Dune Dilemma (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)

IMG_3523I read the signs with a skeptical frown and, like I suspected most visitors did, considered ignoring them. After all, we’d hauled our camper all the way from the east side of the state to Sleeping Bear Warning sign 450 ft drop 1Dunes in order to cross off another item on my Michigan-must-do’s bucket list—climbing down and back up the steep 450-foot dune at Lake Michigan Overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

I stood at the top of the dune and shrugged off the wave of vertigo that had nothing to do with my inner ear disorder. “Man,” I said to my husband. “That’s way, way steeper than I thought it would be.”

sleeping bear dunes 450 dropHe nodded. “And it says it takes two hours to climb back up.” He peered at his phone. “It’s after eight; it’ll be too dark in an hour. We better wait till tomorrow.”

I didn’t want to wait till tomorrow. Three hours ago, we’d parked at another section of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, where I’d stabbed a finger toward Lake Michigan and announced that hiking across the dunes to the lake was also on my bucket list. I’d dragged my poor husband off the beaten trail and hauled him up and down narrow, poison-ivy-riddled  paths. When we ascended yet another dune and found a sea of the rash-inducing plant blocking our way to the lake, I had finally admitted defeat and reluctantly turned around.

I crossed my arms as Lake Michigan beckoned me from far, far below. I wanted to touch the cool water, feel it on my hands, walk through it with bare feet.

Today. Not tomorrow.

“Maybe it’s not as steep as it looks,” I said. “I’m going down a little ways to check it out.”

I slid and slithered for fifty feet and stopped. Here, the gradient got even steeper, and I had face the fact that I wasn’t going to make it to Lake Michigan today. Walking up sand dunes is a major leg workout. The 450-foot upslope was definitely a job for fresh legs, and I was already tired from our three hour hike.

Still I dithered, not wanting to admit defeat a second time—until my ankle began to itch and I thought about the poison ivy we’d traipsed through earlier. Suddenly, the need race back to our camper for a shower trumped the adventure looming before me.

I sighed and started back up the dune toward my husband. Tomorrow, I’d come back earlier in the day, fresh-legged and poison-ivy free.

At the top, my husband rubbed my arm and gave me a tender smile. “Sorry, honey. I know you’re disappointed. Let’s walk to the look out at least before we go. The view’s amazing.”

I took his hand and glanced again at the signs as we passed them on our way to the viewing area. Did people really get down to the bottom and then find themselves unable to climb sleeping bear dunes 450 drop lookoutback up?  We stood on the platform and gawked at the sharp descent, where a few people slid down on their backsides. On the beach below, a group huddled, preparing themselves, I assumed, for the rigorous trip before them. Again, I wondered if anyone actually became too exhausted to make it to the top.

As I was about to discover, the answer is “yes.”

Beside me, a man lowered his binoculars. “I think someone down there’s in trouble.”

I leaned over the railing and squinted at the group on the beach, where it looked like several people now surrounded a sitting person. “I think he’s just resting for the climb,” I said.

The man put the binoculars back up to his eyes. “He’s been there a while; I don’t think he can get back up.”

We stared at the immobile group. In case something was indeed wrong, I said a prayer for their safety. Then my husband tapped my shoulder. “We’d better hit the shower. Ready?”

I nodded, and we began our trek to the parking lot.

“What if someone really is stuck down there?” I asked him on the way. “Should we do something?”

“I don’t know what we can do besides call 9-1-1. And since we don’t know for sure they’re in trouble, we really shouldn’t.”

We were hurrying across the top of the dune when I noticed a young Asian-Indian man pacing a few feet down the steep hill and stabbing buttons on his phone. My husband, who hadn’t seen the man, continued walking. I stopped, opened my mouth to ask the man if he needed help…and closed it again.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like helping.

We all come to these crossroads in our lives—when we debate within ourselves whether we should go out of our way to lend a hand or simply walk on by and avoid involvement. My husband and I had gotten up early that morning, traveled across Michigan, and hiked three hours through clumps of poison ivy. We were sweaty and tired, and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Also, if we didn’t get into a shower asap, we’d wake up tomorrow scratching like mad at the tiny bumps that would no doubt erupt overnight. Then I’d spend the remainder of our trip itchy and grouchy and miserable. And I’d never reach Lake Michigan.

