Burning Up

Welcome to the End of the year! I know it feels like the end of the world (and some are hoping it is, just so they never have to see their results, or face buying Christmas presents…) but it probably isn’t.  And that means I have time for another post.

So let’s talk about burnout!Burnout 4

I remember school assemblies in much the same way one would remember an organ transplant where the anesthetic didn’t work. This is unfortunate. But fortunately this gives me the ability to look back on 12 Januaries worth of “Let’s start strong” and 12 Septembers, Octobers, and Novembers worth of “Let’s finish strong”, and to remember them quite vividly. It seems the biggest battles faced throughout the year were either apathy or burnout. No one worries if you work at an even keel until you keel over… the problem is when it all goes down in smoke. This is commonly referred to as burnout.

The topic of burnout came up recently in a sermon I heard where the pastor said we should strive for burnout.

Now hold up! Surely that’s not right!

But take a step back with me into Old Testament times…

Imagine for a moment, won’t you, that you are standing in a field.  It’s quite a pathetic field as far as fields go – not much grass on this one.  There are a few sheep, but you’re meant to be looking after them and that’s not going too well because your field is kind of pathetic.  But there’s not much you can do about that because your field is in a desert.  Yep, sucks to be you!  But just as you’re nearing the Sheep grazingedge of insanity you notice something shiny off to your right.  Being bored and easily distracted by shiny things, you glance around, your sheep look fine (well, as fine as sheep look in a sparse field in the middle of the desert), so you decide to go take a closer look.  The shiny thing proves to be an even more awesome distraction than you first thought!  There in front of you is a bush!

But this is no ordinary bush!  Oh no!  This bush is on fire!

Normally you would panic and scream like a small girl, but there’s something a little odd about this fire.  You notice that the green leaves that are being fiercely attacked by angry flames are perfectly content to chill there.  No ash, no soot, no burnt edges or barbecued worms…  This bush is on fire, but it’s not burning.  This bush is alight, but it’s not consumed…

This is the first fire that doesn’t burn out.

Have you ever thought about that little fire?  Why is it that God didn’t let the bush burn?  The Old Testament is littered with stories of things burning up – there are random flashes of lightning from cloudless skies that burn up alters, offerings and water!  So why did God choose fire for this?

Well, I may be way off here, but let me theorise.

Exodus is a picture of God’s saving work for His people.  God used a light – Burnout 3something bright that can both burn and destroy… or bring light and clarity – to initiate His plan.  We know that Christians are called to be the “light of the world”, but my question now is: why a burning bush?  Why not a star or a cute floating flame that would guide the way (Think “Brave”-style willo-the-wisp but with way more flair)?

I think that God was showing that when He is the creator of the fire, then the fire needn’t destroy its host.  If Moses had gone on and lit a little fire under the next bush over, he would be wasting a perfectly good bush (that he probably needed for feeding those cute little sheep).  The difference here is that God lit the first fire, man would have lit the second.  God’s fire is a “holy flame”.

When we talk about burnout we talk about giving too much, not taking a break, working too hard… But let’s change the scenario and put it into the context of work for the Kingdom – God’s work! If we are burning with Holy Fire then we never stop giving light.  We don’t consume everything in our path in a blaze of glory that takes us down too.  No, we burn with a fire that will last eternally, a fire that is the light of God and not our own works.

At the end of the year we get to think about Christmas too – when the light of the World stepped down into our darkened world.  His light still shines. This December I want to be burning with his fire – not burning out on my own.  His is a flame that has lasted from eternity past and will continue into eternity – I want to be engulfed in that fire, caught up in His brilliance, and on fire for God.  I might take a break every now and then, but the light inside me doesn’t.

And that is what makes the difference.

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On Shoulders of Giants

It’s an old sayshoulders of giants 1ing: standing on shoulders of giants. And a bit of a weird thought because usually giants are pretty scary (unless you’re the BFG) and standing that high up would be terrifying and, I would hazard a guess, just a little bit unsteady.  But perhaps that makes it so apt.

The older I get the more unsteady things seem to be. You have such sure footing as a kid – dreams are bigger, goals are reachable, and the parent-safety-net is wider.  But when you’re all-growed-up suddenly everything seems a little harder.

