Ever since the wedding, I have been inundated by a sea of questions. That’s to be expected during the first few weeks of marriage, especially in a situation like ours, where many of the basics (for example—where are we going to live long-term) haven’t been determined. But sometimes I find myself saying inside, Can we just ease into married life, please?
There are three questions I am asked a lot and would like to address:
What is my new name? Legally, I’m not changing my name—at least not now. It’s just too complicated to change my name, when my visa and South African paperwork are all in my maiden name. Socially, I will style myself as Nicole Corlew Curtis. We’ll see how long I can keep that up since it is a bit of a mouthful.
Am I still a missionary? And if so, can one still donate to my missionary account via SAMS? Yes, my status as a SAMS missionary with Growing the Church isn’t changing. Everything remains the same, including my ministry work and my need to raise my own support. And yes, people who want to support my ministry can still donate to my missionary account through SAMS. (Thank you!)
What is married life like so far? This is a hard question to answer! It is wonderful and full of joy. It is a transition to be sure, especially when you marry later in life as we did and have been used to doing life on our own. I am rather surprised to find the joy and challenge in the detail—getting used to sharing a bed with another person, having extra help around the house, traveling together to church, making meals for each other, coordinating schedules. I am reminded of what Fr. Leigh Spruill said in his homily for our wedding: A wedding is like the incarnation of Christ. It is only the beginning. And it is true—our wedding is only the beginning of our marriage, and it takes time for two lives to weave into one.
In a whirlwind, a new chapter of my life begins; now I am a married woman. Seven weeks ago, I was headed home; I couldn’t wait. International and domestic travels, wedding appointments and planning, quality time with family and friends, doggie time with my fur-nephew, Christmas, wedding, honeymoon, celebrating a new year, meeting with SAMS (my mission agency), back home in Cape Town—all done within six weeks. No wonder I’m tired and way behind in my thank-you cards and unpacking. (I won’t even mention the messy state of my flat and all the weeds in my garden.)
But I’m excited to begin this new chapter of my life, as I add the title of “wife” to my seasoned labels of daughter, sister, and friend. I wonder what the first year of marriage will hold for us; I know it will entail a lot of change.
Wayne and I are so blessed and so happy. Sometimes I still can’t believe how much God has blessed me with such a wonderful husband. I still pinch myself when I think about our wedding, which surpassed all of my dreams. From the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, I enjoyed every moment of our special day. It was a day of pure joy. I will never forget the feeling of happiness I had when I was able to get a glimpse of all our guests sitting in the church; in my mind I thought, Wow. All these people love us. How many people have the honour and privilege of being surrounded at one time by so many people who love them? We are so blessed!
We are so grateful for our family and friends who helped to make our day so special and who continue to share in our happiness. We love you all.
Yesterday (26 January) marked my one-year anniversary of living in South Africa. I can’t believe that my first year has come and gone. I feel like I blinked and the year was over. Full stop.
I had a wonderful time being at home for Christmas. Words can’t describe how great it was to spend time with my family and to reconnect with old friends. I have returned to Cape Town refreshed and renewed. I’m ready for the new year of work, ministry, fun, and living more into my adopted home and culture.
I have come to the realization that I have two homes. It feels good to have two homes; but while I’m in one, I miss the other. I thought I would grow out of this longing, the longer I lived abroad; but I’m beginning to realize that this longing for Tennessee home or Cape Town home comes with the territory of living abroad, with the reality of having two homes. It’s a bit of a tension and somewhat ironic but necessarily a bad thing.
Wow—a year has passed and how much has happened in that year! This time last year, I was kind of living in a fog. I didn’t know what to expect; I had a ton of feelings swirling inside of me. Returning to Cape Town, I feel as though I am home, surrounded by my loving community and by so many familiar things—from certain decorations in my flat that make me smile to the beautiful mountains that I see every day.
And might I add, it’s great to be out of the deep freeze and into summer!
Of people begging at the robots (traffic lights), asking for money, trying to sell me things or collect my trash.
Of singing worship songs in languages I don’t understand or can’t pronounce.
Of people having difficulties understanding me or of my having difficulties understanding them because of
Of the time it takes to bake any of my favourite things because I have to convert the measurements (sometimes twice) or hunt around for ingredients that are hard to find.
Of feeling pulled in many directions, from people, from projects, from commitments that demand my time. Sometimes I just want to do what I want to do. Sometimes I want space. God, could you please place me in timeout?
Of the use of archaic words, such as “whilst,” in everyday English.
Of trying to find the balance between a relational culture and the reality of time constraints and deadlines.
Of seeing the worst of American culture imported to this beautiful country, giving South Africans a warped view of my country and heritage.
I’m not unhappy. I still love my life and work in Cape Town; but even in the best of times and in the best of circumstances, cross-cultural living can be challenging.
