Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Humble Crown

"Grey hair is a crown of splendour, it is attained by a righteous life" (Proverbs 16:31)

Sundays are just the best. The day breaks with a sweetness to it, birdsong is clearer. It is a day of breathing deeply, pausing often and most of all, giving thanks. As our voices are carried out and over the mountaintops, joy is born. I look around the room where we are gathered, starting with a beautiful nonagenarian man, eyes closed, his bony hands resting lightly in his lap. Then glancing over each radiant face, before my gaze comes to rest on my littlest one, arms up, his small palms stretched out wide. Five generations, joined together in song... The moment swells and becomes a memory. Later, when the little worshipper is sitting in the elder's lap, I am struck by the gentle strength and unmistakable sense of peace around this man. The time is over all too soon, and I just know that if I could spend a day sitting at his feet, I would be richer and have deeper understanding.

One of the sad realities of living in the mountains, has always been the vast distance between us and our families. I used to think that our children would be poorer for growing up without an extended family. They have no real concept of family in terms of blood relations, but we have been truly blessed by an amazing "mountain family". They are not there to replace those who are far away, but they have given us a sense of belonging, added substance to our lives and offered more than generous support.

The best of all is that we are the "youngsters" in this family. What binds us is a shared love for Christ. The respect I feel for them is not because they are such wise, strong and "good" folk, but because they are humble and real. For me, the heart of a healthy community is mutual respect. This morning I almost read "over" 1 Peter 2:17: Show proper respect for everyone... At first glance it seemed so obvious, but then I looked again. Show, meaning; make it outward, tangible. Everyone being, I would imagine, well, everyone. Not only those whom I think have earned it, or have a position that demands it. Everyone. The word "respect" comes from the Greek word timao meaning honour, revere or venerate. It literally means placing a great value on something. Interestingly, today we tend to place our values on personal rights and the equality of man. Loving God means surrendering my rights and being willing to serve.

Respecting everyone also means we should be especially conscious that God has created all people in His image, regardless of whether they believe in Christ. Therefore, we should show them respect and honour, because their souls are of more value than all the wealth in the world. The second part of the verse reads; love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king (authorities)...

I was quite humbled (and flattered of course) when a talented young Xhosa artist and friend grabbed my hand and made a little curtsy when I told him my age. "Oh respect, mama" he said, his dreadlocks bobbing up and down around his face. Old Testament laws demanded that people should rise in the presence of the aged. (no, not counting myself in that category yet...) Lev 19:32 goes on to say "show respect for the elderly and revere your God".
There is true beauty in "ageing", even though it has become a word that is mostly seen with an "anti" before it. The world view is to resist it, counter it, slow it down. Could it be because we have forgotten how to "revere" the elders? That we fear becoming "old fools", instead of being embraced and respected, consulted rather than forgotten.

How God must smile when a grey head bows down before him. In spite (or perhaps as a result of) all that they have seen in this crazy world. My prayer is, should I live to hold my own grandchildren in my lap, that I may remember the value of their souls. Remember to place their names in His hands and pray that they may be engraved there, until; grey but glorified - they too will be led into the Eternal Light.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

If it aint broke...

"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out" (Isaiah 42:3)

The days grow longer. Now that the exuberance of Spring has passed, the heat of the day shimmers off zinc rooftops and releases heady fragrances in our young garden. The Wattle branches are weighed down by thick clusters of yellow flowers. These are lifted on the breezes, adding another note to the summer perfume. Arum lilies spread out in drifts, and in thickets of thorny bramble bushes, tight berries start to ripen in the sun. The first blush of clambering roses are loosing their splendour, while the watsonias start to appear, soon to fill the fields with a red blaze. In the early hours of the day, Inesi's "lawn" comes alive with a sea of dandelions, weedy but wonderful! The formal gardens of Hogsback are an absolute delight to the senses, their gentle order and structure calming after the wild abandon of our patch.

I am always amazed by the resilience of God's creation. After the freeze of a heavy snowfall, as the wonder melts away, the most delicate plants re-emerge; unharmed, refreshed. Field mice stroke their whiskers and scurry along unperturbed.

My mountain driving skills, or lack thereof, have also put the odd bush, tree or fence-post through a few ordeals. I remember a particularly rainy day, when our truck did not quite make it to the top of the slippery incline towards the gate.  A young elm, gracing the base of the incline, happened to be in the way when I attempted a controlled backward slide to where I imagined the road to be. This poor specimen gracefully bowed down, allowed me to drive half over it, then tried to lift itself up again when I roared off for a second attempt. Half the bark had been taken off, and it was hunched over like a pregnant woman feeling the first labour pains. I felt awful, thinking that we would need to saw it down, in the hope that it would send out new shoots from the stump. The operation was delayed and  about a month later, when I stopped to open the gate, I noticed with delight that the trunk was busy repairing itself. Slowly, "scar tissue" formed over the injured part, and this tree still stands, rather askew,  but a proud witness to the resilience of nature (and my clumsiness).

