a day in the life of a domestic worker

She rises before the sun, shifting about quietly in her one-roomed shanty, careful not to disturb the three children sleeping on mats on the floor.  She slips on her plakkies, fumbles around for the bucket and opens the door slowly, to minimize the volume of the creaky hinge.  

She pauses, giving her mocha eyes time to adjust to the pre-dawn darkness.  Inhaling deeply, she notes the freshness of the morning air and thanks God for another day.  Making her way to the community tap, she bends to fill her bucket with water.  Lifting the full container to her head, she walks back to her shack, smiling and greeting groggy neighbors along the way.

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And so the morning routine begins: bathing in the large plastic basin with a cloth and a bar of soap; stirring pap over the paraffin stove; wrapping one of her late husband’s t-shirts around her hair in a way that makes it look like a work of art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe packs her uniform in a backpack, says a silent prayer over her sleeping children, and walks out the door.  It will be over an hour before she gets to work, sometimes ninety minutes depending on the taxis and trains.  She steps into the first available white minibus kombi and squishes in between the other early morning passengers, some talking on cell phones, others smoking.  She smiles politely at a woman about her age, and they form an unspoken bond.  

The bond of two South African widows, trying to make enough of a living for their children to attend school and not go to sleep hungry.

The sun rises, and she smiles a thank-you as she steps out of the taxi, the kombi pulling away with the driver’s right hand man still hanging his torso out of the sliding door, yelling, “Mowbray, Mowbray!  Kaapstad!”

She glances at the clock on her cell phone, careful that no one sees her tucking it back into her bosom, for fear it may be stolen.  If she picks up her pace, she’ll make it to work on time.

Pressing a finger to the doorbell, she waits outside the gate until a voice is heard through the intercom.  “Hello?”

“Hello, Mma.  It’s Zola.”

Click, and the gate is unlocked.

Two flights of stairs and a long passageway, and then, “Auntie Zola, Auntie Zola!” the two toddlers exclaim, skipping with glee to greet her.  She is at work, her twentieth year as a domestic worker, and she wonders whether her own children have eaten and dressed in time for school.

The next ten hours are spent feeding the twins, sweeping the floors, ironing during the children’s naptime.  She wipes her brow with the back of her chocolate brown hand, and doesn’t think twice about pressing her employer’s work shirts, changing his kids’ nappies or washing his breakfast dishes.

It’s the same work her mother did, and her grandmother before her, too.  

As she scrubs the toilet, she recites in her mind the verses that her grandmother had her memorize when she was a young girl:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24).

    She knows she is not a slave, but she also knows these verses apply to any work situation.  So she bends lower on her hands and knees to wash the floor, and she works at it with all her heart, for she knows it is the Lord Jesus Christ that she serves.

This post was written for The High Calling, on the theme, “Your Work Matters to God.”  Read more stories on this same topic, or link up your own story here.


hot chocolate in june – a review

hot chocolate in june – a review

I must say, it really feels like this year, the Lord is bringing the exact books into my life that I need to read.

I review books for Ambassador International, and when I received the monthly e-mail advertising which new books were available for review, I gave the message a quick scan and nearly deleted it, having determined that I had already committed to doing too much during that month.

Then an author’s name caught my eye.

Holly Mthethwa.

Mthethwa.  I know that surname, I thought.

I recognized it as a South African name, and having spent a decade living in that breathtaking country, my interest was piqued.

I made some quick clicks online and soon discovered that Holly is a white, American Christian who went to South Africa to do volunteer work and ended up marrying a black, South African man.

Me too.

ImageNow I was too interested to simply delete the e-mail from Ambassador.  Instead, I let the arrow of my mouse hover over Hot Chocolate in June, and clicked “Request this Book.”

I’m so glad I did.

It turns out those few details were not the only things that Holly and I have in common.

In fact, in subsequent online conversations, she and I have decided that if we were to meet in person, we would be fast friends.

Holly starts her book by sharing the harrowing story of her father’s sudden onset of cancer and steady decline thereafter.  I, too, have watched a beloved parent waste away to that awful, awful disease.

She had my eyes welled up in tears with her beautiful writing as she recounted the details of those long and emotional months.

Following her father’s death, Holly traveled to India and later to South Africa, both for short-term volunteer positions.

