The Real Unpacking: Of Irritation and Thankfulness

In November of 2010, I drove to the coast of North Carolina, a post-college student-of-life, living on the smallest amount of money possible.  I hopped in the car, turned on some Jon Foreman, and drove East towards the coming sun, all the while praying and contemplating.  My closest-friend-turned-love-of-my-life was in Mozambique, Africa loving Jesus and people.  We hadn’t started dating yet, but when he told me he was thinking of going, I urged him to go.  World travel is one of the most amazing and growing experiences, and I wanted him to have it, regardless of our uncertain and budding relationship.

This morning I sit in a coffee shop overlooking the saltwater of Taylor’s Creek, Jon Foreman in my ears, nearly 3 years married to this love, clumsily carrying the gigantic box with huge onion-layers of life change and travel across the globe we have done together over the past four months.  To Africa and back again, married.  Thank you Jesus.  There is much peeling back and unpacking of the heart to do.  I haven’t touched that box much yet.

On our way out of Pemba

We came home in the middle of the Christmas season.  It is near impossible to explain the whiplash of going from life in Africa, to 30 hypnotizing hours on various plane rides, to suddenly life back home.  It’s not just going from third-world to first-world, from the hottest African summer with no A/C and occasional running water, to winter and hot showers ad infinitum, from concrete and dirt to carpet and malls.  Those all play a part, but it’s not it.  They tried to prepare us for “re-entry” in Harvest School, that vague and ominous word with equally as vague and ominous explanations of what to expect.  What would it be like?  What would it feel like?  I listened, but didn’t really care then how it would take shape, so long as there was family, freshly cooked vegetables, clean clothes, and a bed in which covers were actually necessary.

Rice and Beans

Loving Pemba

Our room/bed in Pemba

Eating all our meals together

Honestly, re-entry for me has looked like a Rubik’s Cube of the following:  landing from a day in a plane and then hopping from house to house every few nights, unpacking only a little and re-packing to move to the next bed ready for us.  Realizing that John and I don’t have our little apartment home anymore, where we can be alone, have whatever conversations needed, buy our own groceries, know where things go, and just how we do the practicalities of home.  It has been people asking, “How was Africa?” and being simultaneously so thankful that they took the time to ask, and irritated that I can’t really explain in the minute or less we have in passing. And that they may not want to take more time than that to listen, and I may not want to give them the real answer.  It has been expectations and realities, both wrapped up in much-needed grace.  Or people asking both John and I, “How was Africa?” and knowing that John and I have completely different answers, so I just kind of sit back and let whatever answer John has at that moment come out.

On Weekend Outreach

Sunset in Johannesburg

Our Couples Family

It has been thankfulness one second for even having beds to sleep in, family who love us enough to let us crash indefinitely, and community in which to house our hearts, to irritation and insecurity the next second.  Meanwhile, John seems to be doing great, ever thankful, ever looking forward to what God has for us next, Mystery-Grab-Bag as it seems at the moment.  Ok, he’s sifting through more than the eye can see, but he has done this whole Harvest School and then “come back home” thing before, and is tenderly leading me.  Insert occasional marital friction here : )

That’s why we’re at the beach now.  Our first time in a house alone, non-communal living, in four months.  Enough space and silence to even really start to unpack.  And past the irritations, the noise, and the “why”s, there’s this huge thankfulness.  Deep breath.

John and Sam

Here’s the thing: Africa was amazing.  It was worth every penny, every sacrifice, every unknown.  We feasted from the Richest of Fare every day, all together, with the same hunger only satiable by experiencing God Himself, and we wouldn’t stop singing, praying, dancing until He showed Himself. And then when He did (He always did!) we’d just sing, pray, dance, lay on our faces, stand in amazement – admire our beautiful Jesus – some more.  This was day after day, each day of the week.  Time frames were loose to accompany His Presence.  Sure, we had things to do, speakers to listen to, people to minister to, but never at the expense of taking time for Jesus Himself, and obeying His timeframe.  People were eager to pray with and over each other, to sit and really listen to one another.  It was Jesus as the end, not as a means to another end (ministry, adventure, doing something cool or “extreme” with your life) – all the time!  What an amazing experience to live in such a community for a few months.

Worship Time

Foot Washing

Worship Night in Johannesburg

Worship Night in Nelspruit

And the difficult parts – food, lodging, comfort – were really just a beautiful part of the experience.  Eating weird food from the same two food groups in small portions and slightly different arrangements each time, but thankfulness for food to eat three times each day. Funny/uncomfortable/strange/communal sleeping arrangements, but thankfulness for a bed to sleep in and being able to share it with a loving husband.  Being so cold in one location that we don’t have enough layers to put on, and so hot in another location that we are cursing the very creator of leggings and the dress code which made them necessary under our skirts, but ultimately thankfulness for more than one set of clothes to wear from day to day.

Washing Clothes by Hand

Housing in Pemba

Rice and Beans

Flooding at House of Love

What it looks like to move 250 people

Tent City in Johannesburg

I love living so tangibly in the reality that Jesus is real, and really satisfying, and worth my whole life.  And that I can count it all joy.  I love being physically close to the majority of the world’s reality – food is precious, shelter is precious, a husband that doesn’t beat with words or fists is precious, and clothes to wear are precious.  Precious as in invaluable, beyond price, scarce, life-giving, of highest value.

Precious One

Pemba kids

little brothers in Pemba

outreach near Nelspruit

And the life of the journey, the pilgrimage, is an honor.  It comes with sacrifices, and I am clumsily fumbling over the practicalities of those sacrifices, learning how to live without the death-grip of control over my life, ever open-handed and thankful to my Jesus.  I am so thankful for His grace and love towards me, and allowing me to be a part of His grace and love towards others.

More to come on exactly what our time during the Mozambique leg of the journey was like, testimonies of His work, and what is to come (???) for John and I in our wayfaring life.

With love and thankfulness,



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