Food for Thought...

Food for Thought...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Art of Acceptance

I resolve to be content.

The last few months have been growing ones for me (a watered-down euphemism I’ll admit, but one which aptly describes the development of my understanding of what it means to be truly content). During this time, I have once again been reminded that I need to stop making my own plans for my life, because the more I plan, the more things just don’t seem to work out. God is clearly in control and I need to learn to accept that His ways are always, always better than my own. I need to let go of my hopes and dreams and place them into the secure hands of a providing God who has yet to let me down.

I’ll be the first one to admit that the process of becoming content within one’s own reality is no easy task, particularly when one feels so far from where one had hoped to be. There is no quick fix, but rather an intentional change of both perspective and attitude within each new season of one’s life. Acceptance and contentment are skills that need to be chosen and adopted and then slowly applied and mastered through each demanding life experience. I know that I am still in this growing (there’s that word again!) process because every now and again, my desire for control rears its ugly head and I am filled with such intense frustration and disappointment regarding my current situation.

I indiscriminately aim these unnecessary emotions at the ones I love the most -  God, my husband and the Church, blaming them for my current circumstances. [Quick disclaimer: I never wanted to be a pastor’s wife. I never wanted to live in a small, rundown Afrikaans dorpie in my mid-twenties (or ever really!). My current circumstances seem to be a far cry from where I had hoped and dreamed to be at this stage in my life…but where is that exactly?] I feel a sense of anger towards these role players who have changed my plans and placed me in situations in which I really don’t enjoy. But what is the point of dejection? It really serves no purpose. I quickly realised that I needed an intentional change in perspective and attitude if I was going to survive this season of my life. I am now in the process of learning to understand the disappointment of my current circumstances and to accept and embrace them for the joy that they can bring.

This post is all about the beauty and joy one can find in accepting the realities of life. I give full credit to a book I have recently read for the happy ramblings that are to follow. The Book of Joy is a truly remarkable collaboration between his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu with author Douglas Abrams at its helm. It is their gift to the world of how to create lasting happiness in a changing and harsh reality.

So here I am, stuck in a small town in the Free State province of South Africa, not particularly sure of what I am doing or how I can find a sense of purpose and meaning in my situation. How can I learn to accept the reality of my situation without being morose? How can I accept my life in all its pain, imperfection and beauty?

In the Book of Joy, the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama remind us that we are meant to live in joy, but this does not mean that life will be easy or painless. In actual fact, life is constantly unpredictable, uncontrollable, and often quite challenging. But we can choose how we react to this reality. We often experience a sense of suffering because of the way we react to people, places, things and circumstances in our lives, rather than accepting them. It is impossible for us to experience joy with this perspective. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of our resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly and to respond appropriately.

Acceptance means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm through which we must pass. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which real and lasting change can begin. We need to realign our thinking, no longer asking the question, “How can I escape this?” but rather “How can I use this as something positive?”

My acceptance of my reality allows me to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as I would wish. My anger and disappointment arose of my expectations of how I thought my life should be. When we accept that life is how it is, not as we think it should be, we are able to move from suffering, stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction, to a place of greater ease, comfort and happiness.

I’m not saying that if one is in a bad situation, one should do nothing to get out of it and rather just accept it for what it is. Acceptance is not passive. It is the opposite of resignation and defeat. It is a powerful, active force; a paradox in and of itself. Christian author, Priscilla Shirer, puts it like this, “Contentment is the equilibrium between the enjoyment of life now and the anticipation of what is to come…it is the key to unlock you from the bondage of unrestrained longing that wells up within your heart and inevitably begins to control your life, making you a slave to what you don’t have instead of a fully engaged participant with what you do. It is the faith-filled belief that what God has bestowed now is worthy of gratitude and appreciation, not merely because it is enough but because it is good…Contentment is the ticket to live with goals and ambitions inspired by His expansive, mid-blowing will, without having to sacrifice today’s blessings.” 

Acceptance does not deny the importance of taking life seriously and working hard to change what needs changing, to redeem what needs redemption. Look at the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama…they are two of the world’s most tireless activists for all its inhabitants, but their activism comes from a deep acceptance of what is. For example, the Archbishop did not accept the inevitability of the apartheid system, but he did accept its reality. Often, once we have come to a place of acceptance of our reality, that we can really start to make a difference to our lives and the lives of others we encounter.

