What happened…

We have been back in South Africa for almost 4 years. I don’t know where the time went. Actually I don’t really know where I went.  I lost myself.

I went to talk to someone earlier this year, a counsellor,  about this feeling of being lost and she pretty much told me that , yes, I’m in the wilderness. I need to find my way out.

Of course I wanted to know the way out and how long it’ll take to get out. But she just smiled at me and said she’s not telling me – its my journey not hers.

I’ve been reading books that help me navigate this journey. Brene Brown is my current favourite author. Her book, Braving the Wilderness, I could go so far as to say, saved my life.

I have done some great things, and some stupid things. I have made mistakes, and got a few things right. Sometimes inadvertently. Sometimes intentionally. I’ve had some unrealistic expectations, and some disappointments. I also was blessed and encouraged. I am muddling along, in my wilderness, but I think I am on the way out – I think I have found the right path. Sometimes I still feel this darkness around me, but its getting less. More and more I feel as if I am home.

I’m in my 50th year now, and have made a conscious decision to do more of what I love and what I have been put on this earth to do. I need to be brave, courageous and I know that I need to write again. So this is my start.  Nothing very exciting. Just a start.

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Blogging the Pearls

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I’m cleaning out my desk in anticipation of our move back to South Africa next month. Every now and then I come across stuff I’ve written in random notebooks. I don’t want to throw these out, but neither do I want to ship boxes of scrap pieces of paper and notebooks (half-filled with the pearls) back to South Africa. I say “half-filled” because even though each notebook starts with good intentions to journal, I am sorry to say that all of them end up consisting of directions, measurements, shopping lists, music lessons, to do lists, meal plans, our native North American names (Nick’s is “Strong One who Fishes for Salmon with Spear” or, alternatively “Cold Rattlesnake Handler”), minutes from meetings, outlines for talks we’ve done, maths problems, and lists of my favourite photography websites. Amongst other things.

I have been wondering what to do with these pearls and it has just dawned on me. I’ll blog them! And then toss the notebooks. So without further ado, here is a “scrap” from 4 May 2011:


This journal is a record of the things that inspire me. I’m reading a book and have had a few inspirational thoughts which I wanted to jot down. [Thinking, thinking, thinking, but …. nope, no idea what the book was.]

  • Be solutions orientated. Rather talk about what we have than what we lack.
  • Use “yes” often: certainly, absolutely, exactly, definitely!
  • Say “Yes and …” rather than ” But what about…”
  • Never criticise people who are not present to explain themselves.
  • Confront Chicken Littles: Don’t let people act as if they are in a struggle for survival – we are not!
  • “Describe reality and give hope.” – Napoleon

P.S Interesting that this particular notebook ended with my menu plan for the week. We were going to have Tomato Soup on Sunday. Truly inspirational Trish – well done!

Veneer

The ultimate in Veneer

My Veneer

We have a black veneer coffee table in our living room. It’s nice and shiny  – there are a few bulges where it’s warping underneath, but it’s pretty smart, possibly the smartest piece of furniture we have in our apartment.

We also have an old wooden desk. I’m writing at it now. It’s big and bulky. It’s full of stains and dents and scratches. The doors don’t close easily. From time to time I polish it up, and while it looks pretty good for an old desk, it’s still an old desk. I’ve complained about it before, but as we head back to South Africa, it’s the only piece of furniture from this apartment I’ll miss. It’s just so full of character and it’s rock solid. It forgives my clutter, it accepts my spills, it gives me space to be myself. Unlike the veneered coffee table.

Veneer: a superficial coating. One that is pleasing to the outside world. It’s the cover we have; the “face” we present, hoping that others will see us as having greater worth, as being more beautiful, or more intelligent, or more holy, or a better parent, or more perfect than we know we are. The bright, shiny, perfect covering of what lies beneath.

I’m reading the book, Veneer, and the authors describe veneer as the “thin covering that hides the real material underneath”.

Is it possible, I wonder, for Christ to be seen in me if I have a veneer?   If Christ is in me, and I have veneer, then I am hiding HIM. And not only does veneer hide,  it creates barriers:  to relationship with God, to relationship with others, to real connections, to intimacy. All we’re left with is superficiality.

“Abide in me, and I in you… As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love,” says Jesus. The more deeply we are rooted in him, the more strength we have to live as an expression of him.  As we live in him we discover love, we find grace, we find confidence, we find power, we find grace, we find beauty. True beauty.

