Where We Come From

For any out-of-towners, here's a handy map.

For any out-of-towners, here's a handy map.

Born and Raised

I've always loved maps, and while I don’t fly much, each time I've flown out of Norfolk International Airport, I’ve been mystified by the land below. There's Norfolk and Virginia Beach (where I was born and raised) to the east, Fort Monroe (my current home) to the west, Williamsburg further up the peninsula (where I went to college), and the tiny town of Forest (where I went to middle school and high school) just a couple hundred miles further west.

I can look at Virginia on a map anytime I want, but to see it from above is always exciting. It’s a new perspective on my dear Commonwealth that has over the years become commonplace.

Last week I got a new perspective when I was accepted into Vanderbilt Divinity School to study theology this fall in Nashville, TN. Since I have applied only to out-of-state graduate programs, this will be the first time I've ever lived outside of Virginia since my dad was in the Navy. That same day I got a cold and was out of commission for the rest of the week, putting a stop on any work and, more importantly, any celebrating. In the doldrums of Mucinex, Hulu and many naps, the reality of my dream to study theology began to set in. I started dreaming of Nashville, the type of apartment I could live in, and what my day-to-day life could look like. While I still have other schools to hear from and am at least another month from making a decision, having a real option in my future gave me permission to dream.

Fun Fact: John Mayer can see inside my soul.

My dreams at night were surprisingly vivid in this past week, in one case taking me back to where I came from, my hometown of Forest, VA. Though I was “born and raised” in the Hampton Roads area, I really grew up in Central Virginia. It's been seven years and several moves since I've been there, but I was reminded this week of the friends I made in marching band, the hikes I took in the Peaks of Otter and the YouTube videos I made in the streets of my neighborhood. My teenage years there were an awkward time for sure, but as I look ahead to what lays ahead for my mid-twenties, I can't help but turn around and look back on this formative time.

Be My Escape

God speaks to us constantly; all we have to do is listen closely. For me that usually means God communicates through music. In Norfolk on Monday I walked into my favorite coffeeshop, Cure Coffeehouse, where they were playing the entire album "MMHMM" by Relient K in order. The album dates back 13 years to 2004, the same year I was in eighth grade and started marching band (also the same year that Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Nemo and Freaky Friday came out—an admittedly great year for Disney). I came back to my seat and opened the album on iTunes (yes, iTunes.), and the song, “Be My Escape” hit me. Here's the first chorus:

And I've been housing all this doubt and insecurity and
I've been locked inside that house all the while You hold the key
And I've been dying to get out and that might be the death of me
And even though, there's no way in knowing where to go, promise I'm going because
I gotta get outta here
I'm stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake
I gotta get outta here
And I'm begging You, I'm begging You, I'm begging You to be my escape.

The song speaks to a longing to move onto something new, while admitting the uncertainty of what path that may take—a message that resonates with me as much today as it did in 2004. As a transplant to my small town community in Forest, I remember wanting to escape the torment of middle school and the awkwardness of making friends. I remember my mom picking me up from school and reassuring me that middle school was only temporary (in other words, "this too shall pass"). It took joining the marching band later that year to find my people amongst my fellow "band geeks."

The fact is that we all feel those moments where we want to escape, and often the solution is there. As adults, though, with the ability to control a lot more in our lives, the challenge now is to unearth how reasonably we ought to escape. Do we dig in and escape the rut we're in, finding a way to make the best of where we are, or do we physically escape the place we're in to find what it is we're looking for elsewhere?

I realized in 2014, just six months out of college, that I was already thirsty again to learn, and that going to graduate school would likely be a next step. Hoping to stay local, I took my GRE that Spring and by 2015 had enrolled in online courses in theology. When that wasn't right, I refocused and applied for a program in advertising in 2016. When I didn't get into that, I took a deep breath and put a pause on my searching. Then at the start of this year I applied to three more graduate programs, and the relief I feel now having one in my pocket is immeasurable.

Regardless of where we go, we're made of where we're from.

(See also: "wherever you go, there you are.")

We may not love where we are presently, but it’s going to be a part of us no matter what. Though I sometimes hated growing up in Forest, VA, I'd be a fool to brush off all the good that was there, too. I know I can say the same now about my time in Hampton Roads these past few years. Sometimes all we need is a fresh perspective to remember the good and escape the attitude we're in.  Sometimes it's in applying for a program very far away or simply joining a new group down the road. Regardless, by looking at the good, we create an opportunity for gratitude. It's in times like these that I'm reminded to be very grateful and also rather proud of where I come from.

  • Is there something you need to escape?
  • How can you make the most of where you are now?
  • What will you say about this place someday when it's where you’re from?