Let your Kingdom come

This morning as we met together in a building, I was reminded again of the fact that this was simply a gathering of people.
It wasn’t church. We the people together were the church. We were a gathering of people wrestling with life and our own responses to it. Whether life meant struggles or celebrations in our families, in our communities or in our country… I looked up and around and saw people whose families are facing challenges, whose communities are being fractured by Xenophobia and different generations of people with different understandings of what makes national transformation important.

I reflected on the weeks that had passed and on the dialogues, in person and over social media and thought about the following points. I don’t have answers to them all. I do know that I was challenged to sit with them some more. In the day. In the week. In interactions.

What does it mean to be in what looks hopeless & yet still have a God of Hope in it?

What does it mean to live surrounded by fear or frustration or hurt and anger & yet know what & who perfect love is which casts out all fear AND then CHOOSE to respond from this space?

What does it mean to feel powerless & yet still have an all powerful God?

What does this mean in terms of our identity & action as people of God?

What does this mean in terms of what we declare? How we heal & seek to be part of seeing others healed?

What does this mean in terms of how we respond to the deep hurt & anger that we cant always connect to, yet there is collective voices expressing this?

What does it mean for us witnessing xenophobia?Afrophobia? Transformation?

I am sitting with this. I want to be a part of hope, of life, of seeing redemption.
I want to be a part of seeing people matter
I want what I believe and what I do and who I am to be aligned & not different boxes that I tick off – which means I need to make sure that my words, my thoughts and my actions are lining up.

Maybe this week some of this answers will become clearer.

Practically:
There are a WHOLE lot of amazing practical things happening in communities from IAMAFRICA which can be found on facebook which is a great practical resource for people wanting to know how to be involved in the Xenophobic relief and helping say NO! to the Freedom Mantle movement which is dealing with how do we develp a vision & leadership in South Africa that allows for South Africa to really be about a place for all and what does it mean to be a part of the change.

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Our mirrors. Our freedom.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
-Albert Schweitzer

The last 10 days have seen some hard curve balls in our family of 2. The details don’t matter for this reflection, but the outcomes and realisations do
Things we were hoping we weren’t going to have to deal with and yet we did. More than did- we came out knowing that we are okay and there is hope, and in fact in the midst of the heartache and sadness there was joy.
Not because we were in denial but because we had ‘mirrors’ reminding us of who we are and what we are about and what our hearts have always known about what we believe our family to be about.

Regardless of what the situation was, I have realised that in any other hard time my default thinking was always: ‘Some people get the easier end, I am not one of them’ or ‘my story involves zig-zag hair pin, up and down paths rather than a controlled, steady climb to the top’. In fact last year when we fell pregnant, my exact words to a few close friends were – this happened too quickly, it can’t be that easy & sadly it was a blighted ovum – but that had nothing to do with my thinking – other than at the time really challenging me to change it but wondering why I should!

I had been wrestling with my perspective on life and what it said about my belief in God (which I didn’t really like at all) before we even knew we were pregnant so it wasn’t linked to the pregnancy itself. And (bad grammar I know, but the emphasis is needed) AND this is important – because my thinking had nothing to do with things that happen ultimately BUT everything to do with how I respond to things. Some things like a blighted ovum just are, but end up feeling like a (can you say rationalising excuse?) self-fulfilling prophecy and in other contexts mean that I don’t live in the moment but mistrust the joy in front of me.

See in this past week I have witnessed someone share their amazing testimony of how their thinking changed (read and follow her journey here: https://adoptaconvict.wordpress.com ) & had a conversation with someone whose life is in a transition and choices need to be made space, but it’s hard to know that there is permission and blessing to do so, and it hit me again.

We all need mirrors.
We need mirrors to remind us of who we are and who were aren’t.
We need mirrors to tell us truth, to encourage and to reflect back to us when we can’t see clearly.
We need mirrors to give us courage.

My mirror this last week diffused what previously would have felt like ‘here we go again – it’s that hard path’ and turned it into WHAT, WHO ARE YOU? REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE?

I realised 5 days after my mirror in our current context (a friend who knows who she is) did this, that there was no time to focus on the hard path, to get stuck in the default thinking simply as once she reminded me of the bigger picture…the rest no longer mattered as much.

It was an incredibly liberating and joyful celebration in the midst of what could have and previously only would have been an angry and tired place.

