Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lessons from the Lakes

When Chuck and I first met last fall in the Smokey Mountains, we began dreaming of all the places we looked forward to showing each other...I wanted to show him the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the autumn; he wanted me to see the colors, lakes, and waterfalls of Michigan in the fall.

The leaves were approaching their peak as we traveled through Michigan.

Well, a year after meeting in October, Chuck took me on a weeklong vacation touring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, first staying on Mackinac Island, and coming home along Lake Michigan through Wisconsin. It was a bucket list getaway for us that took place during my most favorite season of all.

Early morning on Mackinac Island, the streets wet with rain.

Our vacation just happened to coincide with one of those weeks when I watched life events unfold around me that left me shaking my head in disbelief, and feeling very, very sad. It just seemed that trials kept happening to people I cared about, and there was nothing I could have done to change the events that left people hurting.

Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

The backdrop for all of this sadness was such a sharp contrast to how I felt because my husband and I were enjoying the fall leaves, and celebrating Chuck's 56th birthday that week. I was surrounded by such stunning scenery, and spending time with my sweetheart. I felt such guilt as I fought to keep tears from brimming my eyes, and struggled to keep my composure as we drove from one scenic spot to the next.

Near Munising, Michigan

What could be so troubling, you may wonder, and why was it affecting me so deeply? What was happening around me? Life, plain and simple. Ordinary things that happen every single day  to people I don't know were now affecting people close to me: death, loss, illness, canceled plans, unrealized dreams. 

A loved one went to bed one night, and didn't wake up the next morning; a young life ended way too early. A friend's father died who was one of the most beloved bus drivers at my elementary school. My oldest called to say that somehow the settings on his camera had been changed, and the thousand shots he took this month had all been shot at the lowest resolution. (If you are a photographer, you know this is a big deal.) We had to cancel my husband's birthday celebration planned with his boys and parents so no one else caught whatever the terrible virus he was battling at the end of our journey. A road trip with my younger son to celebrate his 18th birthday looked like it was not going to happen. My daughter's life was in limbo, as she was deciding to leave California, and head back home to Utah. And I couldn't deny that lethargy seemed to be taking me over, and there was an annoying tickle in my throat that made me nervous about flying to Utah the day after our vacation ended. 

One evening in Munising, we stopped at a local market to buy a chocolate birthday cake and food for a few meals, and while Chuck was paying for our groceries, I perused the greeting cards, hoping I'd find a special card for my son. I picked up a card whose front said, "I thought I loved you the day you were born," and inside were the words, "But my love for you has grown so much watching you become the amazing person you are." A mist started to form on the inside of my sunglasses, and I put the card back, thankful for the dark glasses that hid my tears from Chuck and the other shoppers. I didn't want to ruin his birthday with my melancholy mood. I missed my kids so much.

Falls near Munising, Michigan

There was a rising sense of panic that I needed to gather my children around me, to know they were safe and sound, that they knew how deeply I loved them, and that I wanted to make sure I took every opportunity to tell them "I love you." Chuck suggested I call them, and tell them. I was worried I would burst into tears, so I sent frequent texts while we were gone, checking on them, and reminding them of my love.

It seemed that everywhere I turned, all I could say to friends and family was "I'm so sorry. I feel your pain. I have been where you are." And I had to trust that everything would work out the way it was supposed to. Sometimes there is just nothing that can fix what has happened. What's done is done, and all we can do is help our friends pick up the pieces, and start over.

Tahquamenon Falls

When I relinquish the ridiculous notion that I can control any of the variables that affect the lives of my loved ones, it doesn't change much of anything, except my reaction, which in all honesty, is the only thing I get to control anyway. When I am at peace with uncertainty, I feel more calm. When I learn to let go of those things I can't change, I become unstuck, and I can start living again. When I take stock of the situation, I realize that everyone deals with loss, pain, and suffering. Nothing lasts forever. That is very reassuring when we are going through trials of our own, and reminds us to enjoy the fleeting moments of joy that come our way while they're here.

We were surrounded by water as we traveled along Lake Michigan, and then went to Mackinac Island which is surrounded by Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. There were waterfalls galore near Munising, Michigan, which borders Lake Superior. We spent a lot of time watching the lakes. It gave me time to think.

The waves pounding the shore of Lake Superior

As I took in the scenery, I realized how life is fluid, like water. It ebbs and flows. There are births and deaths; highs and lows; torrential downpours and drought. Both water and our lives can be turbulent one moment, and peaceful the next.Watching the waves of Lake Superior crash on the shore, reminded me of the terrifying power water has when it unleashes its fury. When we watched a small rowboat cross a lake that was smooth as glass, feelings of peace and calm washed over me. 

The still waters above the falls of Tahquamenon, Michigan.

Just like life events, water will not be controlled by the efforts of a lone individual. Consequences are set in motion by choices and actions of those we love. Hearts soften, they sometimes break, and sometimes, hearts simply stop beating. We need to appreciate the power and the beauty of nature, and respect the forces at work around us. 

The harbor on Mackinac Island

In our wedding vows, Chuck and I promised to be each other's safe harbor, to be a soft spot to land when the world seems harsh. 

During that challenging week, I finally opened up to Chuck about my sadness. I cried, and he held me, and loved me through it. He didn't fix it. The problems didn't go away, but I felt strengthened by his love, and knew he would sit with me as I wrestled with my troubling thoughts. 

Each morning, we welcomed the sunrise on the docks of Mackinac, and each evening, bid the sun goodnight as it set over the water, beyond the bridge. There is something so reassuring in the rhythms of life. Even as the sun was setting at the close of day, I knew that it would rise again the next.

We know there will be endings; we also know there will be new beginnings. We get another chance with each new day. There is some comfort to be found in knowing the sun will rise with its warmth and light after a long night of darkness. 

Watching the waves of Lake Superior.
What can we do when it seems we have no control over the events around us, and the waves of life are crashing down around the ones we love? We can observe. We can sit in companionable silence with our loved ones as they mourn, and appreciate what has been, and look forward to good things to come. We can live in the moment, and try not to force things we cannot control. We can cherish what we had, and be grateful for what we still have. We can let go of our pain, and accept the peace that comes from letting go. While we can't always fix everything, and make everything better, we can offer our love, and our support to others until the storm subsides, and the seas become calm again. 

The storm will subside, you know, as hard as that is to believe in the thick of it; the seas will calm. We can take comfort in knowing that whatever is troubling us won't last forever. We need to be patient.

The sun will rise on a brand new day, and until it does, we need to hang on until the morning. The darkness won't last much longer, and when it is over, we will discover strength we didn't know we had, and tender mercies we may have overlooked. 

The lessons I learned at the lakes reminded me of the comfort we can find in the rhythms and cycles of life. It may take awhile, but the solace we're seeking is there, just waiting until we are ready to let go, and just be.


  1. This is your best writing ever Denise. We all go through this and I have always held in my heart that the sun ask nothing from us as it comes up everyday to brighten our lives. I needed this more then you know. Thank you for reminding me of my own mantra.. I love you

  2. Thank you, Rhonda. I'm sorry for whatever it is you are going through right now. I wish you the best. Love you, too.


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