Posts Tagged ‘michigan’


image116I remember working at Youth Haven Ranch as a teenager.  Waking early to shower, and walking on my own to the giant red barn, a new addition to the campground since I’d attended as a camper.  The dew on the grass competing with the beauty of the steam rising out over the field in the distance.  The birds calling out to welcome anyone willing to rise early enough to wish them good morning.  Coffee was not yet in the vocabulary of my palette.

With difficulties at home, it meant the world to have the confidence of Kyle, Mike, Bob, Dave, Joe, Scott and the others.  These men who were leaders of the camp, placed me in oversight of the “Petting Farm” for the entire summer of 1998.  Each morning I’d rise early to great the midwestern Michigan beauty that exists as an island between streams of somewhere in the sprawling farmland, otherwise known as a “campground”.  I, neither “city kid” nor “country boy”, but rather a conglomerate of “raised by church-going single mother” and “growing up on a highway”, would open up the barn every morning.

Thomas Merton echoed the Psalmists who spoke of all creation having special knowledge of God, and an awareness of the divine.  The personified versions of these animals knew not only God, but could have significant discourse with me on passages of scripture, drama from home, or the latest girl counselor I might be crushing on that summer.  Norma, the cow, was particularly wise and would share her insight with me – providing I allowed her to escape to the grassy fields before Jack – the lone donkey.  As you might expect, he was little help anyways, always laughing when I’d ask his opinion.

The exuberance each animal met the dawn with, running out of their stalls to stretch, run, and snack, was equaled each week by new sets of young people – each eager to pretend for a week – that life was simple.  It was a campground for economically and socially disenfranchised kids.  Shedding the fear, the instability, and the harsh climates of home – by the 3rd day most kids understood they were safe and loved here.  The animals knew the same as I entered the barn each morning, to care for their stall and feed them.

I attempted to begin most mornings, once the animals had been let out and immediate needs cared for, soaking in the silence of the big red barn.  Breathing slow at the start of the day, I would go over the schedule of what groups would visit, and read some of the scripture from a recent message at the chapel times.   I was experiencing for an entire summer, what many of the children there tasted for only a week – the desirable simplicity of life.   To understand sabbath was less a day of the week, and more an invitation to rest and be content.

I want my kids to know that contentedness.  Shoot, I want the world to know that contentedness.  In my best moments today – I have it.  The contentment Mary and Joseph felt when they laid their firstborn son in an animal food-trough, surrounded by the sights and smells of the barn.  The breathing slow.  Not knowing what tomorrow might look like, but holding enough in this moment to outweigh any anxiety that may threaten to surface.

There is so much to hold in this moment.  You are beloved.  You are enough.  You are capable.  You are able to contribute to the lives of others.   Your smile can be a candle-light in the dark day of another.

There may be weeds growing – but there is so much wheat.

May you discover how it grows even today.


How to Make Fans & Influence People

I grew up in Michigan, and bleed red for my Detroit Redwings.  I still have love for the Hawks and Blues.  I’d love to see a “Hawks/Blues vs. Wings” Stanley Cup Final series someday.  I’m even training my daughters to love hockey, and they’re constantly asking me throughout the season how the team is doing.  My oldest daughter melted my heart recently when she used the name “Datsuk” in a large game of charades some families were playing.

I’ve been wanting to take my girls to watch a local hockey game, ever since hearing the “Decatur Blaze” had come to town.  Even though it was a church-night, I headerdecided to try it once last month.  We were all bundled up, and ready for action.  At an inexpensive $5/person, I wasn’t too worried if they ended up getting too tired to stay for the whole game.  On the way in, the friendly woman selling tickets asked my girls if they were staying after the game to skate with the players?  Giant smiles on their faces, they looked at me.  As if I had any power to deny.

As it turns out, the team Decatur Blaze was supposed to face Saturday night had their franchise folded suddenly on Friday morning.  Instead of locking the doors for the weekend, the Blaze wanted to use the opportunity to offer something special to their fans.  A black/white scrimmage was put together, with plenty of fun and talented puck handling.  The atmosphere was still pretty exciting for a fan-base that was cheering for and against the same team, ultimately.  Our girls chose the black team, and were not disappointed.  Even though it was obviously a bit more fun than competitive, there was still some great puck handling and teamwork.  Watch out for these future stars, like # 95 from Illinois, Micah Young, or Slovenian #11, Luka Znidarsic.  We even had some great local talent represented, in #52 Ty Gehrken and #58 Ryan Redpath.

