There is something magical about northern Michigan!  Everywhere you look, you see the beauty of God’s creation all around you….

We spent many summer vacations up there at our family cabin.  And I’ll tell you something:  you’ll be hard pressed to find a better fireworks display than what you’ll see at Mackinaw City!  You get there mid- to late-afternoon to get a good spot out on the northeastern point of the municipal park area.  Here you have a good view over Lake Huron, with the Mackinac Bridge and St. Ignace on your left and Mackinac Island eight miles out in front of you.  What you have at this location is the unique experience of seeing a triple fireworks show!  As darkness settles in, you get to see the fireworks begin over the bridge at St. Ignace; as you’re watching those, you suddenly notice the show starting out across the water at Mackinac Island; and then right in front of you in Mackinaw City, you get to see the biggest of the three fireworks shows–a spectacular event overall!

As busy as that time of year can be, though, it is always relaxing to come back to the cabin at Paradise Lake after being in town.  There is something very peaceful and serene about Paradise Lake and the atmosphere that surrounds it.  Many years have come and gone and life has a way of changing things.  But it’s always nice to come back to this place.  Thing is, many people who visit Paradise Lake feel the same way.

So now, between the last conversation we had and this one, you have a physical stage of sorts that has been set for you (revealing in stages, remember?).  But there is actually one more thing that you need to know to truly get the significance of what I will eventually tell you when we talk of northern Michigan in the future.

My wife and I have made some poor financial decisions over the years (as I know everyone else has, too).  It got us into a very tight place financially and it took us a long time to get out of it.  But God walked through it with us and helped us to grow and change, living within our means and learning to become the best stewards of what He gives us that we can possibly be (an ongoing process for sure).  And it has been worth it!  If you were to look at our finances today, you wouldn’t even know it had been so hopelessly tight.

I’m telling you:  God is faithful!  We trusted Him to see us through to the other side….and He has.  I know many people out there are in a horrible place financially, and they have become experts at hiding it.  But even if you have to go down that same road we did,  take courage!  You are not alone.  Above all, the God of the Bible is there, ready to walk it through with you if you’ll let Him.  And there are people like us who have been where you’re at and can assure you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Of course, if that’s not you, then well done, my friend!

So, forgive my nostalgia lately.  This time of year does that to me (you get up there, you’ll see what I mean).  Join me again and I’ll tell you some more….umm….stories….of my youth and stuff.

The Ride Home

I believe you could say that this is where it all started….

If you haven’t been to northern Michigan, you really must make the effort to get up there!  Not only do you have the Big Lakes to enjoy (Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are the Big Three that surround the State as a whole), but you also have countless smaller lakes that just beg for a relaxing swim.  Add to that the beauty of the Pine,  Maple and Birch trees that are so plentiful up there, and you are simply surrounded by Nature’s expression of God’s smile.

The Mackinac Bridge (the spelling is French–it’s pronounced “Mackinaw”) connects the upper and lower peninsulas of the State.  It is the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the western hemisphere, connecting St. Ignace on the north side of the bridge and Mackinaw City on the south side.

About seven miles south of Mackinaw City is a lake with two names.  Its original name is Carp Lake.  I have heard that the lake got this name from the man who first settled on it.  He thought it was so beautiful there that he figured a name like “Carp Lake” would help keep tourists away (there aren’t even any carp in this lake–but you can find bass, walleye, perch, sunfish and even northern pike).  With that said, if you look on a Michigan map you’ll see that the lake is also referred to as Paradise Lake.  This is due to the efforts of a construction company from Cadillac, MI, who got the name legally changed back in the early- to mid-1900s to bring up more people from down-state.  Nice idea until they tried to change the township name from “Carp Lake” proper to “Paradise” proper only to find that there was already a Paradise, MI in the upper peninsula.  Oops…..

My great-grandfather on my Dad’s side discovered this beautiful place and had a cabin built on it in 1928.  Our family has been coming up to this cabin ever since!  So I grew up with family trips in the summer (at least once, sometimes twice) where we would leave around 3:00 in the morning to get up to the cabin about 4 hours later.  I’ve got memories of my Dad carrying me from bed out to our big Chevy van where he would lay me and my brother down in the back.  The lull of the street lights passing overhead and the hum of the tires on the road put the two of us back to sleep in no time.  Then we’d wake up a few hours later and my Mom would have donuts and milk for us to have in the van.  Then, the inevitable would happen:  Kids need rest areas like fleas need dogs–something my Dad hated to stop for (you know why:  all the cars that have been passed will all get in front again).  But that all counts towards fond memories….

One memory in particular stands out.  There is a place on I-75 (somewhere between mile marker 333 and 334) where you come around a bend in the highway and you can see the top of the Mackinac Bridge over the treetops.  For a kid that loves to be “up north”, that thrills a kid’s heart to no end!  It is also the worst place to be for the trip home.  At that same point heading south, you see the top of the bridge disappear behind the pine trees–it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend that you don’t know when you’ll see again.

