Thursday, November 26, 2015

#NaNoWriMo 2015

OHMYGOSH! OHMYGOSH! OHMYGOSH! I'm a #NaNoWinner2015! I actually wrote 50,000 words in a month... I can't believe it.

What is more amazing, is that my story isn't done yet. A month ago I was worried I wouldn't be able to make it stretch to 50,000 words, and then, as the month went on I found myself wondering how I was going to condense it to 50,000. And then I figured: you know what? I'm just going to write, and not worry about the word count so much. I have been having SO much fun writing - I'd forgotten how much I love writing, and being creative.

Of course, I think my story is very average - possibly quite boring. But that's not the point. I had fun writing it. I AM having fun writing it. I might be rubbish at writing, but now that I'm 40 (oh dear God, help me!) I don't feel the need to succumb to the pressure that I have to be good at something to enjoy doing it.

So who knows... maybe I will start serialising my book here for you to read. If you like it, good for you. If not, I don't care. (Well, I do, just a little.)

And, naturally, it no doubt needs a lot of editing. So maybe I'll ask my English teacher friend who got me into this whole malarkey in the first place to be my editor.... PUNISHMENT! (Good thing she likes Fantasy books!)

But I am on such a high at the moment that I just had to gush and share it with anyone who cares, and several who don't.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

It's not so bad!

So I thought it might be good to keep a record of how my writing is progressing, so that if I decide to do this again in a future year, I will be able to look back on this year's experience with something more accurate than memory.

The first few days were great, but then life got in the way. This morning, though, I got up nice and early to try and get some writing done, because the rest of the day is filled with various events. Although I've started both threads of my story, I've mostly been focusing on one of the threads this past week. As I re-read the story I've written so far, I felt the excitement rise - I am LOVING the story! I think I've written it pretty well, so far, but then, I suppose I'm biased. But, what I really loved was that I found myself being sucked straight back into the story. I want to know how it ends, because it's an exciting story. For me, that was a great moment. If I am excited by this story, then hopefully others will be too.

The actual writing though, is hard. I'm not a planner; I'm what's called a pantser - writing by the seat of your pants. As I write, the characters reveal the story to me. I have a broad overview of where I think this story is going, but already I've been surprised as where the characters take me. They're changing the story as we travel along together. But that makes it hard. It's no longer just me thinking about how to say what I want to say - I have to really listen to the characters, and figure out where we're going, and then figure out how best to convey that on paper. My brain isn't used to this type of creative work - it's definitely out of practice.

I've hit my target for today, but it took me two hours. I still have lots of writing to catch up on... 4360 words, in fact! At this rate, I really am going to have to write every day if I want to hit my target by the end of the month.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Swallowed whole by words

This year I am taking the plunge and going to attempt to write a 50 000 word novel in a month, with NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is ostensibly an American institution - National Novel Writing Month - but there are thousands of non-USA folk who join in.

I used to write - poetry, songs, short stories... this blog! - quite a lot, but then, somehow, I stopped. About 2 or 3 weeks ago though, I woke up with a dream still vividly present in my imagination. When it stayed vivid through-out that day, and the next, I decided to commit it to paper... and before I knew what had hit me, I was 4 chapters in! Given that I knew about NaNoWriMo, and that it was so close to November (the month in which NaNo takes place) I decided to give it a bash.

I'm scared nearly witless by this challenge - 50 000 words is 1 667 per day - which is a HECK of a lot of words! And although I have a part of the story mapped out in my head, the majority is still a complete blank for me. I anticipate the beginning will be easy, but I'm nervous about whether I can stick with this... will life get in the way? Will inspiration desert me? Will what I write be any good?

This month holds a lot for me - my birthday, my daughter's birthday, end of year exam marking, planning for 2016, training staff on being a Google Apps school, and now NaNo. Am I completely insane?!? A sucker?!? Given that this year is a big birthday, maybe this is the mid-life crisis everyone talks about?

