Sunday, 30 November 2014

An extra plate...

Another hectic morning behind me.  I woke up early this morning and prepared our lunch so that we can just come eat after church.  After church, however, we had to quickly go to town for a few things.  All around us were people in just as much of a hurry as what we were.  Back home, I quickly laid the table and as I put the plates out I thought of the story that my mom told me about my grandmother.  I never knew her, but my mom has told me many stories about her.  She was a very generous person and had a great sense of humour.  My mom said that despite the difficult times they were living in (it was the years of the great depression) she always managed to make sure that her family was well fed and there was always enough in case somebody unexpectedly dropped by.  There was always enough for an extra plate of food.  No matter what the circumstance her door to her house (and heart) was open and her home ready to welcome a stranger.
In the world we live in that is quite a strange concept.  First of all we are so busy that we rarely seem to have enough time for our loved ones, let alone time to entertain strangers and secondly, with a world so full of con artists, thieves, scoundrels, etc, we dare not take a chance to invite strangers into our homes.  I mean, who does that today?  How sad it actually is, that it is necessary to look at people around us, not with eyes of love and concern, but with eyes of suspicion, always ready to protect ourselves and our loved ones against them.  We lock ourselves in our fortified homes and hide behind tightly drawn curtains.  We teach our children not to talk to strangers and not to trust anybody.  We keep our hearts from caring too much.  The Bible teaches us to show hospitality to strangers, because you never know whether that person might be an angel, and I wonder how many angels I have ignored that came knocking at my door, because I was too worried that it might be the devil.
We talk about compassion, we talk about caring for others, we claim to be children of God.  We are horrified by the hardship and misery we see around us, yet we cannot spare a plate of food for another person, and I am not even talking about a complete stranger, I am talking about that person who has lost a loved one recently, that now has to make a bowl of rice for herself, the divorcee next door that rather goes to bed hungry, than having to face the loneliness of a dinner for one, that new person who moved into our community and sits alone in church, the one who we all wonder about, but no-one talks to.  We just smile politely, say a few pleasantries and then we quickly move away.
Maybe it is time that we do not just talk about caring, but start to do something about it.  My sister told me about a friend of hers who makes a point every Christmas to invite people, who have no family or loved ones, to spend Christmas Day with them.  Maybe it is time to lay an extra plate at our table and invite somebody to share our meal with us...

Friday, 28 November 2014

What is that sound...?