It was on one of these trips home that I was watching the bridge out of the back of the van.  I was somewhere between the ages of 10-12 at the time.  I distinctly remember that as I watched the bridge disappear over the treetops, I began to cry.  It wasn’t the usual “I don’t want to leave” tears that happen at the end of a vacation.  It felt deeper than that…more than just some reaction.  I remember thinking, Some day I’m going to live up here so I never have to leave.  And you know something?  I remember hearing these words in my spirit, “Say it out loud”.  (I know now that this was the Holy Spirit prompting me.)   So I did…I said it as I watched the bridge disappear from view.  And I remember feeling like something significant had just happened.


A Big Dream

Wow, has this weather changed!  Spring is definitely here.  You probably already realized that we took our snowshoes off quite a while ago.  We’re still heading north, but we sure don’t need those anymore.  The trees are starting to bud, and soon there will be Spring blossoms everywhere you look!  I love Spring!

I am going to state a fact that you are well aware of if you have been walking with me from the beginning:  You still don’t know where exactly it is that we’re heading.  Well, I believe the time has come for you to find that out.  This is going to be in stages, though, so I don’t know how long it will take to show you the whole picture.  But just let me tell you that you aren’t going to want to miss this!  It’s already an amazing story–and every bit of it as true as the sky is blue.  So, let’s have a seat in this clearing over here and take a break….

Let me start by asking you a question:  Have you ever asked God, “What am I supposed to do with my life?….What’s my purpose for being here?…What’s my Big Dream?”  Do you know that every one of us has a Big Dream?  I’m not being corny here; I’m being as serious as I know to be, because that’s one of the most important questions you could ever ask Him.  I know, because I asked God that question for over 20 years before I finally got the answer.  Why did it take that long?  Well, if you continue to walk this out with me, you’ll find that out, too.

A Big Dream.  If you’re not careful, you can put a stigma around a phrase like that.  Granted, the self-help and network marketing industries have over-used these phrases, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  God has placed a Big Dream inside each one of us, and it’s up to each one of us to discover what that Big Dream is….and pursue it (both of which can’t be properly done without God’s assistance).  By the way, one of the biggest indicators that you have discovered your Big Dream is that you realize the only way you can accomplish it is with God’s help.

So let’s continue walking this trail we’re blazing together and I’ll tell you an amazing tale….

Yard Darts

You know, it sure wasn’t the safest thing to do as a kid……that whole riding a bike down a hilly dirt road with no hands thing.  No helmet, no pads, no protection at all–and those are some of my fondest memories!

What would those kids that were us back then have to say to the kids of today?  (“You wear what?  On where?  Why??”)  What about the parents?  (“You let your kid wear that?  On where?  Why??”)  Especially when it comes to riding in a car!  I can remember moving all around our family van as my Dad was cruising down the highway.  Nowadays, you just about get arrested for that.  At the very least, the video someone has taken on their phone in the car behind you of your kid moving all over your van gets posted on CNBC, Fox News and any other T.V. show that will have panel after panel of so-called “experts” deliberating and arguing back and forth about the merits and pitfalls of such actions in today’s society.

So what would they say about “Yard Darts”?

Remember those?  Two colored plastic circular tubes the diameter of a pencil made two big rings that were the targets (the boring part); then, four darts–two sets of two different colored 12-inch long, plastic-finned, 3-sided tops with heavy metal bases that came to a point–completed the ensemble (the exciting part).  Ours were in a cardboard box with those happy 1970’s family posers throwing the darts at the other team’s target.  Nothing but good, safe, family fun, right?

What did kids do with this family-fun game when the parents weren’t around?  What every kid did!  Throw those sharp pieces of kid-dom fun straight up into the air as high as possible and try to calculate trajectories to see if they’ve gotta run like a banshee to avoid being pinned to the ground.  We had that big side yard to do it in, too!  As I recall, sometimes my brother and I would spread out on the side yard and lob them into the air to see how close we could come to the other brother without him actually having to move.

Yep….not smart.  But it sure was fun.  And very memorable.  Mostly due to the fact that neither one of us ever got hurt playing with those things (God was certainly true to my mother’s prayers for our protection growing up).  So what’s available now?  Maybe a Nerf version of what used to be a thrill ride for a kid–something “safe” and non-threatening.  That’s like giving a kid a chocolate cake without the frosting.  No thanks.  Give me the real thing.  We’ve become too “safe-sensitive” in today’s culture–not that I want to go out and buy a real Yard Darts game for my kids.  But I do recognize a tendency in myself and my parenting to be over-protective and unwilling to just let my boys be the kids that they are…kids that want to do things that in my adult mind seem unsafe and unwise.  Yet what did I do as a kid?  Some of the exact same things I catch them wanting to do.

Us adults need to remember what some of the joys of being a kid are.  And when you stop and think about it, those childhood experiences really all come down to this:  sometimes the best teacher for a kid is the freedom to experience something for himself.