I didn’t cry when my parents dropped me off for college. And I didn’t cry when I went to sleep that night or the next day or the next. I wasn’t sad, I was just excited. I didn’t cry about leaving home because I didn’t feel like I had left home. It felt like the times I had stayed at a summer camp, or a youth rally. Even when I started going to classes and managing my own food, it still didn’t hit me that I was not home.
It took until the first Sunday that I cried. I walked across the campus and into the church that mother had gone to when she had been on the same campus years before. I walked into the unfamiliar place, and suddenly realized I had no idea where to sit. There were lots of open chairs. The problem wasn’t that there wasn’t a place for me to go; the problem was that I didn’t already have a place to belong.
Back in my home town, my family had gone to the same church my entire life. My parents still go there. I am intimately familiar with the brown brick, the blue carpet with pink and turquoise speckled into it. I know the way it smells and feels when the lights are off and you are the only one in the echoe-y narthex with the tall ceilings.
I know the history of every inch of that building, and I never had to learn it. The church building grew up with me. The seemingly random brick wall in the lobby is a weight baring wall that was the first entrance into the church. The fellowship hall used to be the sanctuary, and for years the floors weren’t carpeted and the congregation would move the chairs to the side after the service and have a square dance or a dinner or anything really because the floors were so easily cleaned.
I played tag through the walls that were not yet dry walled, and picked up weird looking nails as treasures when they built the education wing. The original members had wanted a new sanctuary, but put it off because they saw the necessity of the immediate future. The nursery had been overflowing for quite some time. The original nursery is now the kitchen, the education wing has tripled in size, and the congregation finally did get that beautiful new sanctuary they were promised. I was singing in the choir next to my mom the first day it was used.
Throughout all of these changes, my family had always sat two or three rows in from the front, stage left. There were no official rules or seating, but that is where we always were. Perhaps this was because my mom was more often than not in the choir loft and she could give us “the look” from there if she needed to. I just knew that roughly three rows in, stage left, was where I belonged.
When, at eighteen years old, I walked into that unfamiliar church and did not know where I was supposed to sit in the sanctuary, suddenly I realized that I was not home. I did not have a place that I belonged in this building, in this sanctuary, in this church body. I sat down stage right, still sort of near the front, and I cried throughout the entire service. I never went back. It just didn’t feel like home.
It is hard to sit in a place when you are not sure where you belong.
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“A Place to Belong” was written by Abby Norman. Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words. She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at Accidental Devotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit.