NaPoWriMo Day 4 – Love

I suppose it might
Smell less like roses and more
Like mowing the lawn.

I suppose it might
Sound less like poems and more
Like please, thanks, sorry.

I suppose it might
Taste less like champagne and more
Like warm morning breath.

I suppose it might
Be less inevitable
Than we imagined.

I suppose.


on words before time


I (*pause, inhale deeply, sigh it out*) am in love.

These words?

Ignited me.

Burned in me before I’d ever heard them uttered..

These words?

Isolated me.

Marooned me till I, woman, became an island, impossible and glorious.

Their cadence?

Tore through my soul and re-introduced me to myself.

Spoke my humanity.

Sung my desire.

Whispered my heartache.

Shouted my fury.

Caressed my soul.

These words breathed me into being.

From words I was formed and to words I return.

I love their all in all.

Power conveyed to nothing-me

to grasp the intangible,

to describe the invisible,

to fold into myself the inevitable,

and lay at your feet the indescribable.

Oh, but how I hate.

I hate that these immutable words preempt my every thought.

I hate that these interminable words spoke me before I ever uttered them.

I hate that these words were before me and before all time.

I hate how they have been spun and caressed,

wooed and seduced,

breathed out and breathed in a billion times before my first.

Every word.

Every line.

Every intimation of intimacy

Sucked out of them til I.

I am left breathless,




Each expansive, enigmatic, enticing utterance leaves me

envious, embittered, and empty

Words, promised me, cheated on me,  failed me

Words, leave me panting, anticlimatic

As all the passion seeps from my soul, my marrow, my lips

Until I am silent and still.

Mellifluous and cacophonous.

Ellipses to the eternal noise

of words, words, words

on being my sister’s keeper

Perhaps the most profound question asked in the Bible, is the one Cain poses to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As I’ve been thinking this week about the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa, this is the question I’ve kept returning to. Do we have a responsibility to watch out for and care for those around us? The answer for me is undoubtedly a resounding “Yes!” In the light of the many stories of violence against women this past week, I want to call us all to become – day-by-day – our sister’s keepers.

See that girl in the club, looking really uncomfortable as three guys come around her and hit on her? Move closer. Eavesdrop. And if need be, be ready to stand in and defend her.

The girl in the bathroom wiping mascara from her eyes? Ask her if she’s okay or if there’s someone you can call.

The little kid walking alone from school? Park your car discreetly up the road and watch over them til they reach a more populated area.

The girl bent over the toilet vomitting cos someone spiked her drink? Take her hand, sit with her, get her hydrated, walk her home, call a friend, hold her hair back while she’s sick in the bushes. Do whatever it takes. Keep her safe.

That single girl at the braai? She should never have to ask you to walk her to her car, and should never feel like she is being a burden. Take stock at the beginning of the night of who arrived alone and keep watch for when they leave and walk them to their door.

That group of 14 year old girls walking along Tokai main road at 10pm? Stop and offer them a lift. And if they decline tell them you’re going to follow them from a safe distance until they make it home safely.

The woman with the black eye and the cut lip? Ask her name and see if she needs medical attention. Open the door to conversation. Give her your phone number. Just in case.

These are all stories of times I’ve tried to “be my sister’s keeper” – in only one of these situations did I actually know the girl’s name beforehand. Sometimes people thought I was wierd, occassionally they may have been creeped out, often they were grateful. But maybe once or twice I even helped to save a life.

If I am not for them, I am against them. And woe that God’s reply comes to me, as it did to Cain: “What have you done?” [The echo in my head, “What have you not done?] “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

sister's keeper


On dating and daring: Part 2

So there I was: 23 and single. Which isn’t too bad. I know stacks of girls much much older who are single. 23 is just starting out. But it felt like the world to me. I was stuck in a place waiting for the guys I wanted to ask me out, and ignoring the ones I didn’t (but not even realising I was doing it at the time). I went to see my pastor (not about that, but it came up). He asked me what was on my list and I honestly told him I didn’t have one. He said something along the lines of “That’s not true. Of course you have a list. If you didn’t you would be dating someone right now. You have a list and it says what kind of guy you are looking for and makes you say no to those who don’t tick the boxes.” WOW! I had a list. I had a freaking LONG list! And many amazing guys just weren’t ticking the boxes. Gosh girls, maybe it’s time we threw those imaginary check-lists out hey. Cos NO guy is going to measure up to them and by holding it over their heads to see if they do measure up we are setting hoops and asking them to jump through before we deign them with our presence on a date. Arrogance and pride much? Just as an aside.

