Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Dozen Favorites of 2009

This is the time of year for myriads of year-end top 10 (or 25 or 100 or insert your favorite number here) lists. Melanie recently posted a list of her top ten favorite memories from her time in SA this year, and this in combination with Thanksgiving just after I got home inspired me to start working on a list of my own. So here are my top 12 favorite moments & memories I’m thankful for from this year. This is probably not comprehensive, but it's what emerged as I went through my photos. It's been a challenging year, and it was a good exercise for me to remember the positive things. And to discover that I couldn't narrow it down to just 10...

12. Jacarandas
Every year, I am thankful for the Jacaranda blossoms. They signal the arrival of spring and change and inevitably the drawing to a close of an apprenticeship year, which is always bittersweet. They’re gorgeous and they drop petals all over Pangani and all over Pretoria, but it’s a beautiful mess.

11. Schoenmakerskop
On a trip to Port Elizabeth in January, we visited a gorgeous beach called Schoenmakerskop. I explored the coastline, gathered shells, enjoyed lunch with friends and good conversation with Sarah and Dayna as we enjoyed a relaxing walk on the beach. And during a beautiful sunset, Bryan and Daleen exchanged wedding vows (again) on the rocks overlooking the ocean. It was my favorite day of the trip.

10. A Night of Spontaneous Theatre, Dance, Art, and Collective Poetry
One of the apprentices, Curtis, led this particular Friday night worship time focused on Acts 15, where Paul affirms “what God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” We explored the ways God might be found in various art forms. Curtis invited me to be part of the planning team, and I helped lead the “collective poetry” portion of the evening.

9. The night we threw Tony in the pool.
Tony incessantly antagonizes people. With the greatest affection. And everyone loves Tony, but sometimes retaliation is in order. One night a bunch of the girls plotted to throw Tony in the pool. I saw it happening and joined in. As he does, Tony drew a cartoon in protest of our actions. I was careful to lay low the next time we had a pool party and managed to avoid getting thrown in the pool myself. The other girls were not so lucky.

8. Mpumalanga Trip
When I was an apprentice, the five of us went to Mpumalanga, but it was to a different part of the province. I had heard from numerous people about God's Window and how beautiful it was, and decided to take a trip there on my own: part retreat, part "introvert time." The scenery was gorgeous and it was a refreshing, much-needed getaway.

7. Staff Appreciation Dinner
In June, the apprentices threw a dinner party for the staff team. It was phenomenal: the meal, the entertainment (thanks, Busi!), the time spent together, and the thoughtfulness and care that was expressed by the apprentices for us as a team. This was the only year I know of that a group of apprentices has done something like this for the staff. It was a pretty hard year for our staff team, and this dinner was a beautiful gift in the midst of some difficult stuff!

6. Inviting Retreat at St. Benedict’s
At the close of the Inviting Posture, the apprentices and several staff spent a weekend at a retreat center in Joburg. During this retreat, I read C. Baxter Kruger's The Great Dance. The weekend, for me, was a great combination of solitude, reading, and reflection, and having a couple of really powerful times of sharing together as a group what God was speaking to each of us.

5. Book Discussions
A pattern emerged early on in this year's weekly book discussions. We'd start with the discussion questions, veer wildly off topic, and find that by the end of the evening, we had still discussed everything the questions were getting at, and had done so from a very personal angle. Ultimately our book discussions were more about creating space for letting the Holy Spirit guide the conversation. And it's amazing to sit back and watch that happen.

4. Personal Retreat
I wrote about this a little more here. On this three-night stay at a bush camp, I did virtually nothing but read and lie by a very tiny pool. And eat. And sleep. And wander around looking at zebra and impala. And it was good for my soul.

3. Lucy
My roommate and I got our cat, Lucy, in March, from Granny’s family in Soshanguve. She was 4 weeks old. One of the many dramas of my last few weeks in Pretoria was finding someone to take care of her while both Sarah and I were away on furlough. After literally talking to every single person we knew in Pretoria, we still weren't able to find someone who could take her. My friend Salomé dedicated herself to the cause, and she called practically everyone she knew as well, to no avail. After dropping me off at the airport, Sarah made one last-ditch effort and asked yet another of our neighbors if they would take Lucy in. They said yes.

