Friday, July 28, 2017

On Levi's 10th Birthday

Dear Levi, 

One day you will read this letter and have a sense of what was in my heart on this day that you turn 10. 

You've been a part of this family for a full decade. You need all of your fingers on both hands to show your age. It seems like yesterday that we became a family of four. A decade since Daddy held you and we discussed whether Benjamin or Carlisle would be your middle name. Time flies.

Did you know on the same day you entered the world, I had a friend who took the first steps toward facing a destructive addiction? It's been 10 years since he walked toward sobriety and found hope again. 

It's funny how life is found in different corners of this world on the exact same day. In a hospital room and at an AA meeting. New life beginning in two very different places, under two different circumstances. One physical, one metaphysical. Both required a painful birth, yet life emerged in both places. 

It may seem strange to you, but I count it a blessing that you share your birthday with my friend's own milestone day toward recovery. It reminds me that throughout our lives we are in a process of birth, death, and rebirth.

That's the way of God. Life, and then life again, when it seems death has won. New life from a heart that's been shattered. Rebirth from painful tragedy. Birthdays that celebrate our physical age and our spiritual journey.

Sometimes I wish I could give you a kinder world. A more lovely world that is complete with soft edges and smiling faces at every turn. Cities teeming with life and culture that welcome the refugee and stranger. Streets that are safe to walk down in the broad daylight. Heck, honey, I'd like to give you safe water flowing through the pipes into our home.

There is a lot of pain in this life, Levi. Jesus never promised it any other way. Yet, out of pain life can emerge. Pangs that deliver hope and light and peace, just like labor delivered you into my arms.

I hope, as you continue to grow, you will not fear pain. I hope you will accept struggle as part of the journey, yet I also hope you will not be content to allow the suffering to exist with no fruit. I hope you will embrace the hardships, while looking for ways to bring life to the world around you. I hope you will be a resurrection person wherever you find yourself.

I understand my limitations. I know I can't change the whole world, but I can influence my small corner of the world. I can contribute my part with the hope that life might be brought forth, that life might be better, for those in my path. 

You've already made my world better just by being you. I am better because you exist. I'm a better mother; a better listener; a better friend; a better human. 

While I long for a kinder world to give you, I realize I can start by being kind, and teaching you to be kind. I can soften this world by being a safe place for you to land no matter what, and I hope you can be that for others. I can give you a more welcoming world by modeling hospitality and nurturing that gift in you too. I can't promise a perfectly safe world, but I work to protect you and other children by standing up to injustice, defending the powerless. Maybe you will work toward that too.

And as I do my part, and as you do yours, we might just be able to usher in a kinder, softer, more welcoming, more secure world. One act of life after another. One moment of resurrection after another. Even when the delivery is painful, because we know life awaits on the other side.

Be brave, my son. Always be brave. And be kind. I think that's Jesus in a nutshell. Brave and kind. I think when we do those things we birth a bit of heaven here on earth. I think we look the most like God.

I know it's customary for the one having the birthday to receive the gifts, and you've already opened your Star Wars themed ones. But today, I recognize I have received a gift too. The gift of helping you (and me) learn to show up, be present, and bring life to this crazy, messed up, beautiful, fantastic world. 

I love you, Levi!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This Should Not Be (My Flint Lament)

Sometimes you grow so accustomed to something you forget it isn't normal, or at least, shouldn't be normal. Sometimes unhealth and dysfunction become so ingrained in the narrative that you forget certain things should not be.

Welcome to life in Flint. 

Where violent crime has us in the headlines as one of the most dangerous cities. Where sitting in my living room allows us a near nightly game of "gunshots or fireworks?" Where my children regularly ask if they are safe. Where there've been more efforts for mayorial recalls than I can count (here and here and here and here). Where, likewise, the relationship between the mayor (no matter who it is) and city council is one of the most dysfunctional, ineffective I've ever seen. Where residents elect unqualified, law-breaking men as councilman and then they are kept in office. Where the state won't trust us to run ourselves responsibly, and as infuriating as that is, we haven't proven to be capable of competent governance when we've had the chance. 