Besides, what was I supposed to do for those people at the bottom, anyway? I couldn’t very well give them piggy-back rides up the dune. Not to mention the fact that I myself had yearned to tackle that descent as much as they had, but I’d made the sensible decision. Now I was supposed to inconvenience myself when they’d seen the signs and had chosen to throw caution to the wind? 

I averted my eyes from the Indian man and took a step toward the parking lot. And that’s when I remembered.

I was a Christian.

I halted and began another silent debate, but this time with God.

Come on, Lord. You don’t really want me to help, do you? I mean, it’s their own faults they’re stuck. And I said a prayer, isn’t that enough?

God brought the Bible verse to my mind—”And let us not grow weary of doing good…”

Yeah, but that verse doesn’t apply here, does it? I’m starving! And pooped. Like really, really pooped.

Then God reminded me that Jesus was pretty tired himself on the way to Calvary…

End of debate. 

I called for my husband to come back, turned around, and tried not to think about the days of itching and scratching ahead of me. Together, we headed down to the man and asked if we could do anything.

The man stared at the beach. “Something’s wrong with one of my friends, but I’m not sure what, their reception’s in and out down there.” He ran his hand through his black hair until his dark, frantic eyes finally met ours. “I don’t know what to do.”

Next week, Part II of Dune Dilemma (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)

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Running the Bases

20160926_180522Last Friday, I went to a baseball game on Fireworks Night. I loved the game, and the fireworks were great—but, to my surprise, it’s what happened between the game and the fireworks that I loved even more.

This year, because of a crazy family schedule and traveling on the 4th of July, I didn’t see  firework to celebrate our Independence Day. When I found out that the Friday game included fireworks afterwards, I was thrilled. I’d get to see fireworks this year after all.

During the eight inning, I breathed in a contented sigh. Even though my team was getting clobbered 11-5, my entire family sat laughing and talking around me. I’d eaten a baked pretzel with cheese—my customary ball-park fare—and the weather was a perfect eighty-five degrees. And in less than two innings, I’d be resting my head against the back of thefireworks-865104__340 seat, gazing up at brilliant displays of bursting, crackling color, and thinking to myself that, yeah, life was good.

That’s when I heard the announcement about where kids should line up if they want to run the bases after the game.

Run the bases? Ug. Now I’d have to sit through that tedium before I’d see any fireworks. I sighed, peered around the stadium, and squelched my irritation by reminding myself that we were at Jimmy John’s Field, home of the United Shore Professional Baseball League and with a seating capacity of 4,500. We were not at Comerica Park watching the Tigers and surrounded by 41,300 fans.

How many kids could there be in a stadium with only 4,500 seats?

twiddle thumbsI stopped pouting. Running the bases would take three, five minutes tops. I’d been waiting all year to see fireworks—I  could twiddling my thumbs for another five minutes.

After my poor Utica Unicorns failed to score in the top of the ninth inning, I watched blue-shirted ushers walk onto the field and lead the throng of waiting base sprinters and their camera-wielding parent out from a door beside the first-base dugout. As the line serpentined down the baseline, I felt my mouth open. Where had all these kids come from? Had they opened the field to the entire four-foot-and-under population of Auburn Hills?

I leaned around my son and his girlfriend and gaped at my husband. “Do you see that?” I asked as I stabbed a finger at the line, the back of which disappeared under the stands. “I can’t even see the end. This is going to take forever!”

I slumped down in my seat, stretched out my thumbs—they’d be twiddling for way longer than five minutes—and accepted the fact that the ensuing dashes around the bags would bore me out of my mind.

But instead, I found myself captivated.

