Dion's random ramblings

Friday, November 16, 2007

All praise and thanks to God! Our miracle son turns 1!

Liam and Courtney (still asleep) opening his Birthday presents.

Friends, please join us in praising and thanking God for the miracle and blessing of Liam's first birthday!

He is perfect and healthy in every way - we cannot begin to express how thankful we are for the miracle of his life! Please will you join us in thanking God for his health and development? He has come so far in the last year, from 1kg at birth to a healthy 10kg's. He still has some way to go, but there is nothing that love, care and a bit of occupational therapy can't sort out!

Here's the story of his birth and here are some moments from this first year of his life. And here are a few posts specifically about Liam the Great!

As you will know Megan and I fast and pray each Friday for children and premature babies, and their families of course, so it is wonderfully fitting that Liam's first birthday falls on Friday the 16th of November 2007. Today we will remember friends that we have made on this journey - some who have experienced the joy of a frail child growing strong, and those who have had to endure the sorrow and pain of loosing their precious little one.

Once again, we are so grateful to all our family and friends we have been so caring, patient, and supportive over the last year. It is a great blessing to be loved!

So, if you would like to leave little Liam a message please do so in the comments, or email it to me directly (as some have done already! Thank you!) We'll print and keep them for him to read in years to come.

A very happy dad!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Some great news about Liam, but his dad is blind as a bat...

Yesterday little Liam the great went for all his 1 year checkups (eyes, ears, muscle tone, development, but also for his injections and immunizations)...

The great news is that he is perfectly healthy! In fact, not only is he healthy, he is doing so much better than we ever anticipated! He is reaching all of his milestones, and even surpassing some. The effects of the damage to his brain are minimal, and we hope they will become even less of an issue as he grows and mature. Naturally, our doctor (responsibly) warned us that with such a premature child the first 2 years or so are always dicey, so he is not out of the woods yet. However, you wouldn't say that there is any problem if you were to see him!!!

How different things were last year this time. I know some of the photos below have been posted before, but they never seem to stop amazing me and filling me with gratitude for all that has passed.

Last year this time Megan was in hospital (for the second time) trying VERY hard not to have our baby! I remember when the pediatrician and neonatal ICU manager came to see us, we knew something was amiss. They arrived together and gave us the rundown (worse case scenario) of what could happen:

  • If Liam was born during that week he would be very frail and prone to infection.
  • There was a high chance that his lungs were not developed, so we needed to prepare ourselves for him to spend months on a respirator, and then further time an ventilator once he had learned to breath.
  • It was likely that he would suffer some brain hemorrhages as a result of his brain being so fragile and not yet capable of coping with the stimulation and trauma of being out of the womb three months early.
  • There was a high likelihood that he would need numerous bouts of surgery to help sort out any digestive problems (which are common to neonatal premature babies).
  • It was likely that he would either suffer damage to his eyes, or be entirely blind, as a result of the respiration and ventilation (oxygen damages the eyes).
After they had shown us some pictures, explained all of the risks, and allowed us to ask questions they took me into the neonatal ICU (my first of MANY visits over the next few months). I scrubbed my hands and arms, put a mask over my face, and was instructed not to touch anything or anyone. Then they showed me a little boy who was born at more or less the same stage as Liam was due to be born - he was on an open resuscitation table (with heathers), pipes, probes, and a myriad of bells and whistles attached.

It was so traumatic - when I left the ICU and had to return to the ward to tell Megie about the experience I remember sitting in the parents lounge for a few minutes just weeping... I couldn't believe that we were actually going through this! After I had composed myself I went in to Megie's room and did my best to paint everything in a positive light - but in my heart I feared that we were going to loose our little miracle boy. It was a feeling that I would feel many, many, times after his birth.

Megie and I cried our eyes out! Heck, when I think back on November, December, and January last year all I can recall is an aching hole in the pit of my stomach, and seeing the world through teary eyes.

I remember that we prayed and pleaded with God to help us, and to keep Liam from being born. We begged God to keep him and Megie safe, and then we sat in a stunned silence...

Those were dark times! But, I will confess they were made bearable by the loving support and prayers of so many friends and family - we were receiving literally hundreds of emails and text messages from concerned people (some whom we had never even met)! It was an image of the body of Christ loving itself to wholeness.

Each afternoon of that week I would leave the hospital, fetch Courtney from aftercare and do my best to be composed and strong. We kept her bag packed, so that if I got a call from the ICU Courtney could go to her aunty Madika (and have clothes for school etc.). Then we would go to the hospital and watch a bit of TV with Megie - Courtney would cry all the way home.

Tough times.... I get quite emotional even thinking about it!

Yup, so he was born very early. I got a phone call on the Thursday evening, 15 November, to say get here quickly since Megie's water had broken and there was no way to keep Liam from being born. The nurse who phoned me warned me that it was serious and that we need to be prepared for the worst. I rushed to the hospital as fast as I could (my Polo Tdi has never been quite so fast since! I was doing close to 200km/h on the highway to the hospital). When I got there Megie was in the delivery room and our gynecologist, the pediatrician, the neonatal ICU staff, and the theater sisters were all ready. There wasn't enough time for a C-section, so.... Well, you can imagine. (The photo above shows how small he was with the little blue teddy bear. The one below shows how large he is in relation to that same bear today!)

Our lives changed that instance... Suddenly so many things that were not really important just fell out of our sphere of concern. For the next three months our lives were simply focussed on spending as much time as we could in the ICU with him, and making sure that Courtney (who was not allowed into the ICU) has as normal a life as possible.

Well, it's a year later, and Liam is healthy, strong, intelligent, agile, in fact he is just perfect, perfect in every possible way!

I just don't know how we could ever thank God for such an incredible and undeserved gift! If you read this post today, or find it in a year, or two, or three, please could you offer just a short little prayer to thank God for the gift that he has bestowed upon us? We cannot do it by ourselves, we need your help to fully than God for His mercy and grace!

Well, I also had my eyes tested yesterday... it turns out I am blind as a bat.... I do have glasses, but like most people who THINK they can see without them I don't often wear them. Well from now on you'll see me 'be-specticled' much more frequently... It's a bugger getting old!

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Silence is golden... BUT, not when you are a blogger.

I have been in Durban for meetings, and then today had a day full of meetings in Johannesburg (all to do with the NEW Seth Mokotimi Methodist Seminary we are building in Pietermaritzburg).

Tomorrow I shall catch up on my office work (after a morning meeting in JHB), return the 10 zillion phone calls and emails that are waiting for me, and post a few things that I have been thinking about to this blog.

This morning I recorded three more episodes for my radio program 'The Ministry and me' - I made MP3 copies on my voice recorder. I just want to see what the quality is like and then I shall post them here for those who cannot get Radio pulpit on either their cellphones or the internet.

Thanks to everyone who has been checking in on the blog!

Please could I ask to offer thanks in your daily prayers for the gift of the life of my little miracle son Liam - he turns 1 year old on the 16th of November!

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Celebrating a powerful life! Happy Birthday Pete!

There are some people who change one's life more than they would ever know...

Today I offer thanks to God, and celebrate, my friend Peter Grassow's life - some years ago on this very day (13 October) Peter Grassow was born into the manse of a Methodist ministerial family (Pete can tell you how many years ago it was).

Pete is a follower of Christ, the kind of follower who doesn't compromise on the Gospel (even when it has consequences!) He is just, humane, loving, gracious, fair, prophetic (yup, we've just been talking about that). Oh, and he rides a large BMW motorbike and has done 12 Comrades Marathons (which means he must also be just a little bit crazy!!!)

I have known Pete for over a decade now. He has been a mentor and a guide, offering wise counsel, the ear of a friend, but also challenge and rebuke where necessary. Pete is the friend who will phone me to tell me that I am not spending enough time with my wife and children. He's also the kind of friend who phones me just about every week without fail, simply to ask how my relationship with God is going! What's even better is that he is willing to listen, and not offer advice (unless I ask for it). He's the kind of person I am pleased to follow and learn from. He gave me my first real teaching post - teaching New Testament at the College he runs in Cape Town.

