On the Way Home

If this was a month, it was a month that flew by. I regret not being able to tell you about more of it, but perhaps the fact that we haven’t had much good sleep means I may not have had much worth saying anyway. I trust these things work out as they should.

Tomorrow we fly up to Joburg. The following day, it’s Joburg to London, and after a nine hour layover (and maybe a chance to see the newlyweds!) we’ll be heading from London to RDU and with a two hour drive, we’ll be home.

It seems like the visit back to South Africa has been different from what I expected, but giving it a bit of thought, I am not really sure what I expected. This country is so full of contrasts – unimaginable beauty, jaw-dropping luxury, heart-breaking poverty, frustrating corruption. I see it.

As we drove from Bloemfontein to the game reserve, I saw a man on the side of the road carrying two big red bags. I felt that familiar, sore tug on my heartstrings as we sped past in our rental car, baby sleeping in the car seat behind me, his brother munching a cookie with a smile.

The familiar sights of the N1 passed by outside my window: straw-coloured grasslands stretching on for miles, dotted with green shrubs, brown cows, dusty white sheep. A flock of pied crows flutter into the air, resettling on the road to peck at some long-gone creature once we’ve passed them by. Oddly shaped hills, with bushes scattered about so that they look like the stubble of a man who has missed a couple days’ shave, are in distant view in every direction.

I feel far away, but I also feel home. I find myself instructing the Bear to use words that would only be the right choice in the U.S., then I find myself trying to backtrack to explain “say this here, say that there.”

HH lowered the music to whisper the story of a farmer in Zimbabwe, who was having the land he’d farmed all his days ‘reappropriated’ to someone with the right skin colour. The farmer was gentle and hospitable to the men who came to tell him his farm was being taken away. He instructed the new farmer on everything he needed to know, not knowing what was ahead of him, since he was about to lose everything.

He concluded his letter to the paper by saying he felt it was more important for the men who came to take his land to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ than for him to be angry that his land was being taken away. I started to cry and stared out the window.

This beautiful land. This controversial land. All of creation is groaning together for the revelation of the sons of God, but I feel it here.

I am ready, expectant for what’s ahead of us in North Carolina, but a piece of my heart is and ever shall be right here. Whether I’m in South Africa or back in North Carolina, I carry a constant awareness that all the days of my life I will always be on the way Home.



Tales of an Expat Repat: On Identity

One of the things I’ve observed after being home for six months now is how much more concerned I suddenly feel about my appearance or behavior in just about any given situation. They say that when you move to a new place where no one knows you, you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement.

In Scotland and in South Africa, I used my ‘differentness’ or ‘foreignness’ or even my ‘Americanness’ as an excuse to do what I wanted to do and say what I wanted to say. I often asked bold questions or wasn’t afraid to step out and do something different (perhaps even unusual?) because I trusted that for the most part people would chalk my quirks and eccentricities up to me being a foreigner.

Being a foreigner becomes the element of your identity that seems to ground the rest of who you are — why you choose the words you choose when you speak, why the words sound the way they do coming out of your mouth, why you eat the food you eat or behave the way you do — so much of your identity is marked by different.

I suppose after growing up in a small town with lots of other people with similar histories, I relished the opportunity to be unabashedly different. I embraced being different because it seemed to give me a leniency with people — “well it’s okay that she isn’t doing that the way we would normally do it — she’s not from around here.”

At the same time, I found myself to be a bit of a chameleon. In conversations with Scottish people, I began choosing words that were more commonly used in ‘Scottish English’ and I adapted my accent to be better understood. In conversations with Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, I sometimes found myself speaking English in the unique way that native speakers of Afrikaans speak it. And now, back in North Carolina, I feel like I’ve heard about thirty-seven different manners of speech come out of my mouth.


{Edinburgh, 2009: Embracing Scottish culture in my friend Rory’s kilt. Can you believe how tall he is? Or how short I am?}

What was initially a pretty thick southern accent toned down a few notches while I studied Communications for my undergraduate degree. Four years in Scotland toned it down even more, as I began to recognize that I wanted to speak in such a way that people might spend less time thinking about how I’d said something and more time thinking about what I’d said. Being married to a South African certainly changed my attempts at ‘Briticizing’ my American English into some kind of South African-British-American-hybrid speak.

