an extent that they shot her. Her name is Malala Yousafzai. I tell you about her because I know that when I think of 80 years as a life span, I am tempted to think that 'my life only really began when I started working'. Doing so allows me to excuse myself from having made a difference until I was age 20-odd. Yet, here's a girl who, by age 15 was already making a SIGNIFICANT difference.

So I challenge you again - what will you do with your one and only dash?

And before you start thinking that only young people can make a difference - remember that Mother Theresa was 87 when she died, still active in her calling of helping lepers and that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is currently 83.

And if you start thinking that your socio-economic status is a hindrance to making a difference, or your gender, then, again, you're wrong. Over the years I have seen plenty of news stories about women in the townships who have taken in scores of AIDS orphans on next to nothing, out of which the GoGo's Trust has been established.

So I ask you again, what will you do with your dash?

I have been challenged by this. I believe I am already making a difference - by trying to raise my kids in the best way I can, by being the best teacher I can, by getting involved in leadership in my local church, by volunteering with Cape Town Expo to help train and teach teachers and pupils about the scientific method, and by having started Born Sleeping. Yet, I still feel the challenge. I still feel there is more I could be doing. I am so conscious of the incredible need around me. At times, I am overwhelmed by it, to the point of emotional exhaustion when I feel I have to tune out the entire world - from the beggar at the traffic lights to my own kids just to survive.

But when I die, the legacy I want to leave is a trail of lives that I have affected for good. I want there to be a long line of people who have come to faith through my actions (and I'm rubbish at even friendship evangelism!), whose faith has been deepened and encouraged by me, by people who got an excellent education, who were inspired to DO something (not just to feel good), and who felt the comfort of God through my words and hands. I want my kids to say that I have left them more than just money, but a legacy of faith and trust in our Lord.

What legacy do you want to leave behind? What are you doing to make that legacy a reality?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Iconic moments of the 21st century (so far)

I came across this collection of iconic moments from the 21st century.

I was struck by how Americo-centric they are. I know that in each nation, there would be a different set of images. I wonder what a truly global set of images would look like. There's no doubt that many American images would appear, but I wonder how many would not.

I was also struck by the common humanity displayed - the compassion, the suffering, the hope, as well as the cruelty and violence inherent in our species. We are made in the image of God, with his capacity for love and forgiveness and kindness, yet we are marred by our own sin, which twists the good within us towards hatred, fear and narcissism.

As I reflect back on the last 14 years, I am struck by how much I have changed as a person. I like who I am now more than who I was. I am happier now than I was. My personal iconic moments are (in no particular order, although broadly chronological) graduating from varsity, getting married, falling pregnant with my firstborn, each of my children's births or deaths, my father's cancer, my husband's great-aunt's death, my non-selection for ordination... For each of these there is a photo in my head. Some of them I wish I could share with you, some are just too private. Some are pictures of the scene at the time (from my perspective, looking 'out' of my head*), some of them are images of my emotions - patterns of colour that represent my emotions at the time, some are images of something relating to the event.

I am amazed at the picture story book in my head. With our content creation capabilities today, I am stunned by how much I am still unable to share with others (and more than a little grateful). If I were an artist, I think I would try to paint some of the more abstract pictures in my head, but I'm not. So I have to rely on the pictures that others have taken, to represent some of the shared moments in history, to share our common emotions and reactions to events.

Which brings me back to this photo collection. This is one person's attempt at capturing the moments in time that he thinks sum up the highlights and low lights of the last 14 years. I wouldn't call it a failure - in fact, there is so much in there that I had forgotten about! (Time flies when you're wiping bottoms and cleaning up puke!) This is definitely a good start.

I challenge you though - if you have time this holiday - to put your own photo compilation together and share it with me. (I would love to do this, but as I'm on conference, my holiday is already otherwise booked up....) Maybe I will do just that during my next holiday break.
*because we don't see out of our eyes, we see into them, of course - as any biologist could tell you.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Make time for friends

Life is busy. Always. I keep telling myself that next week will be calmer, or the week after that. If I'm realistic though, my life never slows down, except maybe when we go away as a family at the end of the year. I'm realizing afresh that if I'm not careful, my life will control me, instead of the other way around.

I was struck by a comment in an inspirational email sent to me recently: make time for friends. 

Make time.... This is an admission that time is in short supply in our lives. At a recent parenting workshop someone mentioned that for every hr you spend working, instead of playing with your kids, is like failing to have spent 100 hours with them. I'm not sure how that was calculated, but it reminded me of that well-known maxim: when you die, what will you regret - having worked those few extra hours, or not having spent those few extra hours with your loved ones? 

Make time.... This is an active process. This requires me to get off my butt and actively do something. Whether it is rescheduling things, or saying no to some things, or phoning that person to book a time to see them, this requires more from me than the 'let's get together sometime' euphemism.

Make time for friends. Loved ones are more important than work. In the daily juggle between the things that are urgent, important or both urgent and important, very often the things that are only important get shoved down the list of priorities. Friends, family and relationships are important. Work is urgent. If I don't work now, I won't meet that deadline; I won't be paid; I will miss that fabulous opportunity which could really boost my business.... There are 1001 reasons why we have to work NOW. Work is urgent. People, though, are important. 

Without our relationships, what is all that work worth? Making time to be with family and friends is important on so many levels, yet in my own life, I often put work above people. I become impoverished as a result - I feel isolated, unloved, misunderstood, tired, joyless, stressed, guilty, to name but a few. Don't misunderstand me - I LOVE my job, I love my work. I find my work energizing (for the most part), but when I don't spend enough time with people, the pendulum swings too far to one side, and I become a horrible person.

I need to connect to people around me, irrespective of whether I am an introvert or extrovert. I need to connect to peopleat a deep level, regularly, to laugh with them, have fun with them, be accountable to them and hold them accountable, so that I can be the best possible me I can be.

Make time for friends.

What one thing will you do this weekend to make time for friends, family and loved ones?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Play time

After going through a phase of being seriously annoying to each other, and constantly fighting, the kids seem to be in a phase of playing nicely again. I can't really pinpoint what has made the difference, but I am loving it. 

Something I have noticed is that they play best when they have free play - time to just make up stuff, time to create. They are loving building bricks (we have several different brands - Lego, Duplo, etc - in different buckets) at the moment, and starting to get really creative with it. They also spend a lot of time playing make believe games. Of course, #1 generally decides what game it will be, and directs operations, but #2 gives a lot of input. 

Coincidentally I have been reading several blog posts and articles that have just popped up in my reading list about the importance of free play, particularly in the current education climate where play is being systematically removed from the curriculum. As a teacher I have always been aware of the increasing pressure on students - increased volumes of work as well as increasing difficulty levels of work at younger years. 

When I was at school, our second language was introduced in grade 2 or 3, at a conversational level only. Now, kids must be reading and writing in a second language before the end of grade 1. Our third language was only introduced in high school; now it is introduced in grade 3. I know there are good reasons for this - not least the fact that most children in this country do not have either English or Afrikaans as their home language, yet those will be the language of instruction in GET and FET phases. I support the theory that I. Order to help kids cope then we need to start the introduction of the language earlier. I'm just not sure the way it is being done is helpful. 

Similarly, at FET level, the work my matrics are doing was varsity level when I was at school. The reason for this is because the volume of knowledge is constantly increasing, and therefore there isn't time at varsity for everything to be taught. By introducing significant concepts at school, time at varsity is freed up. Yet, to what extent is doing this harming our kids? How many are turned off Maths because of having to do significantly more difficult algebra, or geometry or differentiation?  How many kids are turned off biology by having to have SO MUCH content thrust upon them? I get that there are certain biological concepts that are crucial for life, but then why not split them into different courses? Why not do an environmental management course, and a human physiology course, as two separate things? That would give appropriate time for practical work in each....... I could go on and rant for several pages, but I think you get the idea.

So how do we fix this? How do we create students who are engaged keen to learn, and yet also able to think at high levels and be creative, and yet are able to master content? The answer is that I don't think there is ONE way, and I think that is the fundamental problem with education. We still approach it with a manufacturing or factory mentality. Resources in, predictable process, then product out.

The thing with play is that it is not predictable. The resources are constantly changing, and the products do too. Some produce kids who know content, while others produce kids with skills, or personal qualities. Some games develop co-operation. Others develop creativity. Others develop perseverance. There cannot be a 'one size fits all' approach, because each child is unique. 

