But then she came back

Ours was an unexpected friendship that began in a fascinating way. God knows how I needed it at the time.  During one of the most lonesome periods in my life, thirteen years ago, I was working with her mother.  One day, she told me about her daughter who had no choice but to call off her wedding, but still went on the paid honeymoon with a friend.  What an ordeal, I thought.  Soon after, I attended an extended gathering of another friend of mine, who told me about this lady she knew from church who was also there that night.  The lady had no choice but to call off her wedding, but still went on the paid honeymoon with a friend.

“Hold on,” I said, “I’ve heard this story and it definitely doesn’t happen to a lot of people.”

My friend showed me to this lady. And there she was, Meraai, as she is affectionately known.  She lived in Johannesburg and I in Pretoria and we started writing each other long-drawn email after long-drawn email.  Slowly but surely we let one another in on our respective worlds, letting down barriers built around our troubles.  We visited each other whenever we could.  She became my best friend.

But then she left. Almost six years ago, she went to live with her sister in East Timor.  At the time, I didn’t even know that a country with this name existed on the planet.  Today, I still don’t quite know where it is; except that it is somewhere near Australia and that it takes almost a day on a plane to get there.  It is very far from South Africa.  But she had to go, I understood why.  After a few years, she met her husband there, an Australian.  Very sophisticated and all.  She found her happiness in East Timor.  They moved to Canberra not long before their wedding as his project in East Timor ended.

The headline this past weekend reads, “Almost two thousand South Africans leave the country on a monthly basis”. Meraai was the first of my close friends to leave almost six years ago.  In the past year, this number included a couple that my husband and I count in between our most precious of friends.  My husband’s cousin and her family left earlier this year.  Soon, one of my closest friends will be leaving for New Zealand.  My dear cousin and her family are also leaving in January.  We are experiencing these profound losses, as do the family and friends of the almost two thousand South Africans that leave the country on a monthly basis.

Most people leaving South Africa have roots that are planted incredibly deep in this soil. These roots have formed over many generations.  So every person is a tree that grows from these roots that influence and shape the people and land around them; that either gives life to others or suck the life from them.  Sure, when your roots are not planted solidly in this soil, you can just uproot the tree and take it with you wherever you go.  But the ones that are planted deeply can’t be uprooted.  Thank God for that.  For they leave their trees behind that continue to influence and give life to those that stay behind.  They have to start anew in fresh soil; planting seeds from which roots will eventually grow and become trees once more that shape their influence in their new country.

But the people tending to their trees on our soil are gone. Gone is the privilege of looking each other in the eye on a daily basis.  There is no more driving past each other in the streets of our city.  Gone is the security that naturally comes with friends that became family that lived just down the street.  Gone are the backups in case of emergency, in fact, emergency contacts must change on every form you now complete.  When someone leaves that has a permanent dwelling in your heart, you have love reserved especially for that person that you can’t divert to someone else.  I’ve learned that you have a desire to show the love that you hold in your heart for this specific person in a physical manner by spending time together.  It is frustrating and confusing when you can’t do this anymore, because the desire and the love are still there.  Now you have to find new ways that transcends distance and time differences.  It’s not the same, even though you really and truly want it to be.  The intimacy established by being intertwined in each other’s daily lives is lost.  Technology, although with many advantages, can’t replace this.  And you do not stop missing them; in fact, you miss them more every day.  These are profound losses.

But then, a few weeks ago, she came back. My friend, Meraai.  Earlier this year, her husband applied for a job in South Africa.  Indeed, who better to assign the job to than an Australian with a South African wife?  He sure has a significantly different interest in our country than any of his peers and he will sure do an outstanding job.  Well done for making this decision, Australia.  For the next three years, they are back.  Magic truly manifests when someone returns.  It is to receive the best of gifts all over again.  There are not many stories of the like in the news.  I can truly recommend this experience.

“You know I live quite far from you,” she tells me when I visit her in her new house for the first time, referring to the almost twenty minutes that we have to drive to each other’s houses.

“My friend”, I reply, “it is nothing compared to how far you were.”

