My firstborn turned 13 today, so naturally I’m reflecting on the past thirteen years as her mom, her birth, and what it was like being a mom in South Africa for the first seven years of her life.
Here’s an excerpt from my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging, to give you a taste of how motherhood changed me:
Becoming a mom in South Africa wrapped my identity tight around that far and foreign land. I became more than just a visiting volunteer missionary. I did more than marry a local. I spread my roots and brought forth life in the shade of that vast expanse. Giving birth on African soil gave me a sense of confidence—a sense of place. I suddenly had someone else to care for besides myself. Though my sweet girl was half American, she was just as much South African. She belonged—and through her, I felt that I did too. She held a birthright as a citizen of that beautiful rainbow nation—and as her guardian, I reasoned that I could claim the same protections by association.
I thought about Jesus’ mother Mary, how she housed the Son of God in the fiber of her being. How the Father split her body open in the darkness of night to let out the light of the world. For nine months, she was His dwelling place. And I wondered if she found her home in Him.
I cradled Dineo in my lap and pictured Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. How He lived and grew inside Mary for nine months, just like Dineo wriggled and twisted in my swollen abdomen before the doctor pulled her out. No longer could I protect her from the harsh realities of the world. She was safer inside. I wondered if Mary thought the same thing about her baby boy.
I marveled over the wonder of God becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us (John 1:14).How He left not only the safety of Mary’s womb, but the glory of heaven for a dirty, crowded stable. How He dwelled not only among humankind as a baby, then man, but chooses to dwell withinanyone who believes He is the Lord. Not only is He Emmanuel, God with us—He is God in us. This symbiotic mystery in which I am His dwelling place (1 Cor. 3:16),and He is mine (Deut. 33:27; Ps. 90:1).God is my home, and my body is His temple. Not just for nine months, either. His Spirit lives and grows in me from now until He comes again. An inexpressible gift—even greater than the joy of my baby girl growing inside.
“. . . he gently leads those that have young.” —Isaiah 40:11b
As I grew into motherhood, a new version of home grew into me. My entire identity as a mom developed on South African turf. I felt myself drifting ever so gradually away from America as my home, as I discovered the miracle of gripe water and learned to call diapers “nappies.” We shopped for a pram instead of a stroller, and debated the pros and cons of introducing a dummy, which I’d only ever known as a pacifier. Instead of liquid Tylenol, the options for children included Panado and Calpol. As Dineo developed and learned new things, so did I.
I looked into her pitch-black eyes and asked her, “Who will you become?” As I felt the pull of South Africa’s cultural tide in the core of my being, I asked myself the same question. I watched Dineo change daily, and knew I couldn’t escape a similar fate. No matter which books I followed or which schedules I attempted to follow, I couldn’t keep up. Change and routine alternated shifts until I succumbed to the inevitable reality—life would never be quite the same, and neither would I. The foundations of home shifted underfoot once again.
The early months of my pregnancy were marked by the unexpected loss of Kagiso’s uncle. Death left its stamp on our hearts and changed us. But that was not the end. My pregnancy culminated in a miraculous new life. An abundance of gifts—and I saw the gospel in living color. I saw the effects of sin in this fallen, broken world. The pain that comes with death and loss. And I saw the promise of new life in Christ—the One who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). I cradled my newborn and my fingertips touched the fragility of life—the realization that this home is only temporary. It’s not the end—there is more to come.
Read the rest of the story in my memoir,
A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging.
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