Pete serves as a Pastor of a Church in Cape Town. He is a gifted preacher, a great teacher, a published author (more than a few times over), and he's one of the best leaders I know. He has been jailed for his stance against the Apartheid regime... He has faced the struggle of being the only white minister to serve in a black congregation (during a time when it was both illegal, and just not done, in both South Africa, and the Methodist Church). But more importantly, he loves Christ, loves his wife Jen, and his 3 daughters. I learn a lot from him

Happy Birthday Pete! You're a gift! And no, I don't say that to all the boys!

If you want to wish Pete a Happy Birthday (even if you don't know him), please drop him a note on his blog www.rockinthegrass.blogspot.com.

Much love from Dion, Megan, Courtney and Liam

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Friday, October 05, 2007

A year ago today... The sadness of a bureaucrat... But, tomorrow is another day!

It was the 4th of October 2006. I was dressed in a jacket and tie. Megie was about five and a half months pregnant with Liam, it was just before a week long retreat with my friends Peter Woods, Peter Grassow (above) and Kevin Needham.... A year ago today I graduated with a Doctorate in Theology. You can read more about that week here (look for the past dated 6 October 2006).

So much has changed since then! Most magnificent of all of those changes was the birth of our little miracle, Liam. I can hardly believe that he is almost a year old!

Tonight I celebrate and give thanks for Liam as I end another day of fasting - I have done 48 of these so far, every Friday for children, parents, and those who long to be parents. I do it because God knows the intensity of my gratitude and the sincerity of my intercessory prayer.

But, I am also sad - maybe I'm just hungry and pensive, but I feel sad. I miss Peter Woods - he is preparing for his year long retreat and has long since stopped blogging. I feel like I have lost a good friend. I mourn the fact that next year there will be no Phase 1 center at Plumstead in Cape Town. I wasn't involved in the final move that saw all the students from that District being placed elsewhere, but I feel guilty. Somehow as each year passes my sense of responsibility and culpability grows within the Church. Responsibility, because like most of our Church's leaders I also wish to help to make the Church more faithful so that we can honour God by bringing healing and transformation to the world, but also culpable since I realise how inadequate I am to achieve that, but also because one is seldom untouched by the struggles and mistakes of our Church, my Chuch.

My friend from Malaysia, Sivin, posted the following insightful comment on his blog - it comes from an interview with Brian Mclaren. I wonder if I am being sucked into the bureaucracy, or maybe I am already a bureaucrat, or maybe there is hope that benevolent leadership can help to change the Church and the world, or maybe I am just hopefully naive?

Bureaucracy a gift? The conversation in this post seems to model divergent and convergent thinking ?

?Whether we like it or not, hierarchy and its sibling command & control, are here to stay. That doesn?t mean that networked organisations and self-organisation are not valuable additions, but they are just that. Additions, not the norm.?

?I think the evidence is showing that hierarchy may be here to stay as a way of irrigating and organization with resources, but command and control have long given way to networked action based on relationships and intimacy. It?s how anything actually gets done, especially in large organizations. Don?t believe me? It?s the principle behind ?work to rule? slow downs. Command and control aren?t synonymous with hierarchy - one can organize a resource allocation hierarchically but use distributed leadership to get the work done.?

When the 4th ends the 5th will come... I will go for a run tomorrow and try to figure out who I am, what I should do, and what I should not do...

On Sunday I preach at Alan Storey's Church, Calvary Methodist in Midrand! I always look forward to being there!

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Monday, October 01, 2007

An update on Liam the Great!

In just over a month Liam will be 1 year old (well on the 16th of November he will be one year form birth! He will in fact only be 9 months old from his actual gestation date). Megan and I took Liam for a checkup recently. Of particular joy was our meeting with his occupational therapist. But just a few thoughts before I get to that news!

We took him to say 'hi' to the wonderful staff of Pretoria East hospital neonatal unit. It felt strange going back there... At this point Liam has spent almost one third of his life in that unit! Can you imagine having spent one third of your life in ICU!?

However, as this photo shows we have everything in the world to rejoice about! Our little miracle is just that, truly a miracle! He now weighs almost 10 times his birth weight (having grown from 1 kg to 10 kg's!) Sure, we only feed him creatine and USN supliments (that one's for you John! They are the BEST supliments in the world!), but it is paying off!

Well, the great news is that Liam is perfectly healthy. He had his first bout of tonsillitis while I was in Malaysia. However, this proved to us that his immune system is functioning as it should. In terms of his development his is on track for a premature baby - most of his milestones are being met somewhere between his birth date, and his original gestation date. There are some minor visible indicators of the trauma and damage he suffered because of the brain haemorrhage's. He has struggled a little with his left arm and leg. However, the OT assures us that there is nothing so serious that we cannot deal with it through exercise and stimulation.

Friends, we cannot thank God enough for the incredible miracle of his grace!

Strangely enough I my gratitude was enriched while I preparing my log book for my tax return... Liam was born on the 16th of November, on the 20th and 21st of November I was moderating exams as an external examiner for TEE College. It was on the 2oth of November that Megan phoned me with that dreaded call to say that Liam had a grade 4 bleed in the parietal lobe, and that I needed to get to the unit as quickly as I could - they did not think that he would survive the day... In my log book it simply says 'Turfontein to Pretoria - hospital visit'.

It was possibly one of the most painful hours of my life as I drove from Johannesburg to Pretoria to meet my distraught wife and baptise my 1kg, 1 week old son, before he died...

Well, here he is! Perfect in every possible way! A testimony to God's grace and creative power!

Megie and I still continue to fast and pray every Friday. We do it to give thanks to God for all that God has done, but also to remember that many others have not had the same experience of joy and blessing that we have. We don't understand why that is. But, we do pray. We pray in the hope that God's grace would reach and bless others who are going through what we went going through.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Never too small to remember

This week has been amazing in so many ways. I have met and interacted with great scholars. I have spent time in ancient churches and centres of learning. I have discovered new friends, and been reaquanted with old ones. I have learnt so much, and had a few chances to teach.

However, as I think back on this week the experience is run through with one overarching idea - the fact that everyone, and every story, matters.

Before leaving for South Africa I was asked to write a chapter for a book on HIV / AIDS. I have been doing some research and reading, talking with Christian AIDS workers, and spending time with persons who are HIV positive, and those who have felt the great loss of loosing a loved one to this dissease. The reality is that very few of those persons' stories will ever be told. That matters. However, at another level their stories make up the very fabric of who each one of us is. They are our world.

This week I have been moved to tears (in private - this is England after all!) whilst reading Pehlippe Denis little book 'Never too small to remember: Memory work and resilience in times of AIDS' (2005, Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg). The book tells of the marvelous work that is being done among AIDS orphans in Kwazulu Natal through the use of 'memory boxes'. The aim of the project is to build a greater resilience in children and child headed households where both parents have been lost to AIDS. Of course there is very little that could ever be done to remove the agony of such a loss, but there is a great deal that can be done to help such young people. Naturally pragmatic and practical solutions seek to educate, clothe, and feed the children. This is necessary. It challenges me to think if I could not give and do more to help make their lives a little easier. But such generosity does not deal with the deep hurt and stigma associated with their loss. Morover, if the children themselves are HIV positive they will need more than just food, clothing, and education, to make meaning of their lives, to do more than just survive, but to truly live.

I have spent quite a lot of time with my friend Clive Marsh this week. He and I have been talking about the importance of experience and memory as a source of healing, yet also an essential source of good theology.

