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July 06, 2015

to be at home

I spent almost two years in Asia, and most of the time I was there, I lived with two new Asian friends. They were from other cities (albeit in the same country) and we had all come to our host city because of our jobs. We were of vastly different worldviews and backgrounds, but found each other through the local version of Kijiji and forged a partnership, a little home made up of single girls in a country that largely still doesn't really understand single, working women. We had our ups and downs in living together, but our necessary dependency on each other created an important bond.

Living with people of such different faith and culture stretched me daily in ways I had not been stretched before. For example, never before had a roommate asked me if she could hang her god cabinet in the common dining room, or hired a maid who insisted on disrupting the order of objects in my room. But living with them gave me deeper relationships with them and deeper insights into their culture than I could have had any other way. My husband and I, now that we have our own independent home, could likely never so deeply experience life with the people around us, as I did in living with roommates. I am thankful for their friendship, and for the many things I learned from and with them.

Beverages on one of our our roommate dates

One positive thing my roommates, and our host culture, taught me was a new appreciation for having someone around the house. Before Asia, I had valued the idea of a stay-at-home mother or stay-at-home wife, but only after going to Asia did I begin to value just generally having someone around.

It took a while for me to understand that to my roommates, home meant a place where there was someone around. Someone who could cook, clean, and have warm rotis sitting in their insulated box when they came home. To me, home was a place where I could enjoy my privacy, and I enjoyed being home alone. To them, home was a place where there needed to be other people or noise, even if that was just the TV. I think this comes from their typically inter-generational homes ("joint families") where cousins from two, three or four different sets of parents grow up on the same property or even in the same home, almost like siblings. Grandparents live with their children and grandchildren, and therefore the house always has someone around.

In this warm culture, they're not used to being alone or eating alone. Our dear neighbour pleaded with me to allow her to serve me homemade suppers when my flatmates were away, because she couldn't bear the idea of me eating alone, or not eating "properly" while they were gone...though to me, having the flat to myself for a few days usually meant a quiet reprieve that my beleaguered introvert self appreciated.

There was always a bit of tension between me and the roommates about how much access others should have to our home. It boggled my mind how my roommates would allow a person they'd known for a few months have the keys to our home, or even how they'd leave the key with the neighbour whom they'd only known for slightly longer. (For all I knew, the neighbour could be making and selling copies of it). We were constantly trying new solutions that could keep us all happy, but there was never a perfect one: if the maids had free reign of the house while no one was home, I was unhappy. If my roommates didn't have homemade food waiting for them when they got home, they were unhappy. We were never able to see eye-to-eye on this, and perhaps God knew it was time to have me to live with someone of a more similar cultural background!

Because of our key holder issues, it was always a relief when an aunty, mom or sister would come to stay with us. In our corner of Asia, when a female relative came, she often came for weeks or months. During her stay, she could be the "at home" person, taking vegetable deliveries, letting in the cleaning lady, giving instructions to the cook, handing over the car keys to the car cleaner, and collecting ironed clothes from the press wala. It gave a sense of comfort even to me, to have someone around our house, who knew what was going on during the daytime and managed the many part-time employees my roommates collected. It didn't hurt if the aunty wanted to make some delicious chole masala or pau badji for me, and give me a good night hug, either. I learned to appreciate the family members that would come stay with us.

My corner in our shared flat, probably after the maid cleaned my room.

I brought some of this stronger sentiment about having someone at home to Europe with me. My husband and I talked about having me look for a job locally, but my basic language skills would probably land me only a simple job, and we didn't like the idea of my hours or holiday time conflicting with my husband's or with serving others together. We were willing to try it, though, and just before we started pounding the pavement to look for outside work for me, suddenly God brought along a significant amount of writing and design work that I can do from home, which made the decision easier to have me be around home.

I savour being home. When a package comes mid-day and I can receive it (saving a trip to pick it up somewhere) or when the plumber needs to come in and check our hot water heater, I'm glad to be here. When I can format a book spread and still fill the house with yummy aromas long before my husband arrives, I'm thankful. Or when I can rearrange my work schedule to allow for morning breakfast get-togethers or a spontaneous late lunch with a friend who needs someone to talk to, I realize I'm blessed to be flexible. One week when my husband was terribly sick and needed extra care, I was glad to not have to head out the door each morning and leave his weak form behind, because my vows are to my husband before my other work.

I know that many wives would love to be at home and still earn something to help with their household income, but haven't found a way to do that. I know that many single women would love to focus more on their homes and ministry through their homes, but supporting themselves means going to a typical 9 to 5 job each day. So, I remember that it is a dear privilege which I currently have, of being physically present in our home, and I want to use it to bless those who have less flexibility in their work or study schedules.

At one of my pre-wedding showers, a gifted speaker exhorted me to be a woman who is a Titus 2 homemaker. Friends of various backgrounds were attending, and I suppose that when the speaker said she was going to talk about making a home, some of them were leaning back and expecting a wimpy talk about baking pies and hanging frames just so. But to everyone's surprise, the speaker told us about Jael. Yes, that would be the woman in Judges who pounded a tent peg through the enemy's head while he was resting in her tent.

The speaker contrasted the world's idea of a homemaker being simply a "housekeeper" (implying that the duties are merely physical, like dusting or dish-washing) with the godly, eternally-minded design for making a home. She spoke of the value spiritually of having someone physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually present at home. God's homemaker is, she said, a spiritual woman who is discerning, knows that God's people are at war, and uses the resources that are available to her to bring down ungodly strongholds. The fleeing enemy Sisera napped in Jael's presence, because he was sure that a gullible housewife wouldn't cause any danger to him. Like many today, he thought a woman at home would have little intellect; she probably would not even know who he was. But this housewife had her head in the game, and finished him off. In protecting her home, Jael protected their whole nation and even blessed generations to come. The speaker pointed out that Mary, the mother of our Saviour, and Jael are the only ones called "blessed among women" in the Scripture. 

That was a powerful shower message, and one I will remember my whole life. I'm glad she didn't mention wearing a plaid apron or dusting on Wednesdays, but instead focused on the overarching picture of a godly wife, and the power and value of being at home. Titus 2 teaches that a woman's behaviour in relation to her home either honours or dishonours God's Word; it is of great importance.

In my short months "at home", I've realized that it is possible to be physically at home and not mentally, emotionally or spiritually at home. When I take on projects that drain me completely, so that I cannot keep up with the needs of my husband and home, I'm not really at home. When I'm wasting time on social media or doing unimportant things, and putting the things my husband would like me to do at the bottom of my to-do list, I'm not really "at home." I'm currently learning what it means to balance and properly prioritize my home work and my outside-of-home work. 
Our home is in its early days, and I long for it to be a place where God's Word is honoured, and where my husband and others love to be. I'm thankful for my Asian roommates, and for Jael, who taught me to put a greater value on having someone whose job it is to be at home.


  1. I love this, Julie! Thank you. =) I was interrupted at least four or five times reading this. I had to go and drive a few stakes through some sins (my own and my children's), with gentleness and God's strength. =)

  2. Thanks, Irene! Keep driving stakes and guarding your tent for God's glory :))