words by: Ferree Hardy
I was shocked. My hand flew over my mouth. Did I really hear myself say that? In church? I quickly looked around to see if people were staring at me in surprise.
After ten long years in the South, it finally slipped from my lips. With a drawl no less: “Hey, y’all, see you next week.” Several people smiled and nodded. A few said, “See you…” Nobody fainted; no one even noticed that I’d uttered my first “y’all.”
Maybe I was finally fitting in. Maybe Southern living had really started to grow on me. I wasn’t yet hooked on sweet iced tea… but fresh shrimp? Tomato pie? Pimento cheese spread? Benne wafers? Blistered and roasted peanuts? Pecans (which I now pronounce as “pee-cans”)? Count me in! My picky palate has even sampled the local Chicken Bog—a chicken and rice dish that tastes much better than it sounds; it was sold at every fundraiser when I lived in Florence, South Carolina.
I sighed. Someday soon, I will miss these things. I’ll even miss the signs for hurricane evacuation routes (very reassuring), pine straw mulch, seagrass baskets, and the every-town fast food chains like Chick-fil-A, Zaxby’s, and Krispy Kreme Donuts.
Yes, I am moving again. The past two years have been a series of hippity-hops from one side of South Carolina to another, with an in-between move to North Carolina. But this next move is a magnitude of one thousand miles, back to my husband Tom’s hometown of Ticonderoga, New York. We will be near his parents and in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, only a hundred miles from the Canadian border. I should have started knitting my wool sweaters years ago!
What will I do with my newly honed “y’all?” It will stick out like a big fat magnolia flower. And how will it sound when I mix it up with my latent Wisconsin, “Oh, ya?” and all the other local slang I’ve unknowingly picked up through all these moves? I’m going to be what my Southern friends call “a hot mess,” except I’ll be freezing cold. Hello snow! Hello ice! Hello blizzards! This is going to be one very interesting—and funny—experience!
Life done my way would have never changed. I’d still be back in the farmhouse I grew up in. I’m a little jealous of y’all who are still on the family homestead. You’re like the sturdy oaks. Me? I’m like a tumbleweed, bouncing with the breezes. God has put me on a different path that doesn’t seem to let me get too comfortable in one place. I think this first line from an old Christian song sums it up well:
This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
I don’t casually claim to be a saint, but I can relate to what the Bible says about them: “…they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Hebrews 11:16
I think of so many people, more displaced than I am: refugees escaping countries like Afghanistan, Rwanda, North Korea, and China because of genocide or religious persecution. There are thousands at our southern border longing for a better life, trying to escape drug lords, gangs, and political chaos. And then there are others: wanderers, homeless, and exiles who may or may not know which direction they can go, or if they will ever find a safe place. All they know is that they are far from home. They dangle like a mountain climber fallen over a cliff, swaying on a thin safety line of hope. Some have loved ones with them, others have lost both their place and their people. The distance is not only in mileage; it leaves a wide, empty expanse in relationships, and a constant sense of insecurity and longing.
People who’ve lost a loved one understand that sense of distance and displacement. Once our loves were near, now they are far away. Like a ship that we watch head out to sea, it seems to grow smaller and smaller until it vanishes. So it is when we bury someone. A feeling of near panic seems to rise in my chest at times—he’s so far away! Our loves are out of sight, but they are never completely out of our thoughts. We feel homesick for them. Sometimes we rush back and forth along the dock, as it were, just for another glimpse of that ship.
With Tom working in New York, I’ve stayed in South Carolina. It’s a waste of a good marriage, but we can’t find a house there yet, and we don’t seem to have any other alternative. We’re straining to keep this separate living as short as possible. Tom is living with his parents, and he’s helping them with many jobs and repairs around their house and yard. I’m living totally alone for the very first time. My children aren’t around, like when I was a widow. It’s a big adjustment and reminds me of the challenges and struggles that many widows face. I ponder the true meaning of home; living alone doesn’t make my house feel like home. It’s just a house.
Getting feedback from my widowed friends keeps me grounded. Those who have matured past the initial grief tell me this: “Home is not so much a place. Home is the presence of someone we love.”
Sometimes married people get those two ideas switched around. They work very hard to provide a perfect place. A house that has everything one could ask for: quality, beauty, efficiency, convenience, abundance, peace–you name it. It’s a family gathering place. It might be filled with laughter and fun.
But once the presence of the one we love is missing from that perfect property, it becomes a mere shell. Hollow. Lifeless. Dusty. It’s only a place without the presence of the person we loved. Someday I’ll be back together with Tom, and we can once again have a home. But I think what I’m learning through all of this paints a bigger picture: it comes back to that old song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”
I appreciate more and more that I have a Savior, and that He is love. He’s preparing a place for me where His presence will be my forever home. A perfect combination: the place and presence of God’s love—my true home at last.
Hey, y’all, I hope you will find your forever home in Jesus, too.
Ferree Hardy has helped thousands of widows through her book, “Postcards from the Widows’ Path,” small groups, speaking, and personal coaching, but touching one life at a time is what matters most to her. She holds a BA from Moody Bible Institute, and was a pastor’s wife in Ohio for over twenty years before her first husband died. She’s happily remarried now, and her readers know that moving seems to have become a hobby for her. But she also enjoys backyard chickens, aims to read fifty books a year, and loves to bake. Learn more by visiting her blog.