More than what and who I discovered myself to be in this, again, I celebrate that in the last 6 months, my thinking has changed, that to quote henri nouwen ‘I have lived into a new way of thinking’.

I know that life isn’t fair.

I know God is there regardless.

I know that ‘bad things happen to good people’ and that good things happen to ‘bad people’. That we don’t always get what we or others think we deserve – sometimes it’s much more, sometimes it’s much less. *see below*

I know that when my sense of shame, sorrow, anger, sadness or ‘it’s not fair’ kicks in that sometimes I don’t see clearly in the mirror.

I know that it’s thanks to the faithfulness of community, of people walking down the valleys and up the mountains and onto the peaks with me to celebrate that things have shifted into a new way of living.

I am grateful for friends and family being willing to be my mirror. Mirrors who can reflect the broken bit but also the whole bits – which allows for freedom & confesssion & healing.

I am grateful for God holding up the ultimate mirror of the paradoxes of life and knowing that in this uncertainty about much, that there is certainty.

I know this because I have witnessed it time and again over the last few months and really across the last 41 years &1 day of my life.

To sit in a car en route to work and want to do a happy dance of joy, knowing that the pathways in my heart and mind have changed is more than just about work I have done.

It’s about grace.
It’s about healing and joy.
It’s really been about mirrors: seeing and being seen.

We need mirrors.

*good and bad people used loosely in this context simply and by no means imply that people are not worth anything or that any of us are better or worse than others…

Justice vs Selfishness

Is SOCIAL JUSTICE in some ways THE STRUGGLE AGAINST SELFISHNESS?

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference with various leaders seeking change in the area of poverty, inequality & unemployment. At this conference were leaders who had been involved in the struggle against apartheid as well as young leaders whose voices are loud in the current struggles that our country faces as a whole – by whole I mean people of all groups and (racial) backgrounds.
There were many reflections on things that worked, ideals that were and weren’t achieved and stories told of the political struggle that ensued to bring SA into a democracy. Rev Frank Chikane said the following which has sat with me and I have no concrete answers to this – other than we need to find this path through restitution and peace: ‘In the build up to 1994 the country was taken across a bridge in such a way that bought the country to a new place without destroying it; however the economic system wasn’t taken across the bridge’.

I sat listening to people speaking about their experience of growing up poor, of the struggle to escape an economic system that is responsible for much of the structural violence and neglect many people still suffer under and realised that this was the bigger narrative against which the smaller, personal narrative needs to unfold. As a South African who is white how do I find my space in the midst of this when I see what are emotional, angry and ‘you can’t possibly understand the other’ type responses on social media and news comments?

How do i listen to what needs to be said, but still ask or challenge or engage people to find an alternate way to that of bitterness driven responses? This morning I again saw a person of colour being allowed to respond to an emotional statement (which is allowed too) and yet when a ‘white’ person affirmed the initial response and asked the questions which I too wanted to ask was immediately shot down. It made me think that while we talk a big talk about creating a land of equal opportunity that in the midst of that we need to find ways of seeing each other – and that means looking beyond our own assumptions and stereotypes –regardless of who they are about.

Sivuyile Kotela said ‘that we need to find a way of talking about poverty and it’s link to race without being racist; that the church has a responsibility to talk about poverty differently to those who do so for political reasons and that as much as don’t want to talk about race often, in the context of poverty it’s a needed discussion’. This might not be radical enough for some of my more left wing friends. It might infuriate some of my more right wing friends that the race word has once more been used.

So in this context how does this broader narrative and story that is currently unfolding as a nation impact my personal narrative around justice? I have had FOMO watching friends engage in dialogues around this until I felt convicted that actually, justice needs to be about the way we live our lives – and yes the dialogues matter, but what matters too is actioning the things that we see and hear.

How do I acknowledge and what do I do re: my white privilege? No – that doesn’t mean I have a trust fund, it simply means that inherently if I listen to some of my best friends (who happen to have grown up differently based on their skin) tell stories of their childhood, do I acknowledge & respond to the wrongs or simply nod and move on?

Justice in my day to day life is about how I:
– Engage my community
– Engage my neighbours
– Engage those employed by me: whether at work or at home. Do I respect and value the person & her work, helping in my home enough to pay her a generous and living wage or do I worry that this will impact my disposable income too adversely?
– What do I do with disposable income and time?
– What do my friendship circles look like? Do I intentionally befriend people whose stories differ to my own so that there are bridges being built or do I surround myself with people who are like me and allow to not have to think/ talk or be the other?
– Is my faith & it’s actions private or is there a social aspect to it in terms of how I live it out?

