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Live more simply

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Familiar yet new

The light falls differently in this place. Sun-speckled shade through the canopy above is soft. The wind is gentle today, welcoming and calm, like the Holy Spirit in my heart. It is sorely needed after the long journey across the Atlantic to our home on the point of Africa. I allow peace and joy to mingle. This place; it soars in my veins, familiar and true.   This instinctive understanding of my home country settles on me. Like my very DNA, it has been passed on from generation to generation. No matter how long I am away, it is never gone. It remains firm and it gives me strength. Like the Holy Spirit, this place is familiar yet with a promise of being wild, uncontainable and always challenging.

We have a new neighbor. He has torn down the old house he purchased and is building anew. In the process he has removed tall trees that bordered our property. This has changed my garden. Where there used to be old, wet shade, there is now bright sunshine.   Where there used to be a canopy of pine needles above, there is now blue sky and majestic views of the mountains behind our respective properties. I love the newness of all this. In the shadow of the ancient mountain, I get to recreate my garden with sun-loving plants. Isn’t this just like the Holy Spirit in our lives? Sometimes the old and familiar needs to go and we need the change. The challenge of the new makes us lean into him all the more. Yet, like the mountain range, He brings an ageless comfort that is solid and reliable.

Our African garden is filled with critters. Proximity to a Nature Reserve brings eagles, owls, tortoise, squirrels, a snake or two, wild geese and bugs galore. The soil teems with earthworms providing organic compost others pay good money for. I love sharing this space with the wildlife. I also love sharing it with guests who come from afar on mission trips, family trips and diverse celebratory trips. This old property has seen seeds planted, harvest gathered, children raised, families gather, seasons change and generations come and go. What a privilege it is for me to be one of God’s stewards, providing a place of peace and joy to all who pass through her gates.

I relish the people with whom I have walked long roads, shared in pain, laughed out loud, grown older and with whom I have forged a purpose. I look forward to the fresh insight from those new to our work. Like my old garden bathed in fresh sunlight, the damp, moldy places will find new meaning. The breeze of spring blowing over the southern hemisphere is like the newness of the ancient Spirit that blows where He wills. Life is full.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

Does your job count in eternity?

It is the time of year when many of us reflect and introspect. As I prepare to hurtle my way through the last month of this year, I have a sense of accomplishment, a satisfaction of what has been, of a job done well. Simultaneously, there is a restlessness, a desire for what could be done differently. So, in the still of the night when my home is sleeping, my mind wanders and my heart wonders. I question everything. I embrace my calling and ministry gift, protecting and nurturing it, yet, in the quiet night with no daytime agenda to distract me, I lay it down countless times, knowing that, alone, I am inadequate to the task.

I recently heard a friend say he no longer wants to work with people who are “projects”. I recall nodding at him, understanding his dilemma.  At the same time I wondered, “Aren’t we all projects?” I was in his office for another purpose altogether and we both had little time so I let it pass. But that sentence of his has haunted me. I can’t imagine a world where the best leaders give up on “project people” for no reason other than that project people take up time or energy or talent great leaders don’t have to give. The truth is, in some area of our life we are all projects to someone else. We are all inadequate to the task before us. We are spouses, parents, employers or employees. We are siblings and children and friends to someone and we are not adequate to all these tasks. We sometimes succeed and we sometimes fail. We walk with clarity and we bumble our way through. We know and we don’t know. It is the human condition. We are created to depend on and draw strength from God and from each other.  If we decide we have no time for project people, we decide we have no time for people.

We are all called to minister to people. Regular, normal people who vacillate between confidence and hesitancy, people who aspire to great things but who simultaneously long for the simple life, people who are happy and content but are also sad and afraid. Normal, regular, project people.

My time, like everyone else’s, has demands placed on it. Time is finite – I have 24 hours in my day. It certainly is important that I spend it wisely. I am, however, reminded that time is also infinite. You and I are eternal beings, of immeasurable value to our creator. Organizations are not infinite. Every single business, school, church, non-profit, will come to an end some day. As a leader, as a person, as a minister of the grace of God, I am not called to any organization. Nobody is. We are called to people. To project people.