As a Christian, I have faith in a God who is in control of my circumstances and creates and uses situations to bring about the best for me. More often than not, the difficult situations in my life have caused for the most growth, the most compassion and a more genuine me. I need to stop trying to hurry through this current season but rather learn to pay attention to how God is working, because there will come a time in the future (maybe at the end of time itself?) when I will truly see the fullness of joy in all the situations that have passed. As Philip Yancey once wrote, “Our lives are the raw material through which God can work and create beautiful pieces of art.” But we have to let Him. One of the hardest things to do is to learn to be present in each moment– to accept the vulnerability, discomfort, and anxiety of everyday life. Being content with the messiness of life is one of the most relinquishing, refreshing and hopeful things a person can do. There is so much beauty in the mess, we just have to learn to look for it.

The Serenity Prayer:
God, give us the grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other
Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, 29 October 2016

My Painful Journey

A glimpse into my sense-making of working with suffering people in a damaged government health system.

Gone are the days of my reckless naivety, when I openly criticised those health professionals who fled the public sector for the grassy pastures of the private world. I looked down upon people who could no longer stand to work in a broken system and thought them weak and passionless. How wrong I was.

I realise now that many of those health professionals made the choice to leave the public sector with a very heavy heart, knowing that they could have helped thousands of underprivileged people through their work. They weren’t passionless, cold-hearted, or selfish. They moved to save themselves from the pain they had to witness daily: the unnecessary suffering of unfortunate people in a failing organisation. This is my painful reality.

I seem to survive by existing somewhere in the middle of passionate perseverance, disillusioned madness, frustrating resilience and dejected apathy.

There are days when the overwhelming “bigger picture” fractures the very centre of my heart and I am left a defeated mess trying to figure out the reason I am still here. I listen to stories of unnecessary suffering at the hands of health professionals who just don’t seem to care; of overworked staff who have become numb to the pitiful cries of their patients; of corrupt departments who have ‘lost” millions of Rands; of dysfunctional systems where people are lost in a depressing cycle of referrals; of situations that have caused great disability or death when that needn’t be the case. Once in a while I am able to help, but more often than not, the situation is destitute and I find myself fighting a useless battle against a monster that has already won. How much suffering can one person witness before they too become part of the problem?

But then there are days when I force my heart and mind to focus on the restorative aspect of one-on-one interactions. Where my role in the life of a particular person is one of value and worth. It is in these rare precious moments that my soul is retrieved from its dark, fearful hiding place and I am reminded that I can find hope, meaning and life in what has become more than a job for me. I wish those days would last forever.

Earlier this year I received an email from a highly respected South African occupational therapist. The questions she asked me have niggled in the back my mind ever since….

Can the unchangeable really be changed?
How does one know when it is time to fight and when it is time to let go?
How do I remain true to my convictions in a broken, unjust system?
How far should I push without losing myself along the way?

I seem to have come a full 360 degrees since I first started practicing OT. I started out young, passionate and hopeful; I lost myself somewhere along the way as the numbness spread like an icy poison; I am now thawing out and learning to melt the cold walls around my heart so that I can better understand the pain I witness. I can’t quite pinpoint the moment I cracked and could no longer cope with the weight of other people’s sufferings. Maybe it was when a thirty year old patient of mine passed away from pressure sores he didn’t have when he arrived at the hospital. He was a father of a happy-go-lucky three year old. Or maybe it was when I listened to the pleading cries of another man as he begged to be discharged from “this place of death.” Or maybe it was the time when I heard about how some of the elderly community members marched from our local township to the nearby government buildings in protest of the lack of basic health care that is afforded to their fellow citizens – the hospital is killing their friends. It could have also happened after I met a man who had a simple shoulder dislocation that, due to poor medical management, has now caused him to lose the entire functioning of his right arm. He is a right-handed painter who can no longer earn a living. These are just a few of the many moments that could have caused for the growing ache within my soul.

I begged God to change the path of these, and many other people’s, lives. I pleaded with him to end the painful stories I kept hearing and help me to stop feeling so ridiculously helpless. I was angered that my loving God could allow such suffering to take place and do nothing about it. Where was God in all this suffering?

Through a process of reflection, prayer and a whole lot of grace, I have started to realise that the suffering I witness has less to do with a silent God and more to do with a broken world. I have begun a journey of understanding pain; of learning why exactly there is suffering in the world and how the heck I can cope with it. Much of what I have learnt comes from the Biblical book of Job as well as the musings of Christian writer, Philip Yancy in his books “Where is God when it hurts?” and “Soul Survivor.” His words, alongside those of other authors such as C.S Lewis (The Problem of Pain) and Dr. Paul Brand have helped me to begin to piece together some sense in my seemingly bleak reality. The reflections below outline my process of sense-making and are by no means imposed upon anyone else who reads this. I do not expect you to agree with me and I realise that the problem of pain is one of the major stumbling blocks in Christian theology. It is my hope and prayer that whoever decides that this is worth reading, will consider their own understanding of pain and suffering and be challenged to look past them to an unmistakable hope and freedom beyond.

