Sweet Home Alabama |Where the skies are so blue | Sweet Home Alabama | Lord, I'm comin' home to you!
My housemates at Dixter both struggled with severe addictions to ice cream. I had a normal love of it before I lived with them, but I must say they dragged me down. Bad company corrupts good morals, so they say. I had good morals. I was principled. But even the best of principles cannot withstand the weight of a cool, pure scoop of creamy goodness thrust before you, can they? Each time they reached into the freezer and pulled out that rectangular beacon of hope, my heart would start beating a bit faster. I was a goner. Afterwards, when the deed had been done, we would look at each other, knowing we had a problem. But, we also knew the next time we would probably fall victim to its irresistible sweetness once again, even as we promised each other that was the last time. Michael would shake his head and look at us with guilty eyes and hit us with his favorite line...
"A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips."
That was ice cream for us, only a moment on our lips but quickly finding a home on our hips.
Now that I am home in Sweet Home Alabama, that British adventure seems like a sweet moment. Something that I sometimes feel is too good to have happened. But like the many bowls of ice cream, that sweetness has taken up residence in me, although in other places besides my hips.
Back in July I took my final train into London and boarded a plane back to the homeland. Lots of people have asked me if I miss it. I try to explain how it feels as if you have left your entire heart in another country, but at the same time feel as if your whole heart is at home. Have you ever felt conflicting things all at the same time? It's weird. Like cry on the plane three times weird.
In England new worlds and experiences were opened up. I hopped on trains to new places and always had a footpath out my backdoor to disappear down, with sheep in the fields next door and friends who were always there with a cup of tea when I got back. I worked in places I had always read about and learned more than I ever dared to imagine. And the accents!!! Just the sound of British people talking makes me believe that this world is a more eloquent and tidy place than I sometimes feel.
But, on the other side of that coin is home. Where the pine trees line the highways and ridges, where there are chick-fil-a drive throughs and momma's homemade pound cake. Home is where there is fried okra and warm biscuits and coffee brewing in the morning and country music on the radio. There are people who have known you since before you could walk and still loved you when you were a fat 12 year old with braces who snuck ice-cream out of the garage freezer on the way to soccer practice. (umm so maybe I had a slight ice-cream dependency before Dixter, maybe)
Over this past year I didn't realize it was humanly possible to say "I don't know" as many times as I managed to apologetically mummer it. I moved to a foreign country, was changing jobs about every 2 months. I never knew where the bus stops were, whose seat I was accidentally taking at lunch, what the Scottish man at the post office was saying to me, or where train platforms were. I was asked for directions in cities I had just moved to and questioned about the names of plants I had never seen. The words "I don't know" became almost like a reflex, because most of the time, I just didn't know. Except when asked what I missed the most from home, to which I instinctively replied "Chick-fil-a." Chick-fil-a is the answer to most questions, right? Or Mexican food.
So what am I doing now that this dreamy British extravaganza is over??
Just kidding. I meant Mexican food.
I entered into the territory of people asking me what I was going to do when this year was over in about January. Each time I smiled and swallowed that lump in my throat and said "I don't know." It's like trying to guess the ending to a story you are in the middle of reading. Each day I worked completely changed what I had thought I wanted to do when I returned home. It's like when you have decided what you want to order on a menu then flip it over and find a million other delicious options on the other side. So much to eat and so little time! (You many have noticed that food is a priority in my life)
In May I was giving a presentation about my time on the fellowship to a committee of some of some really admirable horticulturalists who decide funding for students to travel the world learning about plants. I talked about my thesis research, why I came on this fellowship, and what I had learned over several placements. The logical way to end a presentation to such people would be with a shiny bow tying it into a neatly wrapped package, something that communicated "Thank you for this scholarship, I am an organized person with a clear vision for my future aspirations."
But here's the deal. I didn't, and still don't, have a clear vision for the future. Where does one find one of those fancy bows you can tie on at the end of a presentation? Asking for a friend.
So instead, I ended the presentation with a picture of a mind map I had drawn about different paths my future career could take and all my thoughts and fears and general feelings about each of those paths. It looked as if someone had spewed ink all over the pages of a journal because I literally wrote down any thought that floated through my brain. It created a hodgepodge of bubbles, lines, words, and question marks revealing a black and white (and might I add TERRIFYING) visual of my brain. I think it also concerned some of the committee members because I was handed several business cards after the meeting was over with a firm handshake and words of encouragement to call if I needed help with anything. There was also a look in their eyes saying (in an eloquent British accent), "please do call... you need loads of help."
But, one committee member made a point to shake my hand and told me, "You will know it when you find it. Don't give up the mess of searching to have a clean answer." Because, truth is, sometimes you just don't know. And what I think that kind gentlemen was trying to say is that not knowing is actually just fine. And you actually find the most beautiful things in the midst of all the mess.
Coming home has been the most uncomfortable, comfortable thing I have ever experienced. It was the sweetest most heart breaking return. It feels so right and wrong all at the same time. And I think that is ok. I have been offered several jobs, but I am typing this still unemployed. I have tasted the sweetness, although it was seemingly a moment. And now it is my turn to find the way, to jump into that delightfully terrifying abyss of the unknown. There aren't any pretty bows to tie up the ending of the story. Right when one story ends another begins. And sometimes you are stuck in that in-between part, where you feel all the things at the same time. And you end up saying no to things you never would have before you tasted that sweetness because you know there is something else out there, you just have to be patient to find it.
I felt so at home and far away in England. I feel so at home but distant in Alabama. And I am so thankful, because this world is not my home. I am just a rambler here, trying to bring as many with me when I finally make it to my true home, where I will meet my Creator. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but He does. So that is why all these "I don't know's" don't really scare me. Because this season of transition will pass and a new story will start and where there were question marks there will be answers. But with fresh answers come different question marks. And that's just fine. I'll leave the pretty silky bows for other people, because this mess is most days weird and hard, but I know will lead to something sweeter if I am willing to trudge along through the mud.
What an adventure. What a homecoming. What joy within all this weird. Home is where your people are, and mine are found on both sides of the Atlantic. So I guess that is how your whole heart can exist in two places at once. Sometimes the greatest of moments change us, in ways that add a few extra pounds when they are over. Much like a bowl of ice cream at lunchtime. Or Chick-fil-a. Or Mexican food. And Mom's homemade poundcake.
A moment on the lips, but a lifetime on the hips.
PS - I realize it is weird to refer to your hips so much in one post. I do apologize, but it rhymes.
PPS - fingers crossed that in the next post I will actually have life details to share, in the mean time I baked 6 loaves of pumpkin bread over the course of 2 days. #unemployment