Hypocrisy

We spent just over a week in KwaZulu Natal’s south coast for our December holiday. Although I haven’t been to this specific beach, I have been visiting these shores since I was a baby. I have plenty of happy beach photos, one memorable one is of the 4 year old me with a snow white bum and a starkly contrasted tanned back after spending so much time on the beach. The surrounding beaches in all the photos are of blue flag quality.

One morning we set out for a fun beach day but I was however deeply saddened by the state of our closest beach. It was littered with 5l plastic containers, old yogurt containers, plastic bags and washed out branches. Just prior to our arrival, most of the country experienced significant rainfall and by the time those waters reached the sea, it gathered far more than just mometum. And plenty of that was littered all over the beach.

I looked over to my kids building sand castles in a spot slightly less poluted than the rest and wondered whether their children will ever build castles on the beach. What will be left after yet another consumption driven generation, where nothing matters more than self interest, has taken what they wanted?

I’m vaguely encouraged by the Refuse the Straw campaign, reduced plastic consumption and Greta Thunberg (a 16 year old environmental activist) being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. It is however not difficult for that little bit of hope for our planet to be vaporized by inefficient and unsustainable practices we accept (gladly) in persuit of our own comfort. I mean really now, who sails on a catamaran halfway across the world to reduce her carbon footprint? (Yes, Greta, but I won’t be joining her any time soon.)

This brings me to hypocrisy.

The false profession of desirable or publically approved qualities, beliefs or feelings, especially a pretense of having virtues, moral principles, or religious beliefs that one does not really possess.

Me simply writing this transforms me into a hypocrite as some may think that I’m doing so in an effort to further conservation. Truth be told however, I happily pay 50c for a polution destined plastic bag because I AGAIN forgot my re-use, recycle bag in the car and it’s really just to far to go get it quick. Do I want a healthy and conserved planet earth for my grandchildren? Yes, I’m first in line to support that. Do I do my absolute best to leave it to them? Absolutely no.

I’m spending the last few minutes of Christmas 2019 writing this. The birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He who came to die for our sins so that we can go to heaven when we leave this planet. He gave His all to preserve and protect our future homes in heaven. What He wanted for us is what He secured for us, conditional on accepting it from Him. As much as I want a beautiful beach holiday for my children and for generations to come, I earnestly want them to also join me in heaven one day.

Am I doing everything in my power to ensure that I see them and plenty others more in heaven one day or am I conveniently spending 50c at a time to save me from the discomfort of a ‘trip back to the car’?

Merry CHRISTmas, celebrated by so many, professed by so few.

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Finding Fireflies

It wasn’t long after arriving in Cape Town for the rest of our lives, that I researched where to find fireflies. It fitted in so well with our aim to be more nature conscious and to teach our kids about things you don’t normally find in everyday city living.

Finding fireflies was a much more complex endeavor than I ever imagined. A website advised to phone Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens from the second week in October to find out whether there will be a guided firefly walk. And so we waited for 3 seasons to pass.

When mid October finally arrived, I phoned everyday just to be told, they’re not here yet. On one day I was told that there were a few fireflies the night before, but still too little to warrant a guided walk. We waited until the next week and on the Monday, a beautiful day in the Northern Suburbs, I was told it’s pouring with rain on that side of the mountain. And then finally on the next Tuesday afternoon the answer was; come, there will be a walk tonight.

Geared with warm tops and flashlights, we arrived at Kirstenbosch and waited for dusk. Whilst waiting we saw two baby spotted eagle owls being fed by their mommy. What an incredible bonus! Instructed not use our torches, we walked a short distance to an undisturbed patch in the garden and started looking around. One by one more and more fireflies woke up and started darting around. Their tails flashing bright neon green in the ever increasing dark, looking for a mate matching their own frequency. What a magical experience!

The garden caretaker leading the walk, one of Kirstenbosch’s longest working employees, enchanted the group with stories about just how perfect conditions need to be for the fireflies to come out. It’s only in the second half of October granted that it’s warm enough, doesn’t rain and the wind doesn’t blow. During the year their habitat should remain undisturbed or they’ll simply find another spot, or even worse become extinct due to increasing urbanization. A rare miracle in nature, in the middle of one of the biggest cities in Africa.

