When Belonging Isn’t What We Think It Is

Place and belonging are tricky, complicated things.

Sometimes we find ourselves belonging to a place that is not originally our own, our home, the source of our beginning. Sometimes we find that to survive certain seasons of our lives, we must learn to take root where we have been planted, to find meaning and life in every little thing that has us tethered for the time being. But it can be difficult.

I was born in Oklahoma to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in an Indian hospital. I grew up moving back and forth between New Mexico and Oklahoma, on to Missouri, Arkansas, and now Georgia, a place I’ll call home for a few more years at least.

I could tell you that since I’m a Native American, born in Oklahoma, that I’ve gone back there to live and know the land I grew up on—

But I haven’t.

The truth is, I left that that land a long time ago, when I was young. And when we moved to a new place, I learned to belong somewhere else, and today I’m still far away, still disconnected from my tribe, from my home, from my roots.

While I long to know that land better, I may never go back to live on the land in which I grew up. Place may never mean something like that to me. We live in Georgia, a place full of historic native sites, civil war sites, places that have stories to tell.

If I could invent a machine to translate the quiet breath of the trees into English so that they could tell us their stories, I would. I would ask the rocks where they came from, and I’d ask the river who used to fish on her sandy banks. But I don’t have that kind of machine, and so I must learn to listen and watch, to smell and touch—to engage all of the senses I already have in order to understand what place and belonging really mean for me.

So while I listen and wonder, I acknowledge that sometimes we can be in a place without belonging to it. We can sit somewhere without taking its story on ourselves.

Instead, we become a part of its story—I become another person in light of my own history and the history that calls me to know its name here in Georgia. I become friends and family to the people that I surround myself with, for better or for worse, and we beckon the kingdom of God into that communing.

So, belonging? Place?

It’s probably more complicated than we think it is. That also means that God finds us, speaks in more places than we thought God could. And if God reaches us where we didn’t know God could, place becomes a haven we were unaware of.

Place and belonging becomes a call for everyone, everywhere.

One day while we were walking at Sweetwater Creek, a native site in Georgia, I found a rock on the ground that had caught my attention. I picked it up and rubbed the dirt from its face and saw that it was perfectly shaped like Oklahoma—the place my people belong to. I held that rock in my hands and remembered the Indian paintbrushes and red dirt of my childhood. I remembered hot summers and powwows and people that I loved.

But more importantly, I remembered again that God sees me. God sees me in Georgia, and through this place God reminds me that I belong.

I find that, for now, I belong to these Georgia hills, to the pines and the rocks and the Chattahoochee River, because God tells me so, because God speaks to me in this moment, in this season, in this place. I belong to her stories, and as I learn those stories I let them mold me and create something new in me.

I put that stone in my medicine bag, and I carry it around with me sometimes. I carry it to remember. I carry it so that I know I am held secure here—in this season, in this place.

Sometimes belonging isn’t what we expect.

One day I may return to my own land, to the dirt I was born on.

But until then, I sit in this belonging, in this place, for everything it has to teach me—history, rivers, rocks and all.

Be on the lookout for Kaitlin’s upcoming book with Paraclete Press, shipping in November: Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places. Pre-order it today!

Kaitlin Curtice
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