Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like

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Comments

  1. Gwen Acres says:

    Diana, you are one beautiful lady, inside and out! And smart and gifted to boot!! How wonderful that your mother sees clearly now.

  2. I hadn’t realized how similar our journeys, my dear Diana… You look SO beautiful in that picture with you and the baby. Oh, those little comments that undo us–I know, they’ve undone me too. Loving you, thanking you for this. For YOU. XOXO

  3. Oh my. So many feelings this brings up. Glad to read your blog and for the book recommendation!

  4. “We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.” It’s amazing how long these things stay with us. For me it was the once over look with a slightly curled left side of her lip that always meant disapproval. I was startled when I saw that look on my mothers face last May when I told her I loved her for the first time. But it wasn’d directed at me, but at herself. It said “well, I did my best, but it wasn’t very good, was it?”
    Thanks again for sharing about your life.

    • It is amazing, isn’t it? You actually told your mom you loved her for the very first time, this year? Wow. That’s a hard system emotionally, Newell. I’m so sorry. But I’m glad you said it and I’m glad you could see behind the look to the truth that had been hiding there, probably all these years. We are all such frightfully insecure creatures — even our mothers. Thanks for commenting, my friend.

  5. Donna C says:

    Sounds like an interesting read! I also have complicated relationships with both ‘home’ and parents… don’t know that that will ever change. By the way, I look at those photos of you, and think you look stunning!

    • I know your relationships are very complicated, Donna. And they may never change the way you might like them to. BUT you went ‘home’ this year, dear Donna. It wasn’t perfect, but parts of it were good, right? I look at those photos and feel like I did look terrific, to tell you the truth. But I surely never believed that then.

  6. Your relationship with your mother mirrors my own. She is still with us at almost 86, and she has mellowed a bit, especially since losing my dad this year, but she is still judgmental and a worrier. When you related the revelation that your mother was always jealous of you, it truly hit home for me. Like you, I love my mom, but we’ve never been best friends.
    I’ve read other recommendations for the book you mentioned, and I know I will add it to my wish list.
    Blessings, Diana!

    • My mom and I have been best friends, despite all of her insecurities and my over sensitivities. She will be 93 this Sunday and is actually a bit better right now than she has been for the last few months. She lives in a dementia unit near our home, and when I’m healthy, I see her twice every week and talk to her on the days in between the visits. It gets harder and harder to do, as she searches for vocab and is so easily confused, but she is very sweet and still very vivacious and social, even at this late stage of her life. No more snide comments these days.

  7. “A little broad across the beam.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one.

    Relationships sure can be all tangled, can’t they? I often wonder about the parts of my mom’s story I never knew–and how her story translated into comments that are written into my own story–words said that took root in their own ways.

    • Indeed they can, Sandy – tangled in all kinds of ways. And those tangles often include deep love and almost equally deep frustration and neurotic reactivity! And words are frighteningly powerful.

  8. Why is it that little zingers, especially from those we love, stay in our memories for decades, but compliments or encouragement are often forgotten? There must be a few demons assigned to snatch away the positive and highlight the negative! Lord, help me focus on the former and avoid the latter. I don’t want to be remembered for my zingers! And thank you for Diana, who always blesses us with positive input–her insight, encouragement, and wisdom.

    • That is a great prayer, Nancy – to ask for divine sifting out of the negative! And I don’t want to be remembered for my zingers, either, that’s for sure. Thanks for your kind words, my friend. Are you getting settled in the new place??

      • Thank you for asking! I have settled in very quickly to the routine of caring for our toddler granddaughter each day. However, our house is still a big work in progress (terribly slow). Must keep reminding myself: time enough for that. The adorable toddler days disappear all too quickly. Better to focus on these moments with her!

        • Good choice! We did care for our youngest granddaughter for a little over two years – not daily, but twice a week – and it was such a gift. Enjoy, enjoy!

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