Having also visited India on a missions trip, I so enjoyed reading about Holly’s experience as she witnessed cultural differences, extreme poverty and the heavy veil of Hinduism during her trip.  I could so relate to her own “Americanisms” as she shared the challenges and joys of ministering in a foreign context.

What I appreciated most about Hot Chocolate in June is Holly’s honesty as she fluctuates among a myriad of emotions and points in her spiritual walk.  She openly shares the frustration of the Apostle Paul, who often “had the desire to do good, but could not carry it out” (Romans 7:18).  She writes of her relational struggles and asks important questions of herself as she realizes, “I was willing to stick it out and persevere for all of the things that didn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things, but was I willing to do it for people, for relationship? … I realized this was going to require effort for the rest of my life ….”

Holly acknowledges the ongoing challenge as a Christian to die to self — yet she continues to trust the Lord and seek His will in her life.

During her brief stint working in an orphanage in South Africa, Holly met a man named Oscar.  Prior to her trip, she had accepted a position to work as an auditor in Wyoming.  Though her heartstrings were tugged to stay in South Africa, she fulfilled her commitment and moved by herself to a state in which she had never lived.

While she was there, her relationship with Oscar flourished, and to make a long story short, they got engaged and then married.  Holly moved to South Africa, and as she described her initial challenges as an American in a foreign land, I found myself nodding my head, saying, “Yep.  I totally get that.  Mm-hmm.  Me, too.”

I, too, have sipped hot chocolate in June, desperately trying to find internal warmth in the midst of a chilly S’African winter, with no indoor heating to be found.

As she wraps up this chapter of her story, Holly reflects upon how the Lord has shaped and molded her as she grasps her position in Christ.

This book was indeed a blessing to me as it allowed me to follow Holly’s journey thus far, and to clearly see the Lord at work in her life.

To learn more about this book, click here.

To connect with the author online, visit her at her blog or on Twitter @hollymthethwa

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from Ambassador International for review, and the opinions are my own.

the pros and cons of cross-cultural living

I was recently asked to share some thoughts with a college group about what it’s like to live in a cross-cultural setting. So far I’ve had the privilege of visiting Mexico, Honduras, India and Lesotho before spending a decade living in Cape Town, South Africa.



Perhaps I should preface this by saying that cross-cultural living is not for everyone. There are those who might thrive in a foreign setting but never get the chance to travel. Others might live in foreign contexts for work or as a result of other, external circumstances, but struggle the whole time. Nevertheless, even if you only have the opportunity to visit another culture without actually settling there, I would highly recommend it.

I was blessed to have had a wonderful experience, but it did not come without its challenges. Based on personal experience, here are some pros and cons to cross-cultural living.



Pro: It offers a richness to one’s life that cannot be manufactured. Travel books are great, but one can’t learn richness from a book. Movies can give a glimpse, but will never do justice to the smells, the tastes, the smiles, the accents, the people, the memories. In a word, it’s exhilarating. The experience gained can’t be replicated any other way.



Con: It can be hard, sometimes shocking, to re-enter one’s ‘home’ culture after seeing the world through new lenses. It’s even possible to develop a bitterness toward materialism and the surplus of choices. One can also experience an air of superiority toward those who don’t know any differently.




Pro: It will increase your dependency on the Lord like you won’t believe. You’ll need His help like you never knew you could need it before.




Con: It will make you feel like you’re two years old again when you realize you can’t do anything by yourself. By that I mean that you won’t know which exit to take off the freeway, or how to find the freeway in the first place, or even which side of the road to drive on, or which side of the car to get into, for that matter … You won’t know the difference between a grocery store and a hardware store, or what to buy at the store or where to find it, or how much it will cost in your home currency.




Con: It is exhausting. It took me five full years living overseas before I wasn’t constantly doing mental gymnastics every moment of every day. Trying to figure out currency conversions, unit conversions for things like temperature (for anything from the weather outside, to the setting on the oven to bake brownies, to the thermometer for my kid’s fever), cultural nuances, directions and locations, foreign brands. Add an unfamiliar language to the mix and the difficulty level of the gymnastics is multiplied a hundredfold.



