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.

The Banana Seat 2.0

You remember my telling you that we lived on a dirt road when we were in Bath? I’m pretty sure I mentioned that before….so…..we lived on a dirt road when we were in Bath. It was Drumheller Road. We had a big side yard on our property that was between our driveway and the gravel pit that was next door from an earlier story. At the end of our side yard and across Drumheller was another dirt road that ended on our road. This was Watson Road, and it ended in a very steep hill as it came up to Drumheller. Add to that the fact that our driveway also had a nice steep slope to the last 15 feet of it as it met the road, and you’ve got another “potent and high-risk” situation brewing.

Between my brother and I, one of us would be stationed at the end of the driveway (henceforth known as The Spotter) to warn the Evil Knieval wanna-be of any oncoming traffic–although I can remember more than once having no spotter to do this. The other brother (forthwith referred to as The Speed Freak) would race down the stone driveway, gathering momentum as the tires bit into the stones. The Speed Freak would tear down the sloping end of the driveway onto Drumheller, the bike’s tires spitting gravel up into the air as he turned left towards Watson Hill (this stretch of Drumheller had a slight downward slope of its own, so….brewing….it’s brewing). Then The Speed Freak would turn right onto Watson Road and commence a careening ride of trying to maintain control of a bike screaming over dirt and gravel as it keeps a more or less straight trajectory down Watson Road, The Speed Freak’s feet and pedals a dizzying blur as he gets as much speed as possible down the hill. Then, breathless and covered in sweat, bug guts (we weren’t wearing helmets) and tears of exhilaration, The Speed Freak would come to a complete stop.

Enter the “I-want-to-be-like-Calvin’s-bike” bike with the really cool banana seat.

There I am, in the starting blocks, listening to the announcer as he introduces the next racer. My engine is revved–I’m ready for takeoff. The “Christmas Tree” hasn’t lit up yet. Suddenly, there it is! Yellow, yellow, yellow, GREEN! I’m tearin’ it up, trying to get some air between the bike tires and the stone driveway before I’ve even hit Drumheller Road. I’ve got flames coming off my back tire as I fly past The Spotter onto Drumheller. As I turn onto Watson Hill, I’m barely keeping the bike on the ground as the tires begin to melt. It’s screaming down the road, gravel shooting out and ricocheting off the trees. Suddenly, it happens. The bike decides to steer for a huge piece of gravel that wasn’t even in my way. As it hits it, the really cool banana seat lets The Twins know that it’s there and that it doesn’t like twins. I bring my bike to a screeching halt, horizontal tear paths on my face (these are not tears of exhilaration). By the way, it’s extremely difficult to bring a bike to a stop while looking through tears–and my eyes were filled with them. I look down at The Twins to make sure they’re ok and what do I see? The long pointed end of the really cool banana seat–the accomplice to the “I-want-to-be-like-Calvin’s-bike” bike that committed this heinous act against innocent parties involved.

The really sad climax to this story is the fact that not only did I not learn the first time of what this bike’s evil intentions were, but I even tried many times going down Watson Hill no-handed (no racing, just riding). Who’s bright idea was it to put a metal bar right under the seat between the seat and the handlebars on a boys bike?? The bike knew that as well. So did the really cool banana seat. And so did The Twins. More than once. In extreme peril. And all I could do was try to bring the bike to a complete stop while trying to see through tear-filled eyes.

…..sigh…..The price of exhilaration.

The Banana Seat

The snow is really starting to melt!

That means it’s gettin’ time to be riding bikes again.  Which means it’s time to tell you about my banana seat bike.

It was the first bike I ever had.  Orange with a brown banana seat that had some sort of cowboy imprint on it (probably to give me the impression that I was in the saddle of the toughest mustang in the midwest).  I learned to ride a bike on this one.  And so it followed me out to Bath when we moved, just like a puppy dog not wanting to be left behind.  It was then that it began to reveal its true nature.

Remember those Calvin & Hobbes cartoons where Calvin’s bike is hiding around the corner, just waiting to pounce on him, beat him up and then take off….eh?  Well this bike of mine slowly but surely became that bike.  It apparently had an affinity for a certain part of my anatomy due to that really cool banana seat.  So, for the sake of propriety, that part of my anatomy shall be heretofore and henceforth referred to as “The Twins”.  (If you’ve ever heard Bill Engvall’s remarks about the twins, you know exactly what I am referring to; if you haven’t, well….I’m sure you can figure it out).

