The sad thing is because of the route we took I never got to have my moment looking in the rearview mirror to see the Nashville skyline shrink into the distance. As my wife likes to say “Matt is always the Romantic”. Which is incredibly accurate, for those who have studied literature or history, one of the ONLY literature periods I have ever related to and admired is the Romantic period and specifically all those romantic poets. In my nerdier days I was obsessed with all things Keats, Wordsworth and Blake. Now I am just obsessed with my next high score on whatever app of the week I am playing.
So back to this post: Last week I left Nashville after a bit over three years. I knew this transition would eventually come, but I had no idea just how quickly it would arrive. I thought I had maybe two more years left with the city that spent more time vexing me than loving me. I am still coming to terms with what this transition and this move means. In fact, I am very much forcing myself to write this post… so do not expect too much from me in regards to substance.
Many people know that I moved to Nashville to go to grad school. And those who really know me, know that I used grad school as a way to validate my true intentions for moving to Nashville. Which, if you know my story, is why I had no problem quitting Grad school after just one semester. Grad school wasn’t why I moved to this magnetic city, I moved here because I believe God tapped me on the shoulder years ago and said,
“Hey… you are going to live in the South and you are going to live in Nashville. Remember how I have been pushing you forward all these years to pursue writing and speaking? I am calling you to this city to pursue those dreams, trust me. I have got plans for you, Matt, and they are going to require some miracles on my part… but trust me. Music City is where you need to go right now.”
I mean, obviously this prompting was not a tap on the shoulder or an audible command. It was a battle of emotions, thoughts and wisdom for multiple years. So then I took the dive in 2015 and moved to Nashville, to do nothing more, but to seek what God had for me in a city that made its claim to fame with my least favorite genre of music.
Here is the crazy thing. In the three years I lived in Nashville, I was asked to speak and write more times than ever before (and people paid me for those things!) I experienced the craziest of “God-moments” (a moment that just makes no sense and far exceeds coincidence, usually miraculous in nature). I had awful bouts of depression and loneliness. I struggled physically, spiritually and emotionally. I started dating the love of my life, married her and lived my first year of marriage in this city. So… why did we move?
This past year has been beyond difficult. Maybe the hardest my wife and I have ever experienced. Life changing health issues, more than one financial crisis, career issues, major family problems and immense stress. Our marriage was tested weekly, daily maybe. We still laughed, so often. And even with all the pain, fear, worry, anger, sadness, and stress those are not the reasons why we decided to move.
We moved because it was our next step. As much as I was called to Nashville years ago and as much as God has confirmed that move into Nashville constantly, I was also called into my marriage. And now my marriage is being called to live in NJ close to our family. It is funny as I wrote that last line, I laughed out loud. One of the biggest stressors in our marriage has been this concern that our “callings” may not line up like we wish they did. We were constantly trying to squish each other into the calling we have always had placed on our own hearts. So it is pretty wild to think about how our marriage is being “called” or led in a certain direction. We had to make this decision together… and it sucked. But every moment since we have made this choice has shown us that this was the choice that was faithful to our marriage and most importantly to God.
I keep asking myself this same question, and maybe you are asking it too. If God is REALLY calling me away from Nashville and God REALLY called me into Nashville to become a speaker and writer year ago… does that mean that God is no longer calling me to be a speaker and writer?
I do not know. My desire to write and tell stories has not diminished… I dream about talking points in my sleep just as much today as when I lived in Nashville. I know that the many awesome experiences I had in Nashville in regards to calling did not quench my thirst. If anything they took a spark of hope and erupted it into a blaze. But there is no denying that the city that I have equated with my most sought after calling and dream … is now in the rearview mirror.
Any person I have mentored should tell you that I am not a sugar coater, and I normally call into question any quick fix solutions for life. It is funny, maybe ironic, that I spend so much of my time mentoring by helping people to dive into their passions and dreams and to discern their calling and purpose. Yet, I am more often than not whispering to my wife as we shut our eyes that “I am so confused right now”. God, how I want a quick fix and simple answer. Confusion sucks. I feel as though I have been taking disorienting pills for the last year or so. Taking steps that make absolutely no sense, but I believe they are what I am supposed to do… or sometimes, maybe more often, I am taking steps that are the ONLY option. Im stumbling in the dark with a lantern that only illuminates a few inches in any direction.
Life is not easy. And if you believe in calling or a “purpose” those are also not easy concepts.
There is a deeper issue here that I am only lightly brushing on. And maybe you can relate. I have assigned what I am doing as the answer to the question: Who am I? I have done this my whole life. For years it was: What I am not able to do is the culmination of who I am, then it was who I am in the sight of other people is who I am, then what people have done to me is who I am, then it was what I am doing for God is who I am.
What I do in a split second is not who I am, though, and neither is it who you are. Maybe that is why I have woken up every single morning for nearly 4 weeks with the song “Who You Say I am” by Hillsong United.
So here I am in New Jersey. A place that I have always been trying to escape. My callings have always been something like “You are done with NJ, what you need next is in PA or Colorado or Texas or Nashville…” But now, Abba has flipped the script. “NJ is where your marriage needs to be. No conditions, no time frame, maybe forever.” And my gut reaction to this new calling is “So then you are done with me?”
I should note that between every major new adventure. New Jersey has been my launching point. I launched to PA for college. I came back to NJ to launch to Colorado. I came back to launch to Texas. I came back to launch to Nashville. I came back to NJ when I broke my ankle to recover. Like a bungee cord. This time, though, we are unhooking the cord and settling our home base in the place that I have fought for years. I have tried planting lasting roots anywhere but here. It has never worked.
Every night I fall asleep afraid that I am all done. And EVERY morning I wake up hearing in my head and heart “I am who you say I am”. And who God says I am has never been “done”.
I love New Jersey. I love my family immensely. I love TN and my friends there. I thought when I broke my ankle that I faced my biggest fear. But, there is no doubt that the next step in our journey scares me more than any other that I have taken. And maybe you don’t understand where I am coming from, and that is fine. I have ALWAYS been the one who sees a scary challenge and risk and decided “well, duh if it scares me then that is my next step”. This next step scares me. It forces me to say that Who I am is not What I do or Where I live.
That is why I know it is the best decision my wife and I have ever made. And that is why I am listening to “From Now On” from the Greatest Showman on repeat.
I learned so much in Nashville and maybe, just maybe my three years in Nashville didn’t make me a full-time writer and speaker. Maybe Nashville prepared me to be who I am supposed to be, not what I am supposed to be doing.
If you are called to something or to somewhere. That is amazing. But take my advice…Never stop asking who you are called to be.
You are beloved.
You are whole.
You are brilliant.
You are successful.
You are unique.
You are beautiful.
You are you. And in the sight of God that can never change. No matter what you are or are not doing.
And now for some music!
If you ever need to chat about calling or direction or purpose…never hesitate to message me.