By the time the first child rounded third base, I was sitting straight up in my seat, thumbs forgotten. Whether the child was twelve or two, they all ran the bases as hard as they could go, with legs and arms pumping. Boys racing each other, girls with long hair flying—all grinning from ear to ear and, and, perhaps, imagining that they were in the big leagues, had just hit a bullet to the wall, and now needed to make it home before the center fielder  threw them out.20180803_214613

I have to admit, though, that the little ones were my favorite. I loved how they ran their hearts out with such tiny strides that I wondered if they’d ever make it to home plate. How they’d fall in the dirt, get back up, and keep right on running. How they didn’t slow down or become discouraged despite the fact that older children continually sped past them.

As these children ran around the bases, I also began noticing something else. On each and every face, regardless of age, I saw the same emotion—pure, unabandoned  joy. These kids were having the time of their lives. Just good, clean, old-fashioned fun, with the added bonus of involving no electronics whatsoever (except, of course, their camera-wielding parents). Something our children need more of these days.

I also began watching the area behind home plate, where myriad parents and grandparents clumped in milling bunches. I began to worry that some of the children who crossed the plate would not be able to locate theirhome-plate-1592627__340 families in the growing crowd. And yet, without exception, when each child tore across that final white pentagon, an adult emerged from the chaos, greeted them with a hug or a high-five, and gathered them close.

After the last diminutive base runner left the field, the fireworks that followed seemed like a celebration. A celebration of a race well run.

And it occurred to me. Our Christian pilgrimage here on earth is like running those bases. Our big-league God doesn’t intend for us to wander around in random circles on the field of life. Instead, he has a path for us, marked out by the leading of the Holy Spirit instead of a line of chalk. And when we follow his path, from first to second to third, without straying outside the baseline of God’s will, we can baseball player fallingrun with pure, unabandoned joy. Yes, we sometimes fall on our faces. Yes, atrunning bases times we feel our legs and arms pumping, and yet we seem to cover little ground. But when we round third base and are finally in the homestretch of our lives, we can lift our hands in praise and exaltation when we finally cross home.

And there, our big God will be meet us with open arms, and maybe a high-five or two, before he gather us to himself forever. And the heavenly celebration that follows will far exceed even the most breathtaking fireworks display.

So. Ready to play ball?

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Yes, They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Flat Stanley

In April, Flat Stanley showed up in my mailbox. My six-year-old niece, who lives in Pennsylvania, had sent him with the request to house him, color him, and take him everywhere with me. After a week, I should send her photos of me and Flat Stanley doing our thing, which she would then show to her first-grade class, so they would all learn about the world around them.

Okay. I was game. I could hang out with a smiling paper boy for a week.IMG_4376

First, I donned Flat Stanley in a Detroit Tigers t-shirt. Then I pushed away thoughts of feeling like a dork and lugged Flat Stanley with me wherever I went. For seven days, Flat Stanley was my bosom buddy.

And Flat Stanley and I had a ball.

He wrote with me, ate with me, jogged with me. Together, we cheered on the Tigers, played with my dog, and complained when we awoke one morning to three inches of snow. He rode in the cart around the grocery store, and when he discovered that Cookies and Cream ice cream was both our favorite flavor—imagine that!—he insisted that we buy several cartons.

On Friday evening, he accompanied me to my son’s birthday dinner at a restaurant, and on Saturday morning I hauled him to Panera Bread for a breakfast sandwich and umpteen cups of coffee. (Coffee for me, that is. Flat Stanley preferred the hot chocolate.)

We had so much fun together that, instead of sending pictures to my niece, I decided toFlat Stanley cover chronicle our adventures by putting together a book titled Flat Stanley Visits Michigan.

On Sunday, our last day together before his trip back to Pennsylvania, I took Flat Stanley to church.

During the message, our pastor asked, “If you recorded everything you said for a day, would people who played back your recording know that you’re a Christian?” But instead of thinking about a voice recording, I thought about Flat Stanley. We’d just spent an entire week joined at the hip. When I mailed my book to my niece, would everyone who read it know that I’m a follower of Jesus?

