We all have those places that when we think of them, they immediately trigger nostalgia. We remember of all the incredible people we met or the delectable food we tasted or the adventures we embarked upon. When we talk about these places, our eyes brighten and smiles widen. These places feel like home.
Knoxville, Tennessee is one of those places for me. I have only ever spent less than four years of my life there, and yet I have a deep connection with it. That city holds unparalleled memories of wacky antics from college, memories of heartbreak and love, and so many hopes and dreams a younger me hoped to see fulfilled. Knoxville buried itself deep in my heart nine years ago and refuses to vacate.
After almost two years of New York City life, I was finally reunited with the “scruffy little city” of Knoxville in April. It was a reunion I had been looking forward to since I left. It is no secret that I have struggled to find my way here in the city of all cities. I often wondered if I made a mistake by leaving a life I loved so much to take on the unknown. I have speculated what it would be like to have stayed – if life would have been fuller, richer, easier than the constant fight of trying to keep up with New York. I longed to visit my former home, but I was terrified. What if I realized I was right?
The trip back down south did me so much good. I got to hug dear friends I had not seen in months, almost all of whom I had not laid eyes on since I moved in 2010. My goal in visiting was to spend quality time with people I love, but somehow I knew even as I was scheduling the trip that it would bring closure. I left Knoxville for the exciting new frontier of marriage and New York City, but not without leaving substantial pieces of my heart behind.
In many ways, Knoxville fits me. I love the southern hospitality, the small talk with shop owners, and exchanging smiles with strangers as they walk by. I adore sweet tea and philosophical conversations while sitting on a wrap-around porch. As I walked around Market Square watching families play and friends dining together al fresco, my own memories of sweet times in the city came flooding back. As I walked around the changing landscape of downtown, I was keenly aware that Knoxville, like myself, had grown and changed immensely in the last two years. Businesses had come and gone, and the city is progressing ever further in its journey of urban renewal. Everything was still familiar but it was a bittersweet realization to know my deep love for Knoxville will never fade, but that it no longer felt like home.
I was surprised by how much I missed my husband. We have been married for nearly seventeen months and we have been apart for a few long weekends before, but this felt different. The realization sunk in – I am really married! For real, for real. Although Nick was only a small part of my Knoxville life as he would come visit while we were dating, I felt a little lost without him. Whatever activity I was participating in, I would have normally had a partner in crime. At times, the friends I came to see had other plans and I was left to entertain myself, which is perfectly normal of course, but it threw me for a bit of a loop. It was another reminder that things had changed – I no longer had a home of my own in Knoxville to return to, and I was keenly aware that the rhythm of life had shifted. My vacation was not quite as enjoyable or sweet without Nick by my side to share in the experience.
Over the course of my visit, I began to recall words that God planted in my soul when I lived there – reminders that God has built me as a leader, and that my Knox church family played a large part in equipping and sending me to lead in Hoboken. I have not been forgotten by those I love in Knoxville or by God himself. I have doubted so many times that my gifts can be used in this community, that I can truly be of value. God used my dear friends from my old community to breathe life and hope and affirmation into me that my new community may at times be difficult, it might be different, but it is good.
By the end of my almost week-long trip, I was so ready to return home – to Hoboken, and to my husband. At the start of the trip, I did not know exactly what I was looking for, but in the end, I found it. I am so grateful for my seasons in the south but am at peace with the life stage and situation in which God has me. As strange as it may sound, since this trip, I finally feel released from my old life in Knoxville. I know with certainty that I did not make the wrong choice. I made the decision that made the most sense and although it has been hard, God is meeting me here, over 700 miles away. He is at work in my life, but also in the lives of the ones I have come to love dearly in Hoboken. It is well with my soul and life is beautiful.
Have you ever lived in a city that you had an immediate connection with? Or a city where you had to fight to find your place? What, where, or who feels the most like home to you?
[Listening to: Back Down South by Kings of Leon, as covered by some of Knox’s finest]