Of course, governments can't deal with this, because to them fairness means equal, or sameness. Any parent can tell you that fair does not mean equal. But that's another story.

I am loving watching my kids grow and develop through play. I am loving how the creativity flows out of them as they learn how to co-operate, negotiate, plan, take turns, share, communicate effectively, and dream. I wish school could be more like this, more fun, more play and less institutional.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


While I have heard many non-Muslims state the opinion that ISIS are not Muslims, it is good to hear a Muslim say it. It is incredibly helpful to have a Muslim state chapter and verse of where these terrorist actions are violating the Muslim tenets of faith.

I know several Muslims who are moderate, yet religious and upstanding members of my community. When I compare them to ISIS, it is obvious to me that ISIS are just another group of extremists who have taken a holy text and chosen to only observe one small portion of it, instead of reading the entire document as a whole and seeing those verses that tell them to kill the Infidel in the proper context.

ISIS are not, in my opinion, Muslims. They are terrorists and fanatics. Terrorists and fanatics take many shapes and forms, but these are by far the worst because they dare to use religion to give themselves credence. They are as evil as those who waged the Crusades, or the Inquisition.

Any religion has its nuts, but the nuts do not, by any means, define the religion. All they define is the depths of the depravity the human soul is capable of, and by so doing, they merely highlight the incredible need we have of God, and the unfathomable grace of God! Even those as evil as these have the opportunity to repent and turn from their life of evil and violence, and find complete forgiveness. That is the scandal of grace.

So it is good to hear a Muslim state that ISIS are religious nuts and not true Muslims. However, saying so doesn't really change anything. ISIS are still waging their religious war against the Infidels, and many are suffering as a result - Iraqis and Saudis as well as foreigners. The world is a global village now, and as long as we stand by and continue to say nothing, do nothing, we will continue to be complicit in their war.

God forgive us for allowing this atrocity to take place on our watch, and for the part we have played in creating the environment in which ISIS can flourish. After all, all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A well-deserved weekend off

This week was the Cape Town Expo. This is the regional stage of the national science fair for kids from Grade 6-12. I am part of the (volunteer) organizing committee. This week has been in the making since the start of the year, and for everyone involved it is a very stressful week.

This year, I am amazed at how much it has taken out of me, particularly as this year ran much more smoothly than previous years. Maybe I'm just more run down in general, but even after a nap yesterday afternoon, a lie in this morning, and another nap this afternoon, I still feel totally wiped out.

Expo is such a great cause though! The aim is to support teaching and learning of [all types of] science. It is so wonderful to wander around and see nearly 400 projects, which (in theory, at any rate) represent the best our schools have to offer in the greater Cape a Town area.

I took 20 projects this year, and of those, 14 received a medal and 3 received special awards. This is a fabulous result for the school, and for my team of teachers back at school. For those kids who sweated blood and tears (especially for those who were involved in the school play, or the musical Gala  evening, or the High School Jam competition, or a combination of these, all of which took olace the week before or this weekend after!) it was worth it. Their medal is true recognition of their hard work and dedication! I am truly proud to be associated with these extraordinary kids and their hard-working teachers.

I am already looking forward to next year, even as my body feels like it has been wrung out and run over. 

But I'm thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to just lie in bed and not think about school, marking, settling papers or planning lessons.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I am a statistic

I've had a day and a half today.

This morning my son woke up sick. Cue the frantic run around to make a plan for child care.

Then my 8 yr old daughter had a sulk, followed by a crying fit, followed by yelling at me to get out of her room because she '[DOESN'T] WANT TO TALK TO [ME]'. What, you may wonder, sparked this? The fact that her baby brother got to stay at home, in my bed, and watch TV, because he was sick.

Then, on the way to work, I stopped off at my son's pre-primary school to drop off the fees notification letter for next year (which was due back yesterday...). I was out of my car for all of 5 minutes, in which time someone broke into my car and stole my:

  • wallet with all my cards
  • ID book
  • cell phone
  • iPad
THEN, my insurance told me they won't cover the theft of these items because I did not tick the 'and contents' box on my comprehensive insurance contract. WTF?? Doesn't comprehensive MEAN it includes theft OUT of a motor vehicle?!?!

So now I'm at least R8000 out of pocket, before you add in the cost for a new ID, petrol and time on the phone/ in queues to replace all my cards. (And, of course, I can't get my new bank cards until I get my ID....)

The loss of my iPad is a pain and a half, because it's like trying to teach without my right arm. Once a person makes the switch to using technology to teach, going back is like trying to breathe water.

Then, because I had no easy access to my diary (it's on my iPad!) I nearly stood up a parent with whom I had scheduled a meeting.

Then I DID miss a lesson... I got my times wrong - of course, I know why the kids didn't bother to come looking for me in my office - they quite appreciated a free lesson!

But then I came home, and as I walked in, my daughter rushed up, gave me a hug, told me how sorry she was that my stuff had been stolen, and offered me a cup of tea to make it all better.... I have the best kid in the world! That was the best moment of my day today by a million miles!

I should point out that, while I am a statistic now, there are several things for which I am grateful:
  • I wasn't in the car at the time.
  • I wasn't personally threatened.
  • Almost all my data was backed up in the cloud, so I can access most of it via the web. It's a pain, but at least I haven't lost all that data as well!
  • A sim swap is relatively painless to set up, and I have an old phone I can use in the interim to at least be contactable. (That should all be set up by tomorrow.)
Most of me hopes the thief or thieves get their come uppance, not necessarily that they get caught, but that justice is served. I want them to suffer for a) violating my personal space, b) taking my stuff and c) causing such havoc and inconvenience in my life. (I mean, do I REALLY have the time to go and stand in a queue at Home Affairs to get a new ID book?!?!)

However, the other (small) part of me recognises that if he/ she/ they experience 'an eye for an eye' justice, all it does is cause the cycle of violence and crime to continue. I know that restorative justice is better. Yet, what are the chances of him/ her/ them getting caught so that I can try to implement that? Next to zero. So where does that leave me? I'm mad as hell, not ready to forgive yet, even as I recognise that, really, as long as I fail to forgive the only person in this who suffers will continue to be me.

But FLIP I'm annoyed, peeved, hacked off, MAD.

I also have a horrible headache. Anger, tears and too much comfort-sugar will do that to one.

I'm praying for a miracle. I want my stuff back and nothing is too big for God. Yet, part of me has serious doubts that God will answer this one in the affirmative, because I've prayed for bigger things before (like my 2nd daughter's life) and he chose to refuse me then. If he refused that, why would he answer this MUCH lesser request in the affirmative? No, I think I'm better off accepting that my stuff is gone and not hoping for anything.

What I find myself hitting my head against continually is the lack of power, the lack of control. This whole thing has reminded me how powerless I really am - against crime, against sin, against the pigs swill of others' worst intentions. And I hate that. I hate that someone I don't even know has this power over me, power to completely disrupt my day, my work. I hate that I don't have the strength of character to CHOOSE to behave differently - because while I can't control circumstances, I should be able to control my reaction to them.

Have I mentioned how deeply annoyed I am by all this? I mean, I have to phone a gazillion companies to replace all my loyalty cards. I have to go into the library to replace mine, as well as the kids' that were also in my wallet. I have to stand in a queue at Home Affairs.... I think I may have mentioned that.

And then, tonight I heard that someone I love deeply, who was in remission, no longer is. I've been told not to panic yet, because the cancer is an unusual one, and they don't know enough yet to give a proper prognosis, or treatment options. I'm trying, but it's impossible not to fear the worst, to imagine my life without him. Still, it does put the theft this morning into better perspective.

I'm heading to bed though, because I'm just so over today. I've had enough of all the heartache from today. Tomorrow holds the promise of better things, and maybe after sleep things will not just seem better, but will actually be better.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pain, pain, go away

Know how sometimes you have a little niggle -  a twinge of pain somewhere that you think will go away in a bit, so you don't do anything about it, or you forget about, or you simply don't have time to do something about? Yeah, I had one of those. This, dear friends, is a cautionary tale about getting older.

