Bringing out the Bad!

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A few weeks ago, something happened in my current family (revolving door policy means family members are constantly mobile) that set me into a very bad place. By this I mean the unpleasant feeling that follows when your bubble is burst. Your lovely comfy little bubble where everything was working just fine and needed no changing is suddenly gone. The feeling is cold, exposed, shivery, shattered.

This one family member by marriage decided to act out in a typically 16 year old hormone driven way and led to a situation that I would have very much have loved to never experience. I had a lot of trust in this particular child, thinking that her behaviour is a result of an unsettled childhood and abusive parenting. Yes, I did have a ‘saviour’ complex when I got her to come and live with us, so did my sisters mind you. Anyway, in all the unpleasantness that followed I got a really annoying revelation I thought would be great to share with you.

I must mention that I experienced this disappointment in my body, all over my body. I ached, I felt pins and needles and my appetite vanished as headaches moved in to stay. I am the responsible adult at home right now and these kids are my responsibility; I felt a huge failure in not being able to know what they had been doing right under my nose all along. With a busy work schedule and starting on a masters course, I was a sucker for stress and anxiety. To some extent it felt uncontrollable, the amount of anger, grief, bitterness and self pity that kept coming out of me in the days that followed. I could hardly bring myself to speak to her knowing I could say something without thinking.

On my way to work one morning, I was lost in unpleasant thought when it occurred to me how ugly these feelings are. I am not used to having ugly thoughts, I have a lot of thoughts but they mostly stop at mild road rage and impatience with mobile network connections. I was surprised at how mad I actually was, all the time. I was mad at her for being so deceptive, mad at the other people involved for not being as mad as I was! I was mad that someone else had actually made me this mad!I was mad with the fact that another person had the power to burst my bubble and introduce such darkness into my otherwise sunny existence.

Traits of my controlling nature had resurfaced, although I had convinced myself I had stopped being controlling. With the madness came grief that I had lost trust in who I thought was a sweet little girl (haha!), but it was mostly sadness that I hadn’t been able to control this situation. I kept thinking I could have seen it coming and done something to make sure it didn’t happen, I kept thinking I…kept thinking I….kept thinking I!

It didn’t occur to me what was happening until my sister pointed it out to me-several agonizing days later. This whole situation had moved away from being about this child and her naughtiness and had become about me and my poor dear burst bubble.. It wasn’t about how she had made a mistake as teenage girls do, and how we as a family could help her fix the mess; it was more about how my world had taken a knock and left me reeling. Perhaps this is a normal reaction, perhaps its a form of defense, I don’t really know. What I do now know is that this event had brought out the nasty in me.

Looking back I am grateful to have learnt something so ‘yucky’ about myself. I really didn’t think I was capable of those feelings, I didn’t know they were even there. Especially when I thought I was the most selfless person-a saint really.  I realized that when it got really tough all I really cared about was me. I am an adult, I can-and have-survived a few knocks along the way. My focus should really have been on this 16 year old, perhaps using my shrink training to help her out of the corner she had put herself in, or maybe just to be supportive and be there to help. I did neither of these.

Luckily, we have quite a full house and there are others around who were able to speak with her. I needed to take some time out after that, my physical symptoms had become a daily pain and I couldn’t go on like that. Since Monday is my fasting day, I decided to go somewhere out of town to be alone, to get my mind right and repent. It was important for me to process what I had experienced because I never want to react that way again. I needed to take stock of what was going on inside me so that it doesn’t surprise me when I lose another bubble in future. Yes, trauma can bring out the worst in us, but surely we can control what ‘worst’ actually means right? I mean, having the right stuff stocked up in your heart will only produce the right stuff even in the most horrible times right?

Naturally, I believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit to root out junk from the very depths of our being. I know from past experience especially in my 20’s He would bring out something that I would struggle to admit had come from within me. His intention was to ‘create in me a pure heart,’ a process that often hurt but made me a better person when He finished. The revelation here was that:

  • Life happens, and sometimes it happens badly but really what matters is how I react to life
  • I have to be aware of what I have in my heart, is life going to bring out the best or the worst in me?
  • I am not all that matters, believe it or not!

The place where I ended up going on Monday illustrated something so lovely to me. I got there pretty early in the morning while the sun was so bright and beautiful. As you will see in the pictures its an amazing spot and the sun made it so perfect. After about an hour, my perfect scenery change as huge grey clouds rolled in so fast and covered the bright warm sun. The effect changed everything, it got cold, the scenery wasn’t quite as inspiring as before. But I continued to read my Bible and listen to God.

