Psalm 23

God doesn’t always make sense

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Food For Thought

Chess, Food for thought

Warning! This post may not be exactly what you’re looking for. If you looking to make perfect sense of the tough situations you’ve faced or are currently facing, this is not the post for you. If you’re looking for a “three-easy-steps” guide to make your situation go away, sorry, look somewhere else. Instead, this post will remind you of stories in the Bible of people who faced extreme tragedy, heartwrenching pain, and heavy disappointment. I will try demonstrate how people, somehow, found comfort in the midst of pain, and I will look to find God’s perfect place, plan or timing in these stories. I believe these stories are the word of God and are equipped with all the power they need to work in us.

What is the one thing you want when you feel like God doesn’t make sense? Comfort, right? You want to feel comforted by anyone, anything, especially God. The history of the word “comfort” shows the ever-changing way I see God’s work in our pain. The word is made from two Latin word parts, com-, which loosely means “together with,” and fortis, which means “strong or strength.” Later, the Latin word confortare came to mean, “to strengthen much.” Eventually, an Old French word, conforter, adds words like “solace” and “help” to the definition. In the 14th century, another French word, conforten, is defined as, “to cheer up, console.” Finally, by the 17th century, the English version of the word implies the sense of physical ease that we understand today. (Definitions from Oxford Languages).

When I think of comfort, I think of fluffy pillows, duck-down duvets, a hug from wife, an encouraging word from a friend or colleagues and a “at-a-boy” from my father. I even think about that pair of shows I wear again and again or a hairstyle you always stick too . In about a millennia, this word went from meaning, “together-strength,” to meaning “pain-barrier.” It changed from understanding God’s comfort as His company, to understanding it as His intervention. When something terrible happens and I don’t see God intervene, I wonder whether He’s really there at all. But, I’m not alone. Before the “comfort” word morphed, King David experienced many times when God seemed inattentive. Read his letters to God and try to keep pace with his seemingly varying take on God’s place in his struggle.

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Take a Pause: Think about the last time you questioned God’s existence. How were you looking to experience His company?

Notice how in Psalm 13, King David is questioning and doubting God’s presence. He asks if God has forgotten him. See how sorrowful he is feeling? I’ve been there too many times to count or mention!

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

God’s word is 100% true. We can and must accept it as such. It may be a difficult read sometimes because there are many stories of war, famine, lamentations, doubt and so on – but remember, His Word, His plan, is always for your own good. We accept His as His Word and not anyone else’s.

Psalm 103

Of David.

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul

Now look at Psalm 103. What a turn around! If you ever read a Psalm or sang a song in praise and worship of the goodness, dominion, power, companionship and comfort God brings – this is one prime example!

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Is God my Savior?

Today, it’s 13° outside – a family of five in the middle of township is without power, has no running water and is struggling just to keep warm or prepare a meal. Been South Africa, that same family most likely only has one income earner, so the little they have has to go a long way. They’ll be lucky to get a slice of bread or two each for the day. 1000s of people, families in South Africa are sleeping in the street with a cardboard box to keep them warm, if they lucky. Today, a family in Europe will tragically lose a child to an unexpected disease. In the next 24 hours, in other impoverished regions of the world, thousands of children are expected to die due to a lack of food, clean water, no food and diseases.

Then, by now, you would know how the pandemic, COVID-19, has brought the world to a standstill. People are scared of catching it, locked up in their homes, unsure about vaccines and living in fear of a disease.

Maybe today, but almost definitely this year, natural disasters will strike and suddenly kill thousands.

Coming back to South Africa, over the last week, the country has been brought to its knees by riots, looting and untimely deaths as a result.

If God’s existence was determined by His prevention of our world’s pain, then He’d be gone with the next strong wind that blew across the earth.

I’m not the first one to let difficulty cause me to doubt whether or not God is who He says He is. John The Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, is famous for preaching about the coming of Jesus and proclaiming that he wasn’t even worthy of lacing up Jesus’ dirty sandals. Later, John ended up wrongly imprisoned after spending his whole life for God. In fact, he was put in prison for preaching God’s truth. John had moments where he had second thoughts when from prison he wrote to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” John wanted to be sure that Jesus was truly the Savior that he’d made him out to be. But maybe John was also wondering if Jesus would be the one to come to his prison cell and break him out?

Then, Jesus, who basically called John the Baptist the greatest human to ever live, responded by pointing to some of the miracles He had done, and finished with, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” It’s as if Jesus said, “Look, John, I’m the Savior, but don’t blow your blessing by getting ticked off at me for not saving you from prison.”

In short, Jesus thought John was a stellar servant of God. Jesus essentially said, “Yes, I am the Savior, and I do saving works.” Then, He didn’t save John from prison, or from getting his head chopped off. What can we take away from this story? Whether or not God diverts your struggle does not determine whether or not He is God. And, proof of how God feels about you might not be happening to you today, but it happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago, on the cross.

Pray: Thank Jesus for what He did on the cross, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how He feels about you.

Dangerous Theology

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – CS Lewis

I think about the worst situation I have been through and survived to tell the tale. There are some very painful lessons and truths I’ve learned but I realise now that God was doing what was best for me. It hurt coming to this realisation!

Remember earlier what I spoke about the word “comfort” as “together-strength.” If God’s comfort is found in His strong company, then a difficult situation can be something we face with the powerful and loving comfort of God’s presence. It can be very hard to see it this way, but the situation itself could at times be God’s strength for us. Read that last sentence again until it hits you.

