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The Green Grass

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Like the author of the Gospel of Mark, I, too, have an abnormal appreciation for “the green grass” as of this week. Leaving our dry, arid region of the country we made the two-day drive to the capital. What is remarkable about this overland trek is that you have the unique opportunity to start off in near desert and then gradually watch the terrain become greener, wetter, and muddier. Our first moment of new-found excitement came when we saw a river full of water several hours south of our home. We had not seen that much water in one place for months and months. Friends told us to be on the lookout for hippos where we stopped for a picnic on the river’s edge. For us that day, running water was every bit as interesting as running hippos.

Now in the capital, the temperature is considerably cooler, the grass is considerably more existent, and rain is in the forecast. What a nice change to be cold for once. We love the region where we live but also celebrate the refreshingly green grass and the precipitation that fuels it. Not surprisingly the kids’ request to play in the rain was unhesitatingly met with approval.

Why did the Gospel writer include the little detail that Jesus had the people sit down on the green grass? I’m not entirely sure, but I certainly do appreciate it.

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Crafting Peace

I‘m spending a lot of time on Pinterest these days. My baby sister (only 18 months younger) has already found and bought her wedding dress. She got engaged about 3 weeks ago. We had romantic ideas of twirling together in the dressing room as we tried on fairytale dresses. It’s almost 10 years since I did that myself…simply staggering to think how fast that time has gone. I was solo too, just me and Mum. Not sure why. But alas, I’m in rural Africa and my sister is in the heart of London. A little off-putting for our little girl dreams. Next best thing…Pinterest. Why didn’t I come up with the concept of Pinterest…pure genius ;)

I have to let you in on a little secret which I don’t think my sister will mind me sharing with you. I had started a secret wedding board for her a long time ago. You see, my lil’ sis and I have a lot of the same tastes. We haven’t always. She liked rats for pets, I had a hamster. She liked Eagle Eye Cherry and I went through a serious Backstreet Boys phase. But as we matured we started sharing clothes, I would style her for school friends parties, and she would love it! So I had been envisioning her wedding for a very long time. It wasn’t until I was officially let loose with wedding ideas that I jumped on Pinterest and created the most important board: the Dress.

Though bittersweet, the board succeeded at connecting us and she took my advice and went for something absolutely stunning, no doubt. (Obviously I haven’t seen it, not even a sly picy from the changing room). But if there is one person I trust with style, it’s her, because she learnt everything from me ;)

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Tonight I upped my ante on Pinterest. I renamed all of my boards, weeded out accidental pins and enjoyed once again expressing myself through images. I’m so over Facebook. If you want me you will find me on Instagram or Pinterest.

So as I sit here flicking through images of floral jeans and African inspired living rooms, I’m stuffing my face with Parle G biscuits. They are good. They are cheap and all the little packages containing 4 biscuits in each one are attached together. If you want to buy one packet the vendor will rip off one packet. We buy in bulk. So when I go to the cupboard I reenact the part in the movie Grease where one of the girls brings out her album of photos from past boyfriends. That’s me with the cookies. A good swish follows as I whip out my concertina of cookies.

I only had a mango for dinner. Because it’s getting hot here! The heat stifles your appetite as well as your will to live. So by 10pm I’m getting peckish. Pinterest and Parle G, that’s what I’m doing right now.

You see, I’ve decided that more often than not, a person’s state of my mind can be explained through what they’re doing. I was asked a few months back how I was doing. I said “we’re doing crafts.” And as I wrote that into my phone on What’sApp, I suddenly felt like that explanation was enough. It totally summed up in three words the state of my mind, the mood I was in, the state of my household, the mood of my kids, in fact.

When I do crafts I have to be in the zone. I have to be calm, patient, quiet, pensive. I have to be organised, the house has to be somewhat put together and clean enough to warrant sitting down for a while. You can’t do crafts with distractions, not in my house (well to enjoy it at least). Doing crafts is peaceful.

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A few days ago I was sharing this with a friend who is going through a difficult time. She got it, and straight away knew her thing. She said “when I’m in that place I’m making homemade bread for my husband”. That’s it. She totally got it! Some days I wanna go deeper and further down under my duvet. I don’t wanna talk French, I don’t wanna shake hands. You won’t find me doing crafts on those days. I doubt you’d find my friend baking bread either. That’s OK though, right? There’s nothing wrong with making the kids play Snap instead of pulling out feathers, glitter, lollipop sticks and googly eyes for an epic card making fest. And there’s nothing wrong with getting your househelp to make the bread today. Shoot Snap would be the perfect remedy for days when you’re tired and irritable.

I do urge you to seek out help if the craft-making or bread-baking days never come; in other words, if you lose the sense of joy in the things you love to do the most.

So what are YOU doing? What’s your thing? How would people know you were doing well or whether you’re struggling through your days?

Hi how are you?
Fine thanks!

That’s the old me. The new me says,

Hi, what have you been doing lately?

Greetings are big here. I’m nervous that when I go back home the kind lady behind the check out at Saintsbury’s is gonna freak out when I introduce myself and shake her hand. Or the friendly guy at the chippy who gets a shock when I ask how his wife and kids are doing before I order my cod and chips to-go. *sigh*. Community. Being involved in each other’s lives, as much or as little as they/we want us/them to be. Are we losing it or has it already gone?

No, I didn’t do crafts today.

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In the Eyes of a Dog

I was reading some toilet-side material today…Now admit it: we all have it. I’ve always thought one can tell a lot about a person from their toilet-side reading. Some like National Geographic, some like People magazine, I even remember someone liking Readers Digest, most of us good Christian folk have the devotionals or the praying for your children booklets… Well, today I read the words:

“God take away my spirit of fear and replace it with love, love for myself instead of condemnation because I was your idea”.

That came out of a book called Tea Leaves. I have a really bad habit these days, of saying “I wish I was”. I wish I was a book person, I wish I enjoyed cooking, I wish I didn’t have grey hairs. Today’s I-wish is “I wish I was an animal person” because I feel passionate about one animal in particular and I wish my feelings for him could stretch out to all animals but they just don’t. I want to introduce you to Nero, our guard dog. This dog has my heart in a way unlike any other. I have SO much respect for this dog that I can, hand on my heart, say I would cry real tears for him if something bad were to happen. He is calm and gentle, he is like a good father. You can trust him but don’t mess with him, because he will bark in your face if you step on his tail–tried it. Nero literally sits directly outside our front door 90% of time, so stepping on his tail occurs more often than his tail would prefer. 20140104-115151-maustsontoast These feelings crept up on me one sunny day when Henry and I set out on a walk to our missions centre. We stepped out of our gate and Nero followed us. He really followed us. All the way: down streets, across streets and down and across more streets. I brushed it off as a curious dog thing (I know zero to nothing about dog habits). And when we entered into the office compound I didn’t think anything of him and if I did it was just slight concern of whether he could find his way home again. But lo and behold, when Henry and I left to return home, there was Nero! Waiting to escort us home. Yes! This guard dog goes above and beyond the call of duty. He had waited unattended for 30-40 minutes for us. And I know many of you are now starting to think I’m joking and being far too dramatic about my feelings for this dog. But I’m so not. One thing that became very clear, very quickly to me was that the local people here hate dogs. They are petrified of them. They will run! They will throw rocks. They will take off their shoe to protect themselves. I have to stifle my giggles sometimes because it can be hilarious watching a grown man pegging it down the road frantically, as Nero chases him at top speed. My heart does break when the children passing by scream in terror out of fear of being attacked. I wanna hold them and show them that Nero is a friend (at least to me and my friends), but I’m usually in my car. You see Nero likes to nip out at every opportunity. He is surveying the exterior situation, taking note of bodies, sounds and all possible threats. If Nero’s name wasn’t so short we would nickname him Bolt. He can run so crazy fast. This one time Drew took a moto taxi in to the centre of town. A few miles! And Nero ran along side him the whole way….and back! It wasn’t until I told a colleague this that I realised how dangerous for Nero this was and quickly swore to myself that as dedicated as he is we need to think of his safety, too. But bless his scruffy, wolf-like little coat off, he was panting so hard after that experience. 20140215-100516-maustsontoast Ah Nero….my own personal bodyguard. I have this funny sense of pride towards him. Because he knows my voice. Walking down the road as he weaves in and out of us, I feel like a super star with her entourage. People don’t approach me, they just call out from a distance. Still smiling and greeting the white woman with friendly gestures. But I feel, well honestly… special. Sometimes he gets too close and you see people getting nervous. And this is my fav moment, because all it takes is a quick “Nero! Nero!”, in a gentle French accent and he comes right back into ranks and trots alongside you once again. I’ve just never felt this way about an animal before. It isn’t even like I’ve grown up with Nero or had him since he was a puppy. I met this shaggy looking mutt roughly 7 months ago. And it wasn’t love at first sight because I’m so not an animal person. But it is as clear as day that, Nero fully understands his role as guard dog. I’m impressed with him to say the least. I know what you want to ask….what language do you speak to him in? Good question. Nero’s first and former family were German. And, no, I don’t speak a lick of German. Secondly, he lives in a predominantly spoken Fulfulde culture. And I speak two words of Fulfulde, hello and fine thank you. French then? Yes I do think he understands a lot of French. In fact, he probably understands a lot more than me….ah Nero….my hero. Sadly I don’t really talk to him. Knowing his name is enough for me. His actions speak volumes and I feel loved. That’s all we need. There is another side to Nero. A fierce, ferocious side. And it normally comes out after dark. If you aren’t in love with him as much as I am already then prepare yourself. Nero sits outside our house, in view from our bedroom, every single night (intruders beware!). When this dog sleeps, I don’t need to know because in my eyes he never sleeps. I can assure you though that when Nero hears something or sees something at 10pm at night and has what I call a barking fit, my adrenaline kicks in to high gear and my heart is pounding 10:1. We are safe, I feel safe. But we are aware of the threats. Our minds are never too far from thoughts of break-ins and worse. And I’m not naïve–if they want us, my furry hero probably doesn’t stand a chance. But he may buy us some time. We’ve been told 5 mins can save us. We take that barking seriously, let’s just say that. So there you have it. I’m learning more about myself everyday, but more importantly I’m learning of God’s intricate details. Nero was God’s idea, too. That intelligence, that faithfulness, that commitment. All things I am experiencing for the first time in the eyes of a dog. Animal lovers, I still don’t get you, I’m sorry. But I have found renewed respect for you.

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Thank You for Thinking of Us

At a recent New Testament dedication, community leaders presented our organization with the traditional hat you see pictured above. We gratefully received the quaint token of thanks and smiled at its peculiar appearance: dried mud construction interwoven with thin string, studded with two horns and a clump of hair, and conveniently equipped with a black chin strap. Our amusement began to fade when a patriarch took the microphone to explain its significance. He started by thanking our organization for assisting in the translation of the New Testament into his language. He then went on to add that they were presenting us with this helmet as a symbol of the fact that we had thought of them. We had thought of their need for God’s word in their own language and had come along side to help make it happen. “Thank you for thinking of us,” he said.

An unforgettable helmet in an unforgettable moment on the occasion of an unforgettable Word.