This morning, as usual, I woke up at five o'clock.  However, as the mists of sleep drifted off me, I became aware of a strange sound, an unusual sound.  For a few minutes I lay there wondering what it was that I was hearing.  Then it dawned on me.  It was the sound of...silence.  Complete and utter silence.  No low level buzzing from all the electronics plugged in next to the bed.  No cluck-cluck from the geyser warming up and no humming coming from the neighbour's pool filter.  I peeped over my husband's shoulder at the alarm clock.  Its red digital display was black.  We were having a power outage.  I settled back against my pillow and let this rare moment wash over me, foreign, yet warm and welcoming. 
Every day we are surrounded by noise.  From the minute we are woken up by our alarm clocks until we fall asleep to the voice of the late night DJ till we finally silence him in a sleepy haze.  Even then there are still noises around us in the form of electronics, sirens in the distance and others that we are not consciously aware of.   Our days are filled with sound.  
Silence has become a rare commodity.  Modern man seems to fear the quiet.  I walked into a doctor's waiting room last week.  The place was full.  Soothing music filled the room, and at first one would think that there was a silence hanging in the air.  There was, after all, no conversation going on, till you noticed a droning sound and the click-click and tap-tap of dozens of fingers on the keyboards of laptops and Smartphones.  Every single person there was totally engrossed in their own electronic world.  I sat there in that noisy silence.  It was not pleasant.  It was not warm and welcoming.  It was a disconnect from the real world, it was alien and terribly sad.  It was a silence of electronic, manmade clutter.  Not the silence of quietly being.  It is as if people are losing the art of quiet, of being at ease with themselves, enjoying their own conversation, the quiet companionship of being with other people.  We have become the slave of a different god.
People view silence with suspicion and they pity a person sitting alone by him or herself enjoying a quiet cup of coffee and looking out at the waves rolling onto the beach.  Quiet, introspective people threaten our theories about happiness.  Surely a quiet person has to have some or other deep rooted problem, must be totally boring or at the very least on the brink of suicide!
Most people today have forgotten the importance of silence, they do not understand silence.  Yet silence is an essential part in our well being.  The people of the east have long ago realized the importance of being still, to be quiet.  Through daily meditation they enter the realm of silence and the portals of the devine. We need silence to think clearly and to be able to hear our own innermost thoughts.  It is in silence that we have the chance to listen to the universe and to hear the whisper of God’s voice.  When we are surrounded by silence, drenched in it, then we can begin to truly hear again, to listen.  Our spirit, our soul is crying out to be heard.  God is trying to reach us, communicate with us.  As long as we keep up the sound pollution, we cannot begin to listen, to understand.  Silence is not just empty time, devoid of something.  Silence has presence; it is filled with an energy of its own.  Silence has substance.  Only when we are silent can we hear the spirit's guiding voice.
In the quiet our senses start to become more acute.  When we are not so busy thinking up new words to utter we start hearing better.  The tremble of insecurity in my child's voice, the silent scream of depression, the way fear is disguised in an angry voice.  We also begin to see better, to notice the hidden sadness behind a brave smile.
Maybe it is time to schedule silence into our busy lives.  To consciously spend time away from all external sound, to even switch of our internal dialogue, and just be quiet.  To breathe deep, being completely conscious.  To listen.

I leave you with these words from Psalm 46 : “Be still and know that I am God.”

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Take Time To Care

I cannot begin to count the times that I have heard people utter the following sentiment this year "These days, life is difficult" or a variation "Times are tough".  Yes, I think it is true, in fact, I know it is true.  All we have to do is open a newspaper and we can see that the world is in turmoil.  We switch on the television and we are bombarded by reports about war, unrest, earthquakes, stock market crashes, starvation, animal slaughter, human trafficking, global poverty and human suffering.  Prices of food, fuel, power, health and education is escalating at an alarming rate.  The future seems bleak.
Yet, these times are no different from past times.  History tells us the stories of war, famine, disaster and human misery, and the future will be no different.  Times have always been hard, every generation has had its share, and hard times will always be with us.  Then what IS different about these present hard times?  The answer is this: you and I are here right now, and WE can make a difference.  I think that is what life is all about, that is why you, why I, have been created - to make a difference.
Now most people reading here will think that to make a difference we have to do something major like instituting world peace or finding a cure for AIDS, developing new technology or invent something astounding.  People often think that in order to make a difference they have to be someone important, somebody highly qualified, maybe a politician, a professor or a doctor.  This is a fallacy.  To believe this is to sit back and wait for somebody else to try to make a difference and then be ready to point fingers when they fail to do so.
The responsibility rest on every individual's shoulders to make a difference right where we are.  Right there in my smallest circle of influence.  No, it is NOT your family; it is YOU.  You have to change the way you think about your role in life, your task.  You have to change the way you react to things about you, you have to stop thinking about making a change, and start doing!  Everything you or I do or don't do has a major impact on the world around us.  You/ I have to be the difference you/I want to see in the world (quoting the great Gandhi).
"How?" I hear you ask.  Simple, just by taking the time to care.  We rush around every day trying to fit as much as possible into a day that we simply have no time left to really, genuinely care.  We are too tired to care.  We have no energy left to empathize or to have compassion.  "But I do care" you cry out.  You care about the misery you hear about and you pity the homeless and the sick.  I have news for you; even the most selfish person has a spare thought of pity floating about.  You see there is a difference between pity and compassion.  Pity is a feeling, an emotion.  Pity, is to feel sorry for someone or something, but compassion is a verb and it is a motivation.  It stirs us beyond feeling sorry into taking action.  Compassion is to reach out to someone and to do something to bring about change.  When we start to identify with someone we become compassionate.  We stop standing in judgement and start giving them a break, we look for and find the good in them.  We start to relate to their story and we no longer pity them, but care about them.  The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying that without compassion, humanity cannot survive.  Compassion is as essential to mankind (and nature) as the air that we breathe.
However, before we start dishing compassion out by the bucket full, let us ask ourselves where does it all begin?  In Gaza, Somalia or Iraq?  The victimized in the DRC, the homeless or the AIDS orphans?  The beggar on my street corner or my deaf and blind grandmother?  No, first of all it starts with me!  Before I can give compassion to others I have to give it to myself.  Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself and believe in yourself.  When we have compassion for ourselves, we can reach out to others with that same compassion.  We can take their hands and together we can make these difficult times, this tough year, this hard life easier and happier.  We can help each other colour the future in just a little brighter.  Through caring we can transform our lives, the lives of others and ultimately the world.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Fly Up High!