Whatever it is, if you don't hear from me this month, it's because my energies are being channeled into writing. I am about to be swallowed whole by words - and I think I'm going to love it! I have added a widget here though, to keep track of my words, so you can see how I'm doing. All encouragement will be gladly accepted!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Whose vote is it anyway?

After what has been a rather hectic few weeks, I took a night off last night and watched a movie with my hubbie about the suffragette movement in the USA. The cinematography of the film itself, Iron Jawed Angels, was interesting. (What a dull word.) While it was set in about 1915-1917, culminating shortly after the USA joined WW1, and while the characters were true to the ethos of the time, the camera angles and the format of the film was very modern, which I think made the movie more accessible (which is not to say that it wouldn't have been accessible otherwise).

However, the content of the movie has remained with me. The storyline follows two American suffragettes - Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, with the formation of the National Women's Party, and the events that led to the constitutional change allowing women to vote in the USA. The story is horrific in parts, tragic in others, and all-round inspiring.

I was struck, yet again, by the notion that for great reward, or great progress, or great freedom, there is always great sacrifice. When one looks back on history, on all the great movements and events, there is always someone who has suffered greatly in order to bring about change.

With every major movement in history - the beginnings of (true) Christianity, the Protestant reformation, the Reformation, the Inquisition, various Revolutions (French, Russian, etc.), the abolition of slavery, the Suffragists (including the suffragettes), anti-Apartheid, LGBT rights... to mention just a few from Europe and America. In each of these there are stories to be told of men and women who suffered unspeakable horrors in the name of achieving their goals - those who were ex-communicated, tortured, and killed.

One observation from the movie is that when an issue arises, you have to take a stand. You have to choose which side of the fence you are on. There should be no-one sitting on the fence. Sitting on the fence is cowardly and selfish. When one considers the lengths that those involved went to, the energy they invested, the time they gave, the life they gave up (no matter which side of the fence they were on), I would suggest that the only way to show respect for that is to nail one's colours to the mast and choose a side.

Of course, you can change sides - as one of the senators did at the last minute, and his became the swing vote that won the motion. But to sit on the fence - that's not an option.

And then I thought of the issues the church is facing today: women in leadership, and LBGT rights. In each case there are honest, good, true Christian people on both sides of the fence, who both defend their beliefs from Scripture, and who both claim the other group is misinterpreting because of reading something out of context.

Where does that leave me? I don't read Greek or Hebrew. I can't translate the original text for myself. I'm not trained in hermeneutics. How do I know which interpretation is correct? I have dear friends on both sides of each of these issues. I know strong Christian women on both sides of the women in leadership debate - all of whom have honestly delved into Scripture and grappled with this issue before God - some of whom firmly believe that male eldership no longer holds, and others of whom firmly believe it does still hold true. Equally, I have Christian friends who are LGBT and honestly believe that God does not restrict them from having LGBT marriages, or holding office in Christian circles; while other Christian friends honestly believe the opposite.

So while I believe that one must choose a side, how does one do it? Who is right?

When I go back to Jesus's words recorded in the New Testament, his actions make it clear that women are to be held in higher regard than the culture of his day did. But how high? In the same way, Jesus never spoke directly into the evil of slavery, he never directly spoke into the issue of women in leadership, nor did he speak directly into the LGBT issue. And looking back into Scripture in the Old Testament doesn't help much, because it is possible to interpret it both ways, depending on your initial bias.

I don't want to fall prey to allowing the current culture to dictate how I interpret Scripture, because Scripture should inform culture, not the other way around. Equally, I don't want to allow my own personal experience to be the measure of right and wrong, because only God's measure is good enough. Yet, I cannot ignore either.