2. Art of Soul
One of my ministry goals/visions coming out of my apprenticeship year was to start a discussion group to explore spiritual questions through fiction & film. At the beginning of the year, Curtis told me he thought I should start a literature discussion group. Hmm. Curtis and Melanie partnered with me in starting up Art of Soul this year, offering the encouragement and support I needed to get it going.

My good friend Cori and her husband Kevin joined in, inviting their friends Jacomien and Salomé... and we were off! It was an amazing year, with some really really good discussions: covering topics from the nature of belief, to revenge and reconciliation. More than that, some great friendships formed and deepened, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with these friends next year.

1. HeArt Project
At the conclusion of each year, apprentices are given the assignment to create a "HeArt Project," an art project that encapsulates what God has done in their hearts throughout the year. I wasn't going to do a heart project this year. I don't really do art. But then there were some very powerful images that came to mind, things that God had been showing me and encouraging me in over the past year (and even the couple previous years). So I decided to do a project. But I wasn't going to talk about it in front of the group, because it was a little too fresh at the time. But then I decided to talk about it. And then I wasn't going to after all. But I did. After all the vacillation on my part, it ended up being a really important moment for me to acknowledge the difficulties this year has held, and the hope that I have coming out of those difficult times. As well as to have those things affirmed by my community.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Where to find God

From an Advent devotional I've been reading this season:
A Hasidic story tells of a rabbi's son who used to wander in the woods. The rabbi asked his son, "I wonder why each day you walk in the woods?" The boy replied, "I go there to find God." "That's very good, son. But, don't you know that God is the same everywhere?" "Yes," the boy answered, "but I'm not."
A good reminder of my need to seek God in the ways that I can best meet Him this season. God is the same everywhere. But I am not, and I need to remember that. Especially during the transition and unsettledness of a furlough.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Staff year-end brunch

I wanted to write a longer post of my thoughts and reflections at the end of the 2009 apprenticeship year, including a group photo, pictures of my heart project & a short description of the meaning behind it... but that will have to wait. The past few days have been full of packing and moving my belongings from my apartment to Pangani, where they will be stored until I return from furlough at the beginning of February. The 2009 apprenticeship has drawn to a close and I fly back to CA tomorrow. Stories will follow when I'm not in the midst of boxes and suitcases and the looking up of baggage requirements. In the meantime, here are a couple photos of our staff team, from our goodbye brunch this morning.

Prayer of blessing for Joe and Natalie. Joe will be taking on leadership of the team going forward.

Group shot...
Back row: Natalie, Daleen (and Keziah), Sarah, and me
Front row: Joe, Bryan, Doug

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Performance Art

Not content to only display visual art, we set aside a time during our Gala Gallery Opening for performance art. Lizzy's poems were read, Busi of course performed several lip synch numbers, Curtis showed off his disturbing ability to practically dislocate his arm, Colletta and Busi danced to a Congolese song (translation provided by Luc), and Dayna MC'd the evening hilariously in character as Will Ferrell's Harry Caray.

But there was a serious side, as blessings were read and prayers were said for the family as they head into a new season of life and ministry. The Wards have generously poured themselves out here, mentoring so many and enriching the lives and hearts they have touched. Their leadership and friendship will be greatly missed!

Busi performing "You Give Love a Bad Name" (no comment intended upon Bryan and Daleen and their ability to love)

Colletta joins Busi to close out "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" (again, no comment intended upon Bryan and Daleen)

Colletta and Busi invite Daleen to join them in a Congolese dance

Oupa joined in as well, and brought Bryan along with him. I love the expression on Bryan's face here...

Pangani Gallery

Over the weekend, we threw a surprise thank you celebration for the Ward family. Bryan and Daleen were part of starting up NieuCommunities South Africa seven years ago, and this year will be their last apprenticeship year.

Given the Wards' passion for creativity and the ways they have encouraged art throughout our community especially this year, we decided to use that as a theme for the evening. While the staff took Bryan & Daleen out for dinner, the apprentices and other friends were hard at work transforming Pangani into an art gallery. We displayed the Wards' artwork as well as pieces created by many of our community. Here are a few shots of our very own Pangani Gallery.

The Bryan Ward and Daleen Ward Gallery: We renamed the sitting room for the evening to showcase art by Bryan & Daleen.

Interactive Photo Collage: photos were displayed from throughout the Wards' time with NCSA, and gallery guests were invited to add their own comments and memories sparked by the photography on display.