But maybe that’s because we’re getting higher.

It’s so easy to get caught up in everything around you.  The world is moving too fast and we have to try keep up.  There are things to do, social engagements to keep, dishes to wash, plans to make, e-mails to send… and we get so caught up in all of it that we stop looking up.  And then we stop looking down.

Let’s be honest, as a kid, there’s nowhere to go but up! As you get older, up gets cloudier, and down becomes marred with regrets. And all too often it’s far too easy to let the clouds cover the future and to let the regrets gather around our feet; but maybe it’s time to push those aside and see how far we’ve come.

Facebook often takes us back. We have TBT to remind us where we’ve come from.  We have daily reminders of where we were six years ago. Reminders of the stars we used to have in our eyes. Before the clouds took over. And all to often I walk away from those memories heart-sore at what I’ve lost. Looking at dreams that will never be realised, conversations I’ll never get to have, goals that, because of my own choices, I will never reach.

And those regrets push harder at my feet.  They pull on me. They dare me to defy Aunty Bronthem and actually try to make my way above the clouds.

But scrolling through pictures today I came across one that made me want to cry.  A picture of a woman smiling at her coffee. Not any woman. My mentor. And all the memories I have of her came flooding back, and all she taught me suddenly resurfaced.

Her life is not the one I want.  But her heart is.  She is one of those giants on whose shoulders I stand. And when I push aside those regrets to look down and see all the people holding me up, it’s incredibly hard to be ungrateful about the place where I am.

And sure, maybe I miss performing.  Maybe my heart sinks every time I remember that I won’t be home for Christmas. But I am where I am because of the people who were with me as a child and as a teenager and as a young adult.  People God put in my path.  deliberately.

It is no accident that my mom studied theology.

It is no accident that my school did not offer the subjects or opportunities I craved.

It is no accident that my mentor was a youth worker and not an actress.

I am here today because every piece of my life has been carefully placed by God.  Those same hands that kindled stars and sculpted volcanoes is sculpting my life. This right now is no accident – as accidental as it may feel.  And even when the pressures of now start swirling, the regrets grip my ankles and pull me down, and the cloudy barrier to the future grows stormier, I know that this is where God placed me.  And I am grateful.

And to every single one of my giants who so faithfully followed the Lord and lifted me – Thank you! Don’t let me forget that God’s dream is greater.shoulders of giants 2

The Things They Never Told Me I Would Miss About SA

It’s been seven months and five days since I bade a (proudly, only slightly) tearful goodbye to my family on an cloudy Spring day in Johannesburg and climbed aboard a plane to set off on my biggest adventure yet in the even cloudier Liverpool.  I had been warned, naturally, of all the things I would miss – both the obvious (family and friends) and the obscure (basically just a list of things from Cape Town that I can’t possibly miss because I’ve spent less than 0.2% of my life in Cape Town (Is it sad that I went and worked that out?))  I was told in no uncertain terms that I would miss the sun and spiral into deep depression caused by the extreme vitamin D deficiency.  I was assured that I would never make it without the “bigger sky”. I was promised that I would simply perish without delicacies like boerewors, biltong, and rooibos.

Well, quite frankly, we’ve had sun about 50% of the time, the sky is (shock horror) exactly the same size, and though I do admittedly miss my red cappuccinos, I can’t say that biltong or boerewors have been missed.  I can also pick up rooibos at my local Tesco…

But in all the lists that have been published online, and in all the diatribes I endured before leaving SA, there were a few things that were never mentioned.

(There should have been pics, but I’m battling with uploads.  I’ll add them at a later date if I can)

1. They Never Told Me I Would Miss My Accent

“But you live in England – home of the sexy, sophisticated accent!” I hear you cry in indignation.  And to that I say: what, the 15 remaining posh Brits who still live in castles?  I worked in Warrington for a month, and let me tell  you, they open their mouths and it’s the rednecks of the North West of England!