She laughs. I laugh.  We laugh together.  And there it is; the wonder of laughing together.  The mere thought of us being able to spend time together again is wonderful.  Knowing that I can now show her the love that I hold for her in my heart, is incredible.  The joy of having her in the same city where we live is immense.  I can’t even imagine what a relief it must be for her to be able to write her parents and sister’s names as emergency contacts again, as they live very close to her now.  She is back to tend to her tree, to cut off dried leaves so that new ones can grow that will give life and influence anew the soil and people around her.  As she did when she lived here all her life before she left six years ago.  For hers is a tree of shelter, joy and deepest meaning.  I count myself blessed.

And somehow, something is more right in the world today.

And that is all I need to know now.

 

 

Four roaring ladies and a baby on a plane

Four ladies and a baby are waiting to board a plane. I spot them as they sit together in a circle, eating and drinking, the baby happily playing at their feet. I try to come up with explanations in my mind for the scene playing off in front of me. Not one seems to be adequate. After a while I realize that I actually can’t stop looking at them, like a stalker of some sorts. Is it the pure, innocent joy and love having a field day between them that cause me to be in awe? Or the tiny, beautiful little girl, light as a feather? Whatever the reason, I can’t stop looking. For what is happening in this little circle is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

Not one of the four ladies can be the mother, I think, unless one of them had the baby at a very advanced age. Not impossible, but highly unlikely by the looks of it. Then maybe some of them are her grandmothers, others her aunts? They definitely know the ins and outs of this little one. The tiny girl has Down Syndrome. She is as petite as the softest of breezes, dressed in a light pink romper with big, wonderful eyes. She knows she is immensely loved by the four ladies; the confidence in her tiny upright posture speaks of it. She frolics like the lightest of pink butterflies between them. Light that pierces all darkness radiates from each of the ladies towards her.

Each of these ladies is geared to take care of her. One produces from her handbag a bottle with water that she gives to the baby. The next lady gives her some medicine, probably to ease her tiny nerves for the approaching flight. The other lady takes from her bag a little bag with some fruit that the baby grabs with eager hands. The fourth lady gives her a dummy to suck on. All of them takes the little girl in their arms and laughs and hugs her. They take turns and share duties, completely at ease. The girl is as incredibly comfortable with the one as with the next. The synergy in this little circle is like a perfect synchronized swimming display, practiced and rehearsed for months beforehand, eliminating any chance of anyone dropping the ball. They handle her as they would their most precious belonging, their own flesh and blood. They realize what is at stake.

My curiosity begins to nag and I still can’t figure out a story. I want to get up and ask them and when they rise to make their way to the plane, I take my chance.

“Excuse me for my curiosity,” I say to the lady with the blonde hair holding the baby as the others file behind her, like a regiment. “I need to ask, how does this fit together?” I gesture to all of them, my eyes fixed on the little girl.

The lady with dark pinned-up hair and eyes shiny with mischief reply, “We are abducting her!”

We all laugh for a little while. Then lady with the blonde hair becomes serious. “This is my husband’s cousin’s daughter’s little girl. She has Down Syndrome.”

“How old is she?” I ask. I realize that I could never have come up with this explanation. I thought that only very close family could account for the level of intimacy I am seeing.

“She is eleven months old,” she replies, crystals in her blue eyes. “She has a twin sister who is very sick. I am taking her to visit the sea for the first time. We are staying for four nights and hope I will be able to take care of her!”

I look at all the ladies and think of the synergy I saw a few minutes earlier. “And all of you are going with for the weekend?” I ask, amazed. “It sure looks as though every one of you knows how to take care of this little girl?”

“Yes and yes, we are going with, wouldn’t miss this for anything. We are her village! A roaring one!” The lady with the soft eyes looks at the one holding the little girl.

Then they are off, excitement tangible, lionesses with their precious cub. Indeed, their laughter roars through the airport passages. They sure know what they are doing. They are on a determined mission to take care of a little girl while showing her the wonders of the sea. Later, I read about lionesses on https://animals.mom.me/how-do-lions-care-for-their-young-12078353.html: ‘Many of the females in a pride give birth around the same time, so they have cubs of a similar age. This makes it natural for them to care for, protect and feed each other’s young. In fact, the lionesses in a pride will often nurse other lioness’s cubs. It is truly communal care.’

