This winter, I’ll be packing up my life and my little white Subaru and moving to Nashville, Tennessee. For real, this time.
Some of you have probably heard talk of this before—sometimes in dreamy whispers or maybe even as an empty threat. (I’m not proud of those moments.) This little dream of mine has been percolating for the last four years, ever since stepping foot onto Tennessee soil for the first time while out for The Rabbit Room‘s annual conference. Here was a place as green as The Shire, also steeped in Civil War history with aesthetic brick architecture. Along with that, it was flavored with hospitality and a vibrant arts scene, full of people like myself who were creative, unmarried, relatively young, and interested in pursuing Jesus and their artistic craft with equal fervor.
But as much as I longed to taste more deeply of what I encountered out there, it wasn’t the right time to uproot. Four years ago, when I wanted to run from things like an unsatisfying job, it was a reactionary desire and would have been too early. Three years ago, when I moved in with someone during a year of unemployment, I was still bound by depression, and it would have been unhealthy. It wasn’t even right four months ago, when during a passionate phone conversation with Mom, I decided I was going to “hang it all” and just leave—since I was flying out in October anyway. (PSA: Any time the phrase “hang it all” is in the vocabulary of your decision, you should probably not act on it.) But now, there’s a steadiness in my spirit that recognizes the time is ripe. It’s as if this idea has taken time to settle down into me the way that rain settles into the earth after a good storm. Another way to put it is that I feel like I’ve hit the ceiling here in California and am ready to break through it into the open skies beyond.
It was early summer when Nashville stopped being just a dream. I remember the week’s conversation vividly.
My roommate Aurora and I were enjoying a delightfully relaxing Sunday afternoon in our apartment. She was sitting on The Circle Couch, I on the floor, scrolling through a chill folk playlist. Both on the brink of big life decisions, we shared our vision and our excitement at the oddly open-ended nature of our futures. She was preparing to end her job at William Jessup University and fly to Scotland for orientation week in a new grad program at Saint Andrews College. I was also plotting to resign from my position at Jessup and pursue a new life in Tennessee. Sometime during the conversation, we both gained deeper insight into the work God was doing and realized it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that our stories might even intersect several months down the road. But it wasn’t about the outcome. It was about trusting the Spirit’s guidance and being brave enough to follow. At another point that day, I met a friend at Origin Coffee who was also about to make a final decision about moving to… yep, Nashville. Hearing her thought process and tips for networking in a new city were a big help during this time of limbo. Just the day before, at work, a colleague had brought a Master of Arts in Teaching student to my desk.
“You should talk to Bailey,” she said. “She’s a writer.”
This student shared about her desire to write and how she knew God was telling her to just step out and do it. To stop viewing writing and living life to the fullest as hypotheticals and instead take action.
Those 48 hours of conversation changed my trajectory, and I look back on them as the point when God first confirmed that maybe Nashville was “the next right thing,” as Emily P. Freeman says. That week, I created a note on my phone called My Nashville Statement, journaling everything God was saying about this possible move. At the top of the note, I included my favorite verse: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In fact, as soon as I made this note, God seemed to start saying more and more about this dream, or maybe I was just choosing to listen. Through the upcoming months, it grew longer, and I took pains not to accidentally delete it so it could stand as a reminder whenever doubts crept in.
“Made a resolve in my heart to move.” – June 4, 2018
This is all very uncharacteristic of me. I am not one of those crazy people who leaves a good job and moves across the country with little prospects. I’m a responsible, fiscally-conscious adult who values things like stability and control. One of my lady-friends had some insight into this at the time: “It’s good to be financially responsible,” she said. “But it’s not the only moral compass that should guide what we do.” I feel strongly that this whole move isn’t a matter of making a right or wrong decision. God created us with free will and agency over our lives, and I believe there could be a wonderful life here in California or out in Tennessee. I don’t think God opens doors as much as he lets you walk through them, clearing your path and only redirecting when necessary. Waiting for “open doors” can lead to paralysis, and I’ve really only known God to bring clarity after first stepping out into the unknown.
