The way I see it

I was pouring out my heart to Andrew about something earlier and he said “You should write a blog post about that”.

I grimaced. He noticed, and asked why.

I’ve grown quiet in most spheres. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, everything to the contrary actually. Enter our home or car and you’ll soon discover that, as a family, we all have PLENTY to say!

But, do you read blogs? Do you go on Facebook, ever? Do you listen to, or engage in conversations around you? Do you read newspapers, more specifically, the letters and comments in response to articles posted?

I was going to say “perhaps it’s just me” but I know it’s not. Good news is hard to come by. This past week water shortages, drought and a prolonged heat wave have brought my country to her knees. The attacks in France have brought the world to her knees. And splattered in between and among those heart-breaking stories are more heart-breaking stories of the terrible things happening in our homes, communities, countries and indeed across the whole wretched globe every moment of every day.

That’s just the current events. Then we have news of the more personal kind. Facebook and Twitter. Bloggers sharing their stories and perspectives on their blogs and websites. WhatsApp chat groups, emails, radio show hosts and callers-in and I suppose TV shows too (we don’t have TV, so I’m guessing there). And then the rubber hits the road with face-to-face communications: across the dinner table and at parties and gatherings, at book club, at Church, in the staff room or around the copier at the office, our children’s school events and sports clubs and so on.

It’s not really the sharing of stories or news that is the problem. It’s the response to them. It seems to me that we have fallen so in love with our own opinions that thoughtfulness for the recipient of whatever comment we think is important enough to toss back at them has been unceremoniously thrown under the bus. A decade ago many would apologise upfront, prefacing what they knew was going to be offensive with the “no offence BUT….” that I grew to hate. Yes, I said it. Hate. I always wondered why someone would knowingly say something offensive, and if they really thought saying “No offence but…” excused them.

But now we just open our mouths, or set our fingers flying across the keyboard, and let rip.

I’ve noted a growing trend of defensiveness as a result. We cannot say a jolly thing without desperately needing to anticipate the negative responses and nip them in the bud, or justify ourselves, or defend something we’ve done, said or stood for. So we spend as much time, space and energy emphasising what we’re NOT saying as we do just saying whatever it is we want to say.

(And here’s my own bit of pre-empting: my feelings here are based almost entirely on what I’ve observed, not what I’ve experienced. I’d lie if I said no amount of poison or ridiculous response to something I’ve said or written somewhere had ever been spewed in my direction. I’m a homeschooling Christian mother of 5 with stronger-than-average views on politics, social issues and society in general. I’d live in a bubble if I didn’t know people consider me “intimidating” and “opinionated”. But my feelings about this are not based on those few personal experiences.)

Of course we are all entitled to our own opinions. I’m not of the same school of thought as my father who used to tell me “if I wanted you to have an opinion, I’d give you one”. But I also think that in this day and age of fluctuation and the breathless rate of change all around us, we’d have some respect for different views. Discussion, constructive criticism and even disagreement are healthy; harsh criticism, lack of empathy, a refusal to seek to understand and outright hatred is not.

As I’ve watched us go from bad to worse in just how highly we treasure ourselves and own opinions regardless of the cost to others, I’ve simply but purposefully stepped back, wanting no part of it.

I have also watched some bravely endure, knowing that what they had to say was of value and worth the risk. Strangely enough, it is from these individuals (some on Facebook, some bloggers, some journalists, a few personal friends) that I’ve learnt the most.

Andrew’s response when I shared all this with him was not only a mutual feeling about the matter, but these words: “Well, I want to encourage you to write again. I think you have something to say.”

You’re free to disagree, of course. He has offered to moderate my comments section for me.

Stepping out in faith

We have had a burden on our hearts for young adults ministry for several years. In the years between us finishing school and getting married, we were part of a young adults group. We met every week, taking it in turns to meet in each others homes. The meetings took the form of a Bible study but deep relationships were built during this time as we usually chatted for hours over coffee and treats. We celebrated weddings, births and birthdays together and spent many lovely afternoons at the dam or beach, went on walks, the guys played ball together on Saturdays and so on. Things were always simple, because most of us were either students or just starting work, but that never bothered anyone. Many of those relationships have endured and we’re all still in touch today, although now scattered across the world.