Communal care. I think of the little girl waiting to board a plane and her mother at home taking care of her twin sister. How tired and overwhelmed the mother must be with eleven month old-twins with special needs!  My mind drifts to the four ladies and how they have taken on the wellbeing of the little girl as if she is their own and in doing so is taking care of the mother in the most profound manner. It is there for everyone to see. They do not shy away from being the village this mother desperately needs, in fact, they go above and beyond. They open their hearts wide enough to house a child other than their own. They unconditionally love and protect this little girl as they do their own flesh and blood and they do so with incredible joy. Their wish for this little girl is to thrive and be sure of their love for her, even when she is not their own. They do all of this at an age where you would think they would not have the energy for a little girl of eleven months old. They are the village defined, the village in action, the village that is one of the foundations of motherhood being a beautiful journey.

Four ladies and a baby are waiting to board a plane. I spot them as they sit together in a circle, eating and drinking, the baby happily playing at their feet. I try to come up with explanations in my mind for the scene playing off in front of me. Not one seems to be adequate. After a while I realize that I actually can’t stop looking at them, like a stalker of some sorts. Is it the pure, innocent joy and love having a field day between them that cause me to be in awe? Or the tiny, beautiful little girl, light as a feather? Whatever the reason, I can’t stop looking. For what is happening in this little circle is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

Here is to every friend and family member of mine that form part of my village. I need all of you desperately. I salute each one of you as the heroes in my life. A village in action is indeed one of the most beautiful, hopeful things on earth to see. I count myself as the most privileged amongst privileged to be able to experience this.

And this is all I need to know right now.

To get up and show up (Part 2): My hope for a better South Africa

This is more a letter to my children than anything else. I hope they can look back in a few years and draw hope from this like the purest water from a well in the middle of a desert.  In fact, may they be the purest water in a well in the middle of a desert.

There are a million ways to make a difference, good or bad, to the challenges we face in our country. Each one of them begins with getting up and showing up.  Evil is everywhere to be found.  The hope I carry for our country is however rooted in the fact that there is far more good to be found than evil.  Everywhere we show up, we have the ability to do three things.  We show up to create evil, we show up to fight evil with evil or we show up to win evil with good.  The point is we have to get up and show up.  This post is dedicated to all the people who get up and show up, all of them to win evil with good.  I write about a few people who get up and show up in my life every day.

I think of my husband who gets up at the crack of dawn most days of the week to show up for work. Relentlessly, he provides for us.  The saying “no one is irreplaceable” does not apply to him, I believe with all my heart.  He works incredibly hard to be irreplaceable.  With many years of dedicated input in this country and with each passing day still, he is building a legacy in his field.  I think of how he, sometimes as a joke and sometimes with a pang of sadness, says, “If we leave the country, it will probably be too late.”  I hope that he will never find himself desperate to leave.  I hope that he will continue to literally build our nation and in doing so set a good example for his three sons and daughter.  I hope that he will continue to show up to be a moral compass in circumstances where shadows abound.

I think of Lindiwe, an angel who works in our house three times a week. She gets up at four o’clock in the morning to take the bus to be in time for work.  Her challenges are immense, bigger than I can ever comprehend.  Yet, every time she walks into our home, she has a smile on her face and hugs my children with incredible compassion.  Not once in the past seven years has she complained about the state she finds our house in.  She just goes about her work of cleaning our house with a humble heart.  She laughs with my children and tries to teach them Zulu.  She brings good with her and does good in our home.  She makes it easier for me to be a better mother.  She shows up to help build our family so that we can be able to show up elsewhere.  And she does it with joy.

I think of my son. It’s Thursday evening in a scorching hot Pretoria and together with almost fifty six year-olds and their proud families, we show up for his crowning function. Dressed in gowns and caps, they look older and wiser than their years.  They are finished with preschool.  They each get a turn to stand alone with their teacher and headmaster on the stage.  They are not crowned with words describing what they are best at.  They are also not crowned with shiny things like medals or trophies.  What they are crowned with is words of affirmation.  Bits of their character are described.  What they each bring to school each day that makes a difference is told.  They are crowned with blessings prayed over them.  The fact that these little ones show up for school each day makes this evening and this life spoken over them possible.  The fact that they can take from an evening like this the fact that what grows in their hearts are more important than worldly achievements, is wonderful.

