My Pure Michigan vacay

31 05 2010

Ah – home again, home again.  After a long weekend up north, I’d like to say it’s good to be home, but really I’d be lying.  Am I looking forward to the short work week coming up?  Of course I am, but going back to work this week means giving up days in the sun on the beaches of Lake Michigan, wearing flip flops everywhere and four-wheeling through the woods instead of commuting through metro Detroit. 

If you’ve never been “up north,” let me give you the rundown of how to properly enjoy a Pure Michigan vacation – or at least how I enjoyed mine. 

John, Squirrel, mom and I left for Jim’s (mom’s bf) cabin in Mesick Friday afternoon after pit stops for food and doubling back home for forgotten softball mitts.  The traffic was pretty much how you’d imagine it considering everyone else was headed the same direction we were.  We passed the time with a few rounds of car karaoke (including John’s epic renditions of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber), a random trip through Shepherd, Mich. past mom’s old stomping grounds and a late evening nap for me.  We didn’t do much when we finally got there except for listen to John hint about going back out for food.  He compromised by taking a bag of pretzel m&m’s to bed with him. 

John caught in the act: eating pretzel m&m's in the bed!


The next morning, mom and Jim made pancakes and sausage for breakfast before we left for Sleeping Bear Dunes.  The last time I made the 1.7-mile hike over the sand dunes to Lake Michigan was in 2008 with the team.  It was cool and overcast then and didn’t seem like a death march by any means.  This year, it took John, Squirrel, mom and I an hour and eight minutes to make the trek (one way).  I think at least one of us came close to a heart attack and all of our calves were sore the next day (except for mom in some unfair and bizarre twist of fate).  Before heading back, we relaxed on one of Lake Michigan’s many beaches.  This one was fairly private since not many people actually hike the whole way to the Lake. 

John on the beach after the death march over the Sleeping Bear Dunes.


When we finally got back to the car, it was definitely time to eat and take it from me, if an up north restaurant ever has beer-battered blue gill as the dinner special, you should definitely go for it.  Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire gets four stars.  before going back to the cabin for the night, we stopped to take in the sunset at one of the roadside parks overlooking the Manistee River.  We wrapped up the night by hanging out around the bonfire in the backyard, where you could see the stars like you’d never see them in the city. 

John and I at the roadside park a few miles away from the cabin. He's wearing his new "I climbed the dunes" t-shirt from Sleeping Bear.


Sunday morning brought another hot breakfast and a trip to the beach in Frankfort.  John only agreed to go if he wouldn’t be “marched over any dunes like an Israelite” which was hardly a problem in Frankfort.  We spent most of the day laying out in the sun, people-watching (and listening), walking out on the pier and lunching at the A&W drive-in.  We hit up the Dairy Maid for soft-serve before heading back to the cabin.  Jim grilled out for dinner and then John and I rode the four-wheeler until it got too dark. 

Squirrel jumping for joy at the Frankfort lighthouse.


On Monday, after some excellent French toast, John, Squirrel and I rode the four-wheelers to the dam and back before packing it up and heading back home.  

I can’t wait to go back up north.  There are so many places in both the upper and lower peninsulas that make great day trips.  The best part is, there’s no itinerary.  You don’t need to plan anything.  If you feel like going to the lake, you go.  If you’re too tired to wash the sand out of your hair before falling into bed, no one’s going to judge you.  And soft-serve two days in a row?  Perfectly acceptable.  Michigan is full of sandy beaches, inconspicuous roadside parks, majestic sand dunes and more dairy stands than you can shake a waffle cone at.  If you haven’t been up north lately, Pure Michigan is calling you.  Go get you some! 

The sun setting over the Manistee River.


Let your light shine…even accidentally

26 05 2010

One of my good friends at work has the responsibility to send out weekly customer service tips.  This week’s edition began: “Is it really Tuesday?  It’s time for another tip!  Trouble is, I really don’t feel like writing one.  Ever have one of those days?  What do you do?”  She went on to explain the importance of choosing to display a positive attitude rather than letting a negative attitude get in the way of success.  I think most people would agree that is good advice.  It’s also encouraging to know I’m not the only one who has an occasional case of the “I-don’t-wanna’s.”

