Our love affair started with some innocent flirting while I was in college nearly 30 years ago. Then 10 years ago we dove into a more serious relationship. We did break things off for a bit, but today as I was driving to Oskaloosa it hit me. I think I am falling in love with Iowa.
I was a student at the University of Tennessee at Martin when my family left me and my sister behind and moved to Iowa of all places. Back then I knew Iowa only during holidays - Thanksgiving and Christmas to be exact. Not the best times of year to visit the Midwest, especially if you learned to drive in the southeast. One Christmas Eve I remember driving through a real live blizzard with my dad to pick up some provisions to last our family through Christmas day. I'm glad he was behind the wheel and not me!
After college I moved to Memphis for a couple of years and then on to Atlanta, Georgia. Once married I didn't make the holiday trips any more. About once a year or so we'd trek up north for a visit to show off the kids, play with the cousins and head back home. After a few days we were happy to be back to the hustle and bustle of Hotlanta. Atlanta in the 90's was the place to be, especially if you were young and had some money to spend. Braves baseball games, great restaurants and a business that kept us busy - and 4 young children too, Iowa was the furthest thing from my mind.
We celebrated the dawn of the millennium in Colorado, and after a year and a half working for a TV station in 'the Springs' I had the opportunity to transfer to a sister station in Iowa.
Why Iowa? It was time to live closer to family, I yearned for a slower pace, better schools for the kids, it all seemed to make sense. We bought an acreage near the town of Wellsburg, a lovely little midwestern town with a German heritage (many Iowa towns were founded by immigrants from Sweden, Norway, Holland, Ireland, Germany, England, etc and retain some of the charm of their mother country). Wellsburg had a community pool, 9 hole golf course and nice neat homes on nice neat lots. The kids loved the pond at the end of the lane, I fell in love with the soil - a soil so rich and soft and fertile - if you have a green thumb, or a desire to grow just about anything - Iowa is the place to be, it was a far cry from the red dirt of Georgia!
From Sept 2001-June 2003 I worked for KWWL - Iowa's News Channel 7 - in Eastern Iowa. Along the line God called me to the ministry, so we up and moved again - this time to northwestern Illinois so that I could go to seminary. But we always planned to return to Iowa. My call to ministry was birthed out of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
My first appointment was clear on the other side of the state - in the Northwest Iowa community of Spirit Lake. I almost wept as we drove there because the land was so very flat, until you got to the lakes. Three beautiful clear water lakes surrounded by trees and homes of all shapes and sizes. The lakes; West Okoboji, East Okoboji and Big Spirit are a true resort community that swells with visitors May through August. As a local we quickly learned how to navigate tourist season and shared in the fun in the sun lifestyle with our Spirit Lake neighbors.
A year ago, I was appointed back to the 'east coast' of Iowa. To a community on the Cedar River called Waverly. Waverly is a lovely German midwestern town. Nice neat homes on nice neat lots lined with flower beds and a wide variety of trees. Nothing fancy or showy. They have a wonderful library, swimming pool, great schools, a college (Wartburg College) a thriving down town area, 2 golf courses...you get the idea. Waverly is home now.
But truth be told, my 20+ years in the south, the southern forests that I explored and fell in love with in my high school and college years, the food and culture, the Smokey Mountains continue to call me...and I always thought that someday, some day, I would wind up in Eastern Tennessee, North Carolina or North Georgia. And I may still - some day.
It's as if God is saying to me - stop yearning for somewhere else, look at what I have created all around you...
True confession time: I have not felt as if I had a place to call home/home since I was about 12 - that's when my family moved from our family's farm in Pennsylvania. Over the past 38 years I have lived in 8 states (2 of them twice) and about 18-20 houses...I frankly have lost count. Sure, home is where your family is - but without a sense of rootedness or groundedness - well, home can sometimes seem to be out there - somewhere - yet to be found.
But Iowa, oh Iowa. Despite your OCD like efficiency (there are roads going north/south and east/west each and every mile out in the countryside - and the naming system is down right diabolical in its efficiency), your crazy extremes in weather (its Iowa - it will change in the next few hours - and it does), despite the wind that never stops blowing (it howls in the winter but it's a breeze and very desirable in the summer) and sharing said roads with farm implements of every size and shape imaginable, and the crazy schedule of athletics for our kids (baseball and softball season begins after school gets out for the summer which means only a 2 week window for any sort of family summer vacation). What can I say? I think I am hooked...
I sure do love Iowa's sunrises and sunsets. The sheer openness of the land allows for a 360 degree view of God's handiwork. I admire your diversity, we have every size, shape and color of folk you could imagine, many immigrants in the past 40 years were sponsored by churches here in Iowa. I love how by 6 in the evening on a hot summer day the temperature and humidity starts to fall to a comfort level that allows one to throw open the windows and enjoy the fresh night air. And I especially love how accepting you are of folk - even vagabonds such as myself.
Sigh....yes, I think I'm falling in love with Iowa - and it feels pretty good to me.
peace, hope, love and joy, wherever you call home