So everyone knows that I am I serious need of a body upgrade. In case you missed it, let me give you the low down. I have:
~ a skew sacrum (fractured falling off a horse in full gallop; it was never picked up until after it had healed) which gives me incredible back-pain and periodic sciatica
~ damaged cervical vertebrae (same horse, same fall)
~ hyper-mobility syndrome (all my joints bend more than they should) giving rise to multiple twisted ankles and sore knees
~ torn ligaments in one ankle (that hyper-mobility thing in overdrive) with chipped bone fragments that had to be surgically removed and so now I have reduced mobility in that ankle (& can't wear high heels for more than a day in a stretch)
~ fractured knee-caps in both knees
~ RSI in both wrists (that's thanks to practicing octave scales for my Gd 8 piano exam...)
~ APS (blood clotting disorder which results in my blood not pumping very well, so my heart works overtime all the time, yet, oddly, my blood pressure is naturally low)
~ poor circulation (thanks to my APS issues) causing me to suffer terribly in cold weather, when my hands are white, my lips are blue and I can't stop shivering
~ one side of my body shorter than the other (so my clothes always fall off my right shoulder...): running with one slightly shorter leg is a lot of fun, not.
~ virus, mould spores and hayfever-induced asthma
~ I get migraines every month (both period related and APS related)
... Have I forgotten anything?

I pretty much live with some sort of daily pain. I can't remember the last time I had a totally pain-free day. Some days the pain is mild - just an ache. Some days I don't want to move out of bed cause it all just hurts too much.

Of course, I am my own worst enemy, because if I was dedicated in doing my exercises, my back wouldn't get so bad. But, you know how it is. Life gets in the way of taking proper care of yourself.

Earlier this year, like back in the first term, my shoulders and neck got all messed up, again. I was getting headaches, and eventually things were so bad I was struggling to turn my head to see my blind spot. After 3 months I figured it wasn't getting better, so I went for a deep tissue massage, and came out with a shoulder injury... And still not able to see my blind spot. 

I thought it was 'just' a ligament injury, and would heal in a few months. Hah! Turns out it was a whole lot more. Turns out that my pain is chronic, and that my spinal column is a mess. Yes, I though I knew that already, but it's actually much worse than I thought it was. Because of not doing anything about my pain for such a long time, I have made things 100x worse. Now I have two serious spinal issues that need to be corrected if I want to have any quality of life when I am 60. (And 60 is suddenly looking a lot closer to me now than 40 did when I was 20!)

And, of course, that 'whole lot more' is costing me a pretty packet to get my Physio to fix.

That's the problem with chronic pain and injury. The longer you leave it, the worse it is to fix. My brain is still so messed up over all this, that when you press on my shoulder, I feel the pain in my butt, or in my toes, or in my fingers. As I said, chronic pain -  it messes with everything. (Fortunately, my body is responding well, and quickly, to treatment!)

But the worst of all is that if I had sorted myself out properly when I was younger, none of this would be necessary now. Of course, when I was younger, I didn't think it was that serious. I didn't think it was that necessary. Getting on with enjoying my life was a lot more fun! When I was younger I was foolish, oh so foolish! (plus, I didn't really have the money to fix myself...)

So, young people, take a lesson from me. When you get injured, take the time to get professional help and get yourself properly healed. Don't just press on, or do things half-cocked. It will come back to haunt you when you get older, and it will cost you a great deal more!

And I give everyone permission, when you see me, to ask how good I am being about my treatment -  my exercises, my stretches, my posture! I don't ever want to get back to where I was a few weeks ago. I want to live a life in which living pain-free (most of the time) and having pain-free movement is normal.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gratitude day #30

I am grateful for the people in my church cell group. I am grateful to have people with whom I can be authentic and who can be authentic with me. There is nothing like having that space to be real, knowing that you are accepted no matter what, but that you will not just be accepted - you will also be challenged and held accountable. Love it! Love them!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gratitude day #29

About 3 months ago I did a "personality" assessment that actually looks at your strengths, rather than your personality type. It's called 'Strengths Finder" by Gallup. It costs about R100 to do, online, and it gives you a pretty reasonable analysis of your top 5 strengths.

I wasn't too surprised to learn that my top strength is 'Achiever'. An achiever is someone who is really very good at making lists and then completing everything on the list. Achievers frequently have a high work capacity - and I do.

In the past I've felt guilty about being a list maker, and about the satisfaction I get from ticking things off on my list. Having done this assessment, one of the benefits I've experienced is a validation of who I am. Now, I'm proud to be a list maker, and to derive satisfaction from ticking off items.

With that in mind, today I was grateful, yet again, to be a list maker. I was incredibly productive today and I managed to tick off several items that have been sitting on my desk for far too long. I was grateful that I had a list, because otherwise I think I would have wasted a lot of time today, wondering what I should be doing. By having a list I was able to focus my energies, assess the priority of items on the list and the length of time required to finish them, and by so doing I was able to order my day more effectively. I love it when a plan comes together!

Gratitude day #28

During term time, in the mornings, when the kids wake up, they come for a cuddle in bed with me. We start every day with hugs and kisses and snuggles, and I get a chance to smell their heads. Yes, you read that right. To me, there is no better smell in the world than the smell of my kids' heads, particularly the younger one. It's not a baby smell anymore (don't new babies smell incredible?!?!), but it's still delicious.

And I am grateful for these moments of intimacy with my still-sleepy children.

I know that in time to come they will both feel too big to do this, too grown up, too mature. When that time comes, I will grieve a bit. But for now, I am lapping it all up and storing these memories in my heart, to reflect upon once they have flown the nest.

Gratitude day #27

As the new term has got underway, I have become aware, once again, of how blessed I am to have the husband I do. Every morning (get that - EVERY morning) he makes me breakfast in bed.

I mean, how lucky can a girl get?

Of course, this grew out of self-preservation. I am not a morning person. Not in the slightest. Don't talk to me until I've showered and had a cup of tea at least. In fact, don't talk to me till at least 8am, but preferably not before 10am. In his desire to soothe me in the waking process, he made the mistake of offering to bring me breakfast in bed for a few days, and, well, a few years later, he is still bringing me breakfast in bed.

But I am deeply, truly, eternally grateful for his dedication, and just for him in general. I am incredibly blessed to have him in my life!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gratitude day #26

Today we went to support members of our cell group who run an NPO called The Royal Kidz. They run a project that provides school shoes for underprivileged kids. Today's hand over was special though, as they handed over not just school shoes, but also a school uniform.

The 3 schools they blessed today were farm schools in Ceres. These schools are so poor, and small, that they haven't got a uniform. Many of the kids who attend these 3 schools not on,y have no shoes, they have no jerseys, jackets, hats, or scarves, yet they attend school in the snow in winter.

So Dano and Tony got sponsors to be able to make these kids a school uniform -  jersey, track suit, beanie and scarf, as well as providing school shoes.

It was my privilege to support them in this - to help hand over, to help dress the kids in their new uniform, to help serve them lunch. 

And I am grateful for both the opportunity to serve them, and that my kids' schools are as well-provisioned as they are. A little glimpse into the world of these farm children has rekindled my gratitude for all that God has given my family.

Gratitude day #25

I am grateful to have reached the end of the first week. The first week of any term is always frenetic - term 3 more so because not only are we setting things up and in place for the term, but we are still doing reports from the previous term.

So I am grateful it is weekend and I have a chance to rest.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gratitude day #24

Last night we had a corporate worship event at church. All the cell groups got together at church, rather than meeting as small groups, and we worshipped together for about 1.5 hours. I can't remember the last time I spent that amount of time just soaking in worship. I can't remember the last time I almost felt I was touching the hem of heaven. It was ... awesome (in the real sense of the word, not just the trite superlative version).

I am grateful to those who made last night possible - most notably the muso's and the creative team. Thank you for such an incredible evening.

Gratitude day #23

This will probably sound a bit weird, but I am grateful for a small piece of sky. I know, I know. How can I, as an African, be grateful for a small piece of sky? After all, isn't the attraction of Africa supposed to be the massive, wide open sky? But you see, this is not just any small piece of sky. This is the small piece of sky that is bounded by the walls of the quad outside my office.

I haven't taken a photo of it, because I know that no photo could ever convey the emotion it evokes in me. That small piece of sky, free of any horizon, often seems to hold the most incredible cloud formations, or be the most incredible shade of blue. Sometimes it has birds flying across it.

I love that small piece of sky. I love it because it is just so beautiful. The beauty it constrains often takes my breath away.

