Fall Ride

Fall riding along Huron River Drive in 2012

Fall riding along Huron River Drive in 2012

No matter how busy we are or how many deadlines loom or broken items needing fixing,  my wife and I always find time to take a fall ride each autumn.

We follow a pretty basic plan. We pick a Saturday or Sunday preferably when autumn color is at or near its peak and head out with a couple guest riders, often my wife’s sister and mom. We drive a hundred or so miles along tree-lined roads.  Every now and then, we pull over to gawk and snap a few pictures.

Fortunately we live in heavily wooded Michigan that is blanketed top to bottom with deciduous hardwoods that change color before dropping their leaves.  Contrasting hardward stands are prolific evergreens providing marvelous contrast while softening every landscape with their lush fullness.

Fall at home, 2010

Fall at home, 2010

As I write, trees right outside our home are bursting with autumn foliage.  Although outside temps are cool, I have a window cracked open to the let the crisp air in and to hear the breezes that are beginning to send leaves to cover the ground below.

Although I will never tire of this season, as much as I can wax eloquent about autumn’s magnificence, to think is but a dim reflection of our loving God whose creation autumn is part of sends shivers through me.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known,” wrote Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB)

Likewise wrote the psalmist:

“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him (meditate) in his temple.

(Psalm 27:4, NIV)

As I can never imagine tiring of autumn, what could gazing on the beauty of the Lord be like?  I am but a mortal, “living in darkness… in the land of the shadow of death.“ So wrote the prophet Isaiah regarding the people the Messiah would come to save, me and you - us. (See Isaiah 9:1-2 and Matthew 4:12-16).

The land of the shadow…. “Farewell to Shadowlands” is the title C.S. Lewis gave the final chapter of “The Last Battle,” the seventh and final book of his Chronicles of Narnia. Telling of the known end of Narnia, the characters are drawn by the “Glorious One” to dwell with him in eternity.

As they journey “further up and further in,” timelessly traversing centuries in seconds, one of those who arrived earlier and serves now to escort the newcomers tries to explain, “It is far bigger inside than it was outside….The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

"Larger on the inside than the outside..."  A description of God’s kingdom or church that seems so insignificant in the day-to-day life of most Americans?

More and more, we Americans live in a world of our own making that seems so real and relevant. So enlightened, scientific and technological are we that an illusion of being impenetrably unshakable is not so far-fetched.

Then something happens that so unceremoniously flicks us from our fortress that we are shaken to the core - a wind or flood or fire or cancer, a power outage, break-in, downsizing,  health crisis or death….

Meanwhile all along on our carefully crafted way, creation quietly beckons beside roadways and bursting through the crevices of our pavement. Ever and always behind creation is creation’s Creator.

Autumn is one of nature’s calmer and friendlier expressions.  Take heed as autumn awaits to puts on its show just for us to enjoy...perhaps also to be drawn into its mystery.

Quiet Please!

Morning stillness near Elsworth, MI

Morning stillness near Elsworth, MI

Visiting friends last weekend in their lovely cottage home in northern Michigan, the notable quiet of the region struck me our first night there.  I noticed immediately as my head hit the pillow the profound lack of city din - just the dark stillness unbroken by city lights.

Now I do like our home neighborhood, an attractive and peaceful place offering the blessings and curses of suburbia.  Conveniences that support our work, shopping, visiting and busy lifestyles also press into our beings to keep us in a constant state of agitation. To escape “up north” requires jumping onto a convenient road until we “exit” onto a less convenient but slower-paced one that winds over, around and through woods and farms and small towns.  

Driving leisurely, we enjoyed the ride until we arrived at our friends’ getaway perched atop a land swale overlooking rolling, treed lands on one side and a huge bay on the other that opens onto Lake Michigan, one of five “great lakes,” three that envelop our mitten-shaped home state.   

Just after arriving, we were treated to a stunning sunset over the bay followed closely by a robust rainstorm that rolled in to wash the land with much-needed refreshment.

Due to a series of job changes over the last year that had me always earning my place in another new pecking order, I haven’t been able to take time off for a little getaway.  When our friends graciously invited us up for quick weekend, we readily accepted.  

After getting off the highway, we drove atop yellow-striped, black-topped roads that I’ve grown to love and often use as imagery for reflecting on my journey through life under God’s tutelage.  Just a few miles from our friend’s place is the stretch of M88 that has served as the banner for Road Report Journal since its launch in 2012.

No need to talk to me about regular respite.  I am very intentional about building plenty of it into my life such as morning devotions, Saturday morning writing and a prayer meeting, reading, and scenic walks and drives with my wife….

Back when my work schedule was more set and predictable, we took annual, two-week vacations that usually involved camping in the woods, often near a lake or river or mountain far away from city din.