James 1:1-18

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Trials and Temptations

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

The dangerous and bad theology comes in to the picture if I was to describe every trial and difficulty I face as something God is intending to use to make me grow or learn something. It’s equally dangerous theology to assume that God never puts me through any struggles to strengthen me. The knowledge that His strength is with me, and that I can come out stronger, holds in it the power to separate me from my need to know, “God, how could you let this happen?” It’s okay when God doesn’t make sense. It should be enough to know He’s Immanuel, God With Us, and He has the power to turn what’s hard for me into what’s good for me. In the passage above, notice how much emphasis is placed on perseverance! Enough said.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Matthew 1:23

Celebrate: Think about all the struggles you’ve faced. Look back and remember how they’ve built your character, perseverance, and faith. Find a way to thank God for it all.

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Be Ready To Listen

Has this happened to you before. You in the middle of the road with no petrol in your car. The warning light was flashing, I could almost hear the engine praying for more petrol and I know the fuel consumption is not great but I continued to push through and see how far. The issue was obvious, but I tried to live with it. Holding down the accelerater a little less, just don’t overrev and you’ll be fine. What first was inconveniently noticeable becomes conveniently a problem, the dreaded moment happened, I found myself at the mercy of a nearby petrol station to bring me a few litres of petrol in a water can. My car raised its voice to get my attention and I ignored it.

There’s a Bible story like this. Eli was a good man who gave his life to serve our God. He was a high priest and judge over Israel – the middle-man between God and His people. Eli was God’s listener and God’s voice to communicate any vision, law, or prophecy the people needed to hear. He also oversaw the temple which made people able to submit their offerings and requests to God. A woman named Hannah—who was painfully unable to bear children—made the trek to Eli’s temple each year to plead for a child. Despite God’s lack of cooperation, she remained faithful. One year she told God that if He gave her a son, she’d give him back to serve the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:1 NLT says In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. … Despite God’s direct words being rare, in the second chapter of 1 Samuel, a man of God came to Eli with a flashing “petrol light” from God. Eli’s sons were sinning against God and His people by robbing the temple offerings and seducing women at the temple gates. Eli knew, but just scolded his sons and allowed them to remain in their temple roles. His car was chugging along, but he just added some more laid off the accelerator a little.

Meanwhile, Hannah miraculously gave birth, weaned her son Samuel, and brought him back to Eli’s temple to serve God just as she promised. If Hannah had a car, she’d have probably fill up with petrol even before the meter reached half way.

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
1 Samuel 1:27

As Eli’s temple helper, Samuel heard a voice call his name three times one night. Despite his role as God’s listener, it took Eli three times of Samuel coming to him before he realised the voice might be coming from God. Finally, Eli seemingly remembered something he had once learned. Next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”’ God spoke to Samuel the fourth time. Sadly, the message he received was doom for Eli’s family.

By the time Eli remembered how to hear, he was in the middle of the road, hazard lights on, walking annoying to a petrol station to find help. Eli’s career was to listen to God. With Jesus as our High Priest, God’s Word as our guide, and the Holy Spirit as our helper, we no longer need an intermediary. We are both Hannah and Eli. We get to hear from God directly and follow Him devotedly. But, when God doesn’t make sense and seems uncooperative, are we like Hannah who remained faithful, or like Eli who became a selective listeners?

Pause: Take pay attention! Open up your ears, speak directly to God, and make sure you’re a servant who’s ready to listen.

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In Good Company

There is a difference between people like Eli from earlier, who experience pain because they haven’t been listening, and people like the Apostle Paul, who experience pain despite their devotion and steady requests to God. However, while the people may be different, the pain feels the same. It hurts and leaves us asking, “Why, God?”

Have you ever grabbed a rose assuming the thorns had been removed? The result is a needles poke into your fingers followed by a bone-throbbing reminder of your mistake. Yet, the thorn Paul describes in our reading today from 2 Corinthians chapter 12 is different. Paul describes a thorn that remains in his flesh.

…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul wants the Corinthians to know about his thorn because the thorn causes him to rely on God, and he hopes the Church of Corinth will rely on God, too. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. If Paul stopped there, this concept would be a little easier. We could envision a God who swoops in and picks us up when we’re too weak to go on or get out of bed.

It gets a little trickier. These verses suggest that Paul’s thorn—which he also describes as a messenger of Satan—was not a seldom occurrence of weakness but rather a steady companion. Harder still, Paul explains this thorn was given to him as a strategy to poke a hole in his ego. Suffering so that God’s work could not be claimed as Paul’s work. Paul calls his perpetual pain a gift that reveals God’s true comfort for man. In other words, pain reveals God’s “together-strength” that transforms our failure into His perfection.

When God seemed inattentive to Paul’s pain, he could have assumed God was either absent or abusive. Instead, he recognised that pain put him in good company.

What are some thorns you need to see for their roses? How does your pain provide you opportunities to partner with God in ways you couldn’t if He took it away?

Who else received thorns as a strategy to unveil God’s perfect strength for our persistent weakness? Jesus.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3‭-‬5

Pray: God, I’ve been asking You to remove this trial. Today, I ask You to reveal Your power in my trial. Will You show me how Your strength can be seen through my weakness? Is there someone I can extend your powerful comfort to? Jesus, would You let me feel Your company today?

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When, Jesus?