The last chapter in the book is entitled “End Veneer”. It’s an encouragement to pursue renewal in our relationships (with God and with others), in our life purpose, and so on. To strip veneer we need to make exchanges:

  • Exchange dissatisfaction for gratitude
  • Exchange getting for giving
  • Exchange hype for reality
  • Exchange transaction for relation
  • Exchange the common for the extraordinary

I know that I am a sinner. I know that I am not perfect. I also know that I don’t really want the outside world to know that.  Yet, as a follower of Jesus, I do want to reflect him, his love, his glory, his grace, his compassion. I want to live deeply, to be real, to connect, to have intimacy and connection with my Lord, and with the people around me.  I want to pursue God, and stop caring quite so much about people’s reactions and worldly standards.

That doesn’t mean I’ll post all the ugly stuff in my life on this blog, nor share every little detail on Facebook. It doesn’t mean that I won’t wear make up and colour my hair. A little bit of polish perhaps, but stripped of veneer.

That is my challenge.

Superheroes

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You see the bemused expressions on Batman and Superman’s faces? They are a little puzzled, a little bewildered: Six middle-aged aunties/grannies stealing their limelight!

But the five fairly ordinary ladies with me in this photo represent over 100 years of service for the kingdom, of sacrificial living, of abundant living, of incredible generosity. They represent a wealth of wisdom, compassion, kindness, insight, and grace. Their lives shine.

Batman and Superman – take note. These are the true superheroes. They may not wear lycra or capes, they are not polished or sophisticated, they don’t have clever gadgetry (sorry Marilyn, an iPad doesn’t count!), they don’t have wealth, nor secret bases.

But they do have supernatural power. And there are others like them out there.

I thank God in all my remembrance of them, with joy, because of their partnership in the gospel. I hold these ladies in my heart. It is my prayer that their love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.  And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in all of us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

All I ever needed to learn about life I learned on “Clash of Clans”

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Clash of Clans is a multi-player game that I have on my iPad and iPhone. You have to build and name a village (mine is “Trish The Tera” which should inspire dread in all who view it), and then provide your tribe with all the essentials in life i.e. a town hall, gold mines, army camps for your warriors, and elixir collectors. As time goes on, you need upgrade these basics. You also need to keep adding buildings e.g. storages for gold and elixir, and build an army. You can attack other players and steal their resources, but they can also attack you and steal yours. So you need defenses too.

That’s Clash of Clans in a  nutshell. Believe it or not, it can teach you many valuable lessons about life (which is of course why we play it!).

Growth takes Time. You can get way ahead of yourself and steam on ahead collecting trophies and reaching the highest heights, but then you WILL crash and burn. You have to do the right thing at the right time, recognising your weaknesses, being honest about your ability, and gradually growing strong. You have to pace yourself. It takes time to upgrade and improve and the higher and further you get, the longer it takes. Results are almost never instantaneous.  In the game, as in life, slow and steady growth is growth that is sustainable and worthwhile.

Patience! You have to save, and that means you have to wait if you want to progress in the game. But not just about patience, its actually enjoying the journey. There is the anticipation and then the excitement when you eventually get to a new level, or unlock a new warrior. There is no instant gratification here! The wait is worth it.

Think. Wisdom is called for in “Clash”. You need to be careful where you place your gold and elixir storages, ensuring that they are well protected. You need to be wise when you upgrade, using times when you are shielded to upgrade weapons rather than storages. You need to have a sound attack strategy when you go to war, ensuring that you don’t spend more training troops than you’ll gain in battle. You have to think about what you are buying because there’s always a sacrifice. You need to consider the best use of your limited number of builders. You need to know what you need.  But once you’ve done your planning and strategising and thinking, then its time to go all out to achieve your goals. As my boy says “all or nothing, Mom, all or nothing.”

You can achieve more working with others. Teamwork is essential to get ahead in the game. With a strong clan you can go far. A strong clan does not mean high numbers, its got to be the right people.  A good clan needs a strong leader, with a few strong co-leaders, and a clear mission. The leader does not need to be the strongest, but should be one of them. A weak leader spells doom. The leader and co-leaders need to be involved and active. They need to encourage and communicate often. Members need to be loyal and generous. They need to give, not just take. If you’re in a team like that, you can rise to the top.

Look back. After playing for a while, we started a second village. It was such fun to see the new cute little tiny village and compare it to our strong first village. We cooed and remembered the old days when our first village was that small and defenseless. At times when you feel despondent, look back and see how far you’ve come. And celebrate!