Yep, welcome to Flint. Just another day in our neighborhood.

And all the while, we are STILL living with water we can't drink but for which we pay exorbitant prices.
This morning was one of those mornings where the ridiculousness of it all hit me. I was pouring bottled water into my crock pot and I felt anger. It's probably a good sign, as feeling anger reminds me that what I live with everyday should not be. 

Most days I feel nothing and think nothing of it. As if contaminated tap water is what we should all expect. As if it's normal to have a filter on your bathroom faucet to brush your teeth. As if it's completely acceptable for your children to be suspicious of every water fountain outside the city limits.
This should not be so. It's now been 38 months since our water source was first changed that started this whole mess. It's been almost three years since those, who should have known better, used their degrees to finally come clean and say the water wasn't. Three years. And I'm still opening water bottles to clean strawberries, prep pot roast, and boil spaghetti. Three years living every single day with this reality, while those in charge shift blame, point fingers, cry foul, and then dare to claim "Flint Fatigue." We've been waiting three years for those with the power and influence to change our reality. You want to talk fatigue? Then talk to a Flint resident who still can't drink the water thats overpriced while the very officials who should be protecting citizens drag their feet debating whether Flint is worth the time or the money to fix the water problem (at least in a humane amount of time).
This should not be so. My city is 57% black and 42% of our citizens live in poverty. Apparently, elected government can't be bothered to leverage their position to get something done here. It's been shown that systemic racism has been a factor. That is completely and utterly unacceptable; and I'm angry that we still have to live as we do. Not to mention the thousands who are suffering more acutely in this city than I am. Many can't pay their water bills, and are now in danger of losing their homes because of it. Many don't have a means of transportation to get bottled water, filters, and the like. Many are suffering from skin rashes and irritations that my family has never had to endure through this crisis.
And to think this might not have been this way for this long if more Flintstones had lighter skin and made more money!?! This should not be so. I'm sick and tired of it all. And because I am white and hold privilege because of the color of my skin, I can not know how my African-American brothers and sisters are really feeling in all this. I am reminded of something I heard Tavis Smiley say last fall (following the election of President Trump) about how blacks are used to set backs; used to the struggle, and the shaft. That blacks are used to the cold shoulder, closed doors, and fighting for every square inch they gain. That's stuck with me as I sit here in Flint, three years after it was known that our water was undrinkable, getting just a smidgen of a glimpse into what Smiley meant. And I'm still white, so I can't ever understand fully. (I digress. This can be another post.) Three years. 
Over one thousand days without clean, useable water. 

This should not be so. Our family sponsors a young man in Kenya through Compassion International. His name is Francis, and we pray for him every night. Over the last 9 years, one of our prayers for him is that he would have access to clean water. Because after all, he lives in Africa; in a poor, underdeveloped, third world village. And now our family prays the same exact prayer for ourselves and our city. This should not be so. This issue isn't even a question of first-world problems versus third-world problems. Although, if that was the only argument, it would still be enough to expect some movement from those who can change this reality. No, this isn't just a first or third world problem. It's a human rights problem. It's a social justice problem. Clean water is a natural right every person should have. 

And, if that ruffles your feathers and you want to play the first-world/third-world game, then who would have imagined that a city in a first world country, considered a world power, would be living my reality in 2017? A reality that says our state and local government agencies made decisions that endangered the health and lives of its citizen; then chose to cover-up the evidence in hopes of not having to publicly disclose the findings. A reality that says those same agencies wasted time bickering and posturing, all while the water entering our homes was poisoned. A reality that has these same agencies burying any possible legislation on this human rights issue under a mountain of bureaucracy while making judgements about whether my city was really worth it anyway. You know, because we're mostly black and poor anyway? This should not be so. Today, I opened bottled water and filled my crock pot and I'm angry. Today is a day I remember that just because I've grown accustomed to something doesn't mean it's the way it should be. Normal doesn't necessarily mean helpful, beneficial, satisfactory, or right. 