Pro: It is stimulating. Mental gymnastics can be a good thing. It will expand your horizon and broaden your worldview. It will break you out of your mold of thinking things can only be done one way. Before I lived overseas, I never knew it was possible to make brownies without a box. Now my daughter has been raised to make brownies from scratch, moves to America, and finds boxed mixes to be the definition of boring.




Con: You will miss out on a lot from your ‘home’ culture. I cried like a baby when my firstborn had her first birthday overseas and nobody from my extended family was there to celebrate. I literally broke down in a parking lot and was convinced it wasn’t worth it, this whole ‘living far away’ business. Even after ten years, the ‘missing family and friends’ part never really got any easier.


Pro: Not always, but often, the Lord will provide new and deep relationships right where you are. These will obviously not replace the friendships you left behind, nor are they intended to, but they can help cushion the ache a little and add comfort while in a foreign place.




Pro: It will increase your desire and excitement for heaven. You’ll get a teeny tiny taste of what it will be like when “the great multitude … from every nation, tribe, people and language” will one day gather “before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).



Con: Well, there just isn’t a corresponding con to this one. To have every nation represented in eternity will be beyond amazing.




I absolutely loved the decade I spent living in a foreign context. I offer the ‘cons’ here only as a pinch of reality to temper the starry-eyed, honeymoon mentality that can sneak into the suitcase when traveling overseas.


And ultimately, even where there are challenges and frustrations, we can “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).


Having said that, I sincerely hope that the picture painted here is one in which the scales are heavily weighted in favor of the ‘pros.’


Cross-cultural living is hard, but so worth it.


What about you?  Have you experienced any of these pros or cons?  What would you add to the list?




launch day interview with lisa-jo baker

Today is LAUNCH DAY for Lisa-Jo Baker’s Surprised by Motherhood!


To celebrate, I am thrilled to have Lisa-Jo here today to answer some questions about her book and why she believes motherhood should come with a superhero cape.


Before we jump into the interview, have you entered the giveaway over at Ungrind to win a copy of this fabulous book?



As a brief introduction, Lisa-Jo Baker and I have basically “been there, done that, gotten the same t-shirt,” so to speak — only backwards.  She wears the shirt and mine is a reflection in the mirror, with the logo of life appearing in reverse.

She was born in South Africa, moved to America for college, met a Michigander who is now her husband, and stayed.  I was born in Michigan, moved to South Africa during college, met a South African who is now my husband, and stayed.

She had two boys before having a girlie, and I had my girl first before adding two boys.

She lost her mom to cancer when she was 18.  I lost mine to cancer when I was 30.

She has written an amazing book.  I have not.  I guess the comparisons stop there.

About that book, have I mentioned how excited I am to have Lisa-Jo here today?

So without further ado, le Interview:

1. This is your first book.  How did writing the chapters of Surprised by Motherhood stretch you and impact your own perspective, emotionally and spiritually?

I think I should start by saying I consider myself an accidental author. I didn’t grow up meaning to write a book or even wanting to. This book took me completely by surprise. A lot like a surprise pregnancy really, I discovered this book growing in me long before I ever planned for it. And like a baby it stretched me and made me weepy and vulnerable and desperately afraid at times. But it has also put me back together again in unexpected ways. It has taught me things I didn’t know about myself and given me new ways to see the courage of women and the grace of God in how He loves us wildly, extravagantly, irrationally almost. How His love is so much like a mother’s.


2. In your book, you talk about how you never wanted to be a mom. You reference a handful of factors that solidified that stance, including personal conversations with unhelpful individuals and general messages to women from society at large.  Yet the Lord moved you from being the girl who never wanted kids, to the delighted and adoring mother of three.  Talk to the woman who is already disillusioned about motherhood before even conceiving a child.

Well, let’s begin at the beginning. You are beloved. Period. Not for the color of your eyes or your language or where in the world you are from. Not for your business card or your all caught up on the laundry days. Not for your accomplishments or your grades or for the cute guy you married. You are beloved because God can’t not love you. He is defined by His never-giving-up, always-chasing love. He is the God who loved first and will love last. He loves you because He created you. Period. Everything else is a free grace gift. Everything. Especially including motherhood. It’s not an obligation or a requirement or a grading rubric. It’s a gift. It’s only a gift. So open your hands to it or not. You are still beloved. Today, tomorrow, motherhood or not, God will not let you fall from His mighty embrace. It’s OK to just let Him love you.