So I told John my pastor about my list – the things I was really looking for and hoping for in a guy. And they were all good, non-shallow stuff. I wasn’t looking for a guy who looked a certain way, just one who acted a certain way. My wise pastor told me to get rid of my list. He said, “Val, you need someone who loves God and is strong enough to lead you. Stop looking for those other things and if you know the guy has that first one waxed then say yes when he asks you out and find out if he is the second one. Start going on dates.” Ah, best advice ever! That’s when I started going on dates. They were awkward, and fun, and wierd, and some guys I would have been happy to date again and some I wasn’t. But that was okay. Because I had started risking, putting myself out there, putting myself in positions where I was able to get to know guys and they were given the freedom to show who they were. It was scary, it sometimes hurt, it was often awkward, and sometimes confusing. But gosh, the freedom of going on dates was incredible!

I’m not saying be the serial dater. I’m saying give guys a chance. Even guys you wouldn’t normally go for. Hey, Brett wasn’t the guy I would “normally” go for. Flip, he was about 5 years too old according to my normal and my checklist. But I gave him a chance. I risked. I put myself out there as did he. And look, it didn’t end so badly. Does my success story mean I got it hundred percent right and am the expert on dating and relationships? Not at all! There were huge measures of  learning and mistakes and grace and forgivenes involved all along the journey. If I had to be in that dating/single place again I hope I would get it a bit better, but I don’ think I would totally wax it. But there is truth in my journey. And maybe that can speak truth into other’s journeys.

On dating and daring: Part 1

I have been following Brett’s relationship blogs – and especially the comments on them – with interest and have been reminded of some of my pre-Brett dating vibes. Here are a couple of thoughts – disconnected, but hopefully useful.

I tell people I never dated anyone before Brett. Which is partially true. I never “went steady” (ha ha ha ha ha I just said that!) with a guy, dated for a prolonged period of time (i.e. more than two dates), “courted”, or kissed a guy. But I did go on dates with guys. Some of them were incredibly awkward – the sit at X coffee shop and play with the sugar packet until it please-God-ends kind of awkward. Some of them hurt so much that I wished I’d never gone or even met the guy – the “Hey, let’s go on a “date”  kind where “date” was his fun word for let’s hang out alone together, “I’ll pick you up at 7”, and talk about another girl the whole night – the please-God-let-the-floor-open-up kind of hurt. After some of them I couldn’t wait for the next one, the call, the sms – which never came. Nothing. One of them – an intimate movie and dinner where I felt the most special and wanted that I had ever felt up till that point – sent me into a 4 month crisis of faith and one of the darkest times of my spiritual life. I left church, pushed friends away, ranted and screamed at God for hours, cried, and rebelled. Because he wasn’t Christian. How could this most amazing guy – the first one to ever treat me like I was desirable, and special – be off-limits? The way I described it to friends at the time was that it was like I had seen this beautiful garden and been allowed to walk a few steps into it, and then beauty and happiness that awaited in it was suddenly ripped away and I had to turn on this hard, dark, path and trust a God I didn’t even really believe in any more that He had something better, something that exceeded this good thing I had tasted, down the road. He did. But wow that path was pretty hard at times.

I get it. I get the “being ignored by Christian guys” thing while non-Christian guys were taking the risk and treating me amazingly. I get the million guy friends, the sms’s that built emotional attachment but never amounted to anything, I get the mixed signals. I get the touching and flirting and hints and signals that are oh so exciting. And I’ve been there where the guy has turned around and said, “Oh that? No I was just kidding and playing with you. Oh, you thought I was into you? Nah, not so into you.” And I’ve seen it happen to girls I love – and it is NOT cool. Church-guys, listen up yo, I’m not saying the girls are innocent cos I’ve seen them play this one too, but it is NOT okay. Just as an aside. I also get the pain of seeing the “serial dater girl” – the really pretty one who is always in a relationship. I’ve seen her work her way through groups of my guy friends and I’ve struggled to understand why they would want her and be attracted to her and get into a relationship for 2 months only to have her going out with their best friend a few months later.

My “good” Christian guy friends told me I was cold and hard and my heart was frozen. I took those words and grabbed onto them and let them twist and turn within me and they made me cold and hard, they made me build up more walls, they froze my heart so that words like that couldn’t hurt me again.

