A Case for the Country


I’m a repeat offender in the sin of discontentment. When we got married I painstakingly explained to Justin that I had a problem called “futurism,” wherein I was always gazing into the future and placing my hopes for happiness on a ship that had yet to come in.

He listened, just as carefully as I had described this whimsical problem of mine. Then he said, “Oh, so you mean you have a problem with discontentment?”

No. That’s not what it’s called.

Is it?

Fast forward five years and here I am, still in the tiny little town where we met and married. When I look back on the seven years that I’ve lived out here as an adult, it surprises me to find that I’m still here. I moved to Hartsville from Nashville, where my parents and five of my six siblings still dwell, and some part of me always thought that this was a temporary layover. My husband is a pastor, after all, and he is young, and from the moment he finished seminary I assumed he’d be taking a call to another pulpit and heading into some as-yet unfamiliar place (read: hopefully a city, one with good restaurants and a discreetly cultured nightlife!).

Imagine my surprise when a few invitations came… and were passed over. My husband, for reasons I could not understand, seemed to love this tiny town.

Thus commenced a few years of miscommunication, wherein we jokingly explained to people that Justin was the steady type and I was the wanderer and we were having a clash of expectations. Justin, see, grew up one town over. He lived in the same farmhouse all his life, a farmhouse on a road named for his family, a farmhouse which was added onto rather than being abandoned.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

My family would never have added onto a farmhouse. They would have painted it and sold it. And that’s exactly what they did, every few years in my childhood—bought, renovated, and sold, bought, renovated, and sold, and in my mind, that is what you do with residences. You change them. In my lifetime, there have been nine family homes. I remember loving every single move we made. As a young adult, I continued the pattern that I loved so much. From college until I got married, I rented or was a guest in no fewer than eight different homes.

Habits die hard. I like change; I’m not embarrassed to admit it. It’s a perfectly legitimate way of living. The nice thing about change is that it keeps things fresh, it provides you with something to think about, and it gives you attainable goals. The terrible thing about relying on change for your happiness is that it’s just discontent masquerading under the guise of activity.

So I still like change. But here is the very curious thing that happened at some point over the course of 2017. I woke up one week and realized that I want to stay where I am. It was the exact same week that I also realized I’d been holding myself hostage to the change that wasn’t coming. Why was I still behaving like a temporary resident, seven years in? Why was I having trouble with the idea of planting trees or berry bushes in my back yard? Why was I still holding myself back from relationships here as if they were going to be short lived? I hadn’t even known that I was holding back, subtly waiting, until the day that I found myself enthusiastically on board with our stay-puttedness.

 

Did Imagining Change Kill My Appetite for Change?

What changed? I don’t know exactly, but I have a theory. There was a point a few months earlier when I was seriously, imaginatively trying to picture myself and my family moving to a particular church that had reached out to us. I’d been immediately enthused about the prospect, because, of course, change. But then I started to go through the motions of it vividly in my mind. Packing. Moving. City. Traffic. New people. No more cows. My children’s grandparents out of reach. My current church family out of reach.  All those relationships lost.

Would it be better? Would I find truer friends in any other place? Would I find better community? Would I find that upping the population count around me would also up the enjoyment and personal interaction? How about my girls—what if they could grow up in one town, with a yard that they were allowed to play in without supervision? What if we could plant berry bushes because we knew we’d be here long enough to eat them?

And the answer to all these questions led me to that day when I suddenly realized I was living in my home. I want—miracle of miracles!—to be where I am.

Change will come often enough. The rhythms of God’s green world will bring those. New body, growing new babies (Lord willing). New school years, new books, new projects (Lord willing). New paint colors, new springs, new houses to keep up with new family sizes (but in the same county, Lord willing). There will be enough change for even an appetite like mine. But I suddenly have a taste for sameness, for a life that involves no heady rush across state lines.

You’ve heard the saying that where God closes a door, he will open a window. Well, this experience has taught me that sometimes he closes a door right after he gets you to a point where you feel a draft and you ask for it to be shut. I feel right now like he’s settled my life here in a more permanent way, but only after making me want it.

 

The Country Life for Me

Photo by Peter Kleinau on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting around a table on somebody’s back patio out here in the nowherest of middle-of-nowheres. There were lights strung up, and a free-standing stone fireplace was roaring next to us. The night was cool. There were six women, ages ranging from our 20s to our 50s. We feasted on wine, cheese, homemade sourdough, soup, and sumptuous greens. We laughed. Somebody was holding a baby. A carpet was laid out on the deck under our feet. After the feast reached a languorous conclusion, we pushed the table aside and curled up in front of the fire with tea, to begin the reading. With all of our parts assigned, we read The Taming of the Shrew.

I looked around, with a full stomach and the fire of joy in my veins, and wondered: Why would I ever think that better company than this could be found in some city watering hole? What better company can be found anywhere? What truer culture than this, the innocent pleasure of Christian ladies reading and eating, laughing and talking together and then sleepily returning to their families?

So here’s what I want (it so happens to be what I currently have): To leave my house and be able to drive forty minutes without reaching a real traffic jam. To not have the constant sense that restaurants are popping up down the street and I’m never going to be able to try them all. To be in a church that is resolutely the center of my social life.  To have the waiting option of a robust home-school community for my girls. For our standard form of “visiting” to entail having people in our home or being in theirs. To have the option of owning land near town without being millionaires.

Is it possible that the feeling I had when I first moved out here—of having come home—is it possible that this was a hint of what my full adult life was going to look like? Perhaps even my twilight years? God knows. I only know that my home is here now, and I feel like the vestiges of my “city self” (whoever that was) continue to melt away year after year. I’ve not missed them.

Maybe even the “futurism” will be put on ice… for now.

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