Dear Southern Illinois,
When I left you, so many years ago, I threw my belongings in my car and drove as fast as I could. My heart was broken and I didn’t know how to let it heal except to run far and fast. I didn’t want to think about you any more. You felt like an old boyfriend who had betrayed me and I knew that distance was the only answer.
Healing did come. By the grace of God it came. My soul rested and God closed wounds. I was still a bit fearful of you though. Oh, I came back to visit a few times. I snuck in by the dark of night and kept my heart closed to you. I was afraid of letting you back in. The trauma that had been dealt in your presence was so great that it over-powered the good. But I was healing.
This week I came back. I came home. And I opened my heart to see the real you.
Your rolling hills of green enveloped me like a grandmother’s quilt. Your rivers and lakes ribboned through my soul like silk in my hair. The sweet smell of your air and the ripe fruit on your trees took me in and comforted me. You whispered memories of slumber parties and late night giggles and potato chip frenzied parties.
You reminded me of learning to ride a bike and how to read and write and multiply. You sang show tunes in my ear and turned my fingers to jazz hands. You danced around me on water and back roads and down dusty lanes.
You showed me people who have loved me through the good, the bad, the ugly, and still bring me cookies when I show up. You showed me people who have hit bottom too, and learned to bounce.
You reminded me of a slower pace and slower drawl and lightening bugs. You are full of my before – and for a long time I thought that was something I was over and done with – but now I can’t wait to visit you more in my after. I can’t wait to bring my children to you, to scale your cliffs and swim in your streams. I want them to climb your trees and pick your fruit and feel a deep connection to who they are. Because they are of me and I am of you.