Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

When Home Isn’t Home

Main Street at Mackinac Island. The island is about 10 miles around and no motorized vehicles are allowed! So peaceful!

Main Street at Mackinac Island. The island is about 10 miles around and no motorized vehicles are allowed! So peaceful!

Four years ago, my husband and I moved from Michigan to Utah. It was an exciting time and the last four years have been anything but boring. I love our new home but I always look forward to visiting my first home. In June, my husband and I travelled back to Michigan for an entire week. It was a wonderful trip; we visited Mackinac Island, drove to the Upper Penninsula to visit my parents and spent time with his family and our friends in West Michigan.

Whenever we go back, I love seeing family and friends, it’s refreshing and life-giving. But it’s bittersweet. The week sped by; we were able to see almost everyone we wanted but it was exhausting. Every day was planned down to the minute and we got little sleep. Before I knew it, we were dropping off our rental car and hopping on the plane back to Utah.

After every trip home, I feel a little sad about leaving but generally happy to be heading back to Utah. For some reason, after this trip I felt really sad. As I’ve been processing this, I think the deeper sadness has a little bit to do with how tired I was from the trip. But another reason is because we got to spend quality time with all of our family members and friends. Normally we stay in one location- either my husband’s parents’ home in Kalamazoo or my parents’ home, 6 hours north in the Upper Penninsula.  This means one of these groups inevitably gets less time than the others. This time, because we rented a car, we were able to travel to see everyone, spending a couple of days with each.

My husband enjoying Oberon on our anniversary. Oberon is an amazing craft beer made in Kalamazoo, the city where we went to college and met.

My husband enjoying Oberon on our anniversary. Oberon is an amazing craft beer made in Kalamazoo, the city where we went to college and met.

I was struck by how easy and effortless my conversations were, how comfortable I was each day. Even though we hadn’t seen some of these people for a few years, we connected again like we had never left. I didn’t realize how little I experienced these feelings of belonging in Utah.

What it boiled down to was I felt like I was home. My real home, where I belong, where I fit, where I can simply be.

As I’ve shared in a previous post, this year in Utah has been the most difficult, personally and professionally. Over the last 4 years, I have struggled to find community, frequently feeling like an outsider. Utah is a strange place to live as a woman in Christian ministry. The majority of people who live in Utah are members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) faith. My husband and I, being in our late 20s/early 30s without kids, were fairly normal in Michigan. In Utah, we are an oddity. I know very few women my age who do not have children. Also, the majority of leadership positions, both in the secular and religious sectors, are held by men. I am a strange bird here in Utah. Just ask the 30 or so people over the years who’ve looked at me in disbelief when I told them I was a college minister.

This year in particular, I have felt loneliness keenly. This was our hardest year of marriage and I received some hard and confusing feedback at work. I felt disconnected from my husband and my job. Thankfully, our marriage has gotten better and I have wonderful friends who loved and supported me in amazing ways. But this year, and the previous 3 years, have hurt.

On the banks of Lake Huron, you can just see the Mackinac Bridge in the distance.

On the banks of Lake Huron, you can just see the Mackinac Bridge in the distance.

This is why I felt so sad leaving home. I forgot what being home really felt like. I do love Utah and it is home in its own way. But as my therapist aptly put it, “It’s lowercase ‘home’, not ‘Home’.”

Since our move, I’ve felt a connection to the Old Testament Hebrews. I haven’t experienced slavery and I haven’t been wandering in a literal desert. But I do know what it’s like to miss your old life and long for a “promised land.” These last 4 years have felt like I’ve been wandering around in the wilderness with God. I’m not sure where I’m going, I’m not sure if and when I’ll feel settled. The only thing, like the Hebrews, that is certain, is that God is with me. In this season of wandering, God has provided what I need- manna in the form of friends, a church home, a great therapist, and new hobbies that refresh me. And like the Hebrews, I need to cling to God’s promises, that I will have glimpses of Home in the here and now, that God will lead me out of this wilderness and into his promised land for me. These feelings of loneliness will not last forever, God is, and will finish, making all things new.

So today, I am reflecting on my Michigan trip with mixed emotions- happiness, nostalgia, longing, and sadness. And I’m holding on to the hope that one day, God will restore and renew all things and that I will finally be Home.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And that fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in everything I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire and I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

-Thomas Merton Thoughts in Solitude


 

How have you dealt with longing in your life? Have you experienced homesickness or loneliness keenly? Share your experience below.

3 Comments

  1. So glad you got to have good time at Home. Alex and I talk often about this feeling that you described so perfectly.

  2. Wow, wow, wow. This is exactly what I need to read tonight! My InterVaristy leader on campus (William & Mary) sent me the link to your blog. I just happened (by God’s doing) to come across this particular post, at a time when I am feeling in a constant state of transition, feeling often onely, and currently not wanting to leave ‘Home’ to go back to school. So thank you! I needed to hear your words and know that I am not alone and that there is hope.

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