It’s Friday, which means ANOTHER Christmas book! This one is one of my favorites. Holiday Town is so much fun, and it’s just $3.99 on Amazon or FREE with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Check out the first part…
The world felt new to Beth Anderson.
She took another deep breath of the cool ocean air, marveling at how free and easy it felt and how she’d never, not once, been stressed during the move. They had traveled from one side of the world to the other, and here she was, acting as though it had been as simple as moving next door in the little suburban piece of home that they’d left in the States.
She turned to look at Joey, smiling at the compassion and concern mingled so perfectly on his features. Joey had always been kind like this from the time they’d known one another as children, through the beginning of their romance as adults, the early years of marriage, those first few phases of parenthood, and the long, hard road after the cancer diagnosis.
And now, he was kind during even this. A move to Africa.
People said they were crazy, and pre-cancer Beth would have agreed with them. She’d thought it of Joey back when he’d first mentioned what God had put on his heart.
“I think God’s calling me to something different,” he’d said one night in bed, after a long day where they’d been elbow deep in making plans for the Christmas season. There was his family to coordinate with – Eddie and Courtney, who were back in their old hometown, and Isaac and Haley and their girls, who were just a town over from their old hometown. Beth and Joey were the ones throwing a kink into plans because they’d taken a pastorate two states away from the rest of the family, throwing everyone else’s Christmas plans into upheaval. That was without even taking into account her side of the family, which included not just her sisters and their families, but her stepbrother, Micah, and her stepsister, Joy, and their families. Once again, they were nowhere close to any of those family members, making Christmas travel a necessity, if they could only find time for it when they had so much going on at the church, then class parties, Christmas programs, and fun outings at the elementary school where Lucy and Tate were students. Church and its responsibilities only added to the weight.
Maybe that’s what had Joey thinking fondly of something else, something different, Beth could remember thinking.
“What’s God calling you to?” she’d asked, nestling into her pillow and stifling a yawn. “What’s He calling us to, Joey?”
There would be no calling for Joey that didn’t include her. She’d known it with perfect clarity from the day they’d said their vows and joined together forever in marriage and in ministry.
“I think,” he’d said, turning to face her, his head just inches from hers on his pillow, his eyes dancing, “that this is good work we’re doing here. Gospel ministry here, right here, at our church.”
“It has been,” she said, her heart warm at the thought. “And good things are happening, all the time. People coming to faith, being equipped to carry on the ministry, stepping up and doing it.”
Good things, all the time.
“Exactly,” he said. He released a long breath. “The church has taken the next steps, doing what we’ve been equipping them to do all along. And I think that maybe, quite possibly, God might be calling us to something new now, now that we’ve done what we have here. Now that He’s done what He has, now that He’s doing it right now.”
But Beth was still back at the “something new.” She blinked at him, willing her heart to calm down. “What’s the something new that you think He’s calling you to?”
“Equipping,” he said, his voice rich and full with joy, even as he whispered it to her. “Did you know that there’s a need on the mission field for pastors to come – seminary trained, experienced pastors – and train other pastors so that they can more effectively reach their people?”
“Really?” she asked, not opposed to the idea. Not at all. Just…
Joey had leaned up on one elbow, inching closer to her. “Beth, just think about what we could do, giving a year or two of our lives, going where we’re most needed, bringing what we know about theology, about Gospel ministry, and equipping pastors who have no means of training where they are. We could be catalysts to start revival in areas of the world where thousands and thousands of people have never heard the name of Jesus.”
A year or two of their lives. Lucy and Tate were so young, though. They were just hitting their stride in school, enjoying an all American dream life like most parents wanted for their kids. Soccer practice, dance lessons, scouts –
“Think of it,” Joey said, his mind clearly on something greater for the whole family than a shortsighted American dream.
“But the kids,” Beth said.
“Can you imagine what this will do to their faith?” Joey asked. “What God has planned for them, as we step out in obedience and go where He’s calling us?”
“But the church,” Beth said, feeling a stir in her spirit, chiding her for being the one to offer up so many rebuttals to something that God would surely bless. She almost felt as if she was like the serpent in the garden, questioning all that God had already spoken into her husband’s heart. “Joey, do you really feel like it’s time to step away from our church?”
At this, he’d rolled over onto his back with a sigh, staring up at the ceiling thoughtfully.
“No,” he said softly. “I don’t.”
Then why were they even having this conversation?