This morning I was reading over some old emails.  I found one from John that he had sent the Wednesday before I ran my second full marathon.  The email brought to mind a number of different emotions.  We hadn’t been dating very long, but already John was a constant source of encouragement.  He already understood the mix of pressure and excitement I was feeling leading up to the big race.  Though he hadn’t run a marathon himself, he had witnessed the discipline, focus and training that are required to run 26.2 miles.  He found the perfect words for me – words that transcended running and bled into my life; words that had the power to stop me in my tracks and change my direction.  

As I read through the email and remembered how I had felt when I read it for the first time, I decided to pass it on.  I sent the following email* to my friend who just yesterday had a case of the “I-don’t-wanna’s.”

 Subject: Don’t feel like it?

Maybe you have seen this before.  John sent it to me before my second marathon, but it’s also really perfect for those days when we “don’t really feel like it.”

You are a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. You have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. You’re a disciple of His and you won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.  Your past is redeemed. Your present makes sense.  Your future is secure. You are finished and done with low-living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.  You no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotion, or popularity. You do not have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded.  You now live by faith, lean on God’s presence, walk by patience, are uplifted by prayer and labor by power.  Your face is set, your gait is fast, your goal is heaven. Your road is narrow, your way rough, your Guide reliable, your mission clear.  You cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. You will not give up, shut up or let up. You will go on until Christ comes, and work until Christ stops you. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.  BE LIKE THE MOON AND REFLECT THE SON.

The response I received: “Wow.”  Later that morning, she was telling another coworker (we’ll call her Kay) about the email.  “Forward that to Kay,” she said.  If forwarding the email was the only thing I was trying to accomplish at the moment, perhaps I wouldn’t have quickly forwarded the email to THE WRONG Kay.

Moments after hitting SEND, I send an email to the wrong Kay that basically consisted of sorry-I-sent-this-to-the-wrong-Kay-please-disregard.  In an attempt to shine light into the lives of a few people around me, I had accidently shined “outside the lines.”  Later, I got a response to my sorry-I-sent-this email: “I’m glad you did.”

When there’s something that changes you, something that defines your life and who you are, and you run after it with everything you’ve got, I think eventually you just start to bleed that.  Good or bad, encouraging or toxic, you bleed that something into the people around you whether you’re conscious of it or not.  You bleed it on purpose and sometimes on accident.  What are you bleeding into the people around you? 

Sometimes I’ve wondered how I’m supposed to shine.  When?  And where?  It’s so easy to let the whispers of “I can’t” or “I don’t feel like it” or “I’m not good enough yet” get in the way.  But if you really want to shine, even if you don’t quite know how, sometimes I think that’s when you shine the most – even if it’s just by accident.  Maybe the “wrong” Kay wasn’t the wrong one at all was she?  Be like the moon and reflect the Son.

Philippians 1:6

*The content of the email referenced above is a paraphrase of “The Fellowship of the Unashamed,” which was written by a young African pastor and found after he had been martyred.  What does it mean to you?  As always, you can leave your comments below.

My love/hate relationship with running

17 05 2010

So you know me as a runner.  You think I just loooove to run, right?  Right?  WRONG.  The funny thing about distance running is that it goes against everything my body wants.  My body wants to sleep in late and eat cupcakes.  Distance running mandates that I wake up before 5:00 a.m. for a long run and suggests I trade the cupcake for a nice ripe banana.  Like any good love/hate relationship, running and I are not always best buds.  In the beginning, running was just something I did for fun, then later to try for a ribbon at the state track meet.  By the time I entered junior high, running was something that was inflicted as punishment and it was hard to see it any other way, especially when I was introduced to the concept of “hell week” as a high school freshman.  Running became the torture you had to endure to actually get to the point where you could play the sport you actually signed up for in the gym instead of begin dragged around the track lap after lap. 

