there is this little town on the east side of the great smoky mountains/pisgah national forest. it’s a mill town. a paper mill, that is. i never knew much about it, or actually cared to know much about it, until i moved there in 2004 – the year i turned 30. growing up, i had passed by the town by way of the highway, and the only way i knew it was there was because of it’s smell. let’s be honest. it’s stink which came from the paper mill. however, that nasty stink reminds me of my childhood & my trips to the mountains with my family. we never, ever went through canton, but always around it. it meant nothing to me. a meaningless, little mountain town, in the process of dying. nevertheless, i found myself working there just after 9/11, and then living there three years later when i turned 30. and i had no idea how that little town would capture my heart.
there are only a few thousand people who live in & around canton, but they are good people. mountain people. now, i’m a city-ish girl, or at least i had been up to that point in my life. country people and i, southern country people and i, southern mountain country people and i don’t really have that much in common. and yet, these people – the doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, farmers, mechanics, housewives, mill workers, business owners, service workers, nurses, and kids of this town became a family to me. this very liberal, free-spirited, adventure-seekin’, tree-huggin’, peace-lovin’, gun-hatin’, free-thinkin’, boot-wearin’, tatted-up, cityified outsider minister breezed into the little, southern, mountain, country town and found a place to call home.
my reason for working and moving there? a job. the downtown methodist church hired me and i stayed for 7 and a half years. while there were days that i thought i’d tear my hair out from the boredom and monotony of the country life, most days i realized how lucky i was to live a.) in a such a beautiful place, and b). that the people i worked with & for changed my life & became like family to me. no, they became family.
it was in little ‘ole canton that i spread my wings, that i became a minister, that i fell in love with teaching theology, and discovered that deep inside me, in all that searching for inner peace, i was one who was called to speak, share, teach, guide, and offer others a message of peace, hope, & love. the relationships that i formed, the struggles that i had (i got divorced while i lived in canton), the inspiration that i felt… well, canton – that little 5/6 block downtown and beautiful countryside – raised me. from my 20s to my 30s. it was here that i lived, died, and was brought back to life as me. it was here that i met my soul. here that i learned to breathe. here that i became a preacher. here that i became a counselor. here that i held people’s hands as they died. here that i celebrated new life. here that i here that i put my master’s of divinity to practice. here that i loved & hated my job. here that i met people that have become my mentors. and here that i received so much love. it was here that i understood who i was called to be, and i found the courage to simply be me.
and then i moved away. spreading my wings as far as i could, but never forgot the foundation, the love, the growth, the cocoon that i lived in which led to my transformation.
last week, i had the chance to visit canton a little. to go to the church where i worked & hug a bunch of necks. i got to look into the eyes and hold the hands of youth, parents, friends, & older friends and let them know that, while i am not with them anymore, i have taken everything i have learned there with me to sweden. and now i am working with new people, knowing that as i build relationships here i am beginning to hold their hands & hug their necks. it was wonderful & difficult to be back in canton. i miss those people. i miss my job there. but the chance to be reminded of the amazing years that i shared with the people of canton, nc was priceless.
i didn’t take any pictures at the church, or of many who are close to me. instead, i was soaking everything in, chatting it up with everyone, and leaving my camera alone. sometimes it’s better to just live. but, i did click the camera a few times. and here are the moments that i captured…
remember where you’ve been, but also love where you are. it’s exactly where you are supposed to be. keep dreaming big. and follow those dreams. all along the way you’ll meet people and experience things you could have never imagined. but, the journey, as different as it may be from what you had planned… oh, it’s so worth it.
follow your bliss, my dear friends. peace.