That afternoon, I finished Flat Stanley Visits Michigan. After I added the last pages, I Flat Stanley two pagesturned to page one, began flipping through the book, and tried to read it with an objective eye. Sure, I had one page where I explained the purpose of my blog, and a page about attending church—enough for a reader to understand that I was indeed a Christian. But then I realized that I didn’t have a page about Flat Stanley praying and reading the Bible with me every morning before I got out of bed—a routine I began long ago with the goal of starting the day off right with God. I didn’t have a page where he went to my church’s neighborhood group to study God’s word, enjoy fellowship with other people from my church, and plan mission projects. And I didn’t have a page showing Flat Stanley sitting with my husband and me while we prayed together after dinner.

I know that the point of the project was to teach first graders about living in Michigan. But if my life revolved around Jesus, shouldn’t almost every page reflect him too?

Like I said, I enjoyed my time with Flat Stanley. In a weird way, I kind of got attached to the little guy since I’m an empty-nester now. But if he ever visits me again, I think I’ll do a better job of sharing Jesus through him.

And when anyone reads Flat Stanley Visits Michigan, Book II? Yes, they’ll know I’m a Christian by my Flat Stanley.

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#failcarmom Part II

IMG_4111 - CopyAfter reading Part I of #failcarmom, many of my readers were so sweet, commenting on my post or social media and assuring me that I wasn’t alone; they, too, had locked one of their kids in the car. 

But I’m thankful that my big God helped me keep my vow to never, ever lock my baby son in the car again.

Too bad I didn’t use the plural when I made that vowel.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I really am a conscientious mom. After I locked my oldest son in the car in 1990, I kept my wits about me for nine whole years before I once again committed “The Deed.” But nine years is a long time, right? I mean, if one thinks in terms of going without food or water, or holding one’s breath…

After navigating through my daughter’s childhood without imprisoning her in my vehicle, I was certain that my #failcarmom days were over. Then, in 1998, we had child number three.  

hurryIn 1999, hurry was my middle name. Hurry to my oldest son’s soccer practice or game. Hurry to my daughter’s soccer practice or game. Hurry to piano lessons, school functions, baseball practice, shopping, church stuff, doctors, dentist…you get the picture. And, like many youngest children, my little son got lugged everywhere.

Often, while his older siblings were speeding around the soccer field, I’d allow my son to explore the minivan. He loved pushing buttons, opening windows, playing the radio, and roaming free around the interior—this kept him entertained for hours. But, when we carted his brother and sister around, or he and I were running errands while my two older children were in school, he spent a lot of time confined to his car seat. Until he turned eighteen months old, that is.

magic-297332__340That’s when he transformed into “The Great-Escape Toddler.”

The first time he wiggled out of his car seat, I figured that I hadn’t tightened the straps properly. Kids couldn’t get out of these things. But when it happened again, I realized that I had a Houdini on my hands. I may have taken some maternal pride in his ingenuity, determination, and physical ability to twist himself into a pretzel, but I was far more worried about his safety.

Since my youngest is the family’s strong-willed child, I resorted to a technique I called “Intimidate and Immobilize.”

First, the intimidation. Anytime my son attempted to get out of his car seat, I pulled over, eye-1999706__340walked into the back, and put on my don’t mess-with-me mom look. Then we’d have an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation, with me doing all the speaking, since he was too young to talk yet. “Don’t you dare, young man. You STAY IN THAT SEAT AND I DON’T MEAN MAYBE, or you’re in big trouble, hear me?”

When my voice began taking on a more frantic, desperate tone—born from my intense fear that he’d squirm out of his seat when I couldn’t pull over and then get hurt if I had to stop quickly—he began getting the message that his antics made me less than pleased. However, it took one further step to halt his shenanigans for good—immobilization.

The immobilization was a little tricky. The goal was to strap him in so snuggly that he couldn’t inch his way out of his seat but, at the same time, leave him breathing room.

“Don’t you think you have him in there a little tight?” my husband asked as he looked at our son in his car seat before a trip to the mall.

“Do you really want him bouncing around the van while we’re flying down the highway at seventy miles an hour? He could get killed, for heaven’s sake. He’s fine, trust me,” I said with a reassuring smile.blue baby

He frowned at our son. “But his lips are turning blue.”

I rolled my eyes. “They’re not turning blue, he had a blueberry fruit bar before we left.”

