Welcome to the chronically late Chronicle…
Each year i try to collect some reflections on the year gone “bye” to share with friends near and far, those i’ve long-last seen, those who’re here on the scene, and all who’ve helped make these memories.
If last year seemed to race very fleet-footedly towards the finish line, this year really jumped the gun. This Chronicle will probably be very different to and more personal than those of previous years, because the past nine months or so of its gestation have been very different, and it’s been a hard labour and difficult birth.
i’m uncertain how to begin: it seems awkward and so inadequate, yet necessary, to start with a tribute in memory of a very special person who lived life so fully until she was killed in a tragic car accident in January this year. She was loved by everyone who met her — as so many said, she had a heart the size of a minibus taxi: always space for one more. She had so much life in her, and so much life ahead of her. i may never understand why God chose to take her so early, but i know that she now lives life even more fully and completely than even she could while with us, and now she brings even greater joy to her Lord and God.
You might not have known her — i didn’t, really, until shortly before the accident. The first time we got to share more than a few words was the Sunday evening just four days before the accident — and i remember so plainly her talking so enthusiastically and with such conviction about one of her favourite Scripture passages, from Romans 8: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose…” Her faith that that is true, and her life and love that were the fruit of that faith, were, and are, compelling.
The things that are left to say are not very important, but read on anyway.
i’m still working at keeping computers and customers happy at GivenGain and PayProp. It’s been a particularly busy year, with lots of new development, new responsibilities, new offices, and new colleagues.
i worked “fool time” from after October/November exams until the end of January, keeping very busy, keeping long hours, and barely keeping up, with a number of interesting projects and shiny machines. Mostly i was setting up several servers to increase automation, productivity, and reliability, and working towards strategies for scalability and the geographical distribution of databases. The work was more stimulating, and it was good to be able to throw myself completely at a couple of brain-benders again.
Most of my time currently is spent between keeping systems running, assisting the developers in their coding, and supporting the clients of GivenGain (non-profit organisations whose fundraising and donor relationship management we facilitate) and of PayProp (for whom we automate rental management). Looking forward, i’m likely to be spending a bit more time next year on expanding our systems geographically, and on systems analysis and change management, all of which will require more focus.
Our new office, since the end of December, is a spacious converted house in Stellenbosch, still just down the road from where i’m staying. It’s also become home to several new, friendly faces, so there’s a lot more interaction, which has been very welcome. All-in-all, i’m quite fortunate to be able to work there, especially to be able to vary my working hours in order to try to keep up with studies and so on.
A cross the way
Easter weekend this year was spent in great company at Rocklands campsite in Simon’s Town, together with friends from St Paul’s Stellenbosch and many other churches in Cape Town and surrounds.
Speakers at the camp included Des Ingelsby (presenting a series on 2 Thessalonians) and Mervyn Eloff (tour guide as we travelled through the great book of Isaiah).
Weekend highlights for me included ridiculously cold 0500 swims to wake up, followed by a quick walk up the wind-swept mountain to watch the sun send golden finger-tips playing across the steely-grey waters of False Bay; and chatting with the speakers and campers over breakfast — interesting discussions ranging from music to cosmology to semiotics (weird bunch we were).
Thinking outside the books
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
TS Eliot’s words from 1934 were prescient: who cannot today identify with this lament? My day-to-day work is right in the centre of the famed “information age”, and i’ve felt more than a bit overloaded this year between studies, work, and the many other things i’ve wanted to learn — too much information and not enough knowledge; too much knowledge and not enough wisdom.
The subjects i’m writing in a few weeks’ time are third-year cognitive psychology and “interpersonal effectiveness and self-actualisation” (unfortunately a very grand title for a very bland text). Cognitive psych, which deals with the brain, attention, memory, perception, language, problem-solving, etc. is hugely fascinating — probably the highlight of the coursework so far. Studies are, however, progressing disappointingly slowly. i have somewhere between three and about eight years still to go (!), depending on the various post-grad options in educational psychology and other fields. Distance education (through Unisa) is not as stimulating as it could be, and i’m finding more and more the need (but not the time!) to investigate further what we’re being taught, and to integrate it with my own understanding of how things ought to be.
The previous Chronicle was drafted on the way up Stellenbosberg on a rescue training exercise. i was stopped there because i’d injured my knee (patella-femoral syndrome) earlier in the year, and the pain was recurring after the first steep ascent.
