I once asked a co-worker how long it would take before I'm no longer considered a "Flatlander." That's the nickname those of us who live in northern Michigan tag on the thousands of tourists who invade God's country on the weekends. She said that in order to be a true northerner, you have to live up here as long as you lived down there.
Phooey. I'm calling it good right now. Next month marks exactly 20 years since my wife and I took a giant leap of faith and left southeast Michigan for the great northeast. I think I can safely say I've made my mark on my new home. Better yet, northern Michigan has made its mark on me. Yeah, it's been an interesting ride. Twenty years ago, I began a news department at a small, 3,000 watt radio station in the middle of nowhere, and within two years won "Station of the Year" from the Associated Press. Our son was born here. I played Santa Claus in the downtown Christmas Parade for ten years running, until I turned my life around and lost 135 pounds. As part of a great morning radio team, we raised money for fireworks, cancer prevention, and local little league teams. I served four years on the local school board, two of them as Vice-President. I tutored underprivileged kids, served several years on the local Arts Council, joined the Optimists Club and taught 4-H. I was part of the broadcast team that called the game as our local football team won its first state championship at the Pontiac Silverdome. My wife and I were privileged to be invited by our State Representative to sit on the House floor during Governor Engler's final State of the State address. I've mentored young people as a job coach and later as a Youth Pastor. I called it quits on my radio career after 25 years and began serving God after graduating from Bible School. When God called us to take an even bigger leap of faith and help to rescue a failing church, we found the true calling; the reason He ordained us to be here in the first place. Next week, my wife will be honored as our fellowship's "2011 Michigan Sunday School Teacher of the Year." What a ride. I'm not bragging... we've been blessed. Very blessed.
I shudder to think of the people we never would have met, the adventures we never would have had if we hadn't made that decision two decades ago to pack up and move. Sure, part of my heart will always be back downstate. That's natural. I grew up there. But the truth is, I matured up here.
In the months after we first moved, I would roll down my window while swerving to avoid deer and yell loudly at the passing motorists heading back downstate on Sunday afternoons, "Enjoy the ride. I get to stay here!" I'm more convinced than ever it's for good. I love the north country.