This morning’s reminder

This morning I received another reminder. There are people all over this world who don’t have their basic needs met: food, water, clothing to keep warm, people to call them by name.

This morning I came back from taking the kids to school and there was a man going through our garbage, taking with him expired hummus, a bag of badly bruised apples, the styrofoam from the inside of a vitamin bottle. This is normal. We have many people come down our street on garbage days.

I brought the man this morning an outgrown sweater–it’s getting chillier. I worried it would be too small for him but then I thought to myself that this really didn’t matter one bit; surely he knows someone who could fit into that sweater. Then I noticed he was working hard to keep hold of his finds because he didn’t have a bag or sack in which to put them. I went back in to the house and came back with a plastic bag and a bottle of water. He was already walking down the hill to his next stop. On the way he dropped an apple and it bounced down into the storm drain. I called after him, “Baba” (father). I held out the sack. He was clearly thankful. He said thank you many times over.

Seriously, people, there are people all over this world who don’t have their basic needs met. If they aren’t in your view today, if you don’t see them or hear them…they are still here…everywhere.

Story Time

During this chapter of life, we are enjoying times of sharing books together as a family. Right now, the kids have a 4-day weekend. With the extra time, we are listening to the audio book version of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. If you have not read it, you must. It is the story of an ordinary Danish family caring for and harboring their Jewish friends during WWII. It is a story of ordinary people intentionally choosing to be on the side of justice. We need these stories to inspire and motivate all of us.

Operation Suitcase Organization

2014 was a year that had a lot of travel and plenty of time living out of suitcases. After looking in my suitcase in January and seeing that I had delicate dress clothes packed along with boxes of macaroni and cheese (to take back with us to South Africa for the kids), I decided it was time to make an investment in how I packed.

I am excited to report that I am thrilled with the choice I made. I’m sure there are other good products out there. But I chose Eagle Creek packing cubes (and no, they are not paying me to write this). There are two styles. The regular cubes zip three-fourths of the way around so you can open it up really nice and see the clothes you packed in it. I’ve found that I really like these for my work clothes when I am traveling for work. These cubes are rather inexpensive. But, these cubes weigh a little bit more than another choice Eagle Creek has. Since every ounce is precious on the international 50 pound weight limit, I’ll likely leave these at home when traveling internationally.

The lightweight packing cubes (also by Eagle Creek) are from their Specter line. They are more expensive but if you are counting the ounces in your luggage, I think they are worth it. They fold down to nothing and weigh barely anything. They don’t quite unzip three-fourths of the way around, though, so I find them a little bit more difficult to use when traveling. If I’ve placed a line of about 5 t-shirts, each one rolled up, into the cube, it’s a little difficult to see the one down in the bottom. Also, because they are so lightweight, they have less structure than the others, unless completely full. Thus, they seem to work better for my casual clothes. But that is all a personal preference. They are noticeably more expensive than the other ones also so I’ve scouted out some discounted ones. I think these will work especially well when traveling internationally.

I just returned from a U.S. trip. I had my giant suitcase with me. I was thrilled when I saw that my cubes fit nicely across the bottom of my suitcase (see picture). They are designed to fit with common suitcase sizes. They also come in a couple of sizes – regular, half and quarter. Thus, they stack nicely on top of each other. After I laid out the base layer, I added some more cubes as well as the usual treasures we bring back from the U.S., like mac and cheese.

I leave for a short work trip on Monday. I actually am excited to pack and be organized with my cubes. It will help me sort my clothes and find them during my overnight stays.

What packing tips and tricks do you have?


top left (black) is the regular cube; bottom left (raspberry) is the light-weight cube; top right (green) is a “Specter Sac”; bottom right are two light-weight half cubes


Back At It

If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that this blog has been quiet for quite some time. Let me catch you up.

We returned to South Africa in July from “Home Assignment”, a time where we all traveled in the United States visiting churches that sponsor the work we are a part of here. We also had some precious vacation time with family. We returned to South Africa in July and quickly put together the remaining details for a closing retreat for the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) group that was just ending.

Then in later July, we learned that my mom’s brain tumor had begun growing again. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009. We had been so fortunate that the tumor did not continue to grow after the regular protocol of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. So, this was not good news.

I took a quick trip back to the United States for an important visit to my parents. I then returned to South Africa so we could receive this year’s group of YAGM in late August.

