by Kate Motaung
I was a few weeks shy of twenty-one, and my plan was to stay in South Africa for five months. But just as my childhood stay in a renovated pump house stretched into a decade, what I thought would be a few months overseas morphed into ten and a half years. God’s plan kept me there and stained my heart with Rooibos tea and red African soil.
Over ten years, I moved ten times, bookended by my initial move to South Africa, and then back again to West Michigan. Time and time again with each new rental apartment, each borrowed house, I desperately tried to convince myself that I was content. But the truth was, when I was here, I wanted to be there, and when I was there, I wanted to be here.
At first, all I wanted was to hang pictures on the walls without fear of our landlord inspecting the drywall at the end of our lease. To pound a nail into fresh paint and transform a bland house into my signature flavor. But after a chain of rented apartments and long-term house-sitting stints, I lost interest in making any effort. Knowing we’d be moving again soon stifled my desire to settle. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to unwrap the scented candles from their swaths of newspaper. In the last few rentals, I even left the framed family photos tucked away in their Bubble Wrap, knowing that I would just have to rewrap them soon anyway. As we packed suitcases and boxes for the umpteenth time, I felt the burden of exile. The weight of my wandering.
Then finally, I understood. This whole life is a rental. This whole body of mine is a borrowed house. And sometimes it’s a good thing to be discontent with where we are, because this is not it. It’s a good thing to feel like we’re not at home and to long for another, for permanence, for stability, because we’re not home yet. Having been washed by the astounding grace of the cross, praise God, my citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
My life sprawled out between the parentheses of two continents. This is living in the “in between”—between the fall and redemption, the already and the not yet, between hope’s longing and fulfillment. Where time passes with the click of a mouse and drags like a whiny toddler down a grocery store aisle. Where graves are dug and happiness buried. Where bees and words sting, and hopes are ripped off like stubborn bandages. Where victory has been accomplished, but Christ has not yet returned.
God took my definition of home, tore it up, and tossed it out the passenger seat window, where it caught the southeaster, never to be seen again. He opened to that chapter of my soul where the ink is faded, the yellowed pages transparent from vigorous scribbles and constant erasing. For years, I obsessed over the pursuit of home. It always felt just out of reach. Visible, but unattainable. Now I see I had it all wrong. Home in its truest sense—my eternal home—is exactly the opposite. It’s attainable but not visible. Attainable only because of Christ’s work on the cross and His gift of faith to me. Invisible for a little while longer, “for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). It took me decades to figure out that home is partly about where I’m from, yes—but home is far more about where I’m heading.
Home is more than just a place—it’s a promise.
God took the tug-of-war that waged in my soul, the thick rope that spanned across the ocean, and yanked from both sides. He cut it clean through the middle, somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic. And He made me look up. To see that the greatest and strongest pull is neither east nor west, neither here nor there. It’s the heavenward pull.
It’s the pull toward home.
Author’s note: This post was an excerpt from my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging. It appears near the end, as I reflect on the consequences of my decision to spend the final semester of my cross-cultural missions degree in Cape Town, South Africa. I ended up meeting and marrying a South African man, and we now have three children.
Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging, A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief, and co-author of Influence: Building a Platform that Elevates Jesus (Not Me). She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.