The Creator of the Universe holds each living organism in the palm of his hand. He, who cares enough to patch up a damaged tree, how much more willing and capable is He to heal his children, the delight of his heart.

I have always (cognitively) known this to be the truth, but probably never fully understood the extent to which our Father desires for us to be whole. Or what it would take from me to free Him to do this. What it took from Him, to make it all possible. In our family, it took for us to be broken and almost torn apart to admit that we where in need of His grace to heal us.

St Patrick's on Fire - Hogsback

What it took from God was to give His only Son, to be "broken" on the cross, so that His children could be saved and walk in grace with Him. The difference being that He had no flaw. He, the son of God, was sent as a man, to take on the atrocities (sin) of mankind. His physical suffering was but the tip of the iceberg. Not only did the world torture and reject Him, his own Father turned his face away at the very moment when His Son cried out: Why have you forsaken me? Why would He do that? Because he loved us so much more than we could ever conceive. His love covers all our mistakes, counts them no more. For Christ did not surrender to the death that drew Him into the bowel of darkness. He was woken up, taken up into the light, where he now sits on the right hand of our heavenly Father. There, he takes our pleas to God. For He knows what it is like to be human, was tested as we are tested. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Holy trinity that makes us WHOLE.

You know the saying: "If it aint broke, don't fix it". If I constantly fill my life with diversions: things to do, things to want, things to decide and mull over - there can be no space or silence in which to become vulnerable before God. To admit that I am broken, constantly in need of  His "fixing". Day by day, the realisation grows; the great Physician is at work in me. Of myself I am nothing, but in Him, I can soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, be more than my, and everyone else's wildest dreams could possibly imagine.

Photo: Praying soldier, Israel Today

We all breathe a sigh of relief on the eve of cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. We did not hear when the missiles struck, or fear for the safety of our families in our safe little corner of the world. I cannot claim to be up to date with the intricacies of the political situation. But I did feel deeply saddened by the day to day infliction (from both sides), of more hurt and less forgiveness. No one knows the heart of man but God. My prayer can only be that the day would come that a generation remembers the name of their Messiah, all who have been hurt, surrender the need to be avenged, forgive and admit the need to be saved. For on that day, the abundance of God's grace will flow and we will all be made whole in Him.

"For you who revere my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap with joy like calves released from the stall" (Malachi 4:2)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New Light through Old Windows

"The people walking in darkness, have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned"
(Isaiah 9:2)

Sabbath Sunday. A shimmering breezy day, with an expanse of blue stretched far and wide over our heads. Sweet rays of warmth play through the leaves as we make our bumpy way down the mountain. A herd of white goats scatter in front of our truck, the ram glowering at us as we drive past. A day of fellowship. Tender memories shaped from an al fresco feast and children's laughter from the branches of a fallen tree. We pass platters of crusty bread and sun-softened cheese between us; reach for delicate treats from old tins that add a touch of nostalgia to the afternoon. Crisp ginger beer and mint water cool and refresh, and we part with contented sighs.

Later that day I sit back in a rocking chair on the deck, our two cherubs in my lap. We watch the clouds gather and change shape, the play of light on the treetops as the day draws to a close. I always marvel at the way the old masters could bring a canvas to life with light, colour and shadows, in perfect balance and harmony. But before me is a canvas that surpasses them all, this Artist's brushstrokes are beyond genius. They offer just a hint of the Glory that lies beyond all this, the source of eternal light and peace.

That little word "light" appears sixty six times in the Bible. We are called to be salt and light in a world that has lost its essence, surrendered the true source of light to something fickle, which can be manipulated, turned on and off at will. I need to be reminded that my candle will be snuffed out time and again, unless I have the shelter of His wings to protect it, fuel it, make it burn true.

Light is first mentioned in the third verse of Genesis, when the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The stage is set, the drama poised to unfold. We hold our breaths, something amazing is about to happen... If I had to choose a music score for this scene, it would be a dramatic Bach organ prelude, in minor key.  And God said: Let there be light, and there was light and God saw that the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness. Remember that this was not the sun, it was only created on the fourth day... Vivaldi's Gloria! in D Major, plays out this act.