Here’s what I now believe about the relationship between pain and God: (this may very well change in years to come – understanding pain is a gradual process.)
1.       Pain is a gift – it shows us when we have a problem and without it, we would never change the way we are living.
2.       God created a perfect world, put humans in it, we messed up and now live on this disordered earth, groaning under the strain of our own actions.
3.       Focusing on the cause of suffering will likely only cause more pain, confusion and bitterness; the more pressing matter is to focus on how we react to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking questions “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?”
4.       We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him.
5.       Suffering can provide an opportunity for growth that will add extra layers of depth to life – it has a sense of “soul-making” to it, if we choose to respond to it in a particular way.
6.       God, because of his character, cannot possibly desire atrocities such as the Holocaust but these events still happen. His apparent lack of action in these circumstances should not be aligned with an apparent lack of power. God loves us and has chosen to give us free will – the power to love others as well as the power to inflict pain and suffering. God’s love is deeper than the sloughs of human depravity.
7.       At the instant of pain, it may seem impossible to imagine that good can come from tragedy. We never know in advance exactly how suffering can be transformed into a cause for celebration. But that is what we are asked to believe. Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

I am amazed by some of the perspectives of some (but not all) of my patients. While they have undergone intense suffering and pain, become emotionally isolated and physically helpless, they seem to have used that pain to deepen their spirituality and appear to have a new lease on life. They seem to exude a quality of strength that most of us privileged, healthy South Africans will never get to experience.  One patient, a paraplegic with an insurmountable perseverance, recently told me, “I’m grateful that this has happened to me – it has made me a better person.” Another patient who lost 4 fingers on his dominant hand in a nasty farming accident sought me out after many months just to tell me how the accident was a blessing in disguise as it forced him to turn to God and focus on the more important things in life. These patients’ reactions are not unique to the problem of pain – we can meet millions of others who now cherish their times of suffering as they have produced in them stronger characters, persevering faith and brighter perspectives of life. These are the types of people which bring me hope and joy amidst insurmountable suffering.

Martin Luther once said, “Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.” It is through our sufferings that we turn to God and become more like him. Pain, suffering and poverty can serve as instruments for God’s greater purpose – to teach us the value of dependence and therefore the humbling experience of grace. While God is not the cause of our suffering, He is able to use it for our good, if we choose to respond to it in the right way. Without suffering, we may never understand the power of God.”

As I have muddled through the problem of pain and suffering, I have come to realise I am first a Christian, then an OT. Sometimes just listening to the stories of my patients and loving them in the moment is all I have to do. Further, when I have the opportunity within my professional capacity, I can assist people to regain a positive outlook after the event of a tragedy. Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician, once wrote, “The right help given at the right moment may determine the course of [someone’s] life.” I now understand why there was such an emphasis placed on treating “the whole person” at university – not just their physical ailments. We have an obligation to help our patients channel their suffering as a transforming agent by focusing on their emotional and spiritual needs as well as their physical ones. As a Christian, an OT, and a fellow human being, my role is to keep the suffering of painful circumstances from destroying hope and rather assist each person to see that even the worst hardships open up potential for growth and development.

I guess I started out this journey from a vicarious perspective - to understand the suffering of others from an outsider’s perspective. But as I went on, I was forced to confront my own sense of suffering and pain (albeit minor to the suffering I witness at work) which allowed me the truly gracious opportunity of sense-making within my inarticulate feelings. I have been compelled to turn away from my own sense of self-sufficiency and reconnect with God in a new, incredibly humbling way. I have been forced to share my emotions with those around me, lean on them for support and be reminded of the fragile nature of life. I have had to remember the importance of daily gratitude for the life I have and the way God intercedes in my weakness. Without this painful journey, I wonder how much I would have changed, grown and developed as a person. Maybe there is hope and joy in suffering after all.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Thursday, 10 March 2016

How High Are Your Hopes?

A positive look on South Africa’s future

I think I have left this post long enough…long enough for me witness university students go wild over escalating tertiary education fees and a lack of transformation in our universities; long enough for Zuma to vote in (and out) 2 different financial ministers in a matter of days; long enough to watch politicians rip into the failures of each other; long enough to hear all kinds of racist comments, xenophobic attacks and hear every second white person threaten emigration.

It has been long enough.

