Living In Tennessee

Living In Tennessee

What I Love About Living Near Nashville, Tennessee

It’s been over three months since we arrived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about a half hour drive southeast of Nashville. We moved here with our three kids and all of our belongings, though my husband had never been here before, and I had only been here on two very brief visits. We weren’t exactly sure whether we were going to like living here, but knew God was calling us to move to this specific location. It was very much a leap of faith. Three months in, I can now say confidently that we like living in Middle Tennessee. A lot. Here is a list of ten things we are really enjoying about our new home, listed in no particular order:

1. Everything is green
It seems obvious that plants and trees would grow luxuriously in a city that receives an average of 50 inches of rain a year…but the overall color of GREEN everywhere you look is truly remarkable after living near the parched (12 inches of rain a year…) California Central Valley. The first month we lived here, I continually marveled at all of the shades of green that created the landscape. There were things growing EVERYWHERE: ivy dangling off branches, soybeans covering fields, corn towering over our heads, grass that grows, and grows, and grows…unlike California, where we’d weed whack once or twice, and be set for the year. I forgot how delightful green grass feels on my bare feet.

2. Nothing is dusty
Since there is so much rain, and so much green, the dirt stays where it’s supposed to…on the ground! I have encountered a bit of mud here in Tennessee, but not that parched dust that coats EVERYTHING in California. Taking my daughter horse riding was an entirely different experience, as she rode through green pastures compared to the bare patches of hardened dirt in California. Granted, it is a bit (a lot) more humid here…but at least it’s not dusty!

3. The sunsets
I gave up the mountain views when we left California, but I gained the eastern sunsets. The rolling hills of Tennessee, coupled with the salmon, pink, orange, yellow and blues of sunset, are truly something to behold. Add in clouds that vary from night to night, and it’s truly like watching a God sized canvas being painted in real time.

4. All the shopping I could want (except Costco) within ten minutes
In California, I had two shopping lists: my local grocery list, and my Fresno list. If I could wait to go to Fresno (an hour away) for most items, I would…if not, I’d spend at least 20% more buying groceries and household goods from the local grocery store. I usually had no time to go to Fresno, or I had to tack shopping onto trips to the doctor or orthodontist…so that meant it was really hard to shop for groceries, let alone clothing, shoes, and random things my family needed. I cannot tell you how much my life has changed, having shopping a mere 10 minutes (or less) from my house. Going to the store only takes a little bit of my time, instead of ALL DAY. I can zip over to Target, buy a few things, and go home. The hardest thing to get used to with this change is the feeling that I have to fit a month’s worth of shopping into a single trip to the store. I still feel a sense of panic of, “If I don’t remember what I’m supposed to buy today, then it’ll be another month before I can buy it,” each time I go to Walmart…then the panic fades away when I remember that I now live in Tennessee.

5. Having family nearby
It’s been over 25 years since my sister and I lived in the same town. In that span of time, she had four kids, I had three, and we developed very full lives of our own. It’s been wonderful to be nearby, and to have the opportunity to spend time with her and her kids (my nieces, nephews and now GREAT niece and nephew) and get to know them on a regular basis, instead of a “once every few years” kind of relationship. I mean…my son is enrolled in school with his cousin (my great-niece). Having cousins nearby is something we never imagined having for our kids…and now they are in the same preschool class, twice a week.

6. The schools
There are good schools here. Many, many schools that are growing and changing and being built all around us. In our small town in California, we homeschooled for a number of reasons. When we moved, we decided to look at all of the options that were suddenly available to us, and ended up enrolling our kids in the local middle school. My son is suddenly in band, there are clubs join, and hundreds of kids to meet. The school day itself is very structured, the teachers have extremely high expectations for the children, and the kids all (mostly) behave. Imagine that! As a bonus, the STEM magnet high school in our county is the #1 high school in Tennessee…and my kids have hopes of attending.

7. The manners
I thought my kids had good manners, until we moved to Tennessee. The number of times I heard “Yes ma’am” and “No sir” each day was a bit shocking at first…add to that the “my pleasure” from the workers at Chick-Fil-A, and I quickly realized we needed to step up our game.

8. The work ethic
You know you’ve been living in a retirement community for a long time, when you move to a place and are surprised to see your neighbors driving to work, first thing in the morning. The fast food restaurants, the stores and the gas stations are all full of workers who take pride in their jobs, and do them cheerfully and well. The overall attitude is that a job is considered to be a blessing, instead of a necessary evil…and it makes a true difference in the quality of service.

9. The history
Civil War history; revolutionary war history; history from when Tennessee was considered to be the frontier; Native American history; Nashville history; this place is steeped in history, and stories, and legends of yesteryear. It’s magical to my storyteller’s heart.

