Just after his job offer in northern Louisiana, my husband and I made a list of the pros and cons of moving from the north to the south, and even though we thought we heard from God that our direction was a good one, there’s always those moments when you need to sing to yourself in every key (including the key of off) from Isaiah 12:2
“I am confident and unafraid.”
But I wasn’t, really.
After six months in this unfamiliar country, er state, wonderful things I never could have expected happened, and appalling events transpired that were unforeseen.
And, in the moments of believing I had it all together, all planned out, and that my dream of a perfect move and a perfect house was going to happen, the culture shock overshadowed me. The unfamiliarity of people, accents, attitudes, the food, the scenery disoriented me. I drove 2 hours one day to stand in the middle of a Whole Foods and feel and smell the shopping menu.
Culture shock, interestingly enough, has a bell curve, and I was on it. I’d long abandoned the honeymoon stage the day my plane landed in Louisiana. As the gnawing uncertainty grew, I longed for any semblance of my previous life in the northwest. For my husband, who had been living here for almost 2 years, I drew some wisdom. “One day you will wake up and be thankful for something”. Nothing seemed less certain except the number of mosquito bites and how often I asked someone to repeat themselves.
I tried to suck it up and be open and curious. I read recommended books about the south. I visited museums to see what had truthfully happened here. All I could do was muddle through the day as my “northern self.” I screamed at bugs; I grimaced at people who talked about hunting aligators, and I was overdressed for every single occasion.
And then one day I glanced at the crepe myrtles along the bayou and the giant swath of color they made down the street. I realized the fig tree in my backyard was blooming. When the red cardinals flew in for spring, I noticed the plethora of other birds I had been missing. A slow slog through the day quickened in moments of joy at a connection with someone new.
The odd thing about culture shock is that ultimately you do adapt to where you are. For me, I know I will never assimilate to the south. I often get asked, “where are you from?” I miss a more urban life with its wide selection of shopping and the bustle and energy of a city. Internally, I have relocated to the appropriate authentic place of quiet contentment.
Because the contradiction with authenticity is this: I want the freedom to find my true self apart from my social sphere. But, I can only find it in and through the people and places I commit to being in.
When I connect my authenticity to something bigger than myself, I realize I have a vocation to exhibit the character and attributes that best serve others. Whether I like it or not, I am a reflection and reflector of those around me. I can become a reflection and a mirror of the image of God I need to have. For me, a far better focus than my self absorption is the question: who am I reflecting and why?
And there’s still a lot to learn.