26 Aug 2010

My Zululand; My Birthday

Click on the link below (twice) to download and listen to an audio recording of me reading today’s post. Once it’s loaded you can come back to this page to read along.

My Zululand; My Birthday

Under the boughs of the mango groves in the heat of the hot, tropical Zululand sun my mother labored long over me. It was August, the season of South African spring. My young father, just fresh out of medical school, and his friend Cliff Alwood were the only two doctors serving the Manguzi Mission Hospital. Remote, rural, and steeped in the guttural clicks and lore of Shaka Zulu and his language it was a place where Apartheid was only slowly encroaching.

My young parents beat it back with nothing but their faith and how they chose to live.

In the heart of the community – working, living, praying, serving, teaching – doing life alongside. And over nine of those months my mother’s belly grew large and stiff as stywe pap and she swayed to the rhythm of feet stamped and voices joined in chorus across mealie fields and in the chapel where my father would preach on Sundays.

Mr. Zondo’s cows were crossing a road and a passing Mercedes Benz slammed into one of them. The cow was killed. And the magistrate ruled that Mr. Zondo would have to pay R30 a month for the next year to make the Mercedes-driving-man whole again. The beautiful car had been damaged.

Sangomas swore that the spirits spoke to them and demanded sacrifice when a child was ill or a woman barren. And the people paid. The people always paid. They paid the malaria and the TB, they paid the wealthy and they paid those with white skins. They paid the government and the leprosy and they still retained pieces of themselves.

Mr. Zondo loved my father like a son and my father loved Mr. Zondo. You can stoop through the door way of a smoke-stained hut and eat over a three-legged cast iron pot using your fingers as utensils as you share stories of the day and for a moment you can be family. Our moment lasted three years. And I was born into the heart of it.

I don’t know if my mother was afraid to have me so far from home. I do know that she claimed the promise that the chosen of the Lord would not labor in vain or bear children for calamity. And my father tells me that half way through her labor she stopped pushing.

“Jo,” he said – “Jo-babe, you need to push. You have to push. She’s coming! It’s time.”

And my mother, he tells me, she grinned and waited before she bore down again and delivered me into his hands. Baby-catcher, father, missionary man. They say I screamed loud enough for my stoic Ouma to comment, “Yes, you can tell she’s her father’s daughter.”

Only later when I was in the yellow crib they had painted and safe under the mosquito netting he asked her why. “Why did you stop pushing?” And ever since I was a little girl my toes have curled up in delight at her answer. “Because I didn’t want it to be over.”

She loved me. She loved me so. As she ached and groaned and delivered me up into this world she was already savoring every moment with me. Her only ever daughter.

We would grow together and apart and back together again over the next 18 years and I would inherit her name, her passion for story, and her fair skin. But I would never be able to ask her about that moment. I would never have the chance to compare labors with her. But I would get to watch her be brave.

Eighteen years to the day after she gave birth to me, we would talk long about dying. And she would tell me, she was not scared. She would tell me, that this is love – to be trusted with suffering. She would labor long and hard for Him.

And a week after I turned 18, He would deliver her.

Thirty six today and I still bear the stamp of Zululand on my soul. I carry the rhythms of Africa in my heart and watch them celebrated in my sons. And I give her name to my firstborn and pray her courage for myself. My youngest bears her fair skin and Dutch genes and we celebrate wildly what she would have loved about them. Because birth-days are always about life. And life is always about Him.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1
    Stephanie says:

    Lekker verjaar ‘n veels geluk!! I hope you have the BEST day. God bless you this year in Jesus~ xox

  2. 3

    wow – that is beautifully written. I read it myself – without the audio.
    wow and speechless all at the same time!

    Betty AKA Bernice

  3. 4

    Ek gebruik Google translate te skryf hierdie (Dit is die gedagte wat tel, reg?), So ek hoop dat dit die taak is dit korrek :)

    Veels geluk, Lisa-Jo. Jou ma sou so trots op wie jy geword het nie.

    Baie liefde

  4. 6

    ‘Birthdays are always about life. And life is always about Him.’

    This is beautifully written! How lovely that you stop on your special day to remember the mother who you come from and the little ones that come from you. It was extra special to hear your voice as you read this. I feel so privileged to trespass daily on your blog, to see glimpses of your heart, to know more of your life journey and your love for Jesus. I wish we lived closer so we could sit and have a cup of tea together. You seem like a girl who would be a good friend. You could tell me about how to be a good mumma. This I will need to know b/c this summer we found out that we are expecting. Our first beautiful blessing from the Lord’s hands is due in March.

    Happy birthday. Today may you be overwhelmed with God’s richest blessings.
    Stephie in Scotland

  5. 7

    what a beautiful day, friend.
    I celebrate you, celebrate the HIm in you I have come to love so much.