10. The opportunities
I was born in Flint, Michigan. I spent my teenage years in the rust belt near Toledo, Ohio. I went to college in the Appalachian foothills at Ohio University. I then moved to an extremely rural part of California, where the most secure jobs were those created by the state…firefighters, teachers, highway patrolmen. I have never lived someplace like Nashville. This place is exploding with growth…houses and new stores are popping up all over, even since I moved here three months ago. There are tens of thousands of companies, corporate headquarters, small businesses and creative professionals feeding into the local economy, and it’s reflected in the quality of the local parks (There are so many! They are so beautiful!), the smiles on people’s faces, and the cultural opportunities that are able to thrive here. This is a place that provides plenty of space to learn and grow, for a very, very long time…which is exactly what my family and I are beginning to do!


Faith, Living In Tennessee

Places That Matter

You would hardly notice they were there, unless someone told you. They could easily be mistaken for hills, or piles of rock leftover from some glacier an ice age ago. But there was a sense of form to the hills…some kind of plan…and on the summer solstice, the sun shone through the opening to this ancient ceremonial ground. They say it’s from 8000 years ago, and as I walk in this ancient place in this Eastern forest, on the edge of a Tennessee river, I consider what that life must’ve been like for them. I wonder who toiled to build these mounds made in a specific pattern of rock and dirt…mounds that stretch hundreds of yards, built without modern machinery, created by the sheer determination of man. Was it slave labor? Was it a work of passion? What group of people devoted their life’s work to building this ceremonial ground?

No one really knows.

I am in a place where people have walked for thousands of years, yet all I can see is this moment. The trees I see are second or third growth, leveled and cleared time and again in the space of time between me and them.

Later on that day we went to the Stone’s River Battlefield, and walked through Hell’s Half Acre, a piece of ground about the size of my backyard. This small slice of land served as the point of reckoning 160 years ago, and at the end, was soaked and saturated by confederate and union blood. The monument commemorating this hallowed field has stood watch since that battle, the first official Civil War memorial, erected by fellow soldiers lucky enough to live.

National Park Service photo by volunteer Buddy Secor

My little boy wandered through the tomb stones. He loves playing soldier, dressing up in military gear and pretending to be the bravest man standing. I explain to him that other brave men died…and their bodies rest beneath our feet…and these stones have their names so they would never be forgotten. He wants me to pick him up, because he suddenly realizes there are dead bodies in this place where we and the cannons still stand. Those dead bodies were once heroes, and indeed, still are.

The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Psalm 103:15-16

This idea of “place” has been echoing in my head. Physical places latch onto our hearts, and somehow we define our lives by them.

I just moved to Tennessee from the place of my dreams near Yosemite National Park. The Sierra mountains were my home for half my life, and in the course of that time, I became intimately familiar with the intricacies of each season. The smells of autumn; the blazing sun of summer; the gauzy clouds of a winter storm.

When I came to Yosemite, I was a broken and tired 22-year-old, freshly out of college with dreams of being a writer. For a girl who grew up in the flatlands of Ohio, I felt like I was going to heaven. I became a student of the Sierra, hiking hundreds of miles of trails; learning the names of countless birds and wildflowers; studying the rocks beneath crystal streams of water that had been snow, just hours before it passed beneath my feet.

I wanted to make my mark on that place because it fundamentally made its mark on me. It changed me, showing me a place of peace and an imaginative landscape my brain never could have construed. I fell utterly and resolutely in love with Yosemite, and I held onto that affair more tightly than I should have. I discovered that, at a certain point, insatiable love does consume you.

I was frustrated to discover that Yosemite had tourists who beeped their horns in the parking lot beside my home; miles-long traffic jams; kids who chipped pieces off the Ponderosa Pines, making jigsaws of bark at its base; forest fires and camp fires that marred the view and filled the valley with unbreathable smoke. It was tremendously disappointing to realize my slice of heaven was just another place on earth…

That place of heartbreak led me to the truth: Yosemite wasn’t heaven. What I loved about Yosemite was its sense of grandeur. It was bigger than life, bigger than my dreams, and wider than my (very active) imaginations. But what drew me to Yosemite was deeper than its beauty. It called to something deep in my soul. And I realized, over time, that it was God who spoke to me through those rocks, showing me the beauty He could create…and if He could create something this amazing here on earth, imagine what Heaven itself will be like someday…

It was no person who led me to God, but God Himself, through the handiwork of those granite cliffs.