That sounded so simple didn’t it? I wish it was that easy to believe. It’s one thing to recognize this pattern of God’s faithfulness throughout the life that is behind you, but it’s another thing to trust it with your future. I am still learning this.
So, why am I moving to Nashville?
The reasons why I’m moving have nothing to do with country music or climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, I want to write with more focus and intention, hopefully finding editors and other writers who are further along in their skill whom I can learn from. I want to stop doing so much and savor life at a slower pace. I crave a bit of anonymity—the chance to unplug from busyness as one might unplug a lamp after the bulb grows overheated. As much as I love my community in Northern California, I find myself exhausted within it. Taking full responsibility for this, I know it’s because I’ve had poor boundaries and tend to overcommit, always underestimating the need for rest and renewal. Last week, I met with my functional medicine doctor to explore the results of a recent genetics test, and she affirmed this lifestyle change. But that is another story for another day!
Ultimately, I’m looking forward to doing less and being more
Is it cliche for a millennial writer to move to Nashville? Maybe. I suppose it’s as cliche as it is for an actress to move to L.A. or a painter to visit Venice or a devotee to make a pilgrimage to X/Y/Z. Whatever God plants in us, we must follow, in order to become more fully alive.
In the end, Nashville is just a bridge to what God is forming and remaking in my heart. Just as I’ve always thought that writing a book would be a bridge to a new type of life, so is moving to a new city. I think it’s going to unlock something I couldn’t have accessed while staying out here. Right now, I’m choosing to view this as “a year-long adventure” (thank you, Jennifer Martin!), and then who knows. I wish I could say this move has me nothing but happy-go-lucky, but that simply isn’t true. There are too many wonderful things out here to be that happy-go-lucky. Things that have taken years to nurture and grow. But I am grateful for the chance to become more fully alive. As the classic Winnie the Pooh truism goes: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” (A. A. Milne).
Lest you think this piece has taken a turn for the melancholy, let me share with you what I love most about Nashville:
- The architecture. I didn’t know I’d always wanted to live in a little brick home until visiting Nash for the first time, and now it’s all I can think about.
- The humidity. I’ve discovered I don’t hate it. People always say, “Just wait until it’s summer!” But it was 85 degrees and 93% humidity the week we were out in October, so I’m pretty sure I’ll survive it.
- The landscape. Every time I’m out here, I almost drive off the road because the landscape is so stunning.
- The food. Whether it’s Frothy Monkey, The Pharmacy, Burger Up, or Baja Burrito, this city does food and drink real well.
- The people. Southern hospitality is real. I saw it in the warm openness of our Airbnb hosts and when the older cashier lady sketched a smiley face on my receipt after talking my ear off for ten minutes.
- The arts scene. So often these days, when you find someone excelling in their industry, they’re operating out of Nashville. I want to become better at my craft through being in this environment. Plus, The Rabbit Room lives here. Need I say more?
As Andrew Peterson sings, “From the church on every corner to the Broadway honky tonks, we’ve got a million songs that mingle in the air. And, oh, I love this city.”
Thanks for letting me share this story with you. It’s always exciting to know you’re at the advent of good change, even with all the uncertainty. And because life is anything but constant, I do know there will continue to be highs and lows along the way. So I ask for your prayers. I could try to do this move in my own strength, or I could ask for the support of those I love along the way, and I will always choose that. So please pray that I would find work and housing by the date of my departure from Jessup (1/4/19), even though it is somewhat flexible. (And by all means message me if you have any leads or are looking for a roommate.)
As Bilbo Baggins once said in the greatest film of all time: “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.” And no, this does not mean death. It means life—life abundant.
. . .
Bailey Gillespie works as adjunct faculty and Director of Academic Engagement at William Jessup University. She lives near Sacramento, California and loves connecting with people over wellness, faith, and the arts. Her writing has appeared on Foundling House, Voice of Courage, and The Rabbit Room. Read more at baileygillespie.com or follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.