Relax. Its just a game. So what if we lose all our hard-earned elixir to raiders? So what if we train all the wrong troops? So what if we accidentally use up 100 gems to buy a useless shield? So what if we lose a battle? Mistakes happen. Things go wrong. Its alright. We recover, we get over it, and we move on. OK, OK, life is not “just a game”, but for my boy and me: we need reminders not to take things too seriously.

Call us addicts if you like [yes Nick, I’m looking at you]. We prefer to think of ourselves as patiently growing stronger each day, working with others, thinking deeply, celebrating our victories and milestones, and learning to relax.

Faceless

Best. Party. Ever.

Best. Party. Ever.

Its more than half-way through my Facebook Fast so I thought I’d write a few thoughts on the insights and wisdom I have gleaned.

  1. Facebook alone does not waste time. In fact, there are many ways to waste time. Browsing the internet, Clash of Clans, watching corny sitcoms with the kids, bus rides, meetings, Clash of Clans, waiting in queues for visas, staring into space…and playing Clash of Clans. Now some of these, it could be argued, are beneficial. Clash of Clans, for example, represents bonding time with my son AND a bit of stress relief for both of us. Bus rides, though time-consuming, are necessary to get from A to B.  Question is:  am I making the right choices regarding my time?
  2. Facebook has a lot of positives, and some downsides. I feel that I’ve missed important things that are going on – like a friend’s daughter who had heart surgery, like people’s birthdays, like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting married. Its been more difficult to share photos. Of course I can post them in other forums, but Facebook is the easiest way for those who want to see them (and those who don’t) to access them.  In the world we live in, Facebook has a lot to add and helps us stay connected. I need to find ways to minimise the negative and maximise the positive. I need to work out HOW to do that before I rejoin.
  3. The example to my children has been good, but not the best. They still can’t quite believe that I’m off Facebook, and they’ve stopped asking me for it. Mission Accomplished. I’ve realised though that a better example would be in managing my time well and being more available to them, living more in the present.  My Facebook distraction was symptomatic.
  4. People invent rules for others to live by. All I wanted to do was go a month without Facebook. I did not make hard and fast rules about anything other than not re-registering before 1 October. I’ve been quite amused at how people tell me what I can and cannot do, what I am allowed to access, and question whether Nick is allowed to post this blog on HIS Facebook page!  My choices are my choices, and while I appreciate the input of others in my life, I don’t need to abide by their made-up rules. On a slight tangent:  while some people have been very encouraging and have gone so far as to say that I’ve inspired them, most don’t like it. There have been a number of barbed comments – “if you were on Facebook you’d know that…”.
  5. I am even more convinced that Facebook encourages pride and boasting. For me anyway. Case in point: I honestly had not missed Faceboook at all. I was quite enjoying not having it. But then, mid-September we had wonderful weekend of birthday celebrations for Emily. Immediately I wanted to post photos on Facebook. Why? To proclaim to the world that my beautiful, warm, funny, creative daughter has just turned 9 and that we threw an awesome party for her, i.e. I’m a brilliant mother, and we’re a great family and do exciting things. Ta da. While all that is true (of course) does the rest of the world really need to know? Short answer: no. We celebrated in REAL life, but not on Facebook, and that should be enough.

I don’t think I am ready yet to return, but may feel differently on 1 October.  In the meantime, I need to go and check on my elixir storages in Clash of Clans.

Getting into a State

Being a South African is a distinct disadvantage when it comes to international travel. While my Singaporean friends can visit the USA and Canada without needing a visa, I cannot. These past few weeks have been spent trying to get one.

First of all I had to pay a SGD208 non-refundable application fee. But not just anywhere, at Standard Chartered Bank. Our closest SCB is a pokey office in Holland Village. It is convenient, but not recommended.

I went one rainy afternoon, but when I realized the queue would necessitate me getting wet, I left. I returned the next sunny morning, getting there a few minutes after the doors opened. I took a number – it was 245 or something. Don’t exactly recall, but what I do recall was that the current number being called was “3”.

I asked the receptionist, a smirky 18 year old who had not yet learned to smile, if it was a long wait. She said that the numbers did not go in order, but that, yes, of course it would be a long wait.

She was unfriendly but right – it was a loooong wait. There was nowhere to sit. In fact there was nowhere to stand, other than in the entrance area, blocking the comings and goings of other customers, and enduring the smirks of the child-receptionist.