“Maybe one day,” Beth said encouragingly, sliding closer to him, her hand to his chest, her face tucked in under his chin. “Maybe when the kids are grown, when it’s just you and me, when the church is trying to figure out what to do with their long term, senile old preacher –”
“Senile,” Joey said, and she could hear the laugh rumble in his chest.
“Maybe then,” she said.
“So… maybe? One day?”
He’d turned back to her, shifting her in his arms, closer and closer, laying his lips on hers softly.
“Yeah,” she’d breathed, pushing the whole idea to the back of her mind and her heart, focusing only on Joey and what he was beginning to do.
That was the night that Joey had found the lump. Though she’d tell everyone later – her parents, her doctors, her children – that she’d discovered it in the shower out of a modest need to preserve their privacy, the truth was that Joey had found it that night, noticing that something about her body felt different in his hands. She could remember that moment with perfect clarity, how the smile had slipped from her lips as Joey had raised up away from her with concern in his eyes. That concern had quickly moved to panic, just as real as the lump that was solid and certain, confirming that something… well, something wasn’t right.
They’d had a sleepless night, their minds already racing through the possibilities. In the morning, she’d made a call to her doctor and had gotten in the very next day for an appointment, an oddity she’d mused on later, thinking about how long it had taken to get in for yearly exams and for those first prenatal appointments with her pregnancies. But this was different, and there was no time to waste. Joey had been by her side as the doctor had referred her to an oncologist, as scans were done, as options were discussed, as the urgency of the situation and the advancement that startled and horrified them both led to surgery.
Joey had held it together at home, stepping into the roles that she’d vacated in the wake of her grief. This was not a death sentence, he’d said, even though her body was different, even as she let them pump poison into her, even as she thought of her own mother, gone much too young because of a different kind of cancer, cancer all the same. Didn’t these things run in families? Beth thought it more than once, especially on those visits her dad made to help Joey out, visits where he couldn’t stop from crying over her, over the cruelty of the past coming back to visit the present.
Joey, though, was constant. Praying over her, trusting God with the future, and telling her at every point that even if this was it, then God was still good.
Good theology, all of it, even if it felt impossible to believe it at the lowest moments where Beth reasoned it all through in her heart. God had not given her cancer, like some malevolent and vengeful deity. God had also not allowed her to have cancer, like a powerless entity who stepped aside and let horrible things happen to people who weren’t living in obedience. No, God had ordained the cancer, knowing when it would come, where Beth would be, and how He would use even the emotional pain of a double mastectomy, the debilitation of the chemo, and the weeks and months of seeking Him because there was no one else who could handle the questions she found herself weeping, alone in a place that even Joey couldn’t reach.
Ordained. He’d meant it for her good, even this.
Just when she was at the point when she thought the chemo would kill her instead of the cancer, she’d settled into a place of peace, almost anticipation, expecting the end. Not because of the pain or the darkness but because there was hopeful anticipation, imagining the moment when she would see Christ face to face, that her faith would be made sight, and that she would know Him even deeper than she knew Him in the depths and pain of her suffering. And she knew Him better than she had, richer and fuller, so much so that the thought of her children and of Joey living without her was only a small concern, as she trusted that Jesus would be even more sufficient for them, to them, and in them at her loss.
Yours, Lord. I’m all Yours.
She’d prayed it just as the last round of chemo was done, as they did more scans and tests, and as they got the word.
The cancer was gone.
That was the first time Joey cried, there in the doctor’s office as they’d gotten the news, sobbing as he held her in his arms. A place for celebration, yet they were mourning. All they’d been through, the glimpse of Heaven just unreached, and life, offered back to her. She’d discovered in a truer sense than ever before, though, what life really was, and as Joey held her later that night, after her children had celebrated the news, all the calls had been made to the family, and they’d all let out a collective, relieved breath, she said what she was really thinking.
“Joey?” she’d whispered in the dark, her ear over his heart, so ready to tell him everything.
“Yeah?” he’d whispered back, his lips brushing over her head, all of her hair gone right along with the vanity that had made her mourn its loss. How different she had been back when God had ordained the cancer, when the American dream was dearer to her than all of the hopes God had placed on Joey’s heart.
Oh, but she was changed. They were changed. So changed.
Jesus. Everything in her heart was centered on Him, not on the life she had ahead of her but of the longed for day before her when she’d know Him, when she’d see Him, and when she’d weep at His feet, knowing the fullness of His glory.
