What I’m Searching For


I’ve been writing this blog in my head since January 6. January 6, as you probably know, is Epiphany on the church liturgical calendar: the day we observe the arrival of the Magi at the Christ Child’s manger/cradle. This year, January 6 fell on a Sunday, and our pastor gave a very moving sermon about following the “star” (i.e. Christ).

As a part of her sermon, she asked, “What are you searching for?” Of course, the correct answer is supposed to be that you’re looking for Christ, and if you just “follow the star” (metaphorically), you will find him. But my brain never goes down the expected path, so I asked myself the question as an honest question, not a religious prompt.

The answer was simple: a place to belong. I am searching for a place to belong.

Growing up, I never felt I belonged, neither in my hometown nor even in my own family. I was so different from my parents, and not at all what they wanted. I might have thought I was adopted if I didn’t have two sisters who look exactly like me. And though I lived in one house from birth until I went to college at age 19, hence had a real hometown, I never felt I belonged there either. I was just so different from everyone around me.

Even my crowd in high school only tolerated me. I wasn’t really accepted. Some twenty years later, when our favorite teacher retired, we all gathered for a reunion of sorts. A man I’d gone to school with from kindergarten until graduation made the comment that he’d always wondered why *I* hung with them. And I’d been so conditioned to accept my state of not belonging that it was several days later before it occurred to me to wonder what the heck he meant. We were raised in the same neighborhood, the same type of house, the same socio-economic sphere, with very similar parents. The only difference was that his family boarded a horse or two at a stable in the river bottom.

When I married, I thought I’d be a part of my husband’s tight knit ranching community. But I remember once my mother-in-law and I were hanging clothes on the line when she mentioned someone in the community and added, “She’s not from here, of course.” I had thought that particular woman was a fixture, so I asked how long she’d lived in the area. My MIL tipped her head and said, “Well, let me think. It was the year of that horrible snowstorm, but after the highway was built.” She thought for a moment and added, “She’s been here about fifty years, I guess.”

Fifty years! She’d lived in the community for fifty years, but she wasn’t “from there.” I realized I’d never be “from there” either.

In my late twenties, I started a small, biweekly (and then weekly) community newspaper, and for the first time, I felt I belonged somewhere. I knew people. I had a specific place in the community, and I felt valuable. If I’d known how my life was going to go, I would have stayed there. But we moved back to the ranch, and eventually we moved on. And I divorced the rancher a couple of years later.

In 1996, I married Mars, and moved into his house. We were much more settled than I’d been in my first marriage, but I still didn’t feel rooted. In 2001, we moved to Washington, where we started all over. Again.

Then in 2007 our western Washington community was struck with a devastating flood. A thousand families lost their homes; hundreds of square miles were covered with a thick, bacteria-ridden clay soup, and we were cut off from the rest of the world by flooded highways.

An amazing thing happened. Neighbors came out of their homes to help each other. The United Way was flooded with calls: people offering clothes, food, even fifth-wheels and RVs to anyone who needed a place to stay. The United Way set up a sorting station in a empty storefront to collect and distribute donations and a phone bank to take the calls.

I spent two weeks manning the phones full-time, and I heard stories that would change my life. Incredible gifts, sometimes from people who really couldn’t afford to give them. And incredible humility too. I talked to one homeless man who’d been camping on a sandbar in the river, and lost everything. All he was asking for was a change of clothes, so he’d have something clean to wear to work. I asked if he needed food, and he said, no, he had a job and could buy food. I asked if he needed a sleeping bag and a tent, and after a long hesitation, he admitted that those would be helpful. But he refused to take anything else.

By the time the interstate was opened again, our community was well on its way to recovery (though full recovery would take years, and is probably still going on). In fact, FEMA sent people out to study what we’d done, to create a pilot program for how communities could kickstart their own recovery after disasters.

By the time our ad hoc phone bank was disbanded, I had found myself a community. I’d gotten to know some of the local movers and shakers, and made some real friends. Lifelong friends. There’s something about banding together, as neighbors, that really builds community.

When Mars was transferred to Canada, I was sad to leave Lewis County. I loved my life there. I had a house I loved, a strong network of friends, and a glorious writing office in a historic downtown building. I was close to family. I had a church and a doctor that I loved. A critique group with talented, wise writers who were also friends. I had a life, rich and full and happy. And a place where I knew I belonged.

I thought I could build it again. I thought I’d finally grown up enough to quit worrying about whether or not I belonged. I had forgotten that it took a five-hundred-year flood to create my sense of community.