I think of the headmaster who says a few words describing the themes of the school. This year, the theme is “Worship to victory” and next year it will be “Fellowship through unity”.  I think of every teacher who shows up at school, dedicated to their calling.  I think of the privilege to be part of a school where the incorporation of themes like these in academics, sports and culture are priority.  I think of how themes like this give my child the confidence to get up and show up and love others.  We look on with gratefulness as he builds friendships at school across multiple boundaries and barriers, oblivious to these.  Fellowship and unity are only possible if we show up, we as parents first in line.

I think of my daughter, who gets up every day and is never in a filthy mood. She carries in her being such incredible joy that it literally knocks me off my feet and I sometimes find myself unable to deal with it.  The hope she carries with her is not something I have anything to do with.  It is the sheer love and joy of a Father who created her in his image.  It is freedom and potential poured out in her from God who became man and showed up to pay the ultimate price.  It is compassion that does not see a difference from one person to the next and is able to embrace life in all its glory.  It is a prayer prayed over her each day, “The Lord blesses you and makes you a woman of big influence.  That’s why you can be a blessing to others.”  It’s to get up and show up in her little world and be a good influence, even at four years old.

I think of every father and mother who gets up and shows up for the children they brought into the world. The ones who are anything but perfect and also don’t try to be.  The ones who are authentic and deal with unique challenges with courage and determination to build a next generation.  I think of generations of men and women who work hard to be irreplaceable.  I think of the generation currently in preschool who are oblivious to the apparent state our country is in.  They are not aware of countries out there where the grass is apparently greener.  They are too innocent to even try and compare apples with pears.  They are too busy playing and building friendships and enjoying this life.  In doing so, they are slowly but surely learning to show up and to pour out the hope they have in them into our country.

There are indeed a million ways to make a difference, good or bad, to the challenges we face in our country. Each one of them begins with getting up and showing up.  And then to win the evil with good, one single dedicated human at a time.  May we be the people who get up and, indeed unapologetically, pour out the hope in us everywhere we show up.

My dear children, this is how the hope for a better South Africa is kept alive.

Chronicles of a swimming gala

“Our lives are not measured by our accomplishments. They are measured by the little steps and decisions we make every day.”  Anonymous

 

Today finds a little boy at his very first swimming gala. His mother wishes that they could side step this one.  For she knows that they are embarking on the rollercoaster ride of some of life’s tougher lessons.  Lessons she wishes she could spare her son for just a little while longer as it leaves a tiny heart like his and a mother heart like hers in a million knots.  At almost seven years old, it’s incredibly hard to grasp that winning in life is not about coming first.  But, he is a go getter.  He wants to participate.  These are qualities in their son that she and her husband have to honour.  So off to the gala they go, pioneers in unchartered seas.

The little boy is not affectionately called “Ever-ready” at school sports for nothing. He doesn’t miss a beat as he lines up for the first heat.  Pool noodle-stroke of all things.  His mother tries to give a bit of advice, but he wouldn’t have it.  “Mom! Leave me alone! I want to swim now.”  With no formal training under his loose swimming trunk-elastic, she knows that the 25 metres to the other side are going to be tough.  He jumps in and off he goes, blue cap bobbling in and out of the water.  Second place!  What a reward for immense bravery!  The day has barely begun and the swimming pool is his latest oyster.  Next up is the final of the pool noodle-item.

Unravelling commences as he mistakes his fourth place for a third. Then, confusion sets in.  With chest broad and eyes on shiny things, he takes his position next to the three boys who await their medals and their moment of glory on the podium.  His mother has to take him by the arm and lead him away.  “But Mom, I came second just now!  I must get a medal!”  She tries to explain the whole heats and finals scenario as they take a seat.  His green eyes are as wild as the most foreign place.   Hearts often break in silence.  Silence settles in his little body next to her.

