Going Dark

I’ve had this niggling sense for some time now. Perhaps longer of a time than I’d like to admit. But alas, I think it’s time to go quiet.
Social media is awesome, but all of us know it can be a bit too much, as well. Too much time suck. Too much distraction. Just a bit more than what we need sometimes.
Living away from, you know, everyone I’ve known (except that partner of mine) my whole life, I’ve been eager to be in touch, keen to update folks, anxious to hear from you as well. And that’s really good stuff. it’s always been a part of my DNA to love letter-writing, staying in touch. Since I moved around a bit growing up, there was always a best friend, or a boy, to whom I’d really like to stay in touch. At times we kept it up for years. Some of them I’ve now caught up with on Facebook. And what delights being in touch is.
But I find myself using Facebook, emails, blogging as a distraction, a time-filler. When I’m waiting for a khumbi, at the check-out counter, for people to show up at church, or just to fall asleep, I check emails, and apps, and all things social media. Dang smart phones! Blessings and curses.
There, like all things, is a fine balance to be struck. And strike it I’ll will. Or go dark trying.
Really, mainly, I find that feeling a pressure (self-imposed I think) to write, share photos, have a witty comment, or whatever else I do distracts me from my living. My eyes close to the people around me. My heart lives in the lives of people millions of miles away, instead of the ones I’m blessed to share this day with. (This tears me apart a bit, because your lives are splendid, and I love knowing you and about them.) And it bugs me. It furrows my brow.
I’ve been too busy writing about life instead of living it fully.
Perhaps I’ll take a break. To show myself I can. To re-imagine what I can do with in-between time. Maybe I’ll carry books with me again, or my journal. I could stand to pray in the in-between moments. Or meditate. Or heavens-forbid talk to someone. Maybe I’ll just find myself chuckling as I people watch. Or sitting with my quieting mind. Either way. It’s gotta be better than hunching over this little screen, scratching out stories on the smallest keyboard known to woman.
And if you DO get busy living your lives and forget about me, well hot-diggity. Go live your life. May we meet each other along the way. Outside of our computers, phones, teeny screens, and “profiles”. There’s a world out there. May I, we-if you like-, learn to live in it more fully. Gracefully. Gratefully. Wholly. And with reckless abandon.

*** Because as reckless as I like to be, I also enjoy boundaries. So I’ll try this for a month. Cutting the face booking to 5 minutes a week. Doing the email thang, but just when needed, and Skype. Let’s Skype. Phone calls are fun! Blog no-more for a bit will I. And I probably won’t write about it. Ahh maybe my journal will fill up, where the roses are only for me.***

Categories: Public Confession, Swaziland Updates | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Transformation Versus Exploitation: Why I Share Few Photos

Anyone perusing my blog or Facebook page might be surprised to find that I live and work in a rural Swazi community. They might be a bit surprised to learn I was a missionary. Because the photos are few and far-between. The anecdotal stories of so-and-so who is destitute, in need of prayer, or “won to Christ” are pretty much none-existent.

This is on purpose.

Whenever it comes time for a newsletter, I get stressed. What photo do I include this time? Do I need to go and pose something? When was the last time I took a photo of our “work”?  The answer is simple. I don’t take many photos. Yes, I take pictures when Sean and I have adventures. Or of my dog doing something hilarious or weird. Or a stunning sunset. But I’m not one for whipping out my smart phone and snapping pics of half-naked African children, then blasting it off to my “readers” and “supporters” so they might see what a cool life I lead. Call me crazy, but something feels a bit weird about that. A bit like exploitation. (and let’s be honest, I don’t like perpetuating ideas that all of Africa’s children are naked. Or that because I live in a country of 1.2 million Africans, I somehow know something about a gargantuan continent.)

This unease also crops up in story-telling. How do I share the inspiring stories of friends, church family, and community members that has challenged me, without it seeming like I’m reporting on a recent project? Why has such story-telling become some integral piece in missionary work? In ministry? 

On the one hand. I LOVE me a good story. Riveting. Challenging. Inspiring. Short, to the point, and poignant. Gets me off my chair and out into the world, wanting to give and be and love and share with reckless abandon. I assume others are like me in that. And so I aim for my story-telling to be one of picture-painting of what God is up to in my corner of the world. As means to glorify Him, change our perspectives on said corner, and stretch our imaginations to dream bigger and deeper for the next go-round.

Only recently, were words put to some of these uneasy thoughts & hesitations. Sean’s professor and our new friend gave him a book. Friendship at the Margin by Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl. I’m not sure my summary of their thoughts would give any fair justice, so I’ll encourage your own discovery, while sharing a few excerpts.

This book comes as a part in a series aimed towards reconciliation and “geared towards what it means to pursue hope in areas of brokenness.” Particularly, the two authors explore, well, friendships in those broken places. Their approach gives life and hope to the dreams Sean and I dream (and dream(ed) with many friends over the years and journeys) – an approach that says we don’t come as ministers “to” the poor, but as ministers “among” our neighbors. It’s not a “I have answers, let me teach you,” but “we are all broken, yet each have a piece to offer up for each other.”

When I moved here, I spoke a lot about how “I’d learn from my neighbors as much as they’d learn from me.” And “I don’t want to make it about me, but about us, about them.” While some of that truth remains, I’ve realized I’m actually quite naive to assume I had anything to offer. My brokenness runs deeps and affects much. I know about zilch related to community. I talk too much. Listen too little. Am fickle and prone to emotions that dictate my failing actions. In short, I’m a hot mess. Trust me on this. Trust me.

