19 Dec 2013

Why it’s always worth going home, no matter how far or hard or late

We’re standing out at the edge of the hot, hard, beautiful, quiet South African world, when he says it,

“Most families only look peaceful on the surface, you know.”





It’s day four since we touched down at Johannesburg International Airport after 48 hours of travel. And we face the daunting task of squeezing two and a half years’ worth of catching up into three weeks. It’s not enough.

Relationships need to be nurtured to thrive.

My boys have been counting down to this trip for weeks  but now they keep mixing up the names of my brothers.

We drive out in convoy – all 20 of us – to a remote stretch of red soil where a river cuts through the rocky cliffs and spend three days together. There’s no WiFi, no electricity, and no one on their cell phones in the evenings. So we talk and play charades and then talk some more.



We take turns cooking meals over the open fire and at least three people get stung by wasps. But I sit out in the rain late one night and listen to my younger brother’s year. These are the seeds of replanting the relationship. So small, stolen, deliberate moments of catching up. Sometimes clumsily.

The river runs on ahead of us. A week before it had been a small trickle. But there’s been rain and the bush is in bloom and the water flowing hard and fast, a welcome respite from the heat. We linger there, by the edge of what’s cool and the boys all ride mini rapids with inflatable rafts and a green dragon that never could have imagined itself swirling here amidst the Klipkuile.





Families are work. Don’t let the Hallmark or Kay commercials tell you differently.

Because when we pack our suitcases full of presents, and the Christmas dress and extra pairs of underwear and socks and maybe a folder of left over homework and that pair of black corduroys that flatters the holiday hips we also bring with us a whole set of expectations.

Folded in between the shirts are past hurts and desperate hopes. We bring home all the bits and pieces of ourselves that got banged up by the year and we unpack them into the conversation with the people who love us the best and sometimes know us the least.

It’s beautifully hard and worthwhile work, being part of a family.





But over the next week, someone will surely say something you wish they could take back as you sit around the tree or pass the cookies or exchange gifts and greetings and Christmas cards.

Someone will misunderstand.

Someone will make you wish you hadn’t just driven 14 hours straight with the crabby kids and drive throughs and stops to scrape snow off cold, crusted wind shields.

Someone will make you wonder why you came.

This doesn’t mean we stop coming.

This means we get to practice – grace and forgiveness and so many extra, heaped helpings of the benefit of the doubt. We give these gifts so that anything else we’ve wrapped under the tree is simply icing.




We go home.

It requires action. Cars, planes, that complicated coordination of rides and drivers by college students who leave on the wings of finals and fumes of sleep.

We go.

We pack and drive and fly and show up weary at the ragged fringes of the year and it’s easy for worlds and wild words to collide.

But by the end of the long weekend my sons have learned to tell my brothers apart again and they know which one has a scar in the middle of his forehead and which one is the taller, younger brother. Jackson has appropriated Joshua’s hat and we’ve watched the new baby in reverent amazement. There are gingerbread houses in 100 degree heat and two little girls who love each other like these brand new three day old sisters.

Two years feels too long to have lived apart.

But faith, it only needs to be mustard seed small – just the right size for starting over. Again.




{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    This just made me cry! So beautifully said…..Being part of a family is hardwork, but ‘going home’ is always worth it. And so extra special when we are connected by shared faith….Missing my family this Christmas: even though we ALL live in SA it is often too long between visits. Enjoy your special time. May it be blessed with many Holy moments. Blessings, E x

  2. 2

    beautifully written, painfully and wonderfully true. thank you, lisa-jo, for your potent words.

  3. 3

    Made me cry too. Some days this living apart makes me ache and ponder what the purpose of life is when you can not spend it with family. Thank you, you can put things that I can only feel into words, like always. Have a great time, drink in every moment. Blessed Christmas to you.

  4. 4

    This speaks to me as I prepare for a week off from work to be at home. And during the holidays, especially, I am home with expectations. And they won’t all be realized, yet I need to be here still. I’ll be tempted to scream in frustration (and I probably will, mostly out of fear), and I’ll probably ask why I didn’t just work more during break, and want to leave. But, I need to be here. I need to keep waking up and coming to each day. You’re right.

