Monday, August 15, 2016

full circle

When I first arrived in Cape Town, I was thrown in the deep end. Still recovering from jet lag and only beginning to experience culture shock, HOPE Africa sent me to a Healing of Memories workshop at the Christian Brothers' Centre - a Catholic monastery and retreat center in Stellenbosch.

Looking back, I realize it was good that I had this experience early - before I had context and biases and stereotypes. At the time, it was hard. I was staying in a dorm room with roughly 30 women who were clearly excited to be there and showed this by chattering loudly into the late hours of the night and again early in the morning, leaving me about 5-6 hours of sleep in my state of exhaustion. While the sessions were led in English for the few of us who did not speak Afrikaans, there were plenty of moments when I had no idea what people were saying around me. A confessed gangster and drug addict approached me on the first night and told me that he took his first life at 14 and asked simply, "How do you move on from that?" I'm sorry to say that I still don't have a good answer, but I truly saw God in him that weekend. I broke down crying during a video about Fr Michael Lapsley and Apartheid, and I felt like it wasn't my place to be shaken because it wasn't personal to me. I understand now that others weren't crying because it was just part of their history. They'd heard about it so often but rarely in ways that moved them anymore.
Tree of Religions at the Christian Brothers Centre

I explored an interfaith garden there that informed my theology with beautiful living metaphors, setting the stage for the interfaith work I didn't know I would be doing. I journaled and reflected. I took in the beauty all around me. I felt held.

Two weeks before I left, I found myself once again in that space (although I admit this time my room assignment was a bit more comfortable). A group of Americans, South Africans, and Batswana came together for Lift Every Voice - a pilgrimage exploring the theme of reconciliation. During that time, I had the opportunity to meet and hear from Fr Michael Lapsley, the founder of the Institute for the Healing of Memories.

When I told Father Lapsley what I'd been doing in South Africa, I didn't use the word "missionary." I never used this word because it carries so much baggage and simply doesn't resonate with my soul, as much as I initially tried to embrace it since YASC did. Nevertheless, he said, "You know you're not a missionary here right?" Unsure of his meaning behind this, I played along: "Okay...?" He continued, "Your mission work begins when you return home." The true mission work is bearing witness and giving testimony to the sacred stories and truths I encountered. It is allowing myself to be changed forever and to apply those learnings in the ways I am able.

I've been back in the States a little over three weeks now, and I've been putting off this post. Admittedly I've been busy:  two weeks at home with family and friends followed by a transition to Boston. But mostly I felt a lot of pressure about my final one. Would it be profound and beautiful enough? What should I write about? What should I say? During Lift Every Voice, I met many other amazing humans including one of the men who killed Amy Biehl and now works for her foundation, an incredible actor writing and performing the kinds of stories that aren't usually told, a woman who attended the Highlander Folk School as a child, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. One such amazing person was a woman we called Momma Bear. I learned many things from her, but I will never forget her telling me to stop "should-ing" on myself. "It's not okay to should on yourself or to should on other people," she said. In other words, it's not okay to obsess so much over what you feel you should be doing that you aren't giving yourself grace and freedom and love. I was delighted this week to hear a second-year fellow with Life Together use that same language. I'm committed to working on it.

I was trying to wait until I'd had time to process. But the fact is that I will be processing this year for the rest of my life.

I wrote about learning to leave well when I first arrived. I wrote about culture shock. Now I've come full circle, experiencing the reverse. I was incredibly sad to leave, and I feel like a piece of me is still in Cape Town. But I've also been thriving in my new home and community in Boston, and I feel so strongly that this is exactly the right place for me at this season of my life and journey.

I need to empty my glass so I am able to receive. I need to let go so I can be fully present. So I'll hold on to what I can use now. I'll let go of what is harmful. And I'll save the rest for the times when I can retrieve and process it along the way.

Thank you for following me in this journey. Thank you for your invisible network of support. Thank you to those who made my year meaningful. Thank you again to those who made it possible.

Wishing y'all love and light and wonder.

Had to share this photo - still in shock that I got to meet Desmond Tutu!

Monday, June 13, 2016

bringing home ubuntu

It is hard to believe that it is already mid-June. I apologize for my absence recently. I've been in and out of the office and got to do some traveling. I'll give some highlights soon. For now, I want to give you an update on what's next.

I'll be leaving South Africa on July 20 - roughly five weeks from now. I will not ever be ready to say goodbye to this place, but I fully intend to find my way back. And I'm fully committed to leaving well, as I wrote about when I first arrived.

