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Thanks For Giving Me What I Came For, Chatt.

I’ve been sitting at my computer trying to figure out how I’m supposed to start a goodbye letter to one of my favorite places to live and be so far. After about ten minutes of watching my cursor blink back at me, I realized it’s not necessarily about how you start or end things, but what’s in between that really matters which I learned from living in Chattanooga this past year. Although everything worked out, my journey there didn’t begin or finish the way I had initially planned, but everything in between made it all worth it. The beginnings of my journeys have typically been the time I do most of my learning about a lot of different things. Of course, my goal is to never stop learning, but the beginnings are when I start learning the place and how to adjust to living there. The endings are always difficult because that’s the time I have to say all my goodbyes and start planning my next move. But somewhere in between all that is when I get to meet the people who change my life. The time in between is when I get to make my memories and what makes this whole journey worth it.

Although Chattanooga has been my favorite place so far, that doesn’t mean it was always smooth sailing. If I only wrote about the good things throughout my adventures I think people would have a difficult time believing if I was being 100% honest about everything. I think sometimes it’s good to share about your struggles so that you don’t seem fake, people can most likely learn from it too and it is a part of your story. I will admit that I had a rough start financially when moving to Tennessee. I accepted the challenge of a commission-based job at a marketing firm for AT&T. Without going into details, I started out great and made some money, but eventually I was making nothing for a few months. Thankfully, I had money saved because I don’t give up very easily, but as soon as I ran out and had to start asking money from my family I knew it was time to start looking for a new job. I’m proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and taking a leap of faith at something new in a new place regardless of how it ended up because I learned more than I thought I would. I’m very thankful for my opportunity at AT&T because I continue to use those skills every day, but I was blessed with the job that I ended up at for the rest of my time in Tennessee.

When I arrived in Chattanooga, I moved in with a random “Champy’s girl” who I met off an off-campus housing Facebook page. Little did I know that I would soon be blessed with finding out what it exactly means to be a “Champy’s girl”. If you don’t know what Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken is, I suggest not only Yelping it, but also google mapping it to go there to eat. Tip: try the Champy’s sauce, substitute baked beans for the mashed potatoes and don’t forget to save room for the strawberry cake. I owe Sammie a lot more than a thank you for getting me a job serving at Champy’s because it is one of the reasons why I find it so difficult to say good-bye.

I'll be honest and admit that I was a little intimidated by all the girls who worked at Champy’s at first because every single girl there is beautiful, and I wasn't sure what to expect. But from the moment I walked in the doors and was greeted with plenty of smiles on my first day, I have always felt encouraged and that someone always had my back to help no matter what it's about. Even when I brewed tea with the whole tea urn upside down and didn't realize until it leaked everywhere, we were still able to laugh it off.

This was my first serving job and Champy’s honestly taught me everything I know about it, so whenever I get a compliment while serving, I make sure to tell them I learned from the best. And whenever I get a complaint about my serving, I tell them my name is Kristen Martin. Not only did they teach me a lot, they have constantly encouraged and supported me. Champys girls are like some sort of mafia of hype girls. If anyone messes with one of us, everyone is quick to have their back and stand up for them. Whenever someone sends a picture of themselves or of their outfit in the group chat everyone pitches in to hype them up. And whenever I say a stupid joke, everyone is somehow nice enough to laugh. But Champy’s girls are more than a mafia. They have been a family to me this past year and I can't thank them enough for accepting me as part of it. I may not be living in Chattanooga anymore, but I know I can always call it a home because of the family I have made there that makes it so hard to leave.

One of the best parts about this past year for me has been meeting so many friendly people and making life-long friendships, but Chattanooga offers even more than that. Every single day I was amazed by God’s art no matter what time of the year it was or what I was doing. You can be walking across the Walnut Street Bridge downtown, finding a good look out spot on a mountain, taking a cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat or even just driving on the highway and you will always find yourself looking at a beautiful view. There are cool views that take as little as a five-minute drive or it only takes about three hours to drive to the Smoky Mountains. However intense you want your hike to be, there is a hike or trail for you to see something great. The mountains don’t just make for a gorgeous view, but they also give you something active to do for free. I always heard jokes about how flat Indiana is and how there is only corn there, but because I lived there my whole life I never really realized how different that is from other places. Going from flat cornland to a small-town smack dab in the middle of the mountains was one of my favorite spontaneous decisions so far.