If you’ve lived at least a couple of decades, you’ve most likely experienced death. No matter who I have lost or how I felt losing them, death is arguably the most difficult thing I have faced. Maybe it’s the seeming finality of death that is so hard. In comparison, every other pain I experience seems treatable, preventable, repairable, or at least tolerable.

For many followers of Christ, the moment I realised a loved one is really gone is when I experience our deepest doubts of God. Streaming thoughts turn into silent prayers, “God, how could You let this happen?”and, “You even listening?”, “Do you care?”, “Are you even there at all?” Basically, we accuse God of being either an imposing fake or an absent bystander.

Read: John 11

When close friends and followers of Jesus—Mary and Martha—told him their brother Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus did not come. Even though He was only a day’s walk away, Jesus let Lazarus die, then let Mary and Martha grieve alone before finally coming. When He did arrive, Lazarus was already decaying in a sealed grave. Mary stayed home, and Martha let Jesus know that He was late. Then, Jesus called for Mary, who came weeping. Jesus’ responses to Mary and Martha are some of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible. When Martha told Jesus he could have kept Lazarus from death, Jesus responded, “… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die … ” Then, when Mary wept, Jesus wept.

Jesus’ tears paint a picture of a God who hurts when we hurt, but also a God who hurts because we hurt. He is not the origin of death and separation. Sin is. He is the very one who looked death in the eye and conquered it for us. He understands, better than we, the true effects of death in the world and life He created for us. So, just because He doesn’t stop pain from happening to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt Him too.

If you finish the story, you know Jesus wept right before he brought Lazarus back to life. He also knows that for whoever believes in Him—including people we love—death is not permanent, and life with Him is eternal. Does it still hurt when people die? Yes. Does God hurt with us? Yes.

Pause: When you lost a loved one, how did you characterise God? Fake, bystander, late, hurting with you, something else? How does knowing, “Jesus wept,” change your experience?

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The Same Jesus

The same Jesus who called Lazarus back from the grave is calling me to abundant life. I may be lonely; He is with me always. I may be anxious; He cares for me. I may be tired; He is my rest. I may be lost; He is my way. I may be angry; He is love. I may be broken; He was wounded to heal me. I may be addicted; He is freedom. I may be in darkness; He is a great light. I may be dying; He is the resurrection and the life.

When God seems inattentive, uncooperative, and late, these are the moments when I get to decide what I really believe about Him. Do I believe the Bible stories I read? Even when I decide to believe the Bible is true, I may still sometimes feel like God doesn’t make sense. Yet, I can be sure the same Jesus still hears my cries, shares my pain, and saves my lives. He is my “together-strength.”

Pray: Jesus, thank You for calling me out of the grave. I choose to trust You to care deeply about what I’m facing, and I want You to face it with me. Thank You for taking on my shortcomings and my pain when You experienced brutal death and separation from God on the cross. Let’s do this!

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in Devotional, 1 comment

Safe in our Father’s Arms

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As we take a journey through Psalm 23 and John 10, it is my prayer that this devotional will restore your hope, strengthen your faith, and give you a deeper understanding of the good Shepherd’s peace, provision, and protection and help keep you feeling safe.

Safety is guaranteed in our Father’s arms

Embrace the Unknown

When we know who God is, it is easier to trust Him, to feel safe with Him – in the unknown.

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In moments of uncertainty, pain and suffering, we often lean into Psalm 23. David, a shepherd boy, became the king of Israel, but not until he faced a season of adversity in the wilderness. When his call to be king seemed a mere dream than reality, he found comfort to reflect on Abba Father as his protector and provider. 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Psalms 23:1

Years ago, and sometimes still today, I realised I do not truly know the love and kindness of God. Not only did I not know who God is, but I did not know who I am as His child. I sometimes feel like a lost sheep walking in circles trying to please a shepherd I did not know. Often I viewed Him as an angry God, ready to chastise me for the slightest mistake. Mostly living in fear that God would punish me for the life I lived apart from Him by allowing something bad to happen to the people I love or to me. I admit, I can slip back into embracing those lies at times. However, God has continued to be gracious and loving toward me by showing me if He wanted to punish me for my sins, He would not have punished Jesus by way of the cross. 

Jesus said, I AM the Good Shepherd, and I lay down my life for My sheep (John 10:11).

God (the good Shepherd) sent Jesus (the lamb of God) to provide all we need to be able to enter into the presence of a Holy God. 

Much uncertainty in days of COVID-19

In the days of COVID-19, the entire world is turned upside down and plagued by uncertainty and fear. Out of nowhere, this invisible enemy has infiltrated our homeland, invaded our living spaces, homes and besieged our bodies, our faith and our minds. Our safety and security is compromised. Many of God’s children were left paralysed with fear of the unknown. 

We ask God to step in and defeat this toxic enemy, but it seemed like the enemy defeats us as it continues to spread. 

In scary and unknown times, our greatest need is to go before the Father and ask Him to remind us who He is. He is a Good Shepherd, providing for and protecting us. He is the only One that has the power to change our circumstances. If He doesn’t change our circumstances, then we can trust He has a loving plan we cannot understand at the moment.

To live a life of faith is to embrace what we do not know.  

Who Told You That?

 Who we listen to and believe will determine whether we lay down in trust or stand in fear.

God’s grace to those who least expect it

Have you ever wondered why a good Shepherd would need to make his sheep lie down in green pastures? Wouldn’t green pastures and quiet waters be a sheep’s best life?

