Heading home

I settled down into seat 34G, disappointed that I didn’t get the aisle. Well, I guess it was to be expected, considering I had only booked my flights from South Africa to the United States that same morning.

The 50-something woman who had scored the aisle seat next to me waited until she heard the click of the seatbelt between my fingers before she tried to break the ice. “So, are you headed home?” she asked innocently. Little did she know just how loaded those five words really were.

I paused. The hesitation was just a little too long. But I genuinely did not know what to say. “Well, I … um … I guess so. Well … no, not really. Um … I’m not sure.”

The poor woman probably wondered if I suffered from some type of mental illness. Sometimes I wonder the same myself. My soul stirred with emotional turmoil as I fumbled for a way to articulate the present reality.

“My mom died this morning,” I blurted out. There was simply no way to cushion the blow. “I’m from the States, but I’ve been living in Cape Town for the past nine years. And I got the call this morning that my mom died in Michigan. So, here I am.”

Was I going home? Technically, yes. Holland, Michigan, had been the only town I had lived in for the first 21 years of my life. But when I moved to Cape Town and married a South African, more than a handful of people urged me to stop referring to Michigan as “home.”

“You’re married now,” they said. “This is your home. You can’t keep calling that place your home, because you’re establishing a new home now.” They were quite adamant about the whole thing, so I made a valiant effort to catch my tongue before the word “home” slipped out in reference to my hometown.

Months turned into years, and before we knew it, my husband and I had added three children to our family in the first seven years of marriage. We had also lived in seven different abodes in as many years. We’ve hardly lived in any one place long enough to establish it as a home, nor have we accumulated sentimental possessions of any value which could make it more difficult to uproot.

Yet from the five members of my family, I’m the only one who is not South African. So South Africa must be my home, because it is the only place my infant family nucleus has known. America is not home for any of them. So can it be home for me?

My mental gaze was cast across the ocean in the direction the plane was headed. I reflected upon the buildings that built me, the earthly, man-made structures that housed the vast majority of my memories. Each of them proved elusive over time, as one by one they were closed and locked forever as a result of various circumstances.

I considered the homes that remain. My grandma’s condo, the central meeting place for every holiday, had just been emptied, its contents driven away on a truck for auction. A few weeks earlier, I had watched my mom get wheeled out of her rented condo for the last time by paramedics escorting her to a hospice facility. Again, a reality that was no longer, a pseudo-home that had vanished like mist.

My sister and her husband had recently purchased a beautiful home which they graciously shared with our family of five in July and August. But that was not my home, either. Upon arriving back to Cape Town after our seven weeks abroad, we resumed our house-sitting stint living on top of other people’s belongings in a rental house. A stark reminder that this, too, was not my home.

So where is my home? And what constitutes a home? They say “home is where the heart is.” Where is my heart? Where should it be?

Matthew 6:21 tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where is my treasure? If I cast my eye to the verse that precedes this one, I read: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Like the cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 11, I should be longing for a better country — a heavenly one. And truly, this is my prayer — not only for myself, but for my children as well — that the instability of our living circumstances would ever remind us that we are strangers and aliens here, that this earthly tabernacle is not our true home. Indeed, I groan inwardly as I eagerly await my adoption and redemption (Romans 8:23).

I’m grateful that my Lord has gone ahead to prepare a place for me (John 14:2) and that He has given me His Spirit as a deposit as I wait for my welcome into my eternal home.

So the next time I am asked the simple question, “Are you going home?” regardless of my destination, I will be able to answer with confidence, “Yes. Yes, I am.” Purely because of the grace of God and His free gift of salvation, I can rest secure in my eternal destination. And that, after all, is all that really matters.

Is this a hard question for you to answer? Share one of the times you answered it. 


This story will be a key component of Kate’s forthcoming memoir, scheduled to released by Discovery House in early 2018.


  1. Lisa January 29, 2017

    So excited to read all of it!

  2. Ruth January 30, 2017

    The Chinese concept of “Lao jia” or “old home” has been helpful to me. Your lao jia is where your family is from, even if you have never lived there. So I have a lao jia (also Holland, MI), where I grew up, as did my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. There is a way that it will always be home. I also have a home in China, where I live. I’m often leaving home to go home, and I’ve grown to be mostly okay with that.

  3. Tina January 30, 2017

    I’ve struggled with this a number of times. To the point of on my “description” on anything I seem to add “always half a world away from home.” As it as true as I know my name and age.

  4. Jeanelle January 30, 2017

    The following verse has become unspeakably precious to me over the past 17 years of expat life: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).

  5. Lori January 30, 2017

    I’ve been in the place so many times of not knowing how to answer that question. After being an MK for 5 years and living overseas for 20 more years, I have been living in a cozy little condo that God has blessed me with in Michigan. It feels homey but the question of “home” still confuses me. You would think that I would have gotten it by now but I guess I’m still learning to accept that this world will never satisfy my heart cry for HOME. Love the Deuteronomy verse quoted above.

  6. Jilida February 1, 2017

    One of the seemingly innocuous questions I’ve come to dread is, “Where’s home for you?” Because that isn’t as simple of a question as it sounds. Where do I live right now? Eastern Pennsylvania. Where is my legal address? A small town in New Hampshire. Where did I go to high school? Western Pennsylvania. Where have I lived for the longest? Chicago suburbs. Where was the last place I felt like a self-sufficient adult? A small town in Japan. Where did the pivotal moments of my childhood take place? Central Illinois. Where is the place my heart cries out for when I see pictures of it? Germany. Where do my closest friends live? In cities all over the U.S.

    And you know what? Every single one of those answers is accurate, because they each represent a type of home to me. My home is the safety of my parents arms in New Hampshire. It is the familiar streets of a town in western Pennyslvania. It is in the innocent memories of central Illinois. It is the country my heart has bled for for years. It is the love I feel from my friends that makes cities I’ve never been to home, because that is where their houses are.

    Where’s home for me? Practically everywhere.

  7. Patricia February 14, 2017

    After 29 years of living and serving outside of my home country (USA)—- ‘home’ is where my suitcase is unpacked! It is always a struggle ‘leaving’ one place for another, and not feeling ‘at home’ anywhere. We contemplate returning to our ‘home country’ (for retirement) in about four years—not ”ours’ really, but mine—since I married a MK who grew up in the country we serve in. Going back to the USA will not be going ‘home’ for him as much as it will be for me. So, as I think about the future—and contemplate the reality of my true HOME in heaven, it becomes more and more real as the years go by. I am so thankful for all of these years of cross-cultural life and ministry; but, the word ‘home’ in this world seems to become more and more ambiguous. KNOWING that Heaven and eternity with Jesus—never having to say ‘goodbye’ again—is HOME, is enough ‘home’ for me to think about right now.

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