She’s the cleaner at the Cape Town guesthouse we stayed at. Her eyes sparkle with the knowledge of Him and she’s become my friend. And one day, as she’s scrubbing the dishes, I lean against the counter and share with her our plans. “We’re moving to Cape Town,” I say. “To Manenberg, to join the friends we told you about. We are so excited.”
And she stops. She stares at the sink with hard eyes. She’s from Lavender Hill, a community so like the beautiful Manenberg we want to move to. She knows the gangs and the drugs and the fear and the ache. I wait for her in the silence, until she says, “Is that was He’s saying?” “Yes,” I tell her. “Then okay,” she says. And after a while, she starts to scrub again.
She is not the first to hesitate at the mention of our plans. She – the hard-working Cape coloured single mother – has company all over the world. She joins many others from South Africa and abroad. The loud ones, protesting and fearful and pulling out the newspaper to reveal shocking headlines. The gentle ones, probing and advising and reassuring that it isn’t necessary. Reminding us of our children. And while sometimes I defend our story, sometimes I’m a little tired, and I nod and smile.
And when everyone’s done with their thoughts, sometimesI wonder quietly. Is it necessary? Because I’m ready for a home and a sweet pre-school for my kids and a rhythm to our days. I long for a houseto call my own and friends for my daughter that last longer than a week. And shouldn’t I protect these special years with these special tinies, without any noise or brokenness hollering at my door? And do we really find life when we give it away?
I think on that familiar question you get once you’ve had a couple of kids. Are you having any more? And I remember the second half of our honeymoon, in Brighton. The rain poured and Nick got food poisoning and we slept in a pokey little flat far away from anything. One morning I rose early and I sat with God. It was there He told me to give up contraception. It was a little honeymoon surprise from Him to me. And eventually with toing and froing and fearful prayers we said yes.
Two beauties later, His voice is still the same. We are intoxicated with joy over these treasures. Every day is a rush of love and laughter and wonder. And we are hazy with exhaustion. Still awake every three hours, sometimes at length. Pouring ourselves out into our little love cups, Willow and Lily, until we fall into bed with everything given.
And when I tell people, sometimes we get strange looks. You’re going to have 19 children! Don’t you want to take a break? And in the middle of the night last night, after my younger toddler – not a baby anymore – kept me awake for an hour, I crept downstairs for a moment of stillness. The cold Scottish night poured into the window and I stared, glazed over, at our little picture book Bible. And I thought. Do we really find life when we give it away?
I look at the picture. Noah and his ark. All those sweet little animals, the rainbow, the colour, the magic, the beauty. And I think, this is not a fairytale.
It was real. Noah bashing out that ark from wood, sweat running in his eyes, faith welling up as his energy. Trusting – utterly – in the unseen. And here we are, bashing out our own little ark for our family. To take us out to sea, to take us out into the unknown, carried on the promises of God. Trusting in his ways. Trusting they are better. Trusting that when He said children are a blessing, He meant it. Trusting that when He said love the broken, He meant it. Trusting that when He said nothing’s worth more than Him, He meant it. Trusting it’s true, when He said – those words dropped from His lips into our world – that we really do find life when we give it away. He said it. He meant it.
So I bash out my ark, at times with tired and trembling hands, and I believe.Sometimes the wood catches my hands and it’s painful. When I realise we have barely any little girls to come to my three-year-old’s birthday party because we’ve moved too many times. When I realise it may be months before we settle, and my heart is crying out for home. When I have no idea if a government will give us a visa or when someone makes me doubt whether I’m putting my tinies first. When I cry in the kitchen. Carpentry is rough work. Our hands can bleed.
But the secret is, a lot of the time, this bashing out of my ark is thrilling. The wind in my hair, the waves crashing against the sides of our boat, the night sky above us. We follow Him. He leads us way beyond our understanding, and it’s glorious to rest in His infinite knowledge. His whispers feel closer than my skin and I depend on them. Intimacy with His beating heart is as crucial as my breath. We blossom as we collapse in need. My daughters thrive as we pour our energies into cultivating their insides because their externals are shifting sands. No permanent home, no nursery, few playdates but a lot of singing and whispering prayers and believing and holding hands. We are all on this ark together. Carried by the wind – the promises of God.
When we see the rainbow and the green olive branch, a thousand signs of His goodness, it is wonderful. And we see them all the time.
But it is always His company we live for. On an ark, on the shore, the song that carries us is this – we do find life when we give it away.
In His pulsing, glorious heart.