Archives For God

Mom and Miracles

May 10, 2014 — 4 Comments

One lesson I’ve learned over the years with Mtuseni is that it never gets easier. Just when things are going along pretty smoothly, some new problem always comes up. Mtuseni’s internship is going well and he’ll be finished in a couple of weeks. But we can’t lie back and bask in that happy accomplishment…

Annex roomA few days ago, it seemed last weekend’s food-and-gas drama was resolved. So when Mtuseni went home this weekend I figured all was well. But instead there was a new crisis. While he was away his mother Nester had “renovated and expanded” his room. He built the addition to the shack with his brother Moses a few years ago; it had room for his bed, a desk, and the family’s stove. He says now the space is much bigger and very cold. It was never heated, but perhaps the small size held residual heat from the stove. And now there are gaps in the walls where he can see to the outside — and the wind comes right through. It’s fall in South Africa; the temperature tonight will be in the mid-30s. And Mtuseni is worried that rain will leak and get his things wet. He has two laptops and hundreds of dollars worth of clothes from me.

Nester is a sweet woman, but sometimes I look at things she does and wonder if she’s losing her marbles. As Mtuseni said, “Nobody knows how her brain works.” Maybe she’s just stressed. Or exhausted. Given the life she’s lived, I’d have lost it years ago.

But my concern is not laying blame on Nester; it’s Mtuseni’s response to the problem. I told him he needs to find some materials and fix the walls. Winter is coming, and he can’t get sick — or have his stuff ruined. Instead, he said that “I’m not gonna fix anything. God has his plans and I’ll see what happens.” I didn’t text back the expletive that immediately came to mind.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been frustrated with Mtuseni’s passivity in the face of challenges. Perhaps he’s exhausted too. But when a problem arises he’ll just lay back and put it into god’s hands. As he said once “I just keeping pressing PRAY until it works” — which is funny but not a realistic way to live.

Personally, I think some of the entrenched poverty among South Africans is a result of this blind faith. This is not to say the people don’t face incredible obstacles. But prayer and hope aren’t a strategy for success. “Let go and let god” may be fine for alcoholics trying to avoid having a drink, but if you’re trying to rise out of deep poverty you need to do more. Mtuseni has said he wants to make a better life for the family — which is admirable and heartwarming. But if his plan consists of waitin’ on a miracle, he better get used to living in the shack with mom and the kids for a long time.

Mtuseni and I don’t talk religion much. He’s evangelical Christian and it gives him strength, and for that I’m happy. He knows that my personal take on god and religion is to just be a good person while you’re here — and he’s okay with that. I don’t go to church or believe in a formal deity, but given all I’ve done for Mtuseni he knows I’m not destined for the flames of hell.

But it’s time Mtuseni hears the gospel according to Dad. He believes that God will provide for him if he prays hard enough. Maybe that’s true, but God is pretty busy. Hopefully right now he’s focused on the prayers of the kidnapped Nigerian girls and their parents. And I believe the help God provides may not always be so obvious. Sometimes what you get is not a magic solution but a test to help you grow.

Instead of pulling up another blanket and praying for his drafty room to be magically fixed, Mtuseni needs to step up, be a man, and do the job himself. I’ve always been inspired by the simplicity and power of the quote “When you pray, move your feet,” which supposedly is an African proverb. I need to instill this philosophy in Mtuseni. Yes, he has big dreams and deep faith, but to really make progress, he needs to meet God halfway and start making his own miracles.

prayer+quote


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Two Sides of 50

January 19, 2014 — 2 Comments
Michelle+Obama+birithday+AARP

Source: whitehouse.gov

An ongoing item in the news this month has been Michelle Obama’s birthday — noteworthy because she turns 50. She celebrated with an extra week of me-time in Hawaii after Christmas when Barack and the kids left. And she had a posh cocktail-and-dessert party in the White House. Happy, sad, or scary — it’s a milestone; might as well celebrate in style if you can.

I saw an article about celebrities turning 50 this year. It’s weird to think of people who in your mind are frozen in a certain younger time hitting the half-century mark. If they’re that old, how old am I? Rob Lowe is turning 50. I hated his smarmy character and Peter Pan pretty-boy face in St. Elmo’s Fire — and I still hate him. Sandra Bullock is gonna be 50. Wasn’t she just a young ingenue driving an out-of-control bus a couple months ago with Keanu Reeves (also 50 this year)? Add to the list Courteney Cox, Matt Dillon, Melissa Gilbert (isn’t she still in pigtails running across the prairie?!). Even Brad Pitt is hitting the Big 5-0 this year. Lately I’ve noticed his face looks as lined and tired as mine — and I’m four years older. Sweet!!

