We got off the plane sticky and sick with arms full of children. The orange Makua land disappeared out of sight as our little plane ascended into the sky, and after turbulence and three hours and dirty nappies we were thrown out at Johannesburg, exhausted. We pushed our children and bags on airport trollies – five suitcases, two car seats, nearly all of our possessions – through immigration and bright lights. When we finally got outside it was pouring with rain. Sheets of fresh water falling from the sky, over our sticky limbs as we ran. And as I stumbled into the grandeur of our beautiful hotel, two babies in my arms, a man welcomed us with a kindness that felt rare. Like balm. Motioning to the rain, he smiled. “See it as a blessing ma’am.”
We reached Cape Town and stayed with friends in a storybook house in Constantia. Grand dining table, fountains, piano. Bustling with life inside, as they open their doors to everyone. I woke up to wander across fresh dew, surrounded by mountains and trees, with sprinklers spraying flowers – purple, pink, blue – and sat by a fish pond to pray. I always felt compelled back into that garden. I would pour some blackberry tea and sit in the shade and soak it in. And when our kids woke up we swam in the pool, bounced on the trampoline, and ran great hot baths.
Other times we’ve stayed with friends (friends who squeezed into their children’s beds to host us; that taught me of love) and other times we’ve stayed by the sea – that’s where we are now. I just have to look up and I see endless, rolling blue ocean. Grandparents have arrived, with arms ready to hold our babies and I can breathe a bit more. I even have time that I just don’t know what to do with, because when my every moment has been full and squeezed like lemons, I can forget how to pass time leisurely, carefree. I’m hoping to learn.
He knows how to give us rest when we need it.
I relax. I notice once I’ve fed Willow back to sleep at 5am, I can turn over into my thick white mattress and fall back to sleep. I don’t stay awake, bamboo prodding my body and dirt grazing my feet. I notice at the girls’ bedtime, the four of us are found tickling one another and rolling about on the bed, to a cacophony of giggles. Not swatting mosquitoes and sweating and snapping. We are still parents, we are still tired. But life is so different. With the pressure off, something comes back inside us.
And yet I find myself in the kitchen, looking at Willow and remembering our sweet Mama Alima. I call to Willow vovo! just as she did, and Willow’s eyes light up, and the tears roll down my cheeks. And one night I found myself out in that magical garden in Constantia, as night fell, and I sawthe black silhouettes of those tall African trees, and heardthe call of crickets and birds, and my heart beat faster. I stayed out there a long time, sensing Africa, whatever Africa is. It is not simple. I am beyondrelieved our time in Pemba is finished. And yet I’m calling Willow vovo and I’m there in the dark listening to crickets. I did love Pemba. And it is better to have left in love. Sick and tired, but in love too.
And in love with Him. I wish we had done more, I tell him. There was the amazing work He did through us in the kitchen – I will never forget the aggressive thief who cooked the beans having his heart softened and starting to giggle. There were the tiny little businesses that lifted some mama’s heads. There were some changes in those boys we fought to love every week. But God knows I had dreamt for more, for overwhelming revival, expressed in hundreds of ways. And this is what He says to me.
But I gave you Me.
He did. In that little hot house, in that tiny red kitchen. When I knelt in the night in desperation. When I rose at dawn to walk amongst the bougainvillea and I felt utterly romanced. When I danced with my children because I was beyond tired and the joy came. When I looked left and right and often all I had was Him and then I discovered He was rubies and sapphires and everything precious. That His beauty was captivating and there was nothing near it. I hungered. I ached. And it was breathtaking to see He was real and He was love and He was near. In that moment.
I left Pemba with five suitcases. And that.