While on the one hand, God created our bountiful earth just for us humans to live, work, play and commune with neighbors and build community, we rebelled against his intent to draw from and trust, acknowledge and honor him every moment. Mercifully, he refrained from ridding creation of us by allowing us to pursue life according to us while also hatching a “Mission Christ” redemption strategy to win us back into his fold.

I wonder what life would be like had we not rebelled?  Not that urban congestion and noise would not be part of our lives but maintaining connection and relationship with God would be normal and common.  Perhaps escape would be unnecessary since relating to and honoring God would be a part of our regular life pattern.  

Thankfully, God’s Christ strategy included conscripting certain people down through the ages for key roles while also compiling the unfolding story into a grand read we know today as “the Bible.” There we  find plenty of context and insight for how to live for him in a creation spoiled by our rebellion.

On looking to nature for cues:

  • Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy (Psalm 96:11-12, ESV)
  • “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12, ESV)

On God speaking into our stillness:

  • “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
  • He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  (Psalm 23:2, ESV)
  • But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:2, ESV)

Of course, Jesus himself walked the talk as he invited his apostles to ‘“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.” (Mark 6:31-32, ESV)

He urged that  “...when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) while also modeling his own advice.

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)

As his story resonates in my being, I gratefully incorporate regular quiet into my life and, occasionally, with a little help from my friends, more extended doses of it. 

Nature: Listening or Suppressing?

For lawn-loving Do-It-Yourselfers, Scotts 4-Step program

For lawn-loving Do-It-Yourselfers, Scotts 4-Step program

If we are paying attention, seasonal transitions bear powerful messages.  Take note as spring finally arrives to Michigan.  

Winter 2016-17 was light on snow but featured many stretches of cold, damp, sun-starved days. Notwithstanding the plethora of Michiganders who complain about snow, at least snow can be played in.  Snowless winter along with damp cold essentially renders the out of doors uninhabitable.

Impotent winter also makes for long, SLOW shifts at the hardware store where I work.  Pallets of salt and rows of snow shovels and ice scrapers and aisles clogged with snow blowers intended to tame and suppress winter are bypassed by customers heading to consider paint colors instead.  

While some form of each season is assured every year, we humans devote more attention to suppressing nature than tuning to its voice.  Despite our considerable knowledge and wherewithal, nature puts up formidable resistance to our best attempts to tame and suppress it.

In spring and summer, nature suppression shifts from reducing ice and snow impact to eliminating impediments to growing desirable foliage. Here in suburbia, the surest money bet regards growing great grass and controlling invasive weeds.

In the hardware business, Scott’s 4-Step program is a popular lawn fertilizing program for the DIY crowd.  Step 1 is a crabgrass preventer and lawn food that works best if warmer temps arrive in early April. If winter’s cool lingers a little too long, customers skip to the second weed and feed step.

This year spring held back so crabgrass preventer sales lagged after initially surging.  Even though May just arrived, everyone is already onto weed and feed with store supply barely meeting demand.

Untamed nature features varieties of plants indigenous to climate and countryside. Lawn-loving people on the other hand prefer graded ground, lush, weedless turf and plantings of trees and cultivated bushes and flowers arranged in fanciful contours.  Nature manifests fine as the elements dictate, but humanity’s taming requires considerable earth-rearranging, chemical combos and inordinate amounts of water.  

Recommended water consumption for a person is about a half gallon a day.  That's 3.5 gallons each week.  A healthy lawn needs about an inch of water a week, 3,100 gallons for a 5,000 square foot lawn - enough to sustain 885 people!

Having a sparse budget for landscaping, I fertilize sparingly and water almost never.  However, I can toil for free!  Thanks to my part-time job, I have more time available to be outside during the day to experience and observe spring’s arrival and manner.

I'm slowly coming around to thanking the Lord for clearing this space in my life to simply abide by what he brings.  Where I live, the peacefulness of our sedate neighborhood while everyone else is off at their day jobs is violated by the busy M5 highway nearby imposing its considerable din on all the nature it cuts through on its way to wherever.

Yes, God charged his first people to steward his creation, but rebellious humanity inclines more toward manipulation and suppression of nature than listening for the rhythms and revelation nature prefers we tune our lives to. Meanwhile, nature seems to allow our imposition to recast it into something other than what God had in mind for us to do with it. However, its true power is really his, hiding just beneath its seemingly sedate surface, far surpassing ours.  

Meanwhile, nature most often presents as kindly, winsomely inviting us with its refreshment, wonder and inspiration.  As you pause to listen, be mindful that nature is created, not Creator. Nature draws us beyond, not to, itself to its Gardener ... and ours.  

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
— Romans 1:20, NLT