As a Christian and an occupational therapist, reflection has become second nature to me. It has taken me quite some time to process what I have observed occurring around me on a national, regional and even local community level. Maybe you are like me and are wondering where South Africa is headed. Maybe you have even ventured into the social media sphere to proclaim your views. The more I have watched the more confused I have become. I consider myself a fairly patriotic South African (to the point where I find myself tearing up while listening to fellow South Africans reminisce about magical moments in South Africa’s history – queue a quick recap of Mandela getting released from prison, the 1994 rugby world cup; Shabalala’s opening goal in the 2010 soccer world cup, etc.) so when I hear people talk about my country with such a pessimistic outlook, I all but want to punch them in the face. Where has our hope, resilience, unity gone? After all we’ve gone through, are we really going to give up now?

So I prayed. I prayed for a new perspective; for my eyes to be opened to what exactly God has got planned for this incredible country of mine (because there is no way that this South African has any plans to emigrate).  And you know what I found? Hope. Hope. Hope.

Within a matter of days, my prayers were answered and I was bombarded with stories of unity despite our current circumstances and grace beyond measure. These stories (both in my own life and on social media) appear to be our nations way of retaliating against the racism that seems to be pulling us apart. While a lot of nonsense has plagued our nation recently, way too much limelight has been given to people with skewed perspectives and underlying agendas. (And let’s be honest…bad news sells). God knows that we all feel the drag of negative comments pulling us down and it takes a lot to swim against the current tide of toxic words and perceptions. Do you need a little hope for South Africa? It is my prayer that by the time you finish reading this post (and the others I recommend), I will have reminded you of just how amazing this country really is.

Below are a few simple ‘pick-me-up’ stories of normal South Africans moving past the tide of negativity to remind us of our own humanity - something we seem to forget so quickly in times such as these. It is my hope that these stories will have them same effect on you as they did on me – may they create a swelling in your heart, a glistening in your eyes and a restoration of your hope.

·         Check out this incredibly encouraging post about the future of South African written by an economic analyst: http://www.iol.co.za/business/opinion/columnists/taking-stock-of-2015-1967621

·         Read the views of a Cape Town businessman on the fact that we are obsessed with negativity and how he believes South Africa is doing right now: http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/2016/02/12/narrative-accounts-obsessed-with-the-negative

·         Click here to read the account of Find out about how a South African man chose to see the best side of our country on his way to work: https://www.goodthingsguy.com/south-afri-can-stories/3066/

·         Learn about a young man’s unique Valentine’s Day experience where his love for people who are different from himself radiated through his actions: http://www.sapeople.com/2016/02/10/a-valentine-story-of-love-in-south-africa/

·         Read about Helen Ziller’s optimistic view after the State of the Nation address: http://www.biznews.com/leadership/2016/02/16/helen-zilles-optimistic-sa-made-300-years-of-progress-in-a-week/

·         Check out a website definitely worth following on a regular basis. SA Good News focuses on posting positive articles regarding our country and helps to keep us from being dragged down by pessimism and sensationalism. This particular article is full of some hard and fast facts about South Africa to keep you hopeful. http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/sa-fast-facts.html

As mentioned in the first article I recommended above, “South Africa is not sliding into the abyss – rather it is turning the soil so that it may grow again as a functioning society.” As much as us ‘whities’ love to think that we are all now equal, gross inequalities are still so glaringly present and it is time to lean into the discomfort of the truth behind our privilege. Personally, my white privilege confronts me on a daily basis and I am in no way disillusioned to the suffering that goes on around me by people who were simply born into disadvantaged situations. Whether we like it or not, decades of white superiority have placed us in very advantageous positions and we need to do everything in our power to ensure that inequalities in our nation are addressed.

We are all in need of transformation and it is time to be bold enough to understand our own positionality, let go of the fear of change and stand up to be a part of the new South Africa. Yes, the next few years are going to hurt and those with children seem to keep wondering if it is time to move on. Rather than shielding your children from the seemingly apparent destruction of our nation, I challenge you to teach them to be a part of the transformation; be a part a new, united generation of South Africans who fight against segregation and racism. I encourage you to become aware of your own privilege (there are plenty articles to be read about it) or click here (http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-on-a-plate) to see a simple, yet powerful cartoon on the reality of privilege.

