Saturday, October 22, 2011


After just over a year back in a fast-paced modern city, I am realizing that I prefer a slow life. The ambling pace of a rural South African village was at times a bit too slow, but I settled well into that pace and found that there was always enough time in every day to accomplish all that I wanted to accomplish and more time to read and write, jog, and generally enjoy life with the people around me—plenty of time to watch countless pirated movies and TV shows, as well.
As Johannesburg begins the race towards Christmas, I’ve found the last few weeks tremendously full. Balancing my ever-increasing task list at work, out with friends at night and on weekends, keeping up with emails home and scheduling Skype calls—all of these things contribute to the dark circles under my eyes which some days I am sure must be drawn on with permanent marker.
And with anxiety my natural inclination, not worrying about tomorrow and living in today causes almost as much angst as the actual things worth worrying about. I’ve taken to wearing a hair band around my wrist and giving it a small snap when I find myself caught up in the “what ifs”—a trick I picked up in Kim Gaines Eckert’s, Stronger Than You Think. The point is not self-flagellation, but rather using it as a reminder to bring you back to the present and to remind yourself of what is in your control and what is not.
The thing about slow is that I think at least for myself, God made me to live slow. He made me with natural inclinations to enjoy the beauty and the people around me. He made me for building—to build strategies and systems that empower others. And the thing about building is that it is a slow process that takes time if you want to ensure the integrity of the structure.
But slowing down also allows me to fall more easily in step with the Lord’s tread. To pause where He pauses, and to notice what He notices. To hurry up when He hurries, and to stop and love the person He hurried to. To break where He breaks, and to rest where He rests. To be evermore in tune with Him and like the Son whom He loves.
I find it hard to be in tune with God when I’m racing forward. Fast keeps me trapped in task lists and what ifs, and I miss a lot of the world around me. Especially living in a city built on gold and ever-pursuing gold, slow has to be intentional. Especially in a city with so much poverty, so much hurt, and so many people living on the edge, more slow is what is needed.
I don’t know how to do it, but I want to be more intentional about living slowly. I think when I learn to live slowly, I will learn even more of what it means to live simply. And hopefully I will learn more of what it means to love radically.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Being a Fundraiser

It's not something a fundraiser would typically say, but I detest fundraising. Really I do.

When most people think about fundraisers, we tend to fall in the same category as car salesmen. We're out to make a sale. But instead of trying to sell you the most expensive car on the lot, we're out to guilt you into giving your hard earned money away to things like an endangered plant you've never heard of or another sad-faced child from Timbuktu.

And that makes a hard job for us too. I have to convince you why giving to our organization is important in the face of thousands of other NGOs worldwide who are asking you to do the same.

So remaining genuine and really believing that what I do is important, that's a challenge.

My first fundraising experiences involved raising funds to go on mission trips and raising support for internship programs. While most of my friends hated these experiences, I never found them much of a challenge. Writing those support letters and sending them out to "Dear Great Aunt Ruth," was easy. I never doubted those personal connections. I knew that those who love me would support me, and I knew that the "cause" I was going for was a good one.

But in my first real job, suddenly I was thrust into a new kind of fundraising position. Initially, I tried to leverage those personal connections, and it worked, sort of. But I was no longer raising support for me, I was raising funds for my organization. The pitch had to change, and for a lot of people that pitch wasn't good enough. It wasn't enough to earn their support. And that's when I started hating fundraising.

I hated asking people for money. I hated thinking that people were always thinking that I was a moment away from asking them for money. I hated feeling like if the funds weren't rolling in that I was a failure. I lacked the confidence in my organization, the confidence in myself and the confidence in God to really ever be a successful fundraiser. So I quit.

But now five years later, I am once again a fundraiser--a full time fundraiser who willingly signed up for the job. I've found that my resume and life experience of the past few years have made me a better fundraiser than I used to be. I know a lot more about marketing and building a strong vision into your fundraising. I know how to woo donors and to build a brand that people actually want to be a part of. But what's more is that I know that what I'm supporting is right at the heart of God, and I know that He daily gives me the wisdom and guidance to be the best fundraiser that I can be.