I do have bias in these issues - I am not neutral. I want women to be leaders and elders, because I have a gift of leadership. I want LGBT individuals to be able to experience loving partnerships (marriages) with others, because I want my friends to have what I do. Moreover, because I have a daughter, I want her to be able to be the best, biggest and brightest she can be - and if that means being able to lead a church, then that's what I want for her. Because I have children, if either of them came to tell me they were LGBT, I would want them to be able to have a life partner of their choice (and raise children) without the fear of rejection from the rest of the Church.

But are those reasons enough?

When Scripture is not clear, when I have strong Christian friends on both sides of the argument, when my heart has its own agenda, I need God to guide and lead me. Nothing else will do, because sometimes: [what] seems right to man... leads to death. Prov 14:12.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Raising kids - a lesson in constant change

Why is it, when raising children, that just when you think you've got a handle on things, they go and change, and you have to figure out, all over again, how to deal with the new status quo?

I would have thought, as the kids grew up, that things would get easier. In some respects, they have. They can now dress themselves, bath themselves, feed themselves, entertain themselves. They can do laundry and unstack the dishwasher. They can answer the phone and know how to change channels on the TV. They can rides bikes, walk the dogs around our street. One can read and write, the other is on the cusp. There is so much they can now do on their own.

But in important ways, they need us more now. They need us to help them navigate the much more tricky roads of love, generosity of heart, kindness, consideration of others, speaking truth in love only (even then, sometimes not because it is unnecessary), friendships. They need us to mentor them in time management and developing self-discipline. They need us to encourage them through disappointment and failure. They need us to protect their dreams and hopes from the destructive element of reality in a fallen world.

And that is so much harder, because I have to do what is right for them, not what makes me comfortable; say what is right for them, not what I would want to hear in that situation.

I've said it before - being a parent is not for sissies!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A possible new understanding of autism

Having just read this article on a possible new understanding of autism, I was struck by the idea of hyper-sensitivity to others' emotions.

One of the defining memories of my time in the UK was the difference in my response to beggars. In SA, beggars are ubiquitous. In SA, my response to them was to ignore and withdraw from them, or to feel anger towards them for evoking emotions in me that were overwhelming about which I felt powerless to manage.

In the UK, my response to them was empathetic. I realised that my response in SA was not because I lacked empathy, but the opposite. In SA, I was overwhelmed by the need I saw around me, and my seeming powerlessness to change things. Consequently, my response in SA was to become withdrawn and harden my heart.

After reading this article, is that not what those on the autistic spectrum do? They are overwhelmed by the world - sensations of light, touch, sound, taste, hearing.... they are under a constant bombardment that is overwhelming and terrifying. Thus, an appropriate response is either to withdraw or to strike out, both of which are protective measures. Neither is a response from a lack of empathy, which is the traditional understanding. Reducing stimuli allows them to function normally, in most of their interactions, because they don't feel under threat of being overwhelmed by their emotions, or by the emotions of those around them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

She is not forgotten

Sitting in the weak, autumn sun, eating my lunch, I opened Facebook and saw a message from a friend, who had been in her garden and smelled the jasmine my mom gave her to plant. The occasion had been my own daughter's funeral.

And just like that, the old pain rose up in my heart, spilled out of my eyes; a pain so great it felt that my very bones quaked, my poor pressure rose so that My ears could hear nothing, my lungs could not draw breath and my heart quailed. The world seemed, once more, to stop spinning, to implode upon itself.

But like a wave that has crashed retreats back down the shore, the grief receded. And so, now I sit with damp cheeks, damp eyes, a runny nose, a clenched and raw throat, exhausted, yet alive, knowing that life goes on, and so must I.

And that, perhaps, is the hardest thing of all to bear.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Should I stay or should I go?

In recent weeks, SA has made both national and international news for all the wrong reasons. Firstly there was the #rhodesmustfall campaign, followed by the xenophobic attacks. Both gave me cause for pause, and for the first time I seriously considered whether it is time to start looking for jobs elsewhere and to consider emigration.

