Lynchburg is a patchwork quilt, pieced together from the last seven-and-a-half years of my life’s wardrobe. Some of the squares are carefully cut from the best and most beautiful dresses, worn only on those most special occasions, when you feel as though life could never possibly be more blessed. But many of the pieces — most of them, probably — are stripped from hand-me-downs, too ragged to be worn in public, or from those shirts that seemed to me to be attractive, but that turned out never to have been quite in style.
Lynchburg has been with me throughout the entirety of my independent adult life thus far, from the moment I first set foot outside my parents’ doorstep, on my way to a college dorm on Candler’s Mountain. It was there for my first real full-time job, and the first job I ever hated. It was there for my providentially short-lived first dating relationship, though not my first broken heart. Lynchburg has seen me irretrievably shy, unrestrainedly confident, prideful, humbled, hopeful, disappointed. It has seen me at my best and my worst. And its streets are paved with a myriad of memories, stretching all the way from the farthest reaches of Forest, through Ward’s Road and Timberlake, to downtown and Rivermont.
I grew up in wild, wonderful West Virginia, my Mountain Mama, down some real-live country roads. But it is Lynchburg that has shaped me more profoundly than any other place. I have a long-standing love-hate relationship with this town, that I suppose is mostly love, plagued nonetheless by the all-too-recent records of my naivete, disillusionment, failures, sins, regrets.
Still, I can’t think of a single year I’ve spent here that hasn’t brought with it some new joy, or some new growth. And I see the finger of God tracing my path along the sidewalks and the confoundedly interwoven roadways that I’ve traveled so familiarly. I see how he brought me here, unexpectedly, by his grace — and I see how he’s masterfully orchestrated every friendship, every decision, every change throughout these seven-ish years to bring me to where I am, and to make me who I am. This last year particularly has been overwhelmingly good (confusing, yes, and frustrating at times, filled with difficulty, but filled with love and hope and so much happiness).
Just a little over a year ago, I ventured out to a part of Lynchburg that I hadn’t frequented before. I’d always thought Wyndhurst was a little too “yuppie” for my tastes, which vacillate rapidly between lowbrow mainstream and over-prententious hipster/hippie. Who’d have thought that Wyndhurst would become perhaps the dearest part of this city, the most cherished in my memory. You see, normally, if I wanted coffee, I’d go to Starbucks, or The White Hart. But that day, I was headed for the first time to The Muse. I walked in the door, not quite sure what awaited, and certainly not aware that this would mark the beginning of something entirely new to me. There near the entryway, at a table for two, sat a new friend of mine — a handsome young man wearing a red-striped drug rug, cradling a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, his face illuminated by the soft glow from the screen of his Macbook. We talked till closing, about all sorts of things. He was visibly nervous, which I suppose made me a little nervous, too. That night, I recall that we were moved nearly to the point of tears at times, and certainly to the point of robust laughter at others. Neither of us knew what it meant, but we knew that it was good. We still don’t quite know, but God does, and I for one am daily astonished by his goodness and faithfulness to me, and by this challenging, sanctifying blessedness he’s entrusted me with for however long he pleases.
Ah, Wyndhurst, with our countless hours at City Place, with that one incredibly lovely evening stroll around the block, with that one time when my mom and I spent a much-needed day at the spa, with the church offices, where I laughed and cried with the women of Mercy, my church family. I have memories all over this town, but as I stand here on the brink of my departure, at the end of this era of my life, it’s Wyndhurst that I know I’ll think of most when I’m gone. I mean, so much of Lynchburg is tinged with painful memories. Still, I suppose when all is said and done, I love the whole of it. I love Diamond Hill, and all the stray cats on my afternoon walking route, and the stairway down to Percival’s Island, and sitting under the overpass there. And I love that willow tree on campus, long since cut down, where I’d sit with dear friends, or alone thereafter. I love that classroom in Campbell County where I met my first friends with autism, and where I learned to appreciate how much we had in common, and where I learned as much from them as they learned from me. I love the little apartments all down Ward’s Ferry Road where I spent time with so many people, so long ago. I love the Dollhaus in all its glory, with its board games and Zelda time and movie nights, with the smell of bacon caramelizing in the oven and the Jesus Storybook Bible being read aloud in the living room. I love that East Campus dorm, where I lived with my favorite college roommates, singing hymns and working puzzles and playing Trivial Pursuit. I love that school-cafeteria-turned-sanctuary where I’ve worshiped for more than a year with people who have loved and served me, and who’ve let me love and serve them, despite myself. And I love my little Oak Hill apartment, and the crowds who’ve gathered here to sing Psalms and to eat, and my favorite roomie ever, and the stop sign on Lee Street.
I don’t know what lies ahead in my life. I’ve heard that an RUF Campus Minister sometimes says (probably contextualized in some way that’d make more sense than this), “All the best days in life are still ahead.” Or something like that. And if that’s even remotely true, then I can have a heck of a lot of hope. Because Lynchburg has been very, very good to me, despite its many ups and downs. And it is true, I think. Someone also told me once (quoting another Campus Minister) that “God always gives us exactly what we would have asked for, had we known everything he knows,” and that “It is a cosmic impossibility for God ever to be anything less than absolutely good to us at every moment.” And the longer I live, the more clearly I see those truths engraved across my life, the times I’ve hated most, the times I thought were amazing that turned out to be just okay, the times that were surprisingly good despite my stupidity, and the times (like now) that were just plain confusing because of all the overwhelmingly happy and sad and excited and bittersweet emotions that flooded over me all at once. Thank you, God, for your goodness throughout my life, and throughout my time in Lynchburg — and thank you for the goodness that lies ahead. Would that I will glorify God and enjoy him in the days to come. Here’s to life, and here’s to Lynchburg!