My knee isn’t yet back to normal, despite a lot of physio and finally surgery that was needed in November last year. i’ve still been able to enjoy three more leisurely walks up Bothmaskop this year (two over-nighters with some friends, and an extra-early visit together with Meiko to prepare breakfast at the top for everyone from SBS joining in the now-firmly-entrenched mid-February Bothmaskop breakaway). Walking downhill is painful and aggravates the problem, so my sights aren’t set any higher just yet. i’ve cycled only once, cautiously and somewhat painfully, so my bike has been particularly lonely this year.
i really miss the folk from HHSAR, the wilderness search and rescue team with which i was trying to get more involved, and everything that i’ve learned from them. i also miss terribly the crisp morning air, burning lungs, and expansive horizons that accompanied many of my adventures with so many friends as we sought the clarity of new mountaintops.
Each of us has mountains to conquer, although, as Sir Edmund Hillary once said, it’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
For several years now, i’ve imagined myself in the next few years becoming perhaps more professionally or actively involved with outdoor pursuits — outdoor/adventure leadership training, etc. — and it’s been painful this past year to see that vision fading, having worked hard towards it. Yet inasmuch as i’ve invested of myself in it, sometimes obstinately, i’ve sometimes been a bit like the Biblical Jacob, with the promise of future blessing, trying with all his strength, and by hook or by crook, to lay hold of that blessing.
After his struggle in Genesis 32, Jacob carried in his limp the reminder that he could not accomplish God’s agenda in his own strength and cunning, but needed to rely on God absolutely. In much the same way, i grow closer each year to realising that i can’t make it on my own — and that’s ok and, in fact, necessary. It’s much the same as the lesson i’ve learned, also in the Bible, from 2 Corinthians 4, told all over again. Perhaps through the limping gait lie lessons ahead which i still need to learn.
i guess that, like many, i’ve most of my life measured myself by my accomplishments and abilities, which necessarily entails an attitude of independence and self-sufficiency — and a sense of failure and emptiness when i don’t live up to my ideals. Here are some pertinent words from a song by Rich Mullins: “So if i stand let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through, and if i fall let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You.” At once challenging and comforting.
i’m not so concerned right now about my knee — though it still bugs me — or about whether or not i’ll be involved in camps and hiking and cycling and so on in the future. i still long to be able to participate in all of those activities — to explore the surrounding mountains and caves, to visit the Cederberg and Drakensberg — but the distance from so many, varied, activities has itself lent some fresh perspective. Somehow, down on our knees, i think we can stand the straightest, stand the tallest, and see the furthest, even in the deepest and darkest valleys.
For the first time since moving to Stellenbosch in 2002, this year has not involved a move. i’m still staying with Ryan H (partner in grime for the past two years’ off-road cycling), and Talita joined us for the past year. She was working on a Masters in wine biotechnology; Ryan’s hard at work on his studies in conservation ecology. We made quite a merry little band. You would certainly would have thought so, judging from the guitars, drums, and other instruments strewn about the place.
i’ve had some very exciting, stimulating times of discovery this past year. It’s been a long time since i’ve been stirred and challenged so deeply and completely. A lot of that impetus has come from the friends i’ve met in the past while. One of the greatest blessings of living in a university town like Stellenbosch is that, each year, i get to meet so many new friends. It’s a rare privilege to engage with so many individual people and be stimulated by and share in not only their studies, but their stories also; i love it.
i’ve also been influenced by several writers and speakers who’ve taught me so much as they’ve shared their lives in words. More and more i appreciate the value of learning languages and literature, and of stories, for people inhabit stories, and we can often identify with their stories even though they may arise out of situations different to our own. As TS Eliot wrote, “All cases are unique, and very similar to others.”
If you’re on your way to the nearest library/bookshop, then look out for the three popular authors who’ve encouraged me, taught me, and stretched my own thinking immeasurably during the past year: Larry Crabb (“The silence of Adam” and “Finding God”, in particular); Philip Yancey (all his books are worth reading, but “What’s so amazing about grace?” and “Soul survivor” are among the richest and most important of any books i’ve read); and Mark Buchanan (“Your God is too safe”). Philip Yancey recently spoke in South Africa, and there’s a brief article on his talk in the Scrapbook on my website.