A security guard with impressive looking guns patrolled up and down the cramped passage, glaring menacingly at suspicious looking customers, and  touching his guns lovingly from time to time.

After about an hour, two elderly gentlemen – who had managed to secure themselves seats in an empty booth – started complaining that they had to “sit and wait” for such a long time. I told them that at least they could “sit” and wait. The receptionist looked at me, shook her head,  “tsk tsked” and turned to other more important matters.

Eventually my number was called. Alas, the armed guard was blocking my path, with his back to me. I asked him to move, but he did not hear (how is that even possible?). When they started calling the number after mine, I panicked and pushed past the guard risking my very life. I slammed my money and papers on the counter, and in less than 5 seconds had completed my transaction.

Back home again, it was time to complete an online application form, B160. This was tedious and it seemed that most questions were entirely irrelevant. But that’s okay; I want to go to their country so they can ask me whatever they like.

Form verified and submitted, next step was to set up a date for my interview online. To do this, I needed to use the form I had just submitted, but it was no longer available to me. I ended up having to call the embassy and set it up telephonically. That took about 45 minutes. I was asked if I was any relation to “Trish Bekker”. I said, “yes, I am her”, but the guy just seemed confused. Maybe there’s a famous Trish Bekker out there, and I’m not her.

But I digress.

My interview was scheduled for 07h45, Monday morning. I got there at 07h45 on the dot because I had been instructed not to get there early. Strangely enough there was a queue of about 50 people in front of me, waiting outside the embassy. Thinking I needed to get to my 07h45 appointment on time, I approached the security guard who told me all these people had 07h45 appointments and some had already gone into the embassy.

O-kaay.

I waited in the queue. We were called in groups of five to be checked by security.

I had read up on how to prepare for this interview – they said not to bring any electronic devices. I was happily without my iPhone and iPad. All the others had to part with their devices. You could see the anxiety in their eyes. Ha ha. Not me, I don’t need these devices.  I’m living without Facebook. I can conquer the world.

I got through the first security point. And onto… the second security point. Because I guess – despite the fort-like attitude, style and appearance of the embassy, the armed guards and X-ray checks and scanners – someone, somehow could have smuggled in or been handed a phone, a Kindle, or maybe even a catapult after the first security check-point.

Then I had to take a number: 728. They were calling 004.

I waited and waited. Not missing my phone. Or my iPad. Not at all. Two counters of the 8 were open for business. Business was s-l-o-w. Eventually I was called, had my forms verified, and was told to wait until my number was called again so I could do finger-printing. At this point an announcement was made:

“Welcome to the University of …. Ooops, I mean the Embassy of the United States of America. Sorry guys, its Monday morning!”

The announcer went on to explain the process in great detail. I’d completed step 1 and was waiting for 2 (finger printing). After that, I’d have my interview.

While waiting for finger printing I listened in on the people having interviews. Just to prepare myself. Besides: no iPad/iPhone. When there is no technology, one has to entertain oneself by watching life.

What are your attachments to Singapore? Are you going to join your brother in the States? How many college friends do you have living in America? What else can you tell me to convince me you won’t stay longer? Your visa will be approved, but I am warning you, you cannot stay longer than we’ve given you. Sorry, you will not be getting a visa today.

After some time I was called for my finger-printing. I was given a list of instructions to follow in the event that my visa might be approved. We’d been told that we must read that before our interview so that we would not ask silly questions and waste time. I glanced up and saw that my number was being called. Whaaaat?! I was expecting at least a half hour wait, but no, that was my number and I hadn’t even read the instructions.

Interviewer: Why are you going to America?

Me: For a holiday

Interviewer: I see you are travelling with your husband. What nationality is he?

Me: South African

Interviewer: Does he have a visa already?

Me: Yes

Interviewer: OK. Your visa has been approved. You can collect it in 3 days.

Six days later I was contacted and told to collect my passport, with the visa in it, at an address in Changi. Changi!? It’s an hour and a half away. The Embassy is a 5 minute walk from where we live! I asked if I could please collect it from somewhere closer,  but no, hadn’t I read the instructions? Any changes to collection option must be made by 12 noon on the day of the interview.

So I took the day off to travel to Changi and back, and now I have a fancy-pancy 10-year USA visa.

It only took me about 7 hours of queuing, 3 hours of online form filling, 1 hour of uploading photos, 5 hours of travelling, 45 minutes of telephonic conversations, 6 days of waiting, and 3 seconds of interviewing, to get it.

The Canadian visa should be a piece of cake.