And in all this birthday talk of celebrities — and us regular people, too — is the idea that 50 is the new 30. It’s just the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in our amazing, privileged American lives, and we have decades ahead of us to fulfill dreams and create new ones. Hell, some guy in California just went skydiving for the first time on his 100 birthday! Maybe 50 is the new 15!

Mtuseni's FamilySomeone else turned 50 this month — Mtuseni’s mom, Nester. She’s a pretty, petite, gracious woman. I can’t wait to spend more time with her on my next visit to Johannesburg. She has probably asked god to bless me 10,000 times for all I’ve done for Mtuseni; she could not offer him the same on her meager salary. She has a hard life, raising three kids alone in a brick shack with no electricity or plumbing. Her oldest son Moses was killed by a car a few years ago. She’s had a few health scares lately — I think from stress and exhaustion — but there’s little money for doctors and certainly none for regular checkups. And of course the first 30 years of her life were spent under apartheid.

If 50 is the new 30 in the US, the calculus is a little different in South Africa. The average life span for a black woman in South Africa is 49. Does this mean Nester is living on borrowed time now, at age 50? When I pass the US male life expectancy of 77, I’m sure it’ll feel like the rest are lucky bonus years. How many bonus years does Nester have left? The number of people in Mtuseni’s community and circles who have died in the four years I’ve known him is shocking — and I haven’t heard about everyone, I’m sure.

So in addition to worrying about Mtuseni getting an internship, getting a job, and staying healthy — there’s always a small knot in the back of my mind worrying about Nester’s health. Because that precious family depends on her — and 50 has a different meaning in their corner of the world.


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Mational Mentoring Month

I’m a bit late to the party, but I just learned that January is National Mentoring Month in the US. Click the logo to visit the program web site and find local mentoring opportunities in your area.

To quote from the National Mentoring Month web site:

“To be a mentor, you don’t need special skills, just an ability to listen and to offer friendship, guidance and encouragement to a young person. And you’ll be amazed by how much you’ll get out of the experience.”

I can certainly attest to this. I am continually amazed by where my journey with Mtuseni has taken us, and by how much we both have grown. My involvement and investment have expanded beyond the basics of just “being there” as a mentor to become more father, nag, coach, and benefactor. But on the rare occasions when my South African son gets a little lazy or petulant or veers far off course, I remind him to think about what mentoring is all about… and he snaps right into line.

Funny… just the other day, before I knew about mentoring month and after a tough but ultimately fruitful conversation with Mtuseni, he posted this status line on his Mxit chat program:

mentor thank god

Mentoring can be hard work sometimes. It can also be pretty amazing. And make people feel invincible.

 


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After an epic stretch of (over)work beginning in October — followed by a surprisingly enjoyable and fulfilling holiday season that made this Grinch’s heart grow — I’m still trying to put things in place for a productive year ahead. So at the risk of tooting my own horn, “my” first blog post of 2013 will be an excerpt from Mtuseni’s post.

No matter how much I love this kid, I can sometimes tear my hair out in frustration and wonder why I took on this challenge. Next time I feel that way, I’ll remember what my little buddy said on his gratitude list — an achievement (still in the works) that I will consider the most important and meaningful of my life. And if I start the year as a wonder of the world, it means 2013 is going to be amazing. Happy New Year!

Victoria-Wharf-Cape-Town-South-AfricaMy Thanksgiving

2012 was an awesome but rough year for me, but I still have a lot to thank God for. It is only during this time I share my gratitude to the almighty with the world. I thank God for my daily breath because he had stored it in me to live this year fully and tackle every challenge without giving up.

It also was the people in my life that keep me going no matter how much anger I cause them, but they still love and support me in all directions.

My mom is the person that lives with this naughty soul every single day of her life and hasn’t thrown me out yet. Without this woman there wouldn’t have been a me in this world, and I’m very proud to be her son because she has gone through a lot to make sure I am granted success.

Michael Beckett — the eighth wonder of this world — has since adopted a clueless boy and made him a man. He has actually taken on my battles to fight them for me and does everything in his power to educate me in every day of my life. I wouldn’t have passed matric or gone to tertiary without his power, that is why he is my eighth wonder of this world!

more…

 


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