New Eyes for American History

When we were on Home Assignment in 2014, the kids missed 1/4 of their school year. To compensate for this, we developed our own home schooling / on-the-road plan. As part of that plan, the kids did some reading in key topic areas from American history that we chose with them. These topic areas were based on themes that United States History had in common (or related to) themes from South Africa. The American History topics were:

  1. First Peoples / Native Americans
  2. Early Colonists / Revolutionary War
  3. American Civil War / Slavery
  4. Early Settlers / Westward Expansion (railroads, gold rush, Louisiana Purchase) / Immigration
  5. Civil Rights

I had great fun putting together related books for each topic week. Retired teacher friend Holle even temporarily called back in some of her books she had donated to her school when she retired. Each week, the kids were presented with the topic and the possible books that they could read. They were then free to choose what to read.

When we were on the road, we would designate certain time blocks as theme week reading times. One week, when we got to the church we were visiting early, we even spent time at the town library. The kids tried out their library research skills to find more material for that week’s theme. We tried to then talk about the readings at the end of each week.

Recently, I came across this great list of “13 Honest Books About Slavery Young People Should Actually Read.” I wish I had this when I was planning the kids’ reading in 2014. There look to be some really good and important books in the post. Over and over again, our time in South Africa is asking us to look at our home context of the United States and see it more honestly. This list of books is a good start.

2015, part i

Regularly Jon and I comment to each other that we are so busy living life that we have difficulties finding the time to share about our experiences. With that in mind, this blog post is a recap of significant moments in 2015.


Our whole family was in the United States on December 31, 2014. We had been in the U.S. to be with my mom who was dying of brain cancer. The kids and I needed to get back to South Africa for my work and their school. And so, the 3 of us traveled back to South Africa on New Year’s Day. Jon stayed back in the U.S. for a bit longer in order to take care of a few things.

On January 12,  my mom passed away. And so even before getting the kids to the first day of school, we packed our bags and returned to the U.S. for my mom’s funeral and burial. Thank you to all of you who walked with us through this significant time.


We traveled with the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission volunteers) to the Eastern Cape along the Indian Ocean for a retreat. We stayed right by the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park, by large movable sand dunes. Time was spent in conversation, reflection, worship, rest, play, and fun. We also did a day trip to Addo Elephant National Park to further appreciate the wonders of creation.

The gorgeous beach at Woody Cape

The gorgeous beach at Woody Cape


Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park


Who knew that this job would include driving near elephants!

Who knew that being a country coordinator would include driving near elephants!


I traveled in March to visit YAGM throughout the country. At the end of the month, our family journeyed to Kruger National Park, a place we had been wanting to visit. Nothing can capture the wonder of the trip. A highlight to share is coming upon a pack of hyenas one morning, even before full light. They were just lying in the road, probably enjoying the remaining heat of the road. We were able to park in the road and observe them for quite a while as no one else was around.

As we were coming upon the hyenas

As we were coming upon the hyenas


Hello hyena

Hello hyena


We finished our Kruger trip, seeing everything we wanted except leopards. We ended the time in that area with an Easter Sunday visit to the Barberton Parish, worshipping at the Lutheran church in Matsulu. The journey from darkness to light was exactly what my spirit needed.

The singing procession through the neighborhood before sunrise

The singing procession through the neighborhood before sunrise


Sunday morning worship with Rev. Pereira

Sunday morning worship with Rev. Pereira

April also included my annual trip to the U.S. for the event where the volunteers for the next year are figured out. This event which centers around discernment is a highlight of the year for me. I also added on a trip to Fargo, ND, where I spent time with my sister and my dad. My sister and I cleared out my mom’s craft supplies. We also did a day-trip to where my mom is buried. It was healing to be a part of those steps.


I did more YAGM site-visit travel in May. A highlight of the month was the addition of Templeton the hamster to our family.