“You see, life won’t always have sunshine. The sun is great as it gives life to everything-but just because the clouds cover it up for some time doesn’t change the fact that the sun is still there.” (Me, 2017)

Although the cold made my time there harder to bear, I took this as a lesson. Some hours later the clouds did roll away and the sunshine was amazing. I didn’t have to pack up and leave just because my perfect conditions had changed; I had a mission to complete up there that wasn’t dependent on the weather. That is how we should look at life, we are not here depending on how others treat us, or what life throws at us -some worse off than others- but we should have a mission-a reason to be here that transcends anything that happens or doesn’t happen. I dare hope that this would make us stronger people.

Love always, Julie

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Waiting is Painfully Hard

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I’m sure I am not the only person that finds waiting a life draining experience. Where I live (in a small often forgotten city – in a small often forgotten African country), one has to develop the art of patience as a matter of self preservation.

Here are just a few things that teach you how to be patient in Zomba;

  • You wait for the electricy which is off for about 5 hours each day
  • When the tap runs dry, you wait for the indeterminable number of hours for it to start producing water again
  • You wait for the idiot that has parked you in to return and blatantly ignore you as they remove their car from the front of yours
  • You wait for the person that has ascribed to the outrageous unwritten law that states – you can still drive while talking on your cell phone as long as you drive between 20 – 40mph (this one really gets my spleen!)
  • You suspend your conversation for a few minutes while the muezzin (Islamic call for prayer) is being broadcast in the city because noone will hear what you say otherwise.
  • You do this also while the pick-up truck loaded with gigantic speakers is blaring slowly past your workplace while advertising one thing or another – or just advertising itself incase you want to book it to advertise something for you (why we can’t use flyers like normal people is beyond me).
  • When the royals (President and his entourage) drive through your two-street city, you have to wait for about 30mins while the entire fleet of cars, motorcycles, gun-totting security, ambulance, and fancy amoured caravan (yes caravan) drive past before you can use the road again.

All in all, I think I have actually done well in the learning of patience in the two years I have lived here. Although this is just the mundane everyday stuff we deal with; it is different from being patient with say, people, plans, life in general.

I am one of those people who will plant a seed today and expect it to have grown by tomorrow. Perhaps its that ‘instant  generation’ we keep hearing about. Thankfully, data connection is not one of the topics on the waiting list (pun intended); otherwise I would have no time to write three blogs, complete a masters, and still find time to watch movies online.

It is called a virtue in popular terms, something to be proud of once you attain it. Something you can use in every situation and context. It is also something that grows with practice and time. Although I find it so challenging (to put it nicely) to wait some things out especially on a busy day when you have a million things to get done; it does help with keeping the blood pressure in check. James 5 vs 7-11 says it all …

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.’

Love always’

Julie.x

 

 

Feature image: Impatient

For His name’s sake

Its been awhile!

It always is with me and this blog. And yes I have been away doing school related stuff, working, trying to get into the grove of Zomba city life (or should I say village life).

Anyway, I believe I have come to some sort of settled pace down here. There is never a dull moment for sure. Running a family business means one never has a schedule, you just go with whatever is most urgent on the day. Besides that, there is the open door policy in our home where cousins, sisters, brothers, steps, random long lost friends can wander in to stay for awhile and leave just as suddenly. It makes for an interesting life, constantly adjusting to new people, new problems – challenges, and so on.

So, in a way I can say I have settled down to this kind of life. My skin and hair have finally  adjusted to the climate; the dust and humidity of the mountain – valley we live in. I have gained some confidence in my vernacular, although people can still tell that Chichewa is not my mother tongue. The driving routes have become ingrained, even as far as the bigger cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe. I am a regular at the local market, I make it a point to go in there at least once a week for fresh produce and spices. For the first time in a very long time; I am not wishing I was somewhere else. I am perfectly happy where I am!

Some weeks ago, I was pounced upon at an afternoon service to give a mini preaching (terrifying for most people who don’t normally preach). I had been meditating on Psalm 23 that week so I spoke on that. At my mom’s church on the other side of town, it is custom to end each gathering with a reciting of the last verse, ‘surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever, and ever, amen.’ So this passage is never really far from my mind.