The #rhodesmustfall campaign at UCT was about the fact that 20 years on, South Africa is still in the grip of Apartheid. Yes, the laws have changed, but transformation has been slow. For some, the rate of change has been too slow. There is still a lot of anger about the fact that whites still hold the majority of the country's wealth, and still appear to enjoy much more privilege. 

Throwing poo at statues (which quickly spread from just happening at UCT to taking place in various cities and at various statues) that are symbols of colonialism and racism and Apartheid seems to have catapulted the discussion about transformation into the forefront of discussions in civil society, government and institutional powers in a way that previous discoursive attempts have not. I disagree with the the decisions made about the statue, but I sympathize with the sentiments. If nothing else, this whole situation has really made me think about what it is like to be your average non-white South African living in this country.

Yet, then anger that I have felt directed towards me has been disconcerting to say the least. If one listens to the news (despite the fact that only the extremists and their doings make the news), then one could be forgiven for thinking that we are truly on the brink of becoming Zimbabwe, where whites are truly in physical danger. If one believes the news, then it is time to get out, while we still can.

At the same time, because of poverty, gross institutional inefficiencies and some ill-timed (and ill-conceived) words by King Goodwill Zweletini we have seen repeated xenophobic attacks in the Durban area against the immigrants from our neighboring countries and further afield. So much has been said about how the whites are to blame for everything that is historically wrong with this country, that it is sometimes hard to believe the capacity for black-on-black violence in this nation. Yet, the human heart is the same no matter the colour of one's skin, and its capacity for fear, anger and jumping to in conclusions (as my dad always says) is the same.

As I said, as I have pondered these two climatic events I have, for the first time, given very serious thought to emigrating. Why, you may ask? Because of fear. I looked to the possible future and was scared by what I could imagine.

Yet as I prayed about it, as I prayed into these situations and asked God for his guidance, he has very clearly been telling me to stay. A decision made in fear is never a good one. If I allow fear to rule my decision-making process, I will make wrong choices. If I allow God to rule my decision-making process I will make the right choices. I am reminded now, as I write this, of the saying that the safest place to be is in the centre of God's will. From the verses I have been reading as part of my daily devotionals, Gid has clearly been telling me to stay put and to trust in him alone - not to look to the circumstances around me, but only to look at him.

Does this mean we will be personally and physically safe? No. Does this mean my children will have an easy life? No. Yet neither of those things are good reasons to leave - not when God has other plans and I am a part of one other plans. I simply have to trust that God is working in ways I cannot see, and that his plans are plans to give me hope and a future, not plans to harm me or my children.

And of course, things are not as bad as they seem - the vast majority of this nation's people are not extremists. They are not blood-thirsty lunatics. The majority are average people trying to go about their lives in peace. Yet, these events have given us a fresh opportunity for discourse and dialogue, for a real chance to move towards transformation. Once again this nation has a real opportunity to shine the light of Christ for the world to see - if only we would grasp it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


There is currently so much being said about the #rhodesmustfall situation, and the ongoing impact on Soith African society. Till now I have been silent, just listening and reflecting on what others are saying. At the same time though, it feels somehow immoral not to say something.

On the one hand, I totally agree that Rhodes was a racist who made his fortune through oppression. So, I agree that he should not be venerated.

Yet, I also agree with those who say that removing statues and street names, etc. is merely attempting to wipe out our history, which we can't do. Forgetting the past is impossible.

I believe that change is needed, yet there are always those who get on the band wagon simply to have the opportunity to create violence and be thugs. They don't really believe in the principles, and would seldom if ever resort to discussion and reason to resolve their problems.

So what should we do? That is the question. How do we truly transform this nation? How do we rid our nation of all forms of corruption, oppression, racism and violence? Whatever political solutions may be offered will be, at best, flawed. Yet, that doesn't mean we don't need them. Whatever social solutions are offered will probably alienate many. Yet, that doesn't mean they aren't necessary.