3. For those who might not be familiar with your ministry of encouraging moms, what would you say to the mom today who is flat-out burned-out and ready to throw in the towel?

You are a warrior who will battle for your children’s hearts, souls, attention, innocence, education and memories.

Go to battle my friends. This is your time.



We will hold strong on either side of you. We will pray over those bottles, through the dark watches of the night, when doubt comes and children break, when adults fail them, when they push and push as hard against us as that day we delivered them into the world we. will. not. be broken.

We may ache and see cracks tear through our hearts, but we will get up again tomorrow and load the clothes and the words that need to be said. Again and again and again.


And when the world tries to claw at them, to break them, to smash the beauty in them, may our walls hold true. May the lessons we’ve told, the truths we’ve lived, the life we’ve spoken into them come back easily, predictably, with wash and repeat ease.

Kingdom business. Jesus work. This shaping of souls. This raising tiny humans.

There are those that say that this is ordinary. Don’t buy that for a second.

Mighty. You are mighty, because you mother.


4. Give us a brief glimpse into your global vision and dream to impact moms, kids, and extended families and communities in South Africa.

Well, I’d love to  invite you to join me and my family in South Africa as we partner with the nonprofit organization, Take Action, to change the stories of hundreds of kids without mothers.


To be part of a movement of moms who are changing the world while changing the diapers, the laundry loads, and the course of tomorrow.


So far we’ve built a water point and laundry facility, a vegetable garden and are working on a community center for a community just north of Pretoria, South Africa, called Maubane. About 150 adults and 250 orphans and vulnerable children rely on outdoor faucets that often run out of water.




Whether you are a mother, know a mother, or have a mother come and discover all over again how there is nothing ordinary about being a mother. Not to the hundreds of kids who don’t have one. Because motherhood is heroic. Period.


Join the movement at



5. And lastly, since South Africa is buried deep in the recesses of both of our hearts, give your best elevator pitch for why people should visit that magnificent land.

Because it’s got everything.


Oceans and mountains, perfect weather and beaches and people with smiles so big you think there faces will split. Because it’s got 11 national languages but pretty much everyone still speaks English so you’d have no problem getting around.




Because it’s complicated and simple and because the food is so diverse and delicious and the chocolate is about the best in the world. Because it’s wild and free and wonderful and often misunderstood.


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Because it’s heartbroken and in the process of rebuilding. Because it’s a country God uses to remind the rest of us how much we are beloved even when we suffer, when we feel lost or alone.



Because it’s like coming home even when it’s your first time. And because of the melktert.



And the tea. The fact that everything always stops for tea.




Well, there you have it, folks.  I hope this interview has not only convinced you to buy a hundred copies of Surprised by Motherhood for every woman you know, but that you will also make a point to visit South Africa at least once in your life, too.

And before you go, you just have to watch this trailer with Lisa-Jo giving all the moms the very best pep talk ever:



To read my review of Surprised by Motherhood, click here.

To read what I wrote about the book over at Lisa-Jo’s, click here.

To read the first three chapters FREE, click here.



the song of the motherless daughter

ImageSo, I’ve already proclaimed my excitement and delight about the upcoming release of Lisa-Jo Baker’s new book, Surprised by Motherhood.

And Lord-willing, at the end of this month, a full (and glowing) review that I’ve written will appear over at Ungrind Webzine.  In my review, I will tell you that Lisa-Jo gets it.  This motherhood thing?  She absolutely gets it, in all of its glorious chaos.  I’ll tell you about how she had me choked up with emotion and laughing out loud, practically in the same breath.

But today, I want to focus on one aspect of the book which struck a particularly tender chord that is still resonating today, weeks after I finished this fabulous book.  

Though I’ve yet to meet Lisa-Jo Baker in person, we have much in common.  We both write, not only for the love of writing, but for the need to get the words out.  We’ve both lived in Michigan.  We both have two boys and a girl.  We both have Tswana relatives.  She knows all about stywe pap and hadidas and boerboels and vetkoek.  She dunks rusks in Five Roses and eats peppermint crisp pudding.