I don’t have answers for all of the above – but when I start to ponder them the selfishness of aspects of my world are bought to light and it brings me back to consider where I need to shift again.

One week later: Things that helped, things that hindered & finding grace in grief

I have learnt, lived and experienced things this last week that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. In the midst of the heartache and disappointment there have been many reasons for gratitude. There have also been things that happened that were perhaps well meaning but really not helpful. There were things that I am not sure what they were about but have left me perplexed. They are things. Things for me work well in lists, so here goes the list.

GRATITUDE for the man I married who has loved, held, supported and shown up when nothing he can do can “fix this” right now. I have learnt that Charlie shows up in the way that matters and that he loves me more, deeper and far better than I could have hoped or imagined.

HELPFUL reflection: We need the love and support and ACKNOWLEDGMENT of our community but that much of this grief work is private as much as the journey is shared. So thank you for acknowledging our grief, for praying, for messages and for space. That is both something that I am grateful for and that was helpful. There is a part of this that is lonely and that I can’t share with others – but value them being there. Just being there.

NOT SO HELPFUL reflection:
We chose to share the joy of discovering we were pregnant, as well as the sadness of the loss. The amount of info we share around this is up to us – it hasn’t been so helpful when people have wanted details around either the pregnancy or the loss. We were clear about the reason for not meeting our little person when we announced this (a blighted ovum). Questions & responses which weren’t helpful included, and in fact were quite intrusive:

o Did the doctors do investigations as to why? Can they explain why? (No – if you want more info, perhaps use google, rather than me).

o Were you on hormone treatment? Will you be given hormones to help you fall pregnant again? (Really – this is loaded with assumptions about how we fell pregnant to start with or that there are issues – and if there are, that is obviously something personal that wasn’t shared; and if there aren’t, how do I respond graciously and honour my community who have had struggles in this without pushing into their pain. Fertility is an emotionally loaded area. Please be careful how you approach this with anyone, maybe don’t?)

o Inquiries as to how much (& whether it will be protected/ unprotected) sex we plan on having in the near future (My gut reaction to this: Why would you like to recommend a baby making position?!)

The spiritual side of things matter too. I don’t believe that things always happen for a reason, or that there is a bigger picture or obviously God wanted an extra baby in heaven – my faith in God wasn’t hinged on whether or not this baby made it to us: I was astounded at the amount of people who told me not to give up on God. It worries me that God’s faithfulness is perceived as being contingent on my circumstances – but that is another discussion. The world is messy. Life is messy. This happening is nonsensical to me, and as hard as it is is messy. God doesn’t owe me an explanation -I don’t want to get into a discussion like Job did where God had to remind him of who is who.

It has been a week today since we found out that we weren’t going to meet our small person this side of heaven. Acknowledgment of this means being sad, saying it’s hard and taking your lead from how much information we choose to share. Our medical history is ours and the way in which we are processing privately needs to be ours too.

It doesn’t matter whether this was a first time lucky conception or a hard prayed and longed for one (with or without intervention)– or whether it was an adoption that fell through. When people bond and dream of their small people, it’s a loss – REGARDLESS of how the small person was going to arrive.

HELPFUL reflection: Recognising that while we share stories I don’t want to own your story and I don’t want you to own mine. They are our individual stories of unique babies but with a shared understanding of loss. It is stressful and hard for anyone to have to listen to someone else’s outcome which is not necessarily true for the person. Thank you for the friends who shared their stories but also for those who shared the helpful parts and didn’t insert into our story what their outcome was. Our story isn’t finished yet. A parallel story to this was my younger brother getting married before me – people often asked me if it was hard for me to hope for marriage since I am the oldest and Mark got wed first – no it wasn’t hard. I was never going to marry my brother. His being married, someone else having a baby or not is not my story. It’s theirs. My cousin is going into labour (hopefully) any minute – I am excited at the hope of new life in the midst of our loss. It’s been hard but helpful, for me, to be able to weep and celebrate with her. This might not be true for anyone else.

GRACE moments: That this either owns me indefinitely or becomes a part of my story. My daily choices as I grieve and choose to process will determine this. This was a reminder again that there is a depth of pain that lacks words. It was a reminder that I don’t have to soldier on and that in the midst of this and that there is love in places and people if I am open to receiving and allowing it to be there.