The memory box, which is the 'memory tool' Philippe Denis uses, allows the children and their care givers to make use of narrative, story-telling, to recount the memories that they have of their parents (both the good and the bad). It allows them to articulate, analyse, understand, and move through these memories (note that I don't say move beyond - to move through means that one takes something of the memory with you into your future). In doing so the children are given a far greater resilience to cope with their past, make choices in their present life, and form a new future. They can learn to live with the virtues and grace of belonging to the wider community (which as you know is essential as an expression of ubuntu in African communities), but they can also learn how to solve the problems that their parents and caregivers faced.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Today I remember where I come from. The picture above was taken in 1989. I was in my final year in high school [yes, I had a porno 80's hairstyle - although the mullet I had on my wedding day was even worse!].

So much has happened in the 18 years since then, and so much had gone before. My parents were divorced when I was 2, we left Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, came to South Africa to start again and encountered many more severe challenges and hardship than most. I was raised in my early years by my mother who struggled - the struggle was within herself and often caused great hardship around her. She was married, and in relationships, many times. My early childhood is filled with memories of terror, physical and emotional violence, yet also with tenacity and a will to live - it was however, also the dawning of my faith. I remember praying ernestly for the first time when I was 9. My mother's husband at the time had come home in a drunken rage and had beaten her to the point of breaking her back. My brother of 11 had tried to defend her yet was unable and also faced the madman's wrath. I was afraid for my life, and for the life of my mother and brother, and so in desperation I grabbed a hammer and hit the man on his head. He fell to the ground bleeding.

I remember praying, a frightened 9 year old, fearful that everyone was dead - my mother, my brother, and my mother's husband. Somehow the knowledge that there was a person - not a power but a person - named Jesus who could see, hear, and answer my prayers gave me the hope that I needed to get beyond that night.

Of course, such scars remain with one. By the time the picture above was taken I had been off the rails a few times. I had used (and abused) most of the drugs that were popular in the 80's, sought refuge in popularity and rebelion, and given my poor father and step mother many sleepless nights and gray hairs! I had been arrested, asked to leave church groups, and caused a lot of unhapiness to many people. I also had two tatoos and many earings as a reminder of those times.... In some ways it was because I had not built up a spiritual resilience that I sought comfort and meaning in physical and psychosocial remedies.

Perhaps it was when I discovered Christ, not just as a saviour, but as a friend, that my life changed most. That was in 1987. It was the first time that I knew that I was loved unconditionaly, that there was no threat, no need to impress, no expectation, just love.

Of course a great deal has taken place since that photo was taken. I have been married to Megan for almost 14 years now. She completes me in ways I could never have imagined. I have my two miracle children, Courtney and Liam, both of whom have stretched my heart and filled me with a new kind of wild passion. This passion moves me inwardly, to find ways of loving them and caring for them by showing them the kind of grace I have experienced in Christ. Yet, it also moves me outwards - to seek to change our world so that what they grow into will not be a place of fear, hate, and danger - this too is the work of Christ in me.

My life is very different now - as I write this I am sitting in one of the oldest, and most prestigious, academic institutions in the world, Christ Church, Oxford University. Who would ever have thought? But I am different in otherways: I am taller, fatter, balder, and richer than I was when I was 9... I also have more debt... But, I am also happier, more grateful, and much more privelaged. Remembering who I am helps me to savor these moments and experiences. They cannot be taken for granted!

Even though my life is different, I guess I am still the same. I am still Dion, I remember my past and long for a better future. I still enjoy adventures and love to pray. My memory box makes me more resilient. God has never forsaken me - God heard my prayer when I was 9, God heard my prayer last year when Liam was born, God still hears my prayer today.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Liam's Baptism 10 June 2007

Sunday the 10th of June was an evening of wonderful celebration for the Forster and Seviour families! It was an opportunity for us to give thanks to God for the miracle of little Liam's life, and to commit ourselves to caring for him, and raising him, in a manner that is fitting of a Christian household.

Christopher Harrison, the senior minister of the Bryanston Methodist Church, where Megie, Courts, Liam and I are members, did the baptism. He was wonderful! After leading us through the liturgy of commitment he baptised Liam and said a beautiful prayer. I need to get the exact words from him since I would love to use it myself in years to come.

However, it went something like:

I touch your heart so that it may be filled to overflowing with the love of Christ.
I touch your eyes that they may see the beauty and glory of God's creation.
I touch your lips that they may come to speak of the majesty of your creator.
I touch your hands that they may loving do God's will.
I touch your feet that they may walk in the path of God's grace and mercy. Amen.
We did not take any photographs during the service. However, we did take a few photos at Gwen and Rhys' house (Megie's sister).

So, here they are. Isn't our boy looking great! I rejoice at God's goodness, mercy, and care for us as a family! I pray that out of the abundance of that grace we may be able to bless, support, and care for others who are in need of that same gracious love!

Liam and Mom giving each other a kiss!

And here's a picture of Courts holding her little brother. Courtney is such a wonderful blessing to us. She stood up front in the Church as we made our promises. It was not only an opportunity to baptise Liam, but also to remember the promises that we made when Courtney was baptised in 2000.

So, once again, thank you to everyone who prays for us as a family. Your prayer, support, and care is a great encouragement and blessing! We cherish and value the wonder of being part of a loving, caring, Christian community. It was for that reason that we requested that Liam should be baptised in the evening service, since this is the service at which I preach, and the service at which we feel most at home as a family.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Our darling girl and the miracle kid

Yesterday the miracle kid, AKA Liam the Great, went for his checkup with all of his doctors (trust me there are many of them!) and also went to be weighed (not as traumatic for men as for women, also at this stage of life it is a good thing to pick up weight!), and of course to spend a couple of thousand rand on injections (to our medical aid, thanks for nothing... Well, not quite nothing... R3000 out of R60 000 is something, I guess! That's why we pay them the big money! They're smarter than we are).

Here's a picture of little Liam doing during the day what he should be doing at night. It's called sleep, other people have told us about it. One day we will re-discover what it is like ;-)

Doesn't he look all grown up? He is so peaceful. Friends, you may never be able to understand what an incredible joy and blessing it is for Megie, Courtney, and I to see our little miracle boy like this. He is free from machines, he looks chubby, and with the exception of
a few little niggles with his left limbs he is perfect in every possible way. I don't know how anyone cannot believe that God is not active, engaged, compassionate and loving? By the way, for the those who are interested in a creative and novel approach to the the theology of providence, check out Rob Bell's DVD 011 called 'Rhythm', it's in the nooma series.

Here's a picture of Courtney and Liam together watching a bit of TV on the couch! Courts is such a gift to Liam, and of course an incredible gift to us. She has been so wonderful throughout the last six months. In her I have seen a compassion, maturity, and child-like faith that I wish I could rediscover! We give thanks for both of our children.

So, I am reminded that in the midst of all of the things that matter, there are some things that matter more. Worship is about discovering truth, declaring it as truth, and then making that truth become more and more real in one's daily life. Today I worship the God of all creation for the miracle of life, for the safety of living within God's faithfulness, and for the joy of knowing that I receive undeserved grace...

Thank you for your continuing prayers for us. We cherish the thought of knowing that there are people who remember us in the intimacy of God's presence. Just as an aside, quite a few of you have contacted me to say that you take up the discipline of fasting during of the week (quite a few of you join me on a Friday). I still engage in that simple act - it reminds me just how much I need God. It creates a realisation in me that in my world of privelage I am still the same as every other person who must eat to survive, and so my ministry must bring food to the hungry. It also reminds me that I am often more hungry for physical food than I am for the true bread of life, Jesus. For those who have not done so for a long time, why not consider giving up just one meal? Give that food to someone who needs it more than you do, and give the time to God, the one who sends the bread of life, like manna in the desert, that will take away your hunger for all eternity....

Anyway, here endeth today's sermon ;-)

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Liam the GREAT has a bath!

I uploaded the Video below onto youtube this evening. It is a video of Liam the great having a bath! So, for the more sensitive, and prudish, not that this video contains nudity (you'll see a naked 5 month old guy! Oh the shame!!!) Ha ha.

Take a look at how fat his little tummy is getting, and you'll even get a glimpse of Liam's little smile!

(PS. since this is a youtube video it does not need to load completely to play... So if you are on narrowband internet, just set it started and come back in a few minutes, move the slider to the start of the movie and you should be able to watch it without any problems).

