She’d disappeared for a few minutes, but I found her. Ambling up the garden, the sun in her wispy three-year-old blonde hair, fresh rhubarb in her hand, dark and leafy red, pulled from the earth. I soaked it all in – the warmth on my skin, the yellow sun kissing everything, her baby-fat legs plodding through the grass.
We exhale during these days. I walk through the woods with my husband on a cool afternoon, we buy creamy expensive takeaway coffee, we lap up the love of our friends, our mothers cook for us and shoo us away to bed when we offer to clean up. The girls dig and chase ducks and delight in their grandparents. I creep away to read books, a long lost luxury I’ve discovered again. My current read is a nourishing, beautiful book. I am storing up its message in my heart – go slow, shave off the busy things you do to prove yourself, be present, learn to rest. I know this kind of stuff is a lifeline to me, that if I am to keep burning – or keep going at all – I will need to steady the pace, and be gentle even to me.
The six weeks are up. We fly today. It is so familiar to me, this feeling – the black suitcases full and waiting, the babies in pyjamas ready to be scooped up and taken across the earth. The thrill of feeling God breathing on us just a little closer than normal, because I am fumbling about, reaching for Him, He is the reason for all of this.
There have been moments where I’ve wanted to hold on. Walking by the river Thames, sparkling brown on a summer’s morning in London, I imagined my life here again. I stopped in by two old friends, both of whom shape my heart and love me well, this time pushing my third little baby in a buggy. I want to grab it all sometimes – hold on, and squeeze. This is good and beautiful, God, can’t I keep it? But it sparkles and shimmers better because I have given it away. It has been laid down, so when I get to hold it, it’s lovely – water in my hands, never enough time – but I am grateful. This is good and beautiful, God, thank you.
And as I ponder on some of these truths in this book – that it matters that I take care of myself, that the hustle needs to die – I find myself back by the Thames. This is good and beautiful advice God, can I build my life on it? I can imagine a life with only this as the foundation – coffee and space and stimulating work and rigid boundaries and lots of me-time, me-time, me-time. Maybe no need for a preschool or homeschooling or living in Manenberg. I can drink in this message like it’s the gospel, but it’s not – it’s essential and good, but it’s just a component.
We find life when we give it away.
It is beautiful to watch Willow gather up the rhubarbs. It is lovely to see them frolic in the garden and take ballet lessons. There are wonderful schools that our children won’t go to, and beautiful sights they won’t see. Today we take them out of a green paradise of raspberries and hollyhocks to our concrete back garden in Manenberg, where the smell of marijuana floats over the wall and the grass died in the drought. I don’t think they’re losing out. They come alive there, and so do we.
The world is dying, and it’s not an understatement. I walked by some toddlers having a football lesson on holiday, a sweet, gentle sight. Chubby legs kicking balls and falling over, each with a mummy or daddy holding their hand, laughing and cherishing and cheering them on. And before I knew it, my swollen heart tore and tears poured down my cheeks. All these resources, all this love. All this, for only a few.
Sometimes I am the Levite in that old story, the priest. I am hurrying by, I am going to the temple. I want Christianity, I want the beauty and loveliness. I want to build a temple for my sweet little family, a place where the worship’s on and the doors are shut and the children are reading on the sofa. A temple for my God – I am in a hurry to get to that safe, protected place. That’s where God is, isn’t He? So many of us are building our lives on that, so it must be where He is, right?
He’s not. He’s in the midst, whispering to me.There is somebody dying by the side of the road. Her name is Zuraida, she is four years old. Go pick her up.
Even if the oil and the wine pour down your hands. Even if the blood stains your clothes. Even if there are cigarette butts and crisp packets in your garden, even if your toilet never gets flushed, even if people you love disappoint you, even if you disappoint yourself when your love runs out, even if your heart swells with the pain of these children. Go. Pick her up. Let the oil and wine and the blood run down.
I don’t know how to thread it all together – self-care and suffering. But perhaps it is this: I’m God’s beloved child, so I am worthy of love. And everybody else is God’s beloved children, and they are worthy of love. That won’t come without a cost, because there are too many who know too little of that love, there is a great gaping deficit, and we have held too tightly to things like time and money and our houses, so there is a lot of mess to untangle.
But I’m not too scared about it anymore. I know that it brings life, I feel it pulsating inside, His tender heart becoming mine. It’s undoubtably worth it – wholehearted pursuit of Jesus was always a treasure in a field, we knew our hands would get dirty digging and we’d lose everything else to buy the field, but we’d seen the treasure. And it’s changing us, all the time. I am the Samaritan some days, but other days I am the beaten man by the road, unable to overcome my selfishness, my ego and my sin, and I look up and all these children are operating on me. Stitching and sewing, healing and cleansing, making me the dream of my heart – that I would reflect the holy one I love.
So off we go away, underslept, a little heartsore, a little nervous, gently into the unknown again. I feel swept up by His spirit and held by His love. I think of Abraham, that cherished hero of mine, how he walked out without knowing. I don’t know how to run a school and raise three children and homeschool and invest in my marriage and disciple my friend and find secret time with God and run and eat well and go slow. I don’t know, there’s no grid or model. But I have the stars, innumerable and clear, speaking of future fruit, and I have the presence of Almighty God, a wind that surrounds.