However, it was the first and second verse that stood out for me that week. (Emphasis mine)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
                    2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
                       He leads me beside still waters.
                    3     He restores my soul.
                       He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The first thing that stood out for me in this passage is that we are on a journey. David did not make this sound like a permanent situation where one is living in a green pasture, because if that was the case then one would not be led beside still waters would they? My imagery of this verse has always been of a nice little cabin in green pastures right next to some form of still waters, in a gorgeous valley – forever summer!

But the next verse makes it clear this journey is far from permanent sunshine.

4   Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
                        I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
                        your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Notice verse 3 says  ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness’, and notice how said ‘paths’ have not been specified? Naturally, we like to continue along with the beautiful and easy going imagery from the first few lines on the passage. A great life full of provision, good health, great career and perfect family. A few knocks along the way can be experienced but we expect to live the green pasture and still water life regardless, right? Again, my interpretation has always been that God will always lead me to these good times.

But hey, then we come to verse 4, where I am suddenly walking in valleys of the shadow of death. Death?! That doesn’t seem to be part of the initial plan, how can there be such valleys if we are supposed to be living it up in green valley?

That is what convinced me that this whole verse is talking about life being a journey. An ongoing process where there will be good times and dark times. The main thing that is guaranteed is that in all this, God himself is leading us through it. Remember, He is leading our paths whether it is through rough mountains, deep dangerous valleys, dark times, and the good, life restoring times. We only have to look at the life of David to see the illustration of this passage. He lived through all such scenarious, yet he chose to begin and end this chapter with the positive and encouraging parts; which we unfortunately have fixated upon while ignoring the real challenges of life as part of the whole picture.

The best part of this for me is this statement: ‘for His name’s sake.‘ All the ups and downs we go through as part of the journey is not for nothing; it’s not so we can boast about our sufferings for the Kingdom, or so people will think of us as some kind of elite Christians because we have impressive testimonies. The purpose of our journey is for the sake of the Name of God.

In your sickness, it is for Jehova Rapha’s sake that you are healed. In your distress, it is for Jehova Shalom’s sake that you have peace. In your time of need it is for Jehova Jireh’s sake that you receive provision. You can go on and on for His Name’s are many, and they fulfill each and every need we can ever have in this journey called life.

It is a beautiful passage that David wrote. It continues to speak to me, I believe there are many revelations that can be sought in these few verses of Psalm 23. I hope you are encouraged, I hope you receive insight for whatever part of the journey you may be on, and I pray that God reveals to you more of Himself, for His Name’s sake.

Love and Blessings,

Julie

 

Acceptance, years on…

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I have written before about acceptance and being able to accept yourself as you are, and how it is a life-long process when one is philosophical and interested in such matters.

Moving back home after several long years abroad has thrown me back into the tailspin that naturally follows such an event. I go from self-assured confidence in my chameleon-like abilities to fit in anywhere in such a short space of time – to the more sobering lows of loneliness that come with the realisation that I actually do not fit into this society at all. It is a very rocky ride!

Some days are positive, great conversations, a kind word from a stranger, bumping into a familiar face from the past. But some days just remind me of the alien that I currently am. There is a time frame (about six months) after moving to a new home that one needs to be aware of. A time when you are just not settled no-matter how much you try to be, or try to convince yourself. In this time you may forget who you really are, as I have learnt along the way.

Yes, you can become so disillusioned as to who or what you actually are as you try to hold onto your identity from where you have just come from, while trying to mould into a new identity that will suit your new environment. This is the tailspin I speak of. It is a time of great irrationality and nonsense, also misperception. As always though, it is a great opportunity to re-learn who and what you are as your brain slowly starts to normalise.

This was my revelation this morning as I spent yet another three quarters of my day at home, alone. In the great activity that followed my move (such as joining social groups I wouldn’t normally dream of, taking part in events and making commitments I would normally shudder at in my right mind, over working, over exercising, dramatic appearance change, etc), I had lost sight of my initial dreams of what life would be like when I returned to my home town. It seems my old self has finally (almost eight months later) started making a comeback.

It was a normal morning, beautiful sunshine, basic morning rituals, watching the usual world’s mess on the news, followed by contemplative silence in the house, nothing out of the ordinary. It suddenly occurred to me that I spend way too much time on my own. Hours go by before I speak with another human being; hours in which I spend in such a hive of activity that I hardly notice the solitude. As this thought came into my mind another swiftly followed it; but this isn’t strange, I have always been like this.

