Cookies, Cake, and all Things Networking

Cookies were my link into the Labor Ward. Yup. More than one year of prayer and dreaming and trainings and planning. It was cookies that got the dream realized. (ok and a lot of God!)

Homemade baked goods are everyone’s weakness, including mine. Previous blog posts have covered this topic several times about the woes of my love for sugar, yet desire to surmount it. [Note: My sister Gail Madill has seriously stumbled into some ways to battle the sugar cravings. Life-changing stuff. See her Facebook page or website.] Needless to say, sugary, sweet goodies are my weakness.

They are the kryptonite I repeatedly return to. My love for them is the cause of a few extra pounds, and headaches, or sugar comas. They make me do crazy things like eat half a bowl of brownie mix or have three pieces of cake for breakfast. There are few (I actually am struggling to think of another right now) vices that have captivated and controlled me quite so wholly as this one. In short, you might say it’s my greatest weakness.

Yet. Yet The Lord has seen fit to use my greatest weakness for Something. First, I saw it in the Labor Ward invitation. And now, it came in the shape of a cake.

A few weeks ago, our teeny little church planned for visitors. Some folks from our “mother” church were coming for a meeting concerning church matters – like committee and service times.  Our little group of usually five families churned out quite a production. We gathered before church to cook rice, recently-slaughtered chickens, cabbage stew, spinach stew, and make beet salad. In my mind, we needed a cake. And I had a mix at home I had needed to use at home, plus, a newly purchased oven. There was 1.5 hrs left before the visitors came and everything was stewing along nicely; so I proposed it, and the ladies agreed.

I popped home, and whipped up two lopsided cakes (apparently the oven wasn’t level!) in no time. Splashing some icing on top, I piled the covered cakes on a platter, hoisted it to my head (for this IS how you carry things to church) and walked the five minutes back to the building.

Shock and awe could describe people’s reactions. The visitors. The church body. Women. Men. Children. No one expected a cake. No one bakes cakes or has ovens (save that one family with a cob oven) or money for the special cake ingredients. They didn’t even realize that sometimes you make cakes from box-mixes, so I wasn’t even sure what type of flour, or how much bicarbonate of soda went into the mix. Who would have thought?!

Well, the surprise wasn’t over.

Before I came to Swaziland, one dear friend Lindsay thought of me during her Nurse Practitioner class. In deciding which country’s health profile to study, she chose Swaziland and sent me her magnum opus. I read it (okay MOST of it!), and was intrigued to find that the most compelling studies revealed three factors in the lives of HIV negative girls and young adults. It seemed that if these three factors existed in girls’ lives, they were HIV negative and well-educated:

1) a strong relationship with their mother. Makes sense. We learn our self-worth from our moms. How we expect men to treat us, how we think about our bodies, and even our attitudes towards relationships and sex come from our mothers’ teachings.

2) a reliable food supply. If we’re hungry, we’re less likely to perform well in school. We’re more likely to look for someone to feed us. In Swaziland, older men take advantage of this and become sugar daddies giving pocket money for food, clothes, or phones in exchange for sex from school-age girls.

3) education. Ah. The beginning and ending of most change in society. With knowledge comes girls’ awareness they can do more than sell fruit or their bodies. They learn to think fast and on their feet, and even learn about their bodies, how actually someone becomes pregnant, and how to debunk myths and lies told by oppressing men and mothers-in-laws. Plus reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatics and high school diplomas, actually land you better-paying jobs. More food security. And on the cycle goes. It’s also observed that the higher a woman’s education, the less children she has. Greater are those children’s chances of food security and fees for schooling. Hence a broken cycle. Hope.

After reading Lindsay’s findings, I got inspired. Help young girls feel good about themselves, have enough food, and stay in school. Changed lives. I imagined The Lord connecting me with local women who were also passionate about community change. I’d encourage these women and they’d draw in the girls. We’d help them make extra pocket money without sex, or counsel their families on skills in finding work, etc. On and on my dreams went to work with young girls before they ever became pregnant.

And then time moved on. We moved to Swaziland, started learning language, got settled. Eventually, I started working as a doula. Started seeing too many of these girls that needed caught and helped before they got to me. I hadn’t forgotten the initial dream of working with young girls, but had rather started in with young girls and women who were pregnant. Definitely a way into women’s lives, but not exactly prevention of teenage pregnancies or school drop-outs. Feeling heavy with a few stories in particular, I recommitted myself to open eyes and praying for and talking about this idea with The Lord and other women.