And now, back here, six months on, I am not sure I know what normal speech is for me — it often depends on who I’m talking to. I listen to locals repeat things I say because they are different — and I feel awkward. But as an old friend with a very southern drawl said goodbye and left the treadmill beside mine at the gym this morning, I heard the thickest, southernest tawk to yew late-ur come out of my mouth. I stared at my reflection in the video screen for a moment with a furrowed brow, thinking, what was that?

For six years, I found my identity overseas in being a student, a wife, a mother, a church planter, and perhaps more than anything else, in being a foreigner. And whenever I came home, my identity felt wrapped up in the fact that I was living overseas — I wasn’t ‘a local’ anymore. But now, enjoying the grace to say things differently and do things differently feels like it’s no longer a part of my life, and I regret it. I’m from here, I should know what to do… right?

Last week I went to a ladies’ luncheon at my Mom’s church and sat uncomfortably in my seat for those two hours — perhaps out of a couple hundred women there, I was the only one (besides the team with aprons serving the meal) who was wearing jeans. I almost felt like I could actually feel people feeling sorry for me as I walked up — Shame, she didn’t know she should’ve worn a skirt or a dress to this.

I no longer have my foreign identity to blame when I make a mistake — and I feel kind of naked without it.

As I’ve processed this change — and even a little bit grieved the loss of that identity these last six months, I’ve been reminded that my identity has to be found in Christ. Everything else is secondary to who I am because of who He is. As Paul put it in his letter to the Colossians:

If then, you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. {Col. 3:1-3}

The truth is, every earthly identity I ever cart around this earth — being a runner or a mother or a swimmer or a crafter or a baker, even a writer or an ethicist — will no longer matter in heaven. We will all be worshipers of God — His beloved children — when we get there.

I consistently sense myself internally resisting re-assimilation. For all its beauty, my culture — and every other culture — does not lend itself to fully living out the Gospel. Jesus was so incredibly counter-cultural. And His followers — selling their possessions and giving to their brothers as they had need — they were counter-cultural, too. Our culture might try to label that way of living Communist — but what if there are aspects of it we should be living out as the body of Christ — regardless of what our culture says?

How should we handle the foreigners and immigrants among us based on a Biblical worldview?

What about the poor, or people with disabilities?

The challenge, I find, is to continue to look for my life in Christ, so that His example — and not my culture (or ‘the norm’ in my current locale) is what tells me how to live out the Gospel.

Have you ever experienced the need to reject some aspect of your culture in order to embrace the Gospel?


South Africa, Scotland and Skipping Shampoo

It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve given you a bit of an update on the goings-on for the Collie clan of late. And this bright and shining Monday morning, while I need to sit still for a few minutes between a load of laundry (or seven), a preschool run and hopefully a big old batch of DIY Granola I thought I’d scratch out the latest from this neck of the woods.

Uppee high on the list (as the Bear would put it) is the exciting, exciting, (did I mention exciting?), fact that we’ve booked flights for the Hubs’ brother’s wedding in South Africa. In May. We were waiting and trusting and hadn’t bought flights yet when HH “just happened” to look at flights last week and found tickets at a ridonkulously low price. Something like $3,000 for getting our whole fam to SA is a big deal. We were allowed to ‘book’ them and then take 48 hours to decide before paying for them, and when we checked the prices again Saturday morning they’d already gone up by $500. We were very glad we’d made that booking, and we promptly paid for our booking before we lost it.

I am very excited to have my feet on South African soil again soon. We leave a month from today! And we’ll be gone for nearly a month. As long as internet cooperates, I’m planning on taking you with us, so tell me — what would you like to see from South Africa when you’re (virtually) along for the journey?

We’ll be spending some time in Bloemfontein (yay!) and then heading down to the Eastern Cape for the wedding (hooray!) which is going to be lovely (whoo-hoo!) and on a game reserve (yee-haw!) and the Hubs is going to take pictures (yippee!)! I am stoked.


{Hoping to get a picture like this with the Tank in Bloem this time!}

In other news, Agnes is getting married. You know, if-it-hadn’t-been-for-Agnes-Tiger-Tank-would’ve-been-born-in-Mr-Potato-Head-Agnes. She has asked me about being a bridesmaid and about the Bear being a Ring Bear. (Oh. my. heart.) I have been praying that the Lord would make it possible for us to go (Scotland, July) and hanging on to hope, hope, hope! And it made me pause for a moment to consider that I think there have been at least a dozen weddings I’ve missed in my six years away, being on the other side of the pond (or at least in a different country) and unable to make it to each of them. In six of those weddings, I was asked to be a bridesmaid, and saying I couldn’t make it probably made me cry on each and every occasion. I’m praying, with seven being a special number of completeness and all, that this time I’ll be able to say YES!