You see, I am a hermit by nature. An introvert if you prefer that term. My mind is most alive when I am alone for hours at a time. Yesterday for example, I spent the whole day at home cooking, cleaning re-arranging rooms (while watching movies of course, it’s called multi-tasking). Today more of the same, writing, reading and more cooking for the family. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this pattern because it is who I have always been. I do have to leave the house every day to go to work in the evenings, and my job includes a lot of talking to people and being sociable which is fine by me, comes rather naturally too. However, I have never been one to like company or be around people all of the time, it feels like raw exposure of my soul which is as irritating as nails scratching a board.

I had very much forgotten this part of myself. Since I moved home, being alone was something that I rarely did. I was always around my mom, my cousin, staff members, or at church. The only time I was every truly alone is when I went to bed. I had accepted this as part of my new identity in my new life over here (HaHa!).

Lately I had started to wonder why my normally endless flow of ideas had dried up. Why I had lost motivation to be creative, to put down new and vibrant ideas for songs, painting or poetry. These are things that I was accustomed to while living in Cape Town in the last year especially. I expected to be even more inspired over here with the abundance of nature and lack of modern distractions. The difference you see, is that in Cape Town I lived true to my hermit nature and spent a lot of time alone which gave me plenty of headspace to be creative, intuitive and peaceful. That is the way of the introvert, we recharge best alone and inside of ourselves after which we are ready to face whatever may come at us.

The last time I went through a similar but more brutal tailspin (as it was coupled with culture shock) was when I moved to Cape Town. I have never known myself to behave so erratically and out of character as I did in that time. It is painful even thinking about it. In my prayers to God, enquiring what I should do with my unstable mind I had that revelation to stop all the frantic trying I was doing and just wait six months. I distinctly remember the time frame, and wondering what could possibly change in six months to make me better. But I took the advice, I dropped out of the random church I found on the internet, stopped going to such great lengths to endear myself to people I thought I should be around, stopped trying to fit in so much. If you are a wonderer of the planet you will understand how fitting in is something that starts to stand out when you move homes. Sometimes it is an urge to fit in other times it is rather to stand out, regardless of which it is, you are so much more aware of it than you would normally be.

The good news is that tailspins don’t go on forever. This state is not going to last, your true nature will eventually start to come out as your whole being stabilises. The key as always is to take it as it comes, accept what you want and get rid of what you don’t like. This can be a very refreshing time; if you can get past the dizziness that is.

Blessings always,

Julie T. Soko

 

Moving History

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I heard this term used somewhere, it was about a family that had decided to move from one continent to another. I thought it a fitting discription for an event so marked in any person’s life.

I have been away from this blog for over a year. My excuse has always been school, particularlythe last two years of finishing my undergrad social sciences degree with its research projects and dragged out internship workload.

All that is behind me now. I have already moved from the windy salty shores of Muizenberg beachfront to the pine scented cooler Zomba Platue. The setting of my story hass moved to a slower paced but more challenging environment.

My dreams of owning and running a deli-bookshop-artsy craft shop are begining to come true slowly but surely. I was apprehensive at first, not knowing where to start or if it was indeed possible to realise such a dream in my community. Watch this space.

The mountains have welcomed me back as they always do. The air is so clear, the alternating heat and cold more intense, the thunderstorms louder and more passionate in the daily downpours. This place revives my spirit always, no matter how tired I am after a long day. Driving back up the hill and resting in the stillness of the cool nights is a treat to the soul.

In a few days I will be back in the Cape visiting for a few days. I’m already counting the days to come home. I have not lost my loyalty to my home in the Cape;  I still cherish each nook and cranny of that paradise. But now I am back to my roots in what has always been home.

The future? More painting, sewing, crafting, cooking up endless delicacies, landscaping/gardening, giving zumba classes, writing up poetry and short stories, making music, getting a Masters. I really don’t need much motivation to be creative in this place. Heres to the rebirth of the artist in me!

Here’s to history succesfully moved!