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
Psalms 23:2

The thing about sheep is that they will not lie down if they are afraid, threatened, or hungry. In other words, if a sheep senses freedom from fear, aggravations, and hunger, only then will they lie down and rest. 

People are like sheep

I guess people are more like sheep than I realise! I know for me it has been hard to rest in my own green pastures when everything around me shouts: “FEAR, DANGER, DUCK, TAKE COVER!” 

How hard has it been for you to rest in your own personal green pastures? During the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus was called an “invisible enemy”. It is true for every follower of Jesus; we have an invisible enemy, and it is not just illnesses like COVID-19. A believer’s enemy is Satan. Satan tempted Eve to not trust God and to believe that God is withholding what is good from her. Eve’s biggest mistake was not that she listened to Satan, but that she believed him. Our enemy’s lies create in us the same belief; God cannot be trusted, and He will not accomplish or provide what is best for His children. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
John 10:10

Isn’t that a lie!

Fear is a liar

What a liar is fear when it causes us to doubt God’s protection and provision for our needs and wants. Fear is a liar when things go haywire and we believe God has abandoned us right when we need Him most. 

Jesus said He is a good Shepherd who lays down His life so that His sheep can have life abundantly – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:15

Jesus is the source of our life. We find our meaning and purpose in Him. If we do not believe Him, Jesus’ words and truth will not help you or me. There are a lot of voices shouting to get our attention and devotion. We have to be careful who we listen to, but more importantly who we are believing. 

If you are gripped with fear and at the brink of despair, I can confidently say the words you are believing are not your Shepherd’s. When Eve repeated Satan’s lies to God in the garden of Eden, God asked her, “Who told you that?” (Genesis 3:11). When we are consumed with fear and doubt, we should ask ourselves that same question. “Who told me that?”

Our Shepherd’s voice will always bring peace, joy and rest.

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When we listen, believe, and trust His words, we can lay down in our green pastures no matter the chaos raging around us. 

Touching Arms

The closer we are to the Shepherd, the firmer our foundation.

The term “cast down sheep” means a sheep has tipped over lying on its back with its feet in the air, frantically struggling to stand up without any success. The only thing the sheep can do is lie there, frightened and frustrated, until its shepherd comes to help. If he is close to the shepherd, the shepherd can immediately turn him over and put him back on his feet again. Sadly, if the sheep is too far away and too much time has passed before the shepherd can come to its rescue, it will die. Now, I am by no means a shepherd, so this term helps me have a deeper understanding of what David is referring to when he says, “The good Shepherd restores his soul.” Every shepherd has had a cast down sheep at some point or another.

I can’t help but think there are a lot of God’s sheep who have been led away from their Shepherd and have found themselves helpless on their backs, desperately trying to flip themselves over to stand on their own feet. However, life is showing us we are not capable of turning ourselves over and getting ourselves back on our feet. We need a good Shepherd close by, and thank Jesus, we have One. 

In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to not know what to do, and it’s even harder to admit we don’t know what to do. Fear of the unknown will leave the happiest person feeling cast down, disheartened, and often confused to know who to trust. Psalm 23:3 reminds us that God wants to restore our souls and shine His light on the path He has chosen to walk with us. 

His path, for you and for me, is for us to be close to Him at all times. So close that when we find ourselves stuck on our backs, feet sticking straight up in the air, He can reach out and restore us back to our feet. There is no better or safer way to walk a path than touching arms with Jesus. 

We were created to walk with God. The journey He chooses will be perfect and personally designed for us. As a follower of Jesus, we must remember He does not follow us, even if we think we know the best way to go. 

Yes, life as we know it is uncertain and unknown. Although, I believe if we stay close to our Shepherd, He will do whatever it takes to turn us over and plant us on a firm foundation because that’s what good Shepherd’s do.

He is worthy of our trust! 

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Higher Ground

Even if we face a dark night, we can rest in confidence that Jesus will lead us to higher ground.

When I read Psalm 23, I picture David sitting in a beautiful field watching his sheep enjoy green pastures, his legs propped up on a log, hands behind his head, relaxing by a refreshing stream of water. 

The truth of the matter is, when David wrote this Psalm, he was hiding in a dark cave and exiled from his own people with a death sentence hanging over his head. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. Psalms 23:4

Photo by Tsvetoslav Hristov on Pexels.com

We cannot be certain what David was thinking as he penned Psalm 23, but we do know there’s a shift in his writing. For the first time, David uses the personal pronoun “I” and begins his conversation with his Shepherd rather than talking about his Shepherd. David reassures himself that he may face life-threatening circumstances, even death itself, but he will not face these things alone. 

A pattern between David’s process to become a king and my faith journey as a follower of Jesus is emerging. When I decided to follow Jesus, I expected life to be free of pain and suffering. I was told Jesus picked up His cross and died for my sins so I could live life happy, free, and abundantly. No one told me God would ask me to pick up my cross and die daily as a pleasing sacrifice to Him (a truth that would’ve been helpful to know). (Matthew 16:24) So, when I faced pain and suffering, I was shocked and left with two options. 

One, change my belief system or two, change my circumstances. Since I couldn’t change my circumstances, I started to study the Bible to learn what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. I looked at His journey in this world and the life of His disciples. I was comforted to discover they endured pain and suffering, too. Jesus was misunderstood, accused unjustly, and rejected by those around Him. After Jesus left this world, the lives of His disciples were no better.