    You had me in tears throughout this…

    (sadly, the audio didn’t work for me ??), but I still heard you as I read the words.

    I love your parents. Love that they beat back apartheid, and your dad and new wife still beat it back with each child they take in, and how your mom and dad’s love for others has transfered onto yours and you love all women from all over so well. That is a legacy in itself.


    • 8

      Thank you my Bekah Boo! Yes, they have left us a beautiful legacy and we walk into it and know that He is walking with us. And we love that so many – like you – are serving this continent and these children and you are a treasure to us!

      (PS: Did you click the audio link and then click on it again once it opened in a new window? Then it should download as a file onto your computer that you can click to open and listen.)

      • 9

        I did! :(
        I think its our wonderful Africa and internet connection…
        gonna try again tonight!

        Open your arms, this girl is reaching across the oceans to hug you!

  6. 10

    Oh, “Gypsy Mama” a great big happy birthday to you!
    I had tears in my eyes as I read your birth story and the story of your dear Mama’s birth into God’s kingdom a week after your 18th birthday…
    What a beautiful thing for your mother to say… that she didn’t want the moment of your birth to stop but that she wanted to embrace it, even the momentary pain, as she brought forth her little girl. What a beautiful beautiful soul, one who is loving you from the Triumphant Church and remembering you… her very special little girl!
    God bless and Hronia Polla ( “Many years,” as people say in Greece!)

    • 11

      Thank you so much Ann! Being a mom now I realize the significance of birthdays from a mother’s perspective, and how I wish I could thank my mom in person. But I trust that that day and time will come. And for now, we treasure the children that come passed down through her – what a joy God gives us!

  7. 12

    What a beautiful story and so much the more, listening to you reading it. What an incredible mother; an incredible love!
    Have a blessed day!

    • 13

      Thanks Jenn! I’m sitting here in bed with a cup of hot tea and rusks to go with it from South Africa., reading all these lovely messages. So, I’d say the day is off to a pretty great start! :)

  8. 14

    Beautifully written and shared. Thank you…thank you. Today I have the joy of helping my Mama with some shopping. You have reminded me what a gift it is. May you know God’s comfort and presence with you…

  9. 16

    Your story, her story. This fairy tale. Your accent.
    I’m speechless. I have always loved stories, I have always loved diving into books and losing myself in the characters… But it’s always been with my accent, with the sound of my voice…
    And this? Hearing you read your story… It’s breathtaking. And leaves my cheeks tear stained.

    Happy, happy birthday. I hope your day is blessed.
    Not sure if you’ll think this is weird, but does your mom “show up” on special days? Does she send you reminders that she’s with you? If she does, I pray your day is FULL of her.

  10. 18

    This is achingly beautiful…I love it.

  11. 19

    Happy birthday beautiful girl! May it be filled with all things Nutella!

  12. 20


    Happy Birthday!!!

  13. 21

    Jo- This is a beautifully written birth story. Happy birthday sweets. May your day be filled with friends and loved ones and added to the story God continues to orchestrate in your life.

  14. 22

    You have unfurled a new layer of my grief that I didn’t expect…this beauty, YOUR beauty… it’s such a gift to be near it, to wade in it. To wrap myself in your voice.

    The way to healing is peeling each layer back, I know this. And yet sometimes I dread it. I dread the full body aches and sobs. But the other side brings a refreshing and a Spirit peace that I couldn’t have received w/out the pain. Thank you.

    Best birthday ever, sweet sweet Lisa Jo.


  15. 23

    My favorite blog ever from you LJ. Cuz I get to hear your beautiful story-telling voice share out-loud how God has weaved Himself into the crevices of your family and knit together your hearts in a beautiful legacy that can never be outgrown.

    Love you birthday girl – many many more!!!

  16. 24

    What a beautiful story to start my day. WOW ! And Happy Birthday too. I look forward to Guatemala with you!

  17. 25

    Oh Lisa Jo! This is glorious. I can tell just how much you miss your Mama, but you still celebrate and remember all the good she taught you and gave you. What a good daughter you are and how this makes you a good Mama! In the midst of hard things, you still celebrate life with all your sunshiney, effervescent, joyous ways. You are inspiring and magnanimous! I love you!

  18. 26

    Girl, you are a weaver of words, of joy and tears, bringing together, bringing us into those moments with you. Midwife of the heart, that’s what you are. And we love you for it. Happy celebration of YOU!

  19. 27

    My soul is soaring right now. To hear your voice, to share this story…. It’s your birthday. But we are given the gift of YOU.

    Happy birthday, Lisa-Jo! May the Lord cause your day to be as beautiful as His spirit within you.