Here’s the thing though. Not all the Christian guys in my sphere were ignoring me, playing the field, and playing with my heart. Just the ones I had my eyes set on. There were guys who asked me out, were genuinely interested, sent sms’s and tried to initiate friendship-relationship. But they weren’t the cool ones, the hot ones, the fun-loving dynamic personality ones. And I treated them like junk. I rejected them, I played hard to get, I gave mixed signals, I spoke about how wonderful other guys were around them, I ignored them, I trash-talked them, I built up “wonder-men heroes” in place of them, set the bar and told them inadvertently that they would never measure up to the spiritual guy (you know the one, cos there is one in your church – the upfront, leader, got it all together dude). When they asked me out I said no without giving them a chance. I effectively said, “I know enough about you to know that I will never like you enough to marry you”. Invariably I hadn’t even had a single conversation with them by the time I had weighed them, measured them, and found them severely lacking. Ah, this is all to my shame now! How dare I do to them the hundred things I was complaining, ranting at God about, that other guys were doing to me. I am sorry. To each and every one of those guys. Because I never gave you a chance to show me who you were. In doing so I not only ended up feeling lonely and unwanted, but I missed out on getting to know and become friends with some super quality guys just because they didn’t fit my mold.

Part 2 to follow:

How to love your man better – “Be Nice”

This is probably one of the simplest and most easily overlooked ways of loving anyone better: be NICE! Be polite; say “please”, “thank you”, and most importantly “I am sorry”.

Brett has made choices to serve me in two specific ways – by washing the dishes at night and by bringing me coffee in the morning. Everytime he does either of those I now make a point of showing him thanks (hugging him, squeezing his hand as I walk past him in the kitchen) AND saying my thanks. In doing so I not only show him that I appreciate him and am grateful for his service, but I also stop myself from taking it for granted. As soon as I start taking Brett’s choice of serving for granted it no longer becomes a gift to me but a duty which I expect him to perform! Never knowingly turn your spouse’s/partner’s gift of service into an act of duty! It undermines the choice to love, and sets the stage for resentment (i.e. when the “Duty” is not performed).

I generally wash the clothes. Everytime I do – even though in some ways this could be seen as my role/responsibility (as much as washing the dishes could be seen as Brett’s role/responsibility) – Brett thanks me. And if I’ve been tempted to wallow in self-pity because I am again washing the clothes, or if I have been getting upset because I would rather be sitting inside on the couch, Brett’s verbal “thanks” reminds me that I am valued and that my role/responsibility is not taken for granted. Several times I have come home from a long day out or work, and the clothes are already washed and on the line. I always thank Brett, even though I could so easily see it as my “right” that he did that because I was busy.

Here’s another example: I use the word “could” in a polite way. So often instead of saying “Please bring my book when you come down”, I say, “Could you bring my book when you come down”. The “Please” is implicit when I use “could” in this way. But Brett didn’t used to hear the silent please. So I told him. And now he gets it. BUT, I have also decided to try and remember to use Please in place of Could because even though he knows it’s there, when he hears me ask he has to work twice as hard to hear the politeness, the gratitude, the appreciation. And I don’t want it to ever be any struggle for him to feel appreciated and not taken for granted.

So say the polite words; and mean them. Don’t treat your partner’s service as duty.

on the motivating force for justice

Tim Keller writes, “The Bible…provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so” (Generous Justice, p. 82).

I am struck by this. The dynamism Tim speaks of is echoed throughout scripture:

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:19-20)

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…From now on we regard noone from a worldy point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)

“You are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Our compassion for the poor, our desire to see justice done, our drive to reconcile the world to Him, our feeding of the hungry, clothing of the poor, comforting of the sick, welcoming of the foreigner, and visiting of those in prison is a profound response to all that we have received from God. Even when they are dirty and broken, deserving of their state, seemingly to “blame”, unloveable, undeserving and ungrateful – because that is exactly how we were when God LAVISHED his love on us. Our response then is a right and fitting response to the grace we have received. Our lack of response is indicative of a lack of understanding of the grace we have received. A full understanding of God’s grace COMPELS us to respond in kind to those around us. Not doing so demonstrates that we have not fully grasped God’s grace towards us. This is what James speaks of: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

“The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” (Generous Justice, p. 94)

Tim goes on to write:

“”We tend to try to develop a social conscience in Christians the same way the world does-through guilt. We tell them that they have so much and don’t they see that they need to share with those who have so little. This doesn’t work, because we have built-in defense mechanisms against such appeals. Almost noone really feels all that wealthy. Even the well-off don’t feel rich compared to the others with whom they live and work” (p. 107).