As mentioned in the previous post, little Liam now weighs just over 5 kilograms (that's 5 times his birth weight). And he is perfect in every possible way!

Have a great week!

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter MIRACLES!!! This one's for you Janet!

Happy Easter everyone! I pray that it was a time of renewal and rediscovery for you.

I had the great honour of preaching an Easter Mission entitled 'The week that changed the world could change your life'. I preached the following messages from Palm Sunday to Wednesday (and I've thrown in my Easter Sunday message from Bryanston Methodist Church for good measure):

1. Sunday morning services Growing like Christ: God's unexpected tools for maturing people.
2. Sunday evening Christ the King: Is God ever satisfied?
3. Monday evening Easter's empty promises.
4. Tuesday evening Judas Christ's most honest and successful disciple! Coping with failure and living without regret.
5. Wednesday Evening Prayer under pressure: There's a lesson in the tone of Christ's voice.
6. Easter Sunday The hope of Victory: More certain than death and taxes!

We had an incredible response to the mission! It was such a joy to be with Les Green and his wonderful people. I am always overwhelmed by the generosity and grace of God's people. I was so lovingly received and richly affirmed by them.

OK, now onto our little Miracle! Janet gently reminded me just recently in a comment on this blog that I haven't given an update on little Liam in a while. Well, he is doing so well!!!!! He now weights just under 5kg's and is 5 months old. He has had 3 of his synergis injections (so one leg is worth R20 000 and the other is worth R10 000!) So, 3 more to go! He has responded well to the injections and has been infection free. Thank you so much to all those who have prayed for us, offered us support, and donated towards the cost of these life saving injections. We appreciate it all so much. You may never know how much! Hey Wes!!! What can I say? You're a gift and a miracle of God's grace to us!

Sometimes we forget just how far we have come over the last 5 months. Take a look at this photo that was taken just after his birth.

Look how little and frail he was!

The picture on the right was taken just after his birth. He was so tiny! Now, however, he looks like a REAL baby!!! He is quite heavy to hold and such a strong and robust little guy.

What is even more wonderful is that he has started to SMILE!! All parents will remember those first smiles from their kids. Liam has been a little late in getting to his smiles, but when he finally got there it was the most incredible and wonderful sight in the world! It melts my heart (and my brain! Dr Dad goes 'goo goo, gaa gaa, choo' all day long, just in the hope of getting him to smile).

How COOL is this!? Look at that smile. Isn't Liam looking great? Not only does he smile like this, he has also started to 'churtle' a bit. It sounds fantastic and it just blesses us so much to get this type of response out of him.

Megie, Courtney, and Liam spent the Easter Weekend with Megie's folks, Brian and Brenda, who have moved to Hilcrest in Kwazulu Natal (I on the other hand had a bit of work to do, but was also ill, so it was just as well that I couldn't go with them). This photo was taken at their new place (Megie went down with her mom to help her to unpack and visit with them in their new home). So, this was Liam's first trip to the coast. He LOVED the sea. Megie put his feet in the water and he couldn't get enough! A water baby!

Courtney also loved it at the sea! She is constantly nagging Megie and I to 'move back' to our home in Cape Town! Wouldn't that be great!? Here's a picture Courts sitting on the beach (she is growing up FAR too quickly!!! Just look at this pose! Even though I am a 'Gun Free' campaigner I need to start saving for a shotgun!)

I am so blessed with these wonderful people that God allows me the joy of sharing my life with. Megie is a wonder. I am more in love with her day after day! Please pray for her as she prepares to go back to work full time at the end of this month (she has been back in the office a few times a week already for the past few weeks, but I know it is going to be heart wrenching when the time comes for her to go back full time. So please do pray for her!) Courts goes back to school on Tuesday after her Easter break. So it will be morning rides on the Vespa! Yipee. Although it is starting to get a bit colder now, so we will have to wrap up to stay warm.

Some personal news from me is that I am starting my second Doctorate in the coming weeks. I have been toying with the idea for a few months now, spoken to a few friends, colleagues and advisors, and have decided to get going rather than waste anymore time thinking about it. Yup, you read correctly, I am starting a second Doctorate. I will share some of the reasons and motivation behind this as it unfolds. For now I simply need to say, I cannot cope without studying! I need to read, I need to be challenged to think beyond what is commonplace, and I need a bit of extra pressure to write! Plus I still don't sleep all that well and I need something more worthwhile and stimulating to do with late nights and early mornings! I also love reading the Bible and have been wanting to take my New Testament studies further at a more critical level. So, this one's going to be in New Testament (at this stage anyway).

Well, there you go. That's the news Forsterdom!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Don't forget the poor! I thank God that I can feel, although it is seldom easy...

I have a life of great blessing and privilege. Many of you who know me well know how often I struggle with a feelings of unworthiness. Why on earth should my life be so great, when there are others in the world who are so much more holy, devout, committed, pure, intelligent, caring (and the list goes on), who should suffer and struggle? Why should I have so much, when others have so little? How can I possibly sleep at night, and work through the day, knowing that nearby there are children who starve, wives who are beaten, men who have lost their self respect because they have been unable to work for months, whole communities dying of HIV... how can I do it?

I feel. In fact to be honest, I feel it deeply, often to the point of great sadness.

However, I thank God that I can experience life, that I can feel, and that I can think. In particular I am grateful that God employs all of my faculties in engaging with me, as unworthy as I am!

Let the truth be known, God truly does speak to me (not so much in an audible voice... Although that does happen from time to time when I forget to take my meds ;-)!

God speaks to me by engaging my intellect; I have been re-reading Dawkin's attack on faith The God delusion. Through it God has spoken to me and is reminding me that faith is not incongruent with reason, in fact it belief is the most reasonable response in a suffering world! Someone once asked Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychologist and writer, how he could still believe in a loving God after witnessing and surviving the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. He is believed to have answered "how could one possible go through such horror without believing in God?" If I did not believe, I simply could not cope. For I would either have to stop feeling, or I would be driven to complete despair. My belief gives me hope.

God speaks to me through my emotions, I have had a number of very emotive encounters with God of late (I guess that some of it has to do with the fact that I am feeling somewhat run down and tired because of the demands and business of these past few months, such feelings always leave me quite emotional. Coupled with this is the emotional roller coaster of Liam's growth and recovery since November last year). I feel, and I thank God for it! I can think of nothing worse than being as hard as a rock, impassible, and without the capacity for either great joy or great pain. It is not possible to experience the one, without the possibility of also experiencing the other.

And, God speaks to me through my experience of reality (particularly as it is mediated through the scriptures, and through significant relationships). I would like to dwell on this point a little if I may.

This weekend I experienced, once again, the dichotomy of privilege and poverty. The privilge is that I had the honour to preside at the wedding of very special family friends in Cape Town. Imagine if you can, the incredible honour of being able to facilitate a moment of such loving intensity that it will carry two persons forward in commitment, hope, faith, and deepening love for the rest of their lives. I cannot imagine any servant of the gospel who is worthy of such a great honour. And so, as I spoke with Sean and Kim, and addressed the gathered family and friends, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at being asked to play some small part in the sacredness of this moment. That they should find me worthy to do it, that God should find me worthy to call me such ministry, blows my mind! Of course, together with this privilege came the practical expressions of their regard for me, a situation that I still struggle to understand. I was flown to Cape Town, given a car, accommodated in a magnificent hotel, lavished with gifts.

As part of the trip I also had the joyous privilege of visiting some of my closest friends, Gus, Heather, Andre (AKA Norm) and Michelle. They are so kind to me, so affirming, so loving... How could I ever deserve such love? It was great to experience it though.

Last night I once again had the privilege of standing in front of a full Church, over 300 people I would guess, eager to hear the Gospel and worship God. It is a Church filled with some of the most brilliant hearts and minds of our nation! Among them are doctors, lawyers, economists, parents, children, scholars, teachers, servants and of course friends. What could I have done to deserve such an honour? That they would trust me to listen for God's voice and share my insights with them still blows my mind. They are far more intelligent, and many far more committed and creative in their expressions of Christ's love! However, I gratefully accept the privilege of ministering to them.

