Return to Huron County

After high school, my family stopped going to the cottages in Port Austin.

I returned in Summer 2002, with my college boyfriend, but our relationship was in its death throws. We spent most of our time at the Bella Vista Inn in Caseville, and he preferred watching TV over exploring the lakeshore. It still clocks in as my worse vacation ever. We broke up a few weeks later.

I went back with my mom in Summer 2011 to visit Ray for the weekend. His wife had passed after a long battle with cancer several weeks earlier. While it was sad, it was also great to see Ray smile and reminisce about the old times. We waded out 1,000 feet into the lake, only up to our shoulders, and talked. As someone who is used to the ocean, it felt surreal to be so far out in the water, yet so good to be back home among familiar faces.

After the crazy spring of 2017, my husband and I, weary from navigating the rough waters, needed an escape. I suggested Port Austin because it was calming without much hustle and bustle. After spending over 10 years together, it was time to introduce him to a part of the world that was integral to my childhood.

We flew into Detroit and rented a car. I didn’t need a map after all these years, the route was still etched in my heart. The little towns leading to Port Austin were exactly as they were in my memory.

The IGA Foodliner of Bad Axe is long gone, but Walmart was in its place. We stopped here for supplies. Just like when I was a child, my heart beat fast as we saw the big billboard sign for Port Austin. A quick glance around downtown and I sighed with relief: time had left it alone. We drove to Ray’s lakeside cottage in Caseville – the first stop on our trip. My husband and I stayed in the same cottage I had always stayed in, while Ray stayed in the other one on the property.

The cottage was not untouched by the years: the 1940’s refrigerator was replaced with something from the 1990’s; the kitchen table was a rectangle bench, no longer the old round table; some furniture was moved to a different place; the walls were insulated. The memories were so thick there, I kept thinking my grandmother, despite dying 14 years previous, would appear around the corner. I found myself expecting that she’d be there getting dinner ready or making tea and we’d pick up conversation as if she never left. I was disappointed every time we walked back in to the cottage to see she wasn’t there. Every. Single. Time.

The lakeshore has changed with the rising water: there is significantly less beach than 20 years ago. Outside of that, everything else had remained as it was in my memory and that was comforting.

Just like when I was a kid, we always took a day to explore Frankenmuth, a cute small town with a southern German flair a little over an hour away. We took the backroads, naturally, and I was astounded by all the wind turbines. They were never there before. Frankenmuth, on the other hand, was the same, yet wasn’t nearly as exciting to me at 35 as it was at 12. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time, ate loads of good German food, walked to Bronner’s from downtown, and left with our hearts full and happy.

We left Ray’s cottage after much hugging and clean up and moved onto our next location: my aunt’s cottage in Broken Rocks. I had been coming here since the late 1980’s and wasn’t ready for all the upgrades they did. The place was even more wonderful than I remember.

My aunt was at her main home in Detroit, so we had the place to ourselves. We played a lot of cards and spent out evenings in Port Austin: ice cream, walking the breakwater, getting cheese and crackers for our card night at the grocery store, eating at the new place, Pak’s Backyard (a must-do if you’re in the area!), and we even caught a show at the Port Austin Community Playhouse. It was everything I loved and remembered about being a part of the local theater community.

The easy going small town lakeshore life was everything we needed. We left to catch our plane in Detroit during a rainstorm. I was sad to be leaving too.

We don’t have any plans to go back at this time – we often toy with the idea of doing an artistic retreat: my husband and his paints, me and my words. Port Austin is at the top of our list for places to make this happen. Summer 2019?

IMG_1353
Sunset on Lake Huron from Oak Beach Park, Summer 2017; Caseville, MI

 

 

The Church on a Vent

“We should go to church on Sunday,” Ruth said to me while strolling through our old college town.

We had attended a small Southern Baptist church a short walk from campus. Even Pastor Gabe was still preaching.

When we arrived, our jaws dropped. It was a large modern church. When did that happen?! It was beautifully done. It wasn’t fancy, but it was inviting with sleek lines and neutral colors on its modern architecture.

“Holy cow!” I exclaimed.
Ruth smiled. “This warms my heart, the church is still doing well.”

