Michigan

Winter’s First Thaw: Our Hearts at Stoney Creek

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Many of the tools in my life’s toolkit are gleaned from my childhood in the rural, Northern countryside where I grew up. The woods were a wonderful playground but they are also rich with metaphors for life, that I draw on continually.

There was a magnificent trout stream that bordered our property. The creek ran dry in the hot summers and would overflow the roads in Springtime. It boasted enormous steel culverts in two different places where the water crossed the roads. The metal tunnels allowed for the free-flow of water when the creek ran high. In many cases the creek would swell to several feet deep, and threaten to wash out the road during flood seasons. The water flows fierce and cold in Michigan. And yet there is a profound beauty, even an explosion of delight when Springtime edges its way North.

It’s difficult to aptly describe how well our family knew the creek and those woods, and the way in which they were our home as much as our house was. The trees were friends. Maple leaves rustling in the Fall. Deep snow crunching beneath our feet. The symphony of starlight that ushered many a midnight walk through woods. These were the background music we learned to love.

After I’d moved to the southeastern states, there was one season in particular when I’d lost my way, emotionally, spiritually. The path was dark, and my emotions were raw. My was heart ransacked. As a girl who had grown up knowing True North instinctively, I’d lost my bearings. In that season the Lord reminded me of being at the creek, of walking through the culvert. Every ridge and root. The rock formations that had shifted from winter’s enormous beds of ice. The trees that leaned over the water. New Adder Tongue and Jack in the Pulpit poking their way up through the frozen earth. The pungent earth yawning it’s solidarity with the trees.

Yet my heart was reminded of the way the sun glinted against the shards of ice. There was a mountain of ice and the blazing sun creating a cacophony of brightness. The silence in my heart thrummed with nature’s symphony once again. I could feel the dormant winter earth longing for Springtime, just as my heart ached to be whole again.

When Springtime comes at the culvert the energy and direction are unspoken and vivid. Before long, the water would rush through and fiercely demand passage out into the fields and the creek bed would press it’s way into the mighty Black. Fierce and full and without reserve. The pain of growth and transformation are memories left with Winter’s crunching snow beneath the icy moon. I would find my traction, and True North would expose itself to my spirit again.

Your Springtime will come again. But for now, take a deep breath. Rest well, my friend. Unravel panic and trauma, and Winter’s yawning ways. As you rest, the warmth of sunshine will melt the shards of ice that have clung to your soul, and you will laugh again. You are worthy. You are loved.

Be at peace.

Ciao!

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Unfinished Business

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Have you ever had a situation with someone either at work or in an organization where you felt you couldn’t resolve your differences? Never, right? What do you think about it now that time has passed?

Understand that in the 80’s I was a ‘babe-in-the-woods’ socially, and every way possible. I had moved from a rural town in Michigan into Lansing which, to me, might as well have been New York City. I was a young 17 year old, living with roommates, learning to take college classes, catch a city bus, use my paycheck to pay bills … and I wonder why I was stressed! Anyway I had taken this secretarial and bookkeeping job with a firm in downtown Lansing. I didn’t understand office politics let alone know how to surf them. I don’t recall the specifics of what happened but interpersonal relationships were too complex and too volatile for me to navigate and so I gathered up my things and left.

I had no perspective of unfinished business.

I could pretend that the situation was one of injustice, but it probably wasn’t. I could pretend that the situation was spiritual, i.e., this was happening because the other people weren’t ‘saved’ or ‘spiritually mature’ like me, and so this was all satan’s fault. Many times my reasonings around a situation are there to cover up my failures … perhaps sarcasm, disrespect, bad attitude, lack of humility. If I over-spiritualize the situation then there is no need to expose myself. Leaving abruptly, whether from work or a relationship or even a conversation with a friend, ensures that I won’t need to expose my shortcomings. An awesome defense mechanism, by the way.

If we believe in carrying the Kingdom of God to our workplaces then the way we handle things will be different from what seems most natural. Instead of demanding our own way we invite a conversation, share our ideas and risk rejection. We verbally acknowledge our failures and make ourselves vulnerable. We trust the Lord to work things out but we don’t hide behind spiritual fences. We let people see us as the mess that we can sometimes be. We fail in front of them. We succeed in front of them. And we let them wonder about our giant God.

The Winding Road

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I’m ready for Spring. I’m ready for some packed dirt trails, some single-track goodness. I am mildly amused at this stirring of skeletons (or bikes) in my closet. Padded shorts and jerseys and helmets galore. Bike tubes of all sizes, computers, hex wrenches … Say no more!

Recently friends decided to ride the RAGBRAI, a 400-600 mile bicycle ride across Iowa, and borrowed my road bike in order to do so. What a delight to see my good buddy, a Cannondale R3, put in a few more miles! It was with terrific enthusiasm that I pulled out all kinds of gear for my friends to put to use. Road riding doesn’t appeal to me like it used to. After about six years of rather aggressive riding in Michigan, I reached my personal best. I put my road bike on the rack several years ago. Single track still interests me a great deal, and I’ll likely pursue that, however humbly, for the rest of my life.

Though I’m a new cyclist to this area, I’m going to look into the Midwest Cycling Community in the next couple of months. I had some work done by High Gear in August, and they did a great job rehabbing my knobby kneed mountain bike. That ride simply needs to be replaced. But, if you have a minute, check out the work being done by THOR and some of the trails they highlight! They are much more difficult than any I’ve ridden but they’re beautiful, and their work is a credit toward maintaining our natural resources.

Anyone who encountered me during my road riding years knows how passionate I was about riding. I loved it! I loved being outdoors and always came away refreshed, if I hadn’t put myself in the ER as a result of forgetting to hydrate! I loved being so physically disciplined, and able to push myself to reach different goals. I didn’t mind having a rock solid physique either, but there were always people who were thinner, more disciplined, more energetic. I never competed with other people. My fierce competition was to ride more efficiently, go further faster than I did the last ride.

One of my favorite stretches of road is up in northern Michigan, near Harbor Springs. It’s along Route M-119. It’s known to cyclists and tourists as The Tunnel of Trees. It’s a winding, hilly, breathtakingly beautiful single-lane highway that overlooks Lake Michigan. Year after year, I would join a thousand or so riders for the DALMAC, a 400 mile ride which occurs on Labor Day weekend. That stretch of road has curvy hills which spiral downward and, if ridden well, a decent cyclist can reach 40-44 mph. All I remember thinking was that there was nothing between my face, the gravelly pavement, and an oncoming car, should I miscalculate. And yet, I never did wipe out …not there, at least. Part of the beauty had to be in the realization that I’d just ridden 350 miles and I was on the homeward stretch to the Mackinac Bridge. There’s been no substitute for salty sweat running into my eyes, the rain hitting my face, oftentimes blistering heat and a few tears all swirling beneath my Raybans nearly blinding my ride…and then realizing that all is right with the world. That’s a passion! It’s also contentment amid the most trying of circumstances. It’s being able to rest, even though you are exhausted, usually soaking wet from the rain. When you ride you are either on fire, cold or freezing but never, ever just right.

I’ve reserved some of my more earthy stories for another day. But remember this… find something that you are passionate about, and do it. Find a stretch of road that takes your breath away, and ride it. Give yourself fully to your sport, your craft. Don’t be afraid to shed a few tears or a few gallons of sweat in order to see your dream come true!