It started with a home-made ramp my brother and I built for the sidewalk that was right in front of our house in Bath.  It was a ranch house, so the sidewalk went the full length of it–plenty of runway for a bike with a really cool banana seat to get some air between the tires and the sidewalk, right?  For the most part, it was.  But not always.  Sure, any kid taking a bike over a home-made ramp is probably going to meet with some sort of disaster eventually.  But put a kid who’s got a bike with a really cool banana seat into the mix, and you’ve just created a potent and high-risk situation, my friend.  The Twins are witnesses of that fact and they told me so on more than one occasion.

But what this” I-want-to-be-like-Calivin’s-bike bike did to me after the ramp episode was absolutely uncalled for.

I’ll tell you about that next time….

The Play of ’79

It was Spring of my third grade year.

There I was, a shy kid in the second year of being in my new school.  And suddenly I find myself elected to be a cloud on a stage with three other kids (another boy and two girls–even scarier for a 9-year-old boy who finds girls to be intimidating).

I think the play was about Spring–maybe the different seasons–I don’t remember exactly, because all I cared about was the fact that the four of us had to carry a cloud (painted cardboard or something along those lines with a handle on the back of it) and do some sort of choreography to The Beatles’ song, “Here Comes The Sun”.

Remember that song?  A rather pleasant one, as far as I know.  I haven’t paid attention to the lyrics to know for sure what it’s about.  Could be nothing more than the sun coming out after a good rain.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  I haven’t liked that song since this, “The Play of ’79”.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Why the animosity towards such a nice song as ‘Here Comes The Sun’?”  I caution you:  if you like this song, don’t read any further.  It may cause you to never hear it the same way again.

I’m sure that every kid has at some point in their early grade school years been subject to other kids using bad language around them.  I was no different.  I never used bad language and I didn’t grow up in a household where it was regularly used either.  So where exactly this came from, I don’t know, but I can only assume that I have fellow classmates to thank for it.  (Just a disclaimer:  You aren’t going to actually see any bad language in this post, although you will be able to put two-and-two together….)

So get the song in your head.  If you haven’t heard it, go find it off YouTube or somewhere and pay special attention to the chorus.  Got it?  Ok….The words to the chorus….

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright

(….Sigh….) After that first line of the chorus, there’s a little musical ditty that has a “Da Da Da Da” pattern to it (the emphasis being on the first and third beats of it, as you can see and hear).  In my little sweet innocent 3rd grade mind, every time that I heard this song and it got to that point in the chorus, I heard:

Hear comes the sun (mother  _ _ _ _ _ _ )

I know, I know!!  Awful, but nonetheless true.  (As I said, I would love to find the classmate responsible for this.)  Every rehearsal.  Every performance.  Every day in-between.  And every time I would hear it on the radio.  To this day, I cannot hear it without that memory!

This little bit of personal history came out in a gathering of close friends five or six years ago.  Shortly after they had all stopped laughing hysterically, my wife–caring and sensitive woman that she is–got on her smart phone and found the song.  She made a ringtone out of it and sent it to all of our close friends that had been there that night.  So all of those close friends–caring and sensitive friends that they are–promptly downloaded that ringtone onto their phones for when I call them (a couple of them still have it activated).

And thus ends a sordid memory of my past….

A Knife’s Edge

Good Afternoon, my friend.

Well, this is interesting.  I just heard from my wife that her stepbrother died the other day from a heart attack at age 47.  That’s pretty young, considering.

Have you ever stopped to consider how fragile our lives really are?  We really do live on the edge of a knife, you know?  I remember hearing about aneurysms and blood clots, how these can strike without warning and strike so fast that you can literally drop dead.  You probably know of other examples of life being over so quickly and suddenly.

So why talk about this?  It can be so negative and depressing.  Well, now, that all depends.   Surely you have seen a movie called “Field Of Dreams”  starring Kevin Costner.  Way back in 1989!  (Can you believe it’s been that long?)  Remember a scene where Ray Kinsella’s brother-in-law Mark is trying his best to convince Ray to sell the farm and avoid complete bankruptcy? (Just to make sure you remember, Ray has taken up a good portion of his corn fields to create a regulation-sized baseball diamond in pursuit of something he can’t explain.  “Shoeless” Joe Jackson–a childhood baseball hero of Ray’s that he believes he is to help somehow–and some other old-time baseball players eventually appear on his baseball diamond.  Ray and his family can see these baseball players play ball, but Mark cannot.)   While they’re arguing, Ray’s daughter falls from the bleachers and isn’t breathing.  One of the players on the field runs over and helps her to breathe again.  After all of this happens, Mark looks across the field and eventually says to Ray, “Where did all these baseball players come from?”