A few weeks rolled by, after I started these prayers for open eyes, companions on this journey, and ideas of how to motivate Swazi women in this epic trek towards empowering young girls. Then the visitors came to the church, and I baked my meager, ugly cakes. Later that week, two young women came walking up the driveway. After chatting and asking if I could help them, they responded, “Yes. We wanted to see if you could teach us catering.” 

Another invitation. They’ve invited me to help them. To teach them a skill. To share my cake-baking abilities, so they might make a few rands selling cakes to folks.  

I quickly explained, “Well, I’m not trained in catering or anything. I only know how to make cakes, muffins, and breads because when I was a small girl, my mother taught me to bake. Just like your mothers taught you to cook lipalishi and sishibo. I’m not a professional by any means, but I can help you with what I know.” 

We discussed that the supplies would limit us initially, so I would invite them over when I was baking something for myself – cupcakes for the nurses at work, a bread for a party, or a special dinner for us. Eventually we’d see if they could purchase the ingredients, or I’d front some money, with them paying me back after they’ve sold their goodies. 

Most exciting of all is how long it takes to bake and ice a cake. Two hours at least. That’s two hours with these smart, young ladies who will help me with my siSwati. Two hours of language learning for me. Two hours of talking about boys, and marriage, and children, and self-esteem, and our roles in our community. Two friendships that just may be a start to empowering some females. In the end, at least it’s gonna be fun. I love baking with friends, and I’m sure we’ll become that soon. 


Honestly, in the last few months I haven’t felt very usable. I’ve struggled with the heart to love people. I do things out of obligations, not a genuine love or care for people. I’ve wondered when this “faking it” will turn to “making it” for me. And I don’t know. I’m not sure. I know God is pouring some energy into me, trying to refresh me, remind me of Who I am, reconnect me to His Spirit. In the midst of my angst and anxiety is the King. 

Here is the Lord. Choosing my greatest vice – cookies and cakes – to connect me to people. To use me. 

He’s not using my titles or certificates either. These connections haven’t come in my teaching skills, doula certificate, college degree, or personality. These invitations come through my greatest weakness. 

Oh Lord, You dirty, dirty little dog. Look at you go. You surprise me and delight me. I can’t believe you’re connecting me to these neighbor girls through cake. Please help us to thrive in these relationships. May the cakes lead to education, empowerment, refreshed souls, lives committed to loving, and hearts rooted in Your Love. May these cakes change our community in ways we haven’t dared to ask or imagine.

P.S. Is this a green light on cake eating? ;)


Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Swaziland Updates | 4 Comments

I’m Emerging

Whew! It’s been good. This social media break. I am (somewhat reluctantly) emerging from my days of internet darkness. Let me tell you, I may spend every other month cutting back! The balance restored to my days when I wasn’t burying my face in my iPhone was, well, gloriously balanced. Keeping up with emails and sending newsletters connected me, so I could engage with friends or family in meaningful ways.
Some quick observations:
1) sometimes my phone died, and I wasn’t stressed about charging it up at night. Just set the watch alarm and snooze away. A dead phone also meant I didn’t reach for media first thing in the morning.
2) I noticed the stars more. Yah, weird, but in my efforts to live with my eyes (and heart!) more open, I found myself looking up and out more often. Hence I noticed the Milky Way. And satellites buzzing past. And the vastness of our universe multiple times this month!
3) I enjoyed reading others’ blogs and updates without this feeling that “Gosh I better write one of my own soon!”
4) Life happened. Hard things. Funny things. Crazy work things. And I felt myself itching to update on Facebook. I had not realized how many times in a day I lived for “oh this would make a good Facebook post.” I’m not anti-Facebook, but I am meagerly trying to notice where I pour my mental energy. Because pour it I do, though it’s often tipped over, and I didn’t even place a glass underneath.
How many is this?) meditating and praying on buses is difficult. It’s much easier to look out the window or talk to my neighbor. But praying while I walk is easy.
6) I think my posture got better. Granted it has digressed quickly as I hunch over this blessed phone for this quick blog.
7) I do like writing blogs. I like writing period. My journal is three times as full in this month as the last year combined!
8) I remember an old friend telling me about The Secret Garden. How at one point the main character (mind you I haven’t read it) had a “secret” rose garden where the flowers were just for her. Gardens are lovely to behold, sit in, work in, and plants are magnificent to share with your friends. But sometimes, you just need to enjoy the roses for yourself. To sit among the flowers, smelling, reveling, smiling. Not for anyone else, but just because your life is good and there’s joy in holding onto a few roses for yourself, even if for a little while.
Here’s to more roses!

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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

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