But more than the South Africanisms I’ve come to appreciate about her, there is one commonality that, in my mind, trumps all the others:

We both lost our mothers to cancer.

We both watched our moms outwardly waste away and get ushered into eternity via a hospice bed.

I first felt that ‘heart sister’ connection to Lisa-Jo when I read her blog post in October 2013 called, ‘The one where I’m a motherless daughter.’

In her post, she writes, “Losing a mother doesn’t happen in a moment. It takes years to realize what’s gone …. You can wake up one day and discover you’re 39 and all you want for your birthday is your mom.”

“And anyone who’s lost a mother – whether she was emotionally unavailable or left or died like mine did – they know that the ache never goes away. Some days it’s hardly noticeable and others it comes roaring back at the most unexpected moments.”

They know that the ache never goes away.  It never goes away, and as Lisa-Jo points out, “Grief comes in strange getups.”  I wrote about that, in my Open Letter to Grief, about how grief is cyclical, like the moon — ever-present, waxing and waning.  Cyclical, like water, stored up in dense clouds of grey, then pelting down in violent precipitation, then standing, idly in puddles at our feet — but always there.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Surprised by Motherhood brought out those heart-ties and soul-sighs that go hand-in-hand with a motherless daughter and are exhaled, silently but powerfully with every breath.

One quote that really got me was when Lisa-Jo tells of a movie she watched growing up, and says, “I watch that movie now and can braille my way back into the world that included a mother.”

And I swallowed hard with a knot in my throat when I read of Lisa-Jo and her dad, learning to live in the after, and eventually, “Both of us learning to look at the hole where my mom had been and not keep falling into it.”

And I nodded from the depths when she wrote, “And I grieved for the people who were separated from us by a chasm of normalcy.”  Because how else can it be described?

And I sighed and understood when she said, “And I ran away to America and to college and to a place where I could be more than just the daughter of a dead mother.”  

Because that’s kind of why I can’t go back to my mom’s church — the church that grew me and raised me and shaped me and married me and buried her.  Because her presence is still there, I can see her singing on the stage and sitting in the pew, and chatting away in the foyer and making copies of the prayer letter in the office.  And they still love me there, but I’m still “the daughter of a dead mother” there.  And sometimes I want to be, just to know that she is remembered, to acknowledge the hole and the hurt that remains, and sometimes I cringe from it, from the label of ‘victim’ that clings to the double-sided sticker of grief.

 In her book, Lisa-Jo writes this:

“But the summer we were supposed to redecorate my bedroom teenage-girl style, she ended up moving permanently into a hospital room before we could put up the wallpaper border of delicate pink flowers we’d picked out.”  

Lisa-Jo, those delicate pink flowers now border the cover of your first book, and I have no doubt that your mother — who ‘always wanted to write a book,’ as your dedication reveals — would be glowing and dancing with a mother’s pride.  

Thank you for penning this song.

malva pudding and motherhood

Today I’m breaking the mold of my usual posts to share some essentials:

A malva pudding recipe …

Malva Pudding 1

.. and news about the upcoming release of this book.



Because what better way to celebrate the arrival of an amazing book written by an amazing South African, than malva pudding!

I’m eight chapters into Lisa-Jo Baker’s first book, Surprised by Motherhood, and ohmygoodness, if you are a mom, it is a must read.

Lisa-Jo gets it.  All of it.  And she’s not afraid to share ‘Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom’ ..

It’s all that you find out as a mom and wish the parenting books had warned you about.  It’s hope.  It’s glory in the chaos.

The book comes out on April 1st, but you can pre-order now by clicking here.

Can’t wait to share more about Surprised by Motherhood in the very near future.  But for now, the malva pudding.

This recipe was given to me at my bridal shower ten years ago, and it has been a winner every time:



Serves: 6-8



1/2 CUP  (125 ML) MILK

1 1/3 CUPS (200 GM or 375 ML) SELF-RAISING FLOUR

1/2 CUP (100 GM or 125 ML) WHITE SUGAR







1 CUP (250 ML) WATER

1 CUP (250 ML) CREAM






Congratulations, Lisa-Jo .. you and your words are a gift to moms the world over .. May the Lord be glorified through your ministry.

With thanks to Jon Mountjoy for the malva pudding photo