When I return, I'll have two weeks at home and will then head to Boston! There I'll be living in an intentional community called Life Together for ten months. I've wanted to live in an intentional community ever since my high school youth leader BJ told me about them. He compared it to the community of apostles in the beginning of Acts, where they "held all things in common" and basically put the community above the individual. 

In American society, this is radically counter-cultural. The pervasive myth of the American Dream, tired trope of rugged individualism, and repeated calls to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" result in many struggling to understand the value of this type of experiment.

In South Africa, there is another philosophical ideal:  ubuntu. It means "I am because you are." It means that when our neighbor hurts, we hurt too. It means that everyone is our neighbor. It means that we are all connected, and that when we ignore or deny those connections, we sever part of what makes us human. Now of course, not everyone lives into this ideal, and Western imperialism and globalization have caused society to look more and more like what we find in the States. But I believe in ubuntu, and I've experienced it in all sorts of small ways. And I want to try to bring it home.

In addition to community life, we will each work 32 hours a week with a non-profit or church partner on social justice issues. We will spend the remaining work week together learning about activism, community organizing, and creating social change. Our housing, utilities, insurance, and transportation are all covered, and we receive a modest stipend for other expenses. (Thankfully I do not have to raise another $10k this year.)

Some of you are probably wondering when I'll get a "real" job making "real" money. I don't fault you for that. In return I ask of you:  What is filling your soul right now? Are you passionate about what you're doing? Do you feel challenged? When is the last time your world was turned completely upside-down? If you knew all of your basic needs were covered and had no obligations, what would you do?

In the meantime, here is a blog post by one of this year's Life Together fellows. It brought me to tears. And the Oscar Romero prayer found at the end of this newsletter is a beautiful reminder as I finish out my year here. This community is already filling my soul in so many ways, and I think it is exactly what I need during what is sure to be a difficult transition.

Light and love,

finding a church home

It can be incredibly difficult to find a spiritual home in a new place - especially if you're as picky about where you worship as I am. Some YASCers are placed with a parish, but since I work for a provincial organization, I was free to attend anywhere I wanted (or to sleep in on Sundays if I preferred). For a few months, I did some church hopping and felt a little like Goldilocks. Something was always not quite right for me.

I realized that I was spoiled by All Saints which its beautiful architecture, high church liturgy, impressive choir, moving sermons, and welcoming community. While I wasn't looking for something exactly the same, I wanted somewhere where I felt welcomed, challenged, and inspired. I wanted a church that could entice me from my bed on Sunday mornings. After receiving a recommendation by three different people, I found myself in Central Methodist Mission on the bustling Greenmarket Square one Sunday early this year.

When I walked in, I saw this mirror just beyond the baptismal font. It reads "you are beautiful... and so is your enemy." With that statement I was simultaneously affirmed and challenged.

I'd heard people speak about Alan Storey and his incredible work and prophetic voice. He has lived up to this expectation with consistently powerful sermons. But the assistant minister Michelle, an American with a melodic Mississippi twang, truly drew me in.

Michelle is one of those special humans who makes you feel instantly comfortable with her, like you've known her for years. She has a warmth and energy about her, a way of letting you know that she is truly listening, fully absorbing every detail. She says her favorite aspect of ministry is pastoral care; it shows.

One of Alan's greatest ministries is Manna and Mercy, a weekend workshop that guides participants through the Bible in a way you've never heard it before. Through historical context, careful exegesis, and "the lens of Jesus' life," Alan makes this radical message accessible to a wide audience.

CMM recently welcomed visitors from the Eastern Cape - pensioners who were protesting at Parliament after being denied payments owed to them. They slept in the sanctuary for two months, and it was incredible for the space to be used in this way - as a literal sanctuary for those seeking it. Their presence during worship on Sundays was an incredible gift - with powerfully translated messages in both English and isiXhosa and lively singing and joyful thanksgiving.

I've been incredibly grateful to find myself here and for the wonderful people I've met through it. You can read more about it here and find audio for Sunday sermons here (I especially recommend March 25: Excruciating Vulnerability and June 12: Tears of Solidarity).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jesus didn't come to die

I do not believe Jesus died for our sins.

For many of you, that may be a shocking statement. Bear with me.

I find no sufficient evidence to support substitutionary atonement. Believing in it allows us to let humanity off the hook for killing him, allows us to feel something other than anger and guilt.