Local Artists: Throughout the gallery was displayed art by many from our community: here are several pieces by the Crawley girls.

Masterpieces in Mentoring: Hung from the ceiling in the Gallery Lobby (otherwise known as the dining room) were photos of many of those who have been mentored by Bryan and Daleen over the years, along with words of affirmation and thanks.

Where I work

For the past few weeks, Pangani has been canopied above and carpeted below with purple blossoms. Abram, one of our gardeners, is constantly raking up the purple debris. By the time he's gathered a wheelbarrow-full, the lawn is scattered with blossoms again. It's a losing battle and it's beautiful. Abram might not think so, though.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Spring has arrived in Pretoria, and with it the jacaranda blossoms. Driving home the other day, I spotted this purple Beetle... the exact shade as the jacarandas on the street where it was parked. Sarah took this quick shot out the window. Not the best picture, but I still like the concept!

Emily's garden

Emily and the other employees at the bakery are growing vegetables in a community garden behind Emily's house. Emily has talked about getting this garden started since I was an apprentice in 2007, and it's exciting to see it growing at last!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Birthday Party

Tuesday last week, Sarah and I took cakes & goodies out to Emily's to celebrate her daughter Precious' 10th birthday. Here are the girls with the cakes & snacks...
Nthabiseng (cousin), Precious, and Lungile (little sister)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A few pictures of doing nothing

My own personal bushveld chalet

Tea and cookies on the veranda (breakfast my last day)

Three blesbok keeping their wary eyes on me

Sky and golden afternoon light filtered through dandelion-like fluffy seeds

The Immense Value of Doing (Almost) Nothing

Last week was a week off for our apprentices (and sort of for staff, too). It came at the conclusion of Contending, the fourth learning posture of our year. Contending is usually pretty intense and for some reason both it and the posture before it seemed to go on forever. Just in August: our community said goodbye to the Stewart family, transitioned into some new leadership roles as a staff team, hosted a 2-week Road Trip, explored issues of spiritual warfare and injustice, and engaged a month-long practice of the discipline of Simplicity. The week off was very timely for me, and I suspect for most of our community as well.

I've never been much of one for taking vacations where I do nothing. I generally want to go somewhere that I can "see stuff." Whether it's art galleries in Paris, Napoleon’s villa on Elba, beautiful scenery in Cape Town, or Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth, I usually want to do stuff and see things, to experience whatever new place I'm in to the fullest... more than just hang out. But last week I knew that was the last thing I needed.

Instead of going somewhere to do something, I went to a small bush camp in a game reserve about 45 minutes away, with my sole goal being that of sitting by a pool and reading. I accomplished that goal. Swimmingly, one might say.

My three days away followed this general schedule:
Sleep in.
Sit on the veranda and eat breakfast while watching birds.
Change from pajamas to bathing suit.
Walk across the dirt road to the very small pool.
Apply sunscreen.
Lie on beach towel next to pool and read.
Get in pool.
Lie on beach towel next to pool and dry off in the sun.
Read some more.
Walk back across the road to the chalet.
Sit on veranda and eat lunch.
Sit by the pool and read.
Wander trails around the bush camp, looking at animals.
Sit on the veranda and eat dinner while watching the sunset.
Lie on bed and read.
Listen to music.
Go to sleep.

One of the things I realized during this brief time away:
I spend too much time multi-tasking. Multi-tasking may feel productive, but it also makes me feel rushed and scattered. This creeps in even with a small thing I do all the time: listening to music and reading while making dinner. When doing three things at once, I'm not really experiencing any one of them fully. Perhaps none of those things require my full attention, but they definitely feel different when given my full attention. For the most part, I refrained from this kind of simultaneous activity while on my retreat, and I found my mind more present in each activity. I was able to more fully experience whatever I was doing—and find rest in it. I was also better able to think. Amazingly. =)

I now realize the great value of a vacation where you do nothing. I came back from these brief few days feeling far more rested than I have in a long time. We began the Imagining posture on Monday, and I have been thoroughly enjoying the week. Never mind the fact that this is my favorite posture of the apprenticeship... I think much of my energy and excitement and readiness to be fully present this past week is in part due to three days of doing nothing. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Sarah commented to me the other day: "Do you ever find it strange that we use keys like this to unlock our house?" I don't, really. Not anymore. But my bundle of keys sure is heavy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Visiting Voortrekker

Last week, I took a group to visit the Voortrekker Monument and downtown Pretoria. I wrote a post about it here on our community blog. But here, for your reading enjoyment, I will offer a small side story...