And so when I see someone down the road from me doing something awesome, something that looks a lot like Jesus (whether they planned it like that or not), I get excited. And I want to share. I want to shout their praises. To bear witness to their incredible humanity, their divine grace and generosity, and humble spirit. I want to dance around them and clap my hands together with glee. So why is it, I feel compelled to run to my computer, and type out this victory for others, outside our community to read and glee in? Am I that terrible that celebrating with my neighbor?

Actually. I’m afraid of being a neighbor. Afraid of getting too involved. Afraid of getting in awkward situations. Ashamed that I want to say, “no” more than, “yes.” Sometimes, I’m not even sure what it looks like to be a friend to someone. Someone who’s not a project, potential-convert-to-a-certain-life-or-belief. Someone who’s not exactly like me. Or someone who is exactly like me. Being outside of what I’ve known, and afraid to mess-it-up often paralyzes me… but that, dear readers of my exploited heart, might take us in another direction.

For now, know that my lack of photos is intentional. And the ones I share are usually with permission from the subjects involved. I never want my friends to be the brunt of a campaign to get me more money, praise, jewels-in-a-crown, or notice. Cuz friends don’t exploit friends. And if I’m exploiting them, then we’re not really friends. And if I’m not friends with my neighbors, then gosh, what am I doing?

The greater the distance [between career missionaries and the local population] & the more complex the work, the harder it can be to assume that local relationships matter, that they might be interesting or satisfying, or that they are important to one’s own relationship to God. Such distancing also makes it harder to resist turning people into projects and drives us to find our support and identity in our friendships with other missionaries and coworkers” (page 33).


       May the distance be swallowed by hearts that chase after a King and Kingdom not of this world. May the work be simple. May it be clear that relationships matter to me, that I’m interested, and that these neighbors of mine are important to my own relationship to God. May these friends never be projects and may my language and story-telling exemplify friendships that transform us all. 

How can photos or stories be shared without exploiting the subjects? How have you seem the line be smeared? done right?




Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Public Confession, Social Justice, Swaziland Updates | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Impressions from a Private Maternity Hospital

Several months ago, I contacted the Genesis Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. Before my invitation came to volunteer at RFM hospital here in Swaziland, I was concerned about getting into the ward and gaining experience. For my almost-there-doula certification, I need signatures from doctors and nurses, moms or dads basically confirming that I really attended births and wasn’t a crazy person, but you know, actually helped during the labor. I hoped Genesis would allow me to shadow, even attend births as a doula. 

Lucky was I, when the Head of Nursing said, “Yes. Pick some dates, and we’ll get you into as many births as possible.” 

Pretty excited to rub elbows with leading midwives in the area, I headed to Joburg last week. I learned that Genesis Clinic is a Private Maternity hospital that upholds the truths that every woman’s body was created for labor, and that given a supportive, safe environment a desiring mom can healthfully deliver with minimal medical interventions. They have two doulas per shift, whom I shadowed. 

Their doulas help run the ward – making beds for incoming patients, changing bedding after a delivery, warming food for families; stocking cupboards and shelves for the midwives’ easy access during birth; packing birth boxes, suture sets, and delivery packs. In addition to running many of the behind-the-scenes-operations, the doulas, well, doula. When a laboring mom comes in, they take turns offering their services to the private midwives and families. I found that some families were very open and accepting of doulas coming in to help, while others felt confident and relied on their partners’ for the nurturing care and love. Either way, I was happy to hear of so many women feeling supported and cared for during their labor. 

While there I witnessed my first C-section, which was interesting. Sheesh! I always knew Cesarean recovery was rough, but now I more fully understand why. Let’s just say at one point, I saw the surgeon pulling the uterus out of the woman’s body, turning it around to check for any abnormalities, nicks, or concerns, then re-inserting said uterus back into place. No wonder C-section moms feel like a bus ran into them! (And note: The uterus being taken out is both completely safe and normal protocol for all surgeons.)

I also got to help a mom who delivered her baby in water. My first water birth. Very wonderful in fact. The midwife did a fabulous job of creating a warm, caring environment. At one point, I longed for the stress-balls I usually carry in my doula bag. I watched the mom squeeze my hands so intensely that I genuinely wondered if she could break them. I found myself breathing and trying to relax right there with her, even as I guided her breathing. Thankfully all digits were accounted for in the end! 

I know South Africans are hospitable, kind, and welcoming in about every circumstance I’ve met them. The staff, midwives, and doulas at Genesis were no different. Some surprising things between their working environment and others I’ve been in were: 

1) There was no need for “political correctness” and the accompanying tip-toeing I often found in the USA. Staff spoke openly about their faith, beliefs, prayer lives, ethnicities, and encouraged both clients and other staff-members in those ventures. 

2) Their team jived fairly well. Gather together a staff of 30+ female-only, and I anticipated serious drama. Sure there were a few complaints here and there, but all-together the women worked tirelessly to provide excellent care to their patients. Once when one midwife rushed into the nurses station and yelled, “Help in resus,” (short for resuscitation) every mid-wife jumped up and ran to the NICU. Their quick, focused care ensured the newborn quickly regained breath and returned to its mother and father promptly. 

3) It’s wonderful and life-changing to be involved in birth. Even more so in a birth where mom (and partner) understand and cherish her body, and where informed decision-making is encouraged and supported by the midwives. Magnificent. 

One midwife whose spirit really spoke to mine said it well. “If your trip here has only shown you that indeed there are people and medical staff left who value natural birth. We are still holding the sacred space of birth and fighting for it everyday. If that’s all you learn here, then let it serve you well and fuel your charge onwards.” 

May it be so. 

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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