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What Mandela means to me

nelsonmandelaThe emotion and respect that everyone has been showing since Mandela’s death has moved me more than I expected. I think that all of us have been reminded what a truly remarkable man he was, and how much he has impacted all our lives. I think of my many friends and colleagues who wouldn’t be in my life if apartheid had continued or if a vindictive liberation leader had taken over leadership of the country. I wouldn’t be friends with them – I probably would never have even gotten to know most of them in the first place.

I’m also grateful that he made it possible to be proud to be South African. We went from feeling like pariahs to feeling special. And we felt the ‘safety’ of knowing our leader was a good man. I think it’s true that there was a special mandate on his life, and that he lived it out, as difficult and heartbreaking as one can only imagine it was for him for most of his life.

Today is Mandela’s funeral. The shops are closed. The country is in mourning. We are all feeling the loss.

But we are grateful to have lived at the same time as him. And we are so incredibly grateful and blessed that he lived the life that he did.


Here are some of the special friendships I have been allowed to enjoy in large part because of how Mandela lived his life:


August 2011 001

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Sane and me hiking up Table Mountain

My old digsmate and special friend Sheetal and me in Bloemfontein.

Keri and me at Sheetal's wedding





There are 70 million books in American libraries, but the one I want to read is always out. — Tom Masson

Isn’t this old library simply wonderful?? It speaks to the romantic in me.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm


A man browsing for books in Cincinnati’s cavernous old main library. The library was demolished in 1955.

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Megan’s UK diary: Summertime, and the living is easy at Newton-by-the-Sea

A poor woman from Manchester, on being taken to the seaside, is said to have expressed her delight on seeing for the first time something of which there was enough for everybody.

(Sir John Lubbock)

These are some photos from my visit to Newton-by-the-Sea in Northumberland.

View from up on the dunes:


You know how folks in the West, when seeing an image of African children playing with a primitive ball on a dirt field or smiling over a slice of watermelon, are prone to say something like, ‘Ah, bless – see how happy they are with so little!’? I must say that travelling around the UK I find myself thinking things like, ‘Ah, look at them little British kiddies making the best of their cold, blustering summers to visit the beach!’


A simple shot:


I like the pattern of the water and the sand in this photo …


In the photo below, it is as though someone thoughtfully placed this lifebuoy up on the hill expressly for the sake of photographers. It’s probably a clichéd pic in the opinion of experts, as it’s reminiscent of an emotional film finale where the fallen knight’s sword is stuck in the ground and the camera gives us a low-angle, sky-backdrop view, so that our hearts might soar to transcendent heights … , but I lapped it up with the freedom of the novice:


Here we have a sparrow. I asked him to show me his right side …


… and then I asked him to show me his left side. (He said he looks good from both sides.)


This puts me in mind of these verses from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ah, how romantic …


… unless that’s his mother. I really can’t tell.

A view of Dunstanburgh Castle:


More about Dunstanburgh in a future post.


For more ‘Megan’s UK diary’  posts, go to The green spaces of Sheffield and Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night.

For other photography posts, go to Edinburgh shows off and Buttercup view from Stirling Castle.

For a history and photography post, go to Haddon Hall (the perfect mediaeval castle & location for Jane Eyre).

Megan’s UK diary: Edinburgh’s New Town & old maps

Edinburgh’s New Town, which was built between 1765 and 1850ish, is a very orderly, Georgian part of the city, with a grid road system completely at odds with the organically higgledy-piggledy nature of the Old Town. Up until the C18th almost everyone lived squished into the tenements up in the Old Town, as that was the place considered safe from outside attack because it was within the city walls. (Safety from germs, disease and foul smells, however, was not to be found within the walls.)

Only in the second half of the C18th was it finally felt to be safe enough to expand outside the city walls. So the New Town began to be built, and it has since been hailed as a masterpiece of city planning. The wealthier accordingly moved out of the Old Town en masse, helping to thin out that overly populated area.

The Edinburgh Book Festival is a contained festival within the broader Edinburgh Festival, and all talks and discussions are held within Charlotte Square, which is located in the heart of the New Town.

During the Festival Charlotte Square is given over to various tents and these tents house the talks, a coffee shop, and 2 bookshops. A covered walkway surrounds a central grass area filled with umbrellas and deck chairs that each boast a bookish quote, like “Don’t pay attention to her. She reads a lot” and “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read”.


I think I enjoyed my first talk the most of the three I attended. It was a presentation by Simon Garfield on “How Maps Define our World” (and I love maps). Coincidentally, the map I know better than any other is the one of Scotland, as when I lived in digs my one roommate (a McGregor) posted a map of Scotland on the back of the toilet room door, so for 5 years my time in there was spent memorising various firths, lochs and Hebridean islands!