It wasn’t long after the fireflies lit up that their lights started fading. As the dusk turned into night, the fireflies found their mates, switched off the lights and well, tangoed in the dark. All that was left for us to do was to walk back through the giant trees and well kept gardens and wait another year for them to light up. We were the first group to see the fireflies and the remainder of the week was quite cold and rainy, so I’m not sure they came out at all after we saw them.

This incredible wonder of nature made me think of finding true love. It’s a question of waiting, undisturbed, for the perfect conditions and then having a fleeting moment before dark settles in to find someone who’s light flashes in rhythm with yours. Yes, the wait may be long and the perfect conditions may be a mere fleeting moment, but keep your light polished and have extra oil like the 5 virgins waiting for the groom. You never know when the rain may stop pouring and the wind may stop blowing. And when it does, dance your heart out while your light is lit and know that the tango in the dark will be worth the wait.

The Art of Parenting

Parenting is defined as the activity bringing up a child as a parent. To be honest, parenting is almost entirely made up of feeding, dressing, cleaning and driving around after their many extramural activities. If you take that out of the day there is very little else left. Truth be told, it is true parenting that happens in that little time that is left over, the rest is just keeping our children alive.

Yesterday morning my little girl had an entire meltdown because she didn’t know what to wear. I reduced her options to two, offered to help, forced my help (afterall, the minutes in a morning tick twice as fast as any other time of the day) all to be met with even longer tears and louder yelling. She also didn’t want me to leave to go and dress myself. Wiggling myself from her ‘deathgrip’, daddy took over. After a whaling session of ‘Maaamaaaaaa’, daddy left to drop our son at school as his class starts earlier.

It was then when I picked her up and sat her down on my lap, grabbed her teddy (still taller than her), and held them both. Silently.

I stroked her back, played with her hair and kept quiet. Her screams became sobs and then her sobs became tears and then she finally fell quiet. We sat there for what felt like hours, no one saying anything. After a while she quietly broke the silence saying, ‘Mommy, do you know why I don’t know what to wear? It’s because I haven’t eaten.’ I asked her whether she wanted a honey bread (which have been offered multiple times during the morning amongst other breakfast options) and she nodded shyly, ‘lots of honey’.

With that she jumped up, got dressed, ate her extra honey bread and sang all the way to school.

Parenting is complicated, especially when time is running out and we have adult things to do and adult bosses to face. Deadlines and profits are more important than the humanitarian crisis we face as a result of apathetic children with no respect for feelings. Our children copy what they see, that there is no time for them to feel sad or troubled. It desensitized them and when they become bosses one day they will have zero understanding for that new mom coming in late one morning with her bloodshot eyes. I understand that I’m in an immensely privileged position of not having to rush to work, but I was there. There are many times I should have ‘sat shiva‘ with my children, letting them mourn, because they are losing something immensely precious in our hurried pace. Sometimes their screams are for us to fall silent.

Parenting is so much more than just keeping our kids alive. Sometimes we parent so much that we kill their souls. We should parent less and live more love, more patience, more mindfulness. Maybe then we’ll perfect this art and have a masterpiece to show for it in the end.

Time vs Purpose

The inspiration of my previous blog came from the beautiful story “Waterbugs and Dragonflies” written by Doris Stickney; explaining death to young children. She uses the analogy of the waterbugs’ short life under water as human’s time on earth and their emergence as dragonflies into the bright sunlit world above the water as human’s life after death. It is such an amazing story and in reading it I managed to finally put into words something I could only believe with my heart.

The purpose of my previous blog was part of an assignment to dissect a few verses in the Bible in context of the writer, when it was writen, to whom and where your chosen verse features in the greater book and Bible. It is striking how, just before I delivered my assignment to my classmates, how we ended up talking about death. It was then when the class facilitator said the most profound thing.

She said: ‘I just again realized this week that God doesn’t think of our lives in terms of time…how old we get.’ God doesn’t keep a calendar, when God considers our lives, he thinks of us in terms of PURPOSE. It’s not a matter of your TIME being up, it’s about your PURPOSE being fulfilled.

Wow, that thought was just as big a realization for me as the analogy of the dragonfly. Once the waterbug has successfully climbed his water lily stalk, his body had no further purpose.