As I write this, my heart breaks over the numerous lives that have been marked by fear, loneliness, pain, and suffering. Our nation is fighting an invisible enemy in the form of COVID-19; this enemy attacks our dreams, bank accounts, relationships, faith and even our day-to-day lives. This being said, God is fully aware we are not capable of fighting our battles alone. So, He sent Jesus, our Good Shepherd to lead us through these valleys and place our feet firmly on higher ground. And nobody understands life in the valley better than Jesus! 

We cannot fully appreciate the beautiful view on top of the mountain until we experience life in the valley.

However, we must remember God will never allow us to walk through a painful and dangerous valley without taking our hand to guide us. He is leading us along the narrow pathway so that we can experience the presence of God. In my heart, I can almost hear Jesus whisper, “Keep moving, don’t stop now, you are closer to Me than you know!” 

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Covered with Comfort

If we allow the hand of God to comfort and guide us, there is nothing God won’t do to protect us.

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

It is said a shepherd’s rod is like an extension of the shepherd’s right arm. It stands to show the shepherd’s authority and strength, a symbol to bring comfort and assurance to the sheep. Predators wait patiently on the outskirts of the shepherd’s flock, looking for their moment to kill. The shepherd uses his rod as a defence and deterrent to protect his sheep against anything aiming to attack. Sheep are also prone to wander, much like people, and can become lost without food or water. The rod gently corrects and guides the sheep along the right path, the path leading them to safety and true life. 

Much like a sheep’s shepherd, our Good Shepherd is always prepared to use his rod and staff to protect us from what may harm us and tenderly keep us on the best path. Whenever God sees His children moving towards dangerous territory, He will call them to Himself. Using the Holy Spirit and His Word, He guides and directs us, corrects and comforts us. His love for us will compel Him to stop us from what isn’t best, even if it means a moment of temporary pain along the way. 

I can remember many times when I was going through very difficult and dark circumstances. I wanted to walk away from God, even deny God, and sometimes demand instant gratification from God to solve my difficulties NOW!. Consider this “Look back at a time in your life and wonder what God would have done if you had only obeyed him?” Even when I was mad at God for not doing what I asked, I knew I did not want to live with regret and miss God’s best for my life. Today, I think of this often when I see all the moments He held onto me when I was willing to let go of Him. 

When we say yes to following Jesus, the power of Jesus’ resurrection lives in us to comfort us, bring us peace, counsel, and direction. 

The world wants to tell us a good God will not allow bad things to happen. God tells us a good and loving God sent His Son to save us from this world. No one is exempt from facing tribulations, sickness, heartache, and pain. We can face each of these with joy and confidence that Christ will comfort and direct us. We can trust a loving Shepherd to stand in authority over this world, rod in hand, while guiding, comforting, and protecting us throughout each day. 

The world may hurt us, but it cannot destroy us!

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Eating with the Enemy

When we trust God as our defender, even in the midst of our enemies, we can find rest and peace.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5

In Psalm 23:5, David says, “God has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat, but I prefer to be surrounded by people I trust, not in the company of my enemies. 

Middle Eastern hospitality is of high value and importance. When someone enters the host’s house, the needs of the guest always supersede the needs of the host until the visit is over. David is picturing God as his host, who will meet his needs and protect and defend him in the midst of his enemies. 

Since we know David was running from Saul at the time of Psalm 23, it could be safe to assume David was speaking of Saul being his enemy. Over and over God protected David from being killed by the hands of Saul. However, David never convinced Saul that he was not the man Saul believed him to be. Saul thought David wanted to harm him and steal the throne, when in reality, Saul was trying to harm David, and it was God that took the throne away from Saul. 

There will be times when we will be the victims of people’s gossip, be falsely accused, or maybe someone will assume wrongly about who we are. We all have enemies in some way or another. I find a lot of comfort in knowing Jesus had a lot of enemies as well. His enemies refused to accept the truth of who He was and continually questioned His intentions and motives. Nonetheless, Jesus never tried to defend His actions to anyone who refused to get to know Him. 

The key to Psalm 23:5: God, not ourselves, will defend us against the hurtful lies intended to destroy our testimony, self-worth, and reputation as a child of God. 

Not only is God a Good Shepherd, but like David, He is also a great warrior. We can be confident of this one thing:

God will take His place as our defender and safeguard.

In due time, He will expose the lies aimed to destroy us or our relationships. Just because we can’t see God preparing a table before our enemy doesn’t mean God isn’t behind the scenes prepping the courses. There is nothing sweeter than to wait and allow God to take anything formed against us and turn it around to become our greatest victory. He does a much better job at making things right than we do! 

God is the perfect Host who satisfies His children with His presence and cares for our every need. One of the names of God is Jehovah-Nissi, which means God is my banner. Whenever we feel we are surrounded by people who would find more joy in our mistakes than in our victories, we can call upon the name of God and ask Him to fight for us. 

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Walk Me Home

This is not our home, but until the day we are in God’s presence forever, we can rest in confidence that His goodness and love is following us.

You can’t outrun God. There was a time in my life when I certainly tried. Not only did I try to outrun God, I tried to run from myself. I was going through a very confusing season. It wasn’t a national crisis, but an identity crisis. I didn’t know the truth of who God is, and I certainly did not know who God created me to be. I had no concept of what it meant to be a new creation in Christ. When all hope seemed lost and life would seemingly never look the same, it was too hard to put the past behind me and reach forward to what was next. It was too hard for me to see any goodness in the midst of my pain, let alone a hopeful future. 

