It is possible to be a person who exists on this earth and not be overly smitten with competitive spirit, but you might not know that if you live in Michigan. That person would be me. Ever since I moved to Michigan twenty-something years ago, I have watched the Michigan State (MSU) - University of Michigan (UM) war. Shortly before I moved here from Southern California, I found a sweatshirt that said “Michigan” on it in a local store. The sweatshirt was a nice bright green and the word “Michigan” was a sharp gold color. For those of you who don’t know, MSU’s colors are green and white, while UM’s colors are blue and gold - and they don't mix them. So here I come with my green and gold sweatshirt, and people questioned me about it because it was confusing for them. But I didn't even know it was confusing, because I didn't' know about the rivalry - and I ended up having some strange conversations about it - and I noticed you can’t buy shirts like that here in Michigan. Stupid California sweatshirt maker.
I have seen some pretty bitter battles and watched tempers rise as one side or the other taunted and bragged over a victory. I've watched a few games and tried to conjure some emotion and excitement, but it just doesn't work for me. I simply don’t care. Sarah, on the other hand, flies off her nut and becomes a madwoman with her intensely competitive spirit. She is a die-hard UM fan and I doubt that will ever change. I remember once, UM lost a football game. Now, I am sure through the years UM has lost many football games, but this one time I happened to see Sarah right after the loss. Boy, she looked angry. But I didn't realize she was really, really, mad. I didn't know she was all that invested in UM. I thought she was sort-of faking it because seriously, who cares if they lost? It’s not that big of a deal, right? Then I made a joke about it. Apparently, my joke wasn't funny, and I waaayyyy underestimated her emotional state.
Sometimes I marvel because I just can’t get into it. Sports’ teams wins or losses don’t affect my life, not even a little. Not even a smidgen - however small that is. My life just rolls along unaffected by the Super Bowl, March Madness, World Series, or Stanley Cup competitions and wins or losses. The sun rises and the sun sets. I won’t lose a wink of sleep over the loss of a game. And I find it hard to understand the depth of emotion involved in sports’ rivalry. I can’t understand it, but I like it.
I like it because the very idea of so passionately supporting a team brings people together with a sense and feeling of community, and I feel like our cyber-driven world is causing us to lose that camaraderie. Last weekend I was at the Livingston County Home and Garden Show. I met a lot of very interesting and wonderful people. One woman and I talked for several minutes. She asked how we were going to determine if the people who come to the food truck for a hot meal are really in need of that meal. It's a good question; I get asked a lot. I told her I figured if they came to the truck, they must have some type of need, and I would feed them and talk to them without worrying about seeing a paycheck stub.
Standing on top of a mountain and soaking in the pulsing life of the valley below. Waiting, poised at the edge of the ocean while the water washes in and out, gradually creeping higher. Bursting out of a cool forest into an unexpectedly warm and sunshiny meadow filled with the flowers of spring. Running and running down a dusty desert road with a hot wind blowing and buffeting unceasingly. Listening to a river flow swiftly through the middle of a densely green, incredibly bright, forest. Soaking up the sun while gazing over the unreal beauty of an aquamarine sea. There is something fiercely wonderful about the myriad ecosystems in the world of nature.
It is very difficult to conceive of the idea that such stunningly intricate and perfectly formatted environments just randomly came together. And the connection and peace that floods the soul and the self when immersed in natural creation is rare to find among man made and construed surroundings. The human mind can dream and construct but in the end what is produced is based on what already is. The colors, smells, sights, sounds and overall sensory impact of nature often inspires people to strive to imitate what nature brings just by existing.
In Romans 1:20 - Paul writes, “ For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” There is a compelling beauty in the world which resonates in our souls and screams of a Creator. Spending time in nature refreshes and renews us.
Because when we experience the raw beauty and majesty of nature - we draw close to the heart of the Creator. We acknowledge our smallness while sensing our greater purpose. If so much care was taken to get the colored hues of the world of nature exactly the way they should be - with the ability to cause breath to catch and hearts to beat faster - how much more care was taken to get every molecule of human creation exactly in place as it should be?
When I was in 8th grade, a new boy moved to Carl Sandburg Jr High. His name was Mike, and my friend Cyndi and I really thought he was cute. Cyndi, however, had a boyfriend already - so we decided I would invite Mike to the upcoming Sadie Hawkins dance. Unbeknownst to me, Cyndi struck up a conversation with him in one of her classes and told him I would like to invite him to the dance. She later reported this to me - along with his answer. He told her he was going to watch me the next day and then make a decision. Cyndi brimmed with plans and ideas to help me behave in such a way as to encourage Mike to want to attend the dance with me. She told me what to wear and how to do my hair.