Welcome Templeton

Welcome Templeton


Isaac had one of 2 significant events of his Grade 7 year. He and his classmates participated in a 12-hour walkathon to raise money for a local creche (daycare/preschool) in an underserved community. Isaac and his classmates surpassed their goals and impressed the school principal with their effort and results. Isaac loved the challenge and camaraderie of this event.


(Stay tuned. July through December will be shared in an upcoming post.)

Rooibos (aka red tea)


Treats at Nancy’s Tea Room: rooibos tea, chocolate cake, rooibos latte and a scone with all the accompaniments (jam, cream and cheese).

Earlier this month we returned from a wonderful holiday. We started in Cape Town and then headed to the Cederberg Mountains. We stayed outside of Clanwilliam at Traveller’s Rest, which is just outside of the Cederberg Wilderness Area. The idea to visit here came from a friend who lives in South Africa. She shared with Tessa that before she moves back to the USA (whenever that may happen), this is the one place she wants to make sure to visit again.


The rugged Cederberg.

So our intrepid family travel agent (aka Tessa, Mama Moon) worked it into our holiday and we’re all glad that she did! It is beautiful. After a few days at our favorite guest house in the entire country, we drove inland to the Cederberg. The terrain is rugged and rocky and just a stone’s throw from the Traveller’s Rest restaurant begins the Sevilla Rock Art Trail. (You can buy a trail permit at the TR restaurant/farm stall.) The four of us were in awe of the rock art and the terrain and I was in awe of the centuries old wild olive trees. (I like trees.)


Just one example of the incredible rock art.

We knew that we would be in South Africa’s rooibos region but we hadn’t made any specific plans around this in advance. If you don’t know rooibos…you should. OK, maybe that’s too directive but I love rooibos (‘red bush’). This tea is commonly found across the country of South Africa and on our last few visits to the USA, I’ve noticed it more and more. (You might not know it, though, as it is sometime simply referred to as ‘red tea’ or is found as the ‘red’ in red espressos, lattes and the like.) And it grows only in this region! Here is one map that shows how specific this crop is to its home area. We read that the tea was first used by Asian slaves but we were curious if it hadn’t been used earlier. During a tour at the !Khwa ttu San Education and Cultural Center, we asked. Basically, the answer we received is that the San and Khoi (or Khoikhoi) didn’t have time to drink tea….


Sophia tries on traditional clothing at !Khwa ttu, the San cultural center.

We’re assuming it’s especially the British imperial influence which left behind the tradition of tea-drinking. Tea time is often observed. Tea and cake/biscuits (aka ‘cookies’) are served for parents at many of the kids’ school events (including sporting matches). At most places we stay on our travels we can choose between coffee, black tea and rooibos and these can be prepared right in the room with the ubiquitous plug-in water kettle.


The Netmar Rooibos Tea Room: talk about selection!

On our trip we visited the Netmar Rooibos Teahouse, the Rooibos Ltd. factory (where we watched a video) and Nancy’s Tea Room. Yep, we were playing our parts as tourists to the hilt this holiday. It would have been fun to visit the Elandsberg Tea Estate which does eco tourism, but it didn’t fit with our schedule. But we did come home with quite a bit of rooibos, which is caffeine-free, rich with antioxidants, soothing to upset tummies and comes in a wide variety of preparations: green (not fermented so not the trademark red color), plain and mixed with any of a variety of herbs, spices, fruits, etc. My current favorite is a rooibos espresso with a bit of honey.


[Note: in my searching for links for this post I came across this story about some legal action regarding intellectual property and rooibos as trademark.]

Transit – Park Station

It is Monday, September 21 as I write this post. The new Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) group has just finished a short orientation in Johannesburg and are now on their ways to their communities. I have just been exchanging a few messages with one of the YAGM who is waiting for his bus to depart from Park Station. He has reminded me of some of my own transport experiences I’d like to share with you.

Park Station is the public transportation hub of South Africa. All of the bus lines depart from there. There are other transport options as well and near by are “taxi ranks” where one can find the correct shared-taxi to take to someplace in Johannesburg or much further on. South Africa is also a regional hub and people from all over the continent but especially the Southern Africa region come through here. This makes it a really interesting place.