Last week Megan and I received a third donation towards Liam's medical expenses. We are so undeserving of the grace showered upon us by people who don't even know us! Our friend Wessel Bentley's Church has given us a total of R32 5oo towards the R100 000 or so that we have had to find to cover unpaid medical bills (please also see my blog entry below about the incredible gift from an unknown saint)! How could we ever be worthy of such generosity? Yet, we are blessed and thankful to receive it. Perhaps more thankful than they will ever know. I am so undeserving of such generosity and grace.

On Friday I heard from a colleague, who has become a dear friend, the Revd Zdzislaw Hendzel, that his son Christopher who was also born at 27 weeks in February this year had passed away after an almost 2 month struggle in the neonatal ICU. I was crushed. I don't know how to respond. Why do I have the privilege of the life of my son, yet he does not have the privilege of his? It is an undeserved and not understood. All I could do was weep and pray. It came on the day of my fast. I will continue to make that sacrifice of thanksgiving. I have no other response.

And so God speaks to me... And I hear.

What I hear is that even though I am so privileged, I am totally impoverished. There is not a single achievement, accolade, honour or blessing in my life that belongs to me. Everything is a gracious gift from God. And, my desire to find a way to become worthy of these honours is in itself a selfish desire, a desire to remove the grace and somehow pretend that I have earned these great gifts, that perhaps I could show that I deserve them. But, I do not. They are simply gifts, gracious, undeserved, unmerited gifts. I have no moral, spiritual, or intellectual prosperity. I simply live in humble dependence on the God of all grace.

My friend Peter Grassow sent me the following quotes this morning:

Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. - Deuteronomy 15:10-10


It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity. -Frederic D. Huntington

Poverty and privilege. These are the two contrasting realities of my life.

There is in my congregation at Bryanston a young man who is so remarkable, so gifted, so worthy of every privilege that life could shower on brilliance, yet he has chosen to give his best (and he is the best) to serve God. His service is not just empty words. This young man has devoted his brilliant mind, his youthful energy, and his compassionate heart, to alleviate poverty, poverty of the worst kind. I am inspired by him, it is a privilege to know him, to know people like Sean, Kim, Gus, Heather, Andre, Michelle, Zdzislaw, Wessel, Peter, it is a privilege to know Jason (AKA Jay). They remind me that my life is intended to spent, and spent generously. I can find no better response to my privilege and poverty than to have my life spent in the service of others, others who are far greater than me. If I can change just one life like this, my life will have been well spent!

Please could you take some time to read Jason's reflection and challenge (in MS Word format below)?

1Q 2007.doc

Let's allow our privilege and our poverty to speak to us, and as Jason challenges us at the end of his reflection, let us "Remember the poor". I seem to remember Jesus saying,

'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these..., you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

The cycle of another year! John Wesley College Graduation 2007, with gratitude and thanks.

One of the great comforts of life is that it moves in cycles. My year is metered and regulated by the various functions and activities that occupy my energy, creativity, and time. Most of these relate to my work as the Dean of John Wesley College, the Seminary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

Today was another moment to reflect, give thanks, and remember, the years that have passed since I have been in this responsible post. Please check below for a copy of the little article that I wrote for the EMMU website about this year's graduation (that has the facts, these are the feelings).

Last night I drove my newly painted (Old) Vespa up the hill to our College Chapel to check that everything was in order for the Graduation today. I am in that glorious stone Chapel daily (each morning from 7.30 to 8.30 we have a worship service with our students - it is predominantly worship in the African idiom with drums, a bell, a beat, and almost entirely in the vernacular). However, last night as I entered that same Chapel I was overcome by an entirely different emotion.... I can only describe it as a feeling extreme humility, unworthiness, and gratitude. I entered the Chapel just as the sun was setting, it is truly a magnificent space in just the right light (built in 1927 with large stones and a fantastic stained glass window and polished red floor). I walked in and saw how our students, my colleagues, had meticulously prepared every aspect of the Chapel for the graduation service. It was pristine, everything in its place, the air still filled with the smell of wood polish! And then the feeling I spoke of earlier came upon me, I knelt at the rail, where I kneel every Tuesday morning for the weekly Eucharistic service, and I gave thanks to God! How thankful I am that I have survived another year to be at the Graduation again. How thankful I am for all the growth and incredible experiences I have had in the last 4 years. How thankful I am to the Methodist Church of Southern Africa for entrusting me with this awesome responsibility of training her ministers (a task for which I am ill equipped, and certainly not worthy). How thankful I am for my loving wife, my darling daughter, and my healthy son. How thankful I am for the vain things, like my education, and the silly things, like my Vespa!

How thankful I am indeed! How undeserving, yet grateful that God should shower me with such grace and blessing. I don't understand the privilege I have been given. I often struggle with the responsibility and pressure (those who read Greek will understand when I speak of it as thlipsis more than just pressure), but that too is a gift of God's grace; keeping me reliant on God and the people among whom I have been placed. I am thankful!

I prayed for a while until it was completely dark, and then I climbed onto my Vespa (pushed it down the road because it still doesn't start! I'm thankful for the exercise that gives me!) and enjoyed the evening air as I rode home on a beautiful summer evening in Africa to be with my family. Last night I rested well. Today I celebrated. I am at peace today, and once again I am thankful.

Here is the article about the Graduation from the EMMU website (these are the facts..... Well, sort of):

The Campus of John Wesley College, the seminary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, has been abuzz with activity for the last number of days. The reason for this heightened activity was all of the preparations that needed to be made for the College's annual Graduation ceremony that was held this morning (Saturday 10 March, 2007).

(Click on a photograph to enlarge it) The photograph above shows a few of the Bible Women who were graduating with Certificates in Theology, having completed their Certificate studies over a period of two years. Below is a picture of some of the Evangelists who had completed the same course.

In total 22 Bible Women and Evangelists received their qualifications from the Reverend Jacob Freemantle, the Warden of the Order of Bible Women and Evangelists in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Together with these Graduates, a number of awards were given to student ministers for outstanding achievement in their studies in 2006. These included:

  • Rev Chris Mokone - Best results at John Wesley College in 2006
  • Rev Jacob Mokhutso - Best first year student at John Wesley College in 2006
  • Rev Jenny Sprong - Best Progress towards Ordination
  • Rev Michael Lambatjeen - Best student for the ministry outside the borders of South Africa
  • Rev Phatisiwe Mthi - best progress from a student at John Wesley College in 2006
  • Rev Ryan Killian - Best minister in Phase 1 training in 2006
  • Rev Ndikhokele Mtshiselwa - Best honours (post graduate) student at John Wesley College in 2006
A number of senior dignitaries from the Methodist Church of Southern Africa were in attendance.

From Left to Right
Row 1: Rev Professor Neville Richardson (Director of EMMU and Principal of John Wesley College), Rev Vido Nyobole (Connexional Secretary of the MCSA), Rev Dr Gavin Taylor (Bishop of the Limpopo District of the MCSA)
Row 2: Rev Luvuyo Sifo (Chairman of the John Wesley College Student Council in 2007), Rev Sifiso Khuzwayo (Lecturer in Christian Proclamation and Homiletics at John Wesley College), Dr Joan Jackson (Lecturer in Church History at John Wesley College), Rev Dr Dion Forster (Dean John Wesley College).
Row 3: (center) Rev Jacob Freemantle (Warden of the Order of Bible Women and Evangelists), Rev Ruth Jonas (coordinator of training for Lay ministries in the MCSA), Rev M Molale (District Supervisor of Studies for the Central District of the MCSA).
Row 4: Rev Madika Sibeko (coordinator of training for Ordained ministries in the MCSA), Mrs Liz McDougal (English lecturer at John Wesley College), Mrs Audrey Zinde (Zulu lecturer at John Wesley College). Not pictured here, who were also in attendance at the celebration, are Bishop Paul Verryn (Bishop of the Central District), and Rev Sox Leleki (African Church History lecturer at John Wesley College).