After getting married and moving to another city, we have never found another group or ministry like that. As the years have passed, we’ve started to see that fewer and fewer young adults are seriously attending Church and for those that do, groups for them are either non-existent or unsustainable. Having been involved in youth ministry in some way or another through all our years, we’ve seen the young people move away once they leave school, sometimes for practical reasons (school, work etc), but sometimes because they find no place to belong in their local Church family. No longer part of the youth group, but not yet ready for the more serious “adult” ladies and mens Bible studies and such, they fall into a gap, and all too often, through the cracks.

Not just us

We listened as a good friend shared his frustration with us a short while ago. He is in his early 20s and moved from another city about 2 years ago. He has tried various Churches looking for places to make like-minded friends but wasn’t finding young people like himself to befriend, or found that the churches that were attracting people of his age shared different views and practices of theology which we wasn’t comfortable with. He attends our Sunday services but wishes for more community, similar to what he had not that long ago in his youth group. We’d heard this story before, from different faces. And we’d lived it ourselves.

We looked around and realised that he wasn’t the only young person in our Church family. We counted several 20 somethings. The problem is that there isn’t really a platform to meet and befriend people as part of a morning service, and without some kind of organised group, it is actually quite hard to meet people and “plug into” community.

Doing something

No longer satisfied to sit by, Andrew approached our Church leadership and asked if we could start a young adults group in our home. We were delighted to be given the go-ahead!

We personally invited those we knew were looking for this kind of a group and decided to serve a meal as part of the meeting each week. We believe that food facilitates fellowship and relationship-building and also see this demonstrated in Jesus life with His disciples and in the early Church model.

On a practical level, this allows people to come straight from work, provides nourishing, home cooked food for the single people who live alone and don’t often cook for themselves, and is our way of inviting them to share in our lives as a family as our younger children eat and chat with the group, and for them to be a part of the group by eating with us before the study and discussion starts, which is when they go to bed.

It is important for us to approach everything we do with a sense of shared ownership, vision and “buy in” from every member of the family. Without this, conflict arises and distracts. With it, we work together in unity and accomplish more, all the while teaching, guiding and moulding our children and growing as parents.

Ready, set…..

We’ve been going for three weeks now. There are 8 regulars, plus Andrew, myself and Amié but since our sitting room is small, it feels like more. At first there was limited conversation but as the meal was served that first night, people started to relax and conversations started. After our study ended, they lingered and chatted for an hour while we served coffee. This pattern has continued.

People have asked if they could bring others along. They all said that they had been wanting or asking for a group like it.

We are so excited to see what lies ahead for this group. We have been praying about it every day. We asked them to communicate what they wanted or needed from us as the group leaders and told them that we are here to serve them but need to know how. Some suggestions have already been made. Andrew and I are bursting with ideas but want to proceed gently and try to nurture the group towards sharing their own ideas and gifts and ultimately having a sense of belonging and ownership. It is their group, not ours.

Andrew continues to study towards his theology degree and help as a youth group leader, we serve as a family on the music team and and today we were asked to help with mentoring students from the Bible seminary attached to our Church. While we haven’t done anything like this before, at least not in any kind of structured way, we are being provided with material to guide us and we know that the leaders and other mentors (who have way more experience) are just a phone call away. We feel honoured to be considered worthy of the task and are humbly grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow more while walking beside these young men and women.

There are details to work out as our ministry commitments increase, such as Andrew balancing work, study and family and for me to figure out how to work them into a rather busy season with the children (our eldest child in her final year of school, two demanding little ones and Jess in between). But convicted of saying “Yes” to God when He places something before us, we’re trusting Him to work out the details.

 

 

Goodbye 2013….

Welcome 2014, Goodbye 2013

Courtesy of www.grabhdwallpapers.com

 

(Long post warning)

I look back over 2013 and delight to see God’s hand with me and my family in a very real way. We have grown a lot. We’ve been stretched further than we thought possible, but we are stronger and learnt so much about ourselves and others around us through it.

We learnt very tangibly that the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)  are not magical qualities to simply possess, but are cultivated and produced by the careful, deliberate and sometimes harsh conditions around us, sovereignly managed by a loving Father who truly desires the best for His children.

