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...
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.
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.
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.