About a year ago, I traveled from Park Station. I had just finished YAGM in-country orientation in Johannesburg and needed to return home to Pietermaritzburg. On the last day of orientation, I had sent everyone on their way as I did this year. The only difference is that one was being picked up and I didn’t know when her host would get to town to pick her up. So, I didn’t book my transportation back to Pietermaritzburg ahead of time.

It was early afternoon when the last YAGM was picked up. I then arranged for a ride to a Gautrain station. The Gautrain is a beautiful high speed rail line, built for the 2010 World Cup. I took the Gautrain to Park Station. At Park Station, I tried to book an afternoon bus ticket. But it was busy and everything was full. So, I had to book a ticket for an overnight bus. I ended up taking a bus that left at 10pm and arrived around 4:30am.

What this means is that I had many hours to wait. I was exhausted from orientation and so I just “hung out” until my departure. While it was long …. And cold …. It was also really interesting. I watched so many people of all walks of life coming through this large public transportation center. And what captured my attention the most was mothers traveling with children, especially as I watched the buses that headed out to Zimbabwe. So many mothers with children strapped onto their backs. So many people clearly more seasoned at this travel than me as they traveled with blankets and other things to help their journey. I wondered how long their journeys would be.

As for me, my bus finally departed. Traveling through the night is not the most fun thing. But it gets the job done. My only mistake was getting out when the bus stopped for a break at a road stop with fast-food restaurants and not paying close enough attention in my sleepy state to which bus I had come from. Turns out a lot of buses stop at the same time! For a moment, I thought I might get back on the wrong bus.

All turned out fine. I got to Pietermaritzburg. I got home. I crawled into bed and was thankful for my home and my life with my family.

Discerning a Call to Diaconal Ministry, pt. 4 (the final word–for now)

The SpotWhy am I becoming a diaconal minister?

I’ve delayed writing this post and I’ve struggled in the writing of it. To answer the question of why I am becoming a diaconal minister I’ll start with what I told my own parents. This past July I was able to visit them for the first time since I began preparing to be a diaconal minister and, frankly, I was worried. I was worried because the path is both less understandable (What is it? And people make a living at that?) and also less known (But what will it look like? What will your job be?). I was worried because my parents continue to want for me a ‘good life’ which is meaningful and rewarding, but is also secure, sustainable, safe, etc., etc., etc. But, to be completely honest, I do my fair share of projecting my own fears onto my parents, so maybe talking to my parents was as much about my facing my own fears as it was about facing theirs for me.

What I do know is that in talking with them about becoming a diaconal minister, I spoke from a place of hope and not fear: “This has been at work in me my whole life. My gifts of empathy and mercy and my interest in healing; my seeing, caring for and listening to the ‘outsider’; my interest in people’s stories and ability to create safe places, to bring with me a safe space where people can share their stories; my creativity and ability to translate from one way of knowing to another; the way in which I see how connected we are to one another—these have always been with me!”

In many ways, becoming a diaconal minister is simply a natural progression of basically my whole life previous to now. But I have certainly had some epiphanies along the way, too. I experienced one of those big wake up calls three and a half years ago when I had an allergic-type reaction to naproxen. This was the catalyst for what was later diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic as a ‘prolonged serum-like sickness’ which was accompanied with autoimmune-like symptoms. I’ve told this story many times before but the reason I’m telling it here is because this experience—from which I continue to heal—has been the most challenging of my life. I have a whole new appreciation for the lament psalms in which psalmists write/sing of being in Sheol, being in the ‘pit’. During these last years I’ve had times of being completely hopeless and of being frequently desperate, looking and longing for ‘cures’ and ‘fixes’. I’ve also often felt completely isolated in spite of being supported by loving family and friends. Pain, anxiety, depression, illness and trauma are quite adept at isolating, aren’t they? Yet somehow, in the midst of this ‘dark night’, I have experienced the presence of God. Somehow, in this middle-of-the-night experience I’ve also experienced incredible joy, peace and what I’m going to call ‘grace’.

