Off the Grid

This year has been rough. Covid is just a small portion of it all. I’m sure many can say the same. Seems like we’re busier than ever, work is more stressful, schooling is harder, there’s lots of changes for our kids as they grow, the farm takes lots of work and something is always broken. I mean always. We fix one thing, two more things break.

We forget to stop. We forget to recharge. We forget to observe the Sabbath. Work and busyness take over. And suddenly we find ourselves burned out. And we’re somehow shocked by it. As if we didn’t bring this upon ourselves. We should know. We should see it coming. But for a long time we think, we’re fine, everything is fine. And we think, it’ll slow down soon. If I can just get this done. After this project, then it’ll slow down.

But, realistically it doesn’t. Not unless we force it too. We have to be purposeful about rest, just like we’re purposeful about getting things done. We need to realize the importance of stopping, resting, emotionally catching up with life, and processing the hard stuff. We need to acknowledge that some things are hard and that they hurt. And we need to process it quietly to get past it. Otherwise it all catches up to us in a bad way. It comes out sideways, as a friend of mine says.

The last few days our family got away. And I mean, really got away. We were coming off a very busy weekend with a grad party, that was amazing. We had all just been sick. School is looming. We honestly truly considered not going on this trip at all.

It takes a lot to get to our cabin. It doesn’t have running water so we have to haul in drinking water. It doesn’t have electricity so we have to bring coolers and all things battery operated. It’s not anywhere near a store so we have to make sure we have everything. There’s no hospital so we have to have all the first aid things.

I’m sure at this point some of you are thinking, this doesn’t sound like a vacation at all. I wouldn’t go. Believe me, we were at that point. We sat down Tuesday and talked through, is this even realistic? Can we actually do this? Is it worth it?

I was actually stress paralyzed Tuesday evening. There was so much to do and I was too overwhelmed. Then my amazing son, Isaiah, stepped up, handed out jobs to all the kids, and took over canning peaches. And just like that, the vacation was back on the tracks.

If you’ve never been to our cabin, you really can’t truly understand why anyone would put in all this effort to get there. And it’s hard to explain. But there is nowhere on earth quite like it. Nowhere. It’s almost like you’ve left earth a little. That probably sounds quacky, but it’s true. Pictures don’t quite do it justice. But I’ll show you some anyway.

The Bullard family cabin, built by my grandpa in the 70s.

The thing about this vacation is that it’s truly off the grid. It’s way up north in the woods. You drive to Grand Marais, and then you keep driving. You have to travel north another 45 minutes on a small, heavily wooded gravel road. When that gravel road ends at a lake you have to cross a one lane wooden bridge and take a low maintenance logging road another 10 minutes. You get bumped and jostled and if you meet another car coming the opposite direction you better hope there’s some space in the woods to move over. Once you hit a natural sand pit, you turn down the hill. Mind you, by the time you’ve made it this far you’re not in the prairie land of Minnesota anymore. It’s bluffs and cliffs, and steep, rocky hills, all covered in pine and birch trees.

When you turn down the hill you make your way treacherously down a steep grade, hoping your tires have enough tread to hang on. By this point the trees are scraping the sides of your vehicle, the rocks are slipping out from under the tires, and while Andrew is loving the off-roading, I’m praying!

Finally, about halfway down the cliff you find our cabin. A little A-frame nestled in the woods, sitting on the edge of a bluff. And, when you get out of the car, you inhale deeply, and you remember why you go to all the trouble of getting there.

The air and water are clear. The trees are thick and whisper in the breeze. The water laps on the rocky shore in a gentle rhythm. There’s hardly another soul around. Electronics don’t work. There’s no cell coverage. No TV, no phones, no distractions. And you can just be.

There’s work involved in being at the cabin. Hauling water from the lake and boiling it for dishes. Putting the boat in the water. Cooking over a tiny propane stove, trying to find spots for 12 people’s possessions in about 800 square feet. But it’s good work, simple work. You can do a job and see it to completion shortly. And then…you can just rest.

Our kids kept asking the first day, what are we doing today? What’s the agenda? It tells us how busy we’ve been when even the kids need to relearn how to relax. We told them, there’s no agenda. Sleep if you want to sleep, go fishing if you want to fish. Eat if you’re hungry. Play games. Explore. Read. Do whatever you want, when you want.

And we did. It took us all a bit to unwind, but we did it. We rested. And it felt so good. So healing. So needed.

We reconnected with each other, laughed together, took naps, discovered some kids love fishing, ate, swam in cold water, threw rocks in the lake, searched for agates, and never pulled out a cell phone to check texts or emails. We had some good conversations that needed to be had and actually had time to process things. For all the work it took, for all the stress of getting there, I’d do it over and over.

I didn’t even realize how burned out our whole family was until we got there and unplugged. We aren’t fully restored but it was a definite step in that direction and we have some plans made to keep adding rest into our lives.

If you don’t rest, I encourage you to. Find time to unplug, to just be. Spend time uninterrupted with your kids. Spend time uninterrupted with your spouse. Look at them, listen to them, encourage them. This year, more than ever, I’m realizing how fast the time truly goes. I have two 19 year old young men now, graduated and on to college soon and am constantly wondering how we got here. It baffles me that that many years have gone by. Life will never be the same. Next summer we may not be able to take a trip like this with all our kids.

Life doesn’t stop. I know that. But we can stop, even just for a day or an afternoon and rest. We realized this weekend that our kids won’t wait for us. They will just keep getting older, and quickly. We have to take the time now to reconnect and to teach them how to rest.

One of my favorite places in the world, with my favorite people.

If we don’t purposefully stop and rest, we won’t be able to keep going for long. And we won’t be our best selves. And we won’t give our family everything they need from us. And time will just keep going. The choice is ours…and we need to make it now. We need to rest.