Last year on Good Friday I couldn’t help but make the connection between Jesus’s crucifixion and the many murders of black and brown people in America that had taken place in the last year, the many court cases ending in “no indictment.” I posted this sermon by Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread, as a poignant vocalization of many of my feelings. It's worth the read.

This year I’m thinking of the revolutions around the world including #BlackLivesMatter in America and #RhodesMustFall in South Africa. I’m thinking of the treatment protesters receive:  the tear gas, rubber bullets, brutal beatings, and illegal arrests. I’m thinking of all the terrorists attacks and how they only make headlines when white people die. I’m thinking of politics in America and what those at the margins - refugees, immigrants, POC, queers - have at stake. And I weep as Jesus wept.

Jesus came to live. He came to be the hands and feet of God. He came to show us a better way and to free us from our dogma. Jesus was killed because he posed a threat to those in power. He was killed because he stood up for the marginalized, because he dared to challenge the status quo, because he believed in a better way. He got angry, he yelled, and he flipped tables. He rolled with “the wrong crowd.” He was dirty and homeless. We would kill him all over again. We kill people everyday for reminding us of him, for refusing to silently accept the way things are as the way they must be.

By insisting that Jesus came to die, we are like Pilate washing the blood off our hands, claiming it had to be this way, that it was God’s will. No indictment. Not guilty. We are guilty. We had divinity walking among us, and we killed him because he didn’t say what we wanted to hear.

There is nothing inherently good about Good Friday. The good news is that Jesus came to free us from our sin - not through his death but through his life. The good news is that he forgave those who killed him. The good news is that he believed humanity is worth saving, that we are capable of more. The good news is the hope that comes with Easter morning - the persistent hope that love can triumph in the end. This is the hope that keeps me going when I am overwhelmed by oppressive systems, pervasive inequality, and the complicity of myself and others.

This Good Friday don’t wash the blood off your hands. Let's honor Jesus’s life by continuing his work in the world, holding out that radical bit of Easter hope that in the battle between competing forces - in the world and in our own hearts - love will win.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

the real voyage of discovery

I’ve been meaning to post about camp for two months now, but since we are having a follow-up retreat this weekend, now seems like the right time to reflect more on that experience.

Soon after we arrived here, Iggy recruited Thomas and me as counsellors for an interfaith camp he helps run. I was really excited to be a part of it since I’m interested in interfaith dialogue, though I had no idea what to expect. There were a few training and planning meetings throughout November and December to get to know the other facilitators and learn more about the camp. I really enjoyed getting to know the rest of camp staff and instantly felt safe and comfortable with them. In fact the first weekend we met was my birthday, and they got me a cake and sang to me in all of their languages - English, isiXhosa, and Afrikaans. We put a lot of thought and time into planning sessions and activities, but we also had a lot of fun together in the process.

Staff and campers at Mizpah
GOAL (Giving Opportunities to Aspiring Leaders) Camp is sponsored by the GOAL Trust and focuses on developing a new generation of leaders across backgrounds, cultures, and religions. This year’s camp took place in January at Mizpah Youth Camp in beautiful Grabouw - about an hour from Cape Town. 

I loved the t-shirt quote we chose for camp this year (okay I suggested it) by Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." That's really a good summary of what GOAL Camp does for these kids. It opens their eyes and expands their worldview (also illustrated by this year's theme: A Whole New World).

My co-facilitator Nyaki and I with our PK crew -
Zulpha, Irfaan, and Sisipho
We were divided into dialogue groups which met once or twice each day to discuss things a bit more in depth in a safe space. These are also the groups we were in for competitions, team-building, and cleaning after meals. Each team was given a color for bead bracelets, and ours was light blue which one of our members explains represents peace. Some names were thrown around; someone said “peacekeepers” which was immediately turned down because of its implications (like in Hunger Games). Ultimately the team agreed on Peace Killers. I know this sounds a little odd, but they understood that often you have to lose your sense of peace and comfort in order to grow, that we sometimes must challenge the status quo, that we must never achieve peace without justice. We called ourselves PK for short, and they refused to tell anyone what it meant until the talent show (we did a “performance art” piece involving the painting and eventual ripping of a piece sign, followed by a beautiful explanation of their choice in name). I loved getting to know this group and am so grateful that they trusted us enough to share themselves. I still wear my bracelet everyday.

Each day of camp had a theme: Identity, Perspectives, Human Rights and Faith, Responsible Citizenship, and Leadership. While I won’t go into detail about every day or activity, I’ll share some that stand out for me and seemed to impact the participants as well.