One point Garfield made was that maps used to have a more personal edge, revealing conjecture, belief, and worldview. Nowadays they’re about science and accuracy, and as such are rather homogenous. The only ‘personal’ aspect I can find in modern world maps is the placing of one’s own continent at the centre of the map.

In days of yore, however, elephants and ostriches could be drawn to fill in spaces in Africa where nothing else was known, and heaven and hell could be inserted above a parcel of land, showcasing the theology of the cartographer.

Incidentally, California was drawn as an island for two centuries. It is still rather a world to itself at times.

I really enjoyed this modern (but less scientific) map that Garfield showed of London:


For other travel posts, go to Lindisfarne: A Holy Island, Wanderlust and the Amalfi Coast, and How to ruin a pleasant morning jog in the bush.

Megan’s UK diary: Jane Austen & Edinburgh Castle at night


There’s so much going on at the Edinburgh Festival, and not only strictly-speaking Festival things, but also other events capitalising on the crowds that the Festival brings. Like the Jane Austen evening we stumbled upon that was being held by Charlotte Chapel, a church that can be found in the pretty pedestrian, bunting-lined Rose Street. Like pilgrims, we journeyed to Rose Street on Friday evening to attend the event, secure in the knowledge that any evening devoted to Austen would be a good one. We arrived, and, intriguingly, were among a crowd of women only.

While queuing to go in we were all given an Austen quiz to fill in, and from thinking I would dominate I was instead chagrined to realise I knew very few of the answers with any certainty. For example:

– Who can say what the title of Pride and Prejudice was originally going to be? Options: “First Impressions”, “Elizabeth and Darcy”, or “Pemberley”.

– Also, which actor prompted a phone call from the Jane Austen Society to the director to complain that he was too handsome to play his assigned role? Options: Greg Wise (Willoughby), Hugh Grant (Ferrars), or Colin Firth (Darcy).

(Answers at the end of the post.)

It was a small, intimate affair – maybe 100 of us, tops? – and I really enjoyed it. One lady played Jane, sitting at the desk in the picture above, and she would read aloud extracts from Jane’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, wherein Jane would introduce her latest book and explain the primary themes she addressed in it. Other women from Charlotte Chapel would then appear, dressed in regency costume, and read relevant extracts from the novels. Sometimes snippets from some of the TV/film adaptations were also shown. My only complaint is that they used the BBC Emma when wanting a scene from that story, and I can’t stand that version; the 1996 McGrath version is superior in every way, from casting to directing to editing to … well, yes, everything. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam forever!

Some of the titbits that most struck me were:

– Jane was very concerned with showing a development in self awareness in her heroines, and often her lead males too, Elizabeth and Darcy being prime examples. Only Fanny Price didn’t really need a journey of self-realisation, but rather it was those around her, like Edmund, that needed to learn a thing or two about themselves.

– Of all her heroines, Jane liked Elizabeth the best. Me, I have more sympathy with Emma and Anne.

– Jane dreamt up the independent and wilful Emma in response to complaints from her readers that her last heroine, Fanny, was too much of a doormat.

At the very end, a 30ish, single lady from the church chatted about how Jane’s preoccupation with marriage was very understandable, given that women of that period could only find any kind of financial or practical security through a husband. She then asked why, as modern women, we are still as preoccupied with romance and marriage, since we no longer need it to be financially secure? She pointed to our desire to have a relationship with someone who will love us and meet all our needs. Jesus, she said, is the only one who can actually be that person for each of us.

Charlotte Chapel seemed a really lovely, motivated church, and I was glad to have visited. I really admire them.

Afterwards, we walked home, a stroll of at least an hour that took us first through Princes Street Gardens, then up and over the Mound, before dropping us down again alongside Bruntsfield Links and our little res. As a South African, I have to give a nod to the awesomeness that is a late evening stroll through the city without a care for safety. So, yes: a big nod to that.

This is the beautiful sight of the castle at dusk, as seen from Princes Street Gardens:


Answers: “First Impressions” and Hugh Grant.


For more posts from “Megan’s UK diary”, go to Chatsworth House forever, The green spaces of Sheffield and Edinburgh shows off.

Favourite quote #8. “Never believe, accept, or affirm that because you are down you are defeated.”

Wonderful words! Amazing! Stinking wonderbaar! These words, from Faith for Daily Living, really resonated with me when I read them. The implication is this: Jesus ALWAYS redeems, restores, and renews. Always, always.

ae89bc0f89313d5c4ddf4a581071a022I think the real problem often enters in when we’ve been down so long that we start to believe we’ll never be ‘up’ again, and that this is therefore the ‘new me’ or a new, depressing way of being. Squash that thought! Jump on its sorry head! God’s plans are always to redeem you, restore you, and renew you. Always, always. So we must never “believe, accept or affirm” that we are defeated, because if Jesus is our saviour, he won’t let us stay down forever – he will help us walk up out of that valley to reach the heights again, where we are able to see far and clearly, and feel the wind against our faces.