This is a club that I NEVER signed up for. I resent at times the fact that I now have to be a part of this and yet I look at the amazing women in my world who are here too – some who are birth mothers and some who mothers without having given birth (or adopting) and realise that none of them did either and there are lots of clubs throughout the world that people didn’t sign up for.

In the meantime there is grace, gratitude and recognition that it’s okay to say things are sometimes more helpful than others.

This is dedicated to a baby we never met who we named Michael; who would have been born around Freedom Day (27th April). Trusting that his story will help bring greater freedom in our lives, other’s lives as well as a sense of God’s glory in the messiness of life

Blessed are the peacemakers…am I really one of them?

What does this mean in a time where there is so much conflicting evidence, opinion and ways of being?

What does this mean when I see one overall picture and understand that (as much as I can anyhow) and yet when I look at some of the details and nuances of the picture know that I can’t ignore those too?

What does this mean when I understand that one man’s army/ terrorist is another’s freedom fighter?

The past 10 days we have seen escalations of rockets and strikes in Israel and Palestine.
We have heard horrific stories from people who have been able to tell them out of Baghdad, Iraq.

How quickly I forgot that wars can’t be won in social media platforms.
How quickly I forgot that posting a status doesn’t communicate anything of my position rather simply puts me at one end of the extreme or the other – and alienates discussion.

Do I think that it’s important for me to know why I think what I think and be willing to stand up for it? Yes.
Do I think that I am always wise in the way that I have positioned this? No.

A friend’s Mom who has known me since I was 12, said to me in a discussion “you and I both suffer with this desire for everything to be right and fair”. She and I have been communicating via facebook and via email in an attempt to figure things out – something I so value and appreciate. Not because we want to be right, but because we have both wanted to understand more.

This weekend I have had nights of poor sleep which have involved lying awake and praying – for Israel, for Palestine and for Iraq. Nights where I have asked God to make sense of this for me, to make sense of how people can do to others what is and has been done.

Someone posted back on something I had posted on facebook and asked for input on, that “regardless of who holds the passport, one life lost is one life too many”. I totally agree with her: This I have never disputed and ironically is very much in keeping with the Israeli position on life.

A wise man I know told me to be pro-peace, pro-people and pro-the Existence of the State of Israel, a place where Jewish people – and others – have a home, in where I position myself.

In my own reflections I have read and been sitting with Ecclesiastes 7: 18

“It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The wise man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (NIV)
Or
“It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it” (The Message)

So what does this mean for me, in my (limited) understanding of the current, but ongoing, crisis:

• I understand the fact that Israel has rockets launched into it weekly, if not daily, from Gaza and that these go unreported and unknown for the vast majority of us. Someone I know lives in a part of Israel that has rocket alerts at the very least, once a week – he is a peace loving person, who sees value in ALL people and wants peace. He has no political agenda in sharing this information. These ongoing “rockets” have happened in one way or another since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

• I understand that to be a Palestinian means to be treated differently. I know that there are aspects of this that don’t make sense to me at all and I know that there are aspects of this that need to be addressed and looked at.

• I also know and have personally witnessed Arabs and Israelis co-existing and doing life in Israel – living, eating, shopping and studying together. I ate & shopped in Arab owned businesses which my Jewish friends took me to and where they were all known by name.

I see a piece of the picture for Israel. Israel who has heard repeatedly that they are not recognised by certain parts of the Arab world, that they need to wiped out and I see the horrible details in this picture belonging to the people of Palestine.

I have learnt this week that I feel strongly that to see one without the other is to not see the full picture:
That they are different parts of the same picture.
I have learnt that I have failed in being a peacemaker in this – and I am sorry for this.

I have learnt that it matters to me that we are not selective in the “justice via social media” that we are dispensing – that what is happening in Iraq matters just as much as what is happening in Palestine and Israel and that my frustration levels at people not acknowledging this is what has contributed to my failing in part, in the way I have responded.

I have learnt, that to quote Solomon:

“Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecc 9:18)

Blessed are the peacemakers in our world who are weeping together, walking together, mourning together.
May I learn what it means to be one of them.