Chasing Rainbows

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I remember bits and pieces of my childhood in Manzini, Swaziland. When I was about nine years old, I had two really close friends from Holland. Mary and Jane (not their real names ofcourse) and I had been in school together at an old farm school near the airport of Mbabane, but after some time their parents started home-schooling them. However, we spent every weekend together until I left for Malawi years later. We got up to mischief, a lot! We ran around the tiny town of Manzini seeking adventures and being cheeky. Mary was 12, her sister Jane was 8, and I was 9. Two blonde Dutch girls and a black kid who spoke zero Siswati. We made an interesting trio.

One of the adventures that stuck so well in my mind (besides throwing trash into a mansion up the road and getting dogs set after us HAHA!) is the day we chased a rainbow. Since Mary was the oldest, she was the natural leader and we did everything she said. So on this day, it had rained and a beautiful rainbow showed up in the sky. Mary told us that she had heard of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, she declared that our mission for the day would be to find it so that we could be rich! We could spend the money on such things as buying the Manzini Country Club where we often went to swim; it had a big pool so naturally we wanted it all to ourselves.

So off we went, running in the direction of the end of the rainbow. We must have run for about half an hour till the rainbow began to fade. At some stage I began to wonder if there really was a pot of gold, I mean surely someone else would have found it by now right? My main interest however was to see where the rainbow actually touched the ground. So we ran and ran, out of our safe suburb, out into the bush, and finally out into several mud and grass villages. Only then did we stop and consider our surroundings. People were staring at us, and I suddenly became aware of how foolish we had been to come out into a place we had no idea of, we didn’t actually know how to get back either since we had taken turns in the paths on the way with only one objective in mind. Yes, this was careless, foolish, dangerous, and scary. It took us a while to get back, and I remember feeling so disappointed that we hadn’t found the place where the rainbow touched the ground, never mind the pot of gold. Mary assured us we would try again next time there was a rainbow, and we were off to find some other naughty adventure.

I remembered this day as I tried to sleep the other night, thinking about the little boys that drowned recently (I’m sure you’ve all heard the story and seen the pictures). It hurts me to even think about the thousands that have died before this while trying to cross those waters. They are all looking for something, somewhere to live in safety, in peace, to earn a decent wage to feed their families. With Germany being generous and allowing so many of them in, many more are left without knowing what the future holds. Some wash up on shores, some suffocate in transit trucks while being smuggled across borders.

Let’s look at those trying to get into South Africa. Did you know that people risk swimming in a crocodile infested river just to cross illegally into this country, after that they have to brave passage through forests where cross border criminals wait to rape, rob, and even harvest organs for profit. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

In Malawi, we have a refugee camp called Dzaleka where every registered refugee or asylum seeker is placed. They never live outside the camp – legally that is, and can spend a lifetime in the UN run containment zone. Yet every day, there are people walking and hitchhiking from the north, east and west of Africa coming through Malawi (among other routes), sleeping in the bush during the day and making their journey by night. Some people give them food and clothes, some of them die in the bush, some are trafficked and sold especially the women and children, and this happens all across Africa. Where are all these people going?

They have all heard a tale of a pot of gold, for some it is Europe, for others it is South Africa, America, Britain. They accept the story of a better life ‘over there’ and are willing to risk their lives to get there. Like me and my friends on that wet Saturday morning, they have only one goal and have focused every ounce of energy to get it. All the dangers along the way become insignificant compared to that glittering pot of gold.

So what am I saying? Is it better to remain in war torn Syria, or starve in South Sudan? Can anyone take their chances against Isis, Al Shabaab or Boko Haram? The crippled economy and ongoing political nightmares in most African countries that makes life unbearable, can one really be blamed for chasing rainbows?

The one thing I have learnt about human beings is their resilience. Hope springs up in the toughest of terrains. The human spirit is not easily broken regardless of what your faith is built on. I like to think of it as our inbuilt DNA from a Creator that knows no fear Himself.

So some people do find what they were looking for and get to share the story of their painful journey, while some don’t make it at all. Some keep looking until they can’t go on anymore, disillusioned and despondent, they discover-like I did those years ago, that there is no place where a rainbow touches the ground.

Pleasekeep those souls in your thoughts and prayers. Maybe even do something to help where you can? Today it’s them, tomorrow…

Bless you always.

The Social Dance of Life

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I have noticed a dance in the human race, a dance that is often unconscious and effortless. Once you learn the rhythm your are set to go; you will will always be able to know the steps to a particular tune no matter how long it’s been since you last heard it.

