Goodnight, Nashville.

Tonight, as my 28th birthday comes to an end, I’m finally saying goodbye to a city that has held my heart for the past 10 years. In 1995 at almost 18 years old, I strolled onto the campus of Belmont University in Nashville, TN with the world at my doorstep. Moving into the dorm that first day in Nashville, I was immediately at home. I remember blasting “Gangsta’s Paradise” on my boom box as any true Jersey girl would, and then finding out that my suite mates (and everyone else on the hall, for that matter) were diehard country music fans :). A few hours later, I met a girl in ropers and a long flowy denim cowgirl skirt who would become my best friend, and that was it. I was a Tennessee girl at heart from that moment on.

Every single day was bright and sunny the fall of my freshman year. We spent our days in class writing poetry and memorizing the great leaders of the Western world, our lunches stuffing ourselves with slightly warm chicken nuggets and Lucky Charms in the cafeteria, and our evenings country line dancing in cowgirl boots at Denim ‘n Diamonds or going to an FCA meeting in the campus ministry Barn - God rest its soul - which has now been replaced by a parking garage. If anyone had told me on my first day at Belmont what the next 10 years would hold, this gangsta rapper-turned-cowgirl surely wouldn’t have believed them…

I look at the world completely differently than I did when I was 18. If I could use one word to characterize the last 10 years, it would simply be “hope.” Hope of what life would be like in a Southern city after spending the first 17 years of my life in the northeast…hope of getting that internship at a record label…hope of finding a boyfriend…hope of working for a family-oriented company post-graduation…hope of living on the beach…hope of getting married one day. Many of these hopes have become real. For 3 years I interned at record labels and was a part of creative projects for artists I only dreamt of meeting in high school. I met friends who have left my life completely changed for the better. I witnessed the birth of my best friend’s first child. I stood in the summer rain and made a vow to the love of my life.

One of my friends said last week that one of the things that makes Nashville so special is that it’s full of hopeful people who are chasing their dreams. Well, I finally left Nashville on Labor Day 2004 with a different dream and a different hope – the hope that I could dare to find joy and happiness away from my community and in another place. Although I knew moving was undoubtedly what I supposed to do, parts of my heart were still left behind. You don’t just live in a place for 9 years and leave it without a fight.

Now, over a year later, as a ridiculously happy married woman living in Dallas, I’ve finally learned a little something about hope. Nashville has symbolized everything that was once comfortable about my life. I know now that hope has nothing to do with living in a place that is comfortable, or getting that house on the beach if I ask God for it enough times. Hope has nothing to do with finding the perfect job or group of friends or duplex with hardwood floors and a killer fireplace. Hope has nothing to do with seeking out a “safe” life. It took me 28 years to learn that hope is yearning for something that will never truly be fulfilled in this life. Hope is the expectation that God will do something with my little life that will actually matter for His Kingdom. For the first time, my hope is in Christ, and that’s it. I say that’s “it,” but really, isn’t that everything?

I would still love to live on the beach, mind you. And I definitely miss my house on Beechwood with the huge back deck where we had many a marshmallow roast. I miss driving through Hillsboro Village, drinking coffee on the ledge at Fido, and going to Destin three times before summer’s end. But I now know that I don’t need those things to find true joy.

So tonight I curl in bed with my sweet husband and say goodnight, Nashville. I’m finally moving on. I’ll never forget you or who you’ve helped me to be, but you don’t hold my heart anymore. With hopefulness, I’ll continue this journey for the next 10 years. My cowgirl boots are still in the back of my closet waiting for a special day. Except this time, I’ll be dancing in Texas.