Those players were there the whole time.  Just because Mark couldn’t see them didn’t mean that they didn’t exist.  Now, this movie couldn’t be further from being scripturally accurate, but follow me for a minute.   Do you know that scientists and mathematicians have been in the process of proving the existence of at least three other dimensions besides the three we live in, and it may be as high as four or five?  So what if one of those other dimensions is a spiritual one–one we can’t see with our physical eyes?  Add to that, then, the validity of the Bible (something that can definitely be confirmed if you look at the right resources, like a book called “The Case For Christ”), and you’ve got a very potent mix.  A mix that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, because it means that now they are actually accountable for the sin in their lives–and who really wants to face that?

But hold on a minute.  The “sin factor”, as it were, is only one side of this.  The much more significant side is also much more appealing.  And that is this:  What God has in store for you and wants for you as His redeemed through Jesus Christ is so wonderful and fantastic that it is very literally beyond even your ability to comprehend.  But that can only happen if you first face and accept your need for Him.  You’ve got to deal with the one side to get to the other–but oh, is it worth it!

So when we talk about death and things that happen, the place where you begin makes all the difference.  My beginning place is from that “other side” (thanks to Jesus, I have already been able to deal with the first side).  If your beginning place happens to be from that first side, though, all you see is hopelessness.  And that’s the worst place to be in.  But you can very quickly change that.  It’s simply a matter of acknowledging the sin in your life, your need for a Savior because of it and then inviting that Savior (Jesus Christ) into your heart.  He even told us that it’s so simple to understand and to do that even a child gets it (and they do!).

Sound preachy?  It probably is.  But it’s the truth, and there’s nothing wrong with stating the truth.  You can argue with it all day long, but that just means that you’re not seeing the baseball players that have been on the field the whole time.  So do you want to see them, or not?


Playing In The Snow

You just missed a chance to meet my boys!  They just finished playing with me in the snow over in that clearing.

My wife and I have two boys, ages 10 and 11 1/2 (about 16 months apart–the closest thing to twins we’ll ever see).  I couldn’t be more proud of these two mighty-men-of-God-in-the-making.  And to be able to give them some memories of playing in the snow with their Dad….well, the importance of that is beyond words!

The only memories I have of being out in the snow with my Dad are of helping him shovel out driveways over the years.  But I do have one memory that stands out from the others.

Back when I was in the single digits (around the time Major was….here), we had a major snowstorm that dumped a good three feet of snow on the ground.  Now you tell me, does that not make a kid’s heart go pitterpat double-time?  To know that there is snow outside that’s taller than you are, and it’s just begging to be jumped in, tunneled through, sledded down….sigh….those were the days.

Dad had just finished shoveling the drive, and we really wanted a snow fort dug out for my brother and I.   So my Dad proceeded to shovel out a curved path into the yard from the driveway that eventually opened up into a small square area.  How cool was this!!  The path was probably ten to fifteen feet long and the open area four to five feet square (although this, I’m sure, seemed bigger to us–I’m even right now trying to realistically remember its size).  I remember my Dad being pretty exhausted after that, but we had a fort!

Then Major found it.  And Babe.  How did we know?  They left….signs.  Nasty signs.  Dirty, smelly signs.  And yellow graffiti….everywhere.  We enjoyed a clean fort for about 4 or 5 hours.  It didn’t take long at all for our fort to be vandalized by these two flat-coated retrievers, one of which probably had a fresh stocking-cap kill that he was saving for later.

We don’t have a dog (or two) to give our boys these kind of memories, but we’re making up for that in other ways.  Like working on snow forts together and having snowball fights.

Yup….I sure am blessed.  And so are they.

See you soon.

Strengthening Unused Muscles

How are those snowshoes working for you?  They take some getting used to, but I’d say you’re doing quite well.  I’ll bet your legs are feeling sore, though!  You’re probably using muscles you didn’t even know you had….

This trail we’re breaking has some interesting aspects to it.  No one has been here before–especially us, and right now that’s what really matters, doesn’t it?  How many times have we found ourselves facing a situation–quite often because of a decision we’ve made, be it a good one or a bad one–where we know we’ve never been here before, but it’s a necessary place to be in order to get where we’re going?