It was too much to hold inside. Too much to hold herself back, to hold her children back, to hold Joey back –
“I want to go,” she breathed against his chest, holding him tighter, praising God that they would do this together. “I want to go overseas and tell people about Jesus.”
She could hear Joey’s heart pick up. Of all that he could have said and all that he would say in the days ahead, about medical care, about how they needed to be careful, about how remission might not last – well, all he said in that impulsive moment was this…
Beth smiled as she breathed in the African sunshine, continuing the conversation that she’d been having with Jesus this entire time, as she’d loved her husband, as she’d cared for her children, and as she saw all of life differently.
“How are you feeling?” Joey asked, careful with her as always, joy in his eyes that he was able to still ask her, that they were in this place together.
And she answered him honestly.
Kait hated Piet.
He knew it, too. Not because she’d explicitly said the words but because she’d let him know with each and every subtle and blatant action toward him starting with the day that she’d found the pornography on his phone.
Standard stuff, or so she’d assumed as she’d watched just enough of the rubbish before turning it off, her mind already dismissing the possibility that it could have been Jude or Hansie who’d pulled it up on their father’s phone. They were seventeen and fifteen, just the right ages to be interested in the filth that Piet was apparently watching with alarming frequency, but they each had their own phones, loaded with tracking software that sent updates to her phone, letting her know if they were watching something that they shouldn’t be. The girls had it as well, but Riana and Annika never looked at anything questionable, never read smutty books on their phones, and never gave her a reason to doubt them.
Piet hadn’t either, though. She’d grabbed his phone when she couldn’t find her own and needed to check airline ticket prices for the incoming missionaries. She bypassed the app for the airline they used most of the time, knowing she might be able to get a more direct route from the States with a different carrier, and when she’d pulled up an internet browser on Piet’s phone to look into it, she’d seen some other windows he already had up, the videos they broadcasted sickening and devastating.
And she’d been punishing Piet ever since.
“For the last time, you idiots, please speak English.”
Her four children looked up at the term of endearment. Idiots was harsh, and while she wasn’t a soft and gentle woman, she usually kept from calling her little darlings idiots.
Usually. Well, some of the time, at least.
“Id-eee-ots,” Jude said through a mouthful of cereal, exaggerating the English word with his accent. How did her children hear her English, spoken in her American accent, from the womb and every day of their lives since and still manage to sound just like Piet, who had grown up in Namibia speaking mostly Afrikaans?
Just another reason to hate him, she concluded as she shot Jude a look.
“Why are we idiots?” Annika asked, and God help them all, she sounded like Piet, too.
“And why must we speak in Engels?” Riana asked, the inflection in her voice tapering up with the Afrikaans word, indicating some kind of hysteria that she was on the verge of having, just as she’d been having all week, ever since Evan and his family left for their year long furlough in the States. Evan and Riana were eighteen and in love with one another, and the two of them together turned Riana into a wellspring of manic joy and constant cheerfulness. If Evan wasn’t within a few kilometers distance of her, though, everyone felt Riana’s wrath.
It was a minefield in here, in other words, and Kait felt like she was on the verge of detonating more than anyone else.
“Ja, why English?” Hansie, her youngest, asked.
Yes, why must they speak in English? Because Kait wanted to passively-aggressively punish Piet, just a little. Just a lot. She had the upper hand with the English, which is why she always started their arguments in it, not with the Afrikaans. That’s what she’d done the day she’d confronted him with the filth on his phone, when he’d confessed to it, feigning repentance as she’d rushed on and asked what her mind had already concluded.
Watching porn was being unfaithful, wasn’t it? Isn’t that what Scripture taught, that looking at a woman lustfully, even a woman on a screen with processed parts that would never look like that after birthing four children, was the same as adultery? If Scripture was true, then Piet was no better than her father, who had been unfaithful to her mother, had run off with his mistress, and had abandoned his family.
Unfaithfulness in his heart wasn’t so far removed from unfaithfulness with his body, and Kait had already drawn that conclusion, flat out asking him how far he’d gone.
“No,” Piet had sworn on that hard afternoon when all that Kait had believed about him had been destroyed. “I haven’t cheated on you.”
Her father had said the same thing to her mother, once upon a time. Kait couldn’t forget it despite years of marriage, even with all they’d been through. Her father’s unfaithfulness was a part of who she was, no matter what she did, no matter how much she prayed, no matter how far along she and Piet were.