I’m feeling vulnerable because, ironically, talking about my faith life is often difficult, awkward, embarrassing and even scary. For one thing, I don’t want to be misunderstood. For example, I sure can’t say that life is now easy-peasy and carefree. That’s just not the case. But what is the case is that in the midst of living through some hell, God was there. My ‘God moments’ were too many and too perfectly timed and just too ‘other’ to simply be the sheer coincidentally-timed goodness of others, for example. It meant the world to me that I was not alone in the midst of suffering and that experience has awakened in me a realization of my own calling to journey with others as one of many ‘wounded healers’.

So…yep, I really am a Christian and a Lutheran, at that. I’m talking theologically, though I may even be a cultural Lutheran of the Minnesota Scandinavian-descent variety, too. It would explain why the ‘public’ part of ‘public witness’ often leaves me so…quiet.

But since I’m in the vein of disclosure, I want to share with you a dream that I had which has a lot to do with my becoming a diaconal minister of the ELCA. I had this dream just about the time when I was feeling better after the worst of the drug reaction—we’re talking maybe a year in. I dreamt that I was surrounded by a group of veiled Muslim women. There was nothing mysterious or ominous even though they stood in shadow—rather, I felt completely welcomed as they shared with me a greeting of ‘salaam’, in unison and yet without their voices. (It was a dream and it all made perfect sense.)

As I woke from the dream my dormant creativity kicked in for the first time in many months and I imagined a sort of community centre where people could come with their hungers for food, for community and a sense of belonging and safety, for beauty and creativity. I imagined community gardens and an inviting and safe place to gather, to make and share art, to meditate and pray, to do some yoga or read a book, to be. I imagined it to be called ‘Hagar’s Bread’ after biblical Hagar who was sent into the desert with only some bread, some water, her son and a promise from God that he would grow to be a great nation.

This vision didn’t come from nowhere. For starters, I can hear in ‘Hagar’s Bread’ echoes of Sara Miles’ book Take This Bread (about Miles’ journey, service, community and The Food Pantry in San Francisco), in the Fremont Abbey Arts Center (an awesome-sounding organization dedicated to arts access which also ‘shacks up’ with a faith community), in the story of yoga teacher and paraplegic Matthew Sanford’s healing story (as told to Krista Tippett on ‘On Being’ and in his lovely memoir, Waking), etc.

So this is why I’m becoming a diaconal minister. I don’t know what it will look like. It may or may not look something like ‘Hagar’s Bread’ but the Spirit of the thing will be the same, whatever the work looks like from the outside.

This is the last post in this series. Thanks for coming along for the ride. I know it’s been helpful to me to ‘struggle to articulate’—one of my favorite phrases from one of my personal artistic heroes, Anne Bogart. I hope that it’s been helpful in some way to you as you go about living your life. Many thanks. And peace.

A Week in the Life – Saturday

I feel like my/our life is either very ordinary or very extraordinary. It feels like two extremes: working on the computer all day or playing at the beach. I’m not sure what the middle-land even is. But as I get to the close to the end of this week, I am very aware of what a privilege it is to have these pictures to post.

Here’s Saturday. If you were reading Friday’s post, you saw that we are at a backpackers near Port Shepstone, South Africa. I’ve been looking for a beach-location for a YAGM retreat. This place has potential. Here’s our day of play, rest, and family time.

Much time was spent in the waves

Much time was spent in the waves




Afternoon snack on the beach.

Afternoon snack on the beach.

Isaac assembled the fire for a braii - and even cooked the meat.

Isaac assembled the fire for a braii – and even cooked the meat.

Here he enjoys the fruits of his labor.

Here he enjoys the fruits of his labor.

Sophia has some reading with her vegetables.

Sophia has some reading with her vegetables.

And the day closes with some good games of pingpong

And the day closes with some good games of pingpong