The students of John Wesley College need to be thanked and acknowledged for their hard work and superb preparation for this celebration! Thanks also goes to Professor Richardson for his inspiring address on the need for sacrificial and dedicated Christian witnesses (from the Greek word martures - out of which developed the concept of the Christian martyr). It was truly challenging! An MP3 audio copy of the address is available upon request from Dr Dion Forster.

It was a truly wonderful day of celebration and thanksgiving for years of commitment and work by the students.

To view the full set of 50 photographs from the Graduation ceremony please go to the EMMU flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7347784@N08/sets/72157594580272085/

(Dion Forster, John Wesley College, 10 March 2007)

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Monday, March 05, 2007

The smell of rain... This is a heartwarming testimony of God's love and grace!

Every now and then someone sends something by email that touches me to the very depth of my being. This morning I received the word document below from my friend Kerry.

If you get a chance to download and read it you will certainly be blessed! It is called "the smell of rain". I couldn't stop crying as I read through it. Yup, cowboys (and Vespa riders) do cry!

The smell of rain.doc (about 200K)

Much love and blessing to all as you start this new week!

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

We praise God for an unknown saint! AND, an update on Liam

A note of thanks to an unknown saint.

I have often read the text, "... in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28 NIV, emphasis mine).

Of course I know that the text was written by Paul to the Christians in Rome (which he had not yet visited. He was writing to introduce himself, and his beliefs, to this group of Christians in the hope that they would be generous enough to accommodate and help him, using Rome as a home base, while he went on a missionary journey into Spain, which he never got to do before his death), and that this verse comes at the end of his speech on life in the Spirit, and how God's Spirit empowers us for holy and righteous living in the face of persecution and hardship, which was of course a daily reality for Christians in the 1st century. At that time the Church was nothing other than a strange 'sect' of Judaism, rejected by the Roman gentiles because of its links to Judaism, and ejected from the synagogue and persecuted by the Jews of the day because the belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

It cannot be denied that this verse has had a special meaning for so many Christians throughout the ages. At many different times, and in many different situations, this text has brought hope and comfort to people in all sorts of distress. I think that in most cases God is pleased when we hear God's word through scripture, and when it speaks directly to a need that we have.

Well, this week we have experienced this incredible grace again! On Friday I got a phone call in the office from an unnamed member of our congregation at Bryanston saying that she wanted to deposit some money into our account, on behalf of a friend, to help us with Liam's medical expenses! I was blown away! It is never easy to receive gifts such as these, firstly, because we feel so unworthy of such generosity, and secondly, because I think that every person has to contend with the sin of pride - that is, being self sufficient and independent. However, the person was so kind on the phone, even when I encouraged her to consider donating the money to another more worthy cause. I couldn't have been more surprised when I checked my bank account!

We don't know who the generous benefactor is, however, we cannot thank God enough for your incredible generosity! I don't think we have every quite experienced such great love and blessing!

This text from Romans took on a whole new meaning for us this week, God has worked for our good, in spite of our unworthiness and the struggle that we have been through over the last 4 months. We cannot stop praising God for God's incredible power in healing little Liam, and for the love, care, and generosity of God's people in taking care of Megie, Courtney, Liam and I.

So, whoever you are, we thank God for you! And we thank God not only for the tangible way in which your gift will help us to care for our son, but also for making us feel so appreciated, special, and valuable! We're on top of the world!

An update on Liam.

Little Liam is getting less and less little by the day (I know that is not good grammar, but it's true!) This Thursday Liam went to be weighed and he now weighs 3.3kg's! That's almost exactly 3 times his body weight! He now weighs more than Courtney weighed when she was born (she was 2.7kg's at birth). Liam's progress has also been great, he is starting to become a lot more lucid and responsive (he follows sounds and faces much more easily, and he is doing his best to try and smile!) We visited with some good friends of ours last week Sunday (my friend Christopher and his wife Keryn, and their family. I was preaching at Chris' church in Midrand). Their son Nathan was born just short of a month after Liam (he was born on the 8th of December, at 4.5kg's!!! Can you imagine!?) He is such a lovely, healthy little guy. However, when we have Liam together with him we are able to see that Liam is still a little behind. Nathan smiles, laughs, rolls over, and is awake quite a bit. However, we were aware that little Liam would take a few months longer to do such things. Our occupational therapist said that we can only really start tracing his progress from his intended birth date (11 February), rather than from his actual birth date (16 November). So, whereas he has been out of the womb for almost 4 months, he is really only two weeks old! The photo at the top of this post shows him fast asleep yesterday! He is getting quite heavy to carry! But boy, it is SO MUCH easier to handle him now that he has a bit of flesh! In fact he is getting so chubby that he is getting little folds on his joints (you know what I'm talking about? It looks like his wrists, feet and legs have been 'screwed' onto each other! Just take a look at the photo above and compare it to some of the older photos on the blog. You won't be able to believe the difference).

Hey friends, I cannot tell you how incredible this little guy has changed our lives! He is SUCH a miracle and such a gift! This morning as I was praying I was thanking God for him and for Courts (and of course also Megie!), and for all of you who have supported and upheld us in your prayers. Please will you also give thanks to God with us for these great gifts?

I am still fasting every Friday for the other little babies that are undergoing this struggle. The little girl that I have written about before is still in the ICU after more than 5 months. She is still very ill and having fits often throughout the day. I also discovered that one of my Methodist colleagues, the Rev Z Henslow in Nelspruit, had a baby born at 27 weeks. I spoke with him on Thursday and heard that their little one may have to go for an operation. So, please will you continue to pray for them? We have seen the difference that prayer makes in our lives! We truly believe that it will make a difference in these little lives as well.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

our baby, my back, my blog, and other business...

Wessel reminded me that I had not updated my blog in over a week. Indeed, that is true!

If there is one sure fire way to stop people returning to your blog, it is not updating regularly. So, to all the regular readers, sorry!

Firstly, little Liam is doing great! He has finally started picking up weight close to what he ought to. As mentioned in an earlier post, since Liam came home he has been struggling to pick up weight within the range that is required of him (he should be gaining about 150grams a week). In his first week home he picked up only 40 odd grams, and then 80 in the second week. However, this week he picked up 130 grams! So, he is getting there. The even better news is that he went to have his eyes tested on Friday. Most premature babies (well over 80%) have some problems with their eyes. Most commonly they get detached retina's due to the fact that they are on such high doses of oxygen whilst in the ICU. However, when Liam had his eyes tested this week the optometrist simply said that he is a miracle child. Of course we know that, and we praise God for him! Indeed, the fact that he was on oxygen for 6 and some weeks, and that he had the brain hemorrhage should have left him with some damage. But, praise God, he has perfect eyesight!! Please will you join us in thanking God for this?

January is always a busy time for me. We have our huge department of education meetings, we also have the connexional January seminar where all of our student ministers (over 200) come together for a week's training (hey Gus, it was great to see you, and Juan, your Ordination is such a joy!!! Thank you very much for honouring me by asking me to be one of your Presbyters... I promise, I won't wear the red robes!) It would seem that any such meeting comes with great stress. In the last week I slept less than 4-5 hours each night, and did not have a single moment all day where I was not busy with someone, teaching, answering questions, praying, listening, or having to communicate some element of discipline because of lack of performance.

For the last two years I have had a reminder set in my Palm diary. It goes off every Monday morning at 6.45am (we start chapel at 7.30am each day, so this just reminds me before I get to see the students from about 7am onwards). The reminder reads:

"Be joyful in hope, faithful in prayer, and patient in affliction" (Romans 12:12)

This certainly was a worthwhile reminder! So, as I grappled with Bishops, agonised over students, and did all that was required I held onto these encouraging words.