“Who is she?” Kait had asked, not believing him. And her mind had filtered through the possibilities. A few older women at church, old enough to be his mother. Not even. The waitress at the Lighthouse who flirted ceaselessly with him every time they went there. No, surely not. Some of the mothers of the other rugby players on Jude’s team, women who she’d caught checking Piet out more than a few times. Nope.
And her breath had caught as she’d realized the obvious.
Piet’s face hadn’t given anything away. Of course not. He’d been prepared for this, for showing no emotion, for lying to his wife about his attraction, ever since Alina had started working with him. They were both medics with specialized training, able and ready to set up clinics and immunization days in the far reaches of Namibia. She’d been traveling with him for six months when Kait found the porn, and it was suddenly so clear what was really going on that it was painful.
“No,” Piet said, denying it before Kait had been able to voice the suspicion beyond the other woman’s name. “I swear to you, Kait. Nothing has happened with Alina.”
Nothing. Like the same nothing that was on his phone? When did it become sin, unfaithfulness? Was he thinking of Alina when he watched these things? Or had he moved past simply watching it, taking Alina in his arms, and –
Even the thought made Kait ill. Ill and so very angry.
Piet sighed at the breakfast table as he sat alongside his children, shooting a cautious look Kait’s way. “I’m sure your mother wants you to speak English so that you’ll already be in the habit when our new missionary colleagues arrive.”
He said it so calmly, like he said most things with their children. He was a kind, patient father, smoothing out some of the roughness of Kait’s more sporadic and emotional parenting over the years. While she’d appreciated it the majority of their marriage, it only made her blood boil all the more on that morning, noting how calm he could be when their world was falling apart.
“New colleagues,” she muttered, scrubbing the countertop harder than was necessary, her teeth gritted in frustration. “Just perfect timing for that.”
“Well, ja,” Jude said. “Since David and Cammie are gone for the next year –”
Riana gave a big dramatic sigh at this. David and Cammie were Evan’s parents, of course, and the furlough that had taken them all back to the States would last an entire year. Evan and Riana would start university when they returned. Kait had tried to talk her daughter into starting university while Evan was gone, not wanting her to lose any time or direction in her own life in his absence, but Riana had refused, saying that she’d work in the meantime and wait on Evan. There had been a lot of discussions between Kait and Piet about letting Riana make her own adult decisions, about letting her lead her own life, and about trusting that they’d done their job as parents, as a team.
But that had been back when they were a team. Back before the porn. Back before Alina.
“The new missionaries aren’t going to be doing the same work as David and Cammie,” Annika said in her know-it-all voice. “They’re to go up north. To Oshakati. To teach.”
“Oshakati?” Jude asked, his eyes comically rounded. “Hectic, man. Do they even know what’s in Oshakati?”
“Nothing’s in Oshakati,” Hansie noted.
“Exactly my point,” Jude said, flashing his mother a smile. “Do they know this, man?!”
That smile. He had Piet’s smile. Very nearly all of him was Piet, all strong, handsome man, even at seventeen. The only thing he’d gotten from Kait was his personality which was, more often than not, grating and over the top.
“They know,” Piet said, answering the question for Kait. “And there’s plenty in Oshakati. Plenty of pastors, at least, who will get the training they need for their churches and the evangelism strategies.”
“Still, though,” Jude continued on, “that’s out there. Not like Swakopmund.”
No place would ever be as great as Swakopmund to their children. They’d been born and raised in the seaside holiday town, where they attended one of the three large high schools, played a vital role in the ministry their parents had helped to start alongside David and Cammie, and where they had friends and lives of their own.
“Do they have children?” Riana asked, the talk of Oshakati and what was coming pulling her out of her self-absorbed misery apart from Evan.
“They have two,” Kait spoke up. “Lucy’s twelve, and Tate’s ten.”
“What are they going to do for school?” Annika asked.
“I believe their mother is going to homeschool them,” Kait said, thinking through the brief conversations she’d had with Beth Anderson, helping the other woman to know what to pack and how to plan for the next year, long before she’d left the States to come. Long before Piet’s indiscretion as well, so the conversations had been exciting and encouraging, thinking of another family coming and doing work here…
But now, in light of her marriage problems – or rather, Piet’s morally deficient character problems – she wasn’t optimistic about much.
“Sho, that’s hard,” Jude mused, his chair leaning back on just two legs as he considered this. “Homeschool. Spending all day with your mother.”
He gave Kait a cheeky smile, and she saw Piet in the crinkle of his eyes, the sparkle there as well.
