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.