But I also love it because it is so surprising. I mean, I'm a country girl at heart - wide open vistas of mountains, rivers, oceans, fields are what appeal to me. Yet here I am, in the midst of a busy, noisy city, appreciating a small piece of sky.

I love it because it makes me look up. It often stops me in my tracks with its beauty. Whatever it is that I am so frenetically busy with falls away for a few moments as I gaze up and appreciate the small rectangle of sky. For those few moments I could be anywhere - miles away in the country. For those few moments, whatever was eating away at me stops. I love it because when I look up, I look at freedom. I feel freedom. I live freedom. I breathe freedom.

And often, that is enough to restore my soul and give me strength for the next few hours.

And so I am grateful for that small piece of sky.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gratitude day #22

Last night we had dinner with some leaders from church. It was a good meal, with lots of discussion and I left feeling very encouraged. It struck me that we are very blessed to be part of a church that contains this level of quality leadership. I am really grateful to be surrounded by people who model excellent leadership and who call me to higher and better things in myself and in my own leadership. Leadership, particularly self-leadership is tough, and it is even tougher when you try t do it on your own. Having others along on the journey, against whom you can bounce off ideas and who can spark new things in you, is really such a privilege.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gratitude day #21

Call me stupid, but I gave myself two electric shocks while changing some lights.... I am grateful to be alive. That is all.

Gratitude day #20

Sigh. The end of the holidays is upon us. Tomorrow is back to work (officially - teachers always do school work during the holidays) for me and back to school for the kids. I am already feeling rather overwhelmed and a bit panicky about all the work that is waiting for me.

BUT! I am grateful to have a job, particularly one that is secure and (relatively) untouched by the current financial climate. I am grateful for my work environment, as many teachers have to work with large classes in small venues, with unmotivated colleagues (or students!), in dangerous surrounds where gang warfare and drugs are an everyday event. I am grateful to work with people who appreciate my efforts and don't take all my additional hours for granted.

So tomorrow I will get up with a smile on my face, despite my trepidation about returning to work, and give thanks for all that God has given me.

Gratitude day #19

I have recently been walking the dogs late at night (partly because we've been too busy with other things during the day). I don't know whether you've done any walking at night, but aside from being a potential statistic, there are physical hazards involved. Most notably, this is that there is limited light available for sight. This means that when I walk my eyes are on the ground, looking out for uneven pavements, gutters, dog poo and other hazards that might cause me to trip or slip or twist an ankle. All of this means that I am not looking up. Which is fine. Except for when my neighbours' trees or bushes are overhanging the pavement. And whack me in the eye.

So I am grateful tonight that my eye only has a few burst blood vessels and that it was not more damaged than it was. Nothing like a quick whack to the eye to remind you a) how painful eye injuries are and b) how vital your eyesight is.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gratitude day #18

We had some friends over for dinner last night, one of whom did not know the story of our loss of Zoe, or of te support group we run, Born Sleeping (check us out on Facebook - BornSleepingZA - or our website,, so we were telling him our story. Being a medic type, he was fascinated by my APS, and we were chatting about my symptoms and treatment (or lack thereof). In the re-telling and discussion, I was reminded so clearly of what a miracle it is that both my children are alive; that instead of having all of my children in heaven, I have two of them on earth with me. I am grateful to God for the lives of all my kids, living and dead, but I am all the more grateful to have two living. I am grateful that I am able to experience them, know them, love them, watch them growing and developing, and that I am able to feel their love in return. What a blessing and privilege!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gratitude day #17

This morning, as the storm hit and I heard the rain and the wind outside, I was grateful, yet again, for my home and my bed. Tucked up all nice and warm under my duvet, I was grateful for the solid walls and (mostly) water-proof roof, and my thick duvet. As I snuggled deeper under the duvet I was grateful for being warm, and dry, and cozy. 

Gratitude day #16

In our multi-faith, multicultural environment, I have been grateful that my kids have some friends who are being raised in their faith. Don't get me wrong, I want my kids to have friends of other faiths and cultures, because I believe it is important for them to learn tolerance and acceptance, and because I believe being exposed to diversity is good. However, I still want them to have friends with whom they share their faith. 

This holiday I have been aware of how few friends they each have with whom they do share their faith, and so I am grateful for these few. I treasure these friendships, and my developing friendships with their friends' parents. I know that in years to come, having friends who share their faith, and therefore understand their questions in a particular way, and who can walk their faith journey with them will be invaluable. Having friends who have been around since childhood is also invaluable. 

Gratitude Day #15

I am grateful for history. I know that the only thing we learn from history is that no-one ever learns anything from history (or so I'm told), but I'm grateful for it. Looking back on history affords us the opportunity, if we want it, to not have to repeat mistakes. It also anchors us, gives us something of an identity.

Having been working on the family photo album this holiday (only 2 years' worth of photos to catch up in!) I have been gratified to see how much interest the kids have in their past, and the questions they have asked about things they can't remember. I can see how the photos are reminders to them about important family events, or times with friends, and having been reminded, they feel loved, secure and happy. Seeing themselves as part of something bigger, their own sense of belonging has increased. They have loved retelling the stories of their past -  the 'remember when...' moments. 

Storytelling is such an important skill. It's something that develops imagination, and logical thought, as well as being a social anchor, or glue. Every culture of earth values storytelling, and I love the way photos help my kids to tell their own stories.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gratitude day #14

Life. I am grateful for life. Not just any life, though, or life in general, but a very specific one.

My mother's cousin's wife died yesterday. Yvonne was a wonderful, Godly woman, who was more like a sister to my mom than anything. Piet and his wife were such a help to us when my own gran developed Alzheimer's, and without them, I'm not sure how either my mom or I would have coped. They both have such a special place in our hearts.

Yvonne developed cancer about a year and a half ago, shortly after Piet himself had to be institutionalised because of his Alzheimer's. She died peacefully yesterday, while holding her daughter's hand.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have known Yvonne, to have counted her in my family. I am grateful that this is not goodbye, just a farewell, until we meet again.

Gratitude day #13

It's often the small things in life that make a difference. I am grateful for my bed. Whenever I go away it always takes me a day or so to become accustomed to the bed, often resulting in poor sleep for at least a night. Sometimes I'm fortunate that the bed is similar to my own, and then I sleep like a baby. Coming back from holiday though, I was very grateful for my own bed. It's not that the bed we were sleeping in was uncomfortable, it's just that it was too hard. With my back issues, that meant that by the morning I was in pain.

And if you aren't sleeping well because you're in pain, and you spend the first part of the day in pain, it does not make for a happy camper... #justsaying...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gratitude day #12

Sleep. I am grateful for sleep. Following on with the theme of the last post, until something has been taken from you, you don't really know who wonderful it is.

From time to time I suffer with insomnia. I am a light sleeper at the best of times, and most nights I wake up at least once. Fortunately, most of the time I am also incredibly good at falling asleep.

(I have a secret weapon though... Prayer. Not that prayer puts me to sleep, but rather, God is the one who knocks me out so that I can sleep, for I doubt that without his intervention my insomnia would be 1000x worse.)

The other night I woke up, as usual, but when I wanted to fall asleep again, I couldn't. I got up again, and put some stuff down on paper to try to clear my head, then headed back to bed. I eventually managed to fall asleep again, but I was reminded how precious sleep is.

Sleep deprivation ultimately leads to death, but before then it leads to irritability, disorientation, even hallucinations.

My hubbie regularly suffers with insomnia. The impacts of his sleep deprivation affects not just him, but me, and the kids. I reckon the same must be true when I lack sleep. Sleep, the sweet welcome of sleep. How I do appreciate it!

Gratitude day #11

I am grateful for extended family. I am grateful my children have hoardes of cousins. 

Older cousins act as role models, something to aspire to, other 'adults' they can look up to, emulate, love, and I hope they can also turn to them when they are in trouble. 

Younger or cousins of the same age are friends they can play with - instant friends, who aren't afraid to call them on their behaviour for fear of no longer being friends. 

We had cousins for a sleep-over. These cousins will be moving to JHB soon, and we will miss them terribly. There will be a huge cousin-shaped hole in our lives.

Isn't is funny how you only really appreciate something when it has either already been taken away or is about to be? No, not really, is it? More like tragic.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Gratitude day #10

As our holiday away draws to a close I am grateful for something relatively small: that my kids have enjoyed each other's company.