It made her want to kick his chair out from underneath him, but she refrained. It wasn’t his fault that his father was an adulterer.
“Sounds like a beating,” she muttered instead. “But she’s a teacher, so she knows what she’s doing. Might find herself with some extra students up there once word gets around Oshakati.”
“They’ll be here for a while at first, though,” Piet said. “So we can work with them and prepare them for what’s up ahead. And so they can spend Christmas here with us.”
Christmas. What a time for her life to be in ruins.
“Christmas,” Hansie said appreciatively. “My favorite.”
It had always been Kait’s favorite as well. Her childhood had been full of unhappy Christmas celebrations, where her parents were sure to have a huge fight, with her sister, Maddie, crying later and Kait falling into such intense anger, her heart harboring so much fury and rage toward the whole mess. Christmas hadn’t quite been redeemed when she’d become a believer, when she’d thrown herself into her work as a consultant for the mission board and traveling the world, the very task which had led her right to Namibia. The first Christmas here had come just as she’d made the decision to leave her job, to do something totally crazy, to stay in Swakopmund with Piet. Her first Christmas in Namibia, her first Christmas with him. There had been tough roads between there and the Christmas when she’d finally trusted him enough to elope to South Africa. Then, Christmas was redeemed again and again, with the holiday spent together in their own home as God was doing amazing things in their ministry, then with each baby, Christmases full of noise and chaos, as Kait, who was certain that her past was so messed up and conflicted that she’d never be part of a family again… well, as a family grew around her, because of what Jesus had done for her, because of the man Jesus had given to her.
Because of Piet.
She’d put too much on him. He wasn’t worth the trust she’d placed in him, but what was there to be done about it now? Here in the kitchen, surrounded by the four reasons why they would forever be tied together, her heart too hurt and too angry to even sort out what she’d do if she thought, if she honestly thought, that she could live without Piet, the cheating, slimy bas –
“It’s going to be a crazy Christmas then, ne?” Jude asked, grinning wider.
Oh, if he only knew the half of it.
Lucy stared out the car window, biting her lip, her pen in her hand and her journal in her lap. She’d resolved to write all the details from the trip, sketching the images and recording her first impressions, doing as her mother had suggested when they’d first told her and Tate that they were moving overseas for a year, upending their lives and creating what had felt like chaos in Lucy’s heart, there at the beginning.
“It’s an adventure,” Beth had said, smiling after Joey had described Namibia to them. “A big adventure, huh? Just like David Livingstone, seeing Africa while we share the love of Christ.”
Lucy knew the stories of the great missionaries, thanks to her mother who had read them to her and Tate when they were little, just as she had read the Bible to them. She talked of Scripture as they walked through life, as they lived every day, imparting little nuggets of wisdom that were now moving from an assumed understanding to an intensely personal revelation the older they got. Lucy had been more than a little afraid when they’d first shared the news about the move, but over time and through her father’s reassurances, she’d begun to think about it differently. The closer they got to the big move, she saw an even greater light to her mother’s eyes as she talked about Jesus, making Lucy recall those scary days when she’d been so afraid that Beth was going to die…
Well, Lucy would follow her anywhere now.
Even Africa, she thought, glancing over at the seat next to her, just in time to see her mother’s smile widen as she, too, took in the scenery. She was healthy now and happier than Lucy had ever seen her. Oh, but there had been days during the cancer where Lucy had caught her father crying out on the back porch where he thought that no one could see, because the prognosis was bad, the cancer was so extensive, and –
Lucy swallowed back the tears that were always on the verge of coming, the hurt that was on the surface, the doubt about whether or not she could trust God if this was what He did to people like Beth Anderson, pastor’s daughter, pastor’s wife, and now missionary.
Was this how God treated those who loved Him best?
Lucy took a deep breath and willed her mind back to the scenery.
Africa, she noted from the backseat, wasn’t anything like what she’d imagined. The pictures in her mind had been of jungles full of wild animals, dusty roads that were bumpy and secluded, and no signs of civilization. Real bush, where mystery and danger lurked, beauty and intrigue as well, with every step exotic and foreign, rustic and almost primeval.
That wasn’t the reality, though. No, their plane had landed at a modern airport. A very small airport on the coast but modern all the same, with the noise and excitement that often surrounded airports this close to Christmas.
And the man who’d been there waiting for them was white.
Yet another surprise. There were white people in Africa?