Of course, stress has a consequence... My back seems to have picked up the majority of the stress... I have not been able to lie down or carry too much weight. So, please do pray that it gets better.

This week I have to orientate all the new students who are arriving at John Wesley College. For many of them this is the start of a new and exciting journey towards full time ministry, for others it is a further step on that journey. Please would pray for them as they undertake this step and discover all that is expected of them? Would you also please pray for me and all our College staff as we do what is required to help them faithfully answer God's call?

In between these activities I need to continue with my research for the Theological Society meetings, and for the Oxford institute at which I will present a paper in August this year (my abstract was received and I have been accepted as a member of the Oxford institute).

Of course I hope to do a few of the trips between the College and the two universities on my Vespa! That is sure to bring some further joy and relaxation.

So, I hope to update the blog with more news and ideas! Thanks for checking in!

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

What she looked like in her day... AND an update on Liam 18 January 2007

1968 vespa sprint 150
Originally uploaded by mennyj.

I found this incredible picture of a Vespa VLB Sprint on Flickr today. It shows you what my VLB would have looked like some 39 years ago when she was brand spanking new!

Today I was so pleased to have a Vespa! We only live about two blocks from Courtney's school, however traffic in Pretoria is so bad at the moment that it takes longer to drive there (about 25 minutes) than it would to walk that distance. However, we don't realy have time for either a 25 minute walk or a 25 minute drive! So, today we decided to go to school on my Vesparoogie! I managed to leave home at 7.05 and be back at the office by 7.15. Some of the other parents were still stuck in the traffic when I was already drinking my first cup of coffee and responding to emails!

Then, this afternoon I was called out to the hospital to pray with one of the parents of a baby in the ICU. The hospital is about 20km's away from my office, but it can take quite a while to get there. If I had taken my car, it may have taken even longer because there was a power outage and so none of the traffic lights were working. The cars were backed up for miles, I managed to get there in just around 20 minutes and be there in good time to pray with someone who truly needed to experience God's grace and care. It was not only great to be able to share God's love in that way, but it was fantastic to ride my Vespa; and a joy to save about an hour in the traffic on the journey there and back!

So, here's to my old girl! She is such a blessing! Tomorrow I will ride her to the studio in the morning to do a live broadcast with Prof van der Watt for the show 'Do you know what you're reading', a call-in program where folks can ask questions about the Bible and have them answered by a real Biblical scholar (Prof van der Watt) and an English guy with a Doctorate who is pretty much there because he can speak English (that's me!) Let's see if I need another push start ;-) I sure hope not! I may just park around the corner so that when we leave I won't be seen pushing my scoot down the road...

Now, onto the news that TRULY matters. Megie took Liam back to the doctor today for his checkup while I was at work. He has been home for two weeks now! He is doing very, very well indeed. The only little hickup is that he hasn't been picking up enough weight. He needs to pick up about 150 grams a week. This week he picked up somewhere between 80 grams and 100 grams, and only about 40 grams last week. So it is a bit of a worry for us. It would seem that he is still so close to that stage where feeding takes more energy than it gives him, that some feeds are actually causing him to loose weight, or simply balance out (Wow, if only I could eat and loose a bit of weight!!) Anyway, the doctor will keep monitoring his progress and we would ask for your prayers please.

Please could I also ask you to pray for the other babies that are still in the ICU, and for their parents? As I mention above, there are still some very real needs among the little kids who are there. Two of the parents who we got to know quite well have babies with serious struggles at the moment. How I wish we could waive a some magic wand and make them all better!

My father-in-law undertook to fast every Friday until Liam came home. I have undertaken to do the same until these kiddies go home with their parents. Sometimes we have to 'put our faith where our mouth is'.

God hears prayers and God answers them, but sometimes I need a little reminder that prayer is not always that easy, there is a cost associated with caring!

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

About half way there... maybe, maybe not

Last week I quoted a few texts from the book of Psalms in my Sunday evening sermon at Bryanston Methodist Church.

Here they are:

"Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life." (Psalm 39:4)

"The length of our days is 70 years - or 80, if we have the strength ? they quickly pass, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:10)

"Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12).

I have often thought that a reason why we waist our lives is because we live under the mistaken impression that we will live forever. As a result we don't make the most of every day, every encounter, and every experience. Time seams cheap... We think it will never run out, so why use it sparingly?

Well, if Psalm 90:10 above is right I'm about half way with my life now! Today I turned 35 years old. I seem to have arrived at this point rather quickly. I can't say I'm disappointed, or even frightened by that prospect. As I have mentioned before, I could just possibly be the most richly blessed person alive! I am married to a wonderful woman (on the 29th of January we will have been married for 13 years! Yup, you do the math, we got married very young!) and together we have two incredible children. And yes, one great dog, two vespas and quite a few computers! Moreover, I have also had some of the most incredible experiences anyone could ever hope for! I have traveled to all sorts of exciting, and even some exotic, places. I have spent the last 14 years of my life (just short of half of it) in full time ministry - there can be nothing as rewarding as dedicating your life to serving God, and as I've come to discover it is not really about what you do, it has a lot more to do with who you do it for. Nevertheless, I am blessed to be doing what I do. I teach at one of the most innovative and incredible institutions in the world, I preach at one of the most progressive (and more importantly truly Christian and caring) Churches in our nation, and I live in a truly beautiful country.

This year have I a whole lot to give thanks for. I realise just how undeserving I am of any of it, but isn't that just how God's grace works... We get so much of what we least deserve. In particular I got the wish of having little Liam home, safe and healthy on my birthday! We had him at the pediatrician on Thursday and she is very happy with his progress. He has not picked up as much weight as we had hoped, only about 45 grams this week (he should be picking up at least 150grams a week). However, at this stage any weight gain is positive. So, he still only weighs 1.895kg's. But hang in there.... It will come!

So, I thank God for the privilege of knowing and loving Him. I thank God for the joy of loving Megan, and for the years of friendship and joy we will continue to share. I thank God for Courtney - she is still my little girl. She has all of my heart! And then, I thank God for this little guy, Liam. He's given me a second heart... And that is all his! I never cried as much, and never rejoiced as much as I have since he was born. Even though he is so little, his little life has made my life bigger than I ever thought it could be.

Here's a picture of Liam lying on his little mattress in the lounge (lots of pictures today).

And one of Courts lying on Liam's mattress in the lounge (and no, Liam is not under her. We moved him first!)

So, as I count my days, I want to count my blessings. I've had 12775 days so far, and I may have another 12775 or so days ahead of me. With all that the future holds I can't afford to waste a single day. So, I do pray "teach me oh Lord to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom and learn how to truly live".

Here's a picture of me in my birthday shirt (thanks Gwennie, Rhys, Brian and Brenda) holding my BEST present! It also happens to be a picture of Liam giving his old dad a right beating on the chin. You go boy!

Thanks for all the prezies ! From Megie, Courts and Liam - I got a wireless keyboard for my mac, some cool new computer magazines, and a montblanc cover (excuse me) for my montblanc pen (which was last year's Christmas present)! John and Charlene thanks so much for the book vouchers - you know those will be well used! Gwen, Rhys, Brian and Brenda, thanks for the shirt and shorts, and for Bill Bryson's new book "The adventures of lightning boy"! And to my good friend Dr Kate (yup, always doing it for the kids! no myocardial infarction's here... spelling!? Keep being the GOOD kind of doctor that can actually help people!) thanks for the geeked out book! I can't wait to get into it and work out just how much of a geek I am!)

I have been inundated with calls, emails, cards, and text messages (I got over 100 text messages from you loving folks at Bryanston!) It sure is good to be loved, and it is great to be alive, even if I am getting old.....

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back in the saddle. Life is good!

Here's a photo of one of my favorite things, taken at one of my favorite places.

The old gray scooter is mine.

It is a 1968 VLB Sprint 150cc Vespa. Next to it is a brand spanking new Vespa Grandtourismo 200cc! I'm not sure who that belongs to. I wish it belonged to me! The photo was taken on the campus of the University of Pretoria (where I am a research associate in the Department of New Testament). I love going there. It is a beautiful campus, and it always reminds me of my care free undergraduate days at Rhodes University.

