My heart is in turmoil.
I was always the little bird Kessie from the Winnie the Pooh movie “Seasons of Giving” who grows up under Rabbit’s care before taking flight one winter. I always cried when she left, but we always knew I’d be that bird.
I am caught between reveling in my independence as a young American adult and longing for my family, both immediate and extended, as someone who values family community.
Part of my struggle is that I victimize myself. I can phrase things in my head to make things sound worse than they are. I imagine telling my future children that I left home when I was 17. So young!! Of course, there’s more to the story than that. My leaving for college early was actually an incredible, perfectly planned gift from God. And I haven’t gone back for several reasons, one being that I don’t have just one home anymore. To where would I return?
Connecticut is my old home. It’s where my old friends are, but I don’t fit in there anymore. Last I checked, I’m the only one who went more than two or three hours away (as compared to my 15 hour drive from there to my college). Everyone else still has their families and hangs out with many of the same people from high school. They’ve grown and I’ve grown, but we’ve done so in different ways and with different people. Sometimes I envy that they are all still together, but I’m also grateful for my vibrant, trustworthy community at Wheaton. Here I have found a place of love and belonging and growth. Here I have become an adult. Though I’m only 19, Connecticut has already become my childhood memory home.
Charlotte is my parents’ home. They’ve been thriving there for one and a half years, and their church is wonderful, but I personally have no friends there. I miss my family all the time, and I only get to see them for one day on Thanksgiving and then over Christmas break—anything else is a bonus. But I’d rather not live there and be lonely, not knowing anyone but them. They don’t have space in their rental house for me anyway. This is just how life is now. I don’t belong in Charlotte. I will always belong to my family; my mom trained me to remember that I am a Christian and that I am a Bennett! But I am an American, and I am a bit of a free spirit, and I do not belong with them anymore.
What other place could I go? The Democratic Republic of Congo? I’d love to visit, but I haven’t been able to do so yet. Nairobi? Rwanda? I’d go if someone would pay for my flight and then help me find a job! I have connections with whom I could stay. But those places aren’t options right now, not this summer. (Maybe next year! I keep praying for an opportunity to go to eastern Congo.)
So what place is left? Wheaton is. Wheaton is my current home. Here I have journalism connections, a steady job, a home church, a family from whom I rent and who is fast becoming dear to me, and college friends who live here with family or are also staying for the summer. This is home now. This is my current independence.
But being independent isn’t the end goal of my life. (Following the Lord Jesus is.) While I enjoy living “on my own,” I also value family. I value community. Right now I have to participate in a larger family, God’s family, and rely on a network of friends and fellow Christians rather than my kin for everyday-life support. (I still keep communicate with my immediate family often and rely on them for other things.) But as a loyal and emotional person, I deeply miss my mom, dad, and sister as well as my brother who lives even further from them.
Sometimes I pity myself. Today is one of the days where I’m having to battle that. Because many of my friends are third culture kids and may only see their families every two years, I know I shouldn’t complain. I get to see my family at least once a year, maybe even every seven months. That amount of time will only increase as I prepare to be a missionary, and I need to face the reality that I have left my family. I’m getting better about doing that, but it’s worse when holidays come, and I start getting especially homesick around the six month mark.
The value of family community wars in my heart with my independence. I’m happy in Wheaton this summer, and I’m having a blast with my new friends here, but I’m still grappling with living as a young independent far from all my relatives.