I love looking at kites flying high in the sky.  I remember the first kite I ever had was a butterfly kite my dad bought for me one beach holiday.  I loved it, although it was not a good flier.  I could not wait to hold the string all by myself, and begged my dad to do it on my own.  In my young mind I thought it would fly better if I were to let go of the string, but although it took off with a great "whoosh", it soon tumbled from the sky and got tangled in the undergrowth.  Painstakingly my dad untangled it and we tried again.
From a very young age we have been raised to do things for ourselves.  Almost from the moment our children are born we encourage them to become independent,  we are ecstatic when they start sitting up by themselves,  we applaud them when they can hold onto their own bottle and we are ready with the camera to record their first unaided, wobbly steps.  Day by day we marvel at how their independence grows.  Of course there is nothing wrong with that, it is the natural way of life.  However, the problem comes in when we become so independent, so self-sufficient, that we start believing  we need nobody else, we can do it all, we are an island.
This type of thinking will lead you on a bitter and lonely road.  "Needing people" is seen by fiercely independent people as a weakness.  They believe that they have to be a Superhero, strong, undefeatable, self-sufficient, powerful.  They never ask for help, never admit defeat and never open up to anybody.  They even experience God as an entity outside of their lives, remote from their lives. To accept and receive anything is foreign to their whole being.  Very often they not only distance themselves from other people, but they even distance themselves from their own feelings.
People need people.  We have to connect with others, learn from others, inspire others and in turn be inspired by them. Independence that is out of control is actually just a mask to hide behind.  Behind the mask often lurks fear, pride and low self-esteem.  It is a way to protect ourselves from disappointment, hurt or rejection.
Looking up at the sky, watching the kites ducking and diving in the breeze, I relate it to the way life is.  Although the kite is tethered by the string, it sails through the air and rides the wind with such freedom, such abandon that it leaves me breathless with excitement.  As my dad explained that day on the beach, it is the very fact that it is held by the string that it can fly so high and so gracefully.  The minute my little hands let go of the string, my kite's future was lost and all it could do was to tumble down and crash.  It needs that connection, that guiding hand to fly.  The same way we need to be connected to God, to interact with others as it is in that connection and that interaction that we find our true strength, new inspiration and freedom.  
I leave you with a quote from a song by Barbra Streisand : "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world!"

Monday, 24 November 2014

Mirror mirror...

