My running route takes me through the Appalachian foothills and past Roger’s house. Sometimes, he sits on his front porch and calls to me with a big, toothless smile and a wave as I run by, but usually he comes out to the road to chat. Roger is a seventy-two-year old gentleman who told me he is “re-turd.” It took me a few seconds before I realized he was telling me he was retired.
One day as I was rounding the corner, he met me in the road for what would be our third chat to date. I stood eye-to-eye with Roger in his plaid shirt and jeans as we talked about the 8-inch siding on his house. Then he suddenly commented, “well, my, you are very sweaty” as he literally wiped the sweat from my forehead with the tattooed knuckle of his index finger.
I was both aghast and touched by the unexpected gesture from a stranger.
Since then, Roger has stopped me from walking into the electric wire around his garden, and he single-handedly bludgeoned a snake to death who was sunning itself a little too closely to us on the warm pavement. He also regularly warns me of the traffic that comes around his corner too fast, so I need to be careful as I run there. That’s my buddy, Rog.
Sometimes, I do have to work hard to understand Roger, but I have begun to pick up on a few new or new-sounding words. When I hear him say the word “hill” he means “heel” and when he says “heel” he’s referencing a “hill.” I’ve also learned the word “holler” as in the hollow place between two hills – a valley, if you will – and the word “knob” in reference to the tops of those hills.
I am not in Flat Indiana anymore.
One of the tall points around here is Tater Knob (yes, that’s puh-tater without the puh. No, actually I don’t know what the Tater comes from, and neither does the Internet.) But it is one of the most beautiful views. I made it halfway to the top of the lookout tower at Tater Knob before I lost faith in the shaky, man-made structure and had to claw my way back down the handrails to the safe soil below. But I will conquer you, Tater Knob, you mark my words!
It’s been two months since I moved to Kentucky. I now have a Kentucky driver’s license and license plate. To be honest, which I always try to be, it has been a beautifully messy adjustment. I wonder how long it takes to feel at Home in a new place?
Guy’s mom and step-dad, Madonna and Jim, have been incredibly gracious hosts to me. I have full run of two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Madonna even set up one room to be my office, and it has a little living space with a futon and a TV, too. We’ve enjoyed baking together, and she just walked in with a bag of cashews from the bulk bin at Kroger for me because she knows how much I like them. And Curmudgeony Jim is not a complete curmudgeon at all. In fact, he makes us coffee every morning (well sometimes he heats up yesterday’s coffee), and we stand around the kitchen island talking about who knows what until it’s time for one of us to go on about our day. I really like them. Being around them feels like family.
Because I miss my family. And friends.
The day my sister, Ellie, drove out of the driveway back to Indiana was the hardest I’ve cried in a year and a half. I anticipated her leaving as she and I drove home from Diary Queen that evening, knowing she’d depart once we got back to the house. The largest, painful lump formed in my throat just thinking about it, and tears seeped up into my eyes.
She looked over at me there in the driver’s seat, as I tried miserably to keep it all together, and then she said with a tone full of pity, “Oh…” And I was done. Cried like a baby.
I kept crying to Guy, who told me it was okay to cry about it, so I kept at it. Then, I cried on a walk talking to God about it. Some time later, I finally quit crying, but then as soon as I thought of Ellie again, I cried some more.
I knew I’d miss the people most, but I hoped that maybe it wouldn’t be as hard as I thought. I’m just thankful for cell phones and unlimited data, or I’d still be crying tears “like a tall cow peeing on a flat rock!” (I learned that phrase down here.)
But it hasn’t been all tears at all! I’ve smiled big smiles and laughed belly laughs a whole lot more than I’ve cried.
There was the time Guy’s dog, Lincoln, who has vision issues, ran full-force into the table leg. Bless him.
Or when Guy’s girls reach for my hand as we cross the parking lot or walk through a store.
There was the time when our friend Dorm, who manages the B-dubs, said he heard I liked rosé so he asked what kind he should order for me so they’d have it in stock. Or another time at B-dubs (there aren’t many restaurant options here) when one friend left for a bit only to come back with a birthday cake for me.
There was the time when a couple of my new friends showed up one morning with this sign they made for me as a surprise.
It’s a handmade wooden frame and a beautifully crafted canvas. Contact @kindredspiritsandco and they’ll make you whatever you want, too!
But the time that put the absolute biggest smile on my face was one Sunday night when Guy took me out to the lake, the same place where one year ago he showed me the beauty of star-gazing in the country. We stood down next to the water (me in my sweaty running clothes because I had no idea what was coming, despite his gentle nudge that perhaps I’d want to get out of them before we left) and watched the most beautiful full moon rise and glisten over the surface as we talked about the past incredible year that brought us to this place. Then, he asked me to be his wife!