If you are in the building trade, you are called to house people. If you are in retail trade, you are called to feed or clothe people. If you are a teacher, a lawyer, a banker or in the hospitality industry, you are called to grow and to serve people.  Every disciple of Jesus is called to serve people, not to grow and to serve an organization. Yes, healthy organizations facilitate good service but if our main focus becomes the organization, we will without any doubt, sooner or later, miss the important aspect of the people that the organization exists to serve in the first place.

I sit in the stillness of the silent night and I wonder about these things. This has been a productive year. The organization for which I work has accomplished much. We have done good work. Yet, these thoughts have been planted in my heart for a reason and I wonder.  I wonder what should be done differently.

As the year draws to a close and I prepare for the year to come, I determine to simplify Organization and to maximize People.   If you too are contemplating and planning for next year, I encourage you to put, not your organization first, but rather, to prioritize its’ people. Seek out your project people and then plan to serve them with all your heart.

Time spent doing this is never lost.   Instead, it is at this very place that time is found. It is here that time turns into eternity and it is eternity that has been placed into the human soul.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart …” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When We Choose To Live With Civility, We Reflect Our Creator

Freedom is important to us. Our freedom of thought. Our freedom of choice. Our freedom of expression. With summer that has come to the Northern hemisphere, I have noticed that our freedom to travel becomes particularly valuable as many of us choose to take a break from our regular routine.

One freedom that fascinates me is our freedom to exercise control over ourselves and choose to live with civility in our society.   When our choices are made within the boundaries of the golden rule, our family and our friends, our neighborhoods and our world benefit. When we treat others in the same way that we would want to be treated, gentleness becomes noticeable.   The sharp edges within which we move softens when we choose to see others through the lens of empathy. This is a choice we are free to make.

Freedom is important to us. Yet, we are never entirely free. Seasons come and go without our choice in the matter. Weather patterns are not ours to choose. This past week a terrible winter storm hit the Southern tip of Africa. There has been devastating wind and rain, flooding, out-of-control fires, snow and icy temperatures. This land that I love has been pummeled by forces of nature, none of which the people of the land chose.   But, within the circumstances, people get to choose how they will respond.

 

 

I have seen the best of choices.

People from within the country have stood together, neighbor helping neighbor, taking those left destitute into their homes. Those in the battle against the flames have been flooded with support. Communities from afar have sent supplies to those in need.   Humanity helping humanity.

Why do we choose this? Exactly because we are human.   We choose empathy. We know that very easily the storm could be at our own door. The fire could be on our roof. Easy devastation could come to our lives. When it passes us by and visits another, we do unto them as we would want it done unto us. If we were drowning or hungry or cold, we would want others to notice. If our children were threatened by fire and loss, we would want others to protect. Our empathy is what makes us human.

When we choose to live with civility, we reflect our Creator in whose image we are made.

To all those who have stood alongside us during this time of crisis, I thank you.  Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The hurt is not yet over and many lives are still facing severe hardship. 

“Do to others as you would have them do to you … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:31+36

 

 

In Live more simply

I don’t belong on social media on Mother’s Day

I’m jiggling the 4-month-old grand baby up and down on my hip. Her fussing turns to hollers. I watch her two-and-a-half year old brother try to dump the giant (glass) bottle of pickles into the ice bucket. Husband is wrapping a towel around the fussing baby’s 15-month-old cousin and, while attempting to wrestle the pickle jar from reluctant little fingers, I am wondering if anybody is watching the 4 year old.

Welcome to our glamorous Hawaii vacation.

It is the last day before our children, along with their children, leave the island so that my husband and I can have a few days alone to have a vacation from our vacation. They all fly out the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend.

A few hours later the social media posts about “the-best-and-perfect-mothers-in-the-world” start.

I am not one of these.

I do not have a secret superhero cape in my closet. Instead, I live in a world where I slip flat on my butt in the baby pool and the expensive, umbrella laden drink I was trying to elegantly sip fills up with chlorine and who-knows-what-else?

I live in a world where grandchildren have glorious meltdowns in public and their parents get mad at us and at each other and mostly at themselves for getting mad in the first place.

I live in a world where mama piles multiple little legs and arms out of the minivan along with beach chairs and umbrellas and towels and I lose one of the children.  My only job is to keep a head count so I frantically call him and search for him behind this islands crazy large-leafed plants only to have the valet parking guy (who we are not using) tell us the child is still in the van.