By my sophomore year, a 5K had become a warm-up for soccer practice and it became a distance that I started to enjoy running on my own.  In college, running became my weapon of choice against the freshman 15.  Soon the three-mile runs became five and six-mile runs and then, on a whim, I ran my usual five-mile loop twice for my first ten-miler in the summer of 2005.  When I started my senior year of college that fall, I figured ten miles was only a few miles short of a half marathon and I faithfully stuck to the 56-mile a week training program I had designed myself.  Despite what was probably a little bit of over-training, I finished my first half marathon in Detroit 1:46 – well under my goal time of less than two hours. 

During grad school, running became a sanctuary (along with rowing).  There was nothing better than a run around Michigan State’s campus the morning of a football game or rowing in perfect synch with seven other rowers down the Grand River on a sunny fall afternoon.  I ran the Turkey Trot in Detroit for the first time in 2007, just a few weeks before I graduated from MSU.  As was the case with so many other races I had run the metro Detroit area, I ran into Mike Stone, coach of the Detroit-based running club, the StoneSteppers.  I first met Mike in Royal Oak in 2005 at my second 10K race.  He was always trying to get me to train with the StoneSteppers and I had always wanted to, but I was always getting ready to go back to school.  This time, however, I was moving home in two weeks and promised Mike I’d be at practice the first Saturday I was home. 

I kept my promise even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I was the youngest member of the team and my teammates jumped at the chance to run “fresh meat” through the paces.  My hazing period lasted several months (I’m still not sure if it’s over) and included long runs in the snow, speed work, seeing the sun come up almost every morning from the road or track and lots of hilarious stories from my teammates.  When you hang around the StoneSteppers, you sort of just slip into whatever everyone else is doing.  As in “oh you’re at practice.  That’s great.  We’re training for the Detroit Free Press Marathon.  Now you are too.” Or maybe “you swim?  That’s great.  Now we can turn you into a tri-athlete.”  Within my first year of training with the team, I ran my first two marathons and my first Olympic distance triathlon. 

I couldn’t have accomplished so much without Coach Mike showing me how to train and do more than I ever thought I could or my teammates there to support me through long runs on mornings when I wished I would have stayed in bed.  Being around the team is a great motivator.  Between Mike belting out the Temptations as we stride down Woodward in the dark, Damon rehashing the previous night’s game with Tony and trying to catch Jackie, Kelly, Ron and Saleem, I forget how far I have to run and the pain in my feet or hips or knees and just relax and have a little fun.  I always have Lisa to push me for one more loop and Pam to ask, “you okay, buddy?” when I feel like death.  I love my team (Shout out to Mo D!). 

Through the years, running has taught me so much, not just about racing, but about life.  Running reminds me not to quit just because it’s hard or painful.  I know how to try and fail and keep trying because I run.  I know about the importance of rest and having fun because I run.  Running reminds me that life is better with people beside you to share in your triumphs and defeats.  I have run races in both ridiculous heat and bitter cold, through torrential downpours, poorly marked forest trails and fast-moving rivers, on brick roads and snowy grass.  I’ve blazed through races that seemed almost effortless as well as slogged across the finish line wondering how I let Coach talk me into this.  I know that I will always make it through – because I run. 

Even though sometimes it hurts, I will run for as long as I can for several reasons.  I’ll run because I can.  Injuries have reminded me what a blessing it is to run healthy and pain-free.  I’ll run because it’s fun to see how far I can go or how fast or how long.  I’ll run because a long run means I get to spend a few hours around a smart, fun, beautiful group of teammates who lift me up when I’m down and celebrate with me when I’m up.  I’ll run because sometimes, when you get past the first several miles and lock into a good pace, it starts to be fun. 