As you can see by that smile, I said yes. We’re getting married in October!
And so that’s how it’s been, this first summer in Kentucky. A bunch of emotional ups and downs and ups again.
Just when I think I’ve gotten myself under control, I see a photo on Instagram that makes me feel I’m missing out in a dozen different ways. Simply put: moving here did not magically take away my affection for the things I left in Indy like dining in downtown restaurants or my longing to be with friends.
But as I was reading this week, I was reminded that it’s not my feelings that control me, it’s my thoughts. My thoughts determine my actions, and my actions determine how I feel. As author Kay Warren says, “You can’t command a feeling, but you can command a thought and an action.”
Want proof we can control our thoughts? Okay, picture a really tall tree covered in pink bow ties. See. You can command a thought.
That’s why Paul urges us in Colossians 3:2 to choose to “THINK about the things of Heaven, not the things of earth.” We are invited to constantly bring back to our minds who God says He is and the life-giving truths found in His word and the reminder that He’s always working things for our good.
In the moments when I let my lonely, unsettled, or insecure feelings determine the truth, I am easily tempted to believe I will remain empty. But when I take those feelings to God and speak His truth into my own mind, I remember He has filled me with purpose and given me all I need to live out His love right where I am.
Here’s Jesus’ personal invitation to us:
“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax…Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Jesus in Matthew 6:32-34, MSG)
But I won’t deny it has been hard to just sit in it. To sit in the newness. Nothing is going to dramatically change over-night. It will take time to develop deep friendships, and it will take years to make new favorite traditions. Often, I long for the comfort of being deeply known by the people around me, for not feeling like the new teacher who has so much to learn and knows only a few people at the district teacher breakfast, for a house that is mine and contains the people I love.
Feeling physically and emotionally settled feels so far out of sight from here.
Yet, then I remember this encouragement from our friend, James:
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4 italics mine)
There is purpose in the challenges. Always. And when we command our mind to think about THESE things instead of all the “buts” and “what ifs,” our feelings start to change.
So when I’ve sensed the anxiety creep in, I ask myself two questions: What feelings am I allowing to control me today? And what are the things God has said that conquer that feeling?
This is the human condition.
We want paradise, but God says that’s coming later. We want great comfort, but God says He wants great character. We want to feel better, but God says He wants us to think better.
This is the life lesson I’m still learning right now.
Though this summer has felt like one big roller coaster of emotional ups and downs and ups and downs, I’m not surprised by this. I know change is hard. I know Christ promised us “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
So just because something is hard or uncomfortable doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, it might be the best thing.
This thought caused me to look up a verse in my head about the Lord making our paths straight. How can we have ups and downs if He promises straight paths? Isn’t that contradictory?
In Psalm 5:8, David prays to the Lord, “…make Your way straight before me.” Another translation says, “…lead me in the right path.”
In other words, he’s talking about having an assured DIRECTION.
It’s not that there aren’t ups and down and a whole bunch of crazy along the way, but in the midst of it, do we know where we’re going? Do we KNOW where we’re headed and why we’re choosing that way despite what’s happening around us and how it FEELS?
My very first run in Kentucky was depressing. The hills were killer. I longed for my flat rail trail more than I longed for my bag of shoes that was buried somewhere deep in the rented storage unit. I remember seeing the hill named Jackson for the first time – tall and winding, steeper than anything I’d ever run before. It looked awful. It felt awful. Five steps in and I was gasping for breath. I wondered if there would ever be a day I could run to the top without walking.
The direction was clear and straight: I knew exactly how to get to the top, but I also knew it would be rough. Day after day, I would start…and then walk. The next day I might get a little farther, or I might not.
Until today, two months in. I made it. If I hadn’t known exactly what prize I was going for, I might have stopped. But there was a direction – a straight path – that prompted me to push through the pain. And now my legs and lungs are much stronger than they were that first day. Watch out, Tater Knob….
As we journey the ups and downs of life, with our eyes fixed on Christ, assured that He is working in the midst of everything, we are given assured direction:
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
“Our great desire is that you will keep right on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going in inherit God’s promises because of their faith” (Hebrews 6:11-12).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Our direction is always certain, even when the road is long and rugged.
There will be knobs and hollers, highs and lows, our entire life. But our path is always straight: Love God. Love others. Never stop seeking Him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Eyes on the Coach. Stay the course. You can’t lose.