It’s a Dog Drool Kind of Autumn

I love autumn leaves. The way they dapple yards and sidewalks with splashes of color. The way they smell in the swirling, windbreaker breeze. The way they dance with goldenleaves for fall charm and blushing grace on the backdrop of sunny, sky-blue days.

The way they get stuck in my boxer’s drool.

Of course, a leaf or other debris glued to my boxer’s drool isn’t exactly an anomaly. My boxer, Winnie, drools all the time. When she’s happy, sad, excited, scared, or nervous. When she has an upset tummy from eating used tissues, soiled napkins, Easter IMG_3865chocolates, bar soap, gum (our fault—we left them lying on the floor within easy reach). Or rabbit poo, deer poo, feathers, the McDonald’s bag someone threw in our ditch (her fault—who in their right mind would eat that stuff?).

It’s not the comeliest of habits, I admit, and certainly not lady-like. But we love Winnie anyway and definitely prefer strings of saliva swinging from her mouth to her propensity to pass gas with room-clearing ferocity.

On the bright side, we never need to buy WD-40. (Just kidding.)

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Because my husband and I want to savor autumn’s colorful canopy before the leaves drop and another toe-numbing Michigan winter sets in, we jog in town as often as we can. And when Winnie was younger (she’s a doggy senior citizen now),we often took her with us, since we needed to give her plenty of exercise to keep her from bouncing all over the house and driving me crazy. And Winnie loved our runs—the sound of neighborhood dogs barking, the alluring scents on every tree trunk and fire hydrant, the hope of finally catching a preoccupied squirrel. But the people who were out and about got her most excited.20181024_180231

Did I mention that Winnie drools when she gets excited?

Believe it or not, the slimy excretion emanating from her laughing mouth did nothing to deter people from stopping in their tracks and asking, “Can I pet your dog?”

IMG_3861 (1)Each time, my first reaction was to consider asking, “Why would you want to do that?” Because, by this time, frothy drool covered her mouth and hung down either one or both sides of her floppy jowls. Or, on occasion, a vigorous head shake had flung the ribbon of drool upward, causing it to wrap around the top of her head. And these people wanted to pet her?

My only conclusion was, and still is, that Winnie entrances everyone. Maybe it’s her rich fawn and white coat and striking markings. Or her stub tail rotating her entire rear end. Personally, I think it’s her bug eyes that draws people in and makes them oblivious to what’s happening lower down her face.

But instead of  looking at these expectant people like they had two heads, I’d smile and say, “Sure. But I want to give you a heads up; she’ll slime you.”

A statement that never stopped anyone.

Winnie doesn’t do anything in halves, so meeting someone involves sneezing, snorting, prancing, and finally gluing her body to her new friends’ legs. And when her besotted admirers gave her one last pat and stepped away, they’d attempt to wipe sticky slobber from their hands and a plethora of little dog hairs from their pants. And across their thighs? A line of foamy dribble.

Can’t say I didn’t warn them.

What does a salivating boxer have to do with our big God? I could write about the things people usually write about their dog—that they exude unconditional love and loyalty. But I think Winnie is God’s way of saying…

Have fun.leaves for fall

Greet new friends with unabashed  enthusiasm.

Laugh at the future.

Never give of yourself in halves.

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This autumn, our graying Winnie can no longer keep up with us when we jog. Instead, she prefers a simple amble through town, where she still sniffs fire-red bushes, tries to make friends with hissing kitties, and pricks her ears at lingering squirrels.

And still gathers leaves in her trailing drool.

Ah, fall.

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

IMG_3528Last week, after I posted Part I of “Dune Dilemma (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)”, I received comments asking me to hurry up and finish the story. So, without further ado, here’s the rest…

If you remember from Part I, it was after eight o’clock in the evening. Exhausted from a three-hour hike through clumps of poison ivy, hungry from missing dinner, and disappointed from my failure to reach Lake Michigan that day—not once, but twice—I definitely was not in the mood to help the worried-looking young Asian-Indian man pacing a few feet below us on the sand dune. But because God had reminded me that I was a Christian, my husband and I now stood with the man, where we all stared down the steep 450-foot slope at the group huddled far below.

“Something’s wrong with one of my friends down there,” he said with an Indian accent, “but they’re cell signal is very bad.” He tapped numbers once again, spoke in loud and insistent Hindi, and lifted his hands in frustration as he made little headway with his friends on the beach. He soon ended the call and rubbed his hands over his face.

“Do you know what’s wrong with your friend?” I asked.

“All I know is that he is dizzy,” the man said. “My other two friends are giving him water, but I don’t know if it’s helping.”

I squinted at the darkening sky. “We should call 9-1-1.”

The man, however, didn’t seem too thrilled with that idea. “Let me try calling again.”

“Use my phone,” my husband said. “Maybe you’ll have better luck.”

While the man’s fingers punched the screen, another young man walked up the dune and panted beside us. “Are you guys with that group down there?”

I explained the situation until the Indian man gave up and handed the phone back to my husband. The second man wiped his brow. “I work for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but I’m off duty now and decided to hike here tonight. That guy down there is probably dehydrated. He’s not making it back up here before dark.”

“I think we should call 9-1-1,” I reiterated.

The second man pointed toward the beach. “If I go down again, I can lead them south along the shore.” He pulled out his phone, brought up a map, and showed it to the Indian man. “If you drive out of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, you can take the highway and then a bunch of these little roads to a parking lot. Walk about a quarter mile, and you’ll be at the water; that’s where we’ll meet you. So, to get there, just follow M-109…”IMG_4446

As the Indian man listened with a furrowed brow, I leaned close to my husband. “That poor Indian guy looks totally lost.”