We’ve had to have faith that God really and truly IS working for our good in all circumstances (Romans 8:28), even when we could not really see how or why.

But we are finishing off stronger. We have felt broken and weary at times, but have had joy and laughter too. We are grateful for the uncountable blessings showered over us and take away many experiences, moments and precious memories that are interwoven in the fabric of our lives, as individuals and as a family, and so are now part of who we are.

Andrew and our 3 youngest heading off to our annual Church Dudes & Brood's camping trip

Andrew and our 3 youngest heading off to our annual Church Dudes & Brood’s camping trip

Some of the good things we’ll remember from this year:

-our first year as a family of 6. We’ve loved the dynamic our younger children have brought to our family and I really love being a mother of 4.

– celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. Our love deepens every year and Andrew really is my very best friend, more than I EVER hoped for or dreamed of in a husband, my life partner. Looking forward to another 61 years of marriage – we always say that we’re trusting the Lord to see our 75th wedding anniversary!

My beloved and I, December 2013

My beloved and I, December 2013

AJ

Amie and I enjoying some rare time out, just the two of us, at a Friday lunchtime classical music concert at Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Amie’s 16th birthday. At a time when many teenagers are sleeping long hours, partying and giving parents headaches, our beautiful daughter is an example to many in faith, Godliness and hard work. We are incredibly proud of her! To celebrate her special day (and life) we invited about 50 people for lunch in the garden. Her friends, teachers and mentors came in full-force (unfortunately most of our extended family didn’t make it)  and we had a glorious day!

– Jessica’s progress in music and horse riding. She has stepped up with greater commitment in both and the results are clear: she is playing and riding beautifully! It was with immense joy that we bought her a new violin for Christmas.

Jess and Captain

Jess and Captain

-another wonderful party in November to celebrate Andrew and Cael’s birthdays. This party has become something of an annual tradition for us and our friends and this year we held Cadence’s dedication on the same day. We enjoyed hosting 53 friends and family members with trays of lasagne and large pots of beef and chicken curries prepared in advance to feed everyone, and Andrew’s delicious chocolate cake to end. Dear friends and our children’s god-parents traveled 500km to spend the day with us, which was wonderful!

– a fun Easter with our best friends.

– the continual growth of the musical talent in our little family. God has really blessed us and as we sing and play together, I am so grateful for these gifts. I am also grateful for the wonderful people who have nurtured it along the way; we have been blessed with dedicated and talented teachers who fit with our family so well too.

– 6 months of serving at a related Church. Our Church invited another Church loosely networked with ours to join our Family Retreat in April. We were part of the music team that weekend and the pastoral couple of the visiting Church shared with us how much they enjoyed the music and the challenges facing their own music team. We offered to visit and minister musically over two consecutive weekends. Those two Sundays led to us asking our home Church to release us for 6 months to serve at this other Church. We sought to bless them and perhaps help build up their own music team by walking alongside them and sharing a little of what we had learnt. We will always look back at that short-term mission with wonder at how quickly we were enveloped with love by that little Church family, the relationships we developed and how much we learnt and grew.

– a trip to the UK to attend the very special wedding of my best childhood friend, Clair. It was hugely emotional because Clair and I walked difficult paths together through our childhood and were each others life-line, very close through thick and thin for many years. She left South Africa for Scotland 16 years ago and we’ve only seen each other a few times since then, but always just pick up where we last left off, a truly comfortable easy friendship. It was an indescribable joy to see her get married, so beautiful and so happy.

Clair and I, 28 September 2013

Clair and I, 28 September 2013

– on that same trip to the UK we spent a week with another very dear friend and her three children (then all under the age of three) whom we had not yet met. It was so special to see our children playing together. We also met my cousins new baby son and enjoyed a lovely lunch with him and his delightful family, and spent 2 days and nights with another family, friends from many years ago who have faithfully served God on the mission field in various parts of the world and raise 7 beautiful children.

The babies and I with a passing train, London, September 1013

The babies and I with a passing train, London, September 1013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– the open top red bus tour of Jozi. Few locals think of Jozi as a tourist destination. Rather, you go elsewhere to do something fun. We decided a while ago to approach our city as tourists and have loved what we’ve discovered. The Jozi vibe is, we think, addictive! This bus tour was great fun! We added to it by taking the bus and Gautrain into the city.

