The Ant Rant

For the last two years, I have lived in a cute little duplex on a quiet side street off a major Atlanta road. Set on a large lawn next to a peaceful creek and surrounded by massive pine trees and blooming hydrangeas, the house has perfect for two graduate students stumbling through their studies. The house is so quaint and the space so verdant that my dad even nicknamed it “the Shire” after the hobbits’ home in Lord of the Rings. And the name fits. The house is small, but cozy; tucked away, but not isolated; wild, but well kept…

… and very, very quirky.

I know that every house—even the suburban cookie-cutter variety—has its quirks, but I’m afraid mine has more than its fair share. And during the last two years, my roommate Maria and I had our share of fun discovering them.

The first was the “fog horn”, as we semi-affectionately called it. It began as a faint sound in the pipes, and it would last for a second or two after we used the bathroom sink. But over the next few days, it began to grow louder and louder. While we fiddled with the faucet as best we could, discovering ways to make the sound temporarily quieter, the noise continued. Over the next week or so, the fog horn became louder and more frequent, now happening whenever we turned on the shower, used the kitchen sink, and flushed the toilet. After it became clear that the problem was getting worse, we told our landlady (who lives in the adjoining duplex unit), and she promised to call a plumber. By the time he arrived, the fog horn had become its own veritable amplifier, vibrating the floorboards in Maria’s room and growing so loud that even our landlady could hear it. After three separate visits, the plumber finally managed to eradicate the fog horn, at least temporarily. He also did messed up our hot water, so for a few days our showers were not very warm. Before his next visit, we left him the note below, and he fixed it:

lukewarm

The washer-dryer unit provided the next quirk. Because of my chronic fear of shrinking my clothes, I don’t use the dryer very often. I do, however, dry all of my whites (because, let’s be honest, air-dried socks simply aren’t very fluffy). After washing and drying my sheets for the first time, I noticed something strange: my otherwise white pillow case had sprouted what looked like a tan-colored mustache. On further examination, I discovered similar mustaches on my fitted sheets and several of my wife-beaters. Puzzled by these facial-hair-shaped tattoos, I continued to study my laundry, looking for an explanation. Eventually I found it: the dryer had burned the corners of the tags on the sheets, which had then tattooed my laundry. Having solved the mystery, I cut off the tags and called it good.

And everything was good, until one fateful day in January my roommate and I smelled something burning. Concerned that our duplex was on fire, we rushed to the kitchen only to discover that, though our house was okay, our washing machine was not. The smell was coming from the agitator’s engine, which had decided to give up the ghost. For the next few days, we crossed our fingers and hoped it would revive itself, but our positive vibes were futile. The washer-dryer unit was toast. And thanks to our reluctance to tell our landlady—and an unexpected Georgia snow storm—we didn’t get a replacement for a couple more weeks. Which meant that our dirty laundry piles soon looked like this:

laundry laundry- maria

There have been several other strange quirks (like the time we thought our heater was broken, but we had actually just been paying someone else’s gas bill for the past 6 months. Whoops.), and I can’t go into detail about all of them here. However, there is one more that I’d like to mention before calling it a day:

Insects.

As I’ve learned over the last three years, bugs are a natural part of life in Georgia. In the summer, there are tons of mosquitos, and in the winter, I shouldn’t be surprised by the occasional spider or cockroach (although I absolutely hate the latter and selfishly asked Maria to kill them on more than one occasion). But these bug sightings are usually so rare that they don’t cause a significant problem. However, this spring our quirky little house became home to a different sort of six-legged critter, and before we knew it, we were hosts to an ant infestation.

I usually don’t mind ants. They work hard, are super strong, and generally mind their own business. And when I saw the first few ants in our kitchen, I didn’t really care. After all, how much harm can a few ants do? But then one morning as I was eating a bowl of non-cornflakes cereal, I discovered an ant that had drowned in the milk. I then grabbed the cereal box, and to my horror, I saw dozens of ants crawling around inside, contaminating my precious, gluten-free sugared cereal. This had officially gone TOO far, and now the ants had to go.

And so, my roommate and I purchased ant traps—lots of them—and stuck them all over our kitchen, in our cabinets, and especially next to anything containing food. The solution worked for a little while (hiding my cereal in the refrigerator may also have helped), and the mini ants disappeared. But as soon as I put my cereal back in the cabinet, I realized that, though they’d gone, a family of bigger and uglier ants had moved in. And to make matters worse, these ants were apparently invincible. They wouldn’t die even though I watched them eat the ant poison. AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

And to make matters even worse, I am 99.9% sure that I could have prevented this entire ant-invasion. A few days before the first cereal catastrophe, I watched a solitary ant crawl across the kitchen countertop. My first thought was, “Oh, that’s probably the scout ant, finding a route for his buddies.” My mind jumped back to last spring when a similar thing had happened; I killed the initial ant and no more had come. But instead of acting on my impulse to get rid of the ant, I simply left the kitchen and returned to my homework. And then, almost on cue, our house was soon overrun by ants.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this ant-infestation, wondering what it may be able to teach me (besides not to buy sugary cereal), and finally it hit me: I oftentimes react to sin like I did to the ants. Whether it’s worry, laziness, selfishness, bitterness or anything else that’s less-than-godly, I usually have a moment when I see the problem coming—the initial ant, if you will—and I think to myself, “Gee, I should probably deal with this before it gets worse.” But more often than not, I just continue on my merry way and try to ignore it, hoping it will go away on its own. Then before I know it, my mind and life are overrun with emotional ants. What might have easily been stamped out with a few moments alone or a simple prayer of confession has suddenly mushroomed out of my control. Yes, God is faithful and He can help me through it; however, the mess could have likely been avoided in the first place if I had simply paid attention to my gut instincts—and the Holy Spirit’s prodding—and acted accordingly. Maybe that’s what Paul means when he says not to “give the devil a foothold.” If we give him or our own sinful tendencies an inch, chances are they’ll take a mile.