This is one of those times when I can only pray for our leadership, in the hopes that they will lead us effectively, and with integrity, humility and compassion.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Race race

This week I have been faced with dealing with a racial incident. It has exhausted me to burn-out levels. Dealing with this reminded me that racial issues continue to be a big part of our country's present. It has also highlighted for me the fact that whites (gross generalization here!) really can't talk about our Apartheid history and give adequate voice to the atrocities suffered by those of colour.

This evening I read an opinion piece by Verashni Pillay of the Mail & Guardian which basically pointed out some truths about how whites (again, gross generalization) still benefit.

I know that I have been guilty of thinking 'oh come on now... It's 20 years on.... Can't we just get past this now?' But how does someone get past the fact that they are still treated as a second class citizen because of the colour of their skin? Racial slurs continue to be a problem - the 'boy' in the garden, the 'girl' in the kitchen, the joke about how all coloureds are thieves, the 'fact' that blacks are so dangerous you have to cross the road to avoid walking past them on the pavement....

What I find incredible is how many adults don't get it, including a guy in his mid 20's I had dealings with this week - someone I would have thought would have known better. My actions have been called into question by some who don't get it, who are more concerned with saving face than in the pain their actions have caused others.

I'm not perfect, and I don't claim to be. I get this wrong. I still succumb to the old way of thinking and acting. The thing that keeps me going is that Jesus calls me to being better, higher, purer, more righteous. When I see racism, it is a reminder to me to root it out in myself. When I am falsely accused though, that is really hard to deal with - not to want revenge, or to retaliate, but to try to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do - to forgive and forgive and forgive. 70 times 7... 

Sometimes I really do just want revenge though.... But if I give in to that way of thinking, it will eat up my life, my thoughts, my emotions, my energy, my sleep,  my peace.... and then I will have lost.

So I hand this over, Lord, to your capable hands. You are the One who KNOWS. I am trusting you to see both justice done and mercy poured out on those who don't get it and who have harmed others as a result. I also trust you to pour out mercy and healing on those affected, and to see justice done in them too - for none is without sin.

Cos I can't. Ek kan hie meer nie. I'm just. So. Tired. 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Things I have learnt from gardening

After more than a month I got back to my garden and spent the morning weeding the front garden. I cleared a black bag's worth of weeds from a patch about 6m square. 

Apart from the terrible aches I have today (& no doubt tomorrow will be worse) I was reminded of something: weeds will always grow where you are not actively engaged in removing them. This is true of our lives as well as my garden. They start small - the white lies, the personal photocopying, breaking the speed limit because you're late. Unhindered though, the small weeds will grow, until the beauty of the garden is obscured and sometimes destroyed.

Just as I will trim back the wild growth, and kill plants I consider weeds, so too God will work in the garden of my soul - point out the weeds, prune the parts growing out of prompt ion, so the beauty of my soul can shine. It hurts, but it is necessary if I am to have a beautiful garden.

The other thing I was reminded of is that the gardener has a grand design in his or her head that may take years to come to fruition. I planted a few trees that will take about 20 years to reach the height and shape I want, so that I can then remove an alien tree that I don't want. I am also planning a pool in the back garden. Every decision I make about planting is guided by the grand plan for 20 years hence. So the garden doesn't look as stunning as I would like, but that's because I am careful about what I plant where, knowing that in a few years I am going to pull something else out. It struck me that, in the same way, God has a plan for my life and maybe some of the things he is doing now don't make sense, because I don't see the big plan - the future plan.

Gardening is good for the soul, and body.... But maybe I will regret it tomorrow when I have to toll out if bed! ;)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Things I have learnt about life from running

Last year I joined ParkRun, as a stimulus and encouragement for my running (ok, maybe running is being a bit optimistic .... It's a more like slow jogging staggered between bouts of walking, all while gasping for breath... I am not built for running!)

