On Belonging


It isn't ever easy to return. To the places of our birth, to the places of our growing. Even to the places we may love the most. Returning can be a turning back, or a turning forward. But it means we are never in quite the same place as our first time there.

I recently returned to my hometown, the place I was raised and shaped of clay and sweat and rivers of tears. When I lived here before, I could never find my place, always searching for the people and events that called me home. I had ideas about who I wanted to be around and where I wanted to go, but as a child with parents who did not understand, my adventures were long limited to their desires. When I finally found freedom in a tiny dodge pickup, it seemed my fate as an outsider was already sealed. All of the artists, musicians, dancers, writers, dreamers I wanted so badly to befriend had fifteen years of connection before me. Why bring an outsider into the fold that is so deeply enmeshed?

When I returned to this place, I found it not so different as before. Still, the people of my tribe did not see me as one of their own. But perhaps they did recognize me as someone other than who they long assumed. I received friendly hellos in the grocery co-op, a hug in the local target. And when I arrived at the church of my teenage years, I finally felt it: home. Here, in the fellowship of familiars, I could take off the armour of my travels. Clean air and delight met me and I tumbled into the deep grace of belonging.

I have dreamed of belonging my entire existence. I have believed it to be the stuff of faerie tales and mystery novels, the time and place a crisp marker on which to hang my hat. But I could not imagine, after so many years of waiting, to learn about belonging in a little white church in the middle of my old hometown. What I discovered here startles me, shakes up my core beliefs and demands my presence and attention.

Belonging is not about the clothes you wear, or the language(s) you speak. Belonging is not where you hang your coat or who welcomes you home. Belonging is what happens when you let all of this go.

Belonging comes when you bare the soft underbelly of your dreams to your tender, quaking heart.

When you take a chance and risk that you might be enough ... to yourself. Belonging happens when you look in the mirror and recognize that the woman staring back at you is you -- grey hairs and acne and all of it. You. Not some facet or facade or figment.

Entirely, completely you.

It wasn't until I walked into church that morning that I finally understood. This is a community who saw me struggle and triumph and struggle some more, who nurtured and saw me grow from brash teenager to fierce woman. And then saw nothing as I moved and shifted across landscapes far and wide. From a distance, some saw the woman who let her heart rule it all, falling down and kicked down and picked up again. But being there, at this time, they all see a woman who knows her own skin -- who still laughs loud and sings louder, who is eager to help and can't wait to share a hug, and who finally (after eight years away) believes that she belongs here. On this planet, in this time, without reservation.

I am finding the place I want to belong the most lives in the center of my very own heart. And I am finally home.