I live in a world where the one-and-a-bit year old pees against the villa’s beautiful coffee table the moment you take his diaper off.  Aunt wipes it up with the resort’s fluffy beach towel because his mom is busy placating said-aunt’s two-year old with pickles because that’s all he seems to want to eat right now.

My motherhood has been filled with hollering children and full-out lay on your back and kick your feet two-year-old tantrums. It is also filled with those same two year olds now 30-something year old parents avoiding eye contact with everybody else at the pool because their own children behave just like tired toddlers the world over.

My world is filled with half-made sandcastles and sunburned shoulders where we missed a spot of sunblock. It is made of melting ice cream and sand in your eyes and four year olds clinging to your leg because he is terrified of the giant turtle swimming in the baby waves a few feet from him.

But …

My world is also filled with moments where the babies are all quietly in their beds and husband says to parents of sleeping children how very blessed we are to have them vacation with us. Where conversations under nighttime skies fill my heart with gratitude and where grace and just-let-the-offense-go moments bind families together stronger than any Hallmark card ever can.

My motherhood is patched together with rollercoaster highs and gut wrenching lows and stunningly beautiful moments as well as howling perfect storms. My motherhood has absolutely no red cape fluttering in the wind while I pose, chest-out, always knowing what to do next.

I live in a world where every member of my family comes with pre-existing conditions that make us difficult to live with as well as insanely loved exactly because we are not perfect.

I live in a world where Mother’s Day – and every other day – is lob sided and skew and pieces have been chipped off through wear and tear. I live in a world where my biggest daily task is to offer grace because I have been offered the greatest gift of grace by the only Perfect Parent.

I suspect you live in this world too.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9

In Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Out of the Flames

This past week a massive fire, driven by gale force winds ravaged our South African hometown of Somerset West. People had to be evacuated from their homes and at least four farms dating back to the 1700’s were threatened. Indigenous plants, fynbos – unique in the world to this area – went up in flames, as did some of the wildlife that make the Helderberg Mountains their home.

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mountains

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The fire was finally contained about two miles from our Mission Home.

A small spark and dry grass is all it takes to start a fire. I have seen this happen in my life and in the lives of others.  During a dry spell, when life feels difficult and refreshing water seems far away, from seemingly nowhere someone or something lights a spark and without warning an out of control fire starts.

Fires are an incredible force of nature. They can burn up unwanted weeds and dead foliage and be a cleansing grace. Or, driven by stormy winds, they can get out of control and consume all in its path. I bear witness to this in my own life, as I am certain you can too. One small decision or unintended outcome leads to another and another and then, driven by unseen forces, a vicious fire devastates all in its path.

The 250 firefighters of the Somerset West fire worked day and night, in harsh conditions, doing their job above and beyond duty. Firefighting is not for the faint hearted. It takes courage to walk toward the flames when everyone and everything else is fleeing. It takes strength of body and immense strength of character to fight a fire that swirls around you and soars far above you – forces both seen and unseen coming together with the intent of destroying all you hold dear. The firefighters of Somerset West fought with all their might, but not alone – never alone. For days, the community of this small Western Cape village stood beside their men and women in the heat of the battle as donations of food and drink poured in. Neighborhood groups and churches rallied together, people stood together and battled together until the wind turned, died down and the flames were finally vanquished.  A community won together.

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Photo by Justin Sullivan

Photo by Justin Sullivan

Fighting fires in our life takes immense courage. As ill winds blow doubt and fear in our face, it takes its toll on our health and on our minds and on our hearts. It is easy to believe that we are alone, that we will succumb, that all is lost. But then, right there in that place of devastation, in that place of loss, in that place of swirling hurt, out of the flames the Holy One walks and stills the wind. The community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit turns up and they bring refreshing and strength. Despite our deep fatigue, we find grace to walk toward the flames and fight the good fight. In the midst of the battle, we find comfort and we find peace.

It takes but to look and to see that we are not alone. We never were.

As you enter into 2017, may you know that whatever fire you may face in the year to come, the community of the Holy Christ is with you. Always.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When parenting choices go wrong

Our organic, heirloom seeds were tenderly planted into compost rich beds. They were watered, fed and nurtured and we delighted in watching the growing process. Shoots that a few weeks ago peeked out of dark soil grew into greens that filled bowls in our kitchen. We’ve battled bugs, snails, squirrels and the neighbor’s dogs and we have come through undefeated – weary and battle scarred – but victoriously crunching not-so-perfect produce.