Non-runners will always be there to tell us we’re crazy or how dangerous running is and how I’ll end up with arthritis and bad knees, but Coach will always be there trying to get us to run one more three-mile loop around Palmer Park in Detroit in a thunderstorm.  But there’s something about crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles and getting a big shiny piece of bling hung around your neck.  There’s something about running until you think you can’t and then running just a little bit more.  The difference between marathoners and non-marathoners is like the difference between men and women.  I can imagine what it might be like to be a man, but I’ll never understand it. You can imagine how 26.2 miles feels (masochistic), but until you run it, you won’t really understand.  It might seem a little crazy and maybe it is.  I think a little crazy is probably good for me. 

So I hate you, running for the havoc you’ve wreaked on my muscles and joints, the gastrointestinal war you’ve caused my body to wage against me on race days and long runs and the blissful morning’s of sleep that you’ve ruined with a 4:45 wakeup call.  But I love you for the great races, the heart-to-heart talks I’ve had on long runs and the limits that don’t hold me back anymore.  I love/hate you, running, for better or for worse. 

Coach and I before the Detroit Free Press Marathon in 2008 going over last-minute race strategy. Coach is a hero to me and many people who know him - he's one of the reasons I love running.

Happy Mother’s Day

9 05 2010

It’s Mother’s Day.  My mom’s in Texas having what my sister would refer to as a “blasty blast” and I’m on the way home from the wedding of my beautiful friend Suzanne.  Don’t worry, I never blog and drive – John’s behind the wheel.  I’ve been thinking a lot today about the love that has been poured into my life not only by my mom, but also by her mother and the many aunts God has placed in my life.  I owe so much to these women who continue to teach, pray and love long after their children are “adults.”  The words “thank you” don’t seem to even scratch the surface of the recognition they deserve, but I’d like to thank and honor the moms in my life just the same. 

Mom, thank you for being my greatest supporter: for sitting in butt-cramping bleachers, for coming to games, races, matches and graduations.  Thank you for not just showing up on “game day,” but for being there behind the scenes for the training and the struggles that not many people ever see.  Thank you for being my friend.  As I grow older, I am so thankful to have your listening ear, your encouraging words and the knowledge that no matter how crazy life gets, you’ll always love me.  I’ll always love you, too. 

Aunt Gwen, thank you for being my faithful advisor.  You are often the first one I turn to when I need someone to give it to me straight.  Your advice is never sugar-coated and always comes from a heart of love.  Thank you for helping me see light and hope when I can’t find it on my own.  Thank you for encouraging me to try new things, be independent and squeeze every last drop of fun out of life.  I am so blessed to have you as an aunt. 

Aunt Enid, thank you for being my second mom.  Thank you for showing me how to live with grace, especially in the face of adversity.  Thank you for speaking wisdom into my life.  Thank you leading by example and running hard and fast towards Christ.  I look forward to your hugs and just being in the presence of your warm, kind spirit every time we get to see each other.  I love you so much!    

Debi, thank you for being you.  You are a blessing to everyone around you.  I have never met anyone as patient, giving and humble as you are.  You always try to give the best to everyone around you and I want you to know that for me and for those who are blessed to know you, your best is so much more than enough.  If I am meant to be a mother, I hope to be a mom like you. 

Grandma, thank you for everything.  Thank you for taking care of us when we moved out here.  Thank you for the calm and balance you bring to the raucous tornado of a presence I bring to family events.  Thanks for the awesome mixer I use to bake John dessert.  Most of all, thank you for always, always praying for me and for always being hopeful I’ll become the woman you have always known I was created to be. 

As you can see, I have a whole lineup of amazing women in my life.  God must have known I was a little too much for just one mother to handle  – and He was absolutely right.  Luckily for me – and for the world – I have an awesome mom, grandma and aunts to be there behind me and beside me: praying, teaching, hoping, loving – and occasionally painting the town red!  I am so blessed to be in this sorority of women.  I love you all.  To my mothers and mothers everywhere: Happy Mother’s Day! 

L-R My Aunt Enid, Mom and Aunt Gwen.