So we moved. I spent most of the first year dealing not only with the normal stress of moving, issues at school, and problems with our new home, but also fighting clinical depression. I have been so lonely. I’ve never felt quite so much an outsider as I do here.

I thought I just needed to hang on. Things would get better. I’d make friends and find my niche. I did some counseling for the depression and tried to focus on the positive. And I expected that when I got over the depression, I wouldn’t be so sad at all time.

I was wrong. I’m over the depression. I don’t sleep for twelve or fourteen hours a day any more. I am, once again, enjoying the things I used to enjoy. And I have a lot more energy (though still not a hundred percent).

But I’m still very, very sad. I go to bed early most nights, and struggle to get going in the mornings, though I was always a morning person before. As Mars put it, I “go to bed sad, and wake up miserable.”

Thing is, I’ll never belong here. I have met people who were born in the U.S. but moved to Canada as babies. They still identify as American.

More to the point, Canadians see them as American. And a lot of Canadians seem to really dislike Americans.

I’ve seen discrimination before, of course, though I never understood it. My sisters and I grew up surrounded by many cultures, and it was years before I realized that some people thought my blond, blue-eyed siblings were different somehow from our Spanish-speaking, dark-haired playmates.

But I’d only seen it, never been its victim. Even when I traveled abroad, somehow I wasn’t exposed to the sort of American-bashing I hear goes on.

The thing I never realized before is that discrimination feels personal.

I try to tell myself it isn’t about me, not about Katrina. It’s more about that person’s upbringing or bad experiences, or in some cases, wounded national pride. Most of the time, the individual making rude remarks doesn’t even know me. Sometimes, he doesn’t even know I’m American. After all, I can pass as Canadian, unlike my brown-skinned childhood friends. I tell myself not to take it personally.

But it feels personal. Maybe discrimination always feels personal. It feels directed at me, like I have done something wrong, something shameful, by being born in the United States.

Or perhaps, the wrong I did was moving to someplace my persecutor believes I do not have the right to live. Using government resources (like health care) that I don’t deserve (though we pay the same taxes as Canadian citizens, without receiving the same rights and benefits). Maybe taking a job a Canadian might have had if I weren’t here — though I don’t actually have a job.

For some reason, Mars doesn’t seem to face the same persecution. Maybe because he’s quieter and more polite, less outspoken. Less typically American. Or maybe he just doesn’t notice.

Regardless, I am not “from here,” and I will never be. I’m here for the duration — at least until Mars retires in thirteen or so years — but I will never be “from here.”

I fear I will never belong.

16 Responses to “What I’m Searching For”

  1. Jules Says:

    You belong to ME!!

  2. serenity39 Says:

    I would feel the same if we were to move to the States. Part of the problem is, the two countries seem on the surface to be so similar, but they really aren’t. You had it good where you were, and moving anywhere away from that would be a real shock to the system, whether it was Canada, England, Fiji. Pulling up roots must be so hard. But we’re just not all that bad. Really. Don’t lump us all in with narrow minded rednecks who watch the news and assume the worst about all Americans.🙂

    • katrinastonoff Says:

      Oh, my goodness, no! I do not, not at all, lump all Canadians with the haters. In fact, I would say that most Canadians are wonderful, kind people, some of the finest people I have ever met.

      The problem is that the haters are so much louder. If eight people out of ten are quietly accepting, but the remaining two scream, “Go home, Yankee!,” it’s hard to feel wanted.

      I suspect this also is true of discrimination in general, that one person screaming vitriolic tirades can drown out even a hundred quiet supporters. I suspect that victims of discrimination often have trouble remembering that most of their neighbors are not bigoted at all.

      And I know I brought some of this on myself. It hasn’t helped matters that I have become rather vocal in my criticism of our local school. I do not believe in letting that kind of governmentally sanctioned abuse continue. Not even after I have removed my own children to keep them safe. Not even if it makes me a pariah in the community in which I live.

      I’m well aware that I’m breaking some pretty big taboos by speaking against the actions of the school, and that by doing so, I’m also feeding the stereotype of loud-mouthed, complaining Americans.

      Heck, I’m even aware that we, as Americans, often deserve the image. We do often complain, and sometimes about really petty things because, quite frankly, we’re a bit spoiled. We have it a little too good, so when we go out into the world, it can be a bit of a shock. And we don’t always deal well with that.

      But in the end, it is what it is. I’m an American, and I’m vocal when I see egregious wrongs. That is not a trait I want to change in myself, not even if the trait dooms me to a lonely life in Canada.