Open Top Red Bus Tour of Joburg

Open Top Red Bus Tour of Joburg

Liliesleaf

Cadence and I, Liliesleaf Farm, 18 May 2013

– a visit to Liliesleaf Farm, where a raid in July 1963 led to the famous Rivonia Trial and Nelson Mandela’s life sentence. We took part in a tour with Jo, who studied Lilieasleaf as part of her Masters degree. We met her on a walking tour of Jozi with Past Experiences, her tour company. Cannot recommend her and her company highly enough – very inexpensive and loads of fun.

 

 

 

– Johnny Clegg’s Royal Albert Hall concert at Monte Casino, just a few days before Nelson Mandela died.  Johnny Clegg performed the song Asimbonangua and shared this video and story of it . The atmosphere was heavy as Johnny knew it was probably the last time he’d perform the song in his hero’s lifetime since Madiba had been gravely ill for months, and the audience felt that weightiness too. After telling the story of why and when he wrote the song, he told us that he had absolutely no idea Madiba would walk onto the stage that night (in the video). It was the first time he ever met this icon he wrote the song for. As he started to sing the chorus again, the entire audience of the sold-out Teatro got to their feet and danced and sang, fists in the air. It was powerful and emotional, I still get goosebumps as I think about it. I’ll always remember it.

– visiting our gardeners home in a shack township to provide first aid to his wife, Kestina. Her foot was severely burned after a pot of boiling “pap” fell onto it. Fearing infection, I visited twice daily for several days. A crowd would gather in the small doorway to watch as I knelt on the dirt floor to clean and bandage the swollen foot. I was able to distribute some toys and clothing (thanks to Knit A Square) and pray with women and children. Of course it was heart-wrenching to see Kestina in such pain, but I was blessed by the opportunity to minister and serve the poor.

Cael praying with a group of children in the township where our gardener and friend Michael lives, November 2013

Cael praying with a group of children in the township where our gardener and friend Michael lives, November 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– paying our respects at Nelson Mandela’s home after his death. We joined the throngs of people who flooded to Houghton. People of every creed, colour, walk of life, thousands of them. There was no chaos, no pushing or jostling or impatience. Everyone made room for one another, spoke kindly, made concessions for children…. a crowd was there singing. Softly Nkosi Sikeleli began and everyone joined in, singing in one voice & spirit. It was deeply poignant. In that moment I saw what the man we were there to honour worked so tirelessly for. I will never forget it.

– several wonderful new friends we’ve met and so look forward to them remaining part of our lives for many years to come.

– books that nurtured, made me think and challenged me, including Sanctuary: How an Inner City Church Spilled Onto a Sidewalk, Desperate and Barefoot Church.

– people that nurtured, made me think and challenged me.

– many lovely meals with my special family on the patio and Saturday morning breakfasts out with Andrew.

– meeting occasionally to chat and pray with a friend. She also brought me a meal one day when I was really tired.

Picnic at the Joburg Zoo on my birthday. 17 July 2013

Picnic at the Joburg Zoo on my birthday. 17 July 2013

– a birthday trip to the zoo.

– having our Church youth group and many of the children’s friends in our home for meals, games and movies.

– lunches and dinners with special friends. We did not extend hospitality as often as we should have, and will be more intentional in this area in 2014.

 

Some of the sadder things we’ll remember from this year:

– the death of our dear dog Keata. We had to euthanise her after she was diagnosed with aggressive bone cancer that was causing her terrible pain. Saying goodbye that day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Her pain is now over but ours will remain for a while still. She really was a great dog, a faithful friend and gentle giant. We will miss her and remember her fondly always.

Gran with Cadence, the 8th of her 9 great-grandchildren. August 2013

Gran with Cadence, the 8th of her 9 great-grandchildren. August 2013

– moving my beloved Gran into an assisted living facility. She is 87, her health is starting to weaken and it was no longer safe for her to continue living on her own. She is the first in our family to not be cared for by family and she was not happy to be moved. The idea of her being cared for by strangers still doesn’t sit comfortably with me, but she has lived in that same small town since her birth and didn’t want to move 500km to the big city to stay with us (we offered), and no other family are in a position to offer her care in their homes.

