“I wish I’d never come back home
It don’t feel right since I’ve been grown
I can’t find any of my old friends hangin’ ’round
Won’t nothin’ bring you down like your hometown”
The above is a refrain from a song, called “Hometown Blues”, by Steve Earle that was released in 1995.
It’s also a perfect description of my feelings towards my small, Midwestern town.
You see, I’ve never considered myself a “Small Town Girl”, even though I was born and raised in what feels, and has always felt like, like the smallest place on earth. It has been my dream, for as long as I can remember to leave this area, and go adventuring. And when I was seventeen, I did.
The summer I was seventeen, I went on a ten day mission’s trip, with my youth group, to El Salvador. While there, I grew in some of the most uncomfortable, life-changing, and miraculous ways. While in El Salvador, I received a call on my life, that was tested and tried, and proved to be from God. Even now, three years later, the call remains and it hasn’t changed one bit. I went through a ten day trip into another country without any of my family, and I came back completely changed; but my hometown hadn’t changed at all and neither had my feelings towards it.
Being in another country, a third world country, without any of my family and doing missions work changed me. I grew up a lot in those ten days. And coming back to my hometown, which hadn’t changed at all in twenty years, let alone in the ten days I was gone, didn’t feel right. I felt too big for my town, and I was more desperate than ever to leave, as soon as possible.
So, I started making plans on how to follow through on the calling I received. The biggest part of my plan being that I would graduate high school then move away from this hometown area. That little detail has always been a part of every plan I’ve ever had for my life.
It’s three years later now, I still have the same calling, and the same desires. In the past three years, I’ve turned 18, graduated high school, watched most of my friends from high school move away, reconfirmed my calling what seems like a million times, and changed my plans for how to get there just as many times.
But I’m still in my hometown. I tried to leave; I applied to colleges, work programs, long term mission’s trips, and full time jobs in every part of this country. And they all fell through. Every single thing outside of this hometown area that I tried to become a part of, didn’t work out. The colleges were too expensive without enough scholarships, the work programs didn’t pay enough for me to maintain a living wage, the mission’s trips required somebody with experience in certain areas of ministry that I hadn’t ever served in, and the jobs wanted somebody with a degree that I didn’t have yet. All of these things together worked as a sign to me that God didn’t want me to be done with my hometown yet.
So, with a very bitter attitude that I am still working on changing, I did want I had always planned against doing, I stayed in my hometown.
Recently, I was talking to one of my housemates, who I have known since I was fifteen. She asked me what had happened to change my mind, because she vividly remembers me telling her that I was leaving this town as soon as graduation passed. I tried to explain to her, that I don’t know what happened really. Except I was sure it was God, and that there was some reason He was keeping me here. He didn’t want me to be done with Small Town, Indiana yet.
This is the part where I need to take a break from my story telling and clarify that I like the things that are happening, and have happened, in my life as a result of staying in this town.
Because I stayed in this town, I got to watch my little brother pursue and start dating one of the best young ladies that I have ever met.
Because I stayed in this town, I made a lot of really good friendships with some really strong Christ Followers.
Because I stayed in this town, I was able to reconnect with a few friends that I had in Jr. High and High School.
Because I stayed in this town, I got to be at my dad’s side as he’s gone through some difficult medical struggles.
Because I stayed in this town, I have been able to build a better, stronger, and closer relationship with my mom.
Because I stayed in this town, I was blessed by an amazing opportunity to work in the offices of my church, with some fantastic people.
Because I stayed in this town, some amazing things have happened in my life.
Because I stayed in this town, I have been able to be at every family dinner, and every one of my little brother’s soccer games.
Because I stayed in this town, I got to go with both of my big brothers ring shopping for when they proposed.
Because I stayed in this town, I’ve gotten to have random movie dates, lunch outings, and board game nights with all of my brothers.
I have been extremely blessed by staying in this town.
But that doesn’t mean that miraculously all the bitterness about it is gone.
I still get very upset that I’m here, even though it’s been close to two years since learning that I wouldn’t be leaving after graduation.
A few days ago, a friend and I went on a road trip back to her hometown. When we finally got back home at midnight, she said she had a song she wanted me to hear because she thought it would speak to me.
The song is called “Rejoice” by Julien Baker, and I highly suggest you listen to it. I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the past few days.
Now, I don’t know what Julien Baker was trying to convey when she released this song, but I do know that it spoke to me on such a deep level that I’m not sure I’ll be able to iterate it, but I’ll try.
There’s a line in this song that says
“Asking ‘Why did you let them leave and then make me stay?’
Know my name and all my hideous mistakes”
That line hit me like a ton of bricks.
I sat in my car with my best friend looking at me waiting for my reaction, asking myself “How many times have I asked that? How many times have I compared my story to my friends? How many times have I asked God why my sister got to leave and I had to stay here? How many times have I told God to move me, because I was tired of being in the town that held all of my bad history?”
There’s another line in the song that says
“But I think there’s a God and He hears either way when I rejoice and complain.”
I looked at my friend and said “I don’t know what to say right now, but there’s something happening in my heart because of that song, so thank you for playing it.”
I don’t know which line affected me more. Because I’ve asked the same question a million times, but in that moment, I realized that God has heard the praise and the complaints.
God knows that I’m not comfortable here. God has heard me ask why I’m in this town still, while so many people I know have moved on. God has heard me whine and complain about the fact that I’m still in the same town that holds the history of all my bad choices and horrible mistakes. God has heard the bitterness that I’ve expressed over being in Indiana still. God knows that while I’m happy with life in general, I wish that I was living this life in another place, because I’m not happy with this town. God knows that I’m thankful for all the things that have happened because I stayed. God knows that I’m living a bittersweet life right now. God knows it all, and God has heard it all.
The next day my friend pointed out to me, that in Acts 1:4, Jesus tells the disciples to “not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father has promised.”
The disciples were told to not leave their hometown, but instead stay there and wait for the gifts of the Lord.
I’ve stayed in my hometown, and I’ve received more gifts and blessings from God than I ever deserved, and yet I know there’s more coming.
Like Steve Earle, I’ve got the Hometown Blues. I’m not comfortable here, in my hometown area. I have a million things to be happy about, but it’s extremely difficult to convince myself that being in my hometown is one of those things.
Someday I hope to move away from this town, but before I do, I’d like to stop being bitter about my hometown.
And I know, that when I do move, it will be because God has better things for me somewhere else.