Living in the Appalachian Mountains

Courtesy of Jonathan Bowling

Elk captured on our son, Jonathan Bowling’s, trail camera behind our house. @copyright Healthier Me Simple and Clean.

Many people believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have been overheard many times making this statement when referring to the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. I am also a believer that not only is beauty found within the eye of the beholder, but also that success lies within the desire of the believer.

Recently I read an article about life in the Appalachian Mountains that lingered in my thoughts, with a mix of emotions hovering over and within me. Life in Appalachia was portrayed with gloom and despair, thus leaving the reader with a feeling of hopelessness. The article implied that people who were born into poverty didn’t have a choice to live otherwise. The picture that was painted was a stereotypical view of Appalachia that many have and continue to exploit to gain popularity whether it be an audience for their blog, for social media publicity, money, or their name in lights. What the author of this very derogatory article neglected to divulge were the joys of growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.

Over the years authors, filmmakers, and actors in Hollywood have profited through exploitation of Appalachia choosing to focus on what small towns “don’t” have. Films have been made with careful selection of the poorest part of towns carefully and intentionally divulging only dilapidated buildings, rather than new structures, or renovated buildings that houses independent thriving businesses. Many times the focus is often on poor housing in small towns rather than homes that proudly stand boasting beautiful manicured lawns, hardy vegetable gardens, luscious rolling green mountains, blooming flowers, and carefully trimmed hedges and trees. When the media chooses to focus on the negative aspects, or poverty, which by the way exists in all towns whether they’re large or small…the reader is left with a gloomy feeling of sorrow, despair and almost a feeling of doom.

Appalachian people are often-times portrayed as being illiterate, undereducated, and ignorant people who are less fortunate than those living elsewhere. Manchester, located in Clay County, is a small town in Appalachia where I grew up, raised my family, and still reside today has been recently been accused of being one of the hardest places to grow up in the United States, as well as being a community where citizens are expected to have a shorter lifespan than those living elsewhere. I find both of these statements to be misleading, offensive, and also stereotypical. I find myself smiling when I reflect on my childhood. I don’t recall life being a hardship, doom, gloomy, unhappy time in my life. Today, I enjoy sharing my memories of growing up in Kentucky through stories, both oral and written.

My memories are filled with fun escapades of playing outside, working in the garden, helping can fruits and vegetables, listening to countless stories told to me by my grandparents, afternoons sitting in the shade with family just enjoying the serenity of the mountains, playing with cousins, enjoying wonderful cooked meals from the vegetables that we raised, and learning wonderful skills from my mother and grandmother. We didn’t live within city limits, and still do not. We were raised in a rural community that enjoyed farming. My grandparents had a small store that was often referred to as the heart of our little community. Many of my family members still reside in this same neighborhood. I was raised to know that I had choices, and also to believe that I could be anything that I wanted to be. I was encouraged to always try to better myself by reading, learning, working hard, and also by believing in myself.

I was raised in one of the poorest parts of the state of Kentucky. What? We grew up poor! No one told me that! I wasn’t aware that we grew up in a poverty-stricken area. No, again, I was raised to dream and dream big! I could be anything that I wanted to be. I could be a mother, I could be a Christian, I could be a teacher, I could be an author, I could be whatever I chose to be! I was taught good moral values, about Jesus, how to work the land to feed my family, how to always believe in myself, to be proud of my heritage, to have a plan for my future, and if I got knocked down…get back up!  Instead of profiting from negative doom, gloom, and despair…I prefer to divulge the wonders of the Appalachian Mountains, the joys, the beauty, the opportunities, growth, success, and the wonderful mountains that I am proud to call home.

Again, I was never told that we were poor, or that we lived in an impoverished area, and never told that I couldn’t better myself. As a public school teacher, I always passed this same advice to my students. I always encouraged my students year after year that they could be anything that they wanted to be, to reach for the stars, to believe in themselves as I too believed in them. Today, as a college professor, I am still relaying that same positive message.

Many might say that small Appalachian towns have nothing to offer. I disagree. So, what does our small county of Clay have to offer? The beauty of the mountains, rich farm soil, beautiful pastures for livestock to graze, farm fresh eggs, distinguished schools, top-rated teachers, private Christian schools, a multitude of welcoming churches, book clubs, a well stocked public library, quilting clubs, pumpkin patches, ATV rides, elk hunts, successful local authors, artists, parks, employment at the federal prison, kayaking, fishing, local shopping, home cooked meals at locally owned restaurants, farmers’ markets, Main Street markets, grass-fed beef, fresh venison, beautiful walking trails, beautiful homes, friendly people, smiles, and a welcoming environment. One valuable opportunity that goes unmentioned in many articles about our small town of Manchester is the opportunity to complete a college degree at Eastern Kentucky University, which is located within city limits. These are only a few things that residents and visitors have to enjoy. Again, beauty lies within the eye of the beholder, happiness with the heart of the dreamer, and success within the heart and desire of the believer.