In late September, my mom had a stroke or seizure, likely caused by the tumor. It was seriously enough that her doctor truly believed she was days away from death. So, we all booked tickets and sped off to the United States. While we flew, I thought I would never hear my mother’s voice again. But I did. She rallied. We stayed. The kids went to school in the U.S. I kept up as much of my work as I could while we were away.

Finally, the kids and I returned to South Africa in early January. The kids needed to get back for a new school year and I had stayed away as long as I could. Jon stayed back for a few appointments thinking he’d be joining us soon. 

Soon after we returned to South Africa, my mom developed an infection and passed away. We were not even home 2 weeks and we turned around to go back to the U.S. for my mom’s funeral.

We returned to South Africa late January and have since been in the throws of regular life. School for the kids. Work for myself and Jon. We are still feeling the effects of being gone so much and having so much of our time uncertain. And yet, we wouldn’t trade that extra time with my mom for anything.

So, we are home. I hope we’ll be posting more soon. Thank you for all of your prayers and support on this journey, but especially during the last 6 months.

New Images

We are in the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany is about light and Jesus Christ for the world. It could also be said that Epiphany is about seeing anew.

In that spirit, I am sharing a BBC link of images from the first week of 2015 on the African continent. Why, you might ask. Well, during “home assignment” (time in 2014 when we visited sponsoring congregations), people said again and again that the images we brought with us were different than what they had been taught. Person after person was caught in old images of lion and dirt roads. They were surprised by highways and skyscrapers. And isn’t that how it goes if you don’t visit or live in a place? It’s hard to know what it is really like.

Well, follow this link for some interesting and diverse images of the first week of January on the African continent. If you want to really make this even more of a learning experience, have a map or globe handy, too.

Weather Report, Epiphany Day

We get all kinds of questions about the weather. So, here’s a weather report for y’all.

As I’ve been told, December was warm but not overly hot until Christmas. Then, it was 39C / 102F in Pietermaritzburg! Glad I missed that.

Now, as a friend explained, the rains and the heat are here and they kind of take turns. True. Since coming back, the days have been hot and mostly sunny. Later in the day, the clouds build up and there are evening showers. Our first night back we even got a thunderstorm. The rain helps break the heat but it seems to start all over again the next day.

Below is a screenshot of a weather app I use. It feels warmer than 76 out there. But note the humidity. That’s what gets us down. And note that it is only 9am.

In a few minutes I’ll go hang a load of laundry on the line. Then, I will feel the strong sun on my skin and the heat will be real. Later today, we will turn on the wall air conditioning (aka “air con”) unit in our living room. It will cut the humidity and cool us off. Until then, we keep the curtains closed to block out some heat.

If you are in the north as you read this, I hope you stay warm today! Feel free to come join us!


Signing the Mandela Condolence Book

Tessa has already written about our family’s trip a year ago, when we received the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. As Tessa mentions in her post we were on our way to Cape Town when ‘Tata [Father] Madiba’ died. The kids and I had not yet been to Cape Town and Tessa’s travels in Cape Town had been in relationship to her work with YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) so we ‘took in some of the sights’. For example, we went down to the pier in Cape Town. Surrounded by relatively upscale shopping and sight-seeing that clearly appeals to tourists from around the country and around the world, in many ways the V & A Waterfront could be in any of a number of international port destinations. It was here that we came across one of the condolence books.

After Mandela’s death condolence books were made available in numerous locations both in the country and across the globe. Even walking towards the book felt momentous. I think this might have been especially so since I was walking with Isaac and Sophia. I can imagine them remembering this moment for the rest of their lives. I remember not knowing what to write and I can’t remember what I ended up writing on behalf of our family. I remember asking the kids if there was anything they thought I should write and I remember that we read a few of the recent entries in the book. I remember that even within a few entries previous to the one I was to write I could see several continents, cultures and languages represented. I also remember that the messages had multiple audiences. Some people wrote to Mandela, some to his family, some to the country, some to the world and some to themselves or some combination of these. We were with the book for several minutes as there was no long line and we had no particular sense of urgency.

I’m struggling to find words for this blog post just as I did when I was sitting with the condolence book. All sorts of cliches come to mind: death is a part of life; Mandela’s legacy lives on; there is still work to be done; he was a great man; we will never forget that day. These are all true and yet they are insufficient. So I will share with you the picture below and a link to an online condolence book so that you might hear many words from many voices. I will share more of our experiences of these days following Mandela’s death in a few more upcoming blog posts. I’d also like to write about the church service we attended, visiting Robben Island and conversations with South Africans of the ‘born-free’ generation.