Just take a look at the curves on my old Vespa. Heck, I would LOVE a new one! But, my Vespa is a real classic and it runs like a dream (most of the time, or should I say, it runs like a dream it just has some trouble starting). When it doesn't start as it should, it can be quite embarrassing, like today. I came out of the studio at Radio Pulpit where I had just recorded two very serious shows for the program "The ministry and me" of which I am a co-host. With me were two senior Methodist colleagues, the Reverends Christopher Harrison and John Gillmer. They got into their Toyota Camry (a sensible car for respectable persons). I on the other hand went across to my 1968 Vespa, which by the way is SSSSOOOOO old that it doesn't even have a key to lock the ignition, so a thief could simply kick start it and drive it away (that is if it would kick start...), so here I am walking towards my battered old scooter which is chained with a bicycle lock and chain so as not to be stolen. I try, in the most dignified manner as possible, to kick start the bike (after unlocking the bicycle chain and lock).... It won't start! She does get a bit temperamental from time to time when I leave her alone! A few minutes later I am being pushed around the parking lot by a senior colleague trying to get my rickety old bike running! He got some good exercise, I had a good laugh!

The point of this story is that life is meant for living and enjoying! A long time ago, while still a minister in heaven (a.k.a Somerset West, which was one of the happiest times of my life), I decided that I would enjoy whatever I did so that my ministry would be filled with joyful service. Even then I would park my car and drive my Vespa (a slightly newer model, 1972 VBB) to pastoral visits and preaching engagements. Sure, some would call it 'altruistic hedonism' (the more serious ethicists among you are welcome to google this term, as well as 'utilitarianism' 'consequentialist ethics'). But, somehow whenever I get onto this scooter and drive it around I feel alive! My mood is better, my spirit is filled with praise and thanksgiving, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that that I am keeping a relic on the road...

I had not ridden my scooter since Megan first went into labour on the 7th of November last year. My routine of light hearted joy had been interrupted by the necessary seriousness of the events that unfolded after that day. Needless to say that last two and a bit months have been more stressful than any other time I can remember. We were pretty much in survival mode.

One thing I am convinced of is that God does not want us to have to live that way. God wants us to do more than just survive! God wants us to truly live, to find life and joy in our living, and through that to bring life and joy to others. So, since Liam has come home (and he is doing so well by the way. I will post an update on his development on Thursday after he has been to the Doctor for his checkup), I have been trying to return to completing my tasks with joy. I drive my old Vespa to work in the mornings, I drive it around Pretoria to my meetings and appointments.... And occasionally I get senior colleagues to push start me in the car park. Now that's truly living. In some ways, I guess my Vespa makes me more Christian!

Ephesians 4:15-16, TLB. "Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times--speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly--and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of His body, the church."

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Update on Liam - 4 January 2007

Here's an updated picture of our little lad! It was taken this morning (4 January 2006). You can see that he's growing, yet he is still SO SMALL!!! However, he has his dad's second chin already! Praise God, it is so great to see him looking like a 'normal' little baby.

Today Liam is 7 weeks old! In the last 7 weeks Megan and I have become part of the furniture at the Pretoria East Hospital (even the porters and cleaning staff know us by name). In fact, it is 9 weeks since Megie was first admitted to the hospital, and we have been there every day since (with the exception of one Saturday and Sunday between Megie's first and second admissions early in November last year).

However, this story ends with great joy! Liam has steadily grown. Your prayers have been palpable, we have seen him overcome obstacle upon obstacle. We have watched him move ahead, even when Doctors said he may not. In truth, he is nothing less than one of God's amazing miracles! As individuals, and as a family, we have grown and deepened our faith, and rediscovered elements that we had long since forgotten about. It has been an amazing experience of God's providence and grace.

This morning he weighed in at a whopping 1.855kg's. That is a whole 700 grams heavier than he was on the 16th of November. The astute reader may notice that his weight is slightly down today. This is as a result of good news, not bad news. The good news is that Megie started breast feeding him on Saturday lasts week (just one feed a day when he got to just over 1.7kg's). That first day he was so tired after his first feed that he didn't wake up for almost a whole day! However, the next day she moved onto two feeds. It didn't go too well and we thought that we might have jumped the gun a little. However, he was just getting into his stride! Liam was topped up with tube feeds after the breast feeds, and was also tube fed for the other 6 feeds of the day. On Monday he was wide awake and crying for his milk before each 3 hourly meal! That was so great to see, so the Doctor told Megie to up his feeds by two a day, she was now up to 4 breast feeds a day. He was handling the exertion well, and was getting enough milk to keep him hydrated and his little tummy full! We knew we were half way there. On Wednesday the Doctor said Megie should increase the feeds by one more (to 5) when one of the nurses asked if Megie shouldn't just board at the hospital and try the full 8 feeds. The doctor agree, and so, that's what happened.

Megie stayed at the hospital last night and Liam fed well (but did loose a bit of weight... It's all that exercise!) So, even though he was not supposed to be home for another month and a half (his due date was to be in the middle of February), and he only weighs 1.855kg's, the Doctor was happy to send him home!! How incredible is that!? We could hardly believe it. We knew that it was not that long to go, but we didn't expect it to be so soon.

The picture below was taken in the lounge outside of the ICU. This is the first time in his life that Liam had been outside of the maternity section of the hospital. As you can see, I was quite pleased to have him out!

He will still be under 'lock and key' for another two weeks or so at home. Since his immune system is not yet fully developed we have to slowly introduce him to all the wiles and ways of the world. That means that we will restrict visitors (please be patient!) and not take him out of the house unless necessary. Megan, Courtney, and I, still go through the ritual of disinfecting our hands with soaps and sprays before touching him or picking him up. We will also not take him to Church for a few weeks. However, as his weight picks up, and his immunity builds, the threat of infection becomes less and less important. So, he will soon be out and about. Watch out world!

Courtney is LOVING having her brother home! She has held him for hours on end today and as been a real help to Megan and I. She had only seen him three times in the 7 weeks and couldn't believe how much he had grown since she saw him at Christmas (2 weeks ago).

The care and love that we received from the nursing staff, and our doctors, was such an inspiration and a blessing. They truly ministered a gift of healing, not only to our little boy, but also to our sore and anxious hearts. They were kind, patient, supportive, wise, and supportive. We will pop in and see them all again next week when Liam goes for his check up, and stop in from time to time to show how much he has grown. Of course they may also get the occasional call when we are not sure what to do! He still receives some medication and we're not the cleverest when it comes to working out dosages and such.

There is nothing quite as nice as having Megie, Courts, and Liam, all at home! At least the estrogen is being balanced by a bit more testosterone.

The great blessing is that he will be at home for my birthday on the 14th of January. At one stage we thought that he may still be in hospital, but here he is! So, I will celebrate my 35th year with everything that any person could want, the love of God, the love of my wife, daughter, and a healthy son. I'm quite pleased! Can you tell? And, NO KEV, I'm NOT getting fat! It is an optical illusion.....

Other than missing the kind and knowledgeable staff of ICU, we will however, appreciate not having to drive to the hospital and back a few times a day (even though the trip was only about 30km's, I managed to do over 4000km's in my new car just between his birth and now!)

So, a new chapter in our lives, and Liam's, begins today! Of course we are well aware (as many have told us) that premature babies often go back into hospital. However, we are grateful to have him home, and if he must go back at any stage we know that he will have the best care. AND, thank God, each re-admission is a new event for our medical aid (they have been phoning us since before Christmas to tell us to start looking out for a good government hospital to transfer him to since we were reaching our limit for his care). Thank God we have not had to do that and have been able to cover all the costs between the Medical Aid and ourselves thus far.

Thank you so much for everyone who has prayed for us, phoned, sent messages, and supported us with love (and great food!) We are so grateful for all your care!

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