My dance began at age six; when my parents packed us off to live in Swaziland. The tunes I heard as a second grader were very distinct and initially hard to understand. The first song I learnt was called Racism, I learnt that the colour of my skin was highly significant in placing me on the social dance floor. It earned me a place in a class at school reserved for black local kids. However, this song was swiftly overtaken by another more complicated tune called Xenophobia. Wow, to a six year old I struggled to even pronounce the term –  and so I was given the less technical version of ‘Shangaan’ which as some would know was a popular song back then.

Due to my Zulu sounding name, I was classed in with local ‘ordinary’ Swazis, however, due to my fair skin, hair texture and nationality, I was removed from the class and put in the ‘mix masala’ class where the rich Swazis, Coloureds, Indians, white and ‘other’ kids were grouped. Mind you this was the early 90’s and this kind of thing was not really out of the ordinary in this part of the world.

Not understanding this phenomenon at first, I later learnt that these factors; skin tone, wealth and language are strong determinants of where one can dance in society, and they evidently teach you how you are expected to dance within the confines of that social environment.

After mastering how to maneuver around these two techniques for several years (racism and xenophobia), I found myself back in my ‘homeland’ at age 12. I came back expecting to sashay back onto that dance floor and pick up where I left off. Sadly, I discovered that my dance moves were completely alien to this scene; I perceived that my foreign accent, my clothes and especially my worldview were not well received. I was dancing to a completely different song using dance moves that were unknown to this new world.

At first I convinced myself that I could fake it till I made it, I tried my best to relearn my language and speak it without an accent, tried to catch up with the acceptable form of dress, I never told anyone where I’d been living, but all to no avail. My dance moves labelled me an outsider, a foreigner in my own home. So, I stopped trying to change the steps I had learnt, instead I began to learn new ones.

High school; four girl’s boarding schools in four years. I learnt a lot! Through the expected hard knocks of adolescence, bullying, parents’ divorce, alienation, confusion, through all the different people I met while moving schools across the country from far north to deep south. I learnt to trust the dance steps I had learnt as a child; my skin colour this time allowed me entry into most society dance floors, and yet when I opened my mouth-my language (accent and fluency in English) prohibited me from actually taking part in any dancing. I could come in, but not belong.

So, yet again I maintained what dance steps I had learnt, and focused my energy on learning new ones and reluctantly accepted the role of outsider. Since I spent so much time on the sidelines watching everyone round me share their mutual enjoyment of identity and belonging; I had plenty of time to observe their dance moves, integrate some of what I saw around me into them and create new ones. I spent a lot of time reading about other societies in Europe and England, I even attempted to teach myself how to dance to their music.

Seventeen years and eleven months after I was born, I moved to Nottingham, England. My favourite and most pleasant dance floor so far. Over there I discovered that they had no entry requirements for me to fulfill before being accepted and allowed to dance in their arena. Thanks to the many millions of ‘outsiders’ that had been there before me, this society had decided to incorporate all kinds of people and cultures, regardless of their skin, language, or nationality. I was in paradise!

Finally able to express myself fully in an environment that did not judge me first-then ask questions later. I could fit in to any dance circle be it school, work, church, friends, they did not comment on my accent or shun me because of my being different. Here I learnt how to move like a Jamaican, Zimbabwean, Kenyan, Nigerian, St Lucian, American, British-Londoner, British East Midland-er, I learnt their cultures, their language, their slang, and they learnt mine. It was a free dance floor, a welcoming one and one that I will forever cherish for its richness and kindness.

A brief stop over in the homeland at age 22, just to be reminded of that dance floor’s dis-interest in me. But this time I was prepared. I reserved my new found rhythm and steps, instead I went straight to the wall and took notes, learning what I could from an observer’s point of view without taking part.

The biggest move in my life came at age 23, I moved into the most complicated, frightening, fast paced, and clearly demarcated dance floor of all time. I moved to Cape Town, South Africa!

Over here, everyone has an assigned song, dance, and place in which to dance. They all know the rules, and they all follow their assigned posts and function fairly well. If England felt like the Carnival with its mixture of flavours, this felt very much like a Police marching band! Now my skin was not just one factor; but the tone of it coupled with the texture of my hair determines who says hello to me and in what language, my accent and fluency in the English language also determines how long a conversation will last as well as who would be willing to engage me in such a way. It was a tremendous shock to the system; I didn’t know where to stand, what was allowed and what was not, I had no idea what the rules were, I became paralysed.

