I haven’t read this yet, but I think I should! Love the cover.

Have you ever made rookie mistakes after you’ve moved to a new region of the country or maybe even just a new community?  Those who serve around the world in business, ministry or the military are generally savvy about cultural adaptation and sensitivities, but when you’re staying right in the US of A, what’s to learn? Lots, apparently!

My good friend Pam and her husband Pete left the Chicago area for Colorado just a couple weeks before Mike, Mom and I relocated to western North Carolina. Pam’s recent post Things I’ve Learned Since Returning to Colorado made me laugh and think about what we’re learning as well.  

I spent the first 24 and the last 16 years of my life in north-central Illinois where the land is flat as can be.  Despite the coasties who like to poke sly fun at flyover country, there’s no better farmland to be found. As the daughter of a farmer, I love the limitless sky and the acres of corn and soybeans that provide food for millions.  

Then Mike and I had the privilege of adopting New England as our home for 25 years. While raising our kids on Cape Cod we were Flatlanders once more. Not much elevation to speak of  when you live at sea-level, right? But oh the vastness of the ocean!

So now that we live at 3300 feet perhaps we can be forgiven for our novice status.

Here’s what we’ve learning about the mistakes that Flatlanders make. We’ve only made a few so far, and we’re determined not to commit the rest.

  1. If it’s got wheels, it’s gonna roll.

There’s a downside to living in the mountains, and it’s purely literal. Mike’s brand new riding mower went right back to the hardware store after he almost rode it into the pond. If your land has more than a 15% grade, you need a commercial mower or a friendly neighbor who knows how to wrangle these hills. Thankfully we have the latter!  

And not to be outdone, I learned the hard way that you do NOT let go of the handle of your shopping buggy (only northerners call them carts) in the grocery store parking lot unless you want to make fast acquaintance with a not-too-happy car owner. Oops! Next time I will bungee-cord that buggy to my wrist.

2) Be sensitive to local concerns.

Residents of the southern Appalachians respect the Cherokee who populated these hills long before those of European ancestry did. In the same way, those of us who have sold homes in more costly housing markets to move here need to be sensitive to long-time residents who are finding affordable housing moving out of their grasp. Young adults in metro areas like Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Boston despair at ever owning a home, and many have the same concerns here.  What can we do to help?

Fellow pastors from our former church gifted us with these rocking chairs, which remind us that it’s OK to rest, reflect and recharge. Thank you friends!

3) Don’t behave like colonizers.

We asked a park ranger how local residents feel about so many newcomers moving to the Smokies. “They’re just fine with it, “ he replied cautiously, “as long as the new folks don’t try to change everything.”  A shopkeeper downtown relayed a recent story about a former Chicagoan who was warmly welcomed until he began to stir up local controversy over signage. “We’re about ready to ship him home!” Bea said ruefully. “Why can’t he understand that we know a thing or two already about our ordinances here?”

4)  If you truly want to fit in, then reach out.

We’ve been visiting a local church whose members are a wonderfully joyful mix of longtime locals, recent arrivals and seasonal residents. They clearly love God, his Word and each other, but what has so impressed us is how much this particular gathering of believers does to serve Haywood County.  With the assistance of other churches and organizations, they run a weekday center that provides warm on-site meals to those in need along with living assistance and educational opportunities. Their mission statement? ‘To help restore hope and self-worth to all who come through our doors, as they encounter the love and delivering power of Jesus Christ.’

5) It’s not time that’s of the essence, it’s people.

If you’ve lived up north, particularly in a metropolitan area, you know the pace of life moves fast. From rapid transit to convenience stores, when we need something we need it now, and you better be quick about it.

Efficiency has its virtues, but the essence of life in a mountain community is kairos time rather than chronos. Things might take a little longer, but as with other relationally-based cultures around the world, it would be rude to rush things along. 

I’ve waited in line for five minutes at a time while the checkout clerk, business concluded, chatted companionably with the person ahead of me. And you know what? I didn’t mind a bit.

When traffic on our road came to a dead halt while our U-Haul truck was towed out of the ditch the day we moved in, not a single driver expressed impatience. When we moved apologetically from car to car, they waved off our concern and simply shut off their engines. They had places to be but our need at that moment was more important. I have never met people as polite as the ones I’ve met here. Mountain folks have an innate dignity and common courtesy that knocks this Flatlander back on her heels in the most welcome of ways.

What about you? Have you moved to a new community or even continent and found yourself on a steep learning curve?

Hang on for the ride. The view ahead is worth it.

Sunset at Peace Ridge, October 2018