This morning I read these beautiful words in Isaiah 9:2: "The people walking in darkness, have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned". And then in verse 6 the source of this light is revealed: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on His shoulders". The Messiah came as a baby who was born, as a gift from God, to be a ruler.(...He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end" Lk 1:33) Verse 6 then names all his perfections: Wonderful Councillor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The Messiah is eternally a Father to his people (us!), guarding, supplying and caring for our needs. The One who brings peace in the fullest sense of wholeness, prosperity and tranquillity. We may experience his peace now, and in the fullness of time the world will experience it also. ("He will judge between nations, and will settle disputes for many people" Isa 2:4) How? The passage ends with this promise: "The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this". 

The black of night and the darkness of the world has no hold on us. Through those deep valleys when the shadows seem endless, there is THE eternal source of  light to draw on, always. The prince of darkness may be prowling and provoking, but our Prince of Peace has victory, for us to claim as our own.

And there; on the last page of my Bible, in Revelation chapter 22, I read about the wondrous delights of the new Jerusalem: "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse". And then finally in verse 5: There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. You notice how many times "will" is mentioned?

An irrevocable promise of a fullness of life and a everlasting blessing.

Now I see through a hazy mirror. The mystery of what is foolishness to those walking in darkness, is still to be revealed. Until that day, with the anticipation of a child waiting for her father to come home, I will search the horizon. Turn my ears to the sound of Jesus' coming. Ask to have my lamp filled to the brim, with the oil of his Spirit. So that when the bridegroom arrives, I can get up on trembling legs, reach for His hand and walk with Him, into the Light eternal.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The More he Saw the Less he Spoke

 "The fear of the Lord is the Beginning of all Wisdom" (Psalm 111:10)

On a clear day, nightfall at Inesi is a dramatic time. The horizon swirls with shades of pink, darkening to the colour of a ripe pomegranate, struck through with purple, gold and burnished copper. I pull my shawl tighter around my shoulders, drink it in a bit longer, and then move back inside to light the fire. Through my window, the mountains seem to glow, then soften and darken, often to disappear completely under a cloudy veil. Now is the time of the night creatures. Crickets take over from robins, bats flit while the ibises announce the time to roost. When rain is on the way, we hear the frogs sing, and as a rare, eerie treat; the hoot of an owl....

Owls function extremely well at night, and their ability to see in the dark has, in some cultures, elevated them to manifestations of wisdom. We see them more as studious scholars, wise elders. You remember the old rhyme:

A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?

Sadly, it seems to be just the opposite of what the world tends to do. The more we learn (and see), the more we speak, the more we speak the less we hear. Hear when God speaks through His Spirit, shouts out in nature, shines through a child's eyes. The psalmist takes it a level further in Psalm 111:10, the motto of the wisdom teachers, and the theme of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom". Fear, in this instance meaning: reverence for God expressed in submission to His will. This is the "beginning", the starting point and essence of wisdom. Job uses the same expression in his last reply to his friends, when challenged concerning his unfailing reverence to God in the face of severe testing.

In James 3 from verse 13 we read about two kinds of wisdom. "If you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, from the devil". In contrast to this, verse 17 says: "The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Tall order?

We have a young grapevine outside the bakery "afdak" (a humble veranda....). I was thrilled to see how the new shoots budded and stretched their limbs when spring finally arrived. It is growing stronger each day, but if I were to pull off one of the tender young branches, it would soon wither and die. In a year or so, it should produce its first harvest of fruit. We too, will grow in the wisdom of God and bear all the beautiful fruit of the Spirit if we remain in the vine, and not let the world pull us away from Him.

I have a nasty tendency toward wanting to be at the helm of the ship. To see what's coming, in control, in the know... Eve also desired wisdom, and that beguiling fruit, in all its juicy ripeness, would give her just that. Or so she was promised. She may have been tempted, but she deceived herself, and fell, with all the dreadful consequences that followed.

1 Kings 4:29 tells how God gave Solomon wisdom and insight and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore... He did not obtain a Master's degree at the prestigious Jerusalem College of Knowledge - he received it; "for free". Why? For he feared/revered God with all his heart. When God told him in a dream, that he could ask for whatever he wanted, the twenty year old king said: "...give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to know right from wrong". I wonder what I would have asked for...

This message is pure balm for my soul. Some days when I'm reading to our boys about Gruffaloes and Pirats, or crawling around the floor as a stand-in steed (mare?) for the little princes, I wonder... Conversing with toddlers can vary from being hugely entertaining to downright exasperating. Keeping their hungry minds stimulated and their busy bodies out of trouble, is fun but draining. So I wonder, where does that leave the "other me", when Mama bear is most in demand? Safe in the arms of Jesus, thank God! So tomorrow morning, in those precious moments when I spend time with my heavenly Father, I can open his living Word, bow my head and ask for Godly wisdom, discernment and most of all; His peace that surpasses all understanding. And know, that as long as I remain in Him, it will come, and I will never run the risk of becoming "stale or dull" in my journey as His daughter, as well as being wife and mother.

