Finding Belonging When You’ve Lived Here and There

Out of Place – Elisa’s Story

The first time someone scoffed at me for wanting to live in the southeast U.S. I was in 11th grade. He said, “Oh, they don’t like us down there. They still call us Yankees.”

So? I thought. It’s where I belong.

From the time I was 16 years old I knew that my western New York, Yankees baseball and city-loving self belonged in North Carolina. My heart knew there was something down there that belonged to me. Surrounded by azaleas and magnolias, between the mild winters and sweltering summers, and in and around the country roads that always led me to the beach, I just knew: part of your heart lives there and you have to go get it.

On the way home

The military brought us down south first by way of Savannah, Georgia. I had to ask more than once: What’s that mean? I had to look up in the AP Style guide how to properly write y’all in a news publication. I learned the difference between y’all and all y’all. I learned what collard greens, fried okra, and palmetto bugs look like. I learned what it looks, feels, and smells like to mow your lawn in 120-degree heat. And I was told that if I didn’t like it there I could just go right back up I-95. (I loved it there, by the way. Loved it.)

Then we landed in Cincinnati, Ohio, a place whose collective residents–by their own admission–can’t seem to decide if they’re southern, northern, or midwestern. And when I was asked what high school I went to and didn’t have a local answer, yet another scoff.

Then the Army brought us down to North Carolina, my actual life goal. For the next nine years my heart sang, living where I always knew I belonged. I found my people, you know? I grew up from the ages of 27 to 36, all in North Carolina. I found my heart, myself, and my place. I also found that because my heart settled into where it belonged, so did some of my words.

To my friends and family back home, certain words sounded funny: ranch, length, pen, y’all, right, girl.

To my friends in North Carolina, other words sounded funny: avocado, ruin, you guys, gosh.

Nobody who knows me has ever been out-right mean or rude about the difference in my speech, but comments about my way of talking brought up some questions: Why wasn’t it okay that I knew I belonged in both places? Why wasn’t it okay that my speech patterns were a meld of my two homes? Shakira does it. Why can’t I?

Technically it was okay that I knew I belonged in both places, but I had to learn that. I had to let God tell me: You are who I say you are, and you are where I put you. And where I put you: you belong.

finding belonging when you've lived here and there

Do we worship belonging or Jesus?

I think we make an idol out of belonging; we want to fit in, we want to be accepted, and we want to be validated. We’re encouraged to find our place, find our people, find our community in the tangible world and in the digital space. So we go searching. All normal human things. But what ends up happening when we forget whose we really are, is that we place the fitting in, the acceptance, and the validation on so many external factors. And we forget: the strongest foundation of belonging comes from God, the creator, curator, and crafter of our hearts.

God designed my heart (Psalm 139:13, HCSB). He made me for my parents in western New York. He wrote my story to include nine years in North Carolina. So I belonged in both places. I am a disciple of Jesus, full stop. As a disciple of Jesus, I listen and look to him. He says in John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.” (HCSB) 

Nobody could tell me – through gentle teasing or anything else – that I didn’t belong wherever God had placed me. Because I did. I do. I’m walking on the solid ground of believing in a heavenly father who loves me, who roots for me, who teaches me and stretches me and places me right where he’ll have me do his work.

I belong where God puts me. That’s all there is to it. I live out the story God writes for me. I walk out my life with gospel intentionality. I shine light where I can. I love my God, my family, my church, and my community. And I speak Jesus’ truth in my crazy-weird mix of northern and southern accent and words and -isms and I let my family and friends learn to love it all. Because that’s my story for His glory and it’s the one I’m sticking to because it’s where I belong.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet Elisa Preston

Elisa is an author and podcaster of Praise Through It, where she talks about seeing the praiseworthy side of our daily struggles. She’s written three love & family novels. She’s an Army wife of 15 years, a dog mom of 8 years, and a girl mom of 6 years. She loves baking chocolate chip cookies and playing games with her family. She’d spend all her time in the sunshine if she could. You can connect with Elisa on her blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

*Feature Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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