The Mississippi Gulf Coast: A Tribute

I grew up in a place where the world moves just a little bit slower and the air always smells of salt and heat. A place where “Gone fishing” is an acceptable reason for closing a business because it’s understood that sometimes the only thing you can do is get on a boat and head to Horn. I’m from a place where wind-blown, dirty hair and sandy skin is indicative of a day of the best therapy you can imagine.

It’s New Orleans mixed with Fairhope and Mayberry and a tiny bit of Jackson that we wring out each year at Mardi Gras. It’s getting the question “Why don’t you sound like you’re from Mississippi?” and having to explain that the coast isn’t quite what you hear about the south. It’s spending weekends on the water, longing for summer no matter what time of the year it is.

It’s bringing new people home, that first semester of college or when you’ve been gone thirty-something years. The understanding that everyone you know would be just a little bit better after eating a Tato-Nut. It’s the strength of community you find in the midst of tragedy. Strength that comes with rebuilt homes and lives every half-a-century. It’s feeling tragedy deep and hard and understanding that it’s not you against the world but that you’ve got a tribe behind you in your darkest moments. It’s being there for people, through prayers and fundraisers and tears.

It’s a love of the water that gets in your blood. Not even the people or memories quite draw you home like the need to feel sand beneath your toes and feel the tingling of skin drawn warm and red after a day in the sun. It’s turning on country music as soon as you hit I10 and the wind that rushes through your hair as you ride that boat or jet ski further and further from land.

It’s the smile that comes over your face when people not from the coast talk about the dirty water and lack of waves. It’s the understanding that there is really something much more precious beyond the beaches. Something that you miss out on when you simply throw your towel out and bake in the sun in Destin or Gulf Shores. That our waterways are what makes us special. The bayous and rivers. The islands and sandbars. Neighborhoods that might look like anywhere else in America but hold secrets in their backyards like a warm watery Narnia yearning to be explored.

It’s something about coming home for festivals, crawfish boils and your little brother’s high school homecoming, driving first down the beach before turning the car toward the neighborhoods—because somehow the sand and saltwater is just as much home as the buildings ever will be.

It’s a lifestyle, not just a location. Filled with loving people well through food and entertainment. It’s where your parents are and, if you’re lucky, your grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. It’s the most beautiful place in the world and the place you’d never move back to—until you’re thirty-five with kids. It’s unlocked front doors and riding your bike to the farmer’s market downtown. It’s festivals every weekend and crawfish boils all spring. It’s small town life with the big town amenities just far enough away across bridges and down interstates.

It’s big trucks that pull boats and convertibles for little ladies with deep tans. It’s taking time. To smell the saltwater and laugh with old friends. It’s the secret gem at the bottom of that landmass between Louisiana and Alabama. The beautiful set of towns just down Hwy 49 from Hattiesburg and Jackson. Just east of New Orleans.

It’s Ocean Springs and Biloxi and Gulfport and Pascagoula. It’s the Mississippi Gulf Coast and it’s home no matter where the postman brings my mail.

The First Year.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Over the past year, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of transition.
Friends have graduated college and started new jobs or professional school or graduate school or moved halfway around the country or halfway around the world. Friends have stayed put and gone to school or worked part time jobs or babysat.
Friends have gotten big boy and girl jobs which they loved and thrived in or hated and eventually quit. Friends have gotten married or broken up with the person they thought they might marry. Friends have stayed single or started new relationships.

And I think I can speak for my class when I say that we’ve all struggled somewhat to adjust to this new post-college world we’ve found ourselves in.

There have been days where we’ve gotten exactly what we hoped and prayed for and days that we’ve sat on the couch in tears for hours because it felt like nothing was ever going to go our way again. And sometimes those days were in the same week and sometimes those both occurred in the same hour.

This year alone, I’ve talked to more people that didn’t believe or think exactly what I believed and thought than in the past five or six or seven years of my life. And in a thousand ways, God has confirmed who He is, and in a thousand ways, God has confirmed how wrong I have been.

I’ve been wrong about plans and structure and what it means to live a happy life. I’ve been wrong about religious acts and church worship and what it means to be in relationship with the One who created this whole crazy world we’re living in. I’ve been wrong about what it is to be an adult and wrong about who I want to be and what it really looks like to love.

I’ve learned more about love than ever before this year. (And it’s the first year in six years that I wasn’t in a dating relationship at any point.) I’ve learned that love really is the answer and it really does win, but there’s a thousand different ways people try to express it and they aren’t always love.

I’ve learned that being an adult is hard, but I’ve been set up to thrive and empowered in a thousand ways. I’ve learned to be thankful, to God and all the people around because the world spins too fast to pretend like you have it all together most days. I’ve learned that self awareness is so important because you’l never be able to conquer the world on your own and you’ll make a big hot mess if you don’t acknowledge it and try instead. And my life has been the same and a thousand times different than I expected in a thousand beautiful and terrible ways.

I learned that writing is my best form of processing because my mind moves too fast and I need things in ink to remember that’s how I once felt, even when “once” was fifteen minutes ago. And sometimes there is a season where all the writing needs to be kept private and you tuck them deep down inside somewhere and pray that God allows you to share again sometime soon.

I learned to depend. That joy comes from somewhere deep inside of me that I do not control myself but that I get to choose the controller. I learned to take friends and status and family and accomplishment off the throne, no longer giving any of those things the ability to control me, and giving that control directly to the one who saves my life everyday if I simply ask.

And I’m a thousand times thankful for the lessons. A thousand times thankful for this year. A thousand times thankful for the pulled together and the mess.

And that’s that. What I learned in the first year of adult life minus a thousand lessons because who really has time for all the things that come out of the first year–which I’m praying is one of the harder years as I’ve heard people say it is, but thanking the One who made it what it was because it is the fire that leaves gold refined.

You are so incredibly loved.

–Hallie

P.s. I’m writing back here again now.
Because sometimes you admit that your plan wasn’t the best and you just want to come home.
And Sweet Tea Stories feels like home.