      • serenity39 Says:

        I know you don’t lump us all in– after all you’ve gotten involved in some positive church and community activities– far more than i do, and i was born here– and those people have to cancel out the haters. i can’t imagine it’s that lonely with choir and stuff going on. The tinpot dictators at that school deserve every bit of criticism you can give them, though you are tilting at windmills there and now i’m all out of cliches LET’S HOPE. They did give you the remarkable experience of a year homeschooling the kids though, and for that i would actually thank them. Pollyanna strikes again!🙂

  3. Nicola Says:

    And you are an American in Alberta where we proudly love the USA! Try being an Albertan in Ontario! They hate the west out here! And just mention homeschooling out here and you get the evil eye!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Dearest hurting Katrina,
    How do I describe the hole you and the family left in beautiful Lewis County? Dear One, you are loved. You know that food is one of my mediums so I will use food for my metaphor. It is time to focus on the donut and not on the hole. While we miss you deeply, we know that God has moved you from us and has new work for you to do. Take a moment look around and see the joy in which you live. See the joys of GG’s heart and the gift that is the animator. Then there is Mars, your own personal Greek god. Yes, some people are, um, er, difficult. Yes, there are reforms that need to be made focus on the donut! there will always be a hole in it, but that’s not the good part. Bite in, savor the texture, inhale the smell. Chew girl, chew. Savor and breathe. Soooooo many good people live in Canada, enjoy them, The As, ur, um “others” will always be there.
    When Lou retires many of us hopefully will still be here waiting for your return, though it of course won’t be the same place that you left.
    How many times in your life does someone tell you to go out, buy donuts, and eat them, share them enjoy every tasty morsel of them? Go on. You know you want to. Savor, smile, love.
    We loved having you in our lives, and that you may remember was a somewhat rocky beginning. I can’t promise it will turn out as well for you there, but I know there are roles to be acted, organs to to be played, family to be loved and books to be written.
    Persevere, dear one, you are loved deeply, respected beyond words, adored as a goddess by Mars, There are bad apples in every barrel.
    So, girl, get there, hit Tim Horton’s and focus on the donut the hole will be there, I can’t help that. Enjoy the good parts. You belong to God and where he puts you is where you need to be. I know you and Mars put in lots of prayer and study before you moved. I don’t know why you’re in a bad patch, maybe so loud vocal person from the outside had to come to tell the school the the Emperor has no clothes. I can’t answer that. I so know that your rest safely in the love of God and I can give you no other advise.
    Remember! Donuts!

    • Katrina Stonoff Says:

      Oh, my dear, dear friend … you have no idea what this meant to me. I read it weeping, and every time I think about it, I smile.

      Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, for your faith (both in me and God’s plan for my life), for your love, and for your forgiveness.

      I think on a regular basis about how we first met, and what an unexpected gift and blessing our friendship with you and your wife has been. I know she was not happy to see me show up at your church, but she shook it off immediately and made me welcome from the first — not only in the church, but in her choir. The two of you since have been the face of Christ for me, the embodiment of grace and forgiveness. When I see your smile, hear your laugh, and feel your love (speaking of you both), I can believe God loves me unconditionally. I’ve thought many times about blogging about that experience — about my abominable behavior (I was bitterly disappointed, and I don’t handle disappointment well), and the friendship we formed with you guys later — but I’m not sure how comfortable your wife is with me making the story public. But it’s such a wonderful story of forgiveness and redemption. And of good, good people making noble choices.🙂

      We loved being a part of your church family, and we feel we are still. I am so grateful to Facebook, for the yahoo group, for the chance to write devotionals for Lent — for the ongoing regular contact with you all, so we still feel a part of your lives even from so far away.

      Thanks for the reassurance (and the reminder) that this too is a good place, a place we have come to by no accident. We have a role to play here, and if it’s an uncomfortable one at times, at least we have you all in the background, cheering for us and loving us.

      And how funny that you mentioned “other organs to play!” We love our new church (have I mentioned there are fourteen teens in Girly Girl’s confirmation class, and that we switched churches in the hopes of finding friends for her who are her age?!). But the music people are SO gifted that I had accepted I won’t be playing the organ or piano here. I let go of that part of my life (with some regret). But Sunday after church, the music minister caught me to ask, “How comfortable are you playing for Sunday services?” And added, “They’d love to have more organ!” LOL. So I’m playing on St. Patrick’s Day — which somehow feels fitting.🙂

      And donuts? Oh, honey, you know the road to a girl’s heart. Not just donuts, but donuts from Tim Hortons! It’s pretty much impossible to see the hole in a donut from Tim Hortons.

      Especially since I like the filled versions — mmmm, Bavarian creme! — and they don’t even have holes!!

      Thanks. I love you guys, so much!!

  5. Jim Says:

    Just a few tears as I read this! Much love!

  6. Gina B Says:

    Oh Katrina, this post broke my heart! I’m going to go and pray on you finding friends, and while this sounds so simplistic, I just want to share my story. Because I’ve been this outside girl too, since about the 2nd grade, up until recently. Friendship is one of the most important things on this planet to me and yet finding ones who I can trust and who like me and Chris and the kids…ridiculously difficult. And move after move hurt us. And betrayal. And a sister that is so close with her kids she doesn’t have much room for me (as a mom, I get it.)

    So I prayed and prayed and prayed. I got involved with this church that was meeting in a bar a few years ago. Tried to make friends with these people, that people, those people, and on our Monday nights for 1, then 2, then 3 years, met with a group of people, who at some point, became a steady core. And then, this fall, the ultimate betrayal, and a small group of us – the Monday night group, who are probably still being insulted and gossiped about, broke off, and made our own church. Betrayed by our very own pastors, those we tried to befriend. Chris was NOT happy. Now, these people are my other family. I’d trust them with my life, and it’s really hard because Chris is NOT willing to accept that or them. Is it ever easy? I don’t think so, but without that painful and ugly break that happened in October/November, I wouldn’t feel as rooted and supported as I do now, more than ever in my life.

    Will it work out? I’m hopeful, and I’m hopeful for you too. Because you have a big heart, and a dear nature, and people will gravitate to you. Because firsthand I’ve seen that dark times weed out those who are unloyal, untrustworthy, and self-involved, leaving you with only people who actually have your back. It may take time to root down and build those long friendships, but I’m going to pray for it to happen. Heck, I’ve waited for this my whole life only to find it where and how I’d have never considered. grace & peace to you Katrina!

    • Katrina Stonoff Says:

      Thanks, Gina. I appreciate your prayers and your wishes for grace and peace — as I appreciate your experience. It is certainly true that dark times weed out the people who aren’t really committed to a relationship with you in the first place. I trust you are correct that I will eventually find my roots again.

      Of course, if you ever decided to move to Alberta? This wouldn’t be an issue.🙂

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Katrina;
    I to felt and still do feel like such an outsider and never belonged anywhere, home, family, school no where. I lived a couple streets over and I grew up with you. We went to the same elementary, middle and high school. I even took piano lessons at your house. I always wanted to be like you. You always seemed to have so many friends. I am sorry that you feel this way. You were always such an inspiration to me. I never told you but you were.

    Not sure why I’m writing now, guess I just wanted to let you know how I looked up to you even thou we are the same age.

    • katrinastonoff Says:

      Wow. You’ve made me cry!

      I have no idea who you are, but I’m sorry you felt like an outsider. I wish had known. We could have been outsiders together, and formed our own community.🙂 Heck, we could have made everybody else wish they could get in!

      I don’t feel much like an inspiration — especially at this time in my life, when I’ve been so beaten down by the past couple of years. I’m honored that you see me that way. I just wish I could live up to your image.

      But I have to say … you don’t want to be like me. Really, you don’t. I’ve spent my life being told I’m too much: too big, too loud, too smart, too opinionated, too emotional, too open … too, too, too much. I’ve spent my life trying to rein myself in, to avoid offending everyone who is close to me.

      It’s true, I’ve always had a lot of friends. I still do, I suppose. But the number of people who could truly accept me when I’m fully, gloriously, both-barrels Katrina — I can count those people on one hand, and still have fingers left over. Right now, I can think of exactly two people — and one of them never really had to deal with both-barrels-Katrina, so I really don’t know if he could have dealt with me or not. I think maybe I had a lot of friends to spread the “goodness,” so nobody had to deal too much with me.

      Maybe the take-away message here, for both of us, is that everybody is carrying a private grief. Nobody is as perfect as they might appear from the outside.

      Which, I suppose, makes all of equal in a way. Equally broken, perhaps, But still equal.🙂

      If you want to come out of the closet and tell me who you are, I’d love to continue this on a more personal level. Email me: katrina (at) stonoff (dot) com.

      But then … that might just be typically me. Too, too too intimate. And much too quickly.

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