If you do believe you’re defeated, you’ve believed a lie. It just is not true. Grief, pain, loneliness, failure, and all those things – they are REAL, and they HURT, but they are not your destiny. They are not going to be your life. Not when you are in Christ, because he is a conqueror, and his love and power and heart of kindness towards you are greater than the sum of all your fears.

What does it mean to “affirm” that because we are down we must also therefore be defeated?

Answer: we speak it. We say any or all of the following aloud:

  • “This is it. I’m done.”
  • “I can’t take it anymore.”
  • “I give up.”
  • “This is too hard – I’m over it.”
  • “I don’t believe things will ever change.”

Honestly, I’ve said them all at some point over the past 12 months. Sometimes more than once, and sometimes with real feeling.

But words have power, and so I probably made things harder for myself by speaking them. We should never speak defeat aloud over our lives. In faith, even if it’s just a stubborn, darn-it-I-WILL-believe sort of faith, speak aloud only biblical truth, so that the powers and principalities in the world that are industriously at work against you may know the truth.

I’m not saying don’t be honest and open with someone like a friend, family member, pastor or counsellor. We’re not to be superstitious or scared of sharing our true thoughts and feelings. But I believe (based on the book of James in the Bible as well as elsewhere) that our words have greater potency than we often realise. James 3:6 tells us that our words are like sparks that can set the whole course of a life on fire if we are not careful about what we say!! That’s sobering. Words can set a whole life on FIRE! Hectic stuff. Basically, you can ruin your life through words. (Not irredeemable ruin – there’s no such thing in the spiritual sense – but ruinous consequences.)

Back to why we should speak scriptures aloud, but not destructive words …. When we speak words from the Bible, what do demons and Satan hear? They hear the voice of God. It may be our human voices, with accents and cadences all our own, speaking the words out loud, but for all intents and purposes Satan et al. hear the voice of God, because it is the living Word of God we are speaking. They hear God’s authoritative voice, and so they flee. Remember that Satan is not omniscient. He doesn’t know our inner thoughts. But when we give voice to negative thoughts and unbelief, he has more to work with.

As someone who rather likes to talk, and who has had years of majoring in self-deprecating humour, I realised some time ago that I need to be careful how I joke around, because often there’s a kernel of belief in what I say. I can still have plenty of fun, but I choose my jibes more carefully now, not adding fuel to the fire of my doubts, shortcomings and insecurities.

Sometimes I still do believe or am tempted to believe that I am in fact defeated. But I am working at not giving voice to those thoughts. When I think them, more and more often I am remembering to speak aloud the opposite from Scripture, for example: “I have not been given a spirit of despair, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Boom! Take that, powers and principalities! In saying that verse and others like it, I have chosen not to affirm the lie that has entered my mind, and has perhaps been accepted in whole or in part. I am instead fighting the battle for my mind with the sharp, sharp sword of victory.



If you found this helpful or encouraging, you might also like to read any of the following:

Heaven is cheering me on


From the Hope Blooming in Darkness blog: Red Raw and Itching

Is Christianity an opium of the people?

Geoffrey Johnson

Painting by Geoffrey Johnson

Perhaps we’ve all heard the Karl Marx quote that “Religion is the opium of the people”? The idea in that line being that followers of Christ (lumped together with others who trust to a deity or deities) believe what we do because it makes reality – life – easier to handle. To that I say: yes, but also no.

It’s tough to be a Christian (or a ‘Christ-one’, which is where the name Christian comes from). There are many aspects of Scripture that I would not choose or would wish were untrue if I could have things my own way. For example, every now and then I would be allowed to exact my own form of justice or retaliation; it would be okay for me to swear my head off when I’ve really hurt myself; I would perhaps choose a religion or philosophy that embraces more laxity in terms of self-discipline and sexual purity; and I would especially choose a free pass into Heaven for those I love dearly but who are going to end up in Hell if they do not choose Jesus since the punishment for their sins will still be their own to pay. (I pray every day that they will in fact choose Him).

So no, my ‘religion’ has nothing of the supposedly soothing, mind-numbing effects of opium or the like. Opium dulls the mind, whereas the promises of the Bible are truths that have to be claimed through faith – they have to be actively chosen. You do not sink or fall into a trust of the Bible. Rather you take the evidence of the Bible together with the witness of the Holy Spirit and you decide, then hold on. It requires human will. It is by no means some sort of drugged state of mind.

But it is the truth, and the truth cannot be denied – at least not for forever, and not if you wish your present life to be based upon something firm and reliable, versus manmade ideas that shift and change with time.  

Remember the CS Lewis quote I shared the other day?