My husband stepped closer to the second man. “Hey, how about showing me those roads.”

The second man went over the route once more and put away his phone. “I’m heading down; see you soon.”

We watched him begin his sliding descent and then turned back to the Indian man.

“You have a car here?” my husband asked.

“Yes,” the Indian man answered.

“And you know where you’re going now?”

“Ah…” The Indian man stared at my husband.

My husband pulled out his phone again. “Okay, we’re here. Drive out of Pierce Stocking and go south on 109…”

My husband pointed out roads and turns, and the Indian man kept nodding. And the more he nodded, the more convinced I was…

This guy had no idea where he was going.

When the Indian man bobbed his head once more, I laughed—not out loud, but one of those little ironic chuckles that you do inside yourself. When God had asked me to help, I was thinking in terms of a half hour, max. But, as he often does, God was asking me to stretch myself, to stick with his plan despite the fact that my stomach was growling, the sky was fading from slate blue to gray, and I was throwing away any lingering hope of washing off poison ivy.

I touched the man’s arm. “Would you like to follow us there?”

He let out his breath in a relieved rush. “Yes, thank you.”

I gave my husband a please-don’t-protest-and-just-do-it glance. And, because he’s a kind man, as well as adept at reading my eye dialogue, he sighed and motioned to the Indian man. “Come on. We’ll go together.”

At the speed limit of twenty miles per hour, we crawled along the three-and-a-half-mile stretch from the Dune Overlook to M-109 with our new Indian friend trailing behind our pickup. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled into a desolate parking lot, got out of our vehicles, and walked down a dirt track toward Lake Michigan.

While we waited on the beach and kept expectant eyes turned north, we learned that the Indian man’s name was Aamod. He was twenty-five years old, came to the United States to attend college, and now worked in New Jersey. He and his friends were at Sleeping Bear Dunes as part of a bachelor party, and even though they had hiked all day, three of his friends still wanted to tackle the 450-foot climb that evening. And the hapless man suffering from dizziness at the bottom?

The future groom, getting married next weekend.

After twenty minutes, I decided that we’d waited long enough. “They aren’t coming,” I said. “We should go back.”

“I have a feeling,” Aamod said, “that we need to stay.”

I sighed, mentally pushed dinner back yet another half hour, and faced the water.

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In the lingering dusk, heavy with moisture, a lake-born breeze cooled my skin while the water’s gentle lap quieted my soul. On the horizon, the last vestige of a brazen orange-and-pink sunset reflected on the slumbering Lake Michigan. I squatted on the damp sand and filtered the dark water through my fingers again and again, feeling it rinse away the weariness of the day.

My husband ambled up behind me and squeezed my shoulder. “What are you thinking?”

“I was thinking—I made it to Lake Michigan. Today. Not tomorrow.” I looked up at him. “God’s good, isn’t he?”

He bent and kissed the top of my head. “He sure is.”

Ringing broke the solitude, and Aamod lifted his phone. “They have a signal,” he announced before chattering away in Hindi. A minute later, he hung up and turned to us. “The man from the park decided my friend could not make it to us. He ran up the shore and called an ambulance, which picked them up off a smaller road north of us. We can go back now.”

I rolled my eyes—inside again. Who’d said to call 9-1-1 in the first place? Then again, God had brought me to Lake Michigan…

We hustled to the parking lot, where my husband noticed Aamod’s questioning look and said, “We’ll take you back to the overlook.”

As we meandered along the tree-lined roads, I nudged my husband. “Good thing he’s following us. Look; he’s so distracted he forgot to turn on his headlights.”

“There’s a stop sign ahead; I’ll get out and tell him.”

But as we braked at the intersection, an ambulance drove up the dirt track on our left ambulance lightand halted at the stop sign.

“I bet that’s them,” I said.

My husband rolled down his window, waved to the ambulance, and hopped out of our truck. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Aamod’s interior lights flicker on as he too exited his car.  They spoke to the ambulance driver, and a minute later, the EMT released Aamod’s three friends from the back, including the sheepish future groom, who sipped water and shrugged in embarrassment.

After loading his friends into the car, Aamod came back to our truck, shook my husband’s hand, and nodded at me. “Thank you so much for your help.”

“Our pleasure,” I said. And meant it.

My husband released Aamod’s hand. “Heading back to your hotel?”

“No. Back to the overlook. More of my group is there now, waiting for us to pick them up. And…er…”

My husband chuckled, on the outside. “Say no more; we’ll take you back. And, by the way, turn on your headlights.”

A few minutes before ten o’clock—with Aamod still driving sans headlights—we turned onto Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and pulled onto the shoulder. Aamod eased his car beside us, and a chorus of further “thank you’s” echoed out the open passenger-side window.

“This drive goes in a circle, so you can’t get lost,” my husband said. ” And you’re headlights are still off.”

“Oh!” Aamod fiddled with knobs and buttons and grinned at us when he finally found the right one. “All set. Thank you again.”

campfireBack at the campsite, we showered, started a campfire, and ate an eleven-o’clock dinner through frequent yawns. While chomping down my second piece of barbecued chicken, I reflected back on the evening with the kind of peaceful contentment that comes from following God’s will. I’d served a man in need. I’d touched Lake Michigan and ran its cool water over my fingers. And I’d learned more about the goodness of my big God.

By the way, neither my husband nor I ever got poison ivy.

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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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