These kind of places stretch you.  Sometimes so thin you don’t think you can be stretched any further.  Yet what happens?  You find that you’ve still got something left…and so you’re stretched some more.  And you find that when you get to the other side of that difficult time, you’ve become a better person–a better you.  Stronger, a more complete person, a thicker skin, a relatability to others and what they are experiencing, an air about you that says you’ve been through the Refiner’s fire and come out of it on top.

You also find something else has happened.  You’ve been put in a situation that requires you to use “muscles” that you haven’t used in a long time–if ever.  These “muscles” aren’t physical; rather, they are parts of you and your personality that are rarely or never used.  And you find that the situation you are in requires the use of these “muscles”….and this hurts.  Sometimes very intensely!  But you know that already, don’t you?  And this is the most crucial point you could be in.  Because it’s your choice and your choice alone as to what happens next.  You either give up because it hurts too much….or you choose to push through it anyway, continuing to grow and change and become who God wants you to be.

Isn’t it amazing how God does this?  He leaves so much up to us–and quite often, that is a responsibility that we don’t like to accept.  Yet it can be found all through the Bible.

Let me leave you with this (it’s from a picture my wife just shared with me and I want to share it with you):

When God pushes you to the edge, trust Him fully, because only two things can happen:  Either He will catch you when you fall or He will teach you how to fly.

The Only Joke I Know

Wow, it’s cold out here!  But it sure is beautiful, right?

Ok, I told you last time that I would have a joke for you today.  I’ve heard quite a few over the years–some good, many not worth remembering (probably the same for you)–but there is one in particular that I have never forgotten.

I heard this joke over 15 years ago and unfortunately it is the only good one I remember.  Which is really quite amazing, since any other really good ones have been permanently deleted from the trash can.  (Why is it that you so easily forget the good ones and the bad ones don’t want to leave?)

So, without further delay, here it is.  It’s not theologically correct, but it’s a good one nonetheless:

Jesus, Moses and an old man are out golfing one day.  The hole they are approaching is a rather difficult one, with plenty of natural obstacles along the fairway and water hazards to contend with.  One of those water hazards is a particularly large one that’s right in front of the green they are swinging for.

Moses is up first and gets his ball ready….a couple of practice swings…..steps up to the ball….beautiful form as he begins his swing…and hits the ball solidly, sending it in a beautiful arch–right for that water hazard that’s in front of the green!  But Moses’ eyes never leave that ball, and as it begins its decent, he stretches his golf club out towards the water hazard like a staff.  Suddenly, the water in the water hazard splits right down the middle, the bottom of the water hazard instantly dries up, and the ball bounces along the dry ground, up onto the green–two feet from the hole!  Moses looks at Jesus and the old man, lifts his eyebrows a couple of times and just stands there with a big smile on his face.

Jesus is next, walks over and sets up his ball….not even a practice swing….and with absolutely perfect form, he hits the golf ball square on and sends it sailing through the air….straight for the same water hazard!  But he, too, never lets his eyes leave that ball.  And when it meets the water in the middle of the water hazard, instead of sinking into the water, the ball bounces across the surface of the water, up onto the green–ONE foot from the hole!  Jesus looks at Moses and the old man, gives them a wink and steps back for the old man to take his turn.

What do you think the old man is thinking at this point?  I know, me too!  He looks at Moses and Jesus, takes a deep breath and gets his ball ready.  He takes quite a few practice swings….eyes the fairway carefully….steps up to the ball….and promptly swings at it like Happy Gilmore, sending the golf ball soaring way off to the right.  The ball ricochets off a shed roof and sails through the air in the other direction, further down the fairway, and lands on the clubhouse roof.  It rolls down the roof, into the gutter, and begins to work its way around the roof gutter, shooting down the downspout and into the grass at the top of a hill.  The ball rolls down the hill and into the water hazard that’s right in front of the green.  A few seconds go by (a couple of crickets can be heard), and suddenly a fish jumps out of the water with the golf ball in its mouth!  It spits the ball up onto the green and into the hole.  The old man got a hole-in-one!!  He looks at Moses and Jesus, raises his eyebrows a few times and gives them each a wink with the biggest smile an old man could ever have.

Jesus looks at the old man, then at Moses, then back to the old man.  He looks down at the ground, heaves a big sigh and says, “I have got to stop playing with Dad.”

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