I’ve been living and working in West Virginia for a little over eight months. At this point, I’ve grown comfortable with driving 55 mph on some of its curvy mountain roads. I know many of the major highways and the cities they run through and which exits on them have Sheetz gas stations and Chick-Fil-A’s. I could easily recommend some beautiful natural areas of the state for people looking for an outdoor retreat (FYI, Pendleton and Grant Counties are those places. Just in case you’re ever looking for a West Virginia getaway.). I’m learning the names and locations of the state’s counties. I’ve been to the Road Kill Cook-Off in Marlinton and Bridge Day in Fayetteville and the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, some quintessentially West Virginia events. And I’m slowly learning and remembering the names of the diocesan priests and where they serve, which is good to know if you work for any diocese.
By all accounts, I should feel at home in this state.
But the other day I was bogged down in feelings of homesickness. Easter break seemed so far away and I just wanted to be back in my beloved Midwest. I missed my family and my favorite cities. I missed my favorite restaurants and record stores. I missed the coffee shop in my hometown where I had the best mocha I had ever had over my Christmas break. I missed living so close to several live music destinations. I missed not living in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve felt this tension for most of my time in West Virginia, loving the property where I live and the people I work with but feeling out of place in a new region and especially in a rural environment. I like being a missionary well enough that I’m considering staying for a second year, but the thought of living another year so far from everything I love is just as scary of a thought as it was when I first moved out here.
It’s strange because in the past I’ve been quick to claim other places as my home, even after spending only a few months in them. I’ve come to think of being “at home” only in terms of feeling comfortable in a place. I’ve been learning in West Virginia that I definitely feel that comfort in or close to a city. It’s easy to call those places home.
But even though I might have felt at home in those places, in the middle of action and entertainment and variety and convenience, I’m realizing that I never found the same comfort and satisfaction in the work I was doing. I think I was so swept up in the idea of city living that I began to believe that the jobs I was taking—textbook proofreading intern, registration staff at an umbrella organization for food companies, to name a few—were pointing me to my true calling. I was destined to live large in a place like the Twin Cities or Chicago, spending my weekends at the hippest shops, the coolest record stores, and the greatest live music venues. I wanted to feel satisfied in whatever job would let me live that kind of life, obviously. But looking back, I was clearly settling for jobs that were unfulfilling and that didn’t suit me, no matter how much I liked where I lived. There was no way some swanky office job could have been my ultimate calling. Hindsight is always 20/20, I suppose.
And now that expectation has been flipped on its head. I’m doing work I love in a place that’s out of the ordinary and even uncomfortable for me.
I think that God is showing me that maybe homecomings aren’t always about returning to where you belong, and they’re not always sweet. Sometimes they’re about becoming who you’re meant to be, to God’s home for you, and sometimes that means being physically and geographically displaced. I’m far happier doing ministry than I was doing proofreading and data-entry. I feel confident saying that ministry is where I belong. This satisfaction and peace outweighs the “where.”
And yet I miss the “where” that I’m used to. And I don’t know if God is going to be able to do His thing as well as He can if I keep clinging to and longing for this image of me that I used to aspire to. There’s no harm or shame in missing some of the things I’m used to. But I don’t want that to prevent me from becoming the person that God wants me to be and doing the work He needs me to do. And I think God wants me to be a minister and His child first. If realizing that means spending time in a place that’s out of my element, away from the city and live music and shopping and convenience, so be it.
“Home is not places, it is love,” says a song by one of my favorite bands. And I’ve certainly felt a lot of love in West Virginia. So as I ponder the possibility of spending a second year at Bishop Hodges, I am also faced with the possibility of wrestling further with this idea of home. Of home being more about a state of heart than a place on a map. Of home being not what you’re used to from your past but who God is calling you to be right now. If I keep this in mind, West Virginia is as much my home as the Midwest (but in a different sense, of course). And even though I might crave the familiarity and variety of my hometown every now and then, I think I’m okay with that.