One by one, they filed in: everyone was over the age of 65 and white. A few kids sprinted through the sanctuary. This Sunday was a small crowd, with about 25% of the seats taken.

An elderly lady introduced herself. She didn’t remember us, but managed to inquire about our marriage status and said something about the “young colored girl” that sometimes attends. Ah, to be in a yankee Baptist church again.

An old man walked in: Pastor Gabe! I couldn’t get over his gray hair and how much he had aged.

The service was just as I remembered: pastor’s wife at the piano and a young woman sang the old hymns. It warmed my heart. It had been a long, long time.

Looking around there were no families, no young people (except for the worship leader), no one our age, no one my husband’s age. Even more striking, there were no college students.

None.

I remember the days our crew would fill up 2 pews.

Ruth sighed heavily.

Maybe this church wasn’t as healthy as it looked from the parking lot. This was confirmed by the building fund, as they were short on the mortgage budget. Why would they built this huge building without the money? Typical American church. Build it, they will come. Debt is a normal part of ministry! A church isn’t a church without a building! We can’t do the Lord’s work without Sunday School classrooms and a 12 channel soundboard!

This is why I left. This is why I attend a church plant without a building who worries more about getting meals to people in poverty. We don’t track demographics. We don’t have a children’s program, the kids can be the hands and feet of Jesus too, alongside their parents and the brothers and sisters in Christ. Being part of the body means an almost sober homeless guy will shout Amen at the end of every song, babies will cry during the sermon, and you’ll sit next to people you don’t know. You’ll sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter. The American church with their underused air conditioned sanctuaries, dress codes, whitewashed Jesus, and fake smiles does not work for me.

I like my church how I like my coffee: strong, sweet, and made from quality ground beans – beans ground on site, not by an industrial grinder in a factory. None of this instant or Keurig business. I want the real deal or I’ll go without.

The sermon was the equivalent of serving stale cereal without milk. I didn’t even crack my Bible. Gabe cited passages and then glossed over them with uninspired words.

This church was on a ventilator. A ventilator – or a vent as we call it – is a machine that breathes for you. It keeps people alive until they are able to breathe on their own or the plug is pulled. The problem with a vent is it can be difficult to come off it. The body gets used to the machine doing all the work, and like a child who doesn’t want to pick up their toys, it can be a sluggish ordeal to return to normal breathing. The longer the vent is used, the harder it is.

This church was not breathing on its own, and not because the congregation was elderly. No local mission work, very limited community involvement (the customary detachment in a sterile and controlled environment), no bible studies, no other groups using the church other days of the week. Youth groups were gone. No meals served. No presence on campus. A flyer from a Baptist association was in the bulletin. Corporate had arrived, as another drug pushed into this church’s veins, hoping to cure what ailed them.

Ruth and I left sad, both agreeing we wouldn’t attend this church if we still lived in town.

I don’t see it changing without radical actions. This church is stuck in a hospital bed on life support, unable to do the work of Jesus in the world.

Pray for a revival, that this church will once again be a lighthouse for the community, the college, and we can all celebrate it at the Feast of the Lamb someday.

Deborah

Deborah and I were not supposed to be friends.

She was a high school girlfriend of my then-college boyfriend and she was a nutcase. She was loud, annoying, and often came running up to my boyfriend and I in the university dining commons, greeting him with a big hug. They stayed friends, you see. I went out of my way to avoid her at all costs.

My boyfriend hosted a small gathering of friends at his house with the intent of getting drunk one night – my first foray into drinking. He and the guys left to get the goods from someone else – we were under age – and he had also invited Deborah who showed up just as they were leaving – I stayed behind.

I was stuck with her. Alone. I was livid.

I attempted guarded small talk with her only to be nice, praying the boys would be quick. As we chatted, we realized we had loads in common. When the guys came back with liquor an hour later, we were already old friends. Deborah and I were giggling and drunkenly hanging on each other as the night went on. My boyfriend just shook his head and smiled. He certainly had a taste for fun girls. I misjudged this one.