I definitely don't have it all figured out. Living in a different culture with a different donor climate, makes for a lot of learning curves. Living in a worldwide donor climate highly effected by the current global economic climate, makes for a much more difficult job. But I want to be a fundraiser because we all should be supporting abandoned and orphaned children who are waiting to be adopted. I want to be a fundraiser because I get to lift up and support an amazing team who makes sure that each child in our home gets everything they need. I want to be a fundraiser because every rand, every dollar, means another child rescued and another child adopted. I want to be a fundraiser because I'm finding God at the heart of it, even on its most challenging days.

So I'm going to put on my dress and dust off the heels and head out to our fundraising event tonight. Because when I'm fundraising for precious faces who I love dearly, being a fundraiser is more than rewarding--it's fun.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Am Not A Cause

Not long ago, my boss and I were sitting in a meeting. Unfortunately, I can't remember who the meeting was with -- a donor, a potential donor, a journalist, or a corporate big wig -- but what I do remember is what he/she said:

"For us in South Africa, AIDS is not a cause. It's the backdrop in which we live."

That statement embodied a thought I had been trying to verbalize for a long time but had never found the words. But since coming to RSA, that is what has changed for me. AIDS went from being a cause to being the wallpaper -- cracked, peeling and faded.

For South Africans and those of us blessed to live along side them, HIV and AIDS is the context in which we live. With somewhere between 5.4 and 5.9 million South Africans living with HIV (around 12% of the population), chances are that most of us know somebody or somebodies living with the disease. Chances are we have known or will know someone dying of AIDS. And even those of us who don't, AIDS affects our lives and changes them in a thousand indirect ways. The same is true of TB and poverty.

Prior to coming to RSA, fighting extreme poverty, making sure that life-saving treatment was distributed evenly, ensuring access to drinking water, AIDS -- these were causes that I advocated for and gave of my time and my finances to ensure. Now, the change in context means loving on and being loved by beautiful children who happen to be HIV positive. It means occasionally being the one to distribute their antiretrovirals. It means knowing people and being friends with people who have less than a dollar a day to provide the basic necessities to keep their family afloat. It means having personal stories of watching people waste away to their death.

I think that when Jesus quoted rabbinical law saying, “the poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11, Deuteronomy 15:11), he meant poverty is the context – the backdrop surrounding our life. In the midst of the beautiful aroma filling the air, Jesus challenged the false generosity of the onlookers. Yes, the jar of perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor, but that wasn’t the point. The woman anointing Jesus’s feet saw both His humanity and His lordship. Jesus recognized and honoured her for this. The disciples and the other onlookers saw “the cause” spilled across the floor, wasted. Jesus reminded them that it wasn’t about “the cause,” it was about Him.

Distance makes “causes” easy. They make labels like “AIDS orphan” and “extreme poverty” easy. But when you are forced to deal with the humanity of the cause, labels become harder to choke down.

Before, I could easily list the “causes” I supported, rattling off statistics and numbers to go along with each. Not that the causes in themselves where bad, but in the name of the cause, I often lost sight of the people the cause supported. I lost sight of their humanness. And perhaps I was caught up in the trend of supporting causes.

But now, as I interact with and pray for the children at Oasis Haven, I hear them saying, I am not a cause. I am a child. I have a hope and a future bright with possibilities. I need a family to help me get there. I need you to love me and do all you can to make my adoption a reality. I need you to value me. Because I am not a cause, I am a child.

That’s the challenge and the difference between supporting a cause and making it contextual in your own life – hearing “I am not a cause, I am…”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Self Discovery in South Africa

I guess I thought that there was a point in life, somewhere around now, that the self-discovery process was supposed to be over. A point where I truly had a strong understanding of who I am and who God created me to be.

Well, I do think I have a fairly good grasp on both of those things, but I continually find that, yes, we are all a little bit like infinite onions with more layers to be peeled back. That they--whoever they are--were right when they said that self-discovery is a life-long process.

And I find that for myself, there is nothing better for that self-discovery process than taking yourself out of your element and putting yourself in an entirely foreign element. You can truly come to know and see yourself for who you are, how you react, how you grow when you surround yourself with what is foreign. And don't be fooled just when things are starting to seem familiar, you often discover that you're about to have a new cultural experience leading to deeper self-discovery.


