My plan was to stay for six months.

Until that moment, I had never before packed my life into two suitcases. What a chore it was to decide which of my possessions would be deemed worthy of viewing the sights of Cape Town.

I remember laying out the candidates on the carpet of my bedroom floor, agonizing over which items would make the cut. Should I take that framed picture? What about that sweater? Will I want to read that book while I’m there? What about that necklace? What if it gets stolen, or lost? I pored over the decision, then jumped and stomped and laid on my luggage trying to get its bulging sides to zip closed.

Back then, I was allowed to have two bags, and the weight allowance was fifty pounds per bag. That’s 100 pounds of stuff. Forty-five kilograms of stuff that I was convinced I couldn’t live without for 180 consecutive days.

Stuff I hoped would remind me of home.

4062409834_ac25f58352_zIt’s embarrassing now, looking back and realizing my own ignorance and wealth in comparison to so many in the world. I met people in South Africa who don’t even have enough cumulative possessions to fill one suitcase, let alone two. And there I was, on numerous occasions over the next decade, emotionally torn over having to bid farewell to certain sentimental belongings.

My insides ached the day I watched two elderly volunteers lock up the back of a local charity truck, the contents of which housed the last of my mother’s earthly possessions. I watched the loaded truck drive away with part of me. So many memories wrapped up in those curtains that traveled with us from house to house; that blue leather couch, all scratched up by the cats’ claws, where I’d doze off during almost every movie that ever played on the huge, box television screen. Belongings that defined home for so many years — a closed chapter, never to be repeated.

But, as they say, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-haul, right?

A while back I watched the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Two hours of my life wasted and gone forever.

But there were a few lines worth quoting, one of which I myself have uttered in the past six months.

The main character, Liz Gilbert, decides to spend a year traveling to Italy, India and Bali. Before she leaves, she boxes up all of her worldly possessions and packs them into a rented storage unit. As the employee is about to close the garage door, Liz sighs and says forlornly, “My whole life fits into a 12×12 box.”

The mover rolls his eyes and says condescendingly, “Lady? You know how many times I hear people say that in a week? And most of ’em don’t come back for their ‘whole life.'”

I can totally relate.  I get so sentimentally attached, and need to remember what Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When my kids are upset over a broken toy, a ripped drawing, or a lost book, I try to show my sympathy while still reminding them of the bigger picture.  After all, we can’t take it to heaven, can we?

It’s a lesson I’m still cementing in the wet foundation of my faith. The familiar hymn, Rock of Ages, helps: “Nothing in my hands I bring; only to thy cross I cling.”

In his book, In Light of Eternity, Randy Alcorn gives a helpful perspective:

“Christ calls us to turn it around. He says to store up our treasures in heaven, not earth. That way, every day that brings us closer to our death brings us closer to our treasures. Instead of backing away from our treasures, we can spend our lives moving toward our treasures.

He who spends his life moving away from his treasures has reason to despair. He who spends his life moving toward his treasures has reason to rejoice.”

Which one are you?  The one moving toward, or away from your treasures?

Particularly in times of preparation for a move or a stint overseas, it’s easy to cling to our treasured possessions here on earth.  In times like those, I’ve found this quote by E.M. Bounds to be very thought-provoking:

“Great earthly attachments lessen heavenly attachments. The heart which indulges itself in great earthly loves will have less for heaven. God’s great work and often His most afflictive and chastening work is to unfasten our hearts from earth and fasten them to heaven, to break up and desolate the earthly home that we may seek a home in heaven.”

Before my initial move to South Africa, as I agonized over which items would make the cut and earn space in my suitcase, I was most concerned about things that would remind me of home. 

May the Lord change my perspective and help me care most about looking forward to my eternal Home.

Linking up today with Velvet Ashes, a community for women serving overseas.  This week’s theme is “Pack.”  Read more over here.

Photo Credit: Kristen Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons

a day in the life of a domestic worker

She rises before the sun, shifting about quietly in her one-roomed shanty, careful not to disturb the three children sleeping on mats on the floor.  She slips on her plakkies, fumbles around for the bucket and opens the door slowly, to minimize the volume of the creaky hinge.  

She pauses, giving her mocha eyes time to adjust to the pre-dawn darkness.  Inhaling deeply, she notes the freshness of the morning air and thanks God for another day.  Making her way to the community tap, she bends to fill her bucket with water.  Lifting the full container to her head, she walks back to her shack, smiling and greeting groggy neighbors along the way.

DSC_0107 (640x426)
And so the morning routine begins: bathing in the large plastic basin with a cloth and a bar of soap; stirring pap over the paraffin stove; wrapping one of her late husband’s t-shirts around her hair in a way that makes it look like a work of art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe packs her uniform in a backpack, says a silent prayer over her sleeping children, and walks out the door.  It will be over an hour before she gets to work, sometimes ninety minutes depending on the taxis and trains.  She steps into the first available white minibus kombi and squishes in between the other early morning passengers, some talking on cell phones, others smoking.  She smiles politely at a woman about her age, and they form an unspoken bond.  