The uplifting talk begins. Clichés abound.  “My boy, remember, winning isn’t everything.  The most important thing is life is to get up and show up, to jump in the water and to try.  To take on new things is the only way you will learn what you love and want to do in life.  You gave your very best in the pool and that is all I care about.” But she knows that no amount of wonderful words will mend his broken heart just then.  She can only sit next to him and ride out this frightening bend that the rollercoaster brought along.  They sit and look around them at the children celebrating their successes as well as the ones crying with disillusionment.  A woman comes over to tell the story of her son who hid between chairs on his way to the pool, hoping she wouldn’t find him.  It’s a jungle out there.

The next item is announced. The mother asks him if he wants to participate.  With a brave heart and renewed hopes of round shiny things, he jumps in the pool.  He kicks his bravery smack bang into no man’s land and finishes the race in a solid last place.  He gets out and breaks down.  “Why is the other ones winning and I am not?  I want a medal!”  It also doesn’t help that a friend slaps him on the back and asks him why he kicked so slowly.  Boys will be boys.

The uplifting talk continues. “My son, remember, up until now, you’ve only swam for fun.  And that is how it should be.  You are still so young.  Don’t be so hard on yourself, remember, you are good at so many other things.  Maybe this is not your thing.  Maybe swimming is some of your other friends’ thing and we should celebrate with them.  God gave us all different talents.”  Angrily, he says, “No!  I want to go for swimming lessons.  I want to win everything!”  He looks at the water.  “I’m not going to swim again.  The water is too cold.”

She looks at him and silently prays that a lonesome seed will fall in place somewhere in between all the confusing emotions. “That’s okay, you don’t have to swim again.  But we came on a mission today to participate in a swimming gala.  And that is what we are going to do still.”  She looks at the many parents leaving with their crying children.

A little while later, the next item is announced. The mother asks him if he wants to participate.  “Will I win a medal this time?”  He is weighing his options.  “If you come first, second or third, you will get a medal,” she answers.  He turns down the invitation, maybe realizing his limitations for the day.  He spots one of his friends on his way into the swimming pool and rounds up a few others.  “Hey guys, let’s go cheer for Lukas!”  They stand next to the pool and cheer him on.

When all is said and done, it is announced that all the participants who didn’t win a medal must come to collect their own. They are honoured for their participation today.  The little boy smiles from ear to ear, bright shiny thing around his neck and all.  His mother says that he must stand on the podium on top of the number ‘1’ so she can take a photo, for he is indeed her very own number one.  “No Mom!  Remember, I came second?”  He proudly stands on top of the number ‘2’.  Fair is fair.  ‘You deserve a medal just for being you,’ she thinks.  ‘And me, well, I deserve quite a few medals.’

Photos are taken of smiling and hugging friends. Toothless mouths and crooked front teeth rule them all.  For a moment, all disappointment is forgotten.  They share in each other’s joy.  The little boy even negotiates a medal exchange with his friend who won two silver medals.  “Come on, then you will have two different ones,” he tells him.  In the end, he has his silver medal and everyone is happy.

Today finds a little boy at his very first swimming gala. His mother wishes that they could side step this one.  She wishes that he can stay on top of the world a little longer, invincible and unbreakable.  But in the end, she is thankful for today.  Most of all, she is thankful that she can be there with him as he experiences these things.  She is thankful that they can take what is good from the day and move on to the next unchartered sea.  If she and her husband can teach their son but that, they have come a long way.

And that is all she needs to know now.

 

Long days filled with sacred moments

It’s Sunday afternoon and spring has sprung in all its glory in our city. My daughter and I are walking to the shops down our street while husband and son play a game of tennis.  Upon leaving the house, my daughter asks that I cut an apple in small pieces for the little birds on our way.  I in turn ask her to try to not moan too much while we walk there and back, a tall order for a little girl who wears her heart on her sleeve.  Then we are on our way.  We stop often as she puts down pieces of apple all along the route.  We are in no hurry.  On our way back, she asks for a piece of bread just bought as ‘the little birds need more food for the night’.  She sings and dances as she puts bread in nooks of trees so ‘they don’t need to come all the way to the ground’.  The sun breaks through the trees to tell of the sacredness of this moment.  Back at our house, broad-chested, she declares that not once did she moan there and back!  Indeed you didn’t, my little girl.  I am so proud of you for that and am truly thankful that you didn’t moan.  Not only am I thankful for the sparing of my ears, but also because you are such a wonderful little girl.