{If any of you dear readers happen to be independently wealthy and want to pay for our trip to Scotland, you just let me know, mmmkay?}

In other other news, Tiger Tank is developing a delightful personality, giving really good hugs, and learning to sign things like “more” and “make that fan go round and round!” I think he now has eight teeth to his credit. And he knows how to use them. For biting, better than eating, I’m afraid.

The Bear is completely convinced that every toy in this house belongs to him. He seems to be developing into such a clever little creature. Very observant, quick-witted, full of laughs and charm. The baby-ness is totally gone. I occasionally mourn it…

I haven’t caught my hair on fire lately, but speaking of my hair, I decided to try going no-poo (meaning no-shampoo) and went the first round of it in the shower this morning. I’m doing a baking soda, vinegar, and sometimes brown-sugar-mixed-with-conditioner-scrub routine. Not sure what I think so far, but I’ll keep you posted!

Another thought, don’t forget that if you entered the Quiver Tree Giveaway and didn’t win, you still get a third off the price of a photo session (meaning a one-hour photo session is only 50 bucks!) and 20% of all the prints and photo products you order if you book within the next three months. That train leaves the station May 31st so you better get on board!

Lastly, I am more and more convinced that my faith is small. I’ve been challenged through all this faith-thinking to stop putting God in a box, and to deliberately and consistently ask Him to move in big ways. As Beth Moore once pointed out, am I afraid of making Him look silly…or me? More on that soon, too, I’m sure.

How are you? Any big news? Ever tried going no-poo? Have some advice?


Almost a Birthday, and a Photo Session Giveaway!!

Almost a Birthday, and a Photo Session Giveaway!!

It’s hard to believe a year ago today we were expecting our little Tiger Tank to make his first appearance on the outside. Today — February 18th — was the due date, and if he’d decided to come along, he would’ve been born two years and six months to the day after his big brother Bear.


As you may or may not remember, however, the Tank (and the Lord) had other plans. In God’s Perfect Timing our precious second son arrived in a ninety-minute perfect-for-TV drama that culminated in an expedient trip to the hospital, with Mr. Potato Head reaching speeds exceeding 100 mph. And the magical nine minute delivery ensued.

Someone told me the second one grows faster than the first. I didn’t believe them until we packed everything up and started the nomadic journey that began in June of 2011 and finally felt sort of finished in December. I feel so far removed from those days of waiting, our leisurely strolls around the neighborhood, the palm trees, the boats with ropes clanking against their masts on a sunny summer day in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.


We sold most of our stuff, we left that home, and we said goodbye to a lot of people whom we love and care for. And since the memories of those precious days seem to be fading around the edges, I am very, very thankful for the pictures we took.

We occasionally pull up a photo or two on our computers to ask the Bear if he remembers this or that. And sometimes I know having seen things again in photos is helping him to remember.

In the car on the way home from Bible study yesterday, he and another little girl were discussing birthday cakes. She talked about hers, and then he recounted his last birthday in detail — mine was at Goo and Gammy’s house. Gammy made my 3 cake!


I hope he can store so many of those moments in his mind — seeing elephants at Kruger Park, playing cars with Goo Goo around the table on the patio in Bloemfontein, jumping on the trampoline in our old neighborhood by the sea.

I’m thankful that if we forget, we still have so many photos to usher us right back into some of our favorite memories at a moment’s notice… traveling around the Isle of Skye in Scotland, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, hiking in the Helderberg region near Cape Town.

More than that, I’m thankful to be reminded of those tiny newborn fists clenched so tight, the way the Bear’s hair curled at the nape of his neck before his first haircut, the glorious shots of the grandparents and grandchildren together — ones I often treasure more than any others.

So, in honor of Tiger Tank’s ‘official’ due date, Quiver Tree Photography has decided to do a special giveaway right here, and I’m excited to share the details with you!

One lucky winner will receive a free one hour, on location photo shoot (a $75 value!) in Eastern North Carolina (within 50 miles of Washington, North Carolina*). You’ll also receive 10 4×6 prints and an 8×10 canvas of your favorite photos from the session (a $70 value!) Boo-yow!

All you have to do is leave a comment telling us who you’d like to in your pictures if you win! Make sure you sign in using the Punch Tab widget below, and read the details below to find out how to get extra entries! USE PUNCH TAB — don’t just leave a comment!!

