Giving Up Stress for Lent

On the way to our church’s Ash Wednesday service, I was whinging about some issues and problems of the week that were stressing me out, when my friend humoursly said, ”So, are you giving up stress for Lent?” “Yes,” I flippantly remarked. And then, after a couple of seconds, I seriously responded, “Yes, I’m going to give up stress for Lent.”

At the Ash Wednesday service, when we sung one of my favourite hymns, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” this stanza struck me:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Yep, I thought to myself, I’m giving up stress for Lent.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not sure how far I will get with this practice, but I will give it my best shot. I know God has been dealing with me for years about the way I handle stress. I know that stress is a part of life. Whether or not I’m living in Cape Town or Nashville, there will be elements of stress from time to time. Sometimes, there will be a lot of stress!

But I’m going to try to curb my stress load by practicing these steps when something is starting to cause stress in my life:

  1. Say a quick prayer: God help!
  2. Ask myself: What can I control about this situation? If nothing, I will pray for the strength and ability to hand over this situation to God. If there are areas of the situation I can control, I will start making a plan to control
    this little fellow knows how to make a plan
    this little fellow knows how to make a plan

    them, starting with baby action steps.

  3. Pray, pray, pray—asking God for peace and guidance and wisdom, regardless of whether or not it is a situation I can control.

This may be a simplistic approach, but I’m going to try it. It’s a start. Lent is a time of growing closer to God, and often we give up something or take on a spiritual discipline in order to grow in our faith. I’m giving up the “strain and stress,” and I’m giving it to God so that my “ordered life” can confess and receive the “beauty of God’s peace.” God can sort out the stressors in my life, as he assures us in 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV), “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

You can listen to “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” at
http://grooveshark.com/s/Dear+Lord+and+Father+Of+Mankind/58uBxB?src=5

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One-Year Anniversary

Yesterday (26 January) marked my one-year anniversary of living in South Africa. I can’t believe that my first year has come and gone. I feel like I blinked and the year was over. Full stop.

I had a wonderful time being at home for Christmas. Words can’t describe how great it was to spend time with my family and to reconnect with old friends. I have returned to Cape Town refreshed and renewed. I’m ready for the new year of work, ministry, fun, and living more into my adopted home and culture.

I have come to the realization that I have two homes. It feels good to have two homes; but while I’m in one, I miss the other. I thought I would grow out of this longing, the longer I lived abroad; but I’m beginning to realize that this longing for Tennessee home or Cape Town home comes with the territory of living abroad, with the reality of having two homes. It’s a bit of a tension and somewhat ironic but necessarily a bad thing.

Turtle SpoonWow—a year has passed and how much has happened in that year! This time last year, I was kind of living in a fog. I didn’t know what to expect; I had a ton of feelings swirling inside of me. Returning to Cape Town, I feel as though I am home, surrounded by my loving community and by so many familiar things—from certain decorations in my flat that make me smile to the beautiful mountains that I see every day.

Turtle is ready to cook.
Turtle is ready to cook.

And might I add, it’s great to be out of the deep freeze and into summer!

Weary

I’m tired

  • Of people begging at the robots (traffic lights), asking for money, trying to sell me things or collect my trash.
  • Of singing worship songs in languages I don’t understand or can’t pronounce.
  • Of people having difficulties understanding me or of my having difficulties understanding them because of
    1st South African Cheesecake
    1st South African Cheesecake

    our accents.

  • Of the time it takes to bake any of my favourite things because I have to convert the measurements (sometimes twice) or hunt around for ingredients that are hard to find.
  • Of feeling pulled in many directions, from people, from projects, from commitments that demand my time. Sometimes I just want to do what I want to do. Sometimes I want space. God, could you please place me in timeout?
  • Of the use of archaic words, such as “whilst,” in everyday English.
  • Of trying to find the balance between a relational culture and the reality of time constraints and deadlines.
  • Of seeing the worst of American culture imported to this beautiful country, giving South Africans a warped view of my country and heritage.

I’m not unhappy. I still love my life and work in Cape Town; but even in the best of times and in the best of circumstances, cross-cultural living can be challenging.

A Phone of My Own

I’m waffling over whether to click “publish” or not. Dare I—or not? I’m a bit embarrassed to publish this post; but as I said from the beginning, my blog will reflect my experiences of living cross-culturally. I won’t gloss over difficult situations or paint things in a rose-colored lens. Yet what I have written about is very first world. Even if my American and South African friends can’t relate, I think they will respect my honesty; and I know they will love me all the same, so here goes…

Budget Man puts the squeeze on iPhone. It didn't work.
Budget Man puts the squeeze on iPhone.

Ever since I arrived in Cape Town, I have been borrowing my boss’s spare mobile phone. It was time for me to get my own phone, and I had my heart set on the iPhone 5. Earlier this year, a local carrier had a good deal for the iPhone 5; but I hadn’t been in the country long enough to have all the required paperwork to get the phone on contract. Months later, when I did have the paperwork, the deal had ended and the iPhone 5 was way out of my budget. Ok. I thought. I’ll get the iPhone 4s. Well, it was still out of my budget, but I tried my best to justify it: It will sync with my laptop and tablet. I love the iPhone; I’m familiar with it. I can use several apps to stay in touch with my family. I need it to stay in touch with my family.

I spent several weeks researching all types of smart phones and looking at several local carriers, trying to find the best deal. I crunched numbers, trying to squeeze the iPhone 4s in my budget. I agonised over whether or not to purchase the phone or to buy a certain android phone, which was in my budget. (Gasp—I can’t go droid!) I was fretting about what to do. Finally, I accepted that I couldn’t afford the iPhone, and I began to pout. A week ago, when I was having a pouty conversation with God, I felt God say to me, Get a grip. You are whining over stepping down from a Mercedes to a BMW, whereas most people are still riding along in a horse and buggy.

Ouch, God. That hurt. But God got my attention. Over the next few days, I did a lot of soul searching. I realized, as ridiculous as it sounds, I had a lot of my identity tied up in Apple. I love Macs, and I am an “Apple person;” but somewhere along the way, my admiration for this product line became a way in which I defined myself and that wasn’t good.

Wrestling with my phone dilemma brought me face-to-face with the core of my problem; in many respects, I have been trying to hold on to the lifestyle I had in the States—and that’s impossible. South Africa is not the USA, and I make a fraction of what I earned at my old job in the States. And even if I could create a mini-USA lifestyle bubble for myself, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do, especially as a missionary.

But it’s hard. I feel the tension of going from a first-world country to a developing one. At times the tension is in the background; other times, it is at the forefront–but the tension is always there. I guess it is a part of living cross-culturally. It’s a challenge to know what to hold on to and what to let go. I’m embarrassed that it was so difficult for me to let go of something so trivial as a phone, but it was hard. On the flipside, some things are worth holding on to. Recently, I have come to terms that I need to join a gym, as it isn’t safe for me to go on walks by myself and as public tennis courts are non-existence. Physical health is vital to my emotional, mental, and spiritual health; and I am feeling the lack of exercise from which my body is suffering. This is the most unfit I have been in my adult life. Being fit is something worth holding on to; but the phone, I had to let go—and that’s OK. Steve Jobs would understand.

*Image created by Idea go, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net