I think back to her first birthday. Butterflies and flags, balloons in a green forest.  Her unique laugh that fills the air like a shiny bell ringing in all its joy.  Then, the opportunity to smash her butterfly cake that she takes on with her trademark eagerness.  I remember catching myself just sitting and staring at her.  Her hands hungry to discover, her eyes wide with amazement, little face cake-smeared.  Her dramatic gestures that tell of a profound love for life.  Her brother running around, trying to catch balloons that gently sway in the breeze.  I remember the distinct feeling that I didn’t want to be anywhere else but there.  I remember thinking that there will never be a sacred moment like this one again. I remember feeling thankful.

Tonight, while washing my son’s feet, I again feel that I do not want to be anywhere else but here, smelly feet and all. In a crystal clear moment, I thank the Lord for the opportunity to wash my son’s feet.  I think of my friend Lize who is in hospital for longer than two weeks now and is not able to wash her daughters’ feet tonight.  I think of my mother and so many others who are not able to wash their sons’ feet anymore.  I wash between his toes and he laughs with his crooked two front baby teeth that will soon be gone, teeth that are now out of place in his enlarging jaw.  I watch him walk to his room, bones sticking out everywhere after influenza had the better of his body last week.  But he is better now.  The sparkle in his beautiful green eyes is back.  I am thankful.

Last week, in the hall of a Dutch Reformed church in Pretoria, we prepare for the concert of my daughter’s little playschool. The teachers and a few of us mothers are decorating the stage for this big event in the little ones’ lives.  Then, just after seven pm, the sound of choir voices from the church behind the dividers fills the air.  Sweet, sacred, simple choir music.  And my heart skips a beat.  I draw the divider back and pear in.  There I see men and women singing old Christian hymns.  And for a moment, I see my grandfather in their midst, sitting in his unique way with his chin on his chest, singing loudly with his formidable tenor voice.  For a moment, he is there before he is not there anymore.  For in this very church, many years ago, he dwelled countless times.  Here he served and worshipped the Lord.  Here he prayed for his children and grandchildren and, at the time, didn’t even know that his family would expand to include twenty-one great-grandchildren and counting.  Here one of his great granddaughters will have her concert the next day.  Oh, how I wish that he could have known her.  But in the midst of this sadness, I feel thankful.  He paved the way for us in so many ways. Amongst other things, he paved the way for his great granddaughter to lay her hands on her brother and pray for him when he is sick.

And for a while, time stands still.  Could sincere thankfulness be the real key to slowing down speeding time that I feel is running rampant in my life?  Could it be the way to truly experience the sacred moments that are indeed in abundance in the long days of motherhood?  I think of how Ann Voskamp in her book ‘One Thousand Gifts’ writes of her conversation with her angry son.  In the end, she says, “Feel thankful and it is absolutely impossible to feel angry” (freely translated).  Thankfulness transcends all emotions.

And so, my dear children, I pray that you will truly come to understand the importance of leading lives that revolve around thankful hearts.  Believe me, as you get older, this becomes more and more difficult to grasp.  May you learn to take your time, may your desire to feed the birds along the way speak louder that your need to hurry somewhere to fill empty cupboards back home.  May you always look back on times of illness and be thankful for how it made you stronger.  May you be thankful for those that has gone out before you to pray for the very life you have today.  May you take the time to lay hands on others and pray for them.  May you know that the days might be long, but that sacred moments are indeed everywhere for you to find.  May the sacredness of these moments cultivate your thankful hearts and may your thankful hearts also lead you to sacred moments.

And this is all I need to know now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lonesome seed

Seventeen years ago, my mother planted a lonesome seed. It wasn’t just an ordinary seed.  It was a seed that spoke of her hope that something good was to grow from the most difficult time in her life.  She had to dig incredibly hard underneath the thickest, blackest mud that was her son’s death in order to plant it way below the surface, far underneath the obvious. Still, she did, with no guarantee that it would ever grow.  She could only hope.