This past week was reminded about a way for dealing with life - something I had noticed previously, but forgotten. I can't keep running for long without a series of small goals - I run from green bin to green bin, or lamp post to lamp post, or to the next tree, or street sign.... I need small goals to help me reach my big ones. The thought of running 5 kms is overwhelming, and I would give up before I even began if that was all I focussed on. (That's why I can't run in a treadmill - no goal points to aim for.)

So why is it that when it comes to things of faith, I do not employ the same principle? I want to go from zero to full speed, overnight, yet I know that's not realistic. Instead, I need to work on small steps,small  goals - hearing God once a day, rather than every minute, reading the Bible for10 mins rather than 3 hours. Of course, I have hear this before, and knew it before, but it was good to be reminded of this while running yesterday.

The second thing I was reminded of is that, when I run, the real competition is me. I can't compare myself to anyone else. That is just demoralizing, because almost everyone else is better than me, or seems to make faster progress. Rather, as long as I am improving against my own performance, I am doing well. Ditto for my faith. I can't compare the gifts I have, or experiences, with others'. This is not a race to see who can get to heaven first, or who seems to be the most holy, or whatever... This is a relationship in which I am he unique element, so of course my relationship with God, my gifts, my experiences, my faith journey is going to be different. And I have to remember that different is not wrong. Just because I am slower to learn a lesson, or reach a milestone, does not make me inferior.

Having said that, running (certainly at ParkRun) is a social thing. Families come, with dogs. I was reminded that in order to make the event enjoyable for everyone, everyone takes an interest in the welfare of the others who are present. Everyone looks out for the kids, and pet owners behave responsibly. The same is true of life in a faith community - we look out for each other. We behave (mostly) responsibly.

And finally, I was reminded of Paul's analogy - that our lives are a race of endurance, not speed. The goal is to finish well, to win the prize. It is to pace ourselves, and run with determination, up the hills, down the valleys, along the endless flats, to never give il and never give in, until we reach the finish line. Yes, we may trip and fall over tree roots, or broken paving, or on others' feet (if we're. It careful), but that's not the end... We get up, brush ourselves off, and start running again. Often in life, our faith takes a knock, and we may be tempted to think it's tickets for us, that we've blown it too badly, but all we need is to pick ourselves up, or allow God to pick us up, put our feet back in the path, and try again. In the words of Dory: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Things I have learnt from my tree

For a while I've been thinking about a photo blog that my sister-in-law did - a photo a day of her suburb. I've toyed with the idea, because I'm fascinated with how one can be forced to see one's surroundings in a different light, which reveals surprises one would otherwise have missed. But I'm not sure that I could get a new photo every day from my environment... So instead I have been thinking about what else I could do that could help me to see the world differently.

Over the holidays I've started working on a series of blog posts that I'm entitling: what I have learnt from.... Originally, it was just going to be about what I've learnt about life and God from my dogs (and wow! There's a lot to learn! In fact, I think someone did write a book about just that - Lessons from a sheep dog, I seem to recall it was entitled), but then I realized that I've been learning about stuff from all sorts of things. Pondering that led me to decide to write this series, because I'm a teacher and I love teaching others the truths I have learnt, whether about DNA or matters of the heart.

This first post is not the first one I drafted, but it feels appropriate for today. Not sure why, but it is. So if you want to read the ones about my dogs, you'll have to come back another day.

This is the tree in my garden. When I first saw it, I hated it instantly, vehemently. Why? Because it is a Syringa. Syringas are horrid trees for a variety of reasons - they drop millions of mountains ofwhite blossoms  everywhere; they produce poisonous berries; they drop those berries on the lawn till it looks like a pebble-covered beach; because their pollen makes me sneeze. I was determined to chop it down as soon as possible. 

Twelve years later it is still here, and I have moved from hatred through tolerance and acceptance, to appreciation. (I'm not quite at the love stage yet, but I'm sure I will get there in time.) How was that possible? While staring at it one day, through my window, I realised that this tree didn't ask to be a Syringa. It just is one. It didn't ask to be planted in my garden; someone else made that choice, because they liked it. This tree doesn't choose to produce poisonous berries or drop its blossoms everywhere - it does that as a function of the type of tree it is (which it didn't choose for itself).