We’ll randomly draw the name of a lucky winner on the Tank’s actual birthday, February 24th!

Visit Quiver Tree Photography between now and then to have a look around the new site!

*If you live outside of the area and would like to enter, you can pay 50 cents per mile travelled outside the 50 mile radius and we’ll come to you, or we can make a plan to meet somewhere in the middle!

The Details:

You must leave one comment on this site by 11:59 EST on February 23, 2012 in order to be entered in this giveaway. Folks who leave multiple comments will be considered cheeky and will be ineligible to win.

You can earn additional entries for doing each of the following:

  • Tweeting about this giveaway on Twitter
  • Becoming a fan of Quiver Tree Photography on Facebook
  • Liking this giveaway on Facebook
  • Sharing the link to this page on Google Plus
We look forward to hanging out with the winner soon!


When Nature Takes Over {Part Two}

I‘ve been speaking about a simple principle as I’ve witnessed it in South Africa over these past two years {the principle that without discipline nature will take over again} and I would now like to take a moment to speak about hope, and how all this can apply to our spiritual lives. {You can read part one here.}

For many of us, when we first answered the call to follow Jesus, we might remember a sharp about-face. That’s the way repentance should be: it is often described as if you are walking in one direction, and you make a one hundred and eighty degree turn, and start heading in the opposite direction.

The call to follow Jesus is often a call to swim upstream. It is a call to walk in ways that are contrary to our nature: loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, learning that greatness is synonymous with service and that the last will be first. It is a call to choose love over fear, trust over worry.

We can start the race with these things in mind, eager to follow closely, to find the crosses we are called to bear and carry them with vigor and wholehearted enthusiasm. But over time, nature tends to take over, even in our own hearts.


Our natural tendencies will surface and resurface as we navigate the refining fires of a life of faith. Like gold being purified by fire, when things get hot, the undesirable elements begin to rise to the surface.

Zeal and ardent enthusiasm will only carry us so far. We will need discipline to overcome — to pass through those fiery furnaces and allow the Lord to remove the old nature in us as it rises to the surface.

But over time, we may become careless about matters that we were once committed to taking seriously as a part of our desire to follow the Lord. Perhaps it’s the words we are willing to allow out of our mouths, or the commitment to spending time in prayer, or studying God’s word and applying it to our lives.

Without discipline, nature takes over again.

Thankfully, no situation is without hope. With forethought and commitment, things which were allowed to go wild can be subdued and domesticated. Just as old roads can be rebuilt and repaired, so the tongue can be tamed and re-tamed. The wildfire of political corruption can be put out, just as the corruption in our own hearts can be made to acquiesce under the Lordship of Jesus.

None of this will be possible without a patient kind of discipline. In the case of a country, it is a united and sustained effort towards a common goal. In the case of our own souls, what is needed remains much the same.

There is great depth to the truth that the Crucifixion that brought us forgiveness was a lengthy and sustained affair. Jesus patiently submitted to the abuse and punishment of a mocking trial, a scourging, and hours of torture on a cross. He wasn’t shot or stabbed and he didn’t face the electric chair or a lethal injection. Our forgiveness wasn’t won with a sprint. It was paid for with a marathon — and endurance.

Could this be why Hebrews admonishes us:

Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12: 1 & 2}

It goes on to say, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” {v. 3}

Indeed, the chastening of discipline has the promise to produce good fruit: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” {v. 11}

When the Hubs was training in the pool, in his days as a Swimming Champion and Olympic hopeful, he constantly meditated on the motto that pain was good. “No pain, no gain…” kept him pushing through another lap, strengthening his arms and legs to slice through the waters faster and faster.

But the race isn’t always to the swift. The seed that falls on good ground doesn’t spring up as quickly as the seed that falls in rocky places. We are called to a race akin to the marathons held in Greece in the first century that Paul alluded to when he spoke of running toward the prize.

Though our salvation is absolutely a gift of grace, yet the call to follow is simultaneously a call to become a disciple, to take up a cross. We can trust His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Still, there is a weight we are called to carry.

In Romans 12:2, Paul urges us not to be conformed to the image of this world {a world where we’re encouraged to “do what feels good” or to “follow your instincts”} but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. He ends those words with this promise: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Nature has a way of taking over again. But in God’s glorious goodness, for a beloved country or a beloved soul, there is always, always hope for transformation.