The strange things is that I still mock South African accents.  Suzelle is still funny to me BECAUSE of her accent.  Our diversity of accents, interspersed with those gorgeous bits of vernacular (eina, eish, jol, kip, lekker…), is an ongoing inside joke.  One that I sorely miss.  I find myself making conversation with random strangers in the bus (a massive taboo) simply because I hear a South African accent or a snippet of Zulu.

2. I Was Not Warned I Would Miss The Mayhem

Plenty of people said I would be glad to get away from it.  Never did I dream that I would write a blog stating how I missed it.

Never has the term “first world problems” meant more to me! Here in a genuinely first world country I can say that people just don’t get it!  Priorities are SO warped here.

The absolute chaos that is so frequently the hallmark of South Africa means that we have, for the most part, developed an amazing sense of humour and an absolutely ridiculous level of tenacity.

When I first arrived here, I went to the doctor.  After sitting patiently in the waiting room for about 5 minutes I heard the lady behind me loudly complain that she had waited an “unacceptable” 20 minutes.  To put this in perspective: we were in a spotless, warm, walk-in clinic, with pleasant, knowledgeable staff, preparing to see a fully qualified doctor who would give us a consultation for FREE!

In that instant, I understood South African humour.

Back in SA, my mom headed to Home Affairs.  After waiting a good 2 hours to get to the front, she celebrated rather than complained and the others in the queue cheered!  It was like she had won something!  Comradery and cheer seem to be built upon our chaos.

3. I Was Never Prepared For The Sayings That Wouldn’t Unstick

Everyone wants to be in on the joke.  All jokes.  If I say “Even me!” nearly anywhere in SA, people will understand my reference.  Here in England I just sound as though I’ve forgotten how to use the English language.  And as odd as it sounds, I find I miss quoting Trevor Noah (Vernacular as Dracula’s sidekick needs to go global.  That bit was too brilliant to be confined to SA!) and I miss the 23 years of phrases and thoughts and idiosyncrasies that have become ingrained.  Silly comments about taking a shower, the last dictator standing, “met eish, ja, met eish”… These things don’t get rid of themselves.

As a side note: it was bad enough learning SA polititcs!  I finally got the important stuff to stick and now I have to learn it all over again. Why is there a political party called “The Green Party”? I walked past their offices and genuinely thought it was an events company or something.  How I long for the day when I can turn on the TV and watch a live comedy and actually understand the references – to celebs, politicians, geographical stigmas…

4. I Missed The Warnings On Missing The Wildlife

Now I can’t take full credit for this one as most lists do mention the fauna and flora which flourish across the brilliantly diverse SA.  But what they would do here is launch into statistics and facts about the variety of species and biodiversity and all that boring stuff you learn at school.  I understood that I was leaving all that. That never bothered me…

Until I realised the implications

I walk everywhere here and have been able to see a large amount of Liverpool and while the lush, verdant fields and parks leave me with no hankering after flora, the limited number of birds (BIRDS of all things! I ask you!) made me miss home.  Where here I see pigeons, seagulls, robins, and crows, my view from my window in SA was full of hoopoes, doves, weavers, sparrows, wagtails, starlings, thrushes, hadedas, even the occasional heron, kingfisher, and hammerkop!  I miss the birdsong and the chatter and tiny movement in the trees and bushes. My experience of “wildlife” is so far removed from anything the native here have experienced.

5. They Didn’t Explain How Important Experience Is

This is the last one, but possibly the most important as it potentially encompasses all the other points.

I’ve lost count of the conversations which include the exchange of “I grew up in SA, remember”, “Oh yeah! Of course!”

From armed robbers running through the garden, to walking with elephants, and from picking up starfish in the rockpools in PE and Durban, to knowing a variety of phrases in various languages, I have a life experience so foreign to the people here that I may as well be a new species.  I can’t talk school without explaining IEB vs GDE. I can’t talk animal education without a brief description of the various parks and animals. I never realised how my experience as a South African child shaped who I am.  Even the fact that we had a garden, that we had swimming at school for half the year, and that I remember being taught to track and identify various buck, sets me apart from the people here.

 

And though this post is already longer than I intended, I must say one more thing.

Even though I love England and plan to stay here and make my life and home here, I am indebted to my SA for the person I am today.  The more time I spend away, the more I respect the people and appreciate the place.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika!

