Editor’s Note: This is another installment in our “Single and…” series where we interview singles from all walks of life. It is our hope that you are encouraged by the stories of people who have a similar journey as you, who share the same dreams you have, who face the same hurdles you do, and who can remind you that you are not alone.
There are two kinds of small town people: those who say they’ll never leave and those who swear they’ll never return, unless God wills it. Caroline Kelley was the latter.
A social butterfly who recently moved back to the town where she grew up because of a job opportunity, Caroline found that while returning to the church she’d always known was familiar, there were fewer people her age there than when she’d left. But, she also found that life in a small town is better than she expected it to be.
We recently caught up with Caroline to hear about life as a single Christian in her small Louisiana town (population 4,600). Here’s what she had to say:
So you went away to college and grad school. What brought you back to your hometown?
Caroline: I am the Child Nutrition Program Supervisor for a small school system in Louisiana. That is a fancy title for “head cafeteria lady for the entire school district.” I was NEVER going to move back to my hometown, at least not right after college. But the Lord had a different plan. When I was nearing the end of getting my Masters degree in dietetics, a dietician in my hometown called to let me know she was changing jobs and her current position as the Child Nutrition Supervisor would be available. I deliberated over whether or not I really wanted to apply because I knew that it meant moving to a small town, but I applied and was hired. So I returned to my small town, moved back in with my mom and started my professional career. My mom says I am part of the “Boomerang Generation”—kids that leave and then move back home; I call it smart. It was a difficult adjustment to make moving back to a small town, but during this season in my life I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Most people think living in a small town limits your relationship options—both dating and friendships. Do you find this to be true?
Caroline: Yes and No… Can I say that? Living in a small town presents things that you normally wouldn’t encounter in a bigger city—especially when that small town is where you grew up. In a bigger city, you would go out and meet new people make an effort to get involved. But I didn’t have to since I have had the same set of friends since Pre-K, and they also still live in our small town. Those friends are now married or have kids, and they bring in new friends. Or you have the opportunity to know old acquaintances on a deeper level and they become friends.
The dating aspect is a little different. It is limited in a small town—especially one you grew up in. Either you have known them your entire life, or you are probably in related to them. Needless to say, small town life does limit your options. There aren’t a plethora of young people—or people in general—moving in to a small town, so meeting a potential love interest or a new friend is limited. So you get creative—getting involved in community events or traveling to nearby towns to get away are always things that can introduce a new opportunity.
What does church and ministry look like for you in your town?
Caroline: The first year of returning to my home church was very trying for me. I had just moved from a college town and a great church that was filled with people of all ages encouraging each other to live a life that honors Christ. I had the accountability I needed. But when I moved to my small town, I lost that accountability and the joy I felt going to church. Since there weren’t a lot of people my age in Christ-centered community, I dove into serving at my church.
Someone in our church approached me about teaching a Sunday school class in the youth department, and I immediately said no. I didn’t want to commit to being there for those girls every Sunday or the rest of the week. I was scared to throw all I had into it because I didn’t want to be stuck. I have seen lots of people become completely drained after burning out. I didn’t want to be completely drained and have no one pouring back into me; I was being selfish. I didn’t want to be tied to those girls, but God wanted me to be with them living life side-by-side.
I didn’t know what the Lord had in store for us but it has been more than I could’ve ever planned. I have been teaching the 9th grade girls’ Sunday School class, and I have been exactly where they are. I have been under the same pressures they get from high school in a small town. One of the hardest things about living in a small town as a teenager, and even now, is trying to please everyone. I am reminded—and remind my 15- and 16-year-old friends—of Galatians 1:10, “I am not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Ministry in a small town, for me, at least, is best shown by your actions and the way you live. People are aware of everything that happens to everyone in a small town, so why not be the person others see as the one that loves God and loves people.
What has been the hardest thing about living in your small town during this season of your life?
Caroline: The hardest part about living in small town during this season of life is the lack of a community. In college towns or bigger cities, there are a multitude of options for a bible study with others your age. Not in my case. I have missed sitting around a living room floor with others my age discussing a Bible study or talking about struggles in life. I am also a social butterfly; I like having tons of activities on a calendar. In a small town you don’t have that very often. Moving from a city that has tons of places to gather with friends like restaurants, movie theaters, and coffee shops to not having a coffee shop, a movie theater, and only about 3 restaurants it takes a little adjusting.
What has been the best thing about living in your small town during this season of your life?
Caroline: The best thing for me during this season is getting to spend time with my family. My family has always been really close—we all live about 5 miles apart—but I was always extremely close to my grandpa. When I moved home I was able to see him everyday. The time I got to spend with him from when I moved home in June until when the Lord called him home in January was the sweetest time.
Small town living also gives you a lot of time for self-reflection because, I mean, what else are you going to do? Having the time to think about why the Lord placed me in a small town during this season of life when I am young and single has been exactly what I needed. I needed to be in a small town to be okay with my singleness. When all of your friends are getting married and you have been to about a bazillion weddings, you start to ask, “Why not me?” But living in a small town, I have learned a lot about contentment. I needed to be here to have the opportunity to pour my love for Christ into high school freshman and sophomores. I needed to be in a small town to learn more about myself and what God has planned for my future.
I am finding out little by little each day but being single and living in a small town are blessings. They may be blessings in disguise but they are definitely blessings. And let me be honest, my heart loves this small town.
Are you Single and…Living in a Small Town? Share your story in the comments below.