We could have chosen perfect leaves that were not first shared with insects, but that would have needed poisonous chemicals. We preferred the happy, admittedly stinky faces of Marigolds in our garden to ward off most insects as well as the occasional spray of cayenne pepper.   The resulting bounty, somewhat imperfect in outward form but perfectly formed within, brings a pleasure that is only truly known by those who raise things organically.

Which brings me to children.

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We made a parenting choice to move from the big city and raise our babies in a small town flourishing between farms that grew sunflowers, corn and cattle. It was a happy town that sprawled out in the open flatlands of the African savannah. The local economy rose and fell by the weather and every person above school going age knew from which direction the good rains came. African farms are vast and the crops depend on rain – not irrigation. So, when the warm Spring winds blew dust that settled in every crevice, you heard no complaints, only the whispers of thanks because it brought the summer rains.

Our family thrived in this town. Days were filled with sport-art-ballet-piano lessons. School days were spent learning in classrooms brimming over with talented teachers. Weekends were not long enough to get around to all that life offered – friends, excursions, church, laughter, love and endless days in the swimming pool.

Until it ended.

Our small town fell into crisis and families moved out in droves. Lifelong friends said goodbye to each other, leaving holes in the growth pattern of my children’s lives. Our home, once filled with sprouting teenage friends, became quiet. Institutions closed down and along with them went the sport-art-ballet-piano lessons. Now the days seemed too long and our children, who were once bursting with growth, floundered and spent unhealthy amounts of time alone.

School teachers were amongst those who left our once happy town. At a critical time in their development, huge gaps appeared in the trellis of our children’s education. Two parents, who themselves were reeling from the loss of their support system of friends, looked each other in the eye and made hard decisions.

This man who I married, who had always been strong for me, wept harder with each mile that passed as we left first our daughter, then our son, at boarding school. Red-bricked institutions of education, of the best our country had to offer, schools that other children dreamt of attending, now housed our babies-turned-teenagers and our home was empty long before it’s time.

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Enormous phone bills became a normal item on our budget and our car clocked high mileage as weekends consisted of driving to schools hundreds of miles away. Many nights I would sit in my children’s rooms listening for echoes of their voices and days I would fold and refold their clothes just to catch a whiff of their smell.  Our evening dinner table was pathetic as two parents saw the hurt reflected in each other’s eyes.

The sacrifices we made and the endless self-doubt paid off as our children took root in this transplanting. They started to flourish.   They made the friends that teenagers sorely need and learnt their school lessons from teachers skilled in their craft.  When you study the growth of a tree, you can tell when the hard years hit by the notches in its bark.   I see the notch of those floundering years in my now grown children but I also see the strong growth that the transplanting produced.

There is no other way of raising children but organically.   Babies are wild and free and have no genetic modification that will automatically ward off the hardships of life.   Worms gnaw at their self-confidence during the day so at night, while tickling the back of a sleepy child, mom speaks words of encouragement. Insects lurk under tender leaves of talent, whispering self-doubt in children’s ears so their dad applauds with all his might, front row and center, brimming with pride.

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Children grow organically and parents do the best they can with what life brings. Some years the rains don’t come and the pain of this leaves deep wounds that scar – possibly for life.  Some years there are insects that eat away at new growth and you feel that more is being taken than left behind.  Some years the soil is rich and the sun shines bright.  Delight in these, remembering to show compassion for those in another season. Each child grows differently and parenting is a skill learnt on the job. There are days you will get it gloriously right. Celebrate your harvest!  Then there are days when you will need to acknowledge the grace you need when you get it badly wrong.  On these dark days, remember your own parents and forgive.

On the day my son graduated from college, he gave his dad and me his sash. On it were written these words.

Mom and Dad, this is dedicated to you for making this possible. The encouragement, hope and belief that you gave your small town boy to chase his dreams, along with your sacrifices, has made this day a reality. Thank you. You are my example.

A few weeks ago my grown daughter, herself now a mother, put her arm around me and said thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices, for your generosity and for always being there when I need you.

I am very aware that these words of my children reflect more about their character than my parenting skill. It speaks of their grace, their forgiveness, their understanding that babies are born wild and free and parents are but human. There is no other way of raising children but organically and when we set about growing things organically, whether it be vegetables, herbs or children, there is a certain amount of imperfection that is built into the process.   It is best to make peace with this from the get go.

