Friday, January 27, 2012

Living into the Fullness of Life

I was talking with a good friend of mine the other day about present day technology and how, in the Western world, we are often living life in an artificial reality. We use social networking tools like Facebook, emails, texting, etc. almost obsessively and life is often put through these filters before reaching us. Likewise, we live outwardly with these filters, as well. She admitted to me that the other day, she was on Facebook on her computer and got out her smart phone and logged into Facebook on there at the same time. And I don’t think that is uncommon for a lot of people. We have unlimited access to information via the internet and tend to live vicariously through that instead of living our own lives in the moment. The longer I am here, the more I am aware of this change in how I live. Here, where few people have computers and cell phones are used as a means to contact rather than communicate, I feel less bound by technology. Subsequently, I feel more connected with my life, with this place, and with the people around me. I feel more whole. I have the time and the space to feel and experience life in all of its complexities and live into that mystery.  I feel less rushed, less pressured. Even if my days are filled with work and are no less hectic than they were in the States (it’s possible they are more hectic), I find that it feels less like work. It feels less strenuous. I don’t dread waking up in the mornings or constantly look forward to the weekend; I just live each day as it comes and revel in all of the small joys that are scattered throughout the day.  Maybe it is because society here is more relaxed. It’s not that I do less work in a day, but that it comes as it comes instead of having constant deadlines and a pressure to do things diligently. That’s not to say that I don’t do things diligently and efficiently (I do), but just having that absence of constant pressure makes everything much more enjoyable because I’m living into my work instead of being burdened by it. On top of that, my life here is much more dependent upon nature. I only eat fruits and vegetables that are in season, plans and chores are often dictated by the weather, and my power and water supply are often dependent upon the weather as well. Because of that, I feel infinitely more connected to the earth as well as with society. This lifestyle suits me. It fills up all of those pieces that I often felt were missing in the States.

I think this will be one of my major hurtles in moving back to the States. It is going to be very hard to readjust to a life that, from my point-of-view here, seems more sterile and more controlled. Things in the States are often so rigid and unwavering. Things have to be done NOW. If it’s storming outside, you strap on a pair of rain boots and grab and umbrella and go to the store anyway. Here, you just make do with what you have for the night and go to the store tomorrow, taking advantage of a free evening. Why has this constant pressure to preform overtaken our lives in the States? Why are we always on edge with these menial tasks that just have to be done for no other reason than getting them done? Why does that constant pressure have to exist when people will do work of their own accord for the simple fact that we, as humans, are inclined to make use of ourselves and those things around us? We find joy in accomplishment and good work naturally. So why is it that we so often corrupt that joy by making our work something that is no longer enjoyable?


Monday, January 23, 2012


Oh Lord, give me courage
To do good things
Give me courage
To do the things I want to do
Without being afraid of what other people say
Give me courage to be different. 


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Giving and Living

 Earlier this week, I wrote a blog about gratitude and the frustration I’ve been having with feeling walked-on lately. I don’t like that post; it was short-sighted and self-centered. I came across something this week that gave me pause, helped mend some of my wounds and reconcile with some of the frustrations I’ve run into recently. Funnily enough, it was on the AMM website under a section about volunteering that I (ironically) hadn’t read before. Why I felt compelled to peruse the AMM website yesterday, I don’t know, but it seems like I went almost immediately to this:

“Do not give to the poor expecting to get their gratitude so that you can feel good about yourself. If you do, your giving will be thin and short-lived, and that is not what the poor need; it will only impoverish them further. Give only if you have something to give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward.”

It made me stop and think about the nature of giving rather than of receiving and what could be the downfalls of both of these, if not done with grace. It made me think about the fact that I am here because I want to give and I want to share who I am and what I have. I want to receive who other people are and what they have. And even if things don’t go the way I think they should, it doesn’t mean that things are going wrong. Things are just going differently than I’d planned. And that’s okay; the universe will never cow-tow to my every whim, nor would I want it to. Living life in all of its fullness – in all of its joys, sorrows, pains, and complications -  is what I am meant to do. It is what we are all meant to do. It’s not about the destination and it’s not about getting to the next high point or trying to weasel your way out of a cork-screw loop; it’s about the ride. It’s about the experience. And this is all part of that, good and bad. It is all part of life.

On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to share this picture of one of our Itipini kids, Xolelwa! (I’ve been trying to find a place to put squeeze it in)


Thursday, January 19, 2012


What is gratitude? Merriam Webster describes is as “the state of being grateful: thankfulness,” and describes grateful as being “appreciative of benefits received.” Beyond its definition, though, what does it mean to be grateful? Is saying “please” and “thank you” all there is to it? Can you show someone you are grateful by a meaningful look or a reciprocal action? I think sometimes, if you’ll excuse the cliché, that your actions do indeed speak louder than your words and that often a gesture can show more deeply your appreciation than any words could. On the same token, one’s lack of words or action can mean just as much.

In Oklahoma, politeness is important. In the Bible Belt in general, it seems to get engrained into us from a very young age to always try to be nice and to ALWAYS say “please” and “thank you.” Or maybe it is something that stems from a European ancestry and lineage or from American middle-class norms. At any rate, that cultural norm is not one that holds here. Cashiers in the grocery store give me funny looks when I say thank you (“enkosi” in Xhosa) after receiving my change and car guards just shrug and walk off. There is not an equivalent of “You’re welcome” in Xhosa. People just say “okay” or “sharp” or don’t say anything at all. And that is really hard for me. I’m so used to this constant exchange of courtesy that I feel a little let down when people don’t respond to my thanks and really frustrated when people don’t give thanks. People come to the clinic with open hands and closed mouths and it feels like we are forever giving, giving, giving of ourselves and rarely receiving even a mention of gratitude in return. It is difficult for me to feel so drained after work some days knowing that a few “thank you’s” or a simple smile would have made me feel fine. But this is my culture talking here. I think that because this is something that I’ve just been doing for so long on an unconscious level, it is really easy for me to get upset about it when other people don’t do it. When people walk in and say, “Give me my such-and-such,” it is easy for me to peg people as being ungrateful and demanding, which may or may not actually be the case. Maybe what comes off to me as someone being rude is actually their attempt to be very clearly understood. 

Or maybe the issue here is something else entirely. Maybe it has less do with politeness and more to do with recognition. Am I allowed to seek recognition for my actions as a missionary? Undoubtedly, the nature of the work I’m doing is supposed to be humble and unrecognized. It is supposed to be for others, not for me. But when I’m feeling walked-on and run-down, it’s sometimes hard to find the right motivation to keep doing it. How do I balance the desire to do good work and the fundamental human need to be recognized and appreciated?