With kids, they often fight and clash. Sometimes it's jus old-fashioned sinking rivalry, sometimes it is the age difference - that what one wants is above or below the abilities of the other, or different age-appropriate interests. If I am honest, when we are home, they often annoy each other (and their oarents as a result!) and the levels of frustration in our house are often high.

Yet, this holiday, there have been no arguments. They have played and played and played, and just enjoyed each other's company. Whether it is the additional space, or the freedom to roam they don't get at home, or being away from screens, or having more relaxed parents, or a combination, I don't know. It has been bliss though! I have been so grateful for the break from the whining, the button-pushing, the  lame-shifting and the physicality born from frustration! Another week at home before the next term starts though, and I pray this break has given the emotional wherewithal to maintain this for this next week.

Gratitude day #9

Part of me has always longed to be a farm girl, live on a farm miles away from a city, or to at least live I a more rural setting. There is something about being closer to nature that calls to me. I relax most when I can look around me and see bush, or mountains, or a beach without seeing urbanisation adjacent to it.

There is something in creation that feeds my soul, that restores me. Yesterday I went for a bike ride along a farm road, and came across the most beautiful vista. Although I coils not linger long -  it was getting on towards supper time - just the few moments spent drinking in that vista did so much for my soul. 

Today, working on our photograph album, I was looking at photos of flowers that both #1 and I have taken in the last 2 years. Even just seeing those photos, and remembering the peace I felt at the time of taking them, being in those environments,  brought me a measure of joy and peace.

Earlier today we went to 'Birds Paradise' on the R60, in Robertson. On the one hand it was soul-destroying to see all these caged birds... I find zoos of any sort distressing.... On the other hand, I was amazed at the variety that existed just in the parrot/parakeet family. Birds from every continent were represented, and though so similar in form, the colour and size variations were astounding. I could not help but be amazed at creation.

I am so grateful for the natural world - for the infinite variety, even of a seemingly static view like a mountainside; for the sense of wonder it inspires; for the joy and peace it gives me. Don't get me wrong - I am a townie and I like my town comforts. Every now and again though  I am grateful for the opportunity to step out of the fast-paced, noisy, technology driven world and stop to appreciate the things that we cannot recreate. 

I am grateful for the mud splashed up my legs and back from my bike ride on a farm road. I am grateful for the river water that is slightly brown from fynbos tannins. I am grateful for the folds in the mountains around us, reminding me of the forces at work beneath my feet, over which no human has control. I am grateful for the mist that shrouds everything in the morning, hiding the world from view, evidence of winter's approach. I am grateful for the frogs croaking in the bog near the house, and their night-time lullaby. I am even, oddly, grateful for the ticks I must daily remove from my dogs, the kids and myself. They remind me of my place in the natural order, and they are a sign that we are miles from civilisation. (I do have a fascination with parasites, I confess, although they are pretty gross.) I am grateful for the heat of the midday sun that bakes, and the opportunity to doze in the sun after lunch. I am grateful for the chill wind that makes having a fire in the evenings so cozy. I am grateful for the foreign bird calls, that remind me we are not in a town.

There is so much in the natural world that I appreciate. I could possibly do a truck load of blog posts on that alone!

Gratitude day #8

If you see my kids you will often see that their clothes are either patched, or have holes. Partly this is because I refuse to pay good money for clothing that will only last them a season -  they are growing at a rate of knots! As a result, many of their clothes have been second hand, hand me downs. Partly, this is because my kids are active - they climb, run, ride, crawl - and their activity takes a physical toll of their clothes.

Just yesterday, #1 came home with new holes next to a previous hole I'd sewn up. I was so frustrated, because part of me wishes the kids would take better care of their clothing. But then I got to thinking about it, and realised that, given the choice, I would rather have holes in their clothes than not. 

Oddly, I am grateful for the holes. The holes show both that my kids are not spending every spare moment in front of a screen - they are having something of the childhood I had - and that (at the end of the day) we are not obsessed about material goods. We do not have to have the latest fashion, or branded clothing.

When I look at the number of fat, or obese children, and the increase in childhood obesity, I am pleased that my kids are learning that being physical is healthy as well as fun. If their clothes suffer, well, clothes can be replaced. Fingers and toes, or eyesight, lost through diabetes are not as easy (or cheap) to replace.

When I look at the image-consciousness of children I teach, or those of more wealthy friends and friends, I worry about my kids. I don't want them to be the object of name-calling, teasing or bullying because of their clothes, but at the same time, I don't want my kids to become like those kids. At the moment it is easy for my kids to be oblivious. I know the time will come when they will become aware of their clothes, and then we will need to have that discussion. In the meantime, I don't want them to have to refrain from being kids because I am overly-concerned they will damage clothing that cost the earth to purchase. I want them to know that clothes are just something to cover the body.

I am grateful for these physical reminders that our kids are growing up learning appropriate values - to enjoy physical play and being active; and that clothing does not have to be a status symbol.

Gratitude Day #7

For the next week or so we will be away on holiday. I am grateful that we can have time away together, as a family - a time of fewer responsibilities, of more fun together as a family. Although holidays with kids is never a complete rest or holiday, it is a lovely break from the normal day-to-day routine.

I am particularly grateful to family who have opened their holiday home up to us, so that we can go away. Without this, I doubt that we could have afforded to go away this holiday.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Gratitude Day #6

I had to go out in the rain yesterday afternoon, to a meeting. Driving there, the rain was coming down in buckets. (The canal flooded, after only 2 hours of rain, so you must know how much rain came down in those 2 hours!) Driving along, with the windscreen wipers and aircon on, I was toasty warm, and beautifully dry, and I thought of those who live in squatter camps, or informal settlements as they are now called in PC speak.

Driving home again, I observed several streets in my area flooded, and the canal overflowing. I observed (and participated in) people stopping to gawp at the water level. It is incredible. No doubt about it. 

But then I thought again of those living in squatter camps. I thought of those who have no decent roof above their heads and probably have to contend with leaks, and the drip-drip-drip all night, or the sound of rain on a tin roof, keeping them awake for most of the night. I thought of those who live in areas where the "roads" are nothing more than severely pot-holed dirt paths filled with rubbish of all sorts, and how going home, or out, requires walking these "roads", and how during this kind of rain these "roads" become a slow-moving mud river, with goodness knows only what hazards hiding in the mud, or the invisible potholes. I thought of those who only have shared, public toilets and no private sanitation/ bathrooms, and who must navigate these "roads" in order to relieve themselves... at night. I thought of those who have no running water who must navigate these "roads" in order to get water to drink, wash and cook with. I thought of those who have no electricity and live in shacks and who will freeze this weekend (hopefully not literally, although I have no doubt that children and the elderly are at risk of just that this weekend) as the rain and the wind chill their little tin shacks, or creeps through the untreated wooden walls.

I thought of all these people, and I am grateful for being warm and dry tonight, and this weekend.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Gratitude day #5

Is it cheating if I repeat a gratitude item? Not just for the sake of repeating it, or because I couldn't think of anything else to say, but because I genuinely find myself giving thanks for it over and over? 

Hmm... Okay, then I'll slant this one slightly, so it's not exactly the same. 

Today I am grateful for the laughter of children. There is something, some quality, in their laughter that lifts the weary soul, puts a smile on your face, that takes years off your life.

My kids played together so beautifully yesterday. They just enjoyed each other. The result was a lot of laughter. Listening to them laugh, even though we were running late, even though I didn't want to get out of bed, even though I didn't want to make them MORE breakfast, etc. etc., I could not help but smile at them, and laugh with them.

Children have such a simplistic view of the world, and it is so refreshing. It restores the soul in many ways. Couple that with laughter and you have a winning formula! I am so grateful to have e laughter of children ringing in my house. I suspect that I will suffer terribly from empty best syndrome when they go, when they grow up, and partly because I need their simplicity and their laughter to remind me that I take myself, and the world, far too seriously at times.

Gratitude day #4

Holidays are usually the time in which I get to catch up with friends I haven't been able to see during the term. Last night we had dinner with friends who were involved in a car accident about 6 weeks ago. They are both lucky to be alive (someone else died in the accident), and are both still in recuperation and booked off work.