Personally, I have the honour of working in an incredibly diverse group of people. Within our government rehabilitation department, we are a bundle of people working for the good of others. This mishmash of black, white, young, old, male, female, Muslim, Christian, Zulus, Ndebele’s, spenders, savers, loud-mouths, silent participants and everything else in between makes for some chaotic group dynamics but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get the opportunity to live and breathe our rainbow nation on a daily basis and what a privilege that is! I get to be a part of this shared journey where we are trying to understand our diversity, choosing to change our attitudes, working together despite our differences and looking beyond ourselves for solutions that best serve the needs of those around us. I choose to remember the good stories I witness in my community and challenge you to do the same – the goodness around us is so glaringly obvious when we decide to search for it.

In closing, to all those fearful, pessimistic South African’s out there, I challenge you to post something uplifting on Facebook this week; speak to someone who is completely different to you about how we can make our country a better place; make an effort to read good stories and lastly, have a little hope for goodness sake!


Sunday, 5 July 2015

A New Kind of Bush Life?


I have been putting off writing down my thoughts for many weeks now. It has been over 6 months since I moved to my new life, home, work and roles and my need to explore and release my thoughts and emotions is at an all time high – there is no other reason I would write this on a Monday night at 11pm.

Let’s start with a bit of an update:

  • I have moved away from the raw beauty of the KZN coast and its somewhat magical rural hospitals. In January 2015, I embarked on a glorious adventurous outlet to the unexpectedly beautiful Zambia to spend some much-need down time and spiritual upliftment with two very special friends. But I returned to start a new life, a new home and take on a very new role as fiancĂ© to my now husband in a small town called Middleburg, Mpumalanga.
  • As of February 2015, I have been working at a local government hospital in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa – a far cry from my rural experience last year. While the town itself cannot really be considered a city, it is one of the wealthiest towns in the entire country (Click here to check out this recent Mail and Guardian issue on where South Africa’s richest people live – Middelburg is the 7th wealthiest town in the country!). The town is oozing with fancy cars, expensive gadgets and luxurious people, yet the hospital is considered an eye-sore: a dilapidated, corrupt infectious pool where people go to die rather than be healed. My hospital makes the front page of the local newspaper on a weekly basis – and never for a good reason.
  • I am now married to a humble and fiercely faithful man who is studying to be a Presbyterian minister while working as a ministries co-ordinator for the local Middelburg Presbyterian church. The role of wife to a man of this standing in the church is not an easy one to which I must adjust and I am still finding my feet in this regard. I love my husband but do I love his job that has ultimately become my life too? These are some of the issues I must face in order to remain faithful to God and to His calling on my life.

I guess the URL for this blog should ultimately change right? I am no longer living the “OT bush life” as the name suggests. But maybe this is a different kind of bush life? A bush filled with unknown experiences, novel ideas, difficult challenges and branches filled with growth and potential. Maybe I am living the “bush life” but in a whole new kind of way.

So this is where I find myself tonight: in a place desperately trying to find meaning, purpose and a sense of reward within my current occupational therapy job. The journey has not been an easy one thus far and I question my reasons for wanting to work at this particular hospital on a weekly basis, but...I invite you to be a witness, an encourager, a participant, in this journey of mine. For something tells me, if you are willing to stick around, we may all find a sense of hope and meaning at the end of it. Are you ready for this?

I arrived at Middelburg Hospital with guns blazing, OT passion oozing from my every pore and a heart-wrenching desire to bring change to the crumbling hospital that stood in front of me. Within a matter of weeks, I realised my blazing guns were being met with sheer determination to see me fail, my OT passion was met with apathetic laughs and my desire to bring change was squashed like a bug beneath some very corrupt, lazy feet. The bundle of energy that entered the hospital a few weeks earlier was rapidly beginning to disintegrate. I was losing my way, and fast.

What was worse was the obvious racism that sounded me on a daily basis, both at the hospital and within my local congregation. I continue to struggle to make sense of the clear division between black and white, the subtle racial undertones beneath respectable peoples’ words and the blatant discrimination I observe around me. My heart breaks for the disunity I see – in the hospital, the clinics, at the shops, at church and throughout this affluent community. There is a real sense of division here. What breaks my heart more is that I often remain silent, inactive, when I am confronted with by both subtle and blatant racial remarks. I am immobilised with confusion, frustration and the knowledge that my words will never truly reflect the emotion I feel. I am all too aware of how easy it is to become complacent, even acclimatised, to the racism around me and it is my hope and prayer that I do not lose my own moral compass in this regard. I will be the first to admit that I benefit from White Privilege on a daily basis and subtle racism often rears its ugly head in my own thoughts and actions. But being aware of this is the first step and I encourage you all to reflect on your own discriminatory thoughts towards others, be it about race, gender, sexuality or even age. We need to make a conscious effort to move forward as a nation, away from ignorance and persistent discrimination to a place of unity and openness. 