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:9

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In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When to stay and when to leave

Where God leads, there is joy and peace. In the book of Isaiah there is a beautiful account of God’s blessing. It speaks of rain and of flourishing. It speaks of seed and of bread. There is accomplishment and purpose and the part I love the most speaks of mountains and hills and trees in the field that burst into song and clap their hands.

What a beautiful picture of God’s blessing.

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Don’t misunderstand me. There may be trouble and hardship along the path where God leads. The scripture speaks of perseverance under trial and patience in testing. Yet, when God leads, even in the hardest of places, even on a seeming solid rock, life grows and flourishes.

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The difficulty comes in knowing what is adversity for the sake of His calling and what is a place devoid of his blessing and filled with hardship because we became involved in an endeavour and took a road we should never have travelled.

Here are some indicators that the road we are on is perhaps not God’s purpose for us.  When these exist, it’s probably time to leave:

  • When people get broken. Plans and possessions and purposes are never more important than people.
  • When money is a motivating factor. Money is a tool, for sure. It is needed to accomplish things. There is nothing wrong with profit. However, God requires that we love people and use money. Never should we love money and use people. When money and possessions becomes the motivator above doing good, then the love of this will bring evil.
  • When people are unequally yoked. What does this mean? When the internal, external and philosophical motivations of people are so different, they cannot possibly pull together.
  • When the purpose, the “why”, is unclear and unwritten. There’s a reason why the scripture warns that where there is no vision, the people run lawlessly. God instructs us to write the vision for a reason; so that all can see it and run in the same direction.

God’s plans and purposes for us are always with the intent of changing us to be more like him, reflecting his love to the world. Our accomplishing some great goal does not matter to him. People do.

As far as I can tell, there are only three institutions that truly matter to Jesus.  Marriage, Family and the Church.

Organizations and companies do not matter to him. People do.  The blessing of God is present in these places when the people within them work with integrity and are ethical in their dealings with one another and with the world – reflecting Him.

God asks that we go to great lengths to serve, not to be served; that we give, not take. When this happens, we are growing to be more like Him and we reflect His character to a broken world.   This is when the mountains and the trees and the fields burst forth into applause.

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“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55:12-13

In Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Purpose amidst the chaos

I slipped on a muddy patch, banged my knee and lived with the black bruise, aching and ugly and right there for all the world to see.

It had been raining. Hard. This bountiful garden of ours on the tip of Africa was drenched. Majestic trees stooped over, the weight of the water heavy in their leaves. I took to the outdoors at the first reprieve, breathing the sweet scent of life amongst the mountains. I was looking for the bird that was singing somewhere above my head when I went down.

That muddy patch on cobbled walkway was disaster waiting for inattention.

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The time had come for serious work. The moss-riddled stepping stones were dangerous and someone else could get injured. This house of ours welcomes scores of people each year. She is a peaceful harbor, a place of reprieve and everybody I know loves her. To have a spot that could hurt seemed unthinkable, yet there it was.

In the beginning of time there was another garden and in the midst of the garden, evil lurked. It would bruise and bring pain unthinkable. But, a plan of redemption was made.

This place of peace, our African refuge, has been entrusted to us for safekeeping. We are stewards of magnificence, keepers of paradise. Above her foliage fly owls and eagles and far below scurry creatures amongst lilies of white and of lilac and of orange as bright as the sun.

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sunlight in trees

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This blemish in paradise, this place of hurt, needed attention. The keepers of the garden were rallied and a plan of redemption was made. The mud and moss and mess were scraped away. The growth was cut back. Pebbles were brought in to widen the trail and order was brought to chaos. The northern slopes of this paradise is still a glorious wild place – just slightly tamed, a gentle subduing by the stewards of the garden.

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My life – and yours – has places of hurt slap in the midst of our beautiful places. Evil lurks, waiting for our inattention, waiting to bruise us as we fall. It hurts and it humiliates. It haunts our dreams and humbles our aspirations. Yet, in the very midst of the garden, in the cool of the day, our Savior seeks us out. Then he cleans away the moss and he scrapes away the mud and he – just slightly – tames those wild places and brings purpose to the chaos.

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed…The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2: 8 & 15