I led the same trip to Voortrekker and downtown for last year's Road Trip, and somehow managed to get signed up to do it again this year, though I didn't really desire to do so. Last year, in a frantic attempt to not miss the turnoff for the monument, I cut across a couple lanes of traffic, with two cars following me who then were also forced to cut off several cars... I very nearly caused a rather major traffic accident. I refer to it as "the time I almost killed all the Road Trippers." (The daring driving maneuver did, however earn me the undying respect of several people and I was complimented on it for the rest of the day. Regardless, I am still a bit mortified by the memory.) You'll be happy to know we had no major mishaps of that sort this year as I took a different, less complicated route to get to the monument.

Now go read my more serious reflection on the monument visit...

Friday, August 07, 2009


Don't interpret this post according to the image. It's just what came up on Google images when I searched for "simplicity," I've seen it before, and it makes me laugh. =)

During the month of August, our community is corporately practicing the discipline of simplicity. We've challenged ourselves to live on half our disposable income for the month. We're trying to spend half what we usually would for groceries, household supplies, entertainment...any expenses that aren't fixed (i.e. I'm not paying only half the rent just because it's simplicity month). At the end of the month, we plan to take the money saved and use it for several areas of need around us.

I went grocery shopping yesterday for the first time this month. I decided to go to the cheaper grocery store--the one I usually avoid. I don't regularly shop there because it's usually too busy, the produce isn't as good, and they don’t carry a lot of the brands/varieties that I prefer. But: cheaper.

While shopping, I realized how often I opt to buy something more expensive because "it's only a few rand more" and "I can afford this" and "I like it better." This month, I'm cutting all the corners I can, so I said no to the things I would usually buy a more expensive version of. It made me realize how often I rationalize a little higher grocery bill out of preference for unnecessary extras. What if I didn't have the option to buy the more expensive juice? I buy far too much LiquiFruit Cranberry Cooler!

I've always thought I'm fairly wise with my money. And honestly, that's pretty true. But I hadn't realized just how many times I spend money I don't need to spend, just for the sake of preference and desire. This month, I keep asking myself if I really need this thing. Usually, I don't. It's making me think. And that's good.

In addition to living on half my disposable income, I've also decided to limit my online time this month. Specifically, I'm not logging into Facebook for the month of August. I've found quite a few old friends on Facebook, people it's been really good to reconnect with. More than that, there are a lot of friends back home who I keep in better touch with on Facebook than I would over email. Even family: my brother & sister-in-law, my oldest niece, my's awesome to have a more consistent connection, even if it's just through minor things like status updates. But: when I check FB 3 or 4 times a day, to skim through mostly unimportant information about my 300+ friends and casual acquaintances...that's not exactly a wise use of my time. It's not really personally connecting at all. So, August: no Facebook. I've realized that checking Facebook every time I got online was far more automatic than I thought it was. Cutting it out has helped me be more conscientious about how I use my time online. This is also good.

One final observation: in the past week, far more people than usual have approached me asking for money (people I know, as well as random people I run into on the street). Maybe it just seems that way. I've been more conscious of responding to need, in any case. I keep being reminded of why I'm practicing simplicity...not just for the sake of the discipline itself, but so that I can share with others out of what is saved.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Goodbye Pictures

The group gathered to send off the Stewarts to the airport

Arthur & Melissa and me

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


My dear friends and team members the Stewarts are leaving South Africa this afternoon, for a 10-month sabbatical in the States. There are so many things I will miss about Arthur and Melissa, but I am equally thankful for each of those things I will miss. They have given of themselves abundantly to our community and in ministry over the past 6 years, and it's my prayer that they themselves will be blessed just as abundantly during this time of sabbatical.

We had a goodbye dinner for them this past Friday night... here are some photos.

Mmm, bobotie.

Dinner in the sitting room

Arthur & Melissa

It wouldn't have been complete without entertainment from our resident rock star, Busi, performing both an original song and a lipsynch.

Reading Psalm 121 as a blessing for the family.