It was in this same week when I heard about a baby who died a few hours after being born as a full term baby. Also in the same week when a friend told me about her nephews who were born with an extremely rare condition and how one of the twins passed away a few months ago. The three year struggle and death lead to my friend being able to witness to close to 200 people, many being non-believing family members. She told me how honored his parents felt that God chose them as nobody else would have loved him as much as they did.

We don’t know why babies die in vetro, or only have a short, sometimes difficult life. We simply do not see the full picture of their purpose and how their short lives impact eternity. But what I have learned is that we do not live until we die, we live until it is fulfilled.

No matter how many days you’ve been in persuit of your purpose; this is what the Bible tells you about your life:

“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

Psalms‬ ‭139:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

And this is what Jesus said when He died on the cross and everything has been fulfilled:

“…he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

John‬ ‭19:30‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This new insight into death brought tremendous comfort to me having lost people before I was ready to let them go. Now I can peacefully release them, it is finished. Every day of their lives were written in His book even before they were born.

Transformation

I was already an adult when I learned about the metamorphosis of a dragonfly. Obviously I knew about the four stage metamorphosis of the butterfly (and as recently experienced, to great excitement of my children, those of silkworms) but I had no idea that a dragonfly transformed from an aquatic environment as a waterbug into a flying dragonfly. The transformation of a waterbug into a dragonfly requires it to live in two different dimensions; water and air. Once the waterbug has transformed, the dragonfly can bounce against the surface of my swimming pool all it likes, it will never break through to the bottom again. If it does, it will die.

Round about 57 A.D. the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome. He divided his letter in two parts: ‘What to believe’ and ‘How to live’.

He first starts out reminding the Romans of their sinfull nature but then quickly reassures the church in Romans 5:1 that they have been made right in God’s sight by their faith. That they have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ has done. In other words, when God looks at us, He only sees the justification of Christ, not our sins. This means that we look different and that we ought to be different.

Today I want to meet you where Paul finishes his explanation of what we believe Jesus has done for us and where we start to learn how we should live. In essence, we are now the empty shell off a waterbug, transformed into a beautiful dragonfly, bright with shiny wings. Before we fly off into our new dimension, we pause for a lesson in flying.

Paul writes in Romans 12:1&2:

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Paul asks the early Christians to be a living sacrifice, not as repentance or payment for sin, but in response to what Jesus has done already. We ought to be without blemish and without spot as that is what is acceptable to God. That’s quite a tall order and make me feel inadequate. What’s worse is that with enormous amounts of willpower and ambition we may be able to avoid worldly customs and behaviour, but remain filled with pride, selfishness, stubbornness and arrogance because of our achievements.

The truth of what Paul says however, lies in the secret of being transformed by changing the way we think. A waterbug can no longer live under water and has these wings it uses to fly around with. Talk about a transformation of how to use your body! The waterbug’s mind is transformed from having to instruct its body to swim and crawl to flying! It doesn’t act different, it is different, transformed. This makes Paul’s request for us to be holy and living sacrifices so much easier. He tells us that Jesus came to earth for us so that we can be saved and that all the hard work has already been done by Him on the cross. When we truly understand this, the renewal of our mind comes naturally and we get to know what God’s will is for our lives. It’s good, it’s pleasing, it’s perfect.

Being created in the image of God, three in one, we are created Spirit, Mind and Body. Sin came when it took over the actions of our body, corrupted our minds and lead to the dying of our spirit. Jesus died for us on the cross and resurrected our spirit. Paul asks us to allow our minds to be renewed so that our bodies will be holy as a temple of God. This transformation is the start of our transfiguration when we will truly fly in a new dimension, alongside angels.

Come, leave that dead shell behind, flap those wings and fly.

Spots

It is said that a leopard never changes its spots, that’s if you are lucky enough to see the same cat twice. The leopard is arguably one of the most elusive cats in the world and this was the first one I’ve spotted in almost four decades on earth.