When I read David’s words, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”, I am reminded that good and merciful are also listed among the many attributes of God. It is not only what He does, but it is who God is. He will not withhold what is best from His children or leave them to fend for themselves. Like most children, we have a very limited ability to determine what is best for ourselves. David writes with the assurance that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we can be assured that although not all things are good, God is good in all things. 

The Spirit of God fills the life of every New Testament believer just as His Spirit would fill the Old Testament tabernacle or temple. He is always with us; His mercy is everlasting and His goodness is forever faithful. 

When we experience our darkest days, nights, weeks, or months, we may not see God’s presence or His hand guiding us. Yet, once we get through those bleak seasons, we are able to look back and be in awe of the God who never left us alone. Darkness always tries to hide the goodness of God. God’s light illuminates what the darkness tries to hide.

His beauty and love chase after us every day of our lives.

When we remember our Shepherd’s goodness, it is easier for us to trust him with what’s in front of us. In the midst of a crisis, it can seem He has left us in the dust. But the story isn’t over. While we wait for our good Shepherd and valiant warrior to bring us through this difficult race called life, we can simply reach out in faith, trust the Holy Spirit within, and grab the hand of God. There will be a day when we will be home with Jesus in His house forever. Let Him walk us there. 

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What’s in a NamePsalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

God is who He says He is; He can and will do what He says He can and will do.

As we have journeyed through Psalm 23 together, I pray you have felt God’s peace, comfort, and security each step along the way. More importantly, I hope you have seen more clearly the loving heart of your Good Shepherd. When most people read David’s Psalm, they are either looking for a way to find meaning and purpose for their suffering or trying to pick up the pieces from shattered dreams. 

For many years, I approached the Bible as a textbook. When life wasn’t turning out like I had dreamed it would, I’d look to the Bible for answers to my “why.” God used studying the book of Job to show me He doesn’t always answer our “why.” Instead, He desires to take our focus off of our suffering and onto Himself. When we respond in faith and look to Him, He shows us His mighty power and great love. 

I can honestly say, I do not know how anyone can live in this world without this assurance: not all things are good, but God is good in all things. God is not our free pass out of the storms of life, but He is our peace within the storm. 

David did not get everything right, but one thing he did get right was what he treasured most—his relationship with God. It didn’t matter if his life was good or if his life was threatened by the evil intentions of others, He called upon the name of God. Let’s go back through Psalm 23 and reflect on the different names of God: 

  1. The LORD is my Shepherd: Jehovah Rohi, He is our Shepherd.
  2. I shall not want: Jehovah Jireh, He is our provider.
  3. He makes me lie down in green pastures and still waters: Jehovah Shalom, He is our peace.
  4. He restores my soul and guides me in His righteousness: Jehovah Tsidkenu, He is our righteousness.
  5. For you are with me: Jehovah Shammah, He is the God who is always there.
  6. Your rod and staff comfort me: Jehovah Nissi, He is our banner of victory. 
  7. Surely goodness and mercy follows us: Jehovah M’Kaddesh, He is the God who sanctifies. 

Proverbs states in 18:10 “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” David, a shepherd boy who was known as Israel’s greatest king, a man after God’s own heart, knew his limitations, humbled himself and called upon the name of God. 

As we fight whatever battle life throws our way, our greatest defense will be to humble ourselves and call upon the name of God.

The same powerful and loving God who allows us to face our enemies is the same God who will lead us to victory. 

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Love is a Battlefield

Death and resurrection of Jesus

The war has been won by way of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but there is still a battle waging war on our life, soul, and heart.

As we read Psalm 23 in its entirety and reflected on the different names of God. It is worth noticing, the familiar words of Christ on the cross were also written by David in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me.” 

As a follower of Jesus, at some point or another, we all will struggle with the thought, God is not listening to my prayers. He has left me alone. He cannot be trusted, and it is up to me to be in control of my happiness. These thoughts are all lies against who Jesus is in order to weaken our faith in Him and steal our peace. 

If you are a follower of Jesus and have given your life to Him, you can be assured that God has not forsaken us. During His most extravagant expression of love, with His last breath, Jesus declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) All of Heaven mourned. 

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Meanwhile, for three days Hell rejoiced. We all know what happened next. Jesus walked out of that same grave in Glory and in victory. What darkness meant to destroy, Jesus died to redeem. God defeated the powers of evil. As followers of Jesus, we can claim that same victory. 

Jesus didn’t just say He loved us; He proved His love in ways words could never express by laying down His life for us. He paid off our sinful debt with His perfect life. Because of Jesus, we will never be forsaken but are always loved and worthy to call a Holy God our Father. Our place with God has been forever sealed with triumph! 

The war was won long ago, but we are still in a battle. If we don’t know who we are fighting, we cannot win the battle. Jesus called Satan a liar, thief, and deceiver; his goal is to destroy who you are and your relationship with God. Satan is opportunistic, and he will attack when we least expect it. That being said, I’m confident that God, our defender, will fight to protect our hearts, strengthen our faith, and win this waging battle around us. 

When COVID-19 invaded our worlds, the threat of death surrounds us every day. Our dreams and plans appear to be thrown down a dark pit never to be seen again. We must remember, there is no pit so deep that God’s love cannot reach to pull us out. Yes, my friend, there is no war or invisible enemy that Jesus has not already fought and won.

