I was raised in small-town Tennessee. You know, where you need a stepladder to climb into the trucks and women compete over how many casseroles they can justify in a weeknight meal.
(By the way, my mother is the QUEEN, so go ahead and lay down your smothered veggies…)
The Southern Charm is very real, and I embraced the yes ma’ams and fried pies. But a few travel experiences outside the Dixieland later, I saw other peoples’ ways. In recognizing that everyone wasn’t just like me, I tried my best to fit in with whomever I was around at the time.
I stopped having a lot of respect for that good ole’ country stuff. I claimed to be ‘from the country but not of the country.’ My mom even told me that my accent had changed when I came home from my first month at college.
I had an idealized image of being a city girl. I liked the hustle and bustle and Starbucks in hand. I also liked the freedom from Mary Nell Sue I-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Night watching every time I went five miles over the speed limit.
Or ten. Or twenty. Or, good grief I was a handful of a 16-year-old.
I craved the freedom that moving away from home promised. I enjoyed learning how to cook without cream of mushroom soup and Ritz crackers (yes, that IS such a thing in the God-forsaken world). I also changed my vocabulary from y’all to you guys and supper to dinner.
I know. Those are cuss words below the Mason-Dixon line.
I could tell that it bothered my family, the loyal residents of said small town. They were invested in the community that I tried so hard to escape from. They were happy with the friends they went to school with and the handful of restaurants to choose from.
But I wanted to explore. I wanted to develop a palate for ethnic cuisine, to talk politics outside the realm of Fox News, and to visit places people back home could never imagine.
More than that, I wanted to be a part of a group of people who were open-minded. Not just about the world, but about God’s ability and power to move in His church. I wanted away from the traditions and rules and judgment. I wanted to be free.
Honestly, when I left home for college, I never looked back. I never expected to live in a small town again, and not really even in Tennessee.
And now, I’m looking at eight years of chasing a dream. I guess I’m there. I’ve conquered my territory.
In case you missed it, I like a little adventure. Got it? Whew. No need to beat that dead horse for the 40 millionth time.
But I really need to tell you this story.
I moved to Memphis, and then to South Carolina, all the time looking for something bigger and better. I did everything in my power to buddy up with the open-minded. I tested all my conversations, especially with Christians, and waited for them to slip up with a King James conviction.
And I wrote a lot of people off.
I thought I was better. Thought I had THE TRUTH and those poor souls were too stubborn to accept it. And then something unheard of happened.
Gavin and I got a call from a church in Middle Tennessee. Probably the smallest town in the state. Or the world. They were interested in supporting our work in SE Asia.
Wait. Not just supporting it. I mean FULLY FUNDING our livelihood for five years.
Does God work in more clear ways? There couldn’t have been more neon on that sign – we said yes to working with this church.
The plan was that we would move to work in Woodbury after Gavin graduated residency. Please forgive me for what I am about to confess.
This church was prepared to hand us an unreal budget to be able to do everything I’d ever dreamed, but I desperately didn’t want the money. In my mind, I was partnering with a small-town, Tennessee church. And I knew what that would entail.
I wouldn’t be accepted. I wouldn’t be homely enough to fit the part of an M. I wouldn’t be quiet enough for a truly submissive lady. I wouldn’t be dogmatic enough about traditional Bible teaching.
I cried at least once a week, dreading how this partnership would work. I packed up my belongings and walked into that church building kicking and screaming, begging God to cause some fallout so that I could be freed from their judgment before it had even started.
Isn’t He funny when He teaches you how self-righteous you are?
Immediately, I started to feel my heart soften for that community and its charming people. Well, at first, I really just found it amusing how many freezers of bagel bites filled the grocery store. But then I started to connect with the women of that tiny town.
My husband was given a part-time job as a physician. My daughter was loved on like we had always lived there. Women dialogued with me about amazing discoveries from Scripture. I felt my soul connecting to the very demographic I had pushed away for so long.
I remember sitting in the auditorium during worship one morning. It was the particular morning where it was announced that the church had given ridiculously generous thousands and thousands…(and thousands and thousands)…and then a few more thousands toward the startup costs of our work. God’s work. Gavin and I in a foreign land. What.in.the.world.
I’ve never seen that much money. I didn’t feel that I deserved it. And I definitely didn’t see that generosity coming from a group of people who looked so much like country folk. Gahhh…I’m revealing my true, disgusting prejudices.
I vowed that morning that I would never have a negative word to say about my shepherding church. Who can speak negatively about a group of people who has brought you into their own? This church family healed years of wounds and animosity without knowing how much I had struggled through it.
Yes, God is funny. And ever-so-intentional.
I don’t see it the least bit ironic that He provided the thing I didn’t want, but the exact thing I needed to heal before moving to serve overseas. I didn’t need freedom from small-town Tennessee…I needed freedom to love those in small-town Tennessee.
Today I’m on an airplane. I’m flying to my new home in an exciting culture with lots of adventure ahead. But my pit stop in Woodbury, Tennessee, taught me something I’m taking with me:
I should never forget my roots.
Roots are not always seen. They reach down deep and do their work unnoticed.
But roots are essential for growth. Without roots, there are no blooms. Without blooms, there is no fruit. And without fruit, there is no life.
If we neglect the roots from which we come, we are missing out on embracing the complexity of who we are. We will keep chasing, but forget how to exist.
For some of us, our roots are painful. A glance into our childhood brings back fear or pain or rejection. Some of us have never even thought about our childhood enough to know how privileged we are.
Regardless, our roots serve as the foundation for our very being. And knowing and accepting that foundation allows us to develop an identity that is honest and true.
My sister gave me this bracelet and I’m wearing it with so much pride today. I’m a Southern girl, doggonit, and I’m eating a cheeseburger and fries as my last American meal to prove it.
I couldn’t be more thankful that God brought me home. He brought me back to the very place I didn’t want to go so that He could show me His faithfulness and provision. He used the very people I didn’t think cared about furthering His Kingdom to give me every means to go and do just that.
I’m humbled by the wisdom and grace of my Heavenly Father. I’m proud of who I am and where I come from. If Nazareth was worthy of Jesus, then I am honored to find my roots in the heart of Tennessee.