“Oh.” My husband glanced at me again. “If you’re sure…”

“I’m sure. He’s perfectly comfortable. And, you know, we’re making progress. He finally realizes that we will never, ever be happy when he escapes from his car seat. I think I’ve nipped that tendency in the bud for good.”

Then I committed “The Deed.”

Again, I was in a hurry. In the garage, I put the dog in the house and then secured my son in his car seat, all while trying to keep the day’s schedule straight in my mind. First, I’d drive to my kids’ school, pick them up, swing through McDonald’s, and get my daughter soccer practiceto her soccer practice…wait. In which field was her practice?

I loaded the back seat with toys, books, diaper bag, and stinky soccer shoes. Shoot, I’d better check her practice schedule before I ended up in the wrong place. Then my oldest son would be late for his practice…or did he have a game? I handed my toddler a container of Cheerios, wondering where I’d stashed their soccer schedules. Then I opened the front passenger-side door, threw in my purse, hit the lock on the door without thinking, and slammed it shut.

It’s true what they say—during a period of disbelief, time really does revert to slow motion.

Through the tingling haze, as I watched the door close inch by inch, I glimpsed my purse, replete with keys, on the seat. Behind it, my son ate Cheerios with happy little gurgles. A prolonged “Nooooooo!” echoed around the garage, and I saw myself reach out, fingers extended toward the door. But I was too late.

I ran to the door leading from the garage into the house, but I’d locked that, too. I ran around the house and tried each door, but I’d done a dandy job insuring that no invader could ever get inside. Finally, I sprinted back to the garage, where I peered through the back window at my son.

Now what? Most of my immediate neighbors were at work. I could scurry around the neighborhood, pounding on doors and explaining my plight. I’d beg to use their phone and then call my husband to come home and the school to find my children.

pretzelAs I stared at my son, he turned to me with an impish grin. And that’s when I remembered—he was an experienced car-exploring contortionist. Not only could he get out of that seat, he could unlock the door. Then we wouldn’t be late picking up my two kids, my husband wouldn’t have to traipse home from work, and I wouldn’t become the laughingstock of the neighborhood.

“Honey,” I called to him with a big smile. “Can you come to Mommy?”

My son looked at me with wide eyes.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Get out of your seat. Mommy needs you to open the door. Come on, you can do it!”

Yes, a one year old can look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

After a few minutes of indecision, my son gave his arm a tentative twist and began pushing it under the harness. “Good, good!” I shouted from outside the car. “Keep going, get out of your seat, there’s a good boy.”

Talk about confusing your kids. I’d spent months trying to curtail his car-seat antics withcheering mom frowns and stern warnings. And now, here I was, standing outside the van, cheering him on with shouts of encouragement and praise.

When his tucked arm emerged close to his body, free from the restraint, I jumped up and down with a joyous whoop. Shed now of all inhibition, my son grunted and squirmed, wriggled and squiggled, until he liberated his upper body. Then, motivated by my elation, he pulled his legs up and under the straps with a triumphant giggle and stood on his seat.

He’d never had such an exuberant audience.

I re-positioned myself outside the front-passenger window and pointed to the lock. “Now open the door, sweetie, so Mommy can get in.”

With an ear-to-ear grin, he waddled up to the front and crawled into the seat. And after one final glance at his ecstatic mom, he slid open the lock.

Today, I’m proud to announce that I’ve made significant progress in the #failcarmom department. Since 1999, I have not locked any more of my babies or toddlers in the car.

Of course, I didn’t have more children after child number three…

Which made success much easier.

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#failcarmom Part I

If #failcarmom had meant something twenty-seven years ago, that hashtag would have applied to me.

#WhatHappensWhenMomsAreCarryingFiftyThingsAtOnce would work too.

But I’m guessing that lots of moms can identify with those hashtags. I’ll give you a hypothetical example.

Let’s say there’s this young, first-time mom.

grocery shopping mom

She’s just finished grocery shopping with her four-month-old son, who has been bawling since aisle two. Now this exhausted, harried mom, who feels like bawling too, 

crying mom

leaves the grocery store and rolls her cart to the car. In the cart basket, she has a baby carrier, complete with baby who finally stopped crying at the cash register; bags and bags of groceries; the pacifier her baby spit out; and half the contents of the diaper bag, which she flung into the cart during her frantic searched for the pacifier.