Chatting with them about their accident, I was struck yet again how fragile life is. One moment you can be going about your normal, daily life, and the next you could be dead. 

They aren't able to drive yet, so I collected them from their place, and took them home again afterwards. Although they have always worn seat belts, they mentioned how they have developed a deeper appreciation for them.

I am grateful for the person who invented seat belts. When I think of the road deaths in SA every year, mostly caused by drunk drivers, but also by people not wearing their seat belts, particularly parents who don't strap their kids in, it makes me so cross. Such a simple little thing, but it really does save lives. One little click. (Ei only vant tu hear vaan click!)

In reflecting on our evening together, I am especially grateful that these friends are both still alive and able to spend time with us. These are people who I am learning to like more and more as we get to know them, people I think could become life long friends at a deep level, people with whom we share so much in common.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Gratitude day #3

Whenever I used to worry that I was no longer really friends with anyone from school, my mother used to tell me that true friends are rare. Friends tend to be transient, people you connect with in the here and now because of shared circumstances. The friendships may be deep, and meaningful, but when the circumstances of your lives change, your friendship may change along with it. The end result is that you no longer spend time with that friend.

Because loyalty is a trait that is deeply embedded in my personality, I struggle with this concept. I struggle with the idea that someone you love deeply, have shared deeply with, and have shared life with, would be able to just forget you, or walk away. Yet, it has happened to me. I have come to see that my mother was right, in part. Sometimes life gets in the way of remaining active friends - sometimes, with 6000 miles between you, it is really difficult to maintain a friendship.

But I still believe that someone who is a true friend is someone who will stick around despite life changes, and will make the effort to carve out time for you. This is someone who knows you so well because of a long passage of time of shared experiences that she or he can hold you accountable and speak the uncomfortable truths into your life. This is also someone who has shared your deepest and most joyful moments with you, and who has probably shared your most terrifying moments with you as well. I guess this is what many girls are trying to imply when they speak about their BFF's, but I think this term is far too frivilous to be used of a true friend.

Last night I (and my hubbie) had dinner with someone I have known for 23 years. That's a pretty long time. We dated when I was in high school for a very brief period (a few months). We lost touch while I was in the UK, but have wound up at the same church again. Despite everything, I have always had a soft spot for this person, in my heart. (Yes, my hubbie knows.) 

Over dinner we had the first really in-depth conversation we have had in years, and we took the time to fill in the blanks on a lot of stuff that happened - both before and after I moved to the UK. It was so good to connect again. It was so good to connect with someone who has known me for that long. Although there were a lot of blanks to be filled, it was so nice to have a conversation with someone about our shared experiences of 23 years ago and see how those events have played out over the years, until we find ourselves where we currently are.

I am grateful for friendships, but I am particularly grateful for the friends who have been around for a heck of a long time. I am grateful for the history we share (not in a romantic sense, but in a shared experiences sense). I am grateful for the anchoring of relationships that are not part of today's instant culture, that have taken time to build and develop, and that have matured over time. 

Friendships like this are a bit like a good bottle of wine. You can drink a 2012 wine and it will be a very nice. An excellent wine, though, needs time to mature. You can drink an excellent wine now, but if you do, you won't taste it at its best - you will miss out on various notes in the flavour that haven't yet developed, or will have discordant notes that haven't mellowed. In the same way, you can artificially create deep friendships because of shared experiences and intentional honesty/ sharing, but those friendships won't be the best they can be, because some things just can't be rushed. Some things just take time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Gratitude day #2

My hubbie is sick at the moment. Because of being an asthmatic, any chest infection becomes a major deal. He has now spent one day in bed, and is struggling to breathe. I therefore took him off to the GP this afternoon, before this turns into something much more serious.

Listening to him breathe (or, more correctly, struggle to breathe) this afternoon was quite scary. He couldn't draw breath properly and so was doing this upper respiratory rapid breathing thing in order to get enough oxygen.

When we first got married I was sick continuously for 9 months with respiratory illnesses - 4 'flu's one after the other, bronchitis, pneumonia and finally pleurisy. It wrecked my lungs and caused my childhood asthma to recur. I remember well those nights, sleeping sitting up because if I lay down I started drowning in the fluids present in my lungs. I remember well how exhausting breathing was, and so I empathise with my hubbie.

[I eventually went to see a homeopath who gave me some Chinese herbal thing with a bizarre name (I think it was "Easy Breath" or "Breathe easy"), sent me to bed for 6 weeks (or I could have chosen to go to hospital, in which case my risk of contracting TB or some other nasty would have been sky high), and told me it would take a year to recover fully. (He was right, in the end.) Those were not comfortable years - either the year of illness or the year of recovery.]

I was reminded, this afternoon, of how sick I was back then, and how my scarred lungs have impacted on my life subsequently. Until your ability to breathe is compromised, I don't think you truly appreciate just what a blessing it is. So today I am grateful for my health. I am grateful that when I lie down tonight I will not be exhausted from the effort of trying to draw breath, that I will not have to draw breath through fluids that feel like treacle, and that my asthma is under control again.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Gratitude day #1

During the course of the day #2 and I sat and chose photos to put into the photo album. It's been such a long time since we have done this, that we had to go back to 2012! Going through 2.5 years' worth of photos there were a lot of laughs, and 'I remember that!', and 'do you remember when...?' moments. 

Reflecting on 2.5 years' growth in my children I became aware of just how much they have grown, and yet, how little they still are. The best moment of the day, though, had to be listening to my son's laughter as he reminisced. The fact that he is alive is owed to the fact that his sister died, and we discovered my blood disorder. Thus, when I was pregnant with him, I was able to take medication that saved his life.

Every time I look at him, I am reminded of the long, painful journey we walked to his birth. I am so grateful that he is in my life. If his sister had not died I would never have known him. I'm not saying that I am glad his sister died, don't get me wrong. I am just overwhelmed at the thought that, had she lived, this incredible little boy would never have been born and I would never have known him, or the joy of hope renewed.

I am grateful to God for the gift of this little person, and for the relationship we have. He brings such joy into my life and is a daily reminder to me of God's grace towards his people.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

30 days of gratitude

At various points in time in I have followed bloggers who have had a gratitude meme. Memes are useful for helping when you're stuck in a rut, or when you have writer's block. Looking back over the past while I haven't blogged nearly as much as I would like. Partly that's through lack of time, and partly it's from lack of inspiration. 

Of late, every time I sit down to write something I find myself thinking that, really, no-one cares about whatever it is I was thinking about. Although this blog has replaced my journal (& so I usually write for myself, to keep track of what is going on in my life), I don't want to go back and read how mundane my life has been. I don't just want this to be a 'here's a photo of what I had for lunch' kind of thing.

What to do? I've been pondering whether to take on a meme, and if so, which one. For the past fortnight or so I've pondered a gratitude meme, mostly because I've been finding myself feeling so grateful for so many things. A blogger I follow is currently finishing up a 100 day gratitude meme. Couple that with a conversation I had with my hubbie after church today, I've decided that, if nothing else, a gratitude meme will get me blogging daily again - without feeling the need to write an essay each time.

Starting tomorrow (Mondays are such good days to start new projects, especially during holidays!) I will be on a 30 Day gratitude meme. Yes, only 30 days. I am conscious of not committing myself to something I might not be able to sustain. Feel free to join me on your own gratitude journey if you want.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

On the other side...

Last week I heard a fuller version of the story of a woman I was connected with when I was at school. I haven't had much contact with her since then. Although we both married the men we were with at the time, her husband died subsequently, through cancer, leaving her with two small children.

In the telling of her story, she spoke about how she was furious with everyone for looking at her with pity in their eyes, and how she left her church as a result - to try to forge a new identity elsewhere that didn't involved her deceased husband. I was hurt by that, not that she would want to forge a new identity - that's essential. Rather, I was hurt by her anger.

I had heard her story briefly when she joined my church, and putting myself in her shoes, and having lost deeply, I sympathised with how hard life must have been with her. My eyes were filled with pity, I know. At the time, I thought she brushed me off because it was too painful to talk about. Now I realise that she brushed me off because she was furious at my pity. But I don't think she understood that my pity was born out of my own losses, at my own struggles, out of my sincere desire to help in some way.