So, let’s hold on to Him and let Him fight our battles! 

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Pillow Talk

Prayer is not a way to win; it is the only way to win.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sin and point us to the Father. However, when you think about how often Jesus slipped away from the crowds to talk to the Father, we cannot deny the high emphasis Jesus placed on prayer. 

When I was young in my faith with very little understanding of the Bible, I began to notice how often Jesus prayed. I wrestled with the idea if Jesus felt the need to pray throughout His journey in this world, how much more should I? Even though I respected prayer and saw my desperate need to talk with God, I was clueless. What should I say? How should I say it? What could I tell God that He did not already know? What if I said something wrong? The fear I’d say the wrong thing kept me from praying at all. I heard it once said, “Satan doesn’t care if we go to church. He doesn’t care if we go to the mission field. What scares Satan the most is a kneeling Christian speaking to their loving and powerful God.” 

As we face the coming days, months and even years fearful of the many “what if’s,” our greatest defense is prayer. Many people have called prayer a Christian’s greatest weapon. I do believe prayer is powerful, but I’ve yet to see in Scripture the power being in the words spoken in prayer or even in the one praying. Instead, the power is in the One being spoken to, God Almighty. 

Let’s learn from the best, Jesus! Overwhelmed with grief in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knelt down to pray. In great agony, His sweat became like drops of blood. He fell to the ground and uttered the words, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” (Mark 14:36) It was not the words, but the surrender to God’s will that gave Him the power to face His enemy, death. Now, that’s genuine godly power! 

Even if it does not change our circumstances, prayer changes us.

Prayer does not demand our will; it changes our perspective and hearts to desire God’s will. 

Our weapon to fight any fear, crisis, doubt, or insecurity aiming to wage war against our minds, soul, and spirit is to surrender each longing, concern, and fear in prayer with a steadfast desire to do whatever God asks. Let me tell you, this isn’t easy to do! Jesus can testify to this. However, when we walk in God’s will, we can be confident we are walking on conquered ground. Our battles are already won! We can take our position as His child and enter into His presence to share our life experiences with our conquering King! Death could not hold Him down and the threat of death cannot get us down.

A life surrendered to His will is a life worth living! 

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 5 comments

A mother’s love is immeasurable!

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Never take your parents for granted

I begin this post by talking about never taking your parents for granted, not because I did or that I ever will, but because there are so many out there that believe or think that because they’re “all grown up now” you don’t have to pay attention to your parents. So many believe it’s a burden to visit their parents or look after them in their old age. They are quick to get irritated with them if they call too often or become too demanding.

One thing I can promise you, if you do not spend as much time as possible with them, love them, appreciate them, call them often and never ever take them for granted now while they are alive, you will regret it – one moment they there, the next they gone. A moment you will wish you never have to experience. Just because you are too busy with your own life, or too ashamed to be with them, too ashamed because they “old” or because you did’t feel like they needed your love and respect, is no excuse to complain about them or abandon them. Trust me, you are always their child no matter how old you are. You will always need your parents. Always. When they gone, the hard truth is, it’s too late.

If you knew that this was the last day your mom would be alive, you would climb onto your mother’s lap (I did that every night until I was at least 7 years old). You would tell her about all the times you wanted to carry her cross. You would want to take away her pain. She often cried herself to sleep wondering how do I raise these 3 children on my own? You’d, crawl beside her to hold her. You would feel her pain in the pit of your stomach and the deepest parts of your heart. Your presence would make her smile though. She’d forget her many troubles, her losses. Today, you’d hope to do that again and again and again…

You’d give anything, absolutely anything to have her back for one more hug, one more conversation, one more I love you, one more piece of mommy advice, and then you could watch her leave, in a bright white light as she returned to Jesus’ side.

Psalm 23

My mom loved Christ. She loved spending time in His presence and His word. She left this earthly world on 27 April 2019, in South Africa that is Freedom Day, and on that day, mom, you were set free of your pain and suffering in this world and set free to sit at the right hand of Christ.

My mom loved Psalm 23 the most.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Mom loved teaching the grandchildren from the Bible too. Here is a video of her teaching her eldest granddaughter, Sharon-Leigh, from the Bible. And guess what? It’s Psalm 23.

Mom’s home was not only our home, but home to all our friends too. She never had a problem with having a house full of people, in fact, she loved it. She would always make sure we’re having fun and that we’re fed. Our humble home truly was everyone’s home.

At Mom’s funeral we played a song from Newsboys – That Home. It really catches the beauty and character of my Mom. It catches me in the heart every time I hear it and I shed a tear.

I miss my Mom every single day. Some days are harder than others. Another song we played at Mom’s funeral was Donna Taggart – Jealous of the Angels. I miss her so much that I made a video montage with this song. The photos in this montage only show a small glimpse of the life she lived. She wasn’t one for the glamorous life, as long as her family was always around her.

Final words for Mom

I’m a mommy’s boy. There, I said it, publicly. It seems like I spent much of my early years trying to avoid that label, but the least I can do is publicly acknowledge that fact right to the end. Mom was the person most responsible for shaping who I am. I used to fall asleep on my mom’s lap every night until I was 7 years old and mom would carry me off to bed.

Everybody thinks they have a great mom, but as kids, we knew we had the best mom because everybody else told us so. She mothered all our friends who came to the house, even those with perfectly good mothers of their own, but her home was a humble sanctuary where all our friends and family loved to come to.