SHOWING UP LOVED

Walking through a forest, reflecting on life, justice and the wide world, a friend said the following to me:

“What would life look life if we showed up every day knowing that we were loved?”
(Marlyn Faure paraphrasing Henri Nouwen)

Eugene Petersen paraphrases 1 John 4: 17 – 21 in a way that explores this too:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home, and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgement Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
….Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

This morning I was convicted of the fact that I often DON’T show up loved. I show up like I need to protect myself, like I need to question the people in my world, like I need to do more, be more and try more than I do. I need to control what is happening around me because if I don’t I fear what will happen. I don’t show up loved when I behave this way.

I am not saying that we should not put in effort, that we should strive to be the best we can be, but if we are not doing this from a place of love, then what is our driving force?

Making this real meant figuring out how would my life look different IF I SHOWED UP LOVED:
– What would my marriage look like?
– What would my work space look like?
– What would I be like and my attitude to the different dimensions of me (physical, emotional, intellectually, spiritually)?
– What would my friendships be like?
– What would my family space be like?
– What would my life dreams look like?

Doing this exercise made me realise how much fear had been allowed to show up – out of habit now rather than always for a good reason.

Fear meant that I took shallower breaths, focused on what could go wrong, focused on needing to protect me, and focused on needing plan B, C or H! Fear meant that I worked harder, pushed harder and judged myself harsher than I would anyone around me. Fear meant that things became personal when they weren’t intended that way always.
Fear meant pulling boundaries into rigid spaces rather than letting them be permeable and healthy spaces.
Showing up loved meant that words like the following peppered my page when I did the above exercise. TRUST, SAFE, GROWTH, FUN, VULNERABLE STRENGTH, DEEP, HEALTHY, GRACE, SATISFIED, PURPOSEFILLED, INSPIRED.
Showing up loved means trusting, checking in and then responding to God, to others before reacting from fear and behaving like I wasn’t loved.

I am re-committing to showing up loved.

showing up loved jpg

Rythm vs Rut

Over the past few weeks there have been a number of PAUSE and think moments that have challenged me about the way in which my life is lived. I have had to realign goals around health and fitness, I have had to think about what I believe about rest and relaxation, I have had to think about identity vs activity and the theme through all of this in many ways has been about letting go.

My first pause moment really came during a session with my fitness trainer who has had to talk my anxiety down regarding NOT being able to reach the goals that I wanted to before the end of August (I wanted to be running & cycling regularly again and 2 months ago was categorically told that I am not allowed to run. I am allowed MILD to moderate exercise 3 or 4 times a week but more MILD than moderate was the emphasis).

Lana reminded me, again, of controllable vs uncontrollable variables. That I didn’t choose to be in a place where this was the outcome BUT I can choose how I recover from it: I have no control over the fact that this HAS already happened, but I can choose the recovery plan – and the longer and harder I fight that, mentally or emotionally or physically, the longer the recovery plan will be. Controllable variables have meant relooking at goals. Controllable variables have meant redefining what health and fitness is going to look at end of August. Controllable variables mean that there is a little bit of flexibility needing to develop in this life story.

Ironically the exercises the doctor has encouraged are all about flexibility: Yoga, Pilates, stretching and walking! Lana has built the stretching into our training sessions and I have gone looking for appropriate yoga classes/ spaces.

On Saturday I wandered up a piece of the mountain (read steep uphill) with Kate, 2 yoga mats and the intention to stretch and relax outside in the winter sun. During this time, Kate who has been doing this a lot longer than my 2 weeks – reminded me whilst in warrior pose (those of you who know me well will appreciate the irony that follows):

The weird thing is that as you relax into this pose, the stronger you get and as you get stronger, the easier it is to relax.

AHEM! I had just been thinking about ISAIAH 30:15 which reads as follows:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. This piece of scripture goes on to talk about the plans made by people rather than turning to God’s grace and compassion – and a blessing on those who wait for him.

I was in what felt like rhythm of busyness, of activity but actually as I reflect back now: It was a rut of activity where I kept going because I didn’t know how to stop: whether because I didn’t choose to, or didn’t feel like I could, or because of underlying anxiety, it doesn’t matter. It was not a rhythm – it was a rut. Rhythm has energy in it – A rut is about repetitive action. Rhythm has beats and steps which can change – A rut is set and can’t.

So, as this new season and decade begins, it’s time to find the new rhythm, to seek the new beat and to work out what needs to be activity out of a space of identity rather than out of habit and activity; to work out where the flexibility needs to be so that the strength and rest for this next season can develop. It’s about allowing rest and recovery to be significant too.

(Actually I am pretty excited about the possiblities of all this now 🙂 )