“I’m Pieter Botha,” he’d said to her dad, holding his hand out and grinning. “Joseph Anderson?”
“Joey,” her dad had said, smiling back, his eagerness to start this new adventure evident on his face.
“Piet,” the other man answered.
From there, they’d loaded up in a big SUV, and Piet had told her parents more about the work they’d be doing. Lucy only knew bits and pieces of that information, honestly not caring to know the intricate details that had consumed her parents over the past few months as they’d prepared for this move. All Lucy knew was that they would be here, on the coast, through Christmas then would go up north to a more rural area where they would live in a mission house, drive a mission car, and be missionaries.
Maybe Africa would look different up north, she mused.
“This is Swakopmund,” Piet said as they drove into what looked to be a bustling town. “And these are our holiday crowds. Usually it’s a bit more laidback than this, but every December, Swakop is packed full of tourists.”
Lucy found herself concentrating harder when he spoke, his accent making the words difficult to decipher.
“Why is it so hot?” Tate asked from the backseat, where he was squished between Lucy and their mother.
“It’s summertime,” Piet said, glancing at him in the rearview mirror and grinning. “Our seasons aren’t the same as they are in the States. No snow for Christmas this year, I’m afraid. Just sand and sunshine.”
There had been plenty of sand on the drive. With her book open in front of her, Lucy had sketched out some of the massive dunes they’d passed by on their drive, marveling at the size and the sheer number of them, one sliding seamlessly into the next over and over again as they appeared to be looking out over the Atlantic Ocean as it lapped and licked at the sandy shore just across the street.
Not what she’d expected.
“And we’ll be here for Christmas in a couple of days,” her dad said, reaching back and rubbing Tate’s knee. “Christmas on the beach! Won’t that be exciting?”
It would be. Maybe some preteen girls would have been upset about being uprooted and moved around the world, leaving behind friends and activities, but Lucy was determined to see it as an adventure, just like her mother had encouraged her to do.
Her mother, who held her father’s hand in hers, over the front seat, looking just as excited as he was as they took it all in together.
“You’ll be staying in David and Cammie’s house,” Piet continued. “Right on the beach, actually. They were glad to have someone in their house for Christmas while they’re back on furlough in the States. Almost as though the four of you switched places with the four of them. And their house is not too far from mine, which is where I’m taking you first. Want you to meet my family, have a meal with us. A good meal is probably just what you need after all that time traveling, ne?”
Ne. Whatever that meant. Lucy was hungry, though, so he’d guessed that right.
“Do you have kids?” Tate asked, and in the question, Lucy heard the echo of the hundreds of questions Tate had asked when he’d heard they were moving, all about friends and who he would play with and what he would do once they arrived.
The cancer hadn’t been as hard on Tate. Maybe he hadn’t understood what was happening. He could be oblivious now, with no questions about God and the fairness of life. Lucy envied him that.
“I have four kids,” Piet answered, looking back at him. “Though none your age, I’m afraid. My oldest is eighteen, and my youngest is fifteen.”
“One every year, one right after the other,” Lucy’s mother murmured. “Blessed.”
Lucy noticed Piet’s smile falter just a little.
“I have been,” he said.
Lucy looked back out the window as the town slipped past them, one colorful building at a time. Churches, shopping centers, houses, and sunshine, so much sunshine.
An adventure. A beautiful adventure, waiting for all of them, her mother had said. As Lucy dipped her head to sketch another picture of it all, she wondered if it really would be.
Two hours later, she was full and feeling the jet lag.
Tate was feeling it too, judging by the way he’d nearly fallen asleep at the dinner table where Kait, Piet’s wife, had served them a meal full of unusual and exotic-sounding dishes.
“Namibian dishes, some South African,” she’d said as she and her four children had put the platters down one by one. The food was Namibian, perhaps, but Kait clearly wasn’t, as she sounded just like all four Andersons, as American as they were.
Her children… not so much.
Riana had been the first to introduce herself to them, very nearly commanding and abrasive as she’d stuck her hand out proudly to them, a near copy of her mother from her red hair to her piercing eyes. Her sister, Annika, had followed, smiling at Lucy warmly as though she had an inkling that everything about the past few days and the travel was catching up to her. Hansie, the youngest, introduced himself and immediately began asking questions about America.
And then, there was Jude.