  20. 28

    He’s given you such a gift — you are a wondrful story teller and writer. I can’t help but to wonder at the pleasure your mom would have taken in reading this. Happy, happy birthday, Lisa-Jo!
    I’m so glad I clicked over to read this rich, thoughtful, beautiful post.

  21. 30


    Happy Beautiful Birthday to you!

    This was stunningly beautiful. If your mom was a lover of writing too, I bet she would have loved how amazingly you used your words to tell her story, and your birth story.

    What an inspiration she was- the way she enjoyed life, the courage to be so counter and to celebrate the miracles in her life.

    I’m sorry you lost her so soon. Even in her young age, her legacy is great.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    (I came over because my Sister (Arianne @tothink) e-mailed me and told me this was a MUST READ and she was so right)

    • 31

      Oh Carrington – it is a special joy and honor to meet family of Ari’s! Thank you for stopping by and sharing my story. And yes, yes! My mom was a profound lover of books, stories, and the written word. And sometimes when I write I feel her rhythm in my words. Thank you!

  22. 32
    Warda Griffiths says:

    Iam too choked up to write Lise-Jo ! I feel the heat and hear the sounds of Manguzi. Iwas a student at the time and commissioned to feed Oupa while Ouma was with you guys and the phone lines were always down and we could not get news of you!!She stayed for a while! You have quite a heritage and Africa in the blood—it will never let go. Thanks .for this wonderful reminder of a beloved sister. I love you , you are truly her daughter. Fondest Aunty Warda.

  23. 33

    Ok, Aunty Warda’s comment just made me choke up all over again…

  24. 34

    This is so incredibly, unbelievably gorgeous I don’t even know what to do with myself. Magical and mythical and powerful and beautiful. Stunning.

    Happiest of happy birthday, lovely mama. May you feel well-celebrated today.

  25. 36

    This is simply beautiful!!! Incredible and inspiring writing style, thank you so much for sharing yourself!

  26. 37

    Hearing you read this brought tears to my eyes. So beautiful!!
    Happy, happy Birthday! God bless you with all His abundant riches.

  27. 38

    Happy Birthday beautiful friend! You have such a beautiful voice and this was a beautiful story made all the more beautiful hearing you tell it. I am using the word beautiful a lot on purpose because my prayer for you today and throughout this next year of your life is that God will overwhelm you as He pours out and reveals His beauty in and around you. Happy Birthday friend. May it be the best year EVER!!!!

  28. 39

    To hear the intonations of joy, pain, hope and gratitude flow out of your heart made me smile and wetted my eyes, lovely Lisa-Jo. What a precious gift you have given me this day you celebrate your birth; the gift of voice. Thank you! I was caught up when you said, “They say I screamed loud enough for my stoic Ouma to comment, ‘Yes, you can tell she’s her father’s daughter.’”

    Bless you.

  29. 40

    BEAUTIFUL, Lisa-Jo!!! And a very happy birthday to YOU!!
    Enjoy your day, embrace your memories & fill your day with love!

    Hugs from another late August birthday girl (mine is this Sunday)!

  30. 41

    Lisa-Jo, you are such a beautiful storyteller. I don’t just mean your words, but your voice too, the way you read your words aloud. I listened and followed along with the text too, and I felt like you gave me a present today. :)

    Happy birthday. I hope your birthday is as lovely as you are.

  31. 42

    beautiful, lisa-jo. just beautiful. this line:

    “because i didn’t want it to be over.”

    totally choked up on that one. isn’t that what so much of motherhood is about? the bearing of pain so beautiful that we clutch it tight in our fingers?

    blessed reading this. hope your birthday is blessed for having written it so well.

  32. 43

    My heart is so humbled by you. By your words, your story, the way you tell your story.

    And that voice that I could listen to for hours on end… that soothing, story-telling, accent wearing heart of yours that hits mine with a full-on force.

    Thanks for gifting us on your birthday. I’m so glad you have been born into my world.

  33. 44

    I love birthdays, as we celebrate God’s gift to us all. Enjoy your special day and remember your mom is sending kisses from heaven xxx

  34. 45
    Jesse Lane says:

    Beautiful story.
    I said goodbye to my dad/best friend at age 19.
    The last thing he told me was his famous “You’re awesome.” And that was awesome!

    I hope you have had a great birthday!

    We sure love having you a part of (in) courage and DaySpring! :)

  35. 46

    Happy, happy birthday. This post was so warm, it celebrates her labor and her deliverance. love it.

  36. 47

    Happy Birthday! Thank you for giving this post to us on your special day of celebration. Many hugs & blessings to you today (and always)!

  37. 48

    Thank you for sharing this. I too had eyes full of tears. Happy birthday again.

  38. 49

    Absolutely beautiful. You honor her.