Yesterday a friend and I were walking in town, shopping for a special outfit for her.  She was hosting a dinner party at her house for her husband and his colleagues.  After two hours and two dozen different outfits, she still was no closer to finding anything to wear.  Exhausted, we decided to stop for a quick lunch.  
All through lunch she bewailed the abilities of the designers of female attire, she lamented her body type, "old age" and the useless diet she was on, etc, etc.  I patiently listened to her and then reminded her of the number of outfits she had tried on that flattered her shape, that matched her colouring perfectly, that complimented her beautiful blue eyes and suited her style.  However, she would have nothing of it.  She could only see everything that was wrong with the clothing, with her hair and her height, to name but a few.  There were still a number of boutiques awaiting our visit after lunch, but I knew for certain that in her present state of mind, those would also not have anything suitable for her to wear.  
When our order arrived, she complained that the lettuce was wilted, the bread was stale and the coffee cold.  I just smiled and ate my delicious fresh sandwich and drank the steaming cappuccino in front of me.  
As we got up to leave, a woman, who was with my friend at school, entered the restaurant, and, instantly recognizing her, made her way over to us.  We sat down together with her and spend another hour laughing and sharing stories.  As she got up to leave, she turned to my friend and said, "After all these years you are still as beautiful as you were at school, you were the envy of all us girls."  My friend blushed, and I could see that she was happy for the compliment.  
Suddenly it was as if she perked up, and was actually looking forward to continue our quest.  I noticed her stealing a glance at her reflection in the window and I thought about how true it is that life is all about our vision.  The way in which we look at things around us, the way in which we perceive the world and how we look at ourselves determines how we will react towards it.  
Where is our focus, what do we see when we look at something?  If we look with negative eyes, eyes clouded with unhappiness and dissatisfaction then that is exactly what we will find.  Looking at everything with a positive attitude has a direct effect on our happiness levels.  It can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and something mundane into truly fabulous.  Our vision affects our attitude and with the right attitude obstacles become stepping stones and the impossible becomes an exciting challenge.  Our vision can change the whole direction our lives are going in, it can even open our eyes to new avenues to explore and reveal new opportunities to us.  
Go on, take that mirror.  Look carefully in it, and ask yourself - what do you see?  Look beyond that face staring at you, see beyond your own preconceived ideas about yourself, see that dream that you have been hiding, see all those possibilities that you have denied yourself.  Look.  Look and see that girl/ young man that were created so very unique and special, one of a still are that!
Life has a way of telling us a bunch of lies and we are so ready to believe those lies and when we believe them then that is all we can see.  We lose sight of who we really are and who we were created to be.  The looking glass gets cluttered by negativity, crushed dreams and the world’s demands and expectations.  It’s time to clean that mirror, and look at it once again with the enthrallment of a little child.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Scent me some love...

I have recently taken up gardening much to my own amazement!!!  I enjoy it so much that I often completely lose track of time and before I know it the sun would be setting.  This weekend I planted some mint.  Getting back into the house a while later, I made my husband a cup of tea (mainly to appease him as I completely forgot to make lunch!) and when I handed him his cup he remarked that something smelled very nice.  It was the scent of mint coming from me.  I had washed my hands, but the scent was still clinging to my arms, my clothing and even my hair.  I was used to the smell so I did not notice it, but my husband immediately picked up on it.  

How wonderfully the Lord created everything.  We take things so for granted, yet we are surrounded by beauty.  The fragrance of flowers is but one of the wonders.  The romantic scent of roses, the lingering smell of lavender, the exotic fragrance of frangipani all conjure up images in our mind's eye and even stir up memories.  This made me wonder what aroma it is that I spread wherever I go? Do I impart a sweet, gentle fragrance?  Does the memory of my presence linger pleasantly with others when I depart from their company or do I leave a bad taste behind?  Even when I pass people on the street or passing through the check-out counter at my local supermarket I leave behind a scent.  Is my smile the warm, welcoming essence of vanilla or do I leave behind a frown and brusque words that leave a bitter aftertaste? When everybody around you is agitated and angry, do you pour oil on the fire or is your presence the cool, soothing smell of jasmine?  Are my words the calming balm of camphor and my welcome smile the hearty spice of cinnamon?

We are all flowers in God’s garden; we each have our own distinctive fragrance, let us spread it around, let it linger upon the night air long after we have left.  In the words of my sister: choose your words always as carefully as you would choose flowers for a friend, only the most fragrant ones….