Today, in Flint, our reality is normal, but it should not be.

This should not be so.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kintsugi and Being Voted Most Likely to Succeed

I donned white jeans and a red turtleneck in that photograph. Standing next to Jeff Ponatoski, at the main entrance of a high rise building in downtown Louisville, we smiled for a picture we knew would be in the yearbook with the title "Most Likely to Succeed." 

Twenty-three years later, as I am clawing and clamoring my way out of the toughest 12 months I've ever lived, I am amused at my 18-year old self. What in the world did I know of success?

When one graduates from high school, all plucky and energetic, one may believe they know a lot. But they don't. Even though they think they do.

I thought I knew what it meant to be successful.

I was a straight-A student, president of the National Honor Society, a Governor's scholar, and headed to a private college on academic scholarships. I was a rule follower, a conscientious learner, and I never skipped college chapel to sleep in. I graduated from university with honors, despite the best effort of that semester of Macro Economics that tried to bring me down. I did the right things, said the right things, behaved the right ways. 

The world will take notice when you do all the right things the expected way. Enough notice to lull you into the belief that you are on your way to success.

But what happens when life comes crashing down around you? 
When you are burned out and wiped out professionally? 
When you live in a city that desensitizes you to dysfunction? 
When death comes for a visit and leaves an ache that won't stop? 
When what you thought you knew doesn't seem to be what you are sure of anymore?
When you are at a loss because of the amount of loss you've experienced? 

Either I have crashed and burned on the fast track to success or I need a new definition.

Maybe success isn't what I thought it was at all.

Maybe the definition and measure of success should be fluid and contextual. Maybe it isn't what the world decides is laudable. Maybe success is more rebel and rule breaker, not packaged neat and nice. Maybe success would actually frighten that starry-eyed, line-tower in white jeans standing next to Jeff Ponatoski.

Maybe success is a little more subjective than I thought. At least in the sense that succeeding is highly variable depending on the particular circumstance, the priorities, the pressure points, and the unique person.

By most standards, this last year I would have succeeded only in failing to live up to that superlative title, "Most Likely to Succeed."

I've earned no accolades this year. I've walked the blackness of burn-out and depression. Instead of going by the book, my husband and I have thrown it out, and broken away from what "normal" mid-life parents should be doing. We've given up certainty. We've walked away from vocational identity. We've grieved. We've seen the worst of ourselves. We've questioned what we believe and why we believe it. And we've sat among the broken apart pieces of the life we've lived so far and wondered what good could come of it all.

Broken. Completely. 

Success? Most unlikely. 

Maybe success looks entirely different than I once believed.      

There's an ancient Japanese art form known as Kintsugi, which means "golden joinery or repair." Kintsugi artists repair broken pottery with lacquer that is mixed with powered gold, silver, or platinum. 

What's most fascinating about Kintsugi has less to do with the work itself, although great skill is required, and more to do with the philosophy behind the art. Kintsugi "treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise."

If life has ever broken you down, left you holding the fragments of your dreams, of your known life, of your tidy beliefs, then you can understand the pure hope that resides in the idea of Kintsugi.

Maybe success looks entirely different than I once believed.      

What if success isn't about perfection, or achievement, or recognition? What if success has more to do with letting go then maintaining control? What if the whole of success is only found in embracing the breaking of our own humanness?

I have walked through some moments of sheer hell this last year. Some have been external while many have been inner devils. I have walked to the brink of hope, unsure I would see sunlight of the soul again. I have cried a million tears (this is only slightly hyperbolic). I have questioned my sanity, my salvation, my security, my sense of self. And I was certain there was no room to claim success in any of it.

I'm a far cry from that baby-faced, naive girl I used to be. A far cry from what I believed success to be.

Maybe success looks entirely different than I once believed.      

If you have ever succumb to the lie that success is:
only defined by the people in power or the ones with privilege,
only comes when you tow the line and don't rock the boat, 
earned when you do what you're told, and don't ask too many questions,
adhering to the rules, meeting the expectations of everyone else,
walking through the stages of grief in predictable and manageable ways,

and yet find your soul withering, 
and find you are at the end of yourself, 
and everything feels like it's in pieces...

then, only then, can the golden repair begin.

