My minivan rolled up to the flashing-red, four way stop, and I recognized in a vehicle to my right a woman I had graduated high school with over twenty years ago. I held my hand at the ready to wave hello had she looked my way, and as she drove straight while I turned right I smiled at the occurrence. I thought to myself how cool it was to live in a city small enough that I recognized classmates out on the street, or that I understood I’d run into someone I knew when I went to Walmart. A lot of people hated that about small town living, but not me.
When you’re growing up in a small town in the South you’ll hear many of your peers comment about leaving. They’ll speak on all the reasons why “this backwards town needs to eat my dust,” or they’ll lament with longing for the day they can leave small minds and lack of opportunity behind. Well, I just so happened to do more than just talk. I got up and left, and I stayed away for a good ten years.
I traveled across the country and around the globe. I met new people, experienced other cultures, and opened my mind to those who thought different than myself. I saw the sights and lived the life in the “big cities” far removed from my sleepy southern existence. I learned to mesh in the melting pot and I heard more times than I like to recall, “oh my god, your accent! Where are you from?”
I enjoyed the culture, the museums, restaurants, shopping, and more. I had the choice to attend some of the most prestigious nursing schools in our country, I looked from the top of the two tallest buildings in the United States, and I had the pleasure to work with some really brilliant medical professionals. I realized that there was a whole big world outside of Mississippi, and though it was a different kind of beauty than sprawling green fields and groves of dense forest, it was lovely. Breathtaking many times.
But I came back!
Here’s what I learned.
I learned I love the South! I love that everyone knows my name. And while folks might be a bit nosy, it’s far better than not caring at all. I like that strangers wave hello and you don’t think a thing about it. If I had waved at a stranger in some of the places I had lived before they probably would have thought I was mentally challenged.
I like that if my car breaks down on the side of the road that help is never too far away. It’s nice to know that strangers lend a hand, and that you’re okay to accept it rather than fearing they might try and steal your purse. I love that I left my new, expensive cell phone in a local restaurant bathroom today, yet when I came back it was still there. It’s a relief to let my children play outside without worrying they’ll be abducted. And though I realize crime and bad people exist everywhere, let’s be honest, there’s less of a chance in a rural, Bible-belt community. Crime statistics don’t lie.
I recently heard where the tiny town I grew up in down south had been forced to take down a Christian flag. Naturally this caused upset by the majority of its population, but rather than being too overly distressed by these events I was reminded how wonderful it is to live in a community of like-minded individuals. It’s comforting. So while one individual might have asked for the flag’s removal, hundreds more were upset by its absence. Really that’s the top reason I’m grateful to be back home. Some people might roll their eyes at my feelings of solidarity over being surrounded by other followers of Jesus, but I don’t care. There’s something nice about community, about belonging in a group that is similar to yourself. So even though we might be very different in many things, we are alike in the fact that we love the Lord. That’s what I want. I love all people on this planet regardless of color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or whatever other differences we might have. I just also happen to love being surrounding by friends who support my beliefs because they hold them dear also. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In different areas of the country that I have lived the freedom to pursue my beliefs openly has not been as possible as it is here, and it certainly wasn’t celebrated. It was stifling. I guess we do live in a time and country where they will take away our flag if it appears that it imposes on others, but they cannot take away our hearts. They cannot take away our kindness or our love that emanates from within. Although a symbol of who we are, the Christian flag isn’t who we are. I’m just grateful to live in an area where there’s outrage at its removal. Prior places I lived it would have never even been considered allowing to fly one single day.
So to all my fellow, small southern town friends, be grateful for your roots. Be proud of your community. Don’t take for granted the freedoms you have that are not allowed elsewhere. I’m not saying not to be angry when Christianity is treated unfairly. We must take a stand to keep our liberties from being completed stripped. Be vocal, angry, and demand your equal rights. I will agree that sometimes it seems like there’s such a thing as freedom of religion unless you’re the majority religion (Christianity) then you’re considered oppressive, hate-mongering, or bigoted. It’s not fair. This is simply a reminder from your neighbor, who hasn’t always been your neighbor, that we are blessed to live in this region. Trust me.
*Of note, I want no argument on this post about the separation of church and state. That is not what this post is about. It’s about living in the Bible-belt and how I enjoy that.