Which, of course, she found at the bottom of the bag.

On the cart seat rests the half-empty diaper bag, and on her shoulder, a bulging purse.

Then this sweet-albeit-frazzled mom pulls her keys from her purse, inserts them into the passenger side of her two-door car (no key fobs yet), and proceeds to lift her son from the baby carrier (no nifty snap-in carrier/car seat yet, either). With her foot pressed against the cart wheel, so the cart doesn’t roll away, frazzled-cum-contortionist mom lifts her bundle of joy from the carrier and straps him into the car seat, all the while praying that he doesn’t start fussing again or, even worse, fall asleep on the ride home. If he falls asleep, he won’t nap that afternoon, and Mom is in desperate need of down-time.

Pulling contents from the cart as fast as she can, she flings the baby carrier, grocery bags, diaper bag contents, the pacifier, and the deflated diaper bag into the car back seat.

failcarmom collageThen she grabs her purse, pushes down the lock on the door like a good mother, and gives the passenger-side door a shove.

That’s when I see….

Oops. Darn.

Okay, I’ll fess up. Hypothetical, sweet-albeit-frazzled-cum-contortionist mom?

 Me.smiley face

Anyway…

As the door closed, I glimpsed the car keys through the window, resting on the seat beside my son.

“No, no, no,” I muttered. I yanked the door handle, hoping that the locked the door would magically pop open—PRESTO!

Didn’t happen.

Then I ran to the other side and jerked the door handle up and down. But the driver’s side door stayed locked as well.

I stared through the window at my son, who looked back at me, expecting me to climb into the car. 

#failcarmom.

I ran into the grocery store (no cell phones yet), by the bank of gawking cashiers, and to the pay phone, where I dialed 9-1-1.

“Help,” I said when the female operator answered. “I’m at Paul’s Grocery Store, and I 911 0peratorlocked my baby in the car.”

To which the woman replied, “Ma’am, this line is for emergencies only.”

I glanced at the nice store manager, who now stood by the phone. “This is an emergency! My BABY is LOCKED in my car!”

After the woman lectured me on proper 9-1-1- protocol, finally took pity on  me, and said that she would notify the local police, the manager hustled away.

I hung up the phone, sprinted back out to the car, and peered at my son. He had grown tired of waiting for me and was now crying again.

I tapped the window. “It’s okay, Mommy’s right here.”

That’s when I heard footsteps. I turned around and saw the nice manager jogged toward me.

hanger-148398__340He held up a coat hanger. “Ma’am, let’s see if I can get that car open,” he said.

I stood aside, and the nice manager stuffed the coat hanger inside the window.

When my son saw this unknown man, his crying changed to frantic screaming, which cause the nice manager to transform into a nice flustered store manager. As the wailing inside the car continued unabated, he looked at me with haunted eyes and paused to wipe perspiration from his forehead. “I’ll try the other side.”

Through the window, I tried consoling my son again. What kind of a mom was I, anyway? I’d never heard of anybody locking their baby in the car. I glanced at the nice flustered-perspiring manager, who was becoming frustrated by his lack of success. He must think I’m the dizziest of dizzy blondes. How would I ever face him again without feeling like an idiot?

As I contemplated the necessity of switching grocery stores, a police car pulled into the parking lot. Within minutes, the officer opened the door.

The nice, flustered-now-relieved manager took a deep breath and gave me a big smile as I held my howling son.

I smiled back. Maybe I could swallow my pride and continue shopping at his store. After all, he’d tried his best to rescue my son. I owed him my patronage, even if he thought I was a total ding-dong.

On second thought, maybe my husband could grocery shop from now on.

I gave my profuse thanks to the police and especially the nice store manager. Then I drove home, thankful that the ordeal hadn’t been worse. And I vowed that I would never, ever again be so careless as to lock my baby in the car again, no matter how harried or frantic I became.

Too bad I forgot…

See you next time for Part II of #failcarmom.

Have a blessed Easter!

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