We played our own version of this Privilege Walk that was a bit more contextualized for these South African students. Instead of taking a step forward or backward, they picked up a paperclip each time they could answer “true” for a statement. The activity was done in silence, and we debriefed in our dialogue groups afterward.

Discussing the difference between dialogue and debate
Iggy and I were in charge of Paper Bags, an activity designed to help the students confront stereotypes and biases. We placed paper bags around a room with a name or word, and participants were instructed to silently write the first word or phrase that came to mind and place it in the corresponding bag. The people and ideas included South African political figures like President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, issues like teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, identities like sexual orientation and Muslim, international figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Donald Trump, and many others. The next day we wrote all the responses onto posters and had the participants again silently walk around the room reading, this time writing their reactions in their journals. We had some great conversations sparked by this activity, as well as powerful emotions. Some remarked that they were surprised at what they had written down, saying that often the first thing that came to mind wasn't necessarily what they believed, illustrating the influence the media and others have on our minds.

Leading participants in forming a social contract
During our planning sessions before camp, I learned that every year previously there had been a “gender night” which was essentially a “gendered activity night.” Girls painted their nails; guys built a fire. I’m not quite clear on the specifics, but you get the idea. It felt like at worst a perpetuation of terrible stereotypes and at best a missed opportunity. Luckily, most of the staff agreed and all were amenable to change. Ruth and Thomas planned an amazing discussion that allowed campers to address the ways in which we are all hurt by sexism. A few of them were visibly changed by it, and at the very least, we were able to start the conversation.

We also played the Help Game, a frustrating game in which participants are blindfolded in the dark and led to a rope forming a circle. They are instructed to 1) keep both hands on the rope, 2) find the exit, and 3) to ask for help at any time. What they don't realize (and what some realize sooner than others) is that asking for help is the exit. Probably the most intense activity, however, is Star Power - a game in which participants are divided into three groups forming a hierarchy most obviously reminiscent of Apartheid but also mirroring the everyday and pervasive inequalities to which we grow accustomed and apathetic.

While the heavy stuff was important, we also did what you’d expect at a summer camp. We had song sessions, crafts, team-building games, bonfires, capture the flag, swimming, hiking, and a talent show. We taught the campers to play Cups, and we broke several plastic cups in the process (leading to the eventual ban of the cup game). We offered activity time, and I got to guide a group of teenagers through an intro to yoga!

The gorgeous nearby rock pools

We wrapped up every night with cabin time, sharing highs and lows for each day and just chatting with each other. I had three amazing young women in my cabin, and I loved getting to know them and hearing their thoughts. Each of them impressed me in some way. One reminded me a lot of myself, and I appreciated her open heart and willingness to be vulnerable with me. One began the week whispering each time she spoke - which wasn’t often - and I got to watch her find her voice and express herself. And one challenged the camp with her willingness to offer a different perspective, pushing others to think more deeply.

Staff meetings happened every night around 10:30pm and every morning at 6:30am, meaning we got very little sleep. Senior staff made sure we were rested and functioning though, encouraging us to take naps if we weren’t leading an activity at the time. When a stomach bug went around, everyone picked up the slack for each other. It was one of the most supportive working communities I’ve experienced.

Even though I served in a facilitative role, I learned just as much as the campers from this process. I was introduced to new ideas, gained intentional listening skills, developed leadership and teamwork abilities, and learned more about Islam. I was so inspired by this week, and I believe more than ever in the importance of this type of work.

One of the best parts of camp was being a part of the staff family. The senior staff and other facilitators were supportive, loving, thoughtful, and fun. We’ve shared laughter and deep chats, and they are some of the people I feel closest to in this country. I'm incredibly grateful for their continued friendship.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

playing tourist and tour guide

After Christmas two other YASCers - Jacob serving in Springs, South Africa (up near Pretoria and Jo'burg) and Andy serving in Dodoma, Tanzania - joined Thomas and me at Anhouse for a week of vacation and fun. It was so nice to see some familiar faces and hear about their experiences beyond what I've read on their blogs and social media. 

It was also nice to have a week away from the office to enjoy more of what Cape Town has to offer. Since I jumped right into my work here, I haven't felt like a tourist very much. Being with three other Americans and doing all the touristy activities here, it was impossible not to feel that way. But as the only one who lives in Cape Town, I also played the role of tour guide - using my limited knowledge to help us make plans and to share cultural learnings.

On the day after Andy and Jacob arrived, we decided to hike up Table Mountain. I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge at the time, but everyone was keen and I knew we might not get another good chance. It ended up being well worth it - both for the sense of accomplishment and the amazing view.