So often we give to assuage guilt about our excess. Even more often we are burdened into giving out of guilt; we are manipulated into giving and extending justice. How rarely does this flow from a true understanding of what we ourselves have received. How often is our giving, our acts of justice, COMPELLED but Christ’s love rather than by guilt and condemnation?

“When justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up” (p. 107).

How to love your man better – “Respond to his character”

So here’s one I am really learning to do better – because when B says  or does stuff that hurts me/makes me angry/annoys me, my first instinct is to respond directly to that stuff.

This post was inspired by something that was reported in the news recently: remember that comment by Bono about how it’s okay to sing the song “Shoot the Boer”? Well, here’s the thing; he never said that. Some journalist took what he had said out of context, put a provocative headline to it which further mislead the public and instigated a negative response in people before they had even read the full article. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people only read the headline. Some people got super upset about it, ranting against Bono, even going so far as to throw tickets to the U2 concert into a river. But here’s what most people didn’t do: they didn’t read that headline  and say, “What do I know about Bono and his character? What do I know about what he stands for, his political views, his views on justice and peace? Does what I am reading about him in this article gel with all the other stuff I know about him?” I’m pretty sure if they had done that – as B and I did – their first thoughts wouldn’t have been anger and outrage. Rather, they would have gone and read the full article and perhaps even a couple of other articles on the incident and realised that what he was really saying was not what that journalist portrayed him to be saying.

Here’s the point then: so often in reacting to our boyfriends/girlfriends/friends/family/husbands/wives we respond to the thing they have said or the thing they have done instead of responding to their character and who we know them to be. Somehow we separate who they are, from what they do – and we only respond to the latter. We take instant offense to the words they have said instead of stepping back for a minute and asking: “Who is Brett? Who do I know him to be and what is his character? I know that he loves me; I know that he would never intentionally do or say anything that would knowingly hurt me.” Here’s two ways it can go:

Brett: [Says hurtful thing]

Me: [Get’s hurt][Responds in anger][How can you say that? You always…You never][Says hurtful things back]

Brett and Me: [Fight]


Brett: [Says hurtful thing]

Me: [I know Brett loves me. Would he purposefully say something to hurt me? No. So he didn’t mean what he said or I am misinterpreting what he said, or I am taking offense when none was intended, or I haven’t heard what he is really saying or how he is feeling]

My response then is, “Hey, B, that thing you just said really hurt me. This is what I heard when you said that. I know that you love me and wouldn’t intentionally say something to hurt me. What’s going on?”

This isn’t the clearest blog I’ve written; in fact it might be downright confusing. But I guess my final point is this: respond to the person’s character, not what they have said. Always always think the best of the other person. Assume that they would not intentionally hurt you or do stuff to frustrate you. Take as your starting point that they love you. And then measure your response and don’t react out of a place of offense.

How to love your man better – “Just love him…”

A couple of years ago Brett ran a blog series called “how to love your woman better” and recently resurrected it on his blog (because it’s that good). To check them out go to Irresistibly Fish and explore or you can see the first one here. I contributed to some of the posts – which are as much lessons in how to love your boyfriend, husband, friend, sister, mother – but someone suggested I write some stuff on how to specifically love your man better (which will also probably apply to any relationship in your life). So here goes…

When Brett and I started going out and even for many months into our marriage there was one thing that he used to do that made me pretty darn mad. If we were having a fight or an argument or I had raised something that he had done to upset me, he would respond with three simple words: “Just love me.” Now this is what I heard when he said that:

1. Val, you don’t love me.

2. If you loved me you wouldn’t argue or fight with me.

3. Can’t we just ignore this stuff and “be in love”.

4. What you are saying is not valid. Just stop and say that you love me.

When he said those words I would get even more angry and say something like, “This has got nothing to do with love. This is just an argument.” Meaning, me being angry/upset or hurt by him was something completely seperate to the issue of my loving him. For me, the loving of him never changed. It was just held off to the side while I dealt with the issue at hand. It wasn’t till many months after we had got married and this “Just love me” thing was really messing with the way we did conflict, that I eventually understood what Brett was saying:

1. Val, I love you.

2. Val, this stuff is important and we will address it.

3. Val, in this moment of fighting I do not feel secure and safe in your love. I feel like your love has lessened or is conditional or is secondary to this issue.

