Once upon a time, there was a girl who didn’t know what kind of cake she liked. It was her birthday and a friend wanted to make her a cake and asked what her favorite was. The girl had never thought about it. She didn’t think her preferences mattered. She didn’t know how to voice…
Author Irma Joubert got my attention with her debut English-translated novel The Girl From the Train. (Not to be confused with that more famous book/movie Girl ON the Train.) Joubert’s books spotlight South Africa’s role in world events, like World War II.
This book, Child of the River, encompasses some World War II history but focuses more on events leading up to apartheid. It is the story of one girl, Persomi, who grows up poor and white on a wealthy farm where her family are sharecroppers. Her brother fights in World War II and her friendship with the neighbor boy, Boelie, is tested when he joins an underground nationalist movement.
When Persomi is given opportunities to further her education, her world expands and she becomes a vocal proponent of justice among her friends and neighbors. She is on a lifelong search for her real father, and she is tragically in love with someone close to her.
Joubert’s writing and storytelling are beautiful and captivating. I knew little about the beginnings of apartheid and felt like I learned a little bit about that era of South African history through the eyes of Persomi. Joubert says her stories are based on true situations, which I love even more.
My only complaint is that the ending felt abrupt after so much buildup. And I won’t spoil that here. It’s a lovely piece of fiction, and an important work that reminds us of how devastating segregation laws are to communities.
While I did receive a free copy of the book from BookLook Bloggers, my review reflects my honest opinion.
Also, stay tuned. I have an extra copy of this book to give away after the holidays.
More than a month ago, I trapped a mouse that had been running through our house for nearly a month and avoiding capture. It was a short-lived victory because I heard scratching sounds in the kitchen the same day I disposed of said mouse. I was on alert for a few days, but the more days that passed, the more relaxed I became, thinking maybe, just maybe, the message had been sent and received: No mice welcome here!
Then this week, I walked into our bedroom, flipped the light on and I was sure I saw something scurry for hiding. My husband couldn’t find any evidence of such, so I thought maybe I was seeing things. Then last night, my father-in-law sat in the kitchen while my mother-in-law washed dishes and saw a mouse cross the kitchen floor and climb into the warm hiding place under the counter where the kitchen heater is located. (My daughter later told me that she thought she saw something similar in their room one day when she flipped the light switch. Please, dear God, let it be one mouse and not three.)
Perfect. I thought. I’ll catch this one the same way I caught the other one. Except 18 hours passed with no sign of the mouse, even with a baited trap. I decided I had to get on with my day regardless of the mouse, so I did.
Now it’s noon and I just saw a little critter scurry along our bedroom wall and under the chair in our room. I do not know if this is the same mouse or not, and I do not know if it is still there or not.
Here is what I do know: I have almost zero control over these things. I have baited snap traps that they have licked clean, and stolen food from. The only method that has worked so far has seemed to be luck: placement of trap plus the kind of bait used and a whole lot of anxiety on my part.
Control, or lack thereof, I’m learning, is just one of the reasons this whole mouse-in-the-house issue bothers me.
The other is that I somehow think it’s my fault.
We are not a tidy family. We have too much stuff; we know this. We do not clean often or well. We do what is necessary but not much more. So, in my mind, if our house was cleaner, there would be no mice. Never mind that we live on the first floor of an old farmhouse with more holes in the foundation than I can count. Never mind that it’s winter and there’s a field behind our house and THESE THINGS JUST HAPPEN.
I write about these mousecapades so I don’t go completely insane all alone in my house, and also to remind myself that I am not the only person to ever deal with mice in their house. My parents, who live on a piece of property surrounded by farm fields, also have mice. And my mother keeps a clean house.
This is what I need to tell myself when I feel like it’s my fault we have mice in the house: Mice happen to people with clean houses AND messy houses.
This one little piece of truth keeps me from spiraling into a funky mood where I feel like life is all terrible and horrible and I can’t do anything right.
Because that is where I can easily go: from mouse in the house to FML (excuse the implied language).
I forget in times like these, whether minor inconvenience or major crisis, that what happens, for good or for bad, is not necessarily my fault or a direct result of my action or inaction. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In context, he is talking about loving your enemies, which is something I want to ponder more, but we all know instances where “good” things happen to “bad” people and “bad” things happen to “good” people. (I put “good” and “bad” in quotation marks because most of the time it’s relative, what is good and bad, or it’s at least not as simple as one or the other.)
I could have the cleanest house on the block and still have a mouse problem.
This is just one example of a larger issue in my life: the idea of control and that good behavior leads to a good life. It’s something I’ve been battling for at least 10 years.
I used to think that if I did all the “right” things and said all the “right” words that I would somehow be guaranteed a “good” life free of the kinds of crises that others face. I don’t know what gave me the idea that this is how life worked but I quickly learned that it doesn’t work that way at all. That you can spend your life trying to be good and still be blindsided by the bad. That hard work or an expensive education does not automatically lead to success. That kids get sick because their world is full of germs (and they wipe their noses on their sleeves! Ew!) It is not a reflection on me as a parent if my kid has a cold or pneumonia or gets a scraped up knee from playing outside.
Still, as I write these things, I think, “But maybe if I …” No. I have to stop telling myself this story that I am the god of my life and those around me. I worship control, even if it makes its appearance subtly. This is the worst kind, anyway, I think. While I cannot live my life all “c’est la vie” and “what can you do?” I also cannot spend my energy keeping everything in perfect order and everyone on track. My kids and my husband have their own minds. They make their own choices. I can speak into those choices, but I cannot choose for them.
Maybe I can’t keep the mice out of our house completely. It’s a rental, after all, and nature is nature. But I don’t have to let the circumstance convince me that I’m failing at life in some way.
That’s not the whole story.
It’s Advent now, and if we don’t ponder the significance of the season, we might convince ourselves of an untrue, partial story. That what we see is what we get. End of story. That life is nothing but chaos and it’s our fault and it’s always going to be that way.
I read these words in an Advent book today and they reminded me that there’s a better story to be told:
Things now are not as they will be.”
– Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting by Kris Camealy, page 24
I am not overly optimistic about life and its circumstances, but I find hope in words like these because they acknowledge that things aren’t the way they should be while at the same time offering hope that someday, those circumstances will change.
Maybe it’s ridiculous, though. Maybe I should beat myself up about the mice in the house or my inability to keep the house spotless or prevent my kids from getting sick.
But I can’t live like that. I will own my part and do what I can, but I will not hold myself for responsible for things I cannot control.
Call it a pre-New Year’s revelation or something like that.
What about you? Do you feel pressure to get everything right all the time or maintain control over things you really can’t? I’d love to hear from you and encourage you.
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