When I was younger, I used to think that God would call me to do something that I would totally dislike. Even worse, I thought he would call me to live in a way that would run contrary to how I was wired. I was so wrong, having a warped concept of God’s love for his children and a lack of understanding of his desire for us to live an abundant life. God has equipped each of us with certain gifts and talents in order to use for his glory, for the general good, and for our enjoyment. I don’t think he would call us to live in a way that was contrary to how he made us.
This is how I see it: The kingdom of God is like an orchestra, and each one of us is gifted to play a particular instrument. God, the conductor, wouldn’t call a violinist to play percussion; but God, at times, would stretch the violinist out of her range, training and disciplining the violinist to become the best violinist that she can be and thus helping the orchestra to become the best it can be. At times in our lives, God may call us to play out of our range; but I don’t think he would call us to play an instrument that we aren’t equipped to play.
I see this reflected in my life in South Africa. God has definitely called me out of my comfort zone, but I am still living a life that complements my nature. I live in a beautiful city, not the bush. I am able to use my gifts and talents in youth ministry and publishing to help the church, instead of being asked to use gift sets that I don’t have, such as planting a church.
What are your thoughts about God’s work and call in our lives? What instrument do you play in God’s orchestra? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I wonder if people wonder why I don’t write more about work. It’s an easy explanation. Although I love my work and find it very fulfilling, my day-to-day work often takes the form of emails, phone calls, writing, editing, planning, and coordinating projects. The details of doing such things are just not exciting to write about, but the fruit of the work is very rewarding.
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a Skype conversation with a good friend who is a missionary in France. Neither one of us is a “conventional” missionary, and we were talking about the challenges our callings pose and the freedom they give. Our world has changed a lot, even during our short lives; and the way of doing missions has changed too.
It’s kind of exciting being a missionary in the early part of the 21st century. It is like God has unleashed his creativity, encouraging and calling people to use their gifts and talents, regardless of what they might be, to help build his kingdom. In my case, I’m working with an organization, Growing the Church (GtC), that helps the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to grow in numbers and spiritual formation. As my work at GtC evolves, I am beginning to understand that although most people living in the countries that make up the province may be Christians, many of them have not been discipled well, mainly because of a lack of resources and knowledge. I feel privileged and honored that I can use my gifts and talents in youth ministry and publishing to play a small role in what God is already doing in our province.
I’m waffling over whether to click “publish” or not. Dare I—or not? I’m a bit embarrassed to publish this post; but as I said from the beginning, my blog will reflect my experiences of living cross-culturally. I won’t gloss over difficult situations or paint things in a rose-colored lens. Yet what I have written about is very first world. Even if my American and South African friends can’t relate, I think they will respect my honesty; and I know they will love me all the same, so here goes…
Ever since I arrived in Cape Town, I have been borrowing my boss’s spare mobile phone. It was time for me to get my own phone, and I had my heart set on the iPhone 5. Earlier this year, a local carrier had a good deal for the iPhone 5; but I hadn’t been in the country long enough to have all the required paperwork to get the phone on contract. Months later, when I did have the paperwork, the deal had ended and the iPhone 5 was way out of my budget. Ok. I thought. I’ll get the iPhone 4s. Well, it was still out of my budget, but I tried my best to justify it: It will sync with my laptop and tablet. I love the iPhone; I’m familiar with it. I can use several apps to stay in touch with my family. I need it to stay in touch with my family.
I spent several weeks researching all types of smart phones and looking at several local carriers, trying to find the best deal. I crunched numbers, trying to squeeze the iPhone 4s in my budget. I agonised over whether or not to purchase the phone or to buy a certain android phone, which was in my budget. (Gasp—I can’t go droid!) I was fretting about what to do. Finally, I accepted that I couldn’t afford the iPhone, and I began to pout. A week ago, when I was having a pouty conversation with God, I felt God say to me, Get a grip. You are whining over stepping down from a Mercedes to a BMW, whereas most people are still riding along in a horse and buggy.
Ouch, God. That hurt. But God got my attention. Over the next few days, I did a lot of soul searching. I realized, as ridiculous as it sounds, I had a lot of my identity tied up in Apple. I love Macs, and I am an “Apple person;” but somewhere along the way, my admiration for this product line became a way in which I defined myself and that wasn’t good.
Wrestling with my phone dilemma brought me face-to-face with the core of my problem; in many respects, I have been trying to hold on to the lifestyle I had in the States—and that’s impossible. South Africa is not the USA, and I make a fraction of what I earned at my old job in the States. And even if I could create a mini-USA lifestyle bubble for myself, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do, especially as a missionary.
But it’s hard. I feel the tension of going from a first-world country to a developing one. At times the tension is in the background; other times, it is at the forefront–but the tension is always there. I guess it is a part of living cross-culturally. It’s a challenge to know what to hold on to and what to let go. I’m embarrassed that it was so difficult for me to let go of something so trivial as a phone, but it was hard. On the flipside, some things are worth holding on to. Recently, I have come to terms that I need to join a gym, as it isn’t safe for me to go on walks by myself and as public tennis courts are non-existence. Physical health is vital to my emotional, mental, and spiritual health; and I am feeling the lack of exercise from which my body is suffering. This is the most unfit I have been in my adult life. Being fit is something worth holding on to; but the phone, I had to let go—and that’s OK. Steve Jobs would understand.