What if success isn't a shellac that fossilizes our heart so that we never crack under pressure? What if success isn't a perfected image, or a flawless performance? What if success is best seen in every gold-filled crack and silver-lined fracture? What if success has more to do with embracing the imperfections, and allowing the brokenness to help define our beauty? What if success isn't about what we've done, but who we become?

I am beginning to understand success has more to do with what results in the midst of the struggle, the strength revealed in the vulnerable places, and the artistry of God who brings beauty from brokenness, and offers renewed hope to one who's been beaten down, burned out, and washed up.

I am also beginning to understand that choosing to define success this way is to embrace the harder, deeper, more sacred meaning of success. The one that has more to do with who Jesus is, than what I've accomplished. The one  that leans hard on the graces of this life because we recognize our inability to deliver perfection. The definition that says my once-shattered-now-golden-repaired heart is more lovely today than before it all broke apart.

Maybe, just maybe, in the golden patch lines and highlighted broken spaces, I might find success most likely to happen after all.

 "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come..."
2 Corinthians 5:17a

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show 
that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 
2 Corinthians 4:7

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost Waiting

photo from

Presence as a loud roar,
a celestial surprise
opening the sealed up heavens…
I still sit in silence
after storming the pearly gates
requesting audience,
but instead the only noise I hear 
are kids 
to jump start a day.

Newly poured spirit
like hot flame,
burning off fear
consuming darkness…
It’s raining here today,
water soaked dirt
quenching the spark
of renewal,
of life,
of hope.

Even so,
I wait.

isn’t a claim
I stake concerning You
or all You allow.
I don’t even allege to 
like You at times.
I do assert,
for now,
You seem elusive, 
All at a time 
I grasp for 
Even so, 
I wait.

Men, ragtag and redeemed, 
in a high room
joined by 
devoted women,
every one of them
and wondering; 
but pondering;
yet tethered
by something greater.
I am them,
because I trust You.

All the while,
I sit in deafening quiet 
with saturated ground,
for You
to come
in a fresh, new way.

To burn up the confusion,
autocorrect my pain,
illuminate my path.

To rush in with Your exhale,
expand my lungs,
fill me with breath.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Escaping to Holy Ground: A Mackinac Island Journal

When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough just up and escape.

Even if it's just for 36 hours. On a budget. 

For the last 13 months, life's level of hard has been pretty well maxed out for me. While I see progress and hope glimmers at a distance, this journey - with all it's transitions, loss, grief, and reconstruction - is far from over.

When you add the current headlines (Flint's ongoing struggles, national division and woes, international crises), I'm so very tempted to pack it all in. 

When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough just up and escape.

For our family, one of our favorite escapes is Mackinac Island. So, Paul and I acted rather impulsively, took advantage of his break from school, and booked a hotel room in Mackinaw City so we could ferry over to the island first thing the next morning.

Escapes can prove refreshing for the soul. At the end of the day, these brief moments on this enchanted island were sweet and served that purpose. For that, I am very grateful.

Below are pictures and recountings of the memories I wish to carry with me regarding this trip. This post serves as an honest journaling of the lovely, the humorous, the sad, and even fearful remembrances. In the 9 hours on that island whose circumference totals 8.2 miles, I ran the gamut of the emotional spectrum. 

The significance of this trip, at this particular point in our lives, is considerable. This space acts as a digital scrapbook that I might not forget these moments and the lessons while away at one of my favorite places on planet earth. (Think of this as a mashup of travel journal, personal diary, and gained insights.)

You are invited to take the trip with me, and maybe, you might visit this magical destination one day too.


When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough just up and escape... Mackinac Island. See that slightly crazed look in the kids' eyes? The parents had that look too. Off we go, closing the gap of 230 miles to redemption in the form of an island.

