How to Really Survive in the Northwoods

How to Really Survive in the Northwoods

We were two kids living the good life in the urban midwest--biking to live concerts, working downtown, and ubering around like we didn’t own a car or a care. That is, until we got the notice that we were moving to Upper Michigan. Where? My thoughts exactly. Any place rural enough to bury a dead body and get away with it was not exactly our thing. But hey, my pastor husband just received his first call after seminary from the higher ups with a spiritual finger-pointing, and we had to go. 

I cried (okay, we cried), and I think there was a comment about having to outrun bears and wolves on our way to church from my born-and-raised-in-the-desert husband. We’d lost our grip on the hopeful reality of putting roots down, living by family, and a false ideal of stability. Headed into a season we were less than thrilled about, I needed some real tools to cope. 

After I took a break from breathing through a paper bag, the question became clear: how does one “bloom where you are planted” when they’re not so crazy about the garden? We were going, like it or not, and I wasn’t about to waste years of my life wishing we were somewhere else. Undoubtedly, all of us go through these kinds of seasons, and we’ve got to load up our toolbelt to deal before everything we know and love goes hurling towards the sun (because it will).

The first step of a recovering season-hater: admit you’re mad about it. We can only dig for joy when we realize we need it, right? And believe me, the Hope-Dealer can handle the full gamut of your emotions. The thing about seasons is that they change--no season lasts forever and surely, that’s a fact we can string our hope on. But for now? Get honest with yourself. Be mad about the Target being over an hour away and the stark reality that no one, in fact, knows what an airbnb is around here. Crack a joke about being cast in that movie where the city slickers get sent to Amish country to plough fields and make sausages. Lighten the mood a little--you’re gonna need it. 

And after that, get a little crazy. Let yourself dive head first into the season because too much time being mad about it is time you’re not going on an accidental seven mile hike with a baby strapped to your bosom in bear country. In light of the fact that you won’t be here forever, dig up those little bits of glimmering grace. Try something new--maybe plant your own garden or heck, while you’re at it, take the rubbermaid tub full of cucumbers your were gifted from someone else’s garden and make enough pickles to end world hunger. Whatever it is, be open to the chance that there may be memories to make in the midst of a season you’re altogether not thrilled about. 

And ultimately, if you’re the kind of person that believes you have purpose and mission right where your feet are planted (and I’m guessing you are), get after it. Find that circle of people you can count in your tribe. Because you’re going to need that, too. Accept that community may be more “homeschooling mom friend and camo-jacketed 9-5er” than “millennial selfie-ing on whitewashed backdrops.” And maybe, just maybe you’ll discover there’s more growth and hope in those relationships than the ones you would have hand-picked. Maybe there’s more real life, intentionality, and purpose happening amidst the community that makes you a little bit uncomfortable and a little bit more inclined to try and make your own homemade everything. 

Go ahead and keep waving hello to the neighbor that never waves back and let someone else take care of your kid from time to time. When we’re being honest with ourselves, we realize how much we need each other. The busted up, kind of weird, and disappointing side of each one of us. We all need that from each other because real life is not a curated feed and real hope is often found while standing in the rubble. 

The bright side? If you’re in any kind of season like me, you never have to worry about being caught in sweat pants and cowboy boots for a quick run to the grocery store. Or mastering the art of themed dinner parties. In fact, you’ll probably stop thinking so much of yourself all together. You may actually start becoming someone you never thought you’d become--someone you actually like a little bit better than your privileged, take-the-easy-road self.  

If all else fails, try and gain some perspective. Thirty, forty years from now this season will be a “remember when” and a defining time in the big-picture journey. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to cheat myself of what could have grown out of a time or place I wouldn’t have picked in a million years. What do we have to lose by leaning into it? Maybe a few doses of pride and a whitewashed backdrop of two. But hey, let’s chalk it up to experience, link arms, and grow something good here together.

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