98% of the time, I love living in Georgia. Autumn lasts for months, and is absolutely gorgeous. Spring is beautiful, and all the plants are covered with pink flowers (a color which I don’t claim to love, but apparently I do: my backpack, water bottle, and cell phone cover are all pink. When I wear my one pair of pink pants, I become hopelessly monochromatic. So much for my “professional” image.) Winter is quite mild… although the very mention of “snow” can shut the city down, as this past January and February proved. (I heard there were 800 car accidents, 2000 abandoned vehicles, and at least one baby born on the highway. We even got featured on SNL’s Weekend Update. Welcome to the South.) And in my last two years here, I’ve found the people to be incredibly friendly. It would seem that the phrase “Southern hospitality” exists for a reason.
That being said, Georgia has a few quirks that, although I’m learning to tolerate, I don’t particularly love.
- The traffic. It’s awful. Atlanta has the worst traffic of any city I’ve ever seen. Depending on what time you leave, a drive across town could take you 15 minutes or days. Okay, more like an hour and a half. But that’s still a really, really long time. On the upshot, though, living here has made me significantly more punctual. If I want to be even remotely close to “on time”, I need to build in a 20- or 30-minute buffer for Atlanta’s roadways. And public transit isn’t much better: while there are a few trains through town, most of the city is only accessible by bus. And buses, as you know, must drive on roads… where there is traffic.
- The humidity. Sometimes it’s so bad that, after going for a run, I look like I’ve been swimming. I gave up straightening my hair because by the time I walk the half-mile to the bus stop, it’s already wavy again. And although summer is obviously the worst season for humidity, it lasts all year long. So even though the winter temperature only gets down to, say, 35 or 40 degrees, the moisture in the air makes it feel significantly colder. Forget “wind chill”; Atlanta has a “humidity chill.” Brrrr!
- The lack of sky, or rather, the inability to see it. In case you’ve never been to Georgia, it’s basically like living in a jungle with pine trees. They are HUGE!!! I’m not kidding. Most of them are between 90 and 110 feet tall! And while that’s great if you’re looking for shade to escape from the humidity-filled heat, it’s less awesome if want to see the sky. And as a Kansas girl, I really, really like to see the sky. Aside from the traffic, that was my biggest adjustment when I moved to Atlanta: from having tons of wide open space above me to experiencing tree-induced claustrophobia.
The worst part about this isn’t the phobia, though. It’s missing the sunsets. You see, I’m a sucker for sunsets. If I had to make a list of my ten favorite things, sunsets would be toward, if not at, the very top. When I was an undergrad at Oklahoma State, sometimes I would drive to the end of a street that faced west (and, incidentally, intersected with a road called “Western”) just to watch the sun go down. I call this “catching sunsets.” When I worked at Kanakuk Kamps, I would occasionally sneak away to the top of a waterslide, so I could watch the sun go down over Table Rock Lake. When I visited Kamp this summer, I went down to the waterfront and caught one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen.
But alas, since moving to Georgia, I’ve only caught a handful of noteworthy sunsets, and these were mainly when I was weaving my way through traffic on the highway—not exactly an ideal place to stop and enjoy them. Bummer. There has been one exception, though. And if you keep reading, I’ll tell you about it.
Last Wednesday, I was driving to my weekly Bible study meeting. The day, like most of them lately, had been pretty rough. I’d spent another nine hours cooped up in the library, reading for my comprehensive (ie awful) exams in November. And as usual lately, I was in a rather terrible mood. Studying all day can have that effect. Anyway, as I was driving along, I happened to look up at the sky, and the top of an obnoxiously tall pine tree caught my eye. It was glowing—truly glowing—an incandescent shade of orange and yellow. “Hmm,” I thought, “that’s pretty. The trees don’t normally glow like that.” I kept driving, winding my way around the traffic, down a hill, and through a neighborhood, until I emerged at the roundabout right by campus. And that’s when I saw it—one of the most stunning, vibrant, and gorgeous sunsets of my life. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have stared at it for a really long time, or at least taken a picture. But even that brief, few-seconds glimpse was enough to leave a huge impression. It was absolutely spectacular.
After exiting the roundabout a few moments later, I caught a glimpse of another glowing-topped tree and a thought popped into my mind: the sunsets are always there. Even the trees are obscuring my view and I can’t see them, they are still there. And that’s when it hit me: God’s love is like the sunsets.
My life has a lot of trees right now: the 400+ books I need to know for my exams (let alone the pressure of passing those tests!), grants to apply for, papers to write, and so many things to do. And in the midst of the pressures of being a grad student, it’s easy to get worn out and discouraged. When life is difficult and demands are high, it’s easy to lose sight of God and His goodness, just like when trees block out the sunsets. It’s in times like these that I need to trust that He is with me, that His love is constant, and His grace is sufficient. This can be really challenging, especially when my sunset-glimpses seem so few and far between. But I suppose that this is point of faith: believing even when—especially when—we cannot see.
I’m thankful for my glimpse the other day, and I’m praying that God would give me grace to keep going. And that He would remind me to look up to Him, so I can catch, rather than miss, His sunsets.