When we arrived in Mackinaw City, it was rainy, cloudy, and gray. 
The meteorological reality seemed to mirror the state of my heart. 
This was Thursday's view of the Mackinac Bridge.

For various reasons, it had been a rough day for me. To be honest, I was quite surly that our escape seemed to begin with such gloom. It seemed an injustice that our escape being greeted by dreary fog that blanketed our favorite scenes. Even still, the resilience of childhood shone from these three faces despite the shrouded horizon.

When the tough make it to Mackinaw City, 
even if it's raining,
they get ice cream.

"Michigan Pothole" in a chocolate waffle cone

"Rainbow Sherbet" in a blue raspberry waffle cone

And Moriah's new favorite, "Coffee Lovers" in a cup

Before we went to bed, Paul relayed the weather forecast for the next day: Sunny, partly cloudy, 10% chance of rain, and high of 60 degrees. It sounded like the perfect day on the island, but my heart was having a hard time believing it could be so.

I awoke in a worse mood than when I went to bed. Escapes don't guarantee you leave the anxieties behind. Escapes don't promise an end to the voices in your head that want to beat you down. I stood in the shower and waged a mental battle I wasn't sure I was going to win. My husband was patient with me, for that I am infinitely thankful. 

Before long we set off to catch the ferry, and this remarkable scene greeted me at the dock. It may not look like much, but to me, this was Friday's view of hope. The gray of yesterday was burned up in the sunshine of this day.

This escape might work out after all.

Taking the ferry to Mackinac Island

Once the ferry spanned the Straits of Mackinac and docked, we set our feet upon some of the most magical land I've ever visited. I can't explain the allure of the island, but it runs deep. The pull to return has never waned since the very first time I came 18 years ago. The blue skies, the breeze that brings the lilac's fragrance, the slower pace - they act as a siren song to me.

We maneuvered our way through the school groups and made our way to our most favorite view of the island, Anne's Tablet. This memorial area, situated above Marquette Park just east of Fort Mackinac, is dedicated to a novelist who wrote about life on the island in the 1800s. 

After many stairs, a short trail hike up an incline, and the bronze memorial plaque, you come to a shaded grove of trees and are rewarded with this...
No filters. No editing. This. Just as it is.

I am pretty sure this is what the view will be from my heavenly mansion Jesus is preparing for me.

This elevated area of Anne's Tablet is one of the island's best kept secrets. We learned of it years ago from the manager of a B & B where we were staying on the island. It's our go-to spot. Every time. Without fail.

There's something distinctly spiritual about making your way up to this particular vantage point. It's akin to this grueling journey I have been on lately. It requires hard work that gets your heart pumping and forces you to periodically stop to take a breather. Yet at the summit, things look different than when you were at sea level. You gain a different perspective.

The copse of trees shields the moss-covered earth below, allowing tiny dew drops to remain for hours after sunrise. There's something so tender to me about God who allows perfect droplets to form, and then leaves them there so I might discover them. 

This is one view I had when looking down...

But if you look up? 
Now that was where the real surprise awaited. 

So much about this last year has been unclear. Almost everything has brought uncertainty as it unfolded. So many transitions, so many losses - some we chose, most we didn't. It's been enough to nearly convince me I've been wandering in the dark, alone, and unsure if I will ever find light again. 

But this skyward view here, on that beautiful Friday morning, following that foggy, gray Thursday, was precious. 
I heard the still small whisper of God in the streaks of sunlight pushing through the canopy of green above me. The whisper reminded me that it's never been so dark that I was alone and it was never so dark that Light could not find me.

Grace below me. Grace above me. Grace all around me.

Eventually, we made our way down from Anne's Tablet, walking around the backside of the fort. This road brings you to the entrance of the Governor's Summer Residence. When the ferry pulled into dock that morning, we noticed the flag over the mansion was flying. This is a traditional indicator that the governor is currently staying at the house on the island.

The Governor's Mansion looking out over Main Street

As we approached, we could see lights on and people milling around inside the mansion. Here we were, a family from Flint, still unable to consume the water from our tap and found ourselves a stone's throw from one who should be fighting for us. 