When Nature Takes Over Again

I am an American, born to American parents who were born to American parents who were born to American parents. I don’t know that I have any African heritage in my history, though I feel adopted by that beautiful continent by virtue of my time there and my deep love for one of Africa’s sons. I ask for grace to speak about South Africa, and hope to do so with humility, because even after living here for two years, I remain an outsider, looking in. {Foreword side note: I wrote this post a few weeks before we left South Africa last year.}

I‘ve observed more of the complicated nature of the country of South Africa in my last couple of months here than perhaps in the past couple of years of living here. This could be because I have just lately been watching the news, or because we are travelling around South Africa and it is giving me the opportunity to see.

I have noticed a pattern throughout my travels in this beautiful country, and it is one that gives me concern for the country’s future. In different ways, wherever I look, I see evidence that nature is taking over again.


In Bloemfontein, the sidewalks and curbs are crumbling, and the streets are littered with potholes. In Johannesburg, buildings once great and sturdy sites for businesses, have fallen into complete ruin, not even safe for the homeless to live in. We travel the roads with concern, as some have fallen into such disrepair they are almost impassable. In many corners of the country, it seems infrastructure is lacking to fight the bush fires that break out, which means they ravage acres upon acres of land.

There are small and simple examples, too: The children’s play area where we were staying in the Drakensberg was falling apart and clearly not being maintained. Trash was being left outside and the baboons were having a rarely hindered field day.

It is evidence of a simple principle that applies to all of life: without discipline, nature takes over again.

My husband speaks of the South Africa he grew up in, and I see both joy and sorrow in his eyes. It is a place that once was and is not likely to ever be again. On our way up to the Kruger, we pass a picnic area. He tells stories of precious family holiday memories — he and his brother and sister would pile into the backseat of the family car early in the morning, and the family would travel for a while and then stop to enjoy the breakfast they’d packed at one of those picnic areas on the roadside.

A lot of things were wrong then, but some things were right.

Today those picnic areas are no longer maintained, and even where they are, it is not always safe to stop. The one we passed that sparked the story was overgrown with weeds, the table cracked, the cement benches crumbling. “No one will come to repair it,” he remarked with sadness. “And it will just fall into ruin.”

If I had to describe the situation in South Africa at present, I could only use one word: complicated. We had a very positive life experience when we lived in the Western Cape. It is the only province of the country ruled by a political party other than the ANC. When we are there, I feel hopeful about SA’s future.

But in Mpumulanga near Kruger National Park, in the Gauteng and Johannesburg, or in the Drakensberg in the province of KwaZulu Natal, there are so many signs of decay and disrepair, it is more difficult to maintain a sense of hope.

“My family used to take a drive through that valley, up that way,” my husband explains while we’re in the Drakensberg, “but I asked someone at reception, and the roads have eroded so badly, they’ve closed them.”

The truth is, the maintenance of a country takes discipline. To keep the roads in good form requires planning ahead, and hiring individuals who are qualified to build roads. But the political agenda of empowerment has meant that people without the skills and knowledge to successfully build or repair a road are being hired to do so. Thus, the roads that are being rebuilt are crumbling quickly — they have not been built properly, and trucks with oversized loads are travelling them because no one is taking the initiative to firmly regulate the trucking industry.

I understand the desire to attempt to even the playing field, and to give a previously oppressed people group a hand-up, but at what cost? The crumbling of a country? The oppression of another people group?

I remember Mandela’s very important words, spoken after Apartheid had ended and he was elected: “Never, never, and never again shall a people group be oppressed in this nation by another.”

I’m afraid I see evidence to the contrary.

To combat the forces of nature which seek to hinder the prosperity of a nation takes discipline. The discipline to successfully uphold the law in all cases. The discipline to budget and plan ahead for the maintenance of a country’s road and railway systems. The discipline to carefully protect the natural resources which are the country’s greatest wealth, be it wildlife or diamonds or coal (through regulation rather than nationalisation, I would humbly digress to note.)

It takes discipline to keep peace, rather than to pit one people group against another for the furtherance of a political agenda.

Without discipline, nature will succeed in taking back what was once hers. Roads will naturally crumble over time. People will naturally begin to blame one another for their troubles, and violence will be the result. Without discipline, laws will become suggestions or rules that only apply to some of the people some of the time.

Without discipline, nature takes over again.

Do you see evidence of nature taking over again in your own life? I’m planning to share more on this subject tomorrow.



{You can read part two of this post right here.}