He was seventeen, and he was cute. Lucy had only started to notice boys back home, though the very thought of actually speaking to any of them was mortifying and embarrassing. It was easier to have crushes on celebrities and guys who she would never actually meet, pinning on them romantic notions and fantasies that had absolutely no basis in reality. She’d not put their pictures on her walls or anything because that would be even more embarrassing, but there were a few – mainly a couple of guys from some Christian rock bands she listened to – who had seemed especially attractive and appealing to her.
Jude was better looking than they were. He looked like a younger version of his dad, and the very comparison made Lucy blush as if some part of her mind had been checking his dad out, thinking that he was cute or something when he was just old and –
“Lucy,” Jude said at the end of dinner when she was grappling with these horrifying thoughts. “You should let us take you down to the beach. You and Tate both.”
Tate was slumped over onto their mother’s shoulder, dead asleep.
“Well, it doesn’t look like Tate’s going anywhere,” Kait said. “I wish I could fall asleep sitting up like that.”
“I wish I could sleep that well,” Joey said, smiling over at his son. “That I didn’t have a care in the world like that.”
“I hear you,” Kait murmured, frowning over at her husband before turning to Lucy with a smile. “Lucy, Jude knows the best spots on the beach. And Annika will keep him from annoying you too much.”
“I would be delighted,” Annika said, just as Jude attempted to protest this.
“I’ll go as well,” Riana sighed. “It’s not like I have anything else to do.”
“Now that Evan’s gone,” Hansie said, mimicking large, obnoxious crying.
“Evan is David and Cammie’s son,” Piet put in helpfully. “And we’re not sure Riana is going to survive his year long absence from Namibia.”
“Ha, ha,” Riana muttered, standing up at her place. “Lucy, do you want to come?”
Lucy looked over to her mother, silently seeking permission.
“Go,” Beth said softly, likely in an attempt to not disturb Tate, who cuddled in closer to her. “Do some sketches while you’re out there.”
Lucy had been glad to do it, eager even, and she’d quickly grabbed her journal and a pencil and followed the four Botha siblings out into the sunshine.
“So what do you think of Africa so far?” Annika asked as they began walking down the street towards the beach.
“It’s different than what I had pictured,” Lucy answered. “This town is very different. I hadn’t expected it to all feel so…”
What was the word she was looking for? She knew what she was thinking, but she hesitated to put it into words, knowing how it might come across.
“Modern?” Jude asked, slowing his pace as he turned around and continued walking backwards, watching her as he did so, his eyes staring into hers. “Contemporary? Not so backwards?”
Well… yes. She’d thought that. And what was more, she knew it was probably wrong to be thinking this way, which is why she’d kept it to herself.
But she couldn’t keep herself from reddening in the intensity of his gaze. His knowing gaze.
“It’s just not what I imagined,” Lucy said hesitantly, feeling the blush spread from her neck as it slowly covered her face.
“And me?” Jude asked. “What do you think of me?”
I think you’re super cute, she thought. But, wow. There was no way she was going to say that. And now she was blushing from head to toe.
“I… I don’t know you,” she said, which was truthful enough.
“Why are you asking that, you domkop?” Riana said, frowning at her brother.
“Because I want to hear what Lucy thinks,” Jude said. “About Africa. About Africans. Like us.”
“He’s teasing you,” Annika said. “Ignore him, Lucy. We all do.”
“We’re not what you imagined true Africans to be like, ne?” Jude asked, continuing on. “You expected that we would be all painted up in war paint, half dressed, running around with spears, chanting and climbing trees, ne? Natives?!”
She’d offended him. Not even a day into her life in Africa, and she’d already offended someone.
“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I just… it’s that…”
“Well, I do climb trees,” Jude said. “And I did do it half dressed once upon a time, but my mother insists that I wear clothes now. Which is understandable.”
At this, he smiled.
Yes, he’d been teasing her, just like Annika had said. And he’d mentioned being half dressed, which had Lucy blushing again.
“Shame, Jude,” Annika said, pushing him with one of her hands, frowning as he stumbled and laughed, turning to face forward again. “Try to be a little more civilized, won’t you?”
“Well, that’s what I said,” Jude shrugged. “That we’re all more civilized than Lucy was expecting us to be.”
“We get it, though,” Hansie said. “We know what you’re saying. We’re Americans. We know what Americans think of Africa.”
They were… Americans? How? They didn’t sound anything like people back home –
“Our mom is an American,” Riana said, sounding bored. “But we’ve never even been there. So not a whole lot that we know. Except for what we get on TV from the States.”