And that really hit me hard – I suddenly realised that the way I was doing conflict made Brett unsure (even if for only a second) of my love for him! In that moment he sat wondering if we would get through this, if I loved him, if I wanted to be with him, if this issue was too big for my love. And the crunch was when he said, “I don’t feel secure in your love.”  When I realised this I knew that in any argument or fight or disagreement or issue, my first call is to make sure that Brett is resting secure in the fact that I love him. I need to do this with words – sometimes even saying it directly, “I love you and this thing you have done does not change my love for you”. I also need to do this with action – Brett is a pretty physical person and so just the act of reaching over and holding his hand, or sitting next to him, or making sure our legs or arms are touching while we talk it out maintains the physical connection and assures him that I am not going anywhere and haven’t rescinded my love.

If for even a moment your man (or woman) doesn’t feel secure in your love during an argument or disagreement then you have to look at the way you do conflict and change some stuff. Believe me, we have definitely not got this right yet. This blog was sparked by an issue we had just last night and I began to think again as we were lying in bed, “Is Brett secure in my love right now?” I thought of that verse from 1 John 4: 18 “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” And that song based on Psalm 36 “The steadfast love of the lord never changes.” Am I showing steadfast love? Is my love unchanging and does Brett know it to be so? Can he rest without fear, in such love? Then I thought about “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4: 15) – yes, things must be addressed, and frustration and anger and hurt needs to be talked through. But first it must be the truth being spoken. Secondly, it must be spoken “in love” – with words and actions and attitude that affirm love.

on the honeymoon phase

I hate the idea of the “honeymoon phase” in any relationship. It is one of the things that grates me most when people talk about marriage – especially people who have been married for many years. I especially hate it when people look at Brett and I – how much we like each other, love each other, laugh, touch, talk – and say, “ah, that’s cute, you’re still in the honeymoon phase…” and the dot dot dot they leave hanging at the end implies that it will all come crashing down and reality will set in and we will soon see what its really like. We will fall out of love and into “marriage”. I hate it.

That said. I wish people had talked a little more honestly about how hard marriage is and how much daily work it takes, in the months leading up to our wedding. They were very quick to tell us about sex, but not much beyond that.

I also hate it how people don’t speak honestly and truthfully about marriage and their marriages now. Especially people who have been married for years. I don’t like how there is no space for honesty, truth, for saying “it really is tough. so worth it but tough” or “we’re having a hard week and really need your guy’s support” or “B and I are struggling to find time to fit in all the people in our lives and we’re taking a hit” or the myriad other things that are never said, but should be.

B and I are doing marriage prep counselling with a couple in our church. As we were talking the guy used an analogy – he said, “Marriage is like a movie. You can tell us what it’s like and recommend it to us, but we have to go and watch the movie and experience it for ourselves.” Which is cool. And reminded me of another analogy.

Recently B and I went and watched a fun hip-hop/streetdance style play at the Barnyard Theatre. It was great fun and we really dug it, but there were one or two things that detracted from the greatness. So when we recommended the show to our friends we said, “It’s great, especially the purple crew dancing in the second act, but watch out for the narrator. We found him very annoying and mis-cast.” They went and watched the show and loved it, but thanked us for warning them about the narrator.

This is like marriage. We need people to highly recommend it, to rave about it, to build-it-up, to love it – but we also need those people to tell us “the narrator sucks, watch out”.

Pre-marriage counselling is great and highly recommended. But I think we would have benefitted a whole lot more from a monthly catch-up and re-cap with Mr Basson in the months following our wedding.  You see, the thing is, what happened with me is I got into this marriage thing and suddenly it was hard and tough and I thought I was doing something wrong, I wasn’t good enough, I was failing. At times I thought there must be something fundamentally wrong with our relationship. That’s lies. There isn’t. But if someone had been there and told us and shared their vulnerability and their falling and their learnings, it would have all made a lot more sense and been easier to get through.

So, marriage is wonderful, I love it, I love B and am always always glad and confident in the choice I have made. I highly recommend it. But let’s face it, sometimes “the narrator sucks”. Anyone for a little honesty?