I followed her advice, and the next day came to school looking my best, well, according to Cyndi, anyway. It was an incredibly miserable day. Cyndi stuck by my side like glue and watched for Mike constantly. She would whisper directions to me - like, “stand up taller”, “smile and joke with me, he’s looking”, “fix your hair”, and, “for heaven’s sake, don’t let him see you reading that book!” I felt like a puppet, being yanked first one way and then the next. And I really started to question Mike’s character, too. What the heck was he looking for? And did I really want to go out with someone so shallow? I didn't feel like me and I didn't feel like I could be me because of Cyndi’s continual corrections. At the end of the day, I was exhausted, and I told Cyndi even if Mike wanted to - I wasn't going to the dance with him. I never spoke to him, or smiled at him or had anything to do with him after that day.
I was thinking recently how much of life is spent worrying about what other people think and making decisions and choices based on that. For many years of my life, I was in what I almost feel was a “Christian clique”. We talked the same, projected the same images, condemned the same behaviors, built each other up, served in the same ministries, voted the same way and lived rather sheltered lives. We comforted ourselves when other people got upset with our ways, by convincing ourselves we were on the narrow road, and, of course people would hate us - they hated Jesus, didn't they? I have to admit, it felt good to belong somewhere. We all want that, I think. To belong. But sometimes the cost is high because when we worry too much about what everyone else will think or say or do, we lose who we are created to be. And we can miss out on relationships with other people who are wonderfully, creatively, beautifully made - yet have different viewpoints, ideas, and thoughts from us.
I am at the point in my life now where I don’t really care what people think about me. I am following God and sometimes He prompts me to do things I would never have done before - and that is a good thing; I didn’t show much love and compassion before. And I don’t think people saw much Jesus in me - I think they felt judged instead. By allowing the people around me to dictate how I should act and who I should be, I missed out on opportunities to be light and salt to the world, and in my mind I can still see the pain in people’s faces when I rejected them so coldly in my zeal to be “spiritual”. I was wrong, and I have changed. I know who I am, and I know who God is teaching me to become. I won’t be jerked around by the fear of rejection or controlled by what people think any longer, because I want to be me.
I know Winter sucks. And I know this past winter was the coldest and snowiest in 130 years. I know it is nerve-wracking driving on slippery roads and the endless stream of cloudy days is downright depressing. It is a drag to put on and take off boots and gloves and hats and scarves multiple times per day. It is also tiresome trying to stay warm and look fashionable and professional under layers of clothing. Exercising indoors takes a toll after a while, as well - treadmills do the trick, but there is nothing as refreshing as an outdoor run or walk. Having said all that - I can’t help but notice something about my attitude as Spring draws nearer.
I am feeling a bit - victorious, I believe.
There is something invigorating about making it through those long dark days of winter. Yes, I slipped and fell - more than once, I might add - but I got back up! Yes, there were many white knuckle drives to work - but I got there! Yes, there were no-pay snow-days - but I got my bills paid! Yes, there were days where I just had to shut the blinds because the snow made me want to scream - but those days passed. Yes, the biggest disappointment of all was the affect the polar vortex had on the food truck - but I learned so much!
This Winter I found myself forced to develop a resiliency I wasn't particularly looking for. I think we all did - and one way or another,we got through. Somehow, we drove for hours each way to work, and found babysitters for the kids, and breathed even when it hurt. We posted unbelievable temperatures on Facebook and Tweeted the record-breaking wind-chills. We pulled together and sympathized and encouraged each other by laughing when we wanted to cry. We donated supplies and food and prayed for those who weren’t as fortunate as us. We replaced dead batteries and windshield wipers and alternators and heaters. We dealt with broken pipes and worn-out furnaces. We lost gloves and found gloves and bought gloves and shared gloves. We faced skyrocketing heating bills by doubling up on blankets and wearing our coats at home.
We hung in there and kept on going and all of a sudden - March is here!
And the worst Winter in 130 years is on its way OUT!
Polar Vortex 2014 leaves behind a hardy bunch of resilient, and at least for me, grateful, people. Even though I grumbled with the best of grumblers during my lowest and coldest and weariest points these past few months, I am grateful for them. For one thing, I made a deal with myself before December came this past year: I told myself I would not complain about the weather on Facebook even ONE time - and I didn't! I looked and looked for the positive and found it over and over again and that makes me happy.
I was also determined not to get discouraged with the food truck, no matter what happened, and I admit, there were times I had to talk and pray myself back up - but I never completely despaired. (And I only punched it once.) Despite the frustrations and discouragements - I gained a wealth of knowledge I would never have received had this winter been any different.
We did it, guys. It’s almost over. In just a few short weeks, Spring will be here. Look around! The trees are budding. The robins are back. Flowers will be pushing up through the ground. And we are still here. Still strong. Still fighting. Still joyful. Still blessed!