As I pondered those facts, I suddenly realized I was willing to give the tree the benefit of the doubt. Weird, yeah, I know. I started to see the things I now appreciate about it - it is a beautiful shade tree; it has lovely strong and spreading boughs - suitable for hanging multiple swings and things from and building a tree house (which is currently still just a dream in my head); its flowers are actually beautiful (and numerous); it is a lovely safe environment for Wit Ogies and other birds to hide in as they flit from tree to tree looking for food; the leaves make a beautiful sound as they rustle together in the breeze.

As I pondered these things I appreciated, I realized that in life, it is the same. We hate or dislike others because of what they are, forgetting that (often) they did not choose to be born into that family, or to be a certain race, or to be rich, or poor, or from a certain nation, or of a particular spirituality, or to think in a particular way. Often, all these things are a feature of our birth - whether genetics or the environment in which we are raised, or a combination of both. Either way, we cannot choose our genetics or our childhood environment. These two things make us what we are, fundamentally. (Of course, we can choose to change, but that requires a certain amount of reflection, a lot of hard work and deep motivation, which many people lack.)

In this extraordinary nation of ours, we celebrate diversity in public, but in private we are frequently much more conservative and exclusive. We love those who are like us and despise those who are different - different gender expressions, or ages, or social-economic status, or education level, or family status, or races, or nationalities, or different mother-tongue speakers, or body shapes, or thought processes, or priorities, or whatever - or we despise ourselves and wish fervently we could be like someone else instead.

How do we begin to bridge the divide? How do we begin to celebrate our diversity in truth, and. It just in name? Looking at my tree, I don't think the answer is in trying to find our commonality, nor to focus on our diversity. Focussing on our commonality denies the value that our differences bring, leads to exclusivity and make us more likely to hide who we truly are from each other. Focussing on our differences and celebrating them because they are different denies our common humanity and leads to pride. I think a third way is a better way.

When pondering my tree I did not look for commonality - my shared DNA (we share a lot more genes than you would think!), or that I am a strong woman (metaphorically) and it has strong branches, or that I shelter my children the way it shelters the birds... - nor did I look for our differences - to celebrate that it is larger than I, or greener than I, or a tree instead of a human. Instead, I looked to see what value it brings to my garden. That value is based on what the tree is - both a tree, and specifically a Syringa. By focusing on the intrinsic value it brings, I learnt to appreciate it. 

I love lying in the shade of my tree. I love seeing the birds resting in its boughs and sheltering in its leaves. I love to see the beautiful flowers it produces. I love to see my children playing on the swings we hung from it. I love the fact that when I drive home along a particular route I can see my tree before anything else - it marks the spot that is my home. This is the value this tree brings, not because it is the same as me, or different to me, but because it is a Syringa tree in my garden.

If I can see people in this third way, by putting them at the centre instead of how they relate to me (which is putting myself at the centre), for the value they bring because of who they are, and not for their similarities to me, or differences, then I think there is hope for me, and for my environment, and for my city. If I can, then I think I can avoid both pride ("I am better than them") and despair ("they are so much better than me/ I am worthless"); I think I could then overcome my fear of the other, and walk in true freedom with the other.

But how is this possible? Well, I'm not sure it is. I am so given to comparisons and snap judgements, albeit secretly in my head and heart, that on my own I don't think I can truly change my mind-set on this. Plus, despite my best efforts, I still have so many stereotypes rolling around inside my head, many of which I'm not even conscious of! But fortunately, I'm not on my own. Fortunately, I have a Helper. Even with His help, I know it will be tough, but nothing worth having comes easily or without a price tag. Still though, this will be something I will need to choose each day, every day - to allow the Spirit to open my eyes to the value of others, not because of how they relate to me, but because of who they intrinsically are.

Thanks be to God for my Syringa tree!