Our friendship quickly flourished into a strong bond of sisterhood as college rolled on. Our senior year we got an apartment together and painted it in the most ostentatious colors we could find, which included purple, lime green, blue, yellow, and neon pink. Her creativity and genuine personality complemented my own. Together, Deborah and I were unstoppable.

Our adventures were many: road trips that started at 11pm and ended as the sun came up, Spring Break in Florida (we ended up in St. Augustine/Disney when we realized the party in Daytona Beach was not our scene), and hosted legendary parties in our colorful apartment. 

Deborah also became my voice of reason: when the relationship with my boyfriend turned toxic, she called me out on it and assured me I would be okay when it ended. She was also a vocal opponent of my liaison with John (my friend with benefits), evident that it was not healthy long term. I leaned heavily on her in these times, perhaps more than I should have in hindsight. 

After college, she married her college sweetheart and we lived within an hour of each other. We went to concerts, saw indie films, and drank beer together. Her encouraging words urged me to re-evaluate my direction in life; she was the catalyst for refocusing myself to God and making better relationship choices. Deborah expressed dismay in my decision to leave Illinois and head into the unknown of North Carolina, but she knew I needed it. Deborah and Phoebe were the ones who locked up my apartment with me when I left for the coast.

After I moved, Deborah got pregnant and I met my husband. She morphed into a mom, while I pursued the traveling career girl route. We kept in touch sporadically, but when we met up, her conversations were limited to topics surrounding motherhood and my European adventures were all I could share, neither of us understanding the other’s experience. We had entered different worlds, and I was sad that the vibrant imaginative woman I knew was replaced with one who droned on about diaper rash.

Our communication became less and less. 

She had another baby by the time I hit my infertility phase. I never told her of my struggles. Occasionally we’ll exchange “How are you? I am great!” text messages. I haven’t seen her in years. I have no idea what she’s really like anymore, how her triumphs and failures have shaped her since our multicolored days as college students. I wish she could know me now, how I’ve changed for the better since college. Her social media feed projects a loving mother, a doting wife, and a confident executive. I know she is all of those things.

I wish I still knew the woman behind the smile.

Maybe years from now, Deborah and I will rekindle our friendship; we’ll once again reveal what’s in our hearts to each other over a drink, laughing about the good old days, caring for each other in the moment, and sharing our dreams of the future. 

I refuse to lose hope.

Sobering

“Sober means I’m not getting drunk. I have a glass of wine or a beer now and again. So what? It was never my intention to stop drinking forever.”

These words were hurled to me as I confronted my favorite addict after I found a poorly hidden empty bottle of wine. They claimed they were 75 days “sober.” And by their definition, perhaps. But for a known binge drinker, I doubt that’s the case. I’d also like to mention all this drinking was done in secret – as was their addiction; their family was oblivious, because they would have gotten upset. And rightly so.

The addict then proceeded to make me sound like I was the crazy one. A master manipulator, there was no confession of wrongdoing or relapse. It was in-your-face defiance with their version of sober. The bait and switch made me feel cheated, hoodwinked, and the structure of trust came crashing down; that will have to be rebuilt. Again.

I liken it to having an affair on my husband with a guy named John (this is for comparison only, I’ve never cheated on my husband). An event caused me to confess, with tears, that I was ending the affair, profoundly sorry for the pain I caused, and I was again faithful to my husband. And so the marriage rebuilds. Then, my husband comes home after work several months later to find another man’s coat had fallen between the couch and the end table. His heart races as he asks me who’s it is.

“Oh, it’s John’s,” I’d say. “He came over today to watch a movie with me. We’re not sleeping together anymore, we just hang out, go to lunch and stuff, and have been for awhile, I just didn’t tell you because you’d freak out about it. I said I would stop sleeping with him, which I have, not that I would never see him again. John and I have a friendship that goes way back and he’s so interesting and nice to have around! What’s so bad about me having a friend over? It’s not a big deal!”

My husband would not think this was okay. No reasonable spouse would think, hey she’s right, I’m totally overreacting! I’m sure something would happen down the road, regardless of my good intentions, and I’d wind up back in bed with John: past behavior is an indicator of future behavior, like credit scores. My husband’s anger would boil over and he would give me an ultimatum: John or him.

