Home was dusty. Home smelled like cows. Home was New Mexico.
I grew up in one of those small towns where everybody knows your name. Several generations of my family have called this area in the middle of nowhere “home,” even back when it was just a train stop in the desert. I’ve been enthusiastically greeted by people who have known not only me, but my mom since she was in diapers. Six degrees of separation? No one needs that many to find someone you grew up with, dated or are related to. There is a tangible connection between neighbors when anything exciting happens: a new restaurant opens, someone famous wanders through or a school board meeting takes a dramatic turn. There is a sense of unity as we participate in the same traditions as our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before us, even rituals as simple as dressing in purple to support high school sports every game day.
There’s nothing quite like the community of a small town to build a runway for a dreamer to fly, however. Like my pioneer ancestors before me, I heard the call of the unknown and unexplored. Home was far too confining. I ached with it.
Home then became Baylor, a Baptist university in the middle of Texas. Home was green and gold. Home was red brick and late nights and racing to beat newspaper deadlines.
At this Christian journalism school, I learned to investigate everything. My identity. My relationships. My world. My Bible. If faith is a prism, college threw the light in a different way. I learned a group of people can become your family and then, when their season is done, leave you haunted by their impact. I learned healing can come through quick prayer, but it can also come through years of pain and doctors and hard-earned revelations. I learned a home you choose, even a temporary one, can be a sanctuary. I learned running away from home doesn’t mean your problems stay behind. I discovered belonging and calling and true freedom that isn’t tied to a place, but a Truth.
But college was a training ground, a preparation for the next season yet to come, and in the middle of all this searching for both freedom and belonging, I stumbled upon still another home. I studied abroad at Oxford and found England to feel more home-like than anything I knew. I had studied their history, their culture and the great literature of this little island. Walking down those ancient streets and experiencing Britain for myself was like falling in love – terrifying in its vast newness while welcoming me in as if I had always belonged there. A completely foreign place and culture, and yet, I fit. A puzzle piece snapping into place. It was like nowhere else in my life of traveling and exploring. The loneliness of being far away was nothing new – in fact, it was far sweeter – because I have known the loneliness of being out of place in the midst of familiarity. Out of the two, I’d take the loneliness of adventure any day.
But I wasn’t meant to stay in Britain, not just now anyway, though I’ve been back and will always keep returning, no matter how short the stay.
So now home is a busy suburb in Alabama. Home is a church in a warehouse. Home is mixing up the words “friends” and “family” because here, all are welcome.
Home is a quiet apartment, where the clock can sometimes tick loud in the dark and the battle for joy is tangibly present. But I’ve long since found home to be unrestrained to a physical location. Home is a journey, a path that meanders and crisscrosses and exists in several places at once. A hometown, a homecoming, a home-like feeling, a home address… all of these are simultaneous and equally valid, though still ultimately lacking.
I never really understood this enduring homesickness until I read it described by C.S. Lewis:
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Though I cannot see it yet, I know the reason I’ll always be searching, a wanderlust girl with pioneer blood. I have yet to make it Home.
* * * * *
“Pioneer Blood” was written by Jenna DeWitt. Jenna is the managing editor of MORF Magazine, a resource for youth ministers, mentors and parents of teenagers. She has a bachelor’s in journalism from Baylor University, where she edited a bunch of student publications, became a fan of C.S. Lewis and drank Dr Pepper floats with Blue Bell ice cream like a true Texan. She currently lives in Birmingham, Alabama, though if you ask her where home is, she will tell you “it’s complicated.” You can find her on Twitter @jenna_dewitt and on Tumblr at jennadewitt.tumblr.com.