Just been on an AMAZING walk. God and I. Ate blackberries, spotted a butterfly and later a squirrel dozing in a tree. Drank in the sun shimmering silver on a fishing lake, squelched through soil freshly ploughed promising food. And me and a horse with fat- fringed- hooves talked of beauty, cheek to cheek.
“I think that love and pain always do go together. You can understand this in many ways, one would be that we are finite creatures, mortal creatures but long for the infinite, long for the eternal and this side of the grave at least loss and limitation is part and parcel of life so that which we yearn for, that which we are passionate about – love- I think always to a degree alludes us, we are not gods, and this can be quite a difficult lesson to learn. This is the more negative side, but there is also a positive side. That giving up on our self-sufficiency and autonomy and expanding into life, is a difficult process because it’s about taking risks, you have to learn to trust others, you have to learn to trust life itself and that is not always straight forward. But nevertheless as long as it goes well enough, it does lead to a growth in life and a greater awareness of the way things are. This is part of the key Christian message that through suffering comes an awareness of life which is greater then anything you could have imagined before, the movement from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. There is often this paradox in suffering, that often it is in suffering that we know our greatest connection, because life gets more intense, it gets kind of rarefied and we become very aware of that which is most important.” Mark Vernon on Premier Christian Radio.
“When thanksgiving hits a tipping point, it becomes thanksliving and catapults us straight into the will of Christ” Ann Voskamp
Last weekend the sun came out and spring was in the air and I reclaimed my favourite seat in the conservatory, and drank in the only view in our home where the surrounding houses don’t eyeball you. I could feel petals unfurling somewhere deep within.
Richard was about to return home after 12 days away in the Congo. And a lovely, long week of half-term holiday stretched ahead.
Today, a week later, it is snowing and the temperature is doing a ‘sit-in’ on zero degrees. The conservatory is a freezer once again. Yesterday we went for a walk in a forest and froze alongside the frozen pools of water. I got bone cold. Nevertheless I did experience the exhileration of the ‘green shoots’ of new friendships, as we walked with a group of Mum’s-with-their-children.
Throughout, despite the wayward weather, I’ve been counting gifts. I started counting three gifts a day at the start of 2013, a new years resolution. Now it’s come to the point where by 11.00am the gifts are falling fast and furious.
Benjamin’s goodmorning sleepy hug. Our bedroom is always his first port of call. Today he enters with a lively “Bonjour”, in an attempt to shrug off the tendrils of sleep. “Have you heard of Voodoo?” he asks. “Voodoo, ‘you do’, voo means you’ in French”. “Not spelt the same”, my noncommittal sleepy response”. Later I smile deep as I recall this. Ahh my idiocentric son who keeps mining his mum’s heart, uncovering new seams of love.
Richard brings me a hot drink of water with ginger and almond nuts. Don’t ask! He started the day with a jog-about-the-block for the third time in a row.
Joanna decides to recreate her room, the furniture is moved about with the help of Dad, and now visitors to her room no longer have to wade through a swamp of discarded clothes. She’s pleased with herself.
Two overipe bananas sit, waiting, with eyebrows arched, on the kitchen counter. After a bit of a rummage through a variety of ‘worse-for-wear’ recipe books I finally find a banana muffin recipe that only needs two bananas, courtesy of Joannas after school cooking club. It requires chocolate chips (we have cooking chocolate) instead of nuts (the cupboard only has almonds). A green flag is waved for a bit of baking.
There are three small pots of primulas on the kitchen window sill. Yellow, orange and purple. No longer on deaths door. All they needed was some water.
Richard helps clean the one long, narrow diningroom and sittingroom.
Benjamin gets an e-mail from the first-friend-he-ever-made in the UK. He goes to a different school now but he tells Benjamin he might be going to the same secondary school as Benjamin.
I forget to put the chocolate chips, so effeciently created by Joanna with the help of a plastic bag and rolling pin, in the muffin mix. I have a mini tantrum in the kitchen stomping my feet up and down in quick succession. I imagine probably very like my two year old self was prevented from doing. It’s my kitchen now, I’ll stomp my feet if I want to! The baking has lost its bonhomie. Do I scratch it from my list of gifts?
12 banana muffins and a thin banana loaf sit on my sideboard minus their chocolate chips. My tummy rumbles. It’s lent and I’ve given up sugar in all its many forms. My echo of hunger reminds me of the ‘tempo de forme’ (time of hunger) in rural Mozambique. I remember the shock when I first heard a Mozambican refer to it as a matter of fact one January, as an aside almost. Like the fact that for two months people are hungry, as their food stocks are running out, eaten by people, rats and weavels, and the harvest is not yet in, is just some kind of freak side-show, best ignored.
Perhaps this is the origin of Lent. When people lived off the land, food reserves at this time of year, as winter drags on and spring fights valiantly to take center stage, would have been very low. Best to offer this gnawing hunger as a gift of thanks for the greatest of all gifts.
I relook at the banana-without-the-chocolate-chip muffins with eyes that see. I’m humbled, palms open in thanksgiving.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own kin?“
~Isa. 58: 6-7
I can’t say when I actually left home. I’m not sure I have ever actually done the ‘Three little pigs’ thing and gone out to seek my fortune, napsack on my back. Leaving home, the family where I grew up, has been a process that began the year after finishing school at Hillcrest High School, Natal, South Africa. It is a long story full of adventure. What I can say is that between then and now I have definitely left home far behind.
Did you know that foreigners are often mentioned alongside the widow and the orphaned in the bible as needing extra doses of TLC. I was reminded of the reason why while writing home recently.
Writing Home ……
It’s a Tuesday, my favourite day, sandwiched between two working days.Tuesdays are celebrated by a good, long walk through beautiful English countryside after dropping Joanna at school. This morning as I waded through a meadow hip-high in pink and gold grasses, probably boasting up to 50 different varieties, I suddenly felt adrift in the sea of grass. It’s the time of the horrible-hormones which is like losing all control of the tuning on one’s radio so that the stations all play simultaneously at full volume. Gone is the option to choose serene Classic FM or thought provoking Radio 4 or energising Radio 1. It’s like an emotional Maypole dance twisted into a mass of confused ribbon. Like being compelled to use too many similes. But as I prayed, I became aware of a steady rhythmic heart- sore beat and the Spirit of all wholeness, being Holy, helped me discern its true song. “Ek Verlang ….”. So much so that I can only dare acknowledge it in a foreign tongue. It’s buried deep you see for practical purposes. But the God in whom we live and move and have our being knows. And so standing in the sea of grass, watched by sentinels of Oak and Ash, a strangled cry escaped me to join the chorus of the crows. Simultaneously knowing, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, that being homesick is a human condition as are we not all ultimately homeward bound?
Up and over the next style, with its friendly footpath logo, I start to log what it is I miss. For starters, the distance between me and tea-on-my-parents veranda is simply mindboggling. Completely confuses the inner-Cavewoman. Then there is the indulgence of peeping from under my sun-hat at the intoxicating shimmering blue of the Indian Ocean, as I lie sleepily upon the sand while someone else cleans my home and sorts my laundry. I miss familiar faces. Familiar sights and sounds. Two Zulu women conversing loudly-with-laughter. I miss the opportunity of seeing South African theatre and of hearing South African music live. I miss hikes in the Drakensberg and far reaching horizons where blue-blue sky meets land or sea. That African bush that stretches on and on and on as it does in Hluhluwe Nature Reserve. I really miss living in a country where my choice of word for where I wee does not invoke a subterranean class war. ‘Loo’ or ‘Toilet’, come orf it you carn’t be serious mun, Poo!
And so while passing through a scrap of woodland I allow myself to weep in amongst the nettles and dappled rays of sun, leaving languid cows behind me, heading for a field of wheat beyond. Over a style I climb and find the heart sore drum beat is in decline, the childish longing for a mum- and- dad- at- hand acknowledged and embraced, can now subside. I take pleasure in my purpose-driven stride, to exercise in beautiful countryside. Grateful for the side-order of psychological processing , ‘on the house’. After all the best things in life are for free.
Found this written in one of my diaries today and reconnected for a moment with my 20 something life. This was written after listening to a radio broadcast on the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa.
Lives torn apart by mortar
I sit in my room, safe with my cat
and listen to academia dither.
While the anguish of the victims
seeps through the airways
demanding retribution thither.
Should the multitude of if’s and but’s
win the day?
or will the passionate pleas
sway over the middle way
transferring each persons cup of pain
from one to another.
Where does the horror begin
and will the sorrow ever end.
There is the dawning of a new beginning
I want to store it in my womb
safe from destruction, away from the ruin.
I love that when I awoke this morning wrapping my melancholy around me, like a toddler clings to a familiar blanket, I was able to make a mumbled, jumbled moan to You, Abba God, lamenting my sadness. “I’m not doing very well, but I do really love You”. My morning prayer.
Sitting on the loo before the sun is fully up. I dutifully pray my daily doxology, “This is the day that the Lord has made I will rejoice and be glad in it”. And I thank You for Richard and Benjamin and Joanna, I thank You for my health, I thank You for my lovely home, and I thank You for my parents. But somewhere in the middle of this doxology, I get distracted and diverted. Instead I recall all the disappointing bathrooms in Mozambique I have known, with their intermittent water flow and grimy shower curtains. The years when water was heated in a bucket using an element hanging from a wire clothes hanger. And I’m filled with gratitude that the previous owner of this house especially replaced her shower-only- bathroom, with an all singing and dancing shower- with-bathtub, to help her sell the house, which is now our home. For though the bath itself is hardly ever used it’s absence would eat away at my peace of mind. Wasn’t all our angst about buying a house with only one, teeny bathroom such a lot of nonsense! As I share this with You I’m engulfed by Your smile and want to shout from the mountain tops, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow”.
A little later I bring up a tray of treats to our bedroom. Hot chocolate, chocolate muffins, biscuits, tea and a mug of hot -water- with -ginger- almonds- honey and apple cider vinegar. First the three in the bed all obediently swallow a vitamin C (Holland and Barret would be pleased.) Then I climb in with them, very ‘snuggly wuggly’ and read to them from our latest book based on the life of Amy Carmichael.
Later still, walking around the garden, eating my jungle oats, feeling the cold dew underfoot (my mother would be pleased) I greet the two rabbits hoping about. Feebee Foe (Flopsy’s new name) hops up to me to say ‘hello’ but skitters away when I try to pick her up. She’s not in the mood for a cuddle’. The pansies are shouting out their vibrant glistening colour and I say, “I see you, you beautiful things” (Prince Charles would be pleased). I place the miniature crystal obelisk in the miniature rockery back on it’s ‘feet’. Some of the rocks travelled all the way from a beach in Salt Rock, South Africa. They look so nondescript compared to their flint-stone cousins, found locally, that I have to consciously label them ‘Proudly South African’ with the help of a small SA flag. I smile at the words written in African seeds that sit perched about the gnarled hand of a small tree, which has been hacked back hard – ‘laugh, pray, dance, sing. My garden does indeed sing out “Praise God all creatures here below”.