After several years of floundering around from one end of the dance floor to the other, I did what I had been doing all along across most the countries I’ve lived in; I went to the wall, stopped dancing and started learning. I learnt that Couloured people in Cape Town have a specific dance, they move in a particular way that is recognizable in their own community; the same applied to the black and white community, although the white locals consist mainly of white European and Afrikaans which are very different in culture as well as language. To an outsider coming from a totally different  these differences are a shock to the system.

I soon learnt that there was no way for me to integrate like I did in England. The foreign locals were not any different, you will find cliques of French, Nigerian, Zimbabwean, and Malawian locals, sticking together through either religious or social circles. I found again that I could not join in any of them. My dance moves were not distinctive, they didn’t fit in to any of the groups in this strictly organised social dance. I tried to get out-move cities again in case there would be better music elsewhere; I tried to look for what I had in England to no avail, this place is a different planet.

Six years on, I find myself in a smooth rhythm, my own rhythm. It turns out that one doesn’t really have to dance to the socially prescribed music in the socially prescribed way. All my life I thought that in order to get along and be liked by people around me, we had to be the same or at least move in a similar rhythm. Because I moved around so much in the past, I have become an expert at learning about any new society I found myself in as quickly as possible; I became even more sensitive to social norms and expectations than what ordinary people would bother to be. I suffered rejection, dejection, and self ejection from any group that I tried to join where my efforts were fruitless. In the end, I belong to no group, no formal dance floor but my own.

Perhaps this knowledge comes with age, at 29 years and 3 months on planet earth; I have finally come to know that the only rhythm I need to learn and know how to dance to is my own. You see, I have been developing my own rhythm throughout my life in all the places I have been, taking elements from each culture, each society and each experience. Storing up all that knowledge, not using it because I believed  it was not right. Yet now I see, it is perfect, it is what I need to be in order to be authentic. I don’t need to judge myself by skin colour, accent, features, and my nationality, I don’t need to ‘belong’ to any social group in order to be myself. Yes, I can dance to the beat of the songs around me, in my church society, in my school society, my many different friends with their own different songs and dances. But, I have only one dance floor where I truly belong, and that is in me.

Maybe you find yourself in a place in your life where you are dancing to society’s beat. Ask yourself, is the music you hear coming from your heart?

Let Your Hope Make You Glad…

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Have you ever been told that once you become a believer in Christ you have to change yourself; start following a list of unattainable rules that take all the fun out of life? Does it seem like asking too much?

That isn’t the case for others, they are told that once you are saved that’s it, all you have to do is believe while God does the rest- like taking away bad habits, changing your attitude/personality, basically ‘weeding out everything He did not plant in you’

Whatever the response to that question is, I do believe any type of faith does require some guidelines. Paul gave a few guidelines – or rules- to the Romans that I found quite simple and do-able. Atleast they seem do-able when I read them; in the chapters before these rules he had just made a statement on how impossible it is to do anything without the Holy Spirit; therefore I must assume the ability to live by any of these rules is something the Holy Spirit aids and makes possible; for without Him we can do nothing (“…God’s Spirit now lives in you, and He will raise you to life by His Spirit” Romans 8vs 11).

Out of them all, Romans 12 vs 12 stood out for me the most. I hope to get understanding on what this means and how it can be a reality for my life.

Rules For Christian Living

Be sincere in your love for others

Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good

Love each other as brothers and sisters

Honour others more than you do yourself

NEVER GIVE UP (emphasis mine)

Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord

Let your hope make you glad

Be patient in times of trouble and never stop praying

Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home

Ask God to bless everyone who ill treats you; to bless them not to curse them

When others are happy, be happy with them; and when they are sad be sad

Be friendly with everyone

Don’t be proud and feel that you are clever than others

Make friends with ordinary people

Don’t ill treat someone who has ill treated you, but try to earn the respect of others

Do your best to live at peace with everyone

Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.

Sounds simple enough right? Imagine if every professing Christian person out there actually lived by these rules; not just out of duty but out of a real conviction. Would our faith not be more tangible – more relatable and even attractive to those who do not know Jesus?

If any of you has any insight into what this title means (let your hope make you glad) please feel free to elaborate.

May God continue to bless you as you walk with Him in this second part of 2015.

Prairy Dawn

Prairie

by Carl Sandburg

I WAS born on the prairie and the milk of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me a song and a
slogan.

