I moved away from my hometown of Merrillville, IN when I was 18 years old and headed to my first year of college at the University of Evansville (UE). When I was 22 years old, I left UE and took my first (and only) full-time job just across the river in Henderson, KY.
I didn’t intend to end up in Henderson. I wanted to go to the Lexington area because I was also scheduled to start seminary at Asbury at the end of August. As graduation got closer and none of my job prospects were panning out, I progressively expanded my job search radius and ended up interviewing at a church in downtown Henderson. They called the next day, six days before graduation, to offer me the job.
I heard God’s call clearly in the midst of my near panic.
And then I moved to Henderson.
When I first came here, I didn’t understand a lot about this place. First of all, I had grown up in Northwest Indiana, near Gary. Second of all, I had spent the last four years in a bubble at UE. On my first full day in town, I tried to buy the Monday paper (the Gleaner does not publish on Mondays). I wondered what language some of the people were speaking because the accents were so thick. I had never even tasted pimento cheese or burgoo. Each day brought new things to learn, both because I was in a new place with a new culture and also because I was 22 years old and out in the real world all by myself.
Fast forward ten years (and there are some days when it feels like we did fast forward).
This past weekend, I attended the downtown park lighting, the community theater production, a pancake fundraiser for Riverview School and walked in the Henderson Merchant’s Christmas Parade. I serve with Henderson Girl Scouts and a newly forming chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Henderson, KY. I shop at the downtown shops. I attend the street festivals and the music festivals and the Street Strut. I’ve married a Henderson native and am helping to raise a Henderson native. I have friends and acquaintances all over town. My mother moved here several years ago, so I don’t feel so disconnected from family. I’ve developed a southern drawl. I have tried both pimento cheese and burgoo (I don’t like either, for what it’s worth).
A lot of kids who live here can’t wait to leave. I suppose I understand that restlessness to leave a town that feels too small or empty for some of them.
I plan to stay–at least for awhile. It feels like home to me.