    I appreciate how your story reached me today. Blessings on your remaining time. May you hold the tendrils loosely.

  5. 5

    As the mother of sons who never can keep the name of my brother straight from my husband’s brother, and as the aunt to nieces who, when I met them for the first time in the fall, never could keep the names of my two daughters straight … thank you. These are beautiful, wise words, much needed this time of year.

  6. 6

    So beautiful and so what I needed to hear right before Christmas. Thank you!

  7. 7

    Relationships that are worth nurturing will thrive when small cuts are accidently made. I love looking at the pictures of your home. Merry Christmas!

  8. 8

    You made me want to cry, and I am not even that much of ‘cryer’. Oh, Lisa-Jo… this…

    This island girl, from a family of origin all sliced and diced to bits, has only memories…. putting some ‘elbow grease’ into making new memories with this tiny family that God has given me. Only by His grace…

  9. 9

    Beautiful and such an important message!! Thank you, Lisa-Jo and praying that your trip will be sweet!

  10. 10

    The journey. The distance. The hard work of keeping relationships alive and thriving across that stretch of time and miles and generations and cultures. Love following your journey.

  11. 11

    I love this, Lisa Jo. We’re actually staying home this year, for the first time in eight years. And while we’re excited about the opportunity to build our own Christmas traditions, I am sad and very much missing the opportunities to invest in relationships with the people I love, and as you said, who love me best but may understand me the least. That love is a beautiful, powerful, fragile thing. The digging into relationships and trusting that love each year makes us stronger before we go home, ready to face another year more confidently. We are making plans to have some dedicated time with those folks, if not for the holidays, then very, very soon. I always look forward to going home.

  12. 12

    I love you. This… this is powerful and truth and grace overflowing! (and how much do I love that you are giving us a glimpse of your beautiful South Africa? So much!)

  13. 13

    Beautifully and bravely portrayed, thanks for this. I’ll bet we’d be able to sit and talk for years about our families. I’m the oldest of four and the only girl, our father passed away at the age of 64 very suddenly on September 17th, and there is just so much to navigate with all of it, grief and a profound sense of loss being only a couple of the emotions. But, like you, I have always and will always know that my family – no matter how complicated at times – is the greatest of gifts (as well as the hardest of work at times). Faith is most definitely at the root of my ability to continue on this adventure with them. Thanks again, Merry Christmas and God Bless to you and your beautiful family, and safe travels back home.

  14. 14

    “Mustard seed small..just the right size for starting over.” Preach. Amen! After a three year health journey of gives & takes, I forgot how to have faith. Thank you for these words of encouragement. With a small seed, I can grow something great. Thank you.

    Beautiful message, as always.

  15. 15

    We are actually home again for Christmas (only we left the warm to return to snow), which is why this is short:

    A-MEN, sister! :)

  16. 16

    Oh, Lisa-Jo, I’ve read this at least once a day since you posted it! I so need the reminders you shared here! I can’t wait to spend time next week with with my family and my inlaws and the time will be too short. I needed the reminder that it only needs mustard seed small faith to experience some Christmas miracles…

  17. 17

    Oh, this is good! A timely gift right in the middle of my “weary at the ragged fringes.” Thank you, Lisa-Jo. I’ll be unwrapping your words again!

  18. 18
    Library Momma says:

    I just finished reading this and I am repeating Amen, Amen, AMEN! I just had a very challenging year with family where numerous times I have asked myself, why am I here, why am I dragging,y family here, and is it really all worth it? This really helped frame something that has been hard to put my finger on, thank you for helping to counsel and sort the emotions through a faceless name and through all the miles!

  19. 19

    One of the best posts of all times!!!! You nailed it and I’m likely going to reread it just before we gather for Christmas. Thanks for sharing your heart of truth with us and may your trip continue to be blessed with all things good. Blessings!

  20. 20

    friend. this is beautiful. i love your country so much. glad you get to be home. savor it.

  21. 21

    I wish I had read this before my trip to visit my in-laws. However, it’s a beautiful reminder even after the event.
    Thank you!
    Mary Renee


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