Mom had some bad luck with cars. Had a brown Ford Cortina stolen, 2 Fords Escorts, one that was bumped on a dare by one my siblings that shall not be named, the other Escort so heavy on fuel you’d be better off pushing it.

We have a running joke that is decades old and is still used today… she bumped the gate reversing out the driveway when I was about 5 years old. I immediately said to Mom “Don’t bumpa da gate”. Ever since that, she’d stick her head out the window while reversing and we’d always remind her not to bump the gate, sometimes she still did. She also had some very creative words when someone cut her off in traffic.


I am her last born, the youngest of 3 children. A mother pours a lot of love into all her children, but being the youngest, the rules were relaxed a bit for me, I got away with more than my siblings did. Except for one embarrassing night, I worked as a waiter during my high school years and, one night after a work shift ended early, I decided to go hang with friends at a nearby pool hall. Beer in hand having a great time, I looked across the room to see my mom walking toward me with intent. Before I knew it she was dragging me out, dressed in her slippers and gown.


Mom’s favourite animal was the Elephant. Just look around her home and there are elephant teddies and ornaments everywhere. She loved their gracefulness and how tight-nit elephants are as a family. We took Mom to the Elephant Sanctuary and as luck would have it the sanctuary had recently merged with the Monkey Sanctuary next door so the signage hadn’t been correctly placed yet, so it was a surprise for mom right up until the guide announced that we will be interacting and walking with elephants today. The absolute joy and surprise on her face was priceless. She loved every second of it.

Today I understand why she loved elephants so much and it’s because of how family orientated they are, how protective they are, just like mom was, and Mom’s heart was as big as elephant.

Marinda Christina Baragwanath, wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, aged 60, passed away in her bed in Boksburg, in her favourite pyjamas at home surrounded by her family — as she would have wanted. Her passing came much longer than the 6 months doctors gave her to live, so she beat the odds. And that’s just how Mom has always been, beating whatever odds were stacked against her. This disease may have broken her body, but it never broke her faith and spirit. Her faith and determination to beat this disease never wavered. Faith so strong we could all learn from it.


When Mom first started on her medication, she felt a little high and was spaced out. She walked into our bedroom one night to say good night. She came and hugged and kissed me and then walked around the bed to hug and kiss my wife, Lou. On her way back to her room, we could see she was a little wobbly so I jumped up to help her. I took her, arm in arm, like a gentleman, we walked a little, stopped, and she looked up at me with so much love and admiration that only a mother could have for a son.

Mom had exceptional will power. During her illness, it became more and more difficult for her to swallow solid food. Mom had the will power to chew on biltong a drywors just for the taste of it and not swallow it. (she’d give the pieces she couldn’t eat to one of the dogs so often that the dog would outside her bedroom window for hours waiting for it).

She would never complain about the food she had to eat. She was always smiling through her gourmet meals such as mixed veg purity and ice cream, mixed together…delicious right?

Mom read her bible every night. And after having said good night, she would retreat to her bedroom and listen to gospel music with headphones on singing along, for hours, and in perfect tune of course. We loved it. I remember one night, I went to check on her and she had fallen asleep while listening to music. I gently woke her and she awoke with a fright and said: “I’m not sleeping.” I replied saying, “Mom, I think you should go sleep now” to which she said, “I’m not a child.” Oh, how we laughed.


One night, while having supper, Mom was eating a bowl of muscles. I asked Mom, “how’re your muscles”, to which she replied: “They good”, pulling her biceps. She had a sense of humour right through her illness.


If mom ever got annoyed or irritated with me, a simple “Love you Mom” and she’d smile and feel okay again.

Mom was always soft-hearted and the peacekeeper. Ask anyone. She’d always tell us not to fight. But, as kids, if she was cross with us, then the Afrikaans came out, and we knew we were in “groot kak”.

If you had the privilege of even just meeting my mom for 5 seconds, she’d have crept into your heart. I believe everyone loved my mom. She had a warm smile and made an effort to connect with everyone she met.

Mom held the family together and raised us under difficult circumstances. She always taught us to love and honour our father, but I always thought she would have preferred for us to love her a little more. Secretly I did. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make sure we were cared for. She’d walk to work to save on petrol, sell her leave back to the company for a little extra cash, making sure we always had food in our bellies, beds to sleep in and in so doing, teaching us the value of earning your way in life, learning lessons from her ways that we could take into our own lives.

But everything that comes from the heart, the real essence of me, and pretty much everything important that I learned as a youngster, that’s from my mom.

She’s the one who made sure I never went through a day of my life doubting that somebody loved me or doubting that somebody was proud of me. She taught me to wear my flaws like armour, that way no one can use it against me.

As a parent, grandparent and friend, my mom had an extraordinary ability to make each of us feel stronger and more confident in our own identity, giving us our own sense of independence and mental toughness which, speaking for me has been such an asset in so many ways in my life. She will live in our memories and our hearts forever and I will always be extremely proud to call myself her son.

Mom, we may have lost you in the physical world but you are now in eternity forever. You may be gone, but you will always be in our hearts and memories.

The last words she spoke before she passed were “It’s so beautiful”. We believe she was given a peek into heaven just before she went home.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Mom, you were a legend, the legend of all legends. An Angel in the shape of my Mom.

I miss you.

Have a gatskop lekker day!

Posted by Stephen Baragwanath, 2 comments