While a lot of people in the Midwest look to get away someplace warm in the winter, especially those over fifty years old, my husband and I chose to take a brief three-day trip up to the Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior. Even though I’ve been going up to the Shore for over four decades, because of ministry demands, Christmas activities, sermons, extra services, and preparations, we have never went up in the winter.
It’s about a five-hour drive to reach our final destination but 2 ½ hours into it gives our first glimpse of the Great Lake where I immediately get this overwhelming sense of joy and peace. I breathe easier, smile more, and simply feel at ease when “I’m back” at the North Shore. Another two hours of driving brought us to one of my favorite cities, Grand Marais, where we hit up our usual eating establishment for lunch, the Blue Water Café, known as “The Meeting place in Grand Marais”! It always feels like we step back in time; people engage in intimate conversation; the atmosphere is relaxed; no one grabs a quick-lunch; and no phone orders are called in! It has a hometown, home-cooked feeling where everyone is welcome.
We heard soft Christian music in the background with one of our favorite songs “Where I Belong” playing as we settled in. Coincidence? I think not! The waitress kindly waited for us to finish singing before taking our order. An Advent book sat on the table so my husband read the days’ devotion to me. We prayed before eating and shortly after the owner came over thanking us for taking time to thank the Lord! Now THAT is COOL! He said it meant a lot for him to see us pray. Well, it meant a lot for me to witness his boldness in sharing our common faith in Jesus in his restaurant. If our get-away would have ended right then, it would have been perfect!
After a home-cooked lunch we meandered through the town unhindered by the swarm of tourists we’re used to. Many of the shops were either closed or emptied out, but there were enough open ones still so as not to leave empty-handed. Though the streets were practically deserted, and the cold air palpable, we still felt the warmth of this very special place; it’s innocence tangible as we passed the community board where two hand-written signs were posted, “Please use push pins” and “Please don’t pin the wood, use the board”. Simple, direct, kind, trusting requests making me smile, thinking we wouldn’t see that in the big city!
We drove another half hour to Hollow Rock resort where we unloaded the car and were immediatly struck by the noise of the thunderous waves, much different from what we hear in the summer, especially since there was no wind. The Great Lake waters were heaving, wave after wave crushing the shoreline to the point of being ominous. It was so intriguing we ventured out to the Hollow Rock in the lake even before unpacking inside, risking the violent waters as we leapt onto the rocks and climbing to the top. Once there, we gingerly looked down over the raging waters below, amazed by the sight and sound of so powerful a body of water, deafening but oh so beautiful! At that moment, all I could think is how much noisier and greater God is than the waters He created!
Psalms 93:4 “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea.”
The next morning we bundled up with boots, snow pants, coats, mittens, scarves, and hats for a chilly hike, eager to climb boulders, cross creeks, skip stones, and see all the sights God had ready for us this day! As we maneuvered the rock formations we discovered winter hiking is a bit trickier than summer hiking, not just because of the thin sheets of ice covering some of the boulders but also because of the cold temperature effects on our bodies. I would definitely insist winter hiking is all about “mind over matter”, in this instance, the “matter” being our knees! As we trekked up, over, and down enormous boulders, our limbs stretched to their limits, sometimes beyond what we thought was possible especially with all the extra clothing binding us!
It didn’t take more than a few jumps down from platforms to discover the shock absorbers in our knees weren’t absorbing the shock because of cold. It’s one thing to watch each other scale the huge north shore boulders but a whole other thing to see us come OFF those platforms! Let’s just say we didn’t “stick” many landings! Humorous just begins to describe what we must have looked like! I’m just glad no video cameras were around to capture our inelegant boulder dismounts!
The challenge and laughter were evident as we had several opportunities to “take one for the team”, stumbling forward to keep our balance. But I can proudly proclaim we both managed to walk away with no falls, even though it wasn’t pretty! And through it all, I still find the North Shore mesmerizing; the beauty of God’s creation breathtaking, the waves crushing the shoreline fierce and formidable; the surroundings giving a sense of being lost in space!
One time while taking a breather, sitting on a fallen tree, stripped of its bark over time and wear and tear of the waves, I closed my eyes and turned my face to the sun while soaking up the greatness of God, losing myself in the sounds of many waters! Then, I remembered my husband was along so looked for him only to find he had hollowed out a place in the rocks to lie down and take a snooze, soaking in the warmth of the sun as well. Though our winter clothing was adequate in protecting our bodies from the cold, the sun did a far better job, and the warmth of Jesus on the inside was better than those two put together!
I had this tremendous sense of completeness sitting by the Great Lake soaking in the Son/sunshine and wondered how I could take this back with me to the hustle and bustle, demands, and simple necessities of life! As I pondered this, Holy Spirit reminded me I could and I can! This “completeness” can be a lifestyle no matter where I am or what I’m doing. He reminded me of the beautiful Psalm I had just used in a message on overcoming worshiplessness. In an age where we are so consumed with “stuff”, worship is often relegated to thoughts of “going to worship” or “attending a worship service” instead of being a way of life! Completeness though is found in the Lord, wherever we happen to be in life!
Psalm 95:1-6 “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
I was experiencing the Rock, the greatness of God, the deep places of the earth, the heights of the hills, the sea and the dry land right there in Northern Minnesota! I was in His presence, worshipping and bowing down, kneeling before the Lord my Maker! And that’s not the only place I can come into His presence! I can worship and bow down anytime and anyplace! I can kneel before the Lord my Maker all the time! I didn’t need to leave this peaceful, serene feeling on the North Shore! I could take it with me! Of course, I already knew this but suddenly it was real and tangible!
I also knew it wouldn’t always be easy. But then again…climbing rocks on the North Shore wasn’t easy either. My muscles were pushed, flexibility tried, and endurance tested by climbing and exploring. At times it was exhausting, painful, and took effort. But I didn’t give it a second thought because I wanted to do it! I wanted to climb, to search out hidden treasures in the crevices of the rocks and in the woods along the lake. I wanted to scale the highest peaks of the rock formations and walk to the edge with that slight bit of trepidation, looking over at the water crashing far below. I wanted to take the risk to see beauty where those who aren’t willing will never see it.
Turning away from the things of this world capturing our attention won’t be easy. But then again… experiencing the greatness of God isn’t always easy either. As we exercise our spiritual muscles, push on in faith we get stronger, more flexible, and our endurance knows no bounds. Sure…it can be exhausting, painful, and requires great effort but we won’t give it a second thought when we want to do it! When we want to scale the heights of faith, practice being in His presence, seek His face, study His Word, and walk to the edge of ourselves, we will see everything crashing beneath us. We’ll see beauty others won’t see just by our willingness to risk losing “us” by dying to ourselves!
The pain in my body was swallowed up by the experience, the soreness gone in a couple of days while the memories stayed! Likewise, all the pain we experience in this lifetime is swallowed up in the journey we take with God; all soreness goes as we learn life lessons which transform us to live in His presence! Walking in faith requires some effort but where there is faith in Jesus, there is peace, hope, serenity, and everlasting joy!
Wherever you are in life – risk it all to live for Jesus! You won’t be sorry!