John the Baptist says these surprising words to the church of Corinth: Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel, not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power! That is quite a bit to digest. Writing this blog has been such a challenge. I, would love to write prose, be witty, sharp and tender all at once. But that would rob the cross of its impact. So, by grace, I  hope to write only what God presses on my heart. I run the risk of loosing some readers along the way, maybe even a friend, but the risk at the other end of the scale, tips it towards the truth of the gospel every time.

I thought it best to let the wisdom of Solomon bring this to a close:

"My son (daughter), if you accept my words, and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding..."

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Dew of Little Things

"Better one handful with tranquility, than two handfuls with toil and chasing after wind". (Ecclesiastics 4:6)

It is early morning. I stand very still in the doorway, watching my children's upturned faces, gaping at a tiny spider climbing up and up on an invisible thread... A moment of wonder. My days receive substance from moments such as these, like the sudden glimpse of scarlet from the Knysna Loerie in a silent forest. A few days of blessed sunshine made the village sigh with warm content. Our tread becomes light, we buzz around and lap up the sweetness like Pooh bear in a vat of honey. We slide down potholed roads in muddy cars, windows rolled down, humming as we bounce along. Everything soaks it up into each pore and vein, to sustain during those endless grey days.

We are often asked by visitors or curious bread-buyers: "So what is it that you do in Hogsback?" rolling their eyes in feigned disbelief. Implying; how on earth do you live here? Don't you miss "civilisation"? Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might... Eccl 9:10. That is what I would like my reply to be. My days can be as dreary or delightful as the state of my heart. William Blake wrote in "Auguries of Innocence":

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Even though Solomon understood that much of life is futile, one must grasp each opportunity and use it to the fullest in serving God. Every man (woman) has a particular work, which is accomplished in this life or not at all. He also adds in Eccl 3:10: "I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made all things beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what He has done from beginning to end"...

God knows each of us so intimately, and knowing what an incurable romantic this daughter of his happens to be, he brings many of these moments into my days.

Just recently, I was churning up dust in my workshop, in search of something to keep Luke and Daniel busy, when my fingers brushed over a familiar container. My heart smiled at the content; a collection of old buttons from my childhood. I tucked it under my arm and carried it back upstairs, expectant and light. With whoops of delight they took out small fist-fulls at a time, dropping them into my lap. I was not quite prepared for the impact these tiny objects would have on me. All at once I was cast back in time, holding a button covered in the same fabric as a favourite dress that my mom use to wear around the house. The next one was brass, once buffed and shining on a tunic of my brother's, then a member of an army band. Next was a wooden one from a winter coat I had as a girl, then a delicate pearly button from my mother's Sunday best. Turning over a small silver button with an anchor on it, I felt my stomach tighten. I was about five or six years old (I think), wearing an adorable sailor's outfit that my mom had put together. The occasion was my grandparent's wedding anniversary, and I had the "privilege" of serenading them, a Capella. With trembling voice I sang: "Op 'n mooie paddastoel, rood met witte stippen". I never realised how adorable it all was...

Such is His love for us. He is not only our Almighty Father, Saviour of the Universe, but also the God of small things. He speaks to us through birdsong, the smile of a petrol pump attendant, a wild flower in a scorched field. He is not a Father that sends a multipurpose message to each one of the children on His address list. He longs for intimate relationship with us, unique and breathtakingly direct. He did not only give us the Holy Spirit - His Word is substance, alive, inexhaustible. It reveals a unique message to each one of us at the exact time when we need it, should we seek it out.

Towards the end of last year, a rather tumultuous time in paradise for me, God led me to a verse that gave me renewed hope. Jeremiah 29:11 reads: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. A well-known and loved scripture. But then just to make sure that "I got it", I received a text message the next day from a former neighbour that I had lost contact with for many years. It was forwarded by a friend of hers who did not even know me. I gasped as I read it, in Afrikaans: Ek weet wat Ek vir julle beplan, se die Here: voorspoed en nie teenspoed nie; Ek wil vir julle 'n toekoms gee, 'n verwagting! (Jeremia 29:11)... God must have thought, lets just make sure this scatter-brain gets the message, in two different languages "nogal".

His plans are unfolding, one miraculous day at a time. He shows me the poetry he has written for me, and it stirs me in ways I never thought possible. If not for the mundane, the sublime would not stand out so starkly, if not for the trials, the treasures would loose their value. I inhale the smell of freshly cut grass as I watch Luke offering bits of apple to the grazing horses, their heads large above his. Being refreshed in Jesus' love for me through these gems, I can set my soul on eternity once more, and the waiting turns into hoping, nourishing my ever-deepening love for Him.

In the dew of little things, my heart finds her morning and is refreshed...