And yet, I understand her perspective. It was so difficult having to talk to people about the loss of my children, to have to explain over and over, to see the pity or the lack of comprehension in their eyes. I hated the stupid things people said to me... I could do a whole blog post just on that!... so I do understand how overwhelming it can become, and how you avoid places where people know you because you just want them to stop.

It is odd being on the other side this time around, being the one who is causing the anger and frustration. It hurts because I thought that I was sensitive to grief, but I guess there is always more to learn.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Living with Loss

Some people seem to live charmed lives, never being touched by the pain of loss. Others seem to get more than their fair share. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes - from the loss of a job, a home, a dream, to the loss of a parent, spouse, or child.

For those who know this pain, who have walked the road of loss, finding a way to live with the loss is a difficult road to walk. There are no quick fixes, or easy options. Every person's loss is unique, so although there are some generalities that can be gleaned, in the end, the only way to find a way to live with it is to walk the road.

These past few weeks I have had the privilege of walking the road with several others who have been doing a course at church. However, walking with others means being vulnerable, and my own losses have surfaced again...

In my life I have lost a lot...

  • my parents divorced when I was still young, which split my family
  • friends with whom I have no real contact anymore
  • I have been abused
  • my first child...
  • my third child...
  • my dream career
and that's not counting things like losing my grandparents, my other elderly family members, nearly losing my dad to cancer...

In the grand scheme of things though, I still have a HUGE amount...

  • an incredible husband
  • two incredible living children
  • a house
  • a stable and secure job, that I actually enjoy
  • both parents still alive, with an amazing step-mother
  • a large extended family that loves me
  • a car, clothes on my back, food in the cupboard
And, of course, that's not counting the blessing of being a child of God and all that goes along with that.

Yet, the blessings don't take the sting out of the things I have lost. The blessings make it possible to continue living, but the pain is always there, just under the surface. If you scratch a bit, it surfaces again. This past week I was reminded that these losses leave holes in my life, and periodically I fall back into the holes, and experience their depth and darkness. Time doesn't heal wounds. Instead, over time, we learn how to climb out of the holes so that we don't have to sit in them for weeks or months. It doesn't stop us falling into them though.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Death and drugs

A few years ago, in our previous cell group, we had a member of the group who was living on the streets. His name was Steven. Steven was a homosexual who was infected with HIV and he was a drug addict. I saw 'was' because he died last weekend. He didn't die from AIDS, from the TB he had contracted. He didn't die from exposure from spending most of every day being on the streets. Steven died, we presume, from a drug overdose.

Steven had his 'spot' at two different traffic lights where he would sell whatever he could - jewellery he had made or second hand books. After we left that cell group to lead another one, we saw Steven at church occasionally, but we saw him regularly at the traffic lights. We would always wind down the window and have a quick chat between the light changes. It never ceased to amaze me how cheerful he was despite his circumstances. 

He was a young believer, with a lot still to learn about God, but then, if we're honest with ourselves, I think we all still have a lot to learn about God, no matter how long we have been believers.

I won't lie and say that Steven was a friend. He wasn't. He was secretive and, quite honestly, his poverty, HIV and drug addiction made me uncomfortable. I was comfortable as long as he was kept at arm's length. My kids knew who he was, but I had deliberately not told them his background, because I wanted to give them the opportunity to respond to him without my baggage, without my prejudices. I wanted them to just see him as another human being. They liked him, and for that I am grateful. I think to have the love of a child is healing, and the surprise on his face when my daughter would rush up and hug him was worth my discomfort.

But about 2 weeks ago my prejudice caused me to pull back when really I should have reached out. I was in a rush, not that that is any excuse. I just didn't want to have my "perfect" life interrupted and discomforted by him. So when we stopped at the traffic light on this occasion, and despite the little voice in my head telling me something was wrong with him, I moved on with my life. I did not help him with the small request he had of me - for a bottle of water. I could easily have done so, but I chose not to. Even had I not helped with that, I should have stopped and had a proper conversation with him, because I could see he was in trouble. He was not his usual self. He was filthy and scruffily dressed, despite living at the Salvation Army and having access to clean clothes and showers. His eyes had a feverish look to them. I knew something was up, and I chose not to stop.

A week later, the cops found him, disorientated, and complaining of chest pains. They took him to hospital, and he died there. He died of a drug overdose, we think. I don't know whether an autopsy was done, but if it was, I doubt I would hear of it.

I could wallow in guilt, that I chose not to respond to my fellow believer in need. I could wallow on guilt that I did not respond to another human being in need when the solution was so obviously within my ability to help. I could wallow in guilt that the example I set my kids was beyond poor. I could wallow on guilt over my selfishness. But I won't. I have asked god's forgiveness, and when I see Steven in heaven one day, I will ask his forgiveness too. 

Instead, I hope that in reflecting on this whole horrible mess I have learnt a lesson. I hope that the next time my fear and anxiety threaten to prevent me from disrupting my own life, that the next time I find myself with an opportunity to let my life be discomforted, I will make the right decision - the decision to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world.

My privileged upbringing has isolated me from my own humanity. It has bred in me a fear of others who are different to myself. I know that the journey to change all that will be a long one. I am not now suddenly 'fixed' because of this one experience. I know that this journey will be a long and difficult one, but this is a journey I must make if I am to truly become like Jesus. It's a journey I have not wanted to make, and have avoided (& excused myself from) for far too long. I still don't want to, because I don't want my nice comfortable life to be discomforted and disrupted, but increasingly I hear the voice of God about this, and increasingly I understand the value in embarking on this difficult journey.

The way of the cross is not easy, nor is it comfortable. Jesus never promised us an easy life. I hate that about Christianity. I want an easy life. I want to be comfortable and isolated. Yet, my heart is melting slowly, and I find myself moving closer to the edge of something more exciting - a life that is more than just comfortable....

Monday, May 05, 2014

More! Give me more!

They say that a hug a day keeps the doctor away. Certainly research indicates that people need physical touch to be healthy, and that without it we quickly become depressed.

One of the things that I am positively lapping up at the moment is the amount of physical affection my son volunteers towards me. I don't need to ask for hugs and cuddles, or kisses (although I do!) because at least three of four times a day, often many many more than that, he will just sidle up to me and give me a hug or a kiss or a cuddle.

He doesn't do it to get any thing from me in return - it's not like he wants sweets, or a favour. He does it just because he loves me, and wants to cuddle with me.

This kind of unconditional love is amazing, all the more so because I know it won't last. I know that at some point it will become uncool to show Mom affection. I know that at some point he will prefer to give his affection to a girlfriend. At some point he will move out of home and marry some girl, and while mom won't be forgotten, she will be less important.

So while I can, I'm lapping it up. In the fabled words of Mugg & Bean: More! Give me more!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cape Town City Ballet

About 2 week ago we went to the CTCB open day, held at Baxter. We got to sit in on a rehearsal, a class and there were workshops on stage make-up etc. it was a fabulous morning! I

 particularly enjoyed the rehearsal as not only was the ballet beautiful, but the teacher/ director told stories about performances of the piece being rehearsed over the past half century. 

This past weekend we went to see the production we had seen rehearsed - Swan Lake. It was fabulous to see the dances we had seen rehearsed, and to know more of the background. #1 was particularly taken by it all, and I think her love of ballet has been taken to new heights.

However, what astounded me is that the final scene, in which Rotbart is killed and Odette is set free, made me cry. CRY!! I don't cry at ballet. Ever. Never ever. Yet, I cried in the final scene. The Odette dancer played her character so well, so beautifully I couldn't help myself.

One thing I can say for sure - I was so impressed with so many of the dancers, and with the scenery, an dust the whole experience, that I think we'll be making more of an effort to attend the ballet in future!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The murder of a child

I usually finish every book I start. Some weird compulsion thing I have. Tonight, after getting half way through a book, I skipped to the end, and then did not go back to read the rest. Why? In part, because the book was not what I was expecting, but more because it was an account of pure evil. 

After several disturbing scenes involving abuse of various types, when I reached the scene in which a child had been murdered, I found I could not go on. The child's murder was not detailed, but the murderer then kills his mother. What got me was that just as the murderer starts in on her, she sees part of her child's body, and realises the child has been killed. I couldn't read any further. 

I know it's just a story, but I also know that this kind of evil exists in our world. I know it happens, but I can't understand the kind of evil that would murder a child in revenge, nor can I understand the author who can conjure up and give life to this kind of evil. 