The bond of two South African widows, trying to make enough of a living for their children to attend school and not go to sleep hungry.

The sun rises, and she smiles a thank-you as she steps out of the taxi, the kombi pulling away with the driver’s right hand man still hanging his torso out of the sliding door, yelling, “Mowbray, Mowbray!  Kaapstad!”

She glances at the clock on her cell phone, careful that no one sees her tucking it back into her bosom, for fear it may be stolen.  If she picks up her pace, she’ll make it to work on time.

Pressing a finger to the doorbell, she waits outside the gate until a voice is heard through the intercom.  “Hello?”

“Hello, Mma.  It’s Zola.”

Click, and the gate is unlocked.

Two flights of stairs and a long passageway, and then, “Auntie Zola, Auntie Zola!” the two toddlers exclaim, skipping with glee to greet her.  She is at work, her twentieth year as a domestic worker, and she wonders whether her own children have eaten and dressed in time for school.

The next ten hours are spent feeding the twins, sweeping the floors, ironing during the children’s naptime.  She wipes her brow with the back of her chocolate brown hand, and doesn’t think twice about pressing her employer’s work shirts, changing his kids’ nappies or washing his breakfast dishes.

It’s the same work her mother did, and her grandmother before her, too.  

As she scrubs the toilet, she recites in her mind the verses that her grandmother had her memorize when she was a young girl:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24).

    She knows she is not a slave, but she also knows these verses apply to any work situation.  So she bends lower on her hands and knees to wash the floor, and she works at it with all her heart, for she knows it is the Lord Jesus Christ that she serves.

This post was written for The High Calling, on the theme, “Your Work Matters to God.”  Read more stories on this same topic, or link up your own story here.

when you don’t want to go home

A month ago at this time, I was breathing in the intoxicating grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.




We were in Vail, Colorado for a family wedding, and it was pure bliss.  The weekend was spent hiking, dining and dancing the night away, and passed altogether too quickly.

When it was time to say goodbye, we all felt like this:


We didn’t want to go home.

In fact, I could’ve stayed there forever, in spite of the waves of altitude sickness that assaulted all of us at some point, irrespective of age or gender.

I was reminded of my daughter, a year and a half earlier, who had been sledding for the first time.

On one of the first occasions that my African-born children ever experienced the exhilarating rush of a sledding hill, my seven-year-old daughter let the adrenaline get to her head.  In a moment of boldness, she dove headfirst onto her circular plastic disc, soared down the snow-covered hill, and biffed, chin skidding across the ice.  A howl could be heard from the bottom of the hill to the top, and the best I could do was to dab her bloody chin with a used tissue.  Over the decibels of her wailing, I asked, “Do you want to go home?”

“Nooo!” she exclaimed adamantly between sobs.

Of course she didn’t want to go home.  Why would she?

In comparison to a perfect (albeit slightly bloodied) sledding hill, home was a dull and boring second-class pick.

If you’re a parent, it’s quite likely that when you’ve gone to pick up your kids from a playdate at a friend’s house, you’ve been welcomed with the infamous whine:  “I don’t wanna go home!”

I was throwing that same internal tantrum when it was time to leave Vail.


Often, even with bloody chins from sledding hills or sudden nausea from the altitude of the mountains, we would rather stay in the places we’re having fun than to go back home to the daily grind of the normal routine.

And if we’re honest, don’t we sometimes have the same view of heaven, in comparison to the pleasures on earth?

In his book, The Glory of Heaven, John MacArthur writes this:

“I have actually heard Christians say they don’t want to go to heaven until they’ve enjoyed all that the world can deliver.  When all earthly pursuits are exhausted, or when age and sickness hamper their enjoyment, then they believe they’ll be ready for heaven.  ‘Please God, don’t take me to heaven yet,’ they pray.  ‘I haven’t even been to Hawaii!’”

Maybe for you it’s not Hawaii, but there’s likely something on earth that is tempting each of us to stay behind.

Maybe your view of heaven is tainted, and, like Matt Chandler once believed, you think heaven is going to be dull and boring after a while.

In his book, The Explicit Gospel, Chandler recalls his former feelings toward this verse of the song, Amazing Grace:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Chandler admits,

“The picture painted by this great hymn is of an eternal session of praise music.  I remember being a bit mortified by this idea after my conversion.  Although I loved the Lord, the concept of just singing to the Lord for trillions of years was more than my mind could fathom.  I thought, ‘Surely we’d get bored with that.’  Even the most amazing things on earth get a little boring after a while.  So how is it that billions of trillions of years from now, I’m still going to be plucking my harp, sitting on my cloud in perfect contentment?  … The image is conjured of robe-wearing, harp-playing, eternal song-singing Tom and Jerry heaven.  Is that really what heaven will be like?”

If you’ve trusted in Christ for your salvation, then there is a home waiting for you in glory.  Jesus himself promised that he has gone ahead to prepare a place for you.

As Christians, are we living as though we’re excited about spending eternity with our Lord?

Or are we pouting and dragging our feet, wishing we didn’t have to leave all that we enjoy here on earth?