If you struggle to find the time to read, listen to some of Dr John Patrick’s talks, which you can find online. He’s a brilliant, compelling speaker, and visited our offices earlier this year while he was lecturing in SA. His academic background is in biochemistry and paediatrics, and he tells the most wonderful stories of summers spent working among malnourished children in African villages. He also possesses a subtle wit and piercing understanding and ability to communicate on issues of ethics and morality — definitely stimulating and challenging listening, and, i would suggest, crucially important listening particularly for any med student or professional. His talks have excited me and got my brain in high gear lately.
The first weekend of August saw about 35 SBS-ers heading off to Wortelgat (just past Stanford, beyond Hermanus) for the highlight of the SBS calendar, our annual camp. Trevor, Bruce, and Jonathan Mills spoke on freedom and responsibility.
Wortelgat is a magnificent, rustic campsite, and we’ve now been back there i think four years running. We were surprised by the high water level of the lagoon this year: recent rains had caused it to swell and completely cover the field on which we used to play volleyball/touch rugby. Some crazies braved the cold water; i preferred to brave the cold night on the deck in my warm sleeping bag… it was great to greet the sunrise (and the donkey boiler) after a clear night of gazing in awe at the stars and listening to fish and frogs splashing in the water below the deck.
The following week saw me heading off to Johannesburg and Pretoria to visit some mates there. i left early on Tuesday (thanks, Chris M, you’re a legend!) and flew up to JHB to meet Alan S and link up at Wits. Alan showed me around the aeronautical engineering department and labs, where he’s been working on his final-year thesis investigating wing flutter. It was fascinating checking out the airforce Mirage, the wind tunnel where Alan was testing his model, etc. We also went fossil-hunting briefly in the palaeontology department’s museum.
After a grand evening meeting some of Jurgen’s mates at Edenvale Baptist, Jurgen, Esther, Karen, Justin F and i maxed out at Pretoria Zoo on the Wednesday (National Women’s Day, a public holiday). We saw SA’s national birds, mammals, fish, etc., but no national women. Pretoria Zoo is vast, and situated incongruently against the backdrop of office skyscrapers and the Reserve Bank. With Karen’s veterinary guidance providing extra insights and laughs, we had a really great tour and learned a great deal. If you’re heading for Pretoria, set aside a whole day (easily) for the zoo and aquarium.
On Thursday, i spent the morning exploring Unisa’s main library: eight floors holding more than one-and-a-half million books alone (in addition to the periodicals and audio-visual collections). Not enough time to read them all… Justin and i then headed off to the Pretoria cultural history museum for the rest of the day; the highlight there for me was the stunning photo exhibition by Helga Kohl, depicting the ghost town of Kolmanskop, in Namibia, where the shifting sands have turned this former diamond settlement into an eerie but strangely beautiful landscape.
Then it was off to Benoni for the weekend with Ryan S, and we kick-started the weekend with action soccer. After that, the weekend was mainly refreshing, chilling time: good fun, great food, and awesome fellowship with Ryan and his family, friends, and church. It’s difficult to know how to return to day-to-day life after such a week. That’s the question still staring me down now: how to find meaning in (and hold on to the meaning beyond) the things i have to do when i can’t do them as well as i want to, when dissatisfaction with the way things are around me leaves me cold, angry, and empty.
All answers questioned
As much as some of these things have sometimes brought me to my knees, it’s often the last place i go, rather than the first, and it’s often seemed a faltering stance, rather than a steady foundation. Thank God He is faithful, no matter how little faith i can muster. When my “mustard seed”-sized faith fails to move mountains, thank God He forgives me for angrily accusing Him of deceit and capriciousness.
From time to time things strike me, us, cutting through the veneer of “it’s OK” and all the quick, right/trite answers to life’s questions, cutting right to the heart. This year has been a bit like that, and, strange as it may seem in the midst of people’s hurt and my own, i’m thankful. i’m learning, slowly and hopefully, that God is good and can be trusted: He does not change when my faith ebbs; He does not change when my mood sullies. God’s capacity and faithfulness in answering prayer and giving me life do not depend on my capacity and faithfulness in praying and living the life He’s given me. Such is the grace that accomplished what none of us ever could.
Let me leave it there for now. It’s been a particularly crazy year so far, but i look forward to some more restful times later in the year, after exams, and the chance, finally, to catch up properly.