The saying ‘a leopard never changes its spots’ is said to describe that a person cannot change their innate character even if they try. Now for me, someone who is extremely interested in personality types in order to understand my children’s behaviour better, this saying has kept me preoccupied for quite some time now. It makes me as a parent feel somewhat redundant beyond fulfilling my children’s basic need for food and shelter. If your character cannot change, why on earth am I spending hours on end to get my strongwilled child to obey my orders without backchatting and trying to get my other child to make assertive rules for other participants when playing? Does this mean they are doomed to their character profile’s positives and negatives for life?

This really is not a straightforward question to answer, but perhaps in explaining how I have seen self development work in my own life, I’ll gain a better understanding of how I can help my children to embrace their spots.

I remember clearly how I was often told in performance reviews ‘don’t be so serious and live on the light side of life’. Easier said than done for my ‘boxwood’ personality (read more on the personality trees here) where there’s little space for fun inbetween all the analytics. I was also told not be be so hard on myself and to have realistic goals and dreams. Also a foreign concept for boxwood people. It was only much, much later that I heard acceptance of who I am in the same meeting setting, when it was said that these character traits are probably what drives me and makes me so successful. I also never believed in improving your bad qualities but to be aware of them and to work even harder on your good qualities. Bad qualities will never be good ones, but good qualities can become great ones. Wanting to change your bad qualities into good ones is wishing for different spots.

Self development is a bit of a misnomer, it should rather read ‘self understanding’. Once you have an understanding of why your innate character behaves in a certain way, it’s much easier to have a cognitive plan in place to steer those emotions that inevitably come up as part of our default response to situations. Nothing, nothing, nothing will change how we instinctively feel, but self awareness can certainly help us manage our emotions in a sociable acceptable way or at least help others to understand our reaction. Spending some time with understanding different personality types in an attempt to improve self awareness also allows us to be more aware of another’s actions.

Because of my in-depth investigation into personality types, I pride myself in being able to ‘box’ people relatively quickly. I was recently however brought back to earth when I completely missed an enormous part of my son’s personality. I have always been aware of some of his boxwood traits but completely discounted it due to the missing obedient trait. This obedient, people pleasing aspect is completely overgrown by his rose bush thorns of strong will and made me miss the traits that now, looking back, I can easily see. All of a sudden I could see the spots I was so focussed on changing for what they were.

The obedient part of my son’s personality has been elusive for most part of my parenting life. Maybe now in connecting the dots of very confusing behaviour, I’ll be able to lure him into making the most of his very strong, positive traits and help him to understand the pitfalls of where a bigger ME than US has its downfall.

We should all spend time with our own spots and embrace them, because after all is said and done, a leopard never changes its spots.

Green Shoots

An ex-colleague of mine gave me a beautiful two stemmed Orchid as a going-away present when I left work 8 months ago. It was cladded with beautiful, pure white flowers. I enjoyed them thoroughly everyday until our departure to our new home. Unfortunately the 2 day travel didn’t accommodate my sensitive Orchid very well and upon my arrival (a few days later than my pot plants) I saw the last of those beautiful flowers wilting and falling off. I cut my losses and with it the stems, as recommended on websites, and hoped for the best.

Anyone who has had Orchids know how difficult it is to get them to bloom again. Especially so in a warm climate as South Africa. My knowledge of Orchids (limited to a handful of internet searches) tells me that they need a cold environment to bloom again. I guess I gave them the best chance I could in a cold and wet Cape Town winter.

Lo and behold, upon my return from the warm Northern winter, I saw some green shoots! Flowers to come!

This got me thinking and I can see clear parallel lines between my Orchid’s green shoots and the new growth of my roots. Leaving a world behind where I was in full bloom in my career, my finances and a number of other aspects in my life (at least from what you could see on the outside) I found myself barren in those areas when I started my new life. Shortly after arriving in Cape Town my stems were cut and all of a sudden I became the housewife of a successful husband. Gone were the days I commanded the attention of CEO’s in a boardroom and I found myself reduced to a mere nod from new aquaintances. All the flowers gone…

Coming back from another visit to our old ‘hood’, into the cold, wet winter everyone has been warning us about, I found myself completely at home infront of a fireplace with a glass of red wine. I found that my hard to transplant roots have managed to find a foothold in the wet soil and where once fierce stems of a corporate identity used to grow, I saw new, tender, yet firm green shoots of what I’m becoming. And if Orchids needing a cold winter to bloom is anything to go by, flowers seem to be on the horizon.