I would love to now tell you that five months down the line, I have managed to drag a fairly apathetic, selfish department up from the ground and place it on a pedestal for all to see, but that would be a lie. I am the youngest and most inexperienced OT out of the six in my department. My ideas for change have fallen flat on their face on numerous situations. I have cried at work on more than one occasion. I have often succumbed to the apathetic attitude of my colleagues and have found myself sitting in an uncomfortable chair for a good portion of the day, just because I can. I still struggle with the blatant racism I observe and still tend to hold my tongue rather than speak out against it. Who is this person I see in the mirror? Where did I go so wrong? My thoughts drift to the times I have reprimanded skilled professionals (both direct and indirectly) on their desire to leave a failing government health system and flee to another country with greater opportunities. I think about the times when I have passionately spoken out against the blatant and subtle racism within my country. Have I started to entertain ideas that I don’t actually need to put up with the nonsense the surrounds me and that I deserve a more rewarding job? Have I become indoctrinated with the subtle racial undertones of a divided community? Oh how ashamed the 2014 rural Caryn would be right now.

But it is not all doom and gloom – I wouldn’t be writing this if it was. A timely testimony from a minister focused on community development, a well-phrased word of encouragement from a friend and the reading the perfect passage from Psalms, have all reminded me that I serve a faithful, just God. If I can just keep perspective; just learn to survive the mess and somehow continue to fight against the wrongs I witness, there is hope for me; there is hope for this hospital; this community. I don’t know how, I don’t know when but I do know that things may change – be it in me, the hospital or the broader community. My God has placed me here for a reason and I will do everything in His power to make sure I make the most of it. As mother Theresa once said, “God has not called me to greatness, but to faithfulness.”

As I reflect on what I have written, an old poem I had wrote for a different time in my life popped into my mind. It’s one of those pieces of writings that have universal relevance to anyone in a tough situation. It is all about keeping perspective in the midst of trying times. It's based on the idea that as humans we often struggle to see the bigger picture, like a beautiful tapestry, and rather end up seeing the other side of the tapestry with all its loose cords and ugly threads. It is my pray that you will find some encouragement from it, just as I did.

Sometimes the lines get blurred and I tend to lose my way
I start to lose perspective on what God's Word has to say

His grace and love I forget; His promises a distant thought
With me in my despair, I lose everything I've been taught

My self-centredness consumes me with no thought for others around
I fail to see God's work in this and how His love abounds

The threads of the tapestry: continuous ugly lines
Where are my God glasses to see the beauty behind?

But in this mess comes clarity from my Father above
Understanding in my suffering; relinquishing control to His love

And even in the midst of stress, the pressures of daily life
He stands, He falls wherever I go and walks me through my strife

With every single step I take, He leads me down His path
He builds me up when least expected and reminds me how to laugh

He knows my blood, sweat and tears...He's sacrificed much more
His body and blood poured out for me, of this I am sure

In His death I am renewed; in His strength I am made whole
He refreshes me and picks me up, water for my thirsty soul

So through these trials I turn to Him as only He knows the way
He comforts me and guides me, His loving arms do not delay

He draws me in when I'm downcast and to my knees I fall
Loving God forgive me for acting big when I'm so small

Give me Godly perspective in my overwhelmed state of mind
Show me that you carry these burdens; Your freedom help me to find

And now dear Lord here we are on the other side of the tapestry
You've opened my eyes to your beauty and showed me how to be free













Sunday, 1 February 2015

Where to from here?

It is now a month into the new year and I have yet to finish this blog. Maybe it is because I know this is my last entry; that after this, things will change. Maybe it’s denial that my magical year in the bush is complete. Maybe I just don’t have the words to accurately describe the emotions I feel as I reflect on the last 12 months of my life.

So...December has faded into a chaotic blur of repeated goodbyes, last-minute holidays and hasty packing. Community Service has drawn to a close and I am now a completely independent, fully qualified occupational therapist. So where to from here?

As my friends and I travelled along a long winding road sometime in December, this very question rose its challenging head. “Where to from here?” We have grown. Our minds have been broadened. Our eyes have been opened. Our hearts have been warmed. We have changed. We are no longer the same.

I, for one, can recall how much God has worked to mould me into the person He wants me to become. He clearly loves me far too much to allow me to stay the same. He has broken down my pride, my selfish nature, my desire to be successful and precise in order to build me up in His strength, in His power. He has blessed my time at Manguzi and allowed me to see a whole new side of Him. He has poured out His love and provision on me this year like I have never experienced it before. He has answered all my prayers in spectacular fashion. He has given me strong friendships, growing experiences and overwhelming love. His love never fails.

