On Moving to Michigan, One Year Later (Part 1)

This week marks one year since we moved from Orlando to Grand Rapids.

Once the calendar turned to 2016, Evan and I started looking at each other and saying, “Can you believe we’ve lived here for a year already?”

The answer is, resoundingly: no, not really, we can’t believe it.

A year is a long time, and I thought everything would feel further along at this point. Further along from what, exactly? I’m not quite sure. But I thought I would feel more settled, and that we would have deeper friendships. I thought we would have better rhythms and be fully invested in a new church home. It doesn’t really feel that way, yet.

I have a hard time knowing how to write about this. On the one hand, we really, truly love Grand Rapids. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard as heck. Almost every day feels hard, in some way. As much as we love our city, our neighborhood, our little house, and Evan’s job, homesickness sneaks up on me at unexpected times and in unexpected places. After one year, this all feels less like an adventure and more like a challenge.

I keep comparing this move to when Evan and I were first married, but I need to stop doing that. Almost nothing is the same as it was then. For one thing, Evan had already lived in Orlando for 4 years at that point. We didn’t have children, and we were both in school (as opposed to working full-time). Things were so very different.

So, after one year, I am trying to release some of my expectations. I need to acknowledge that we have two small children, which sometimes limits the times and places we can go exploring (and makes exploring exhausting no matter what). I need to acknowledge that Evan works long hours, and being at home with the boys drains a lot of my energy. I need to acknowledge that in this phase of life, we can’t expect friendship and community to just drop into our lap; they require work.

I wanted something profound to say about all this, but I just can’t figure out how to wrap this up neatly in a bow. Instead, am remembering that what I love most in life is to learn and asking, “What have I learned this year?”

As I started to think through that question, the reality became obvious: I have learned a lot. I’m going to share those lessons with you…but not all at once! (More to come tomorrow.)

What I Learned
I learned that Michigan and Florida have very different cultures, in every conceivable way. Consequently, we’re thinking harder about the kind of environment we want our kids to grow up in, and about how we may never find a “perfect” place to raise a family. We like Florida’s diversity, but we like Michigan’s neighborly, local first attitude. So, like everything good and worthwhile in life, it takes some effort to create the life experience you want, whether in the south or the midwest.

I learned that a “local first” attitude makes my heart beat fast. I think Texans like to think they have cornered the state pride market, but I’m telling you–Michiganders give them a run for their money. And with good reasons–there is a lot to love here. The natural beauty of Michigan is pretty amazing, and we haven’t even explored the half of it. And Grand Rapids, in particular, has been experiencing a local renaissance over the past decade or so, and we are hitting it in it’s peak. The local parks, stores, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops abound. I am so grateful for easy access to local produce, meat, products, and services. I find joy in discovering new places I love, and in then sharing those places with other people.

I learned that I don’t necessarily love winter, but I LOVE changing seasons. When people ask us if we will ever move back to Florida, we concede that the answer is probably yes, because it’s where our family is. At the same time, I hate the thought of replacing spring and fall with more Florida summer. I recently heard Rob Bell say that people experience despair when every day is exactly the same, and that’s kind of how I feel about Florida’s weather. The changing seasons means that I can experience more facets of God’s creation and become more intimately acquainted with the rhythms of the seasons. Scripture and hymns are rich with imagery of that natural world, and now I understand why. I sense God’s presence in the changing seasons, and I don’t have that “time is getting away from me” feeling quite as acutely. I’m more at ease with the changing calendar.

I learned that for all its annoyances and downsides, technology can be so wonderful. Especially Facetime and Voxer. These have proven the best ways to keep in touch with friends and family. We probably Facetime with our parents at least once a week. I have long Voxer conversations going with some of my very best friends (and I am working on convincing everyone I know to jump on it). Some of the girls from my connect group and I have a Tuesday afternoon texting thread about The Bachelor. When we left Orlando, I knew that I would be heartbroken if some of those relationships fell by the wayside. While nothing beats face-to-face time, I am grateful for the quick and easy ways technology has given me to keep in touch and check in.

Tomorrow, I’ll share what I learned about marriage, God, and being a good neighbor.

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