After a long hike to the top, we were happy to take the cable car back down even though it meant waiting in a long queue. I was surprised by the drastic weather changes as we shifted elevation. It was incredibly hot getting started, but we got lost in a cloud of fog and cold as we reached the gorge. We emerged from the fog at the top to find sunshine, and we were able to look down at the fog rolling beneath us. When fog forms just on top of Table Mountain, it's referred to as its tablecloth.

For Tuesday and Wednesday we bought a 2-day pass for City Sightseeing Cape Town, known as the Red Bus Tours. There are four routes: a Yellow downtown route, a Red city route, a Blue peninsula tour, and a Purple wine tour. You can hop on and off at any stop along the routes.

We started with the wine tour. Tim, the other YASCer in South Africa serving in Grahamstown, joined us along with his girlfriend Henley who was visiting at the time. We hopped off at a popular winery and restaurant Groot Constantia and enjoyed touring the winery, learning its process, and tasting its wine - followed by a delicious lunch at its restaurant. It was great seeing Tim and getting to know Henley. 

Group selfie at the vineyard

We changed routes, and Jacob, Andy, Thomas, and I took the Blue peninsula tour back to the city, learning lots of fun facts and history along the way. The next day we did the Red and Yellow routes in the city, and the recordings were really interesting and informative. Andy and I visited the District Six Museum while Jacob and Thomas toured the Castle of Good Hope. That evening the crew (minus a very sleepy Thomas) caught the sunset at Signal Hill, one of my favorite things about Cape Town.

Jacob enjoying the sunset
On New Year's Eve we started at the Two Oceans Aquarium, with an impressive focus on environmental conservation and education. There were also some adorable penguins. We had lunch next door at the V&A Food Market, a phenomenal collection of local vendors serving basically every dish you could want. Jacob and Andy tried to get me to eat caterpillar with them, but I wasn't quite as brave as they were. We also explored the Watershed, a large space for talented South African artists and designers to sell their work.

That evening we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to watch Jeremy Loops, a phenomenal South African music artist, perform a New Years Eve concert. He put on a great show and got the crowd dancing and singing along. It was a great way to ring in the new year (and avoid the traffic downtown)! You can find Jeremy's music on Spotify or YouTube, so you should definitely check him out!

Jeremy's less conventional instrument
On New Year's Day we decided it'd be a great idea to take the train to Simon's Town to visit the penguins at Boulder Beach. It ended up being a mild disaster. I've never seen so many people in such a small space in my life as were crammed into the train that day. We also didn't realize that the train wasn't going all the way to Simon's Town until we found ourselves stranded three stations away in an unfamiliar area - too far out to catch a cab. We were fine, but it was certainly stressful. We decided to give up on the penguins and take the train back to the beach in Muizenburg. Of course we didn't realize that every Capetonian had the same idea. When we saw the crowd on the beach, Andy reminded us of how God told Abraham that his children would outnumber the grains of sand. This certainly seemed to hold true on the beach that day. The ocean on that side of the Peninsula is warm compared to the frigid Atlantic waters on the other side so despite the setbacks we managed to spend a couple of nice hours there before heading back to clean up for dinner.

The next morning we went to the Neighbourgoods Market, taking place each Saturday at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. It is home to delicious foods and local art, clothing, and other goods.

January 2 is known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar, Afrikaans for "second new year." Each year the streets are blocked downtown for the Kaapse Klopse, or the Cape Minstrel Carnival. The festival has its roots in slavery, as the ancestors of the coloured population were given the day after New Years as a day of rest, forcing them to celebrate the new year on the second rather than the first of January. The parade tends to start much later than scheduled and this year was no exception (we waited for three hours), but the Kaapse Klopse can be seen marching all day in colorful costumes and face paint, dancing and playing music.

That evening we went to Marco's African Place, a popular local restaurant in Bo Kaap, where we had some traditional cuisine and interesting conversations, enjoying our last night together in what proved to be a short week.

These are just some highlights. We also visited a rooftop pool, a Mesopotamian restaurant, malls, and a movie theater (the boys were dying to see Star Wars). I realized how lucky I am as the only one who has access to these luxuries any time I want. While I was startled at first by locals who take Cape Town's beauty for granted, I realized that I am now guilty of this sometimes too and it was refreshing to see it through others' eyes.

Looking back on 2015 it occurred to me that some of my dearest friends are those who I met in the last year. I've only spent less than a month total with most of the other YASCers, but we've already shared these amazing and challenging experiences. Even though we are alone in our placements, we have this amazing network of friends all over the world. I'm so glad that I could ring in 2016 with some of them, and I'm looking forward to seeing what this year will hold. 

