Monday, September 22, 2014

It's OK

I moved to Oklahoma eight and one half years ago to marry my husband.  It wasn't a matter of having some lifelong dream of living in the Plains or simply dying to make my home in Tornado Alley.  I moved here because I loved a guy who lived here and we were getting married.  I didn't give it much more thought than that.

It didn't take long for me to realize that Oklahoma was (how shall I say this?) a unique place.  For instance, take the size of the spiders:  ENORMOUS.  I didn't like spiders when I lived in Washington, but the buggers out here make even the big guys there look like mere child's play. 

Then there's the trucks.  Now, every town in America has a truck.  But in Oklahoma, 6 out of 10 cars on the road are trucks.  And they're the big kind, too, most harboring some over-sized, drooling canine in the cab or the bed.  

And I dare not fail to mention the heat.  Let's see, how shall I convey the heat of Oklahoma in understandable terms for those who have never lived here?  Imagine, if you will, the hottest day you have ever experienced in your life.  Multiply that times 10.  Add 60 more days exactly like that during the year.  For good measure, throw in an electric blanket and turn on the central heating system.  (You're getting close.)

All of that said, I haven't exactly been a huge fan of Oklahoma over the past eight years.  I don't like spiders, trucks, or heat.  But I really love my husband, and my daughter was born in Tulsa.  So while I have recognized that good things happen in Oklahoma, there has been about a three-year period of living here during which I did little else but think about how much I'd like to leave it.

It was during this time that the Lord started to teach me some things.  Keep in mind that I'm a really slow learner, incredibly mentally stubborn and extremely dense.  So even though the Lord is All-Powerful and stuff, there are nitwits like me running around with which He must deal.  And deal with me He did, through exceedingly patient means, but not without a well-deserved spanking or two thrown in.  

The first clear recollection I have of His Dealing With Me regarding Oklahoma is this:  One quarter of a watermelon at the Sonic Drive-In.  On a scorcher of an August morning when Lilia was two, I took her to the nearby Sonic play land.  The temperature was probably at least 90 and climbing.  We took a break from playing to sip our ice waters while gazing out at brown grass and dying trees.  I very clearly remember hating Oklahoma.

As we sat there, two middle-aged gentlemen engaged in some manual labor for the restaurant sat down to eat one huge mother of a watermelon for their lunch break.  I watched them dive into the melon like schoolboys lapping up popsicles.  They talked and laughed and ate, and then they caught sight of the pitiful image of Lilia and I wilting in the unbearable heat.  

One of them asked if we would like some watermelon, and before I could form half of a smile, they sliced off a huge section of it for us.  So there we sat, my daughter and I, eating watermelon with voracious delight, juice running down our faces and clothes.  We laughed and giggled as we ate.  Nothing had ever tasted so good before.

I think it was that very moment when something like fondness for Oklahoma entered my heart.  Part of it was the simple kindness of those Oklahoman gentleman.  Part of it was enjoying sweet relief in the misery of heat.  Part of it was watching my daughter's introduction to watermelon.  I really can't pin it down exactly, but I do know that God was teaching me something in that moment about gratitude.  I still hated Oklahoma and the dead grass and the heat.  But I was so thankful for that delicious watermelon. 

It was a slow process of growth after that (like I said, I'm extremely dense).  There were many occasions of cursing the drought-ridden land and pitifully wailing for topography. (Ask my husband because he heard it all, poor man.)  But something happened over the past few years that I can't really explain.  I think dear Jim Manry, an Oklahoman from Texas, summed it up best when he told me, "Oklahoma grows on you."  It seems strange to be sitting here admitting it, but what he says is true:  It does grow on you.  Despite the heat and the flatness and the spiders, there is something that is rather -- I suppose -- charming about it.  

There are these majestic storms, you see, that roll in from the west, both terrifying and delightful at once.  There are hay bails piled in neat rows in pastures along the road.  There are oil drills slowly going up and down, up and down with predictable monotony.  There are sunsets made of hues for which I don't even know the color. 

And there are people, too, people like those two gentleman who gave an exhausted mommy and her little girl nearly one third of their watermelon on a scorching day.  There are people like Jim Manry, Kelsey Kennedy, Nietzie Toothaker and Melanie Taylor -- all people I met in Oklahoma, who became friends and touched my life in some beautiful way that I won't forget.  

When I think of these things and people, I realize that somehow, I've actually grown to like it here.  Like Jim Manry said, it grew on me.  It didn't happen quickly; it took a lot of time, and it took some serious chipping away at my hard, stubborn heart.  But it did happen.  In this past year I accepted that if we stayed, I could obey the Lord in that, with even something like contentment in my heart.

Now we're leaving.  And I must admit, I have shed a few tears over the thought of going.

Don't get me wrong, I'm exceedingly thrilled about living in upstate New York with its fall colors, outdoor recreation, and (surprisingly!) very friendly people.  I'm jazzed about living less than an hour from the Adirondacks and potentially taking up cross country skiing as a hobby.  I can clearly see God's hand in this new chapter of our lives.  Jerry and I are delighted.

But I'll miss it here in Oklahoma.  I won't miss it in the sense that I'll fondly recall the heat and the spiders and the pseudo monster trucks with the large canines.  But I'll miss the uniqueness of it because there is no place like it.  And even though I'm incredibly dense, the Lord has managed to teach me gratitude in this place.  I don't think I could have learned that lesson so well in any other place but here.

I was driving in my car several weeks ago when the song "Oklahoma!" came on the radio.  I smiled reluctantly as the words rang in my ears:  "We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand.  And when we say 'Yeeow!  Aiyipioeeay!'  We're only sayin' you're doin' fine Oklahoma!  Oklahoma, O.K."

And it is OK.  It really is.