I would be angry back, saying it’s unfair just because I spent the past few years sleeping with John and now that I’ve mended my ways, everything is fine, and trust should be restored.

Yet this is the argument I’m having over 2 carbon atoms with a hydroxyl group hanging off of it – alcohol.

There will come a day in the not too distant future where a line will be drawn with that ultimatum: family or alcohol. Personally I’d choose alcohol: it has no accountability.
The entire premise for my addict’s continued use of alcohol all revolves around them and their wants and needs. The fact that their use is destroying their family does not register.

Perhaps that is the most heartbreaking part of this whole painful situation.

I covet your prayers at this time.

July: Break Dead Plant Cycle

I have a brown thumb. It is neither green nor black: plants either thrive or die for me. Most die, to be honest – but I have a prayer plant and several succulents still alive and prospering. Fruiting plants are my nemesis: they will make green leaves, flower, and fail to produce fruit.

The Dovecote is a blank slate in terms of landscaping and I am excited to get a design and plants in the ground. I doubt it will be this month due to travel and the heat of a Carolina summer.

I have a small garden of potted plants and so far they are happy. I hope to steward them well enough to break this cycle of dead plants and add them to my landscape design. I transplanted some ground cover (ajuga) and I am making every effort to water and check in on them. The smaller house I hope will draw my attention to them and not get lost in the shuffle.

My marriage, like some plants, has begun to wilt. It’s been a struggle lately, to the point of where we’re arguing even after a good day.

We need to break this cycle and restore the browning leaves and parched soil. I want bountiful green leaves, deeply seated roots, and soil conditions that encourage growth.

I want life to blossom on all fronts.

May in Review

The salty air caught me off guard. Had I been away so long from my ocean that I had forgotten? It’d been over a month since I trod on these sands.

I breathed in the the sweet ocean scent as much as I could. While the cool breeze kept me from sweating, the sun’s warmth comforted my aching soul. This month’s focus was letting go of anxiety, which has proved to be quite the task. I needed a time out from my worries, and the Atlantic coast was my drug of choice.

I skimmed through an old magazine, pausing every few pages to take in the scenery around me and to let my mind wander over the small breaking waves.

I tried to absorb as much sun as I could. It was as if I was solar powered, with my lights dimming from the lack of beach in my life. For a few moments, I was content. My worries were on the mainland while I was on the island.

I wish I could have bottled up that moment to relive it every so often.
Burdened with an anxiety disorder and selling a house with my husband, who is ill equipped to do so in my eyes, letting go of anxiety was difficult.

Long story short, we sold the house. My worrying did nothing to help this along, surprisingly enough. Our new house has 2 issues: a bum window and some flooring that is warping at the seams. I’m doing my best not to freak out. And then my parents, high strung perfectionists from the Midwest, have made our house a stop on their east coast road trip a few weeks after we move. What could possibly go wrong?

My rescue passage, Psalm 130, is written in German next to my computer at work. I’m slowly memorizing it. I whisper it to myself during the day. Some days, that was the only thing keeping me together. My feverent prayers for a buyer were replaced with a groaning spirit of prayer. I didn’t know what or how to pray for my situation. The Holy Spirit knew. My walks turned into a jumble of prayers and thoughts that went off on tangents. My prayer life reflects the current state of my old house: stuff everywhere, staged for packing, with no real order. And my bathrooms are disgusting. I’m not cleaning until the terminal clean for the new owners. I don’t have the time. Nor the patience. With my routine and way of life interrupted, rest has been scant.

I also started a part time job on top of it all. Because, yeah. Money.

My awesome non-medicated brain can not let go of the anxiety. Even the counselor said I can only contain it: I have tools to stuff it back into its box so its tentacles don’t invade other areas of life and rob me of the joy of living. Psalm 130 is one of them. I did my very best to beat the monster of anxiety into submission this past month – sometimes I was successful, other times I was not.

I leaned hard on the Lord this month, sobbing incoherently into His robes. I am ready to move on from this season of life.