Don’t get me wrong .. There is astounding beauty to be found here, and God put it here for our enjoyment.

But it’s temporary.

Not only is it temporary, but it’s only a shadow of things to come.  Even the best sledding hill and the most breathtaking mountain range on earth don’t compare to the glory that will be found in heaven for those who love Him.

So let me ask you this:

When the time comes for the Father to call you Home, how will you respond?





dig deep, my girl

She wrapped her four-year-old fingers around the newly acquired piece of candy as if it were more precious than gold.  Her fist tightly clasped, she could barely contain her glee as she skipped around the church parking lot clutching her prized possession.

A while later, I noticed that her hands were empty.

“Where’s your sweet?” I asked.

“Oh, I planted it over there,” she explained nonchalantly, “so it will grow into a tree full of sweets.”

And I smiled with maternal pride, because she got it.  She understood already that what you put in is what you get out.


So dig deep, my girl.

Find the richest of soil, and dig deep.

Plant your treasure where the rain falls gently all around, and when the plant springs up, may it be strong and confident like the sunflower, with its face always turned bright toward the sun. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also ..

So take what is precious and bury it where it will reap an eternal harvest, and you will have not only a tree, but fields ripe and plentiful.

And you will blossom and bloom in the Light  ..


It’s Five-Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo Baker’s, and this week’s prompt is BLOOM.


the antelope in the living room

IAntelope coverf you’re looking for a light, easy, hilarious read, look no further.

The Antelope in the Living Room, by The Big Mama blog author Melanie Shankle, is guaranteed to entertain.

I read her book, Sparkly Green Earrings, a few months ago, and laughed out loud with every chapter.  That one, her first book, was filled with stories about becoming a mother and navigating the path through the daily hills and valleys of parenthood. Earrings cover

In this, her second book, Melanie shares a host of stories and anecdotes about married life, and they are just as funny as her parenting quips.

I particularly related to her chapter on home improvement, in which she relays her experience of taking on the self-imposed torture of painting their “back house.”

She literally could’ve been writing my own story of recently deciding to paint our interior walls when she wrote:

“I scraped for a grand total of three minutes before I felt my forearms begin to cramp up.  Which is when Perry helpfully called out, ‘Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!  This whole process will probably take you a month!’”

I heard the exact same words.  Except my husband’s name isn’t Perry.

Melanie goes on:

“As the endless painting stretched before me, the whole thing began to feel like heaven.  Not so much in the ‘there will be no tears or sorrow’ kind of way, but more in the ‘this will be how I spend eternity’ kind of way.  I had just one request.  I told Perry, ‘If this kills me, which I have no doubt it will, please make sure I’m buried in a sleeveless dress, because I have no doubt that the silver lining in all of this is that my arms will have never looked better.’”

Amen, sister.  I feel your pain.  I have a whole blog post written in my head already in which I blame The Nester for the fact that I haven’t been able to feel my arms for the past two weeks.  You know, since she wrote the book that inspired me to paint in the first place.

But that’s another story. Coming soon to a blog near you.

About The Antelope in the Living Room: Besides it being so consistently funny, the second best part is how Melanie paints such a realistic picture of marriage.  She tells it how it is, in a nod-your-head, yep-I-know-exactly-what-you’re-talking-about kind of way.  Which is probably why the book is a bestseller.

Finally, I really appreciated how Melanie incorporates her faith and weaves it into her story in a very appealing way.  Her chapter on grace and forgiveness is beautifully written, and it’s obvious that her dependency on the Lord is what seals her commitment to her husband.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

captured on the high seas – a review

Captured on the High Seas - Cover

 Captured on the High Seas is Book #14 in the Adventures in Odyssey Imagination Station series.  When I received a free copy of this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review, my kids were overjoyed.  The older two in particular (ages 9 and 12) have long enjoyed this series.

I read the book aloud to all three of my kids, and when I stopped after reading through chapter nine one evening, my daughter took the book to her room and finished it herself.  She simply couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended.

The plot takes place during the Revolutionary War, in which cousins Patrick and Beth find themselves on an American ship that is about to be taken hostage by the British.  The book is full of suspenseful activity, and kept my kids eager to hear more.  It addresses issues relating to slave trade, as well as moral questions on human rights and fighting for freedom.

In terms of criticisms, I was mildly disappointed that there wasn’t a more clear faith message within the pages.  The story was clean and wholesome, but didn’t really have a direct message about the Christian faith.

Also, as a writer, I found most of the sentences to be overly concise and succinct.  Having said this, however, the recommended reading level as noted on the back cover states that the book is intended for ages 7 and up, with a grade level recommendation of 2.3.  My 7-year-old really enjoyed the story, but probably would’ve struggled to read it on his own.  As a homeschooling mom, I would say that the book would be most enjoyed by kids ages 6-11, and easily read by children 8 and above.

Overall, I highly recommend the entire Imagination Station series as educational, wholesome and family-friendly reading material.


Another Christian book your children might enjoy:

Seekers of the Lost Boy, by Taryn Hayes

Seekers Cover