Day 5: World, meet Ubuntu.

Remember I warned you about truly atrocious pictures?  Well, today you get to experience them for yourself!  Lucky you!  No, really, please excuse the quality – I only had my phone but I really wanted to capture the moment.WP_20150513_001

Today’s post is all about a little thing called Ubuntu.  The theory of this philosophy is taught to us all in school, but the further I get away from the school, the more I realise that I understood nothing at school – I’m only putting pieces together as I live and learn from life.  Ubuntu is one of the things I clearly didn’t understand.

The thing is, when I was away from home a lot of people asked me about the xenophobia in South Africa.  A lot of people seem fairly fixated on race.  And yes, racism is a real problem.  But I think there are far more “colour-blind” people than racist.  I grew up knowing South Africa as the Rainbow Nation – a country where different people – different colours – lived together side by side.  And their co-existence was what made everything all the better.

Ubuntu says “I am because we are”.  Ubuntu is community.  Ubuntu is coming together as one and caring for each individual.  WP_20150513_002Ubuntu is love.  Ubuntu is all-inclusive. (Well, in theory at the very least)

Today I was watching my little sister’s netball match and when they scored a goal I heard cheering erupt behind me.  As it turned out the entire u9 netball group had gathered around to watch the “big girls” play.  They sat in a long line watching – little bare legs all lined up one against the other – warmed by the sun and still full of energy.  It sounds really awkward and odd, but I really like looking at all those little legs lined up.  All the different colours…

Yes, there are plenty of race problems in South Africa.  But there is also a lot of acceptance.  We like to focus on the negative because it sells more newspapers and because we people, sick as we are, are drawn to the car crashes and the burning buildings…  But truly, if you look at South Africa, you see a group of people who are astoundingly diverse, and yet working as one to try build a stronger future.  You see people who have a harsh history, but who are trying to understand one another.

You see Ubuntu.

#25daysatourist

Day 4: Autumn

I now have an editor.  Look at me being all fancy and stuff.  So if my blog posts are late or suddenly have no sense of humour – blame him!  hehe

DSCN4453ANYWAY.  Back to the point.

When I started this whole endeavour I went outside and took some photos of things I love here.  Most of the photos were of my dogs, but that’s just because they’re really cute and I get distracted too easily.  The plan was to save those pictures and use them if I really had nothing else to say. A little sad, but I say it’s better to be pathetic and have a contingency plan than rock for 5 days and then fall flat.DSCN4518

Turns out I need those pictures anyway, so it all worked out well.

The original photos were of some leaves and the autumn trees.  They’re your typical autumn pictures with the red leaves and the bare branches, but I think it’s really pretty, so I took them anyway.

Today I went outside and stood in the exact same place and it was like I had been transported!  Yes, the leaves had changed colour a little more.  Yes, the trees were a bit more bare.  Yes, there were far more leaves on the floor than before.  But it wasn’t any of that which caught my attention. I didn’t notice anything until I was about to walk back to the door,  but in that moment I turned as my dog ran past and kicked up some leaves – and it hit me!

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The smell!  There’s a certain scent to autumn that just smells magical!  It’s like this overwhelmingly lovely earthy, warm hug.  Like a blanket.  One that smells nice.

Now I have no way of knowing if Autumn smells this way anywhere else, so it’s not like I can promote it as this beautifully quintessential South African thing.  But I can tell you that I love South Africa in the autumn!  I love how the sun stays out but the air gets nippier.  I love that I (FINALLY) get to wear cute things like hats and boots.  I love the way the green lawn turns into a carpet of reds , yellows, oranges, browns, and golds.  And I love the smell!

#25daysatourist

 

Day 3: The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

I heard some time ago that South Africa has a unique kind of sunset that looks differentsunset 2 to almost all others – especially those in the Northern Hemisphere.  The reason ours seem so much more splendid is because ours have a magnificent red hue.  In fact, one of the most iconic images of South Africa is that of a tree (or giraffe or elephant…) silhouetted against a red sky and a bright yellow sun.  The reason for these lovely daily paintings in the sky?  Red dust.  We have an inordinately large amount of red dust and it floats about in the sky making our cars dirty and turning our sunsets red!