Unless

“Show me how it ends
It’s alright.”
(So Cold by Breaking Benjamin)

In 2005 when I finally decided to get my personal life together and focus on the Lord, I was listening to a lot of alternative rock, like Breaking Benjamin. That spring, the line from that song resonated with me; I heard the line as, “Show me how it ends, it’s alright?” Who was I going to be in December? My fear was nothing will have changed and I’d be fighting the same battles. It wouldn’t be alright. Everything would be for naught.

That December I was a changed woman, and set sail for the east coast.

I find myself in the same situation this spring: we bought another house. We need to unload our current house, as now we are carrying 2 mortgages. The house has been on the market for nearly a week, with mild interest. We’ve already discussed lowering the price. We have to have allowances for carpet, probably windows.

I am freaking out. I’m having trouble eating with the anxiety attacks.

Friends who know the house assure me it will sell fast. A good friend of mine said the most comforting thing: I will be provided for. I am a faithful servant of the Lord and that will not be forgotten.

Oh, Lord, help us!

My Dad, who is an expert at doomsday scenarios, hit me with line of questioning as to why we didn’t have a contingency clause. Ever since that conversation, that large rock has returned to my stomach.

I find myself praying for less. It is such a weird concept in this world of constant needs and consumption. Lord, please take this portion, as I want to live with less stuff and more You!

To combat my brain going into overload, I’ve decided to pray the offices. It’s Catholic (sigh), but I do think it will help me reroute my thoughts/anxiety/energy. I divided the clock into quarters (0000-0300, 0300-0600, 0600-0900, 0900-1200, etc.) During these blocks of time, if I am awake, I will stop and pray. It will be for my house to sell at a reasonable price, and quickly. For my friends who are struggling with loss of a spouse, loss of dreams with spouse. Praise for a blog friend who’s years of prayer came to fruition this past weekend via a diamond solitare. Praise that I will keep going and serving where the Lord leads regardless of my real estate portfolio, debt to income ratio, and earthly needs/wants. In the meantime, I am on a spending freeze.

I need to have faith that He will provide. I just wish He could show me how it ends, I hate not knowing.

Is it going to be alright?

April: Live with Confidence

One of the perks of living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that you second guess EVERYTHING. Whether I am buying a house, a pair of socks, treating a patient, or making a life altering decision, my brain whispers, “Are you sure? What if you’re wrong? What if the exact opposite is true/better? How will you know? You need to think/pray/freak out more about this.” I am paralyzed by indecision and worry that my choice is wrong, either fundamentally or factually.

This month is going to require some confidence.

Heck, my entire life could use some confidence.

I’m closing on my 3rd house this month.  Yup – for those of you keeping score at home – I have owned more houses than cars (3:1). I have decisions to make about paint, decor, and where the silverware drawer is going to be in the kitchen. I have cleaning projects, landscape projects, and painting projects all lined up; most of them will be put on hold until I can unload my current property to conserve money. This is my new home, I have to own it and the decisions that come with it.

The loved one with an alcohol addiction combined with a new house that I’m 85% sure I like has been a bit more than I expected to be dealing with at this point. Nonetheless, the Lord shall provide.

I found this book about making decisions with a Christian-centric mindset, and it was like a breath of fresh air for me.  The basic principle was, “What does God think about non-moral decisions? How do I know God’s will for my life?” Mr. DeYoung proposes just to do something, much akin to throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it will stick – the fleeces we depend on are more out of our culture than the Bible. The Bible has much to say about living, but does not specifically address major life decisions such as, should I marry this person?  Should I buy this car? Obviously, seeking the Lord in all things, but sometimes He doesn’t give a clear answer. And so we act. The Lord will provide.

What does living with confidence look like? I’m not sure yet.

I need to pray about that some more.

Change & What Follows

My new gig is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced in my field before. It’s embarrassingly easy.

The first couple of weeks were nothing but solid stress. There was a large stone in my stomach, even while I wasn’t at work; that seems to be subsiding now. My two employees under me had the task to train me. One of them was so Type A it was nearly suffocating. The other was so Type B it was comical. I learned a lot from both of them, though. Luckily, I do not work with them on a regular basis; they only cover me when I am out.

I work alone in a glorified closet.