Psalm 19:1-6 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Photo by Rich Seiling

My love affair with Yosemite and the mountains that surrounded it lasted until October 8, 2016. My husband and I were walking and talking, trying to make sense of our lives, yet again, in El Capitan meadow. We’d hiked in that meadow hundreds of times, yet that day we managed to find a little area we had never explored. We marveled at the river rocks; the reflection of El Capitan in the water; the yellowing grasses in the Autumn light…when God revealed a new plan, in the midst of our conversation.

We were to sell our house. We were to move. This was the beginning of a big change…And, my husband thought that ultimately, we would be moving to Nashville. He had never been to Nashville.

The calling was like a declaration of truth coming from somewhere outside of us, yet from within our souls, and the news filled our severely burdened hearts with a sense of hope and joy that could only come from God. We were giddy, excited for something new…and just like that, the soul-level satisfaction I gleaned from exploring the Sierra dimmed to a small flicker. And this place I loved, this place I had left my family and friends to explore and immerse myself in…this place I called home for 22 years…I had no interest in exploring anymore.

It took nine months for God’s plan to unfold. We sold our two homes. Our previously successful business failed. Everything we owned and had acquired in California was liquidated or packed into a 28-foot moving truck and hauled to Tennessee.

Starting over. In a new place. With new rules, and new places to explore, like this Native American ceremonial mound, and this Civil War battlefield.

Maybe it’s losing the majority of our earthly possessions; maybe it’s the realization that what man spends 20 years building can be liquidated in the space of a few months…but the overriding impression I am living with lately is how truly fleeting life is; how our concept of a place exists only within our minds and our experiences there; how fire and floods and rockfalls and tornadoes can forever change the character of a place…and how a place is not something solid to build a life around. Not even a place made of solid rock, like Yosemite.

There are very few people whose names live in infamy…and those who are remembered, are notorious for small aspects of their lives. The concept of building a career, making a mark, gaining notoriety or celebrity is truly chasing after the wind. Only one thing this side of heaven will last, and that’s the feeling left on other people’s hearts.

Did you value them, or what they could do for you?

Did they feel loved by you, or overlooked?

Did they want to be in your presence, or were they afraid of you?

Were you kind, or curt?

Did you reflect your Creator well?

Were you critical or encouraging?

These are the characteristics that will be remembered from generation to generation…these are what shape the hearts of those yet to come. I’m not perfect at any of these, and in fact, I fail often. But I am trying, and I have been trying, and I will continue to try to make loving others my top priority.

My children will never know what it was like to look into the clear blue eyes of my grandmother. They will never know how the blue sapphire on her ring finger matched the blue veins of her hands, and how as a child, I’d study the map of her veins as she read me book after book. This person, my grandmother, someone they will never meet, shaped me, because she took time for me. She taught me about Jesus in words, and showed me His love when she’d reach down, hold my face and peck my cheek saying, “Hello, love! How are ya?”

These things we pass down…the words we speak…the love we create…this is what lives forever, in the hearts of our children, our grandchildren, and the generations yet to come. Love is a place, somewhere within us. And this place of love is the only thing that can change the world, one intentional moment at a time.

Living In Tennessee

The Next Chapter Of This Life

In early July, I moved across the country with three kids, two cats and two fish. It took us four days to travel the 2100 miles from central California to Tennessee, and I have a grey hair to prove each and every single mile.

In all honesty, the actual move was not as trying as preparing to move.

We downsized our lives from 4000 square feet of living space to all that could be contained in a 28-foot moving trailer. The last six months of my life were spent hosting yard sales, selling off small appliances, childrens clothes and the extras we accumulated during our 22-year adventure in California. I met neighbors I never knew, just in time to move…

The past six months were also spent closing down our business. For 19 years, we made the best fine art photographic prints in the country. It’s ironic to have a struggling business, while also having a show we printed hanging in The Smithsonian. After our best year ever in 2015, we found ourselves struggling through 2016, then plummeting in 2017. We were reasonably good at managing a growing business…but bad at downsizing. It was painful, tiring and awful to experience the slow and steady death of our business. To say the least.

But now…

New life.

I now live in Tennessee, but keep meeting Californians everywhere I go. Some moved to be near family, but most moved for the growing economy and the cheaper cost of living. Some moved for the change of scenery. Indeed, it’s a different kind of beautiful here. The hills are lush and green. The forests are thick with foliage. The air is heavy with humidity, which makes my achy joints relax. Yes, I can begin to relax…

All those dreams I shelved when we launched our business 19 years ago are beginning to rustle in my brain, reminding me of who I am at the base of me.

Deep in my soul, I feel this song of Hope…and it brought me to Tennessee…

View More