I sat there, on that yellow sofa in London, seven years ago, and prayed. Nineteen years old and pouring out my praise to God. I burst with commitment, with the excitement of a heart ready to run. And in the quiet He whispered back: Foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Why that verse? I wondered. I was declaring my love, and he was reminding me of his homeless wanderings.
A few years on, having fallen in love, I boarded a train bound for Paris with my new husband. And then onto Germany. And then Romania and on and on, through the deserts of Syria, and straight down through the heart of Africa. And before we left, God spoke these words: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents. I knew by then why He might bring that verse to mind. And it excited me. What a thrill to run through the nations with one bag and His presence. Who needs a house?
Today I look around at all the suitcases. We are on our 12th move in four months. In the last year alone we have spent two months in Scotland, two months in England, four months in Mozambique and four months in South Africa. Mozambique is the only place where we have a home, but it’s often empty of electricity and water.
So being a nomad wasn’t as fun as I imagined. Because I realised I actually like having a home. I like knowing where my clothes are. I really need to know where the nappies are. Taping up rice and carrying around dirty laundry in plastic bags isn’t that glamorous. Nor is the packing and the unpacking and the re-packing what the toddler unpacked. The Lego in between the tea cups and the arguments on moving day just tire us out. I even gave birth on one of our moving-flat days. I was throwing clothes from wardrobe to suitcase and I felt a twinge and then… that is definitely for another post. (Or maybe not.) I told Nick the other day how I dreamed of having a pretty house (it can be small, very small, but it is pretty) and inviting people I loved over into it. And then I cried a big long cry. (Obviously I’m blaming that on the sleepless newborn nights.)
But then I remember the days I started learning about joy. I started learning about joy and about having a home. It was three years ago. There was no bump to prove the unbearable pregnancy nausea that simmered away day and night. I would weep my way through those days. I had no idea pregnancy was this hard. I had no idea how I could bear it in Mozambique. I wasn’t bearing it. I was weeping and thrashing at God and giving up. I remember sitting on the concrete steps that wind up to our house, and Nick was talking about plans for our garden. And all I could think was I don’t want to plant a single flower. I don’t want to make this garden beautiful, because I’m not staying here. I’m leaving.
God entered in. Right there, in those days of weakness, and He taught me how to take joy. He taught me to look for beauty. And I saw it. Initially it felt like wading through treacle, but I began to see beauty in the face of a child, in the orange of the dirt, in the quiet of a sunlit afternoon, in the laugh of the women. In this exuberant, challenging, rich life He had laid before me like a feast. And I slowly fell in love with it. Not without excruciatingly difficult days, not without many tears. But I learned to see beauty, to take joy and to slowly imagine Pemba as my home. I even imagined flowers in the garden.
And they grew. A tall orange flower that hovered above our patio. Pink and purple bushes. An arch of green shading the concrete path. A strong, varnished bamboo fence to protect our baby from snakes and litter. With every step, we said in faith we don’t know for how long God, but we’re making this our home. I put a quilt on the bed. I got the kitchen painted. I bought white baskets. This is amidst the leaking toilet and the burning plug. Amidst the frustration and tears. I swallowed those verses that I had only read years before. Abraham wasn’t just the exciting guy who went off, gap-year-style, on a fun adventure. The attitude of Abraham had to be digested into my small decisions. This is not my nation. But I’m going to light a candle and hang bunting in my daughter’s room because I’m making this my home. This tent, right here, with it’s 5am Shakira music from the neighbours and the broken fan.
So I remember it all as we move for the twelfth time and as we prepare to go back to Pemba. It seems the electricity and water is as bad as ever. The Pemba house was robbed (again) in our absence. They took the quilt, which we’d bought when we were engaged. Part of me wants to hide in this beautiful corner of the world, where I wake up by the sea and drink fresh milk and my oldest runs in playparks and we sleep under thick duvets. It’s lovely here.
But really, I gave myself to him on that yellow sofa all those years ago for a reason. The fire of love in His eyes.
So today, I bought another quilt. I’m going back to Pemba, I’m going to put it on my bed, I’m going to call it my home. I’m going to remember all He told me. And I’m going to look into those eyes.