Stacie Longwell Sadowski, September 1, 2012
I have a rock collection. It is made up of the smooth beach rocks I have picked up over the years on the shores of Lake Michigan. Every time I am there praying, I walk and pick up a rock as a reminder of that prayer and of my connection to God. The rocks are in my car, in all of my purses, stacked in my bathroom, and stacked on my desk at work. They line window ledges in my house and serve as small mementos to rub and hold until they are polished by my hands. Or there are the larger ones that are palm sized; they are a grounding tool. Their cool solidity serves as a reminder of what is real when things get unreal. Different locations on the shore contain different shaped rocks, produced by the unique wave action and water conditions present. The rocks are all rounded by tumbling in the sand below the water; some are perfectly round and they have varying degrees of flatness. Some are so flat they would be perfect skipping stones if I could truly let go of them and send them off across the water. But I hang onto my prayers.
The Lake Michigan shoreline is a sacred space for me, and has been since I was a kid at church camp, worshipping outdoors on a bluff overlooking the Big Lake. Seeing water with no land on the other side, the endless possibilities, stirs the imagination and suggests the Infinite. So, that’s where I go to meet God. Never fails, He’s always there, and I’m always praying.
The lake always speaks differently, sometimes the waves are gentle and quiet, other times crashing. The color of the water is magical, changing from one visit to the next. I always come away from time at the shore with a renewed mind, having listened to the eternal rhythm of God found in all that is natural. I try to teach my children to listen too. On a hike through a state park this summer, we stopped to listen to the gentle sounds of a small stream, moving over rocks. I asked them what the stream was saying. Listening carefully, we thought it was saying, “stop and rest, peace.” Later I asked them “If a stream can say that, what does Lake Michigan say?” My daughter immediately answered, “Something Bigger.”
This connection has drawn me to the shore more and more in the last few years. So much so that I began to volunteer with a nonprofit group that supports the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Northern Michigan. Now I have a wonderful excuse to drive the three plus hours there year round, allowing God to work on me through all of the seasons and see His good work even in the winter, when beach solitude reigns. This quest has also drawn me to visit the wilderness of the Manitou islands of the Park, about twelve miles off the mainland. The water there is crystal clear, and near the shore it reflects off the sandy bottom of the lake like a swimming pool. Lake Michigan beaches to the south don’t have this clarity; it only intensifies the mystical effect.
This year, in the midst of extraordinary personal struggles, I traveled again to the North Manitou Island, this time with my group, Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear. We continued a multi year restoration project on a historic cottage, and the companionship and physical labor was healing and soothing. In my free moments, I spent time alone with God, either on the trails through the deep old forests or on the shoreline. With the rocks, both physical and prayerful, I watched the sunrise every morning.
Where I live in Michigan, with Lake Michigan to the West, the sun always sets over the lake, dropping brilliantly into the line where the water meets the sky. This time, on this trip, from the Manitou Island looking in the other direction, the sun rose over Lake Michigan, a surreal sight on any day. Although I could still clearly see the mainland to the East, the sun came up far enough to the Northeast that it was rising out of the water. Sunrise is the beginning of the day, and since God’s mercies are new every morning, I love being there when the mercy bank is reset for me. Lord knows I need it.
So on the first morning as I waited in the twilight on a sandy bank right near the water, I was sitting in the cool sand, as yet to be heated by the sun, among the rocks. The waves lapped gently on the shore, repeating a phrase that can only be heard when listening mindfully. I prayed for God to take care of me and my family, to show me His direction, to help me face my problems. Would He? Silence. As the sun broke over the watery smooth horizon, and the glory of the Lord shown fully, it was clear that the prayer, the questions, were wrong. God is so good, so holy, so beautiful; it is impossible for Him not to take care of me. It would be impossible for me to fall away from or beyond His care. The response was so much larger and fuller than the question, completely eclipsing it. As I looked around me, at the rocks covering the sandy beach and slope where I sat, they were no longer the prayers, they became the answers. They became Something Bigger. After the trip, as I return home to my world with the rocks in all the rooms of my house, my car, my desk – I am surrounded by God’s answers, and I always have been.