A few of my favorite things in South Africa:

  • Umbrellas are an every weather accessory and practicality for both sunny and rainy weather.
  • Having the societal permission to use the word "keen" as often as I like.
  • Nature always surprises you with its suddenness and its beauty.
  • Cricket even if we didn't do as well as hoped in the World Cup.
  • Greeting a person and asking how they are, always produces a genuine connection with the humanity of the other person.
  • Music comes in literally all forms and all languages and begs to be appreciated as such.
  • Most aren't afraid of bringing faith into any and all contexts.
  • Color is everywhere--in the foliage, the architecture, the design, the clothes, the art--everywhere.

Friday, April 01, 2011

29 Going On...

I turned 29 last weekend, thus entering into my thirtieth year of life. I would like to do something different with this year, since--after all-- it is a landmark year.

I've been journeying through Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest. The 21 March entry looks at Paul's declaration, "I have been crucified with Christ..." (Galatians 2:20). Chambers observes,

Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ..." He did not say, "I have made a determination to imitate Jesus Christ," or, "I will really make an effort to follow Him"--but--"I have been identified with Him in His death." Once I reach this moral decision and act on it, all that Christ accomplished for me on the Cross is accomplished in me. My unrestrained commitment of myself to God gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to grant to me the holiness of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps that is the something different I want for this year--I want to identify with Christ.

Not long ago, I was hanging out with one of the Oasis Haven house moms and her kids. They were playing superheroes. Khanya came running into the lounge to tell us what her superhero power was going to be:

"I turn people into fat ladies!"

Love it.

This is what family does for a child; it gives them a safe place to play and imagine.

Last weekend was also our staff retreat.

We went to a beautiful farm not far from Johannesburg owned by one of Oasis Haven's partners. We were greatly blessed by his generosity in allowing us to use the place for free.

Nestled at the foot of the mountains, it was the ideal place for refreshment and renewal--and the perfect place for a few swimming lessons...

It was such a treat to watch this amazing group of women enjoy their first experience with swimming. I've never in my life seen women enjoy themselves so much.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

Autumn is making its approach in Johannesburg. I love being in places where you can feel the seasons changing around you. Today is a fine rainy Saturday--just what a Saturday at the beginning of fall ought to be if at all possible.

So often the weather here reminds me of Portland. I enjoy feeling connected to that place even though it is so very far away.


A friend and I have been watching the BBC renditions of the Jane Austen classics of late.

It still amazes me just how well Miss Austen understood women. So well in fact that my South African friend, who grew up in a culture entirely different than my own and entirely different than Miss Austen's, can connect with her heroines in the same intimate and profound way that I find myself connecting with them.

I find that it speaks to the truth that deep in the heart of all women lie the same desires--the desire to be cherished and adored, the desire to be known and respected, the desire to be loved and to belong.


For those of you in the States, you might not know that the Cricket World Cup is currently taking place. Through the help of several teachers, I've come to have a general understanding of the game and find that I enjoy it quite a bit.

Following South Africa's hosting of the World Cup of Soccer and now enjoying watching the Cricket World Cup in India, I think it is a great pity that the US does not participate in more international competition and pays so little attention when we do.

The general goodwill that countries share with each other throughout these international games inspires a lot of hope for the state of the world, especially in light of the recent tragedy in Japan and the ongoing clashes in Libya. It's a pity that tragedy more often rallies the world under one banner.

I imagine that ESPN is not covering the cricket--at least not with much in depth coverage--but if you get the chance to watch a bit of a match do. Cricket is not as complicated as everyone believes. And while at it, say a cheer for the Proteas, South Africa's national team.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray.

I wish it didn't, but the Lenten season always sneaks up on me.

The prayer and contemplation that I would like to put in prior to the season typically manifests itself as an "O crap. It's Ash Wednesday" and a cursory review of things that are filling up where the Spirit should be.

In high school, it was typical to give up chocolate or caffeine. One year at university, I gave up email and instant messaging (this was before both were a common necessity for classwork). I've practiced fasting and turned the TV off. Given up secular music and committed to purchasing only necessities. And admittedly, my eyes where often not fixed on the goal during those seasons, but rather my on own personal appearance of holiness.

And of course, Lent is supposed to be about Jesus...

It is a time of reflection and refreshment through sacrifice. It is a time to remember the wondrous life of Christ, His death on the cross and His resurrection to new life.

Lent is a time when Jesus asks us to the garden to pray, saying, Pray that you will not fall into temptation and again, Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray (Luke 22:40,46).