This year God has taught me:
•To work in His strength, because trying to do things in my own is a complete disaster.
•To wait for His prompting – His timing is perfect.
•When to speak and when to keep silent.
•To have faith that He will provide. No matter what I needed, God has provided it in spectacular fashion.
•To allow Him to bless me – and wow, how wonderful it is to be blessed by the Maker of Heaven and Earth!
•To love generously and sacrificially, be gracious and judge not – behold Jesus and you will become like Him.

So, where to from here? As the car ride with my three friends continued, we discussed what this means for us. Surely we now have a responsibility to speak to those around us about our experiences?; to proclaim the good, the bad and the inspiring moments along our challenging journeys. With a new perspective and understanding of our world, and more particularly, our beloved country, we can no longer afford to keep silent on matters surrounding poverty, injustice, racism, classism, materialism and all the other bad –isms to which we have been exposed.

Yes, we are young, white, privileged females who have lived and worked in old, black, impoverished communities. The contrasts couldn’t be greater. But we have come out on the other side with insight that cannot be held within our hearts alone. We need to break the silence and share our stories with others. We may be different to the people with whom we have worked but now we know them: their histories, their families, their pain, and their stories. We are exposed to a reality much bigger than our own now. We cannot keep silent.
           
There have been countless moments this year when I am bursting with emotion, with inspiration, with knowledge and skills that I can't help but want to use it to better this already incredible country. While there are so many reasons for people to hate South Africa, there are far more reasons to love her; to be moved to be a part of her change rather than ignore it or complain about it. Our country is young, wild and completely crazy but wouldn’t you rather be a part of the chaos than sit on the sidelines and worry about tomorrow?

With the move to Middelburg, Mpumalange, to follow my fiance’, I have got a job working in the local provincial hospital. What was once a strong, thriving hospital has become a shell of what it used to be. Having worked in a rural area, dilapidated buildings, apathetic workers and tough cases come as no new concern to me. What does concern me is people’s reaction to my choice of employment in the run-down hospital. Words such as, “Why?” or “Shame!” have escaped from many people’s mouth as I tell them my active choice of working there. Yes, I had other, easier opportunities for employment but no, that was not where God was leading me. He needs me right here, in the midst of incredible suffering and hardship. It seems that I now have larger, more abstract problems ahead of me compared to that of my rustic bush life last year. The blatant racism within my new privileged community hits me like a rock almost daily as I listen and observe people’s words and actions around me. I am still so unsure of how to react to these motions – with outright anger? with gentle challenging words? by my actions alone? It seems that these are the new challenges God has placed in my path so I head out on a new, greater adventure, with the knowledge and faith that my Lord goes before me and will equip me with all that I could ever need.

I will not keep silent. I am a part of a new generation. I am a soldier. I fight racism. I fight classism. I fight poverty, injustice and oppression. Grace has carried me this far and by Grace I will carry on.

I will end with this final inspiring thought:
Rejoice.... Not so much in victories as in the fact that God is leading them.
Praise... Not so much for His blessings as for His love that prompts them.
Serve.... Not for the ultimate or  resent reward, but for the thrill of knowing that we labour together, that He stands beside you in every enterprise, however trivial.

December memories:

December 16th – Reconciliation day. It seemed like an apt day to connect with Manguzi community members through the giving of 20 litre buckets of food and bags of stationary for the Christmas period. “Buckets and bags of love” is an initiative organised by my Bible study. With donations from all over the world, we managed to raise over R50 000 and hand out about 150 buckets and 150 bags to families in need. On the day, we partnered with local black Christians along with some of our European doctors to drive around and hand deliver buckets across the greater Manguzi area. I was brought to tears on many occupations as I watched impoverish gogo’s dance and clap with joy as they praised God for providing for their very basic needs. Their faith in the midst of such obvious hardship was moving to say the least. I was once again reminded of the call God put on my life for 2014 – just love them, Caryn. Here are a few photos taken on the day:








Other special December moments:

Therapy department's annual Christmas Party
Val, a dietician from Swaziland, gave two of the therapy assistants Swazi flags for Christmas
All hands on deck as a broken hospital car gets pushed around a local clinic in order to bring it back to life

Photo shoot with ladies from the MDR ward after a fun Christmas party
When we can't use our hands to paint we use our feet - the picture of a young CP child during stimulation group

THE LUMINEERS! Attending yet another magical concert with some of my favourite people
I was visited by Ross and Sarah - all the way from Cape Town this month!