  39. 50

    Happy Birthday Lisa-Jo! What a lovely way to honor your mother. Thank you for sharing your (and her) story with us!

  40. 51

    It’s not unusual to finish your posts with at least a lump in my throat and a very full heart, but this one, dear, beautiful birthday girl, is a birthday cake to feed many. Sending you wishes for the new birth year to be full of the promises of the good, good stuff you are now embarking on! (and i’m grateful it’s still your actual birthday!) XOXO

  41. 52

    Good grief, girl. You’re not supposed to give out gifts on your own birthday. But I will gladly receive this beauty of a post. Gave me chills. Made me love your mother and my own a bit more.

    We were destined to be friends, did you know that?

    xo and happy birthday!

  42. 53

    This is gorgeous.

    Saying “happy birthday” at the end of this feels achingly inadequate. But happy birthday all the same. The Lord bless you as you celebrate another year of life.

  43. 54
    Lindsey Nobles says:

    Absolutely. Beautiful.

    Happy Birthday! We’ll have to celebrate in Guatemala in 10 days. Crazy.

  44. 55

    It was pure delight to hear your voice…and what beautifully written prose, sister.

  45. 56

    Hope you had a lekker day Lisa-Jo! This post was beautiful and sad all in one. Hope you get to come to SA soon!

  46. 57

    Good gracious, I have no words. Such heart and hope here. Wishing you the happiest of birthdays Lisa-Jo:)

  47. 58

    Happy Birthday, Lisa-Jo! Although I think a few of your commenters spit on me a bit while they were talking. *grin*

  48. 59

    Happy Birthday, Lisa-Jo! I pray that someday soon you’d get to read your beautiful story through the words of your children. The Lord bless you and keep you :)

  49. 60

    This is SUCH a beautiful post – I had to read it twice! Hope you had a great birthday!

  50. 61

    This was, perhaps, one of the most beautifully and well written pieces of prose I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and happy birthday. :)

  51. 62

    Wow, Lisa-Jo, what an amazing gift to everyone who spent those moments hearing your story in your own voice. Keep that up, my dear. That is a blessing.

    Though I’ve only known of you for a few months, I’m very glad you were born as well! Happy birthday!


  52. 63

    This is one of the most exquisite pieces you’ve ever written — and you’ve written thousands of gorgeous words.

    I feel your mother’s words: I didn’t want it to be over.

    And I guess it never really is — nothing is ever really over. Our mothers and love and life continue in other forms and words and ways and nothing is ever over. But everlasting.

    Her love is that.

    May your next year, beautiful Lisa-Jo, hold all things eternal and may your love too ripple out forever, you, daughter of your mother.

    I just love your heart….

    All’s grace,

  53. 64

    I feel intimidated commenting after ann, but must wish you dearest kindred not-so-stranger, a blessed and hopeful birthday! I pray God’s abundant blessings on you this year…especially on your up coming trip!
    This is quite possibly the best piece you’ve ever written! Could you send me whatever writing steroids you’re on?? *hugs*

  54. 65

    Not only do I love this story (ugh, your mother’s words tear at my heart…how true!), but your writing is amazing. Such vivid description and detail. Thank you for giving us a gift on your special day!

  55. 66
    Terrell (nascardad) says:

    Wow! That was very moving.
    Happy Birthday

  56. 67

    Oh, Lisa-Jo this really is overwhelmingly beautiful. Your heart encourages my heart to dig deep for the jewels that my own mother left behind for me. Thank you for that gift on your Birthday. A little belated but I wish you the happiest of Birthdays.

  57. 68

    Another belated veels geluk from SA! My South African Hero Hubby was born just a couple days before you, just the year before! I don’t think his birth in Welkom was as romantically lovely though… Thank you for sharing your story. As always, it’s an inspiration to love words, and love the Lord a little more.

  58. 69

    Oh, Lisa-Jo, I looked forward to reading this post all week, and you didn’t disappoint! You are such a beautiful storyteller. Please write a novel about your life; it would be a bestseller! What a tribute to your mother and our Lord. I know you’ve made them both proud.

  59. 70

    I’m late in taking a listen… but the goose-bumps are present at your voice recalling story. I love it…

  60. 71

    I just read this for the second time this morning, and listened along to your voice as you shared your story. So rich and beautiful, a life full of Him. I love that this internet thing has allowed us to be twitter – scratch that real life friends. I get a huge smile when I realize how small this world feels with the body of Christ scattered all over it.

    Blessings to you friend!

  61. 72

    I’ve just read this for the first time and must tell you how moved I am by your telling. I hear it, I feel it and I thank God for the beautiful, miraculous ways he’s integrated birth in your very being. Bless you, dear sister.

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