Sunday, September 5, 2021

A Moment of Providence

I've been struggling with feeling out of place the past couple of years, like I don't belong where I live. Just not feeling at home. I go through weeks or a month or two where all is well, but then that feeling that this isn't where I'm supposed to be returns. I'm in one of those valleys right now. I even Googled this morning "how can I be happier where I live?" Because Google is the ultimate advice giver.

One article I read stuck with me with its three pieces of advice:

1. Find your people. Well, I've already done that. I took a few minutes to write down a list of all of the amazing friends we have around us, from our neighborhood and church to my office to the kids' schools and sports teams. Our village is so amazing. I have learned more about friendship and generosity and selflessness in the past fifteen years since becoming a parent and making deliberate efforts to find community than I did in the previous thirty.

2. Get out in nature. I'm going to work on doing this more. Tennessee has so many beautiful lakes and hiking trails and waterfalls. I used to explore state parks or just take a blanket to the lake near my house on a regular basis, and I don't do that as much anymore. Today I pledged to myself to spend more time enveloped in the outdoors, even if that means grabbing a book and relaxing under the willow tree in my backyard. Instead of scrolling social media and reading what my state representative or governor said or did, inevitably raising my blood pressure, I'm going to take a walk.

3. Shop local. The article I read said there is something comforting when a barista at a local coffee shop knows your favorite drink or the owner of an independent bookstore sets aside a new release she thinks you will love. Those connections sound lovely. I don't have any of them. So, I'm going to make a list of ten local businesses that I pledge to visit by the end of the year. Places that require masks as an act of loving their neighbors, of course, because those are my people.

My morning of seeking peace where I am did not end with reading a few articles recommended by Google. I joined my Sunday school class through Zoom (or some similar technological contraption) and saw the faces of many of the people who made the list I mentioned earlier. One of my classmates said that she had been reading Jeremiah over the past week and was struck by the following passage, which was written to a group of people who were in exile:

"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . . Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too shall prosper."

That was a profound moment - to have spent my morning up to that point studying and reflecting on how to be happier where I am, and then to hear words written to others who did not feel at home. It reiterated what I know to be true - I have the choice to seek and find peace and joy wherever I am. I should continue to plant gardens, be those literal or the relationships in which I invest. I should see my home as a place of laughter and community. I know it was no accident that a friend, who gets up early from her home in California to join our class every week, had those words on her heart to share this morning. I've quietly been repeating words of thanks for them all day.

Will I still move in a few years? Yes, because I am still in exile here. Which is OK. It's OK to admit that I miss the Capital Beltway and I-95 and more moderate politics and neighborhoods where you can hear many languages and see different religions being practiced. And I know that one person's exile is another person's homeland. Certain spots would get more crowded than they already are if we all felt called to be in the same place.

Right now, my plan is to leave when my son graduates from high school. I have lived in five states in my life (Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee) and by that time I will have lived in Tennessee for twenty-five years, longer than anywhere else. I'm not sure where I will go yet. Most likely back to the mid-Atlantic or New England. My parents will be in their early 80s by then. While I plan for them to be healthy and thriving, I want to live within a day's drive so I can see them more often. I want to hang out with my siblings and get to know my niece and nephew better. Also, my daughter is thinking about going to college in DC and it will drive her nuts to have me living nearby for her last year of school. Bonus.

But all that is six years from now. I'm not going to spend my time counting the days and wondering if I should be somewhere else. At least, I'm going to try my best not to slip into that bad habit. Instead, I will build my home and embrace my friendships and plant my gardens. I clipped a couple of flowers from my backyard and brought them to my kitchen table as a visual reminder to keep doing the things that make where I am home, and that will make my next place home, wherever that will be.

As Alanis Morissette so aptly sung in 1998, "Thank you, providence."

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