In between seeing a fraction of the patients I saw at my old job, there is a lot of free time. As a contract employee, I do not have to conform to the rest of my office mates. I exist for one job and I’m the only one in the building who can perform it. Everyone has been nice, but distant. I can’t figure out if it’s office dynamics, me being introverted, or if I’m disliked. I’ve been advised to keep a low profile as the office can be a bit of a shark tank. Nonetheless, I am left to my own devices.

At first, the free time seemed nonexistent, as I was trying to get my feet underneath me. Now I’ve settled in to a comfortable routine, with the things I was fretting over are now on autopilot. Or at least I think they are.

I’m taking this time to read news stories, watch my Twitter feed, write, and read. It’s an introvert’s dream. As soon as I get the funds, I’m purchasing a 20lb kettleball weight to work on my flabby arms. I started doing push-ups on the countertop and walking on a trail at lunch. I’m going to use this time to get myself in better shape and work on my writing. And I’m very excited about that!

In other exciting news, my husband and I got a buyer’s agent: we’re officially house hunting to downsize. I have a sense of peace about this. I’m only a little sad to lose my dream house. It’s so much to maintain, inside and out: as we get older, it will only become more of a burden.

And so everything is changing again. As the leaves are in the bud stage, with pollen everywhere, spring is here. And like the trees, I believe I am coming into season as well.

Bring on the summer.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

March: Do it with Prayer

I’m not much of a prayer warrior.  Truth is, I often get distracted by my own random thoughts or shiny objects.  It’s part of the reason I have embraced the contemplative prayer movement: extremely focused prayer for a short amount of time.  While looking through my list of objectives for 2017, “Do it with Prayer” fit well with March.

We have decided to sell our house.  It was at the tippy-top of our price range when we bought it in 2010, as the market had bottomed out.  We are comfortable here.  The house sits on a nearly an acre of woods and meets of all our needs.  Financially, we are doing just fine; heating and cooling this place takes a toll on those extreme weather days and I’m often freezing, but other than that, we’re not selling because it’s a burden.

We’re selling to downsize.  We want more money in the bank, less time with the upkeep, and cheaper utilities/taxes.  We have dabbled with the minimalist movement and our priorities are not what they were 7 years ago.  As life moves, we change.  And so because of this change, we’re moving.

Our current neighborhood can best be described as “variations on a theme.”  Our neighbors are nearly 90 and they just installed a chair lift, with the 2 staircases that lead to the living areas of our house.  My husband turns 50 in the next couple of years, and while he’s more active than a few twentysomethings we know, eventually, that will catch up with him.

We haven’t found a house to move into, although I found the perfect house a few blocks away – it’s significantly cheaper than our house, but still more than I was willing to pay.  But, it looks perfect from the real estate website.

And so, do it with prayer.

Praying for a house.  Not only a house, a home.  A home that I will more than likely die in or at least age significantly in.  We don’t want to move again.  The Lord will fulfill all my needs; I just need a smallish/cheapish house.  Where will that be?  And when?  And do we try to purchase it before we sell our mansion?

Also, I find myself still suffering from anxiety attacks at my new job.  The job has basically put me out to pasture in my profession: I do a fraction of what I went to college for and often find myself with loads of free time, which I plan to use for writing.  Nonetheless, I am freaking out about a temperature of a refrigerator.  I’m in charge of making sure the refrigerator stays at a certain temperature, and it was acting wonky the past couple of days.  I adjusted it, but I’m not there to monitor that adjustment.  If the temperature falls out of range, it could compromise the expensive contents of the refrigerator; contents that are essential to my job performance.

And so, do it with prayer.

Today I am praying for a new place to live that is far below our means.  I’m also praying for a refrigerator to maintain it’s temperature.  I gave my troubled niece a Bible for her birthday.  She started attending a church.  She has a scripture in her bio on Twitter.  I am praying for her salvation and for her to journey with the Lord.

So many heavy things.  So many trivial things.  C’est la vie.

Through this journey, I wonder how my prayer life will evolve through this lens.  Will we find a house?  Is my refrigerator happy?  Will my niece turn her life around with the love of the Lord?  Will my anxiety die down to a smoldering ash instead of this inferno in my chest?

And so, I do it with prayer.