The other day, I turned over my expired Texas license and officially admitted to the DMV that I am a permanent resident of Mississippi.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means.
Whenever someone asks me what it’s like living in Mississippi, I always say, “The Help.”
To clarify, Kathryn Stockett is a genius, and not just because she captured southern racism. She also gets the unwritten rules and subtext of social life in the deep south.
I have no fear of being denied entry into a bathroom. In spite of its baggage (and perhaps a bit because of it), Mississipi has introduced me to some of the most socially conscious and compassionate people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. But bridge clubs? The DAR? Family heirlooms hither and yon?
Making Friends and Influencing People
I’m a Houstonian who thought she was southern until she married a legitimate southerner and went back to the Mississippi mothership. I entered a different culture, where it seemed like there was a codebook to making new friends, but that they forgot to give me the manual.
I live in the land of spotless living rooms, of carefully-planned events complete with beautiful carafes and down-home cooking. Mothers who dress their children in adorable monogrammed bubble rompers. Fathers who have bourbon clubs for their boys nights out. Of lilting southern accents and intimidating southern excellence, where stay at home moms have advanced degrees and know where the fork goes in an actual table setting.
I am a stranger in this land.
And I realize that I’m a stranger to myself.
I have borrowed other people’s terminology to describe myself for as long as I can remember. Ten years ago, I would have told you I’m a typical Type-A perfectionist. “I’m a people-pleaser, an extrovert, and a go-getter.”
I’m so Type B that it drives my Type A husband crazy. I’m not a perfectionist. I’m a “that’s good enough, I’m stressed out dealing with it, just leave it like it is” ist. Forget performance anxiety. People-pleasing for me means hiding from people altogether. I’m not an extrovert. Or a go-getter. I’m an introvert, and I love my comfort zone and hate competition.
But let’s face it: it’s cool when your “vice” is that you wear yourself out trying to impress other people. Not when you have laundry piled up in every imaginable corner while you’re chilling on the couch, wholly unbothered and watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for the ten thousandth time.
Getting To Know Others
To be clear, my intimidation with other people’s neatness is a reflection on my issues -not theirs. If you’re a Mississippi belle with a fully stocked china cabinet, own it. Entertaining well is an art. I have been so blessed and impressed by this southern hospitality. And I am striving to become a better homemaker, because, in proper perspective, there is nothing wrong (and a lot very much right) with that.
But I also need to stop putting myself down.
And that’s hard.
I can’t imagine anyone in my new surroundings wanting to come to my home. Which is not a spacious, well-decorated house, but a tiny apartment that we’re living and loving in while we pay off debt. I have bookshelves piled to the brim with books stacked at odd angles. There are papers that I need to grade shoved into every nook and cranny. There’s a pile of unpacked boxes inhabiting my son’s room, even though we’ve lived in our current apartment for six months.
I’ve got me. In all my mess. The mess that I shove into my bedroom every time the doorbell rings. And the mess of someone who is still figuring out who I am and how to live life to God’s glory.
What’s it like living in Mississippi?
It’s like living on a whole different planet, where I’m a little girl whose life is as unruly as her twist-out and everyone else seems like a grown woman.
Like I showed up at the prom in my mama’s too-big pumps and pearls, and everyone else belongs there, and I’m just playing dress up.
Like learning that that’s okay.
My idea of hospitality is inviting my friends over to watch The Sixth Sense, polish off a box of wine, and cooking homemade cinnamon rolls. It’s just being available and being willing to be open with my untidy house, my messy life.
The other day, my hostess at a fun Mississippi event winked at me when I told her how tidy her house was, and invited me into her bedroom. The unmade bed, untidy stacks, and overflowing dirty clothes hamper took a weight off my chest. It shows care and kindness to clean up for your guest. It also shows care and kindness to remind your guest that no one has it all together.
This fall, I have decided to press into my identity and open it up to my brand new Mississipi life. It is not easy not to fit in, not to be an automatic fixture of the culture. That’s okay because I honestly do believe that I am surrounded by people who want to love me anyway. I’m ready to press into that. I’m prepared to give them me. I’m ready to learn -as I will inevitably learn -that we all have insecurities, whether they’re hiding behind a pile of laundry or a vacuumed floor.
We’ll love each other anyway.
I’ve been in Atlanta all week with my husband. We’re here half for ministry (for me), part for work (for him), and part for some quality time with just us two. We left on the heels of hosting my family all the way from Zambia. In fact, seven of my siblings, my mom, and my dad are back in our eighteen hundred square foot home with our sons. I should be laying in a hotel bed binging Parks and Rec with my husband. And I will be soon. But I have something to say about motherhood and mom guilt.
A few months ago, I wrote an article for Legacy about friendship. In it, I tried to be as honest as possible about the struggle of being a transplant in Mississippi’s foreign culture, and my own hang-ups with making new friends. I hit send. Weeks passed. A couple of months. Then the article went live. And I had more than one friend reach out to me and ask me if we were okay. “I thought we were friends!” Undercover Trust Issues I’m not a journaler, and I try not to use my articles as thinly veiled diary entries. However, there…