I’ve been reading my mother’s journal. On the first page, ‘My child is dead – 23 July 2001’, words written in her beautiful handwriting.  Words that caused my heart to squirm like a weak little worm in the midst of its ugliest enemy.  With her permission, I’m reading the thoughts she captured during the worst time in her life.  The fact that she was able to put even one word on paper during that time is a miracle to me.  Some days she wrote only the date, at a complete loss for any words.  Other days she poured her heart out on pages and pages and pages on end.

Light vanished the night my brother died. Literally, street lamps on the way to the accident scene were devoid of any light.  Darkness and cold ruthlessly came down upon the little town where we lived like thick, black mud.  Even the weather that night attuned to this.  The mud that came from nowhere to draw life from us, both physically and spiritually, surrounded us relentlessly.  In the time afterwards, we were able to escape this mud from time to time and gasp for air so that we could only barely survive.  But mostly, the darkened street lamps were appropriate metaphors for our hearts, all light smothered, all hope confused, all openness turned inwards in the face of the terrible finality of death.  We were paralyzed, powerless.  My father, mother, sister and I had to find our way through this thick mud to try to find each other.  We had to fight with all we had to not be completely consumed by this mud.  It was easier to turn away and inside.  For a while, darkness prevailed.  Or so I thought.

Until I started to read my mother’s journal seventeen years on. Until I realized what happened underneath the surface during that dark time.  Until I read how, every day, she intentionally set out to find her Father, the One who decided over her son’s life and death.  How she put her heart on paper in order to try to understand His heart for her and us.  How she mourned her son, who was very dear to her.  How she documented her concerns for us.  How she tried her best to find the words to describe her grief.  How she fought, how she cried, how she pleaded.  How, with shuffled little steps in complete darkness in search of light, she found switches to turn them on in order to take the next excruciating step.  By putting her heart on paper, she chose life over death.  She had to let go of what was inside of her or it would have been the cause of even more death.  She didn’t choose to vanish underneath inexpressible hurt.  She could have and it would have been completely understandable.  She chose to make her hurt known.  She chose Life.  She chose to believe in something good.

This ‘something good’ is not yet clear to us. Maybe it will never be.  But what I know now is that what grew from this seed is the tallest and most beautiful of trees.  From this mud, against all odds, shelter and protection came forth.  This tree is now a source of rest and grace.  We stop underneath it on our way to battle.  But while we rest there and gather ourselves, we realize that the ground beyond this tree is already seized.  The battle with our brother’s death and with death itself is already won.  It was won when my mother and father chose to seek the Lord in the midst of the mud on our behalf seventeen years ago.  While we sit there, we realize with intense relief that we need not fight this battle, we need not go any further.  We can rest there and then return to where God has planted us.

And so part of our roles as mothers and fathers are indeed to fight and win a few battles on our children’s behalf.  I am thankful for the battles won by my parents.  Battles that I do not need to take on now.  Battles that happened behind the scenes that I am mostly not even aware of.  Battles won that make us and all generations to come victorious from the start.  Territory won that we can walk upon as conquerors.  For we have our own battles and our children theirs.  It’s incredible to know that we can rest underneath tall trees grown from lonesome seeds in the darkest of mud.  Seeds that our fathers and mothers sowed in order for us to be able to be the light in darkness.  Seeds of hope, seeds of faith.  Seeds grown against all odds.

May we be brave enough to fight the battles we need to fight. May we plant lonesome seeds in the darkest of mud in genuine hope and faith.  May our children rest under the trees grown from these battles.

And that is all I need to know now.

 

Blessed are those…

Here’s to those extravagant dreams I dream for my children. I find myself once again praying and dreaming things that start and end with ‘extraordinary’ and ‘significant’.  Then I think of Rosie, Jabu, Nonnie, Kea, Lianry, Gabriel, Ruan, Themba, Simon, Koketso, Lerato and Annie.  These are little children who live in a home in Pretoria East.  One or both of their parents abandoned them, mainly at birth, they each have a disability or sickness and the home they live in is the only one they have known all their lives.  For most of them it is the only home they will ever know.  The people taking care of them are the mothers and fathers they so desperately need and they are each other’s brothers and sisters.  They are twelve little children of the greatest importance.