We will miss you, Stewarts!

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Right now, I come from Israel."

I read a comment on a blog post today that used this sentence. I think I might just adopt the phrase as my own. It seems a good answer to the question that MKs and TCKs all struggle to answer: "Where are you from?"

Up until 1987, I came from England.
After that, I came from California.
Right now, I come from South Africa.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

God's Invitation Part Two: Some Further Literary Details

(Skip to the post below for context... or just a shorter version.)

Around the borders of the invitation I created, I wrote some lines from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that continues to resurface in relevance for me.

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

What if what you’re called to do is simply to be who you are? This is a key part of my understanding of God’s invitation at this point in my life: God invites me to be myself. This is such a freeing thought: I am invited to be myself. My truest self, my self as I was created to be.

The poem goes on, and these lines also appear in the borders of my invitation:

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Suggested reading for the weekend retreat was a book called The Great Dance. One part of the book in particular resonated quite deeply for me:

“[Jesus] continues to live out his sonship, today and forever, as a human being—he just does not do it alone, but in union with us, in and through us, in and through our work and play and gardening, in and through our relationships, our friendships, our marriages and romance…” (63)

It’s this idea that the last few lines of the poem address: that the life of Christ is lived out today in us, in our everyday lives as we live the fullness of the life God gives. As we live out our true identity. God invites us to live as who we were intended to be, and in so doing, we reflect Christ. And it's beautiful.

On a related note: I find that for me, God speaks loudest when multiple, seemingly unrelated sources converge at the same time with the same message. As I caught up on some blog reading yesterday, I found this post on one of my favorite blogs. These coincidences happen too often to me.

God's Invitation

Peace of Christ
Gate and cross at St. Benedict’s House, Rosettenville, Joburg

This past weekend was our community reflection retreat, looking back on the Inviting Posture. The apprentices and a few of the staff (Bryan, Dayna, and me) went to a retreat center in Joburg for solitude and reflection, and sharing together what God had been doing in each of us during the posture and over the weekend.

As part of the posture, apprentices had been asked to write out their understanding of God’s invitation extended to all mankind. As part of the weekend, we were to finish writing (or start and finish writing!) these invitations.

Some created tangible physical invitations, others crafted words in journals; some were very personal and others more universal, but all of us attempted to convey a glimpse of what God is inviting us into. All 11 of us shared our invitations with each other on Sunday morning before we headed back to Pretoria. We went around the circle, each person sharing a little about the writing of their invitation, and then reading it aloud.

As Oupa read his invitation, I had one of those moments of resonance. It was such a beautiful picture to sit there with my community, hearing each person articulate God’s invitation in their own words: unique and yet so very universal pieces of the incomprehensible idea of God’s invitation to mankind.

Each one represented a different piece of God’s invitation; together they pointed to something so much larger. As the winter sunlight streamed through the windows over Oupa’s shoulders, I saw and heard a glimpse of God’s Kingdom in our midst. A glimpse of the Kingdom that is here, at hand, and to come. We are invited in.

Here’s my invitation.

Come to me.

Come and discover the home you long for, the place where you belong. Join the feast at my table; the family waits for your arrival. You are invited to live your life from within the family of God. Make your home here and find your identity as a child of this family.

Come and discover who you’re created to be—live out who you really are as a child in my house. I invite you into my life, that you may live Christ in your life.

Come, discover your deepest desires; live your truest identity, and you will find me there.

Home is waiting. It has been prepared for you.

You are invited in.

What do you want?

Do you want to be healed?

Come to me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


This past week, I took a 4-day trip to a neighboring province (Mpumalanga), and stayed in an area called the Panorama. It was great to have time away to read, journal, and reflect in an area of amazing natural beauty. One of the points of interest near where I was staying is a viewpoint called "God's Window." I found this an appropriate place for a retreat...

Updated to say: More pictures here.

Me looking out God's Window

Lisbon Falls (I spent an afternoon here reading)

Chocolate mousse-filled and fruit-covered pancakes in a little mining town called Pilgrim's Rest

Bourke's Luck Potholes, some amazing rock formations that occur where the Treur & Blyde Rivers connect

Me at my favorite lookout point, with a view of the Lowveld

The Three Rondavels, at Blyde River Canyon (the third largest canyon in the world)

Me reading at the Lowveld viewpoint