I moved to Tennessee weighing about 94 pounds and I moved out of Tennessee weighing…well a bit more than that. I blame Chattanooga’s food because I can confidently say I have never had a bad meal there. There are so many different local places to eat and I highly recommend every single place I ate at. I can’t even decide on a favorite place that I have, but I do really recommend Frothy Monkey for a few different reasons. They are always very quick at getting my food out to me and it’s always delicious. The building is a part of The Choo-Choo Hotel which you can walk around the old train station and play corn hole and Jenga for free. It’s also right next to Station Street which is fun to walk and enjoy the live music that they usually have going on. If you ever find yourself in this town, do yourself a FLAVOR and do not eat at a chain restaurant.

Apart from hiking as one of the obvious free things to do, there are many more fun activities that you can get into that won’t break your wallet. I spent a lot of my time going to the Southern Belle Riverboat Burger Bar to eat, drink, play darts, ping pong, corn hole, Jenga, watch whatever game was on TV and to sit and enjoy the river view from an old steamboat. Besides the eating and drinking it is free to have a good time there, but you can also take a cruise which I recommend doing at least once. The city also puts on a lot of free events throughout the year. Some of my favorites were the movies in the park every Saturday during the summer and the free small concerts every Friday and Saturday during the summer as well. Coolidge Park is a great place to do whatever you want in an open field like have a picnic, play sports with people, eat at food trucks, walk your dog, ride the carousel, play in the water fountains or just enjoy the view. The location is very convenient too because it’s between all the boutiques in North Shore and the bridge connecting to downtown on the other side of the river. Chattanooga is also in a great location itself because you are only a two hour drive from a few big cities with a lot to do as well, such as Atlanta, Nashville, Knoxville and The Carolinas. No matter your age, budget or what you’re into I’m very confident that there is something to do for everyone.

When I move somewhere, I meet a lot of locals who have lived there their whole lives and sometimes wish they could just move away because they hate it so much. I’m guilty of that myself towards Fort Wayne because I couldn’t wait to get out and experience other things. Being away from there these past few years have put into perspective of what all I did have there and of course the things I didn’t. There are pros and cons to moving out of your hometown no matter if you hate it, love it or you’re somewhere in between. Talking to people that aren’t from the area that you’re talking about, helps put into perspective about what you take for granted in that area. I hope to be the person that shows the locals what all they take for granted in their own town that they’re just used to having that some others don’t.

As I already said, the endings of my journeys are hard because of all places, things and people I have to say good-bye to, but it’s also stressful planning my move to the next place. My next move is a little different than what I had originally planned. I was set on Austin, Texas for a while and felt like God gave me many signs to go there, but things changed last minute. I realized my funds weren’t where they should have been yet, and a living arrangement came up in Atlanta Georgia. Something that I haven’t written too much about yet is that I moved to McDonough, Georgia right after I graduated high school in 2015. My dad was transferred to Atlanta for work before I had any idea or plans of ever even moving out of Fort Wayne. I was living in McDonough for a few months before I decided that it just wasn’t quite right yet. After graduating high school, you’re thrown into the “real adult world” and I was having to do that somewhere far away from home and without all the familiar faces to help me along the way. I did end up moving back home to Fort Wayne, Indiana to get my first job and to get my depression and anxiety under control. It took about a year for me to get to where I needed to be spiritually, emotionally and to also gain the confidence and experience I needed to even think of a crazy journey such as moving every year.

Long story short, my dad ended up moving back to Fort Wayne about a year later after I did and he has been there ever since. Two weeks before my 365 days was up in Chattanooga, my dad informed me that he got a place to live in Covington, Georgia which is right outside Atlanta and next to McDonough. At first, I had no intentions or interest in moving back there, but I thought hard and prayed harder on clarity of what to do and where to go. Something that I always pray for when it comes to getting a new job or moving to a certain place is that God takes me not to where I think I want to be, but to where He needs me to be. As soon as I asked for that, a lot of answers came to my mind. I decided that moving to Covington, Georgia was the best plan for me right now financially and personally. I consider it more of a personal journey because I’m going back to what I gave up on so soon before. I hope to prove to myself that I can do what I was too afraid and intimidated by to do a few years ago. I know I am more comfortable now because I have been in new places these past two years on my own and I have gained a lot more confidence, experience and knowledge.

Although I feel sad leaving Chattanooga and anxious moving to Covington, I know God is answering my prayers and putting me where I’m needed. My goal of moving somewhere random every year is for adventure and learning purposes, but more importantly it’s to spread God’s love. I know not everyone I encounter will be a Christian, but whatever people believe in, I hope to inspire, encourage, motivate and show God’s love to. I am blessed to have the opportunities that God has given me so far and I’m excited to see what is in store for me this time in Georgia. Thank you to everyone this past year who has helped me continue to grow as a person, given me support, confidence, advice and plenty of laughs and memories and of course for making Chattanooga a place I can call a home.

Spread a little love today, kid

Myranda Harper

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