God is merciful, and when we mess up, He provides us with the grace and forgiveness we need to make things right. However, through His Holy Spirit, He also gives us the ability to recognize many issues before they happen—and the strength to avoid them. Certainly, it’s not always that simple, and sometimes problems truly do sneak up on us. But, if I’m honest with myself, I can usually look back and pinpoint the “scout ant” that indicated what was coming. And I pray that, as I grow closer to Christ, He would help me recognize my sin and give me the grace take it out–before it takes me over.

Alright, that’s enough for today. It’s time for lunch. Maybe I’ll eat some cereal… 😉

Catching Sunsets

Kansas Sunset :)
Kansas Sunset 🙂

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.

K-Seven Sunset :)
K-Seven Sunset 🙂

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.

Georgia Sunset
Georgia Sunset

My Kansas Comfort Zone

Kansas :)

Kansas. My home, sweet home on the range. Although I’ve never actually seen “the deer and the antelope” play (probably because I grew up in the suburbs), I am a Kansas girl through and through. I love wide open spaces, sunsets that take up the whole sky, and—gluten intolerance aside—waves and waves of amber-colored grain.

Having lived elsewhere for the last 7 years, I like to shamelessly exploit my Kansas-ness as often as possible. For instance, whenever I meet someone new and they ask me, “Where are you from?”, I always reply, “Kansas…. But I’m not in Kansas anymore.” For my birthday, my mom surprised me with a real, true, honest-to-goodness Dorothy costume, complete with ruby-red slippers, and I’ve been brainstorming places to where it ever since. Kansas-isms even pop up in my daily vocabulary. Without thinking, I frequently find myself saying things like…

-“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” (No sense worrying about that yet.)

-“This is slower than molasses in January.” (Molasses is thick. January is cold. Enough said.)

-“Let’s not circle the wagons here.” (Don’t freak out and become unnecessarily defensive.)

-“The pioneers get the arrows; the settlers get the land.” (The more morbid human version of “the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”)

In case all y’all (the plural form of “y’all”) couldn’t tell, I am truly a Kansas girl at heart. Sure, I may make the occasional disparaging comment about its being a “flyover state” or literally the middle of nowhere (to those of you who can’t find Kansas on a map, here’s a hint: it’s in the exact center of the continental U.S.), but deep down inside I really do love my home state. I’m proud of our Civil War heritage, I love that KU invented basketball (and has been dominating it ever since), and I will defend KC barbeque as the best until the day I die. I can’t imagine being from anywhere else.

But as much as I love the land of Dorothy and Clark Kent, I’ve discovered some downsides to growing up in Kansas. Because I am from Kansas, I have a natural aversion to the following things:

Hiking: In general, hiking requires hills, and in Kansas, we don’t have many of those. In fact, I’ve showed pictures of the Flint Hills–in my opinion, the hilliest and most beautiful part of Kansas–to my Georgia friends, and they respond with, “That’s nice. But where are the hills?” And unfortunately, they are right. Compared to Georgia, Kansas is flatter than the backside of a cow pie. As a result of spending most of my life in Kansas, I had never been hiking.

Rock Climbing: No, one doesn’t need actual mountains in order to rock climb, but as sources of inspiration they sure come in handy. Because Kansas is severely lacking in mountainous regions, rock climbing for fun never really crossed my mind.

Heights in general: In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, Kansas doesn’t have many high places or large drop-offs. I first realized how deeply this flatness had infiltrated my psyche when my family visited the Grand Canyon before my junior year of high school. We stayed at a hotel about half a mile from the edge—and I felt perpetually on edge. Don’t get me wrong; it was beautiful. It just wasn’t my cup of unsweetened tea.

Needless to say, moving to a state full of mountains and hills and trees (so many trees! Oh my!) came as a bit of a shock. And then when my new friends asked me to do things like go hiking, rock climbing and other heights-related things, I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to join them—after all, I love a good adventure—but the other part of me was scared. So for my first year here, I didn’t join them. I stayed home as they camped and hiked and climbed parts of the Appalachian Trail. Pulling the “I’m from Kansas so I don’t like _____ activities” card, I missed out on a lot of fun.

But though Kansas was a convenient scapegoat (states don’t usually argue back), in my heart I knew that it wasn’t really to blame. Because as much as I wanted to pin my apparent disinterest on my upbringing or origins, deep down I knew the truth:

I was scared.

Scared of failure, scared of embarrassment, scared of trying something new and being utterly, terribly and hopelessly bad at it. Imagining all the possible worst-case scenarios and the humiliation that would inevitably come with it, I concluded that it would be better not to try. After all, if you don’t take the risk, you have no chance to fail, right? That felt safer. And safer felt better.

But is it?

Over Christmas break, I sat with that question, looked myself hard in the eye, and finally gave an honest answer. No, safer is not better when “safer” is the product of unfounded fear. Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. And try I would. I made it my New Year’s resolution to try hiking and camping and rock climbing and all the other non-Kansasy things that had scared me for so long. I’m only a month into this heights-filled journey and it’s come with some bumps and bruises (both emotional and literal), but it’s been so rewarding and liberating thus far.

So here’s to stepping out of comfort zones (Kansas or otherwise) and to the life—real, true life—that is waiting on the other side.

… Hopefully, we don’t just end up in Missouri. 😉

Braid pic atop a peak during my first 11-mile hike. :)
Braid pic atop a Georgia peak during my first 11-mile hike. 🙂