We have been waiting for this day for quite some time, and now that the move is imminent, my head has been full of "Sweet Home Alabama", "Stars Fell on Alabama", and of course, our official state song, "Alabama" (what can I say... I was an All-State Choir kid! ;)
I really am THRILLED! I love my home state, and all its Southern Hospitality. I am so excited about being closer to both our families, and a ton of my close girlfriends. I am so happy to be back in the land of SEC football, and only an hour and a half away from my beloved Auburn! I can't wait to eat all my favorite foods from Chick-Fil-A, Zaxby's, Guthrie's, Panera, Los Mex, Sonic, and lots of other "local" places. And I am really, really thankful that we won't be making anymore 13 to 18 hour drives (multiple times a year) anymore!
BUT - I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling a little nervous too!
I recently told my friend Katie, that I felt like I was preparing for "re-entry". Re-entry is what you deal with when you return home (to what is "normal" to you) after you've been overseas - living in a different culture, language, climate, etc. Typically it's what people in the military or mission work deal with. I know it may sound silly considering we've been in the same country (technically anyway) but in my head and heart I feel like I'm facing the same things!
There are sooo many ways Michigan is different from Alabama. Even if I tried, I couldn't list them all. There is a different "language" up here and a different climate and culture. People dress differently, interact differently, and like different things. Certain things that are "the norm" down South are not here. I really did deal with "culture shock" when we moved, and I am afraid in some ways I will deal with "culture shock" all over again when we come home!
Then there is the social side of things. For the most part, we have not had much of a social life in Michigan. It has been really hard for us to meet people here, so our only friends are from our church. And at our church, we are 1 of only 2 young married couples (that I know of) without children. So.... we haven't had very many people in our season of life to hang out with. I'm pretty sure that in 2 years and 8 months, we've only "gone out" with people (parties, dinner, etc) maybe a total of 10 or 15 times (in like... 800+ days). So, when I announced we were moving back, and I had 10 or 15 people immediately tell me they wanted to get together, I felt MAJORLY overwhelmed! Don't get me wrong, I was excited initially....but then I started to think, "How I am going to manage having a social life again?!" It sounds silly, but after functioning differently for so long it was overwhelming to me!
And when I think about the possibility of running into people I know again all over town, I totally freak out! In all of our time in Michigan, I can count on ONE hand the times I've run into someone I know in public. (Seriously, like 5 times in over 2 and 1/2 years. That's IT!) I don't even really look at people's faces anymore when I'm running errands, because 99% of the time I won't know them. But in Alabama - I could run into someone from college, or high school, or a random job, or even kindergarten while I'm out and about! And the older I get, and the more we travel, the worse I get at remembering names. (Seriously, is there like, a certain number of names/faces you can remember before your brain can't handle anymore? Because I think I surpassed that number 3 years ago! Either that, or, I'm getting old. Dang it!) I dread running into someone that remembers me and not being able to remember where I met them or what their name is. Those moments just make me feel awful!
But - by FAR - there is one thing I DREAD more than anything else. It doesn't just make me feel anxious, or nervous, or overwhelmed. It feels me with anger and disgust and disappointment.
With every fiber of my being,
I DREAD being immersed in "Southern Religion" again.
I don't mean specific Southern denominations (like Southern Baptists), I mean the "culture" of Southern Christianity. The rules and regulations and prison of that RELIGION. The place where everyone goes to church because it's socially expected, not because they actually have a relationship with Christ. The place where so many Christians are so steeped in tradition, that it's all about what they DO and how they APPEAR then what's really going on in their hearts. Because, as long as you're in church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday night, and wearing the right clothes and singing the right songs, then everything is okay... right? As long as you never miss your 9:45 Sunday School class, then you're definitely going to heaven... right? *sigh.
And don't EVEN get me started on these Christians who are in church every Sunday, and yet find it perfectly acceptable to make racial slurs and prejudice comments! Disgust doesn't even cover it! The South has come a long way from our terrible racist past, but many people still have a long way to go. It makes me sick to see that kind of ignorance and hatred from "Christians" because of the color of someone's skin, and it makes me angry that I have to worry what my child will face someday if we decide to adopt from Africa.
I dread being back in the "Bible Belt" where it's hard to find a safe place to be truly vulnerable, because people like to gossip waaaayyyy too much. I dread being back near the uber conservative churches (and church members) that mandate morality and "write things in" to the Bible, and then hold you to their standards (instead of the standard of Christ Himself). The place where it's a "sin" to have a glass of wine with dinner, but it's perfectly acceptable to be a glutton or to be married to your 3rd wife.
I hate the judgement of it all.... the fact that people (even good people, who are really trying to follow Christ) don't feel free to be themselves because of what people will think, or say, or do in response. The way people shame you with "Jesus Jukes" and their own expectations that half of the time, aren't even Biblical. The place where our Christian leaders are held to an impossible standard and aren't allowed to be human. And somehow, sometimes we (Rusty & I) are held to the same impossible standard. It's like people think, just because we used to have "missionary" attached to our name, that we are now the perfect example of the perfect "textbook" Christian. Newsflash! Missionaries and Pastors and Deacons and Music Ministers and Sunday School teachers don't actually get a cape and special Christian superpowers when they take those positions! They are human too.
I just hate it. Not the people, or the church, but the judgement and the facade of it all. It leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. It causes dis-unity and hurt and deep-seated shame and guilt that some people never, ever get over. And if I'm being honest, I'm not looking forward to that part of being back down South.
I know every church down South isn't like this, (and there are certainly lots of Christians who aren't this way!) but it seems very wide-spread to me. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe these issues are everywhere....but after almost 3 years up North I haven't seen anything quite like Southern Christianity. And maybe I've offended you all now (sorry!) but I hope this is a place where I can be myself and truly be honest and vulnerable and tell you what's on my heart. *I'll get down off my soap box now.*
Ya'll - pray for me. Because in the midst of all the "re-entry" we're about to go through, I'm just not sure how to handle this ugly side of RELIGION down South with grace and love and truth and honesty.
And if I run into you at church, or Wal-Mart, or the mall and I can't recall your name... would you be kind enough to remind me? Thanks ;)