Last year was overall probably the best one of my life, and I'm grateful for everyone who played a role in making it great. Thank you. I know it's belated, but happy new year! I hope your 2016 is filled with laughter, love, and growth.

xo, Lace

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

holiday in the sun

In my last post I wrote about the homesickness I felt leading up to the holiday season. It was a bit more difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year, but I eventually did. Anna made a Christmas playlist and sent it to me on Spotify, I visited the mall at V&A Waterfront with its giant Christmas tree and Santa’s workshop and impressive lights, I attended a Carols by Candlelight service a friend was performing in.

The mall at V&A Waterfront goes all out.
On my last day in the office, I got to go into the field with some colleagues to deliver drought relief packages to members of a small Afrikaans-speaking parish. (Shout out to Episcopal Relief and Development for helping to make that possible!) While most of them didn’t speak much English, I learned a few new phrases including Geseende Kersfees or “Merry Christmas.” I also saw how relieved and grateful they all were. One woman held my hands and spoke in Afrikaans for a full five minutes while I nodded and pretended to understand. I did get the gist though; she said baie dankie (meaning “thank you very much”) probably thirty times and wished me a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I realized that this is why I’ve been able to go into a community as an outsider and say “HOPE Africa” and instantly be welcomed. To many people, HOPE Africa has felt like an answered prayer, like the very hands and feet of Jesus, a sign of hope when they needed it the most.

Before I left home, I was connected with Anne Chenoweth who lived with her ex-husband as missionaries for seven years in South Africa at the end of Apartheid. Her daughter Anna-Grace was born here and moved back to Cape Town a few months ago. Anne was visiting her for Christmas, and they graciously invited me to spend Christmas Eve with them at the hotel where they were staying. We chatted and caught up by the rooftop pool, retreating to the sauna when the Cape Town wind got a bit chilly. It was nice having a relaxing girls' day and trading stories and learning more about how much Cape Town has changed in 20 years. They are those kinds of people who make you feel like part of the family right away, and I’m so grateful.

Thomas arrived from Hawston that evening, and we went together to the Christmas Eve mass at St. George’s Cathedral. It was a really beautiful service with all the “bells and smells,” and it dawned on me then that it was, in fact, Christmas. Desmond Tutu was in attendance, and while I didn’t get to talk to him, I was about three feet away from him at one point which was enough to make me completely starstruck. We also got to speak with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who I’d met briefly in Sewanee last May. He asked us about our placements and thanked us for our work.

On Christmas Day Thomas and I returned to the Cathedral for another service. We got there early and took some photos. Afterwards we went to Reverend Rachel Mash’s home for lunch. Rachel heads Green Anglicans, the environmental office of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which shares an office building with HOPE Africa. It was super sweet of her to think of us and invite us to spend Christmas there. Her children Shawn and Kira are both in University so it was nice meeting and chatting with them. A couple they know spent Christmas with us as well. They are originally from America but have lived in South Africa for the last 20 years; the husband works as a geology professor at UCT, and they are a hoot. Lunch was completely delicious, and we played a hilarious game of Dirty Santa (also known as White Elephant or Secret Santa depending on where you live).

The roses in the garden at St. George's Cathedral reminded
me of the Christmas hymn "Lo! how a rose e'er blooming"
and also made a nice Instagram photo
The first couple weeks of December were the hardest. I didn’t know where I’d be spending Christmas until just a week or so before, which was a little daunting, and since I didn’t have cold weather and constant Christmas music on the radio and countless parties to attend, it felt like Christmas snuck up on me. I was afraid it would pass by unnoticed or that I’d feel lonely and isolated. I met an American a few months ago who told me she’d lived here for 15 years and Christmas never felt like Christmas to her which really worried me. It all sounds silly now though.

I just needed to have a little faith because it worked out to be one of my favorite Christmases. Of course I was missing my family, but I enjoyed getting to see them all gathered via Skype. My Christmas resembled the first Christmas more than any others. It was warm, for starters. It was about pilgrimage, hospitality, finding God and grace in unexpected places, and strangers coming together as friends. While I did receive a few gifts, this year was less about giving and receiving presents and more about being present with others and in this place. And of course, it wasn’t too shabby spending the holiday soaking up sun by the pool either.

Nativity at the Cathedral
I hope that wherever you found yourself this Christmas season, you found love, warmth, and light.