Yet, in worldly terms, they are incredibly poor.  They do not own anything, they rely on donations for toys and clothes and food.  There is no money for school, that is, of course, if they are suitable for a school environment, which most of them are not.  Most of them can’t move or speak, some can’t hear or see.  They basically can’t do anything to win anybody’s affection.  They do not reach most milestones.  They are not recipients of any inheritance and do not have bright futures ahead of them.  In fact, some of them have a very short life expectancy.  Little are they known, yet great is their importance.

For they respond with pure joy to every single deed of love, no matter how small.  Each second of undivided attention paid to them is treated as the greatest gift.  It could have been so different, having been abandoned and in some cases left for dead.  Yet, they were brought here, alive, thriving, loved.  They can only rely on the unconditional love they receive.  Their hearts are spread wide open to the gift of love.  They are stripped of everything that this world deems important, as beggars on the street, not defiled by any worldly standard or human opinion.  They are indeed twelve children of the greatest importance.

What is it then that gives them this importance? Where does one start with children who can’t do much and say even less?  I do believe it starts with the names God called them by here on earth.  Rosie means ‘rose’, and that she is.  One has to go a long way to find a little girl with a more gentle heart and a smile that light up the darkest of days.  Jabu means ‘rejoice’ and his exuberance tells of deep-rooted joy not dependant on worldly things.  Nonnie is ‘ray of the sun’.  She can only lie still due to brittle bone decease and severe scoliosis , but her presence transcends warmth and beauty.  Kea means ‘rejoice’ and he, with only a brainstem, can actually smile and make laughing sounds.  Lianry is fragile, yet fierce in her battle.  Her whole incredible story will only attune to this. Gabriel means ‘God is my strength’.  He is strong and reliable as a rock, there where he lies every day.  Themba is trust, hope and faith.  He is indeed steadfast and has a quiet, comforting presence.  Ruan is ‘gift of God’.  He is one who never fails to surprise!  Simon means ‘listen’.  And that he does.  He has a way of looking deep into one’s eyes, he truly sees and listens with the greatest care.  Koketso means ‘addition’ and this little baby boy is indeed the latest brave addition to the house where life was lost a few months ago.  Lerato is ‘love’, abundant and pure, never faltering.  Annieh is full of grace with her way of drawing you in and treating you as if you are the most beautiful creature on earth.

At the heart of their ministries are the simplicity of their presence and the pureness of their hearts. Oswald Chambers says, “At the foundation of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is the genuine loveliness of those who are commonplace. I am truly blessed in my poverty. The true character of the loveliness that speaks for God is always unnoticed by the one possessing that quality. Conscious influence is prideful and unchristian. If I wonder if I am being of any use to God, I instantly lose the beauty and the freshness of the touch of the Lord. We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring.”  How blessed indeed are these little children, that nothing that is engulfed in physical or mindful pride stands in their way of being open to God’s love and grace!

I have to once again ask myself, what am I busy with when I think, dream and pray? I indeed focus on things that are easily seen, such as strength of will, character, personality, to name a few.  I think of my own children and the energy I spend trying to analyse them.  How I read books on temperaments and attend courses on personality.  I think of how closely I track their milestones and fret over any slight deviation from what is perceived as ‘normal’.  How I place them in my little boxes.  I do believe that, time and time again, I allow myself to become distracted from what I should really be focusing on.  Could it be as simple as to just love and accept them as the unique beings that God called them by their name to be?  And in the process, just leading by example?

For part of God’s plan for us is indeed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven both now and forever” (Matthew 5:3 ). This I dream for my children, that they will be blessed in their insignificance so that “… out of their hearts will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Just like Rosie, Jabu, Nonnie, Kea, Lianry, Gabriel, Ruan, Themba, Simon, Koketso, Lerato and Annie.  Twelve little children of the greatest importance.