What Tallahassee Taught Me

Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it- memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey. – Tad Williams

What makes a place a home?

I thought about this question a great deal after moving with my husband, Chris, to Tallahassee, Florida in the Spring of 2014. All things considered, the changes in my life at that point were pretty significant. Within the span of 2 weeks, I had graduated college with a Civil Engineering degree, gotten married to the love of my life, and moved with him 1000 miles away from my family and childhood home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, it was a transition period for me. And, if I’m speaking honestly, it was pretty scary. I love to travel and am not afraid to visit new places. But, the permanency in moving somewhere, of being so far away from the security of everything I knew, was difficult for me.

Over the next few motallahasseenths, I struggled. I experienced frequent bouts of homesickness and missed my family. I felt bored and restless, spending my evenings watching episode after episode on Netflix. I wasn’t engaging, wasn’t even trying to be a part of the community. I made up my mind early on that I didn’t care for hot, swampy Tallahassee and I was anxious for Chris to hurry up and graduate already so we could move back home. But, as stories like these often go, I didn’t feel that way forever. Soon, Chris and I began to get more involved with Four Oaks Community Church. I started making friends. I got invited along to community events and parties. I began to sing in the church worship team. Things started to change, but only after I decided to open up my mind to the possibility that, perhaps, I could like it here.

Looking back, I realize that my experience in Tallahassee, although frustrating at times, was teaching me an important lesson: anywhere could become home… but it was up to me. If I spent all of my time comparing the new place with the old place, using the years of memories and experiences I had made in PA as a metric for judging my new surroundings, I would surely miss the unique value in where I was at that moment. I would never appreciate just how beautiful the North Florida landscape can be. I would never attend the outdoor movies and concerts at Cascades Park, or the annual French Country Flea Market I enjoyed so much. And, I would never form the wonderfully life-giving friendships that I did with the members of our Community Group at Four Oaks. My time in Tallahassee ended up being so sweet, and it was only because I realized the following truths:

  1. New memories are not made on the couch. Nor are they made overnight. We collect experiences like we do rare coins or stamps or presidential campaign buttons. It’s an active process. And it takes time. I cannot expect to feel an affinity with a place if I am not engaging with it, if I don’t give myself the opportunity to notice and extract sweet trinkets of memory to file away. I also cannot expect to feel the same affinity with a place that I’ve spent 20 minutes in as I did with a place I’ve lived for 22 years. I need to have patience and grace with myself. It will come.
  2. Friends can become your family. All of us were designed by our Creator to crave deep, purposeful, authentic relationships. I cannot, therefore, be an island – vulnerable and accountable to no one, dependent only upon myself – and expect to truly feel a sense of community. I am not a bystander. I want to be known and understood. I want to know and understand others. In doing so, I grow my familial circle and create pockets of security and comfort wherever I go.
  3. Nostalgia is not (usually) a bad thing. The places I’ve lived, the people I’ve interacted with, and the experiences I’ve collected make me who I am. There is nothing inherently wrong with reminiscing or reflecting on the past – even if, for a moment, that reminiscing leads to sadness and longing. But, if I allow my mind to dwell in this place, I am robbing myself of all the excitement and rich, rich joy that comes from the present moment. I cannot be a slave to memory.
  4. Boredom is a problem with ME, not my surroundings. Beauty is everywhere. Culture is everywhere. New ideas and opinions and world views are everywhere. There are things to be discovered around every turn and I can never, ever allow myself believe that I’ve fallen victim to a boring or uninteresting place. I am far too insignificant to think that I’ve seen all there is to see, tasted all there is to taste, and experienced all the glorious riches of God’s great earth.

I am using this blog, not only as a tool to document and share my experiences with you, but as a form of accountability for myself to live out these mantras over the next months. I want to make the most of this opportunity, intentionally approaching my move to Paris differently. Obviously, Paris and Tallahassee are very different cities. Obviously, the challenges I face here will not be the same as those I faced in Tallahassee. But, this truth remains (and will remain with any move Chris and I make in the future): this place will only become home if I make it so.

I hope you’ll come alongside me on this journey.

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8 Comments

  1. Great post, Ashley! You have a lot of profound insights. Having grown up between two vastly different cultures and moving a lot, the concept of home is something I’ve thought about a lot. I like the song lyric “Home is wherever I’m with you.” because it echoes what you were saying that home is so much more about people than a place.

    1. Thanks for reading Rachel! I love that lyric too and I vastly appreciate your insight as I continue to learn and grow during my time here.

  2. Ashley I loved reading all your blog’s tonight! You have grown in to an amazing young lady from an amazing little girl! So very happy life is going fabulously for you and Chris!!!

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