If you don't typically commemorate Lent, I would recommend it to you. Take something away for a season or add in a new habit. Care for the orphan and the widow. Love your neighbors and seek first the kingdom. Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Friday, March 04, 2011

Trying to Escape Through a Closed Window

A friend and I have been slowly working our way through Elizabeth George's A Woman Who Reflect's the Heart of Jesus: 30 Days to Christlike Character. For us, A Year to Christlike Character will probably turn out to be a more appropriate subtitle, but nonetheless, we are on the road.

This week we discussed having Christlike confidence.

Confidence is a valued attribute for most Americans. We are taught at an early age that confidence is a quality to be desired and that we advance in the world when we show confidence. We call it by many names--positive self-esteem or self-image, a go-get-it-ness, a pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality. We're known for exuding confidence.

But Christlike confidence isn't about confidence in oneself--it's about being confident in who He is, Who you belong too and who He created you to be. It's about knowing that the image of God is impressed upon your DNA--that He created your DNA. It also means showing a humility in your own abilities and recognizing that it is His abilities that matter.

Christlike confidence is contrary to the world's notion of confidence. Its about humility and meekness, gentleness and trust. Quite honestly, it's a lot less to do with me and a lot more to do with Him.


A moment ago, a bird flew in through the open window and found himself with the profound dilemma of being in an enclosed space and too frightened to find its way out again. Searching for a solution, he flew to a window, where he fiercely pecked away at the glass trying to escape. The chosen point of exit was the middle pane of a three paned window. Both panes to the left and the right stood open with no barrier to escape.

Frightened and furious, he continued to peck away at the middle pane for a few minutes before I took a magazine and gently guided him to the better escape portal.

I imagine that I am probably often caught in the same circumstances. Too frustrated, too angry, too caught-up in my own actions to see the open window just next to me.


Here's some things that I have been enjoying a lot lately:

          Getting back into the habit or running.
          Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist
          My Amazon Kindle
          Hummus and the many varieties thereof
          The life and vivacity of Joburg
          Skype and its window home
          Writing again
          Breaking in my new pair of flip-flops
          Rediscovering my iPod
          Quiet interrupted by laughter

Small things that bring me small joys.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Creation, Death & Rebirth

When you've been away for a long time, it is very difficult to know how to start again.

You think:

I should really update my blog...but does anyone ever read it anyway...

What would I write? How can I sum everything up?

I'm probably too tired to put a coherent thought together anyway...

And eventually you find that you've talked yourself out of it. So the blog lies dormant and months pass, and occasionally someone might mention that you haven't blogged in a while. You think, Yeah I should do that, but you don't.

Over the past month or so, Don Miller has been writing a serious of posts on "the creator" and the process of creation. They're thoughts that I genuinely hope he will compile into a book, and I would recommend taking the time to search through his blog and read some if not all.

Whether we are an artist, writer, sculptor, teacher, banker or other--we are all creators. We all creating something on a daily basis, and we are all working to improve that created thing. It's in our God-nature. God the Creator put His Creator image on us.

I'm always in the process of creating. My fingers moving across the keys, I'm putting words together to make a created thing. On a daily basis, I'm putting bits and pieces and relationships together to create a stable and sustainable environment for "the fatherless" and "the least of these."

I think it's the act of creation that keeps us moving forward. And when you are in the process of creating for the sake of redeeming, that forward movement comes with great reward.

A friend loaned me Shauna Niequist's latest book, Bittersweet. Upon the loaning, she told me it would be like a good friend. And she has been right.

A favorite passage:
I don't believe that God's up in heaven making things go terribly wrong in our lives so that we learn better manners and better coping skills. But I do believe in something like composting for the soul: that if you can find life out of death, if you can use the smashed up garbage to bring about something new and good, however tiny, that's one of the most beautiful things there is.
I like that, composting for the soul. I've tried my hand at gardening many times. I like the idea of being a gardener, a farmer. It's a romantic notion for me. But inevitably I grow tired or find I don't have the time to dedicate to it, and I give up on the idea

I remember helping my parents weed the garden and the flower bed when I was small. I would yank at maybe five weeds, before I would become tired and bored and decide gardening was a generally miserable task. I think its the many romantic metaphors associated with gardening more than the actual act that stirs at my soul.

I like the idea of death and rebirth. A seed has to die before something new can grow. Waste and death go into compost to create rich, healthy soil and ultimately rich, healthy plants.

Death and rebirth. God is always taking the bad and redeeming it for His good.

Composting for the soul.