The night was made even sweeter, as my girls were invited to come help collect the “Chuck-A-Pucks” between periods.  Getting on the ice, and seeing the Zamboni made them even more excited to skate after the game.  So when the time finally came, close to 9pm (keep in mind, these girls usually head to bed around 7:30), they were first in line for their skates.

Here’s the problem:  I was skating solo that night.  My wife was attending the local production of “Peter Pan” with her parents, and I was pretending to be the image1(7)responsible adult that night.  How could I juggle three girls who’ve never skated before?  As we walked awkwardly toward the ice, my girls and I had no idea what to expect.   The loud music and low lights seemed fun, but also very distracting.  That’s when the first hand reached out.  Wearing #88, and coming all the way from Belfast, UK, Gareth Smyth instantly become a part of my daughters’ life.  For the next hour, I successfully navigated caring for all three girls, and even took some pictures/video to prove it.  Whenever one of them struggled away from me, there was usually a helpful Blaze jersey skating nearby.

As 10pm approached, I knew my girls needed to head to bed soon or they’d never make it to church in the morning.  Being the responsible father that I am, I spoiled the party, and promised we’d skate again soon.  As my girls skated around in their dreams that night, they’d solidified their love both for ice skating, and for a sport who’s players show heart both between buzzers, and after the game.

Confessions of a “Neighborphile”

I grew up on a highway. (Well, not “on” the highway, but you know what I mean.)

There were some great things about this. I remember having a pool as kids, and not being too concerned about who saw you wearing what…or not wearing what. We played football in our front yard, and rode bikes up and down a driveway that was as long as a city block. You could sit on the roof on the back side of our house and see the sunset over miles of fields.

But then, there were a few downsides, too. I remember riding my bike for miles to be there early in the morning when our city’s very own McDonald’s opened. Or making a long list of things needed from the grocery store, because we couldn’t imagine running all the way into town just because we didn’t have ketchup for burgers that night. Mustard never tasted so good.

Then I went to college, where everything was contained in one giant bubble. Life was a bit TOO close. You ate in the same building you retrieved your mail, shopped for books, and met for foosball tournaments. Eventually, I was spit out as a college graduate. I was married, and had everything I needed to begin life as an official “adult.”neighbor-620x330

Life brought us here to Decatur, Illinois…

(Read the rest of my post over at !!!!)

changing streets.

I’m still getting used to it.

I grew up living most of my life on M-50.  That stands for “Michigan-50”, as in a “high-way”.  We had a large front lawn, so don’t imagine it so close to the road the truckers could throw their drinks at my window.  But do imagine cars and trucks whizzing by at 60+ MPH while we waited for our bus at the end of the driveway.   Much of the school year in coooold Michigander temperatures.  It was awesome.  Stars seemed they were always visible.clintontrail

We knew our immediate neighbors.  We rode our bikes for hours up and down our driveway (Not to brag, but it was the only one nearby that was completely paved).  In high school, we were robbed by the senior higher who lived a few doors down from us.  We watched the fire department accidentally drive through a closed door, and every so often a traveling group of Indians would set up their teepees in the field across the highway.  In the 20 minutes we waited for the bus, often we pretended we were Ninja Turtles (I was usually Michaelangelo, because I love eating pizza and saying “Dude”.  He was usually Leonardo, because he’s a natural leader and genius.) before we hopped on the bus for the 1.5 hour trek around horror-movie-inspiring cornfields picking up all the other students who lives “outside of town”.  You could say it was a pretty normal place to live.

I remember when our city, Eaton Rapids, was about to have it’s very own McDonald’s restaurant open.  The excitement was building for months as we saw the holy structure take form.  The date was set for opening.    It was only about 1.4 miles away, but it was 1.4 miles of M-50.  Intimidating?  Nah.  My older brother was with me.  Plus…we wanted to be among the first to taste the amazing goodness that was fast food, and enjoy the coming-of-age experience of a bike ride to food without adults.

It was a pretty great place to grow.  I’m thankful for it.

Where I live now is more an Avenue than highway.