– very, very little sleep. We’ve survived on 3-4 hours of sleep most nights , often less, never more, for three years. Until a week ago, Cael woke up very loudly every 60-90 minutes, and sometimes would take up to 3 hours to go back to sleep. I was also nursing Cadence through the night. The exhaustion this caused overshadowed almost everything in our lives and we are so incredibly grateful to finally be getting some rest at night. Raising a busy family with Andrew building new businesses and studying while getting so little sleep has taken more from us than we thought we had to give. It affected our health, mentally and physically, and there are times we were truly worn down and very weary. However, in what can only be an answer to desperate prayer because nothing else has changed, our Boy has slept through the night or only awoken once every night for a week! What a wonderful note to end this year on!

2014

So we look forward to a new year with excitement. It is another opportunity to dream and to do. I have goals and ambitions, but also a bit more perspective and trust that God’s plans are higher and mightier than my own. I hold to mine loosely, knowing that I am a child of a loving Creator who knows me and guides me according to what is best for me. Always.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

WOW!

I came across this post via Money Saving Mom’s Facebook page:

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: The book that inspired me to set a Wow goal

It inspired me. I have long believed in the power of goals.

I last set goals in January 2011, about 6 weeks after Cael’s birth. He was a demanding baby who cried a lot and slept very little. But I really thought it would get better. I didn’t remember the girls being so difficult, and while there was a large age gap between them and their brother (14 and 10 years respectively), I was sure my memory wasn’t that bad. So, certain that our boy would soon settle in a predictable and easier rhythm, I set goals.

He didn’t get any easier. Life suddenly and unpredictably (perhaps naively) become very tough overnight and stayed like that for, well, three years. Our boy has brought us immense joy and delight too, but he has been very challenging. He had just turned two when his baby sister arrived, and while she was (and still is) a sweet easy baby, life still seemed tumultuous and getting through each day was by simply taking one step at a time, and never taking on too much* or aiming for anything super-exciting or productive.
(* Actually, in retrospect, we still took on a fair bit. We stepped into music ministry as a family and Andrew took on youth ministry, started a new business and a distance study degree. Whenever possible, we involve ourselves in ministry/missions, community or charity projects. While many “drop off the radar” for a while after the birth of a baby, we were so determined to keep up “life as normal” that we didn’t just keep up, we added more. I think it is partly who we are – people who like to dig in and make the most of every day  – and also because of some guilt and judgement we perceived to be placed on us, perhaps more by ourselves than others, but real nonetheless.)
Well, things have settled a little. We still have a way to go but, dare I say, I have started to breathe again. I am feeling a touch stronger. The exhaustion-induced brain fog hasn’t cleared entirely, but it’s a process.

And yes, I even dared to think about setting goals again.

The funny thing is, I’ve almost forgotten how to do it. And the notion of setting myself up for bitter failure again isn’t appealing.

But this idea of a WOW goal really grabbed me. To focus on just one thing but something big enough to excite and drive me, even when the going is tough, but just one so I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I can’t keep track.

I don’t know what that one goal will be yet. But I’m thinking hard and praying and chatting things over with Andrew.

I may not share what it is when I eventually know what it should be. But I really, really want to go for it anyway.

For the “smaller” stuff, we plan to change our schedule a little to improve how well our home and family work together and to be a lot more intentional in a few areas this year, such as hospitality and service projects. I’ll try write about those soon.

For more ideas and advice, check out this post: How to change your life by setting goals (and be sure to click through to her other suggested posts).

If you feel beyond stressed and exhausted, and too frazzled to even contemplate goals, consider Crystal’s new book: Say Goodbye to Survival Mode.  It hasn’t been released yet, and for those not living in US currency, the conversion rate does make it a little pricey, but it may be worth every penny if it helps you move from surviving to thriving.

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode

 

 

 

Hi stranger

It has been a while since my last post. A lot has happened since I last posted, least of all a two week trip to the United Kingdom with our two youngest children!

It’s also worth mentioning that I committed to keeping this blog a low priority. So if Andrew or the children need me, or if something needs to be done at home, for ministry or whatever, those things come first.

That’s not to say I don’t love writing….. I really do.

Here’s hoping I’ll be back soon!