They told me to be prepared for culture shock, loneliness, homesickness and low-grade discouragement. What they failed to prepare me for was the fact that I would meet people who would change my life forever, and I would end up staying not just two years, but four and a half years.
Within my first couple of days on Austrian soil, deep friendship was already being sown. Bouncing with energy and a welcoming smile, I felt like I had known her my whole life. She couldn’t wait to introduce me to her favorite warm fudge brownie from McDonald’s. In the end, we shared more than brownies, but the most transformational chapters of our young lives together. She stood beside me on my wedding day. A treasured friend, directly from the heart of God, and a surprise gift I never expected when I decided to plant myself in a country where I knew no one.
I’ll never forget the years in South Africa either. My husband and I barely married a month, and already I was forced to acclimate to a new country and a new community. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to forge new friendships. I grieved the loss of my life in Austria, still wishing someday we could return. When God introduced me to a group of honest women who were committed to caring for each other through the ups and downs of life, I was amazed again. They prayed with me through bouts of depression, helped me adjust to the intense heat and months without rain, cried with me when I missed my family, and made me smile me when I felt like giving up.
After four years of living in various parts of South Africa, my husband and I felt the stirring to return to Europe. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the kind-hearted people who impacted our lives for the better, to willingly enter another season of transition, knowing the challenges up ahead. But this time we walked forward into the unknown with the promise of friendship, a certainty that God would help us discover a community much larger than ourselves.
When we landed in yet another foreign country, the Netherlands, it felt like home. I don’t believe it was because we spoke the language (we didn’t!) or because we were excited to travel everywhere by bike, but because of the people.
From the moment we arrived until the day we left for America two years later, God’s detailed handiwork was undeniable. He delicately knit our lives together with hospitable Dutch neighbors who knocked at our door often, wise expats, Syrian refugee friends who laughed like no one I’d ever met before, and an international church family, all of whom were a glimmer of hope and light through changing seasons and challenging spaces: personally, spiritually and within our marriage and parenting.
Looking back through the last decade, I notice a common theme woven throughout every season: Friendship helped us flourish even amidst change; it brought us home when we couldn’t find our footing.
The continual faithfulness of God to provide loving, nurturing relationships, even when we uprooted every two years, is proof that he created us for intimacy. We experience the fullness of his love when we stay connected to each other. I’ve realized that even more than a cute house, a pleasant neighborhood, stability, safety or financial provision, what my heart desires most is a sense of genuine belonging.
Of course, intimacy with others and with God doesn’t happen without risk. Try as we might, life keeps moving on, and change will happen with or without our consent. Through it all, I’ve noticed my heart finds a home when I remain vulnerable, humble and open to others and to God.
Taking the risk of being myself is never easy, especially when life feels crazy and motherhood has me begging for time alone, but the outcome is always worth it. Reaching out for others, being honest in our struggles, and sharing our gifts and passions, leads us into deep friendships and true joy.
Mamas, let’s cling to God’s promise of friendship even when the days feel lonely and the seasons keep turning. Let’s be the first to offer ourselves to others. Whether it’s in the form of a welcoming smile, a place at the dinner table, a bouquet of flowers or a warm fudge brownie – all are evidence that God is here among us, pursuing us with his goodness and love, and we are seen, heard and known intimately … welcome home.
Charissa Steyn never imagined her life to be this wild. She and her South African hubby have three wide-eyed explorers, and have discovered home in three different continents. Charissa has a blog and shop where she inspires women to travel into the unknown with expectant hearts, discovering adventure in their midst. See more at charissasteyn.com.