“Like the dating shows!” Annika trilled exuberantly. “You know, where the man dates twenty women at one time and has to pick them off, one by one, until he’s left with just one at the end. Ag, man, I love that show!”
Lucy wasn’t sure she even knew what show they were talking about. She wasn’t sheltered, per se, back in the US in her normal life, but…
“My family doesn’t watch much television,” she offered meekly. “Or really listen to much music, apart from the praise and worship songs that we sing in church.”
Well. When she said it out loud like that, it sounded like she was very sheltered. And now she was a homeschooler. She sounded like every bad stereotype out there.
She had to do some damage control as the four Botha teens watched her.
“Not because my parents forbid it or anything like that,” she said. “It’s just… well, I don’t really care about what’s on TV.”
No, she’d rather be reading a book or sketching something in her journal.
“Well what do you do, then?” Jude asked.
“I like to read,” she said. “And draw. I write a little, too.”
Lame. That all sounded so lame.
“That’s what’s in your book then, ne?”
Jude was smiling again.
“Yes,” she said softly, clutching her journal to her chest, feeling just a little foolish for bringing it along as the road before them transitioned from asphalt to sand.
“You’ve embarrassed her, Jude,” Riana chided.
“Not my intent,” Jude said apologetically, looking back at Lucy with encouragement in his eyes now. “You like to draw and write, ne?”
She nodded quietly, unsure of what to say, thinking over each and every word carefully, certain that each of them were so lame and juvenile and –
“And there’s the beach,” Riana said, pointing ahead of them.
Lucy looked away from Jude and towards the water. So much water, stretching out as far as she could see as another day ended in Swakopmund. She could see the sun, lowering itself closer and closer towards the horizon as though it was preparing to go for a little dip into the ocean, sharing the last of its light with them as it did so.
That would make a beautiful drawing.
“Last one to the surf has to help Mom clean the kitchen!” Hansie yelled, laughing at his sisters as he took off in a dead sprint.
But Lucy stayed put, watching the ocean, wanting so desperately to open up her book and draw it, to capture this first night of her great adventure in her journal. Maybe she’d put Jude there in the picture as well, drawing him as he watched it all alongside her.
A beach. A cute boy. A new adventure.
She glanced over at Jude, attempting to commit the details of his face to memory for a later sketch, then darting her gaze back to the ocean when he caught her looking at him.
“I did not mean to embarrass you,” he said sincerely.
“Oh, you didn’t,” she said, her hands itching to open her book, to record this moment, the scene before them.
“You should draw this,” he said, putting into words what she’d already thought as he dropped down onto the sand, kicking off his flip flops as he did so, patting the sand next to him as an invitation for her to sit. “A Namibian sunset.”
Without overthinking it, she sat down next to him, commanding herself to be braver.
“It’s beautiful,” she said softly. And then, before she could be embarrassed about what might actually be very lame indeed, her desire to draw overcame everything else, and she opened up her book, flipping past what she’d already drawn that day.
Her father’s hand holding her mother’s as they’d waited at the airport. Her mother looking out the window of the plane, a smile on her face. Tate with his headphones in, watching a movie as they crossed the Equator. Then, the dunes, one after the other, her first glances of Namibia…
“Hectic, man,” Jude whispered. “Did you draw those?”
She looked up to see admiration in his eyes. “Umm… yeah.”
“They’re good,” he said, grinning. “They’re very good, Lucy.”
She’d been told that before, but this, hearing it from Jude, felt different. She could barely hold back a smile.
“Perhaps that is your gift,” Jude said thoughtfully.
“Sure,” he said, smiling. “God’s given us all different gifts, hasn’t He? Mine is music. I come out here to the beach, where His glory is on display, and all I can think to do is to pray, to sing, to play my guitar, to praise Him with music.”
Lucy looked out at the sunset with him, imagining him doing this, wondering at what his voice sounded like, at the words he would sing, at the emotions they would inspire in others, the glory of God…
“And with a sunset like this,” Jude continued on. “Makes you think about Him, doesn’t it? About God and who He is, ne?”
And it did make her think of God, in a way that she hadn’t before, as though He was more personal than He’d been an ocean away when she’d had so many hard questions and no answers, about her mother, about cancer, about how much He could be trusted.
The God of the universe. The God of Namibia. The God of sunset moments, just like this one.
“You should draw it, Lucy,” Jude said. “Draw that sunset and what He’s showing you.”
And so she did, turning to a fresh, new page as she thought about who He was.
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