It's an odd kind of feeling to be so close to one who holds positional power, 
yet be so far removed from the ability to access him. 

Somehow, this caused me to feel even more powerless, even more helpless. I suppose, on an unconscious level, that's why I decided to make my own statement. I opened the backpack and pulled out the shimmery blue folder that shouldn't have been there in the first place. I had packed it at the last minute in an effort to provide some rigidity for the contents of the pack. As it happened, my daughter had also left her mechanical pencil in an outside pocket. And there you have it - a DIY Protest Kit. 

I made my sign, stood at the gate of the governor's summer residence, and for a brief moment, I felt powerful.

My children were hiding in the trees across the road. They were a little embarrassed, and a lot afraid, I would get in trouble. I was proud to be doing this. Setting an example in something that truly matters. 

Even when it is a small act, standing up against injustice is always right. 

I want my children to learn to leverage their influence for others who have lost their voice. I want them to know that feeling powerless and holding no power are two different realities. I want them to know a Jesus that would have dropped His pack and made His own sign and stood with me. And I also want my children to know that when Jesus would have knocked on the gate and asked for a moment of the governor's time, I might have joined them in those trees because I, too, am still learning to be brave.

Walking down steep Fort Street toward downtown, we met up with friends. 
These friends. Not enough words. 
How is it that friends can be grafted into your heart as close as family? 
That is surely one of the sweetest gifts life offers. 
And for a while, we got to spend time in our favorite place with some of our favorite people.
How did we ever take group shots before the rise of the selfie?

As we walked along Market Street with our friends, Paul's cell phone rang. He told me who was calling, and we looked at each other, both having the hunch that some welcome news was on the other side of that call. 

Strolling the streets of a favorite escape, with some of our favorite people, on a perfectly sunny day, Paul received his first official (full-time) job offer that would pay a living wage for our family. 

After nearly 9 months of looking, applying, tapping community contacts, looking some more, taking assessments, interviewing, looking some was a full-time job that would pay our bills. After submitting over 80 resumes with cover letters, something had finally come through. After so much waiting, discouragement, praying, and wrestling the call we had been long hoping for finally came.

Here's Paul on the phone accepting the job offer. 

Of all the places, of all the things we could have been doing, of all the times before and after that particular day, a job offer was received on the ground we love to walk. Unfathomable. We should have visited the island months ago. :)

We continued on to the Fur Trading Museum. This little bit of history is something we had never experienced before. What a real pleasure to be found in such a familiar place but still be surprised by the yet-to-be discovered treasures.  

Historical marker outside the Fur Trading Museum
This small museum offered some helpful history of the fur trade on the island, as well an interesting look into life on the island through the last few centuries. Halfway through this newly uncovered gem, it hit me that my history-loving dad would have enjoyed this stop.

And then I lost it. Right then and there, on the second floor of an old industry building turned museum, I cried big tears. 
In the museum. Thinking about Dad. Aching with loss.
I still can't quite wrap my mind around his absence. I know he's passed away, but when I find myself in places like this, he feels near. Close. That makes the emptiness even colder than before the thoughts of him surface. My dad visited the island years ago and really enjoyed it. He had always talked of wanting to bring my stepmom here to experience the beauty. As I wandered the halls of this museum, I grieved the wishful hauntings of the "could haves" and reality of what no longer can be.

I dried the tears, joined the group, and we went to lunch. We ate at the Village Inn which is one of several  restaurants throughout the island that are owned by the Grand Hotel. There was lots of food. Good food. Fresh fish, blackened or lightly fried. Chicken Caprese. Mac and Cheese. Diet Coke. Ah yes, it served Coke products. Heaven was surely smiling down on me.

 Bills were being paid, and we were getting ready to go. There was the hither and fro of last minute bathroom breaks, our group walking out of the restaurant in smaller triads, and making our way down the street to a store. 

And that's when it happened. 
The moment every parent fears from the core of their being.

We were missing Levi. He wasn't with us. He wasn't with our friends. He wasn't with either of his sisters. I turned in a circle, panicked. I called out his name in the store. 

