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Chris Linnares, Published March 14 2013

Energize Your Life: How to rise above when it’s below zero

“Brrrrr – I can’t stand this weather anymore! How can we live in North Dakota?! Brutal winters, no high mountains to ski or oceans to swim. What is still keeping you here?”

That’s what Suzan told me as we met for the first time, at a coffee shop. She had just moved to town, and she found out about this “crazy Brazilian woman that is still living in Fargo.”

As she was complaining about how hard it is to live here, I realized that a part of me is turning into a true North Dakotan, which means I can complain about how hard it can be to live here in the winter, but if an “outsider” complains about my beautiful hometown, I will get extremely offended and upset!

But, as I was looking into her sad and frightened eyes, it reminded me of when I was in her place, and just like her, I was desperately trying to make connections and figure out how I could survive the harsh and really looooong winters.

Instead of trying to change her mind, I decided to tell her the story I shared in the book “Beautiful Women of North Dakota,” a story that completely changed my life and my preconceived ideas of North Dakota.

Many people from all over the world and even within the U.S. have a superficial, clichéd idea of North Dakota: brutal winters, bugs in the summer and not much to do. To be completely honest, many times during the years I’ve lived here, I have focused on these qualities too, complaining about the need for heavy coats and thick gloves in the winter and the smell of the sugar beets in the summer.

In July 2009, my husband and I became passionate about expanding the definition of beauty. We wanted to expose our three daughters to ordinary women creating extraordinary lives. After identifying 22 women through a nomination process, Bill and I took our daughters on a road trip in a motor home, or a “house truck,” as our 3-year-old called it. Our goal: put the spotlight on a few of the many North Dakota women who are making our world a more beautiful place. This was the beginning of the Beautiful Women project

At the time, I thought this was our only purpose. What I couldn’t have known was that the vastness of the Plains and the endless, beautiful skies would invite me on one of the most fascinating trips of my life – a journey unto myself.

From Beach to Fargo, we knocked on the doors of these women. As they opened the doors of their homes and warmly welcomed us, they didn’t know that they also were opening my heart and reminding me of values that had been hidden in the fog of my crazy, busy life.

When I whined about being overwhelmed with my motherly duties taking care of one toddler, I met women who happily shared with me how they raised 11 children on an isolated farm or adopted children with special needs.

When I grumbled that I needed to cook after a busy day at work for the five members of my family, I met women who shared with me how they loved to cook not only for their families, but also for neighbors and elderly folks in the local nursing home.

When I complained about how hard it is to live in this cold weather from inside my heated cozy home, I met women who bravely shared with me how they survived the harsh winters and the hardships of the Great Depression.

When I was sad, feeling that my world had fallen apart because of my father’s death, I met women who peacefully shared with me how they lost their children and used their pain to create a new world for themselves and others.

The beauty of their stories, told with joy, peace or tears, along with their profound appreciation for life, touched my heart in a special way. They gave me so many precious gifts, but they stole one thing from me – my right to complain! And trust me, as a woman, I LOVE to complain! (Please don’t tell my husband this part.)

One of the gifts I’ll carry with me forever is the beauty of appreciating the many blessings in my life.

Our journey through North Dakota opened my eyes beyond the stereotypes, and I learned about myself in a way I wasn’t expecting. I fell truly in love with this place and the friendly heroic people who live in the blessed land.

So today, what I can say to Suzan, and to any person who just moved to North Dakota, is that if you are looking for majestic high mountains to ski in the winter, or big blue oceans to swim in the summer, you are not going to find them here.

But what you can certainly find here at any season of the year is one of the most beautiful natural resources that North Dakota has to offer: the hearts of the human nature that live on this wonderful, vast land.

If you give yourself the opportunity to go beyond stereotypes and preconceptions, and open your heart, I promise that you will feel like you live in one of the warmest places on earth, and next time, when someone asks if you like to live in North Dakota, you will proudly say: “Oh, yeah, sure, you betcha!”

Chris Linnares is international author, Brazilian psychotherapist, emotional and weight loss master coach. She is the founder of Diva Connection Foundation and creator of Diva Dance for women and teen wellness and empowerment. Visit her website at www.chrislinnares.com. Readers can reach her at chris@divaconnection.org.