Now, I live in a city.  Johannesburg is hardly known for its vast landscapes and endless plains.  It’s more like cars, trucks, looming office buildings, and lots of pollution.  But because of the number of cars, trucks, taxis, buses… (the list goes on) we get to set in traffic for a really long time.  Especially if we travel on a highway or at peak times.

sunset 1I say “get to”… A lot of people hate traffic with a ferocity that causes cold shivers even on the hottest summer days.  But me?  Well, I’m strange.  I like the anonymity of traffic.  It means I get to sing and dance and say hello to total strangers, and then never see them again.  Many a soundtrack has been memorised in my car while waiting for the traffic.  But there’s another great advantage to sitting in traffic – one that I managed to capture today.  Not very well, mind you (hey, I warned you I’m a terrible photographer), but capture it I did.DSCN4507

And this is where we get back to sunsets.

Rays that shoot across the sky in seemingly endless beams.  Yellows and pinks and blues and purples and oranges – colours that would look ridiculous together on a painting but somehow look incredible in the sky!  Silver lined navy clouds that hint at a cooler night, juxtaposed against white clouds that still have the sun DSCN4511spotlighting them in the great show that is the sunset.

Sitting in traffic tonight for 45 minutes meant a free 45 minute show of one of the greatest spectacles in the world.  With a repeat performance every night!

I realise that this series is supposed to be about South Africa and touristing.  But I’m quickly realising that it’s simply impossible to see the beauty of this country and not recognise the creator.  No one could choreograph anything as grand as the movement of the clouds.  No one could paint anything as breath-taking as the sunsets seen each dusk.  No one but my Lord.

The heavens declare the glory of God.

And here in Jozi, I get to see God’s handiwork in all its spectacular glory every single day!  If that’s not a reason to visit this place, what is?DSCN4509

Day 3 and I’m learning to love my country a lot more than I ever did before.

#25daysatourist

 

Day 2: A World-Class Performance

Welcome to Johannesburg – a world-class city!  Or so the tourism board insists.  DSCN4487I still question this, but tonight I definitely saw some world-class quality in the show “Stage by Stage” put on by none other than South African theatre star, Jonathan Roxmouth.

I must say, I thought is exceedingly odd that I was walking through a Tuscan themed building while looking for South African things, but I came to the conclusion that that was simply part of the charm – a nod from South Africa to Italy to say, “hey, nice place.  Can we share in it?”.

Monte Casino (for anyone still wondering) is a great place in the Johannesburg for a little bit of fun.  Great place to eat, great entertainment, great shops… and great theatre!  The whole place is designed to look like an old Tuscan village – right down to the pigeons on the window sills – and it’s absolutely fantastic for a night out!  It was at the Teatro – the main theatre – that The Lion King debuted in South Africa.  It was here that I watched Beauty and the Beast and     developed a greater love for Disney, Menken and Ashman, and fairytales in general.  It was here that I fell in love again with a man in a mask who sings like an angel (of music) and writes operas for beautiful chorus dancers. And it was here that I watched Stage by Stage and was reminded of all the reasons I so love musicals.

RDSCN4502ight from the beginning, Jonathan had the audience in the palm of his hand.  He restarted the show four times – once for each time a new passel of late-comers walked in – and each time more hilariously than the last.  He enthralled with humour, story-telling, and fantastic music.  With songs from musicals ranging from Pippin to Jekyll and Hyde to Phantom of the Opera to Les Mis, there was a great variety and many opportunities for the star of the show to show how he became such a star.  I was impressed.  Very.

now in all honesty, I’ve come to expect this kind of quality at Monte Casino – after all, it’s a major tourist attraction.  But doing this tourist challenge I realised tonight that this is another reason to be amazed by this country.  I take it for granted, but as a tourist, this is absolutely spectacular.  This show that l so thoroughly enjoyed was written and performed by a man born and DSCN4504bred in South Africa.  He referenced great South African performers.  He used some of our oh-so-descriptive slang.  He took us back to memorable Jozi moments.  And all of these things were proudly South African.

So here’s to a great man, a great show, and a great country!

#25daysatourist