Where could he be? What has happened to my baby? Is he scared? Crying? Does he feel abandoned? Is he safe? Will we find him? God, are you listening?

"Is he still at the restaurant?"

I heard the question asked but everything seemed garbled and in slow motion. 
Restaurant? I thought I saw him outside? 

"Friends, wasn't he with you?"

No, he hadn't been. So, Paul took off up the street to the Village Inn. I secured the girls with my friends, and took off after Paul. This place of beauty and peace had become the backdrop for one of my worst fears. I remember walking up that hill toward the restaurant, and I knew the sun was shining, but it had no bearing on the weight closing in around my chest. No amount of blue sky and sunny day would chase away the looming storm.

The outdoor seating of the restaurant came into view and I kept my eyes focused on the door, willing it to open and see a blond-haired, wookie-shirt-wearing boy emerge. 

And then he did. 
I've never loved him as much as I did in that moment.
All four feet and eleven inches of my son never looked as perfect as it did in that moment.

I took in his face, trying to read his expression. 
He was quiet, reserved. Then he said, "Mommy, are you sad?" 

It's not anything you can feasibly explain, the rush of fearful adrenaline when you think your child could be in danger. It's nearly impossible to find words to describe the unrelenting blood rush to your temples while the world stops. How do you explain how every piece of you becomes a prayer asking God for mercy?

"Oh, buddy, I'm not sad anymore. I am just so relieved to see you. I was so worried. I'm sorry we left you. I am so glad you are okay."

Funny how a favorite place can become a hellish landscape for a bit, and then it boomerangs back to the most marvelous place of reunion ever. Levi and I stayed close to each other the rest of the day.

 We finished our shopping and made our way to another fan favorite of ours, Iroquois Point. Here, the fresh water of the Lake Huron washes up along the rocky shore. There's this tree right smack in the middle of the rocky soil, looking all lush and full and leafy. A defiant rebel dressed in greenery among the colorless stones all around. Psalm 1 comes to mind as I consider this sight...
"Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord...
they are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in season." -  Psalm 1:1a, 2a, 3a

I couldn't help but think of all that had transpired in that day. So many emotions brimming at the surface of my heart. As if life, in all of it's hard of the last year, had been the sous chef of my soul, prepping me for to encounter the sacred spaces of this place. Not the least of which was this display of arboreal strength.

There at Iroquois Point, we spent time at the water's edge. 

We let the children wade into the lake's coldness with their shoes and their socks still on. 

We let them throw rocks, and laugh, and be carefree.

We let them get their pant legs wet and we didn't sweat it.

We let them build their "stronghold" using rocks and imagination.

We looked over to the Round Island Lighthouse, and drank in "the general splendor" of the any decent Elizabeth Bennett would do.

And why not? 
After all, life is short and the moments are fleeting, and with that grotesque episode of "Lost and Found" we just had with our only son, being wet was the least of our concerns.

If you visit Iroquois Point, be aware that dogs are allowed there. And the green grass that bridges the sidewalk of Main Street to the rocks at the shore, are laden with presents from visiting canines. I mention this specifically because of a comment our oldest made as we meandered our way through the labyrinth of deposits. In school, we've been reading about the Renaissance, and the awakening of Martin Luther with regard to his criticisms of various practices of the catholic church in his day (indulgences being a large one). 

What came out of Eliana's mouth next, as we attempted to keep our shoes clean of dog poop, there me into a fit of hearty laughter... 
Eliana said, "Look, it's Martin the dog's 95 feces."

I hold deep love and respect for my Lutheran brothers and sisters. Seeing as many of them have a better sense of humor than me, I am confident they will not think less of  me when I say that I threw my head back and laughed deep from the gut. 

I'm just now coming to a place in my journey where joy expresses itself in a hearty chortle that Paul says he loves to hear. And it rang out in this moment. 

There was one other moment of the day, I remember laughing long and hard. It's a bit of advice Paul gave the children upon arriving at the island that morning, and would be wise for other visitors to remember as well: 
"If you see a puddle, don't jump in it.
It's probably not water."