Here the water went down, the icebergs slid with gravel, the gaps and the valleys hissed, and the black loam came, and the
yellow sandy loam.
Here between the sheds of the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, here now a morning star fixes a fire sign over the timber
claims and cow pastures, the corn belt, the cotton belt, the cattle ranches.
Here the gray geese go five hundred miles and back with a wind under their wings honking the cry for a new home.
Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.

The prairie sings to me in the forenoon and I know in the night I rest easy in the prairie arms, on the prairie heart..    .
.
After the sunburn of the day
handling a pitchfork at a hayrack,
after the eggs and biscuit and coffee,
the pearl-gray haystacks
in the gloaming
are cool prayers
to the harvest hands.

More on Being an Empath

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A typical cold winter morning in the Cape Winelands. No snow on the mountains, we're having a warm spell.

A typical cold winter morning in the Cape Winelands. No snow on the mountains, we’re having a warm spell.

Waking up this morning to fresh crisp air, the only sound is the birds and the rustling of leaves in the trees…bliss! I am on a well needed week away from home in the Cape Winelands. While I am away from the usual distractions and business of Cape Town; I have the time and head space to think deeper and clearer.

There has been more discussion and research following my last post, I am finding that the label “empath” is not something that I would want to wear on a badge. Not that it is some terrible thing, hardly that; but I find that although I was so relieved to finally put a name to my experiences, I am not so keen to be labelled and confined to a set definition.

From what I have read about this topic, I have simplified the definition for my self and made it easier to explain; being an empath simply means I am more sensitive to people’s emotions and pain – which then makes it easier for me to help them or to intercede for them – since I experience their experience  on a personal level instead of from a detached position. Although it does have the potential to complicate my role as a counsellor, the term ‘mindfulness’ is a great help here.

Perhaps an illustration from my counsellor training days would make it even easier to understand;

empathy: when you come across someone stuck in a ditch, you throw them a rope and help them come out

sympathy: when you come across someone stuck in a ditch, you jump in with them and try to figure out how to get out together

Counsellors should ideally not be sympathetic, rather empathetic. However, for an empath, the decision is not conscious, you are thrown into ditches with random people and you experience some or all of what they experience with them, without them even knowing it. Some experience the physical  pain of others, some emotional, some spiritual. whatever the case, the experience is unpleasant and often unwelcome.

Reading the stories of Christian empaths and how they deal with this trait has shown me a simple and effective way forward. Prayer. Being made by God means that He is the only one who knows me intricately, in complete detail, I mean He still has my blueprint (probably). So committing this to Him is my best – and only option.

The process is simple; identify what the emotion is. Then identify if this emotion has anything to do with me or anything I am currently dealing with. If it is completely foreign – which is relatively easier to tell if one really thinks about it- then I pray for whoever it is that is really experiencing that emotion. Here’s an example; I was in a bus on the way to the retreat on Sunday afternoon. I had been to church, my sister dropped me off at the bus station and I was truly looking forward to the trip. I didn’t have any particular thoughts going through my mind, besides watching the scenery outside the window. There was music playing, love songs from the 80’s and 90’s, songs that I enjoy listening to which made the ride even better. Out of nowhere, I start feeling really sad, I mean really sad to the point of tears.

Normally, I would have started asking myself why I want so badly to cry, whats wrong with me now, I’m going to the most beautiful relaxing place for a whole week, taking time off to de-stress, why do I want to cry? Instead, I started to pray for whoever was in that bus that was on the verge of tears, the feeling of loss and regret kept coming up so I prayed for comfort into those areas and asked God to speak to that person. The music might have brought up memories for someone and made them regret a decision made, I don’t know – and don’t need to know the reason. Needless to say, after that prayer I went back to happily enjoying the music.

I suppose this empath business is really just a way to enhance intercession/praying for others. Prayer becomes so much more meaningful when you are able to discern what the other person is going through (although this is never a strict requirement for interceding), you pray as if you are praying for yourself  – I guess that’s the whole point.

I have actually stopped reading more on this, I am content with my understanding for now. There is a lot more about it that goes into new age beliefs that I am not interested in knowing. My guidance comes from my Creator, and the Holy Spirit – who actually gives the gift of discernment, insight, wisdom and understanding – is the one to talk to about such things. I’m grateful for this platform where sharing leads to learning and growth; but the source of ultimate wisdom remains God.

Remain blessed and highly favoured.