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

So it is decidedly tough being a Christian. You cannot choose to believe what you want, handpicking the bits that suit you or appeal to you, discarding the rest. Rather, you accept that truth is as the Bible describes, and you ask God to help you live in and with it.

But, what makes it all bearable – what does indeed bring comfort, but wide-awake, clear-eyed comfort – is the promise of Heaven, extraordinary Heaven, where everything will literally be perfection. In Heaven my relationships will all be beautiful and problem-free, my mind will have no neuroses or ailments, my days will be blissful, my occupations delightful and fulfilling, my sleep sweet and untroubled. My mind will know unlimited peace, my body will be alive as it has never been now on earth, and my heart will thrill every day for eternity.

So while it’s tough being a Christian (and mind that none of the Biblical writers ever said it would be easy – Marx just misunderstood the message of the Bible), the eternal comfort that awaits us is worth every struggle, every tear, every discrimination, every trial, and every heartache.

We have been given certain promises for this lifetime, but most importantly we have been promised Heaven at the end of this short lifespan!

Hebrews 6

17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

So yes, it’s tough being a Christian. But Heaven awaits us, and I choose that, any day, over anything and everything else!



A related article, quoting C.S. Lewis, whom you all know I admire! Uncomfortable Religion

How can I know if I am beautiful?

Last night’s American Idol finale was pretty awesome, right? For those that don’t know, the winner was Candice Glover, a 23-year-old girl from South Carolina with a big, special voice. For me the announcement of the winner and the emotional follow-up performance was a special TV moment, and I almost teared up as I watched […]

Abortion and mental/physical disabilities

I’ve just read something and I am horrified. I don’t normally delve into very controversial topics, but I’ve been editing a paper on Down’s Syndrome and it included these stats from K.B. Brown (2012): 90% of mothers in the USA with an unborn baby diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome (DS) are choosing to have an abortion, […]

The heart needs a shelter

Jesus needs to be my soul’s shelter. When news, a story or an incident arises that I feel I can’t cope or deal with, then I need to turn to Jesus, the strong tower, to be my refuge, and not to TV, food, sleep, exercise, drugs, reading, other people, video games, work, or keeping busy. […]

I sorrow much

Favourite quote #8 Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote this beautiful verse about grief, which I find to be honest and true: “When some beloved voice that was to you Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly, And silence, against which you dare not cry, Aches round you like a strong disease and new – What hope? what […]

The posture of redemption (a lesson from WWII)

Hendan Wienand, the pastor of our church, sends out a weekly email with encouragement and news. I really enjoyed the story in this past week’s email, and thought I’d use my blog to share it a little wider. Here is what he wrote… Many Christians understand that Jesus died for their sins, but don’t understand […]

Read while you’re alive!

Five years ago, when I was living in Sheffield, the leader of our weekly Bible gathering started one evening by telling us all that she’d had a dream the night before. I sat attentively while Chris spoke about her dream… She said she loved reading crime novels, especially those by Agatha Christie, and had realised […]

The Power of Mimicry

For whatever reasons, I grew up quite selfish. My best friend from primary school could tell you how I would chafe when she asked to borrow something of mine. I would loan her my Sweet Valley High novels only after she’d sat through the lecture about how not to crease the spine or doggy-ear the […]

Think less, do more

The other week my sister suggested my motto for the year should be: ~ THINK LESS, DO MORE ~ Ha! Or you might be thinking ‘Huh?’ I realise it may seem odd advice, especially as there are many for whom the opposite is the goal: don’t be overly impulsive – think through the consequences of […]

The question marks in my future are only scary when I don’t trust God

There isn’t a single one of us who can control the future in the way we would like. At times this sense of powerlessness has left me feeling one or all of the following: fearful, frustrated, resigned, hopeless. Ever felt the same? I realised I have one of two options: I can keep trying to […]

Man is not meant to be famous

So many ‘mighty men’ have fallen: Oscar Pistorius Tiger Woods Lance Armstrong Hansie Cronje The message here is not that Nike has a special talent for choosing flawed heroes. (All heroes are flawed, some are just more flawed than others.) The point is that hero-status does few people any good. We were not meant for […]

Depression and joy

Not everyone will experience depression – and thank goodness for that! – but many, many will. I don’t need to be told the sobering stats to know how prevalent it is – once I began talking about what I’d gone through numerous others started coming out of the woodwork, saying that they have in the […]

I am going to be one of the two who believe

Here is a question that was put to me about a year ago and has since then opened up my heart and mind to believe and hope for so much more: – Can God not choose to bless whomever he wants? This isn’t a rhetorical question, you must actually answer it. And then answer this […]

Little bird

Recently God told me something he is planning to do in my life. It was a truly beautiful promise – one I couldn’t have imagined on my own – and I was greatly excited about it. I walked around on a cloud for a few days, all smiles. But the hard thing when you’ve been […]