If a car comes down the cobblestone street going faster than 15 MPH, I stand up and give them my stern-serious look.  If we 1383595_10151693986116339_1342514859_nforget sour cream, we can run out to get it and be back in a few minutes.   Our kids play together.  We celebrate holidays together, and call the cops on each other. (Lovingly, of course.)  There are streetlamps on both sides of our street, straight out of some old-time movie.   If the kids on our street aren’t homeschooled, they can walk down the block to school each morning.

It’s still a bit new to me, this living in closer community.  Where we could walk most places we need to get to within an easy stroll.  Trick-or-Treat season finds mini-vans from all over the city dropping off a load of kids to wander around begging sugar from door-to-door.  We share a water provider, and a sewer system.  It’s a pretty intimate deal. Much of this might simply be adult-hood, but I know the names of most of the families up and down both sides of my street.  We pray for them.  We hope that somehow God’s Love will be known and experienced by the ways that we connect in relationship…whether they know Him already or not.  We draw with sidewalk chalk and play hop scotch and wave at the elderly man who grows herbs in his basement year-round (legal ones).

You can’t always see the stars very well.

But the people sure are great.


Last week we took the family “tent-camping” at Warren Dunes State Campground, just over the south-western border into Michigan.  I grew up visiting those dunes, and frequently took trips even in college.  It was a special trip I’d been wanting to make with our girls for quite sometime.  Here are a few highlights:

campin1. Conquered the Rain-Fly.  Seriously, we all know the number one pain of all tent-camping is getting the tent to fit back in the bag.  The number two pain?  Figuring out the rain fly.  I patted myself on the back every time I looked at our tent those 3 days.  Even hung some Christmas lights.

2. I let my wife plan meals.  That means, instead of eating Pop-tarts for breakfast and raw Ramen for dinner…we had “hobo dinners” and scrambled eggs/sausage.  Sure, it meant bringing quite a few more supplies than I would’ve packed.  But my mouth and stomach weren’t complaining.  You’ve had S’mores; but have you had a roasted banana filled with peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallow, and sprinkled with crushed Golden Grahams?  Also, if you’ve done the “meat/cheese/potato/onion/carrot” thing for hobo dinners…next time try “polish sausage/sauerkraut/carrots/potatoes”.  It was crazy good.

3. Sunscreen works, everywhere you apply it.  We spent most of Friday at the beach, with me in the water.  You could see visibly where my hands couldn’t reach on my back….bright red.   My 5 year old said, “Dad, next time I’ll put it on your back.”  And on Labor Day….she did.  Gently…daddy still hurts.  Thankfully our girls have mommy’s skin.

1269373_10151572183671339_365288859_o4. Disney Movies happen every day.  I climbed a giant sand dune with my two oldest daughters.  When we reached the top and looked back, mommy was staying with Ruby about halfway up.  At 4 years old (daughter, not mom), she was struggling hard..naturally.  They were going to turn back and wait for us at the bottom, but I wanted the family to enjoy the top together.  So I ran halfway down, put our daughter on my sunburned back, and hiked her up the rest of the dune on my hands and knees.  The cross-country team gathered at the top began applauding, and I heard inspirational music in the background as I carried her all the way up.  I’m pretty sure I injured something, and completely sure the picture was worth it.

5. Sleeping outside can surprise you.  There were definitely raccoons that waited for our site to get dark each night.  We heard them explore our picnic table after we went to bed.  We took turns having knee-jerk reactions to what we thought was 1167669_10151572184541339_2050085235_oan animal in our tent at 2am…both times smiling at how silly we were reacting to a clingy little girl sleeping next to us.  It’s great being “alone” with my wife in a world of little people camping.  So many things that brought smiles to our faces…I love sharing life with this woman!! 🙂

6.  God’s Creation sure is good.  We sat on a blanket as the sun began to lower, reading a kids book on sand and how it’s made.  We climbed giant dunes, and looked out over miles of forest one direction, and miles of lake the other.  We hiked through thick woods to use the restroom, each time stumbling as a daughter would pause the world to appreciate the beauty of a fallen leaf’s colors.  I held a giant inflated tube as it coasted over small faef33f2128411e3af571231390ef217_7lake waves, as my 4 year old daughter soaked up the sun, falling asleep far away from shore – simply because she trusted her father.  Our girls oooh’d and ahhhh’d over hundreds of rocks, as we searched for petoskey stones, reminding me that God’s beauty is in so much more than we’re looking for…

Oh yeah, and this happened on our way home…

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