Home is where the heart is. That’s what people say.
Over the last year, time and time again, I've slipped into feelings of self-pity and self-condemnation... because the age-old saying wasn’t resonating for me.
Home didn’t feel like where my heart was.
Home didn’t feel like where my husband was.
Home didn’t feel like where I’d been planted.
Some may say it’s a mindset… that you can “think” a place into feeling like home. Call it home and that it will be.
I certainly believe that mindsets and perspectives are powerful. Positive ones have the potential to shape and shift for the good. But where there’s wounding and pain, healing is needed… and in those cases, we can’t simply "positive think our way out of negative feelings."
Now that’s a saying that I can resonate with.
Transformation is a process, and often times, a hard one.
I’m slowly but surely being ushered out of this season of homesickness, and into something new. (Praise Jesus.) My first several months here were difficult and confusing, but Cape Town is becoming like home. And it’s taken me more than a year of journeying to say that.
A year of tears, of wrestling with God, and of refusing to adopt South African ways and language as my own.
I spoke to an American missionary the other day. He and his family have been in South Africa for 10 years. He told me, “Homesickness is a real thing. I was homesick for two years, and I didn’t even realize it until I was on the other side of it.” I told him about some of my struggles — silly things, like not wanting to exchange “robot” for “red light” or “boot” for “trunk.”
“Normal,” he said.
Then I told him of my most recent and current obstacle: fear. As the reality of living in Cape Town long-term has settled in, I've started to experience a lot of fear regarding crime and safety.
People here live behind walls, electrical fencing, and burglar bars — and not for no reason. Having grown in a world where people leave their keys in their cars and their front doors unlocked, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, overcome with fear — for Tony, myself, and our future children. All I can do is take "it" to the Lord. Like Jesus prayed, “Father, Your will be done.”
There’s peace in that place — in the “God, You are in control… and I trust You.”
When I told the missionary about this struggle, I expected him to give me the ole “Christians don’t have to walk in fear” speech. Instead, he said, "That's an indication that you’re resonating with the locals. You're starting to feel what they feel."
I'm often asked this question: "Don't you just love living in Cape Town?!" — worded exactly like that by both South Africans and Americans. The South Africans are proud of the Mother City, as they should be, and the Americans think it's seriously cool to live overseas and be married to a guy with an accent. That's true — Cape Town is cool, and so is Tony.
But in my experience, people seem to associate living in a foreign land with glamour and nonstop adventure. Moving permanently to a new country isn't just fun and exciting. It's also really scary and really hard. (It's certainly not for the faint of heart! Trust me, there are days when I don't think I'm going to make it.)
Sure, Tony and I often have action-packed days. There are loads of incredible things to do and see in a place like Cape Town, and our work in Lavender Hill brings immense joy to our lives. But there are bad days too — days of homesickness, crazy cold weather (with no central heating), boredom, teary eyes, pain, really terrible wifi, and all the rest.
Whether I'm in South Africa or America, God is the same God. I am the same me. My struggles and issues are the same struggles and issues. New places don't change us. New places don't fix our problems. But God can use places — all places — to change us, to bring love, hope, and joy into our lives... We just have to let Him.
OK, so how do we "let go and let God" transform us ? Over the last year, here's what He's taught me:
1. Relinquish control.
Get out of God's way. We often want to use God to get where we want to go. But God doesn't work on those terms — seriously. You'll never be able to outsmart, manipulate, or control God, so save your energy and stop trying to!
2. Stop demanding.
We often act like little children in the checkout line — stomping our feet and demanding that our parents buy us chocolate for lunch. "God! I want a _________!" Fill in the blank. For me, it's often the comforts of life — indoor heating and a car have been my most recent demands. God doesn't work on these terms either.
3. Press in / awareness.
I think one of the most important aspects of life is awareness. Press in to what God is doing — in you and around you. Pay attention to your heart (intention/will), soul (emotions), mind (intellect leading to spiritual wisdom), and strength (physical body)... and ask God to help you grow and mature as a believer (Romans 12:2).
4. Give thanks.
Combat a controlling and demanding nature with thankfulness and gratitude. Open your eyes to what God has done (instead of what you want to do) and to what you've been given (instead of what you want to get). I promise, a revolution in your spirituality will take place.