My family is funny, and I am ever so grateful for that fact.

Next, we made our way to Cadotte Street. Walk a few hundred feet and the curve in the road opens your view to the majesty of the Grand Hotel. It's a breathtaking sight to behold. Built in 1887 and using whole tree trunks as the pillars of the famous front porch, the Grand is one of the most recognizable sights of the island.

On your left as you make your way down Cadotte Street to the Grand Hotel, you pass by the Little Stone Church, a functioning congregation in the summer and a site for many destinations weddings.

Stained glass lilacs that greet you as you exit the Little Stone Church
After all the times I've been to Mackinac, this was the first time I remember walking inside this church. It's small with a predictable kind of sanctuary. The chancel area was at one end with the wooden pews facing the altar, and the balance of the details finished in a dark wood that matched the pews. There something grounding when you are present in a place of worship, especially when you find it as your would expect. It's like coming home to a house you've never visited before.

Our day in our favorite place was winding down, but we had a little more shopping to complete. Each of the kids brought their wallets and wanted to purchase a souvenir. Moriah voluntarily offered to share her money with Levi because he didn't have much to spend. Be still my heart.

And me? 
I fell in love with this shop... 

Poppins has this shabby chic kind of vibe and is filled with lovelies that make you laugh, give you warm fuzzies, and inspire life to the full, all in watercolory tones and palettes. These were a few of my favorite things.

ABCs of Life
Husband not included.

I ended up buying the unframed version of the "ABCs of Life." 
Love it to pieces. So much.

It was also in Poppins that I found myself in tears for the second time that day. I came across a book that a child completes for their Dad. The final page read...

The full import of this is for another time and another blog post, but my grief journey has just recently been aided by the realization that there are things that I didn't realize until my Dad was gone, but now wish I could tell him. After having this epiphany a few weeks ago, finding this specific page with this specific prompt felt divinely serendipitous. And I cried.

Like all good island visitors, we lived up to the nickname of 'Fudgie" and made sure we got some yummies to take with us. I told my family, in no uncertain terms, that I was not sharing  the fudge I picked. 

Momma be selfless all year long, but not on the island. Not with her fudge.
Turtle fudge. All mine.

Back to the dock we ran to catch the ferry and reunite with our friends after having parted ways earlier in the day.

Our escape to the island was nearly done, but there was one last amazement left for us. The ferry returning us to Mackinaw City took us under the Mackinac Bridge. 

For the first time, we were up close and personal to this architectural achievement that is really quite beautiful. We have driven on this 5-mile suspension bridge, but we had never been offered the perspective of being beneath the bridge. 

It was truly awe-inspiring. To consider how a structure of this magnitude could be designed and brought into being is truly a marvel of human talent, ingenuity, skill, and courage.  

I can't fully articulate the blessing of this boat ride and the wonder that it generated in me, but I can understand God looking out at creation as saying, "It is good."

The Mighty Mac is good. Really good.

 When the going gets tough, sometimes the tough just up and escape.

There's no guarantee that an escape will work. That it will prove effective or worthwhile. I certainly had my doubts as this trip began. But sometimes, by the ever-present grace of God, a brief escape winds up being just what you never knew you needed. Sometimes, an escape means you meet up with God in new ways while inhabiting familiar spaces, and it offers you the respite you needed from the tough.

This is one of my favorite pictures from our escape.
All because of Eliana's face. 

Pure joy.
Life at it's best.
Surrounded with love.
Emanating love.

I want this.
Even when the going gets tough.
Even when life is nothing like I planned.
Even when I have no idea what's next.

Proverbs 31:25 says a woman of wisdom, "laughs without fear of the future."
I know there are no promises for comfort or ease in this life.
But I want this. 
Come what may.

Sometimes escape can teach you the very things you need in order to stay in the fight.
So, we are back, and I am here to fight another day.
And I am looking hard for that pure joy to find me,
but in the meantime, 
I will be immensely thankful for what this escape gave to me.