Friday, August 20, 2010

The sand and the sea

“I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force … Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.
- Joseph Smith

"Small pieces of glass get caught in the surf, and smoothed and sanded until they are like clear, colored stones. Sea glass, it's called, and apparently it's quite valuable."
-My mother, in a conversation we had while I was in Africa

I guess the trick to life is to take the punishment patiently and with joy. In Africa, and at home as I deal with the consequences and remainders of my journey to Africa, I have been frustrated many times by the inconveniences, disappointments, requirements, and penalties I feel I am experiencing. Today especially has been difficult in that regard; not due to any great injury, but rather to a thousand small cuts.

In these circumstances, frustration at the great, apparent un-necessity of it all clouds judgment, obscures blessings, and gives anger place in the heart.
I have struggled with these feelings for a few days. The disappointment, frustration, and anger I felt in Africa but could not express came tumbling out of me here. Since I didn't resolve my feelings while I was there, I need to here; but I hadn't wrestled with those thoughts yet, and found only anger in myself when I attempted to do so.

Events of the past few days brought these frustrations to a head, until this evening I was fed up with the school, university, and organizations I'm working with. My sister warned me to reframe things positively, rather than run off on a Dutch sailing barque, as I was only half-jokingly considering.

My family, ever a source of comfort and love, again brought me the answer. My mother suggested that I listen to music.

It has taken me almost an hour and a half of listening to inspired musicians playing the most beautiful pieces of music in history, but the clouds have lifted; I have been able to let go of some of my anger, and I have come to a place where I can forgive.

"Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." - William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697), Act. 1 Sc. 1.

"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit ... was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." - 1 Sam 16:23

It's true.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Farewell to Africa

I write from the cabin of a South African Airlines flight home; our plane just swung over Bermuda as we wing our way back to the United States.

The last week was incredible. I had planned goodbyes, and I made them, thanking the wonderful people for the love and support I have been almost universally shown.

But Africa had a series of goodbyes for me as well. I was surprised and pleased to be asked to pray in a Baptist Youth group; I was humbled and honored as a Baptist pastor prayed for me in my last Sunday morning service, I was shocked and shaken when I passed an accident walking to LDS meetings.

I arrived seconds after the accident happened, in time to see the headless body still lying in the road. He was about my age. But there was no fear – only sadness, shock, and a little nausea. I arrived in the stillness after the accident, in the dazed quiet for those who had been involved. I was not part of that scene, but it shook me.

Three and a half hours later, I attended the baptism of four souls; new life in the Lord. There were three women and one man; he was about my age. There was only joy and peace, excitement.

In one day, in one trip, death and rebirth.

O Africa, continent of my soul! From the starving, smiling children, to the praise and worship in the churches, to the headless body in the street: I love you! I weep for you! I pray for you!

Here I have come to better know my God. He lives, He loves me, and He answers my prayers.

Here, I have been loved and taught to love, by my hostess, by my colleagues, and by my new friends.

Here, I have come to know what I want in my career, in my relationships, in my life. Here I found who I am and want to be.

I was almost not allowed to leave this place of change; I spent Tuesday running through South Africa's Department of Home Affairs, sprinting through airports, and catching flights where I was the last passenger and the plane had waited for me. But I have come through, and am on my way home. I feel I completed my purpose here; it is done.

And so I say: Farewell, Africa! Until we meet again!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trust God, and Believe in Good Things to Come

My sister sent me an email this week. In one line, she summed up my experience here perfectly: “I know you've had some serious ups and downs, but I'm glad you've had the chance to be there.” This has been one of the most difficult periods of my life; almost everything I thought I knew about who I am and who I am to be has been dismantled, altered, and has been or is being rebuilt in a new and better way. I have shared some of those experiences with you all. Identity is constructed every day, with every decision, but I believe I am through the storm of it now. I see a clear horizon; perfect blue stretching forever over an ocean that will carry me to places more wonderful than I have yet imagined. I feel free. I feel like I've just broken through the surface after being underwater for a very long time, or like I have awoken after a dream of toil. I feel as though I have woken to the company of friends after being ill and unconscious for days. “In the morn, those angel faces smile which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.” ('Lead Kindly Light,” Hymns no. 97)

I saw a movie on Mormon Messages that was exactly right. I can't post the link here – it's posted on my Facebook page – but I can post this link to the text from which the movie is taken, The section about the young father is the part that touched me. Based on my experiences here, and on the great love Heavenly Father has shown me in this time, I do believe in good things to come. I am looking forward to this next year, and to the rest of my life. I don't feel anxiety or stress about it anymore. My heart feels free. My soul is at peace; I feel, I believe I can take joy in the journey, in this sojourn on earth. I feel I can trust God and do what He asks me to do. The hymns of Zion (Thank you, Pres. Brenchley! It has been a great blessing to have my MTC choir director as my Stake President at BYU.) have been instrumental (pardon the pun) in this process of change, of repentance, of forming a new view of myself, of God, and of the world. I could not have come through this process without them, and without the truth and Spirit of God they bring.

I realized today as well – my study has blessed me to have a three month period of change filled with good people, people who love God and serve Him. The Lord has put wonderful people in my life here; everyone from my roommate Brandon to the youth I work with in churches: my life for these three months of vulnerability has been filled with good, even wonderful people. “I feel my Savior's love in all the world around me! His Spirit fills my soul...” “For the joy of human love – brother, sister, parent, child; friends on earth and friends above … Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!” (“I Feel My Savior's Love,” Children's Songbook no. 74; “For the Beauty of the Earth,” Hymns no. 92)

My youth and advisors - Bro. Shawn, and everyone. I love these guys - working ith the young men has been one of the highlights of my time here.

I was invited to help chaperone/run a young men, young women's conference in Mdantsane. After hearing a lesson about the fortresses Moroni erected around Nephite cities, the youth had an activity where they built symbolic "spiritual fortresses" with marshmallows and spaghetti. It was pretty fun!

Some of the designs were simple; others quite sophisticated.

Most didn't pass the hymnal test: can the spiritual structure support the weight of a hymnal?

One or two, however, stood up against two. I guess it just goes to show that... well, actually, I'm having a hard time drawing a lesson from this. Perhaps that it's how we use what we're given, not what we're given, that makes the difference.

Here is Collin, my hostess' brother, giving a speech at his 60th birthday party. Most of the speeches were in Afrikaans, so Brandon and I just kind of smiled and nodded our heads when everyone laughed at jokes. This was a fun party though- despite my lingering cold, I got out and danced on the dance floor. Brandon posted pictures of me dancing with an 80 year old woman, who motioned for me to dance with her. She was amazingly spry, actually.

This was the wharf on the Buffalo River? right outside the venue where Collin's party was held. The lights were very beautiful; a misty rain was falling, producing a wonderful effect I didn't quite capture here. If anyone has technical photographic acumen, please send me some tips on how to capture this type of picture. Or, for that matter, on how to get good shots indoors - my indoor shots invariably come out grainy or blurry.

Here are two of the youth from Amalinda Baptist Church.

And here's the rest of the crew! These guys have all been great - super helpful, friendly, and welcoming. I've loved spending time with them.

Oi - next week is my last post from Africa. See you then!