Enjoying the local Mozambican 'poison' at Ponto Malangane - R&Rs (Rum and Raspberry)

The long but beautiful walk to Kosi Bay Mouth
And so it ends. My year in the bush has been one unforgettable experience. Thank you for sharing many special moments with me.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

“Going rural”...over-glamorised or under-appreciated?


This month I have encountered numerous moments when I have been forced to consider whether living and working in a rural area has been over glamorised. I have met students who have been disappointed by the frustrating systems in place, friends in urban settings who feel marginalised by their rural peers and doctors who question why they came all the way out here "just for this". 

When considering the run up to moving out here, I remember the embellished view I had of the place....caring, productive communities.... inspiring medical staff... functional health care systems that worked in the most remote of conditions. 

In hindsight, I really should have been disappointed with the reality I found....within a few days I had encountered suffering, marginalised communities, over worked staff and failing systems. I arrived to a dirty run-down house with little to no food and a bunch of people I didn't know. I was soon travelling in dangerously dilapidated hospital cars to work in rundown buildings with dysfunctional impoverished people. 

So why was I so happy? Why did I want to tell everyone how amazing it was? Why was I so eager to show my new home off to anyone who dared to come and visit me? 

Recent reflections on this craze of "going rural" for com serve have really made me wonder whether my overwhelming excitement and love for being here was just a facade that I had created prior to actually arriving. With the end of apartheid and the push for a more equitable society, I was fed the rural dream within the first few days of stepping into university in 2010.  I read about inspiring people doing extraordinary things in magically remote places. By that stage "going rural" had become a popular choice for many young health professionals during their year of community service. Needless to say, I was quickly infected by the bug and soon joined a rural medical society on my campus. I began using some of my spare time to attend talks by rural doctors, chat to older OTs about their rural experiences and even spent one holiday in the middle of nowhere volunteering in a rural hospital. But all these experiences only made the desire to "go rural" that much more enriching. I was hooked. 

But now, even as the months have worn on, am I too darn stubborn to see the obvious disappointments surrounding me? Have I refused to submit to an alternative, darker reality than the bright sparkly one that had been built during my time at university? Maybe Ispeak so highly of rural because speaking about the good moments makes the bad ones seem okay. Maybe I over-compensate for all the heart-wrenching experiences and fool myself into believing that the few magical moments make it all worth while...maybe they really do.

Granted, there are days when my heart just can't seem to conceptualise the depth of suffering that is experienced by some of the community members out here. There are days when I really don't feel like working. There are days when I wish I was somewhere else... where the struggles of working within this kind of context were only read about in foreign newspapers.  There are days when I just don't want to get out of bed or when returning to the hospital after lunch feels like the toughest mission in the world. 

But those days and few and far between. On those days there is usually something else bothering me.... Something that has nothing to do with living rural... Something that would have made me feel like that no matter where I was. Never once have I questioned my decision of coming to live in Manguzi. If anything, my choice of working here has been more and more affirmed with each passing month. 

Because as much as this place is filled with disappointments, there really is something magical about it. I experience such a sense of peace and contentment both at work and the rest of the time that I can't help but think that I was not fed ridiculous lies at varsity.... Everything people spoke about came true. My experience this year has far exceeded my very high expectations and I can't help but encourage others to join the rural clan. You won't regret it. 

The choice to come out here is not an easy one and choosing to stay on long-term is far more difficult than walking away from one exquisite year in the bush. As in all things, the rural experience is what you make of it and if you dare to seek out beauty in negative spaces, I can assure you...you will not be disappointed. 

 November Memories...

Kelly, our Speechie, held an art evening for some of the Manguzi ladies at our house
I attended the spectacularly beautiful and outrageously fun wedding of my dear friends Gill and Carl. What a fantastic couple they make!!

Zenia, our Speech Therapist, spending quality time with Sphelele, one of our delights in paeds ward

Pumi, our Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) running an aerobics class in the MDR TB ward

Precious, another OTT, bringing patients to the aerobics class. People can participate from the comfort of their own wheelchair!

Meat on the braai at one of the farewell parties we had with the nurses earlier this month

A spontaneous visit by my good friends Denny, Reah and Sean was a wonderful excuse to get away to Black Rock Beach for a weekend!
OTs UNITE! Our OT clan had a group reunion whilst paddling down the pongola river n Norther KZN
Sammy, one of our guides paddling quietly passed some cows taking a refreshing dip in the river

Kelly and Kati stayed on to visit the marvelous Kosi Bay Mouth - what a treat to show them my home!

The mandatory picture at the drift wood tree at Kosi Bay Mouth