Of course, I assume that it was easy for the author to write this story. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe the author really struggled, maybe it was written in the midst of constant tears. 

But as I pit the book down, having satisfied myself that at least the story sees some justice in the end (even if I know that that's a Hollywood ending, and that in real life, most times there is no justice on this side of heaven), I felt almost physically sick at the way my one felt violated. 

I couldn't go to sleep with that junk knocking around in my brain, as otherwise I would have nightmares. I've recently been having a bit of insomnia coupled with middle of the night paranoia (we have a mouse or rat or squirrel or something that seems to have taken up residence in the ceiling again), so I don't need to add nightmares to that mix.

So, I turned to my Lent Bible reading devotions. All of today's readings were on holiness. What is holiness? Who is holy? What does holiness look like in this day and age? I know it's Lent, and that holiness is a major theme, but I don't believe that it's coincidence that it was the theme being explore today. 

I was reminded of Phillipians 4:8 Finally  brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think on such things.

Let's hope that as I fall asleep tonight, my thoughts will be drawn to holiness, not to thinking about the murder of a child.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just do it

That was my advice to a group of teachers and principals over the weekend. I was delivering a workshop on the flipped classroom, and was encouraging them to stop thinking of excuses, and just to start, with a single lesson if needs be. Yet I know how hard it can be to just start something, how difficult it is to take my own advice.

Over the last few weeks several different themes have come to the fore in my life - about where I find my identity, about my purpose in life, about my strengths and talents, about my spiritual gifts, about the importance of self-leadership and character development. Foundational to all this is my relationship with Jesus.

As part of my struggle over the years since Zoe died I have lost the habit of a daily time with God. At various times I have heard the call to return to it, felt the encouragement of God, yet I have failed to implement it, for a variety of reasons. Now, once again, I have had my eyes opened to the age-old truth that I need to spend time with God, and in His word, on a daily basis, if I am to grow and develop as a person, let alone as a believer.

Just do it.

As I have been pondering Lent, I realised that I have already given up so much (sugar, grains, carbs), that there isn't really anything I can give up in my diet for Lent. I could give up technology, but then I couldn't do my job, so that doesn't really work. I don't watch TV much, so that wouldn't work. Instead, I felt led to take something on.

So, rather than making grand plans of what I will do in these times, or how I will try to schedule them into my day, or which devotional method I will use, etc. I have decided to just start.

Just do it.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Who am I? Who are you?

The theme and question about identity is one that we all grapple with, some of us more frequently than others; some of us to a deeper level than others.

Who are you? How do you define yourself?

For me, I guess I've always defined myself by my name, my relationships, my job, and by the things I love to do. I am a Masureik; a wife and a mother, a daughter and a sister; a Christian; a Saffa; a teacher; a reader, a dancer, a speed freak, a gadget lover, a pianist.

But is this who I am, or just what I do, and how I'm connected to the world?

I guess, if I'm pressed, I would also define myself by my characteristics. I'm loyal and trustworthy, faithful, hard-working, passionate, with a deep sense of right and wrong. I hope my family and friends would say I'm friendly, loving, kind, forgiving and generous, but I also suspect they would speak the truth - that I have a horrible temper and can be intimidating, cold and stuck-up, not to mention being a liar.

Most of these are as a response to fear, because, actually, I'm a terribly fearful person. I'm afraid of being abandoned, of being hurt and wounded, of being cast out, of being left out, of being over-looked, of my life being meaningless. I'm scared of getting things wrong, I'm fearful of the depth of my own emotions and their potential to rip me apart, or of my entire life being spent in grief.

So who am I really?

People talk about 'finding themselves', as if they lost themselves somewhere along the way. I learnt quite early on that I am capable of deluding myself. I believe what I want to believe about myself. I don't think I need to 'find' myself, so much as try to discern which of my inner voices speak the truth.

All this sounds like I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, or something. But I'm not. Promise. I'm not even feeling morose or moribund! On the contrary. I haven't felt this positive in a long time.

As it happens, our church has recently finished a sermon series addressing this very question. I didn't get to hear most of the sermons in the series, so it wasn't very helpful to me. LOL! What I did take away from it though, is that my identity is not based in what I do, or my relationships, or even my characteristics. Rather, my identity is simply this - I am a child of God, adopted into the Family by payment of the ultimate Gift. Everything else follows from that single source of identity.

Flowing from this position, I have done the Gallup StrengthsFinder survey (if you haven't done that, it's well worth the R100 to do it!) to try to work out how I'm wired. And it was so spot on. All the things I've known about myself for years I finally have the language to talk about.

I am an achiever, a task-orientated person who loves lists. I get stuff done. And lots of it*.

I have belief - a deeply rooted set of core values that dictates how I live my life, standards to which I call myself (and those around me) to live up to.

I am an activator - someone who gets others to get moving and do stuff, who energises, motivates and encourages others to get moving with a task.

I need input - I thrive on gleaning VOLUMES of information. Talk to me and TELL ME STUFF. Let me browse the web, Twitter, Facebook, ScoopIt!, Feedly, news websites or whatever for information. Give me books to read (I can read several books in a day, if I'm motivated enough and have no interruptions).

I am a learner - someone who doesn't just need information, but likes to process all that information and make connections between it, understand the deeper way in which information is connected.

These are just my top 5 strengths. (I don't want to spend R1000 to learn about the other 30 or so.) This is how God has wired me. I don't need to make apologies for who I am. I need to start living confidently in who I am.

At the same time, our church is doing a sermon series on spiritual gifts. These are not necessarily the talents you're born with (although they can be 'upgrades' of a natural talent). These are things that God gives you when you become a Christian. Once again, doing a quick questionnaire has told me what I always knew.

I'm an administrator - I like organising people, processes, resources and tasks so that things function efficiently.

I'm a teacher - I get a HUGE kick out of making gospel concepts easier for people to grasp, and then making it practical so they can see how to apply it to their lives. (Of course, that doesn't mean that I always apply it in my own life... LOL!)

I'm a leader - someone who helps to cast vision, motivate and direct people, all to accomplish God's purposes.

When you put these two different assessments together - one secular, one spiritual - it's pretty obvious that I lack many of the softer people skills. I'm much more of a task-orientated person. I'm not completely devoid of people skills, but they're definitely not my area of strength. But God hasn't wired me that way. I don't need to apologise for it. Instead, I need to look at the positives of how God has wired me, and lean into that. Yes, I need to think carefully and be deliberate about emotional intelligence, but at the same time, I can't go around spending all my time trying to be something I'm not, at the expense of not being who I am.

And I am fabulous! I really like all the things that I am, and the gifts that I have. I like me**.

I've been reminded about who I am: a child of God. I've been reminded that God has wired me a particular way for a purpose, and because I now have a better understanding of what that wiring is, I am in a much better position to discover my purpose in life.

And isn't that what all of our searching to 'discover' ourselves is actually all about? We want to know who we are, because fundamentally we want our lives to have meaning. We want to have a purpose. Unless we know who we are, and how we function, our lives can never be truly meaningful.

I know that, for now, I'm in the right place as far as my employment is concerned. As far as God's kingdom is concerned, I know I'm in the right place in some areas. Some areas need tweaking though, refinement of purpose. Experience tells me though that God will move me on in those areas when the time is right. So, for now, I'm just sitting tight.

What about you? Who are you? How have you been wired? Do you know?
*Take today's check list... get the kids out the door to church as on time as possible, go to church, do the grocery shopping, purchase and wrap a present, put together the material I'm presenting at a workshop later in the week, walk the dogs, spend time with the kids, finish updating manuals on a few aspects of the new database at work, clear my in-boxes, send out emails to everyone to ask them to support my fundraising venture, pick up the dog poo, mow the lawn, do a load of laundry and hang it, check Facebook, finish watching a video on technology & teaching, write a blog post. There were things I didn't get to today, but I'm pleased with what I did manage to achieve today.
** Of course, each of these strengths and gifts has a dark side. If I'm not careful, I can wind up on the dark side - and that person would NOT be a fun person to be around, or to live with. Too much achiever becomes a workaholic. Too much belief becomes a religious bigot. Too much activator becomes someone who is gun-ho. etc, etc. I know that I've been there, and will probably go there again. But rather than focus on the dark side, I want to focus on the positive side, and see the incredible person that God intended when he wired me this way.