Yay! Tomorrow I get to go home. I thought as I packed up for the next leg of the recent church trip. On the St. George’s trips to South Africa, we spend our first week in Johannesburg and then fly to Cape Town on Friday. Normally, when I repack for this leg of the trip, I think, I get to go to Cape Town tomorrow! This time I thought, I get to go home. Yay! I miss the mountains and the sea. I miss my flat and my bed. I miss my friends. I miss home.
This line of thinking is a good sign. Cape Town is indeed becoming home to me. However, I was a bit unnerved about this first feeling of home, and I fought against it on the flight to Cape Town and for several days afterwards. Nashville is where my family and friends live; it is where I grew up. It’s home, not Cape Town.
And yet Cape Town is feeling more and more like home, and that’s good—I keep telling myself, although a part of my heart stings. I have had several feelings of “home” during the past month—playing board games on Easter afternoon with the young members of the Adams family, my dear friends, visiting a friend who had a recent operation, routine grocery shopping at the local shops, curling up with a good book on a quiet evening.
Yet it’s ironic; the more I live into life here and the more Cape Town becomes home to me, the more homesick I get for home. I feel the tension. At times it’s intense. At times I want to go home and hug my family. I miss them.
It’s hard living in the in-between of two homes, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a natural part of adapting to cross-cultural living. I look forward to the day when I can call both cities home without an ache in my heart or at least without the intensity of the ache.
As believers in Jesus Christ, living in the in-between is nothing new. It’s what we’re called to do, being dual citizens of heaven and earth. And at times, that type of living is difficult as well. It is also a tension.
I’m praying for the courage to live with the tension.
I have been in Cape Town less than two weeks; but in many ways, I already feel like it is home. My colleagues at Growing the Church have become my new family. They are taking such good care of me, and I feel like I have known them for a long time. Trevor, Estelle, Janice, Auntie Joyce, and Mike have welcomed me into their hearts and homes. I am blessed to have them in my life, and I look forward to being a part of their amazing work. In my short time here so much has happened. Here are some highlights:
1. The day after I arrived, Trevor (my boss) and his wife hosted an afternoon tea for me.
2. I started to work on my first project—helping to write and edit some sessions for the Anglicans Ablaze DVD study guide. (Anglicans Ablaze was the big Anglican conference Growing the Church hosted in Johannesburg last October.)
3. I moved into my flat, which exceeded my wildest expectations. 4. I walked my first 5K.
5. I went grocery shopping for the first time. It will take me a few more trips to get used to the different foods and the method of shopping, but I loved buying fresh tropical fruit—mangos, avocados, lechi nuts. Plus, the eggs I bought are farm fresh and don’t have to be refrigerated; there were even a few feathers on the eggs.
6. I went to an afternoon braai (barbeque). My friends Estelle and Thurston braaied yellow tail and snook. Yummy!
7. I learned the basic rules of cricket and rugby. (But I think I have forgotten them now.)
8. I had a lovely Sunday lunch with my friend Ali.
9. I attended Sunday morning service at Christ Church. 10. I bought a duvet for my bed.
I returned from training a few days ago, and I’m still processing all I learned. It was truly an amazing three weeks, and I already miss my community of new friends.
We spent the last week of training talking about grief and loss, hellos and good-byes. The life of a missionary is full of hellos and good-byes, and grief and loss are a true reality as missionaries prepare to leave for the field. I know that I have been grieving since the summer, mourning the loss of so many things I love about my life—moving from my city and condo, leaving my job, saying good-bye to my favorite cafes, hangouts, and dear friends. In a few weeks, I’ll be saying good-bye to my beloved family and my closest friends. Sometimes thinking about it is unbearable, but I’m determined to embrace the good-byes and to live into them. It is a part of being a missionary. It is a part of life.
By loving, we take risks. If we didn’t love, good-byes wouldn’t hurt so much. But life is full of risks, and choosing to love others is always worth the risk. When it came to hellos and good-byes, I used to feel like Charlie Brown, who in his typical depressed and despairing state, sang woefully about why life couldn’t be filled with more hellos and less good-byes.
Earlier this year, I began to change my perspective. A sermon my rector, Father Leigh Spruill, preached has challenged me to live into the good-byes, to see saying good-bye as ministry. (I invite you to download and listen to the sermon, “Saying Goodbye Is a Ministry.”) Without his sermon, I think I would have been tempted to gloss over the many good-byes in my life with words, such as, “I’ll see you soon. We’ll be in touch. The time will fly by.” They are well-meaning words, but they dull the reality of the loss by not truly acknowledging it. Instead, I’m trying my best to acknowledge the loss, to name what I will miss about the person, and to voice my blessings and well-wishes for him or her in the future. It is a hard discipline, and I often want to cower; but with God’s help, I’m determined to say my good-byes well. Please pray that my last few weeks at home will be full of beautiful good-byes.