I have been asked many times over the years why I haven’t moved…but my answer is and will always remain the same…”I can’t imagine growing up or living anywhere else than in the beautiful Kentucky mountains. As the title of my first book states, Kentucky is…The Mountains I Call Home.”

book 1

Divine Appointments

With clouds hanging low in the sky this morning and the peaceful sounds of the dove cooing, and echoing over awakening mountains…I find myself in a melancholy kind of mood. I’m not sure, but I think several events that occurred in the past two weeks have helped me to arrive at this level of emotions this morning. Yes, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Not that it’s been a particularly sad, unhappy, or over zealous events, but nevertheless weeks of events that others might find to be insignificant or may not give any thought to all. I don’t know, maybe I think too deeply, or maybe I react differently than some. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been accused of, “reading too much” into things. Maybe, it’s the poet within me that ignites my senses. Maybe…I am an over-thinker, maybe I over react, or maybe…I am becoming more receptive of what the Lord is trying to impress upon me or instill within me. Nevertheless, I think I’ll enjoy the mix of emotions that fill my cup this morning.

chickens

To say the last couple of weeks were busy is an understatement. My daily planner has been overflowing with appointments. Urgent appointments to work on taxes as the deadline swiftly approaches. Scheduled appointments with advisees worrying about their upcoming schedules and anticipated graduation dates, appointments with colleagues to discuss students, curriculum, and more, appointments with students who desire to enter the Education Program, and the most important appointments of all…the ultimate appointed daily time of prayer with our Lord, Jesus Christ. Over time, I have found that keeping this daily appointment helps make all of the other appointments more meaningful, purposeful, and cohesive. And then there’s those divine appointments that often seem to spring up from know where! Or do they? Was it a by chance meeting? Did I just happen to be in the right place at the right time? Was I supposed to be there? What do you think? Were those divine appointments predestined, or were they by chance?

Over the past few years I have come to believe and have arrived at the decision that time is precious. Time is one thing that we cannot get back. With time, there are no do-overs! Thus, we must make the most of every precious moment that we are blessed with. I have arrived at another conclusion through various moments and gentle reminders within my spirit that it’s not about me, or us. It’s about helping others, being a positive beacon in the dark times that others might be enduring, it’s about Him, and about living a happy and appreciative life so there are no regrets. This has led me to the belief that all meetings/appointments whether they are planned or unexpected, in a professional setting, or if it’s in the checkout line at the grocery store can be a positive experience, thus, divine appointments.

So, how do I define divine appointments? Divine appointments do not have a criteria per say. Divine appointments can be the student whom I speak with that is struggling to pass a very important test. A divine appointment can be a friend who needs to be encouraged. A divine appointment can be the lady behind you in the checkout lane who is struggling with finances, or the loss of a loved one. A divine appointment can be simply the stranger that you meet in the frozen food aisle who is in search of a friendly face or a smile. A divine appointment can be that someone you meet who is unsure of the world around them. A divine appointment can be an elderly parent who needs to be reassured that their life was purposeful and that they did a great job raising their children. A divine appointment can be a colleague who needs a simple pat on the back or a hug. A divine appointment can be the young lady who has checked out thousands of dollars of groceries to bitter impatient customers and would like to have a kind word. A divine appointment can even be the person who is trying to pull into traffic, but others have left unnoticed. Divine appointments have been defined with a variety of definitions by many people over the years. However, my definition of divine appointments is simply an opportune meeting with another, whether it is scheduled or by chance, that allows you spread cheer, love, joy, kindness, a positive attitude, while also showing the love of God.

As a professor, I am continually encouraging my students to reflect on their week. So, as I enjoy the taste of my favorite coffee this morning, the sounds of the mountains coming alive, the purposeful crowing of our roosters, the soft snoring of my canine friend, Freckles, who is napping by my feet, and a little “me” time…I find myself following my own advice by reflecting over the past two weeks, while also thinking about the divine appointments that I have had, and whispering a prayer for those whom I have had the pleasure of encountering through those divine appointments, and also counting my blessings. I find myself questioning my self as well. Have I truly enjoyed the time that I have been blessed with and what more can I do for others? With reflections of days gone by and visions of the days ahead of me…I feel excited, inspired, and look forward to the moments and days and opportunities that lay ahead of me, as well as the divine appointments that await me.

From the mountains of Kentucky…be blessed and enjoy the divine appointments that you encounter. Feel free to leave comments as I enjoy hearing from each of you.