Vitality

I think I expected college to transform me into some greater version of myself, to wake me up and revitalize me and just generally embolden me.

And while college changed me and grew me, it wasn’t in those ways that I had expected.

This blog is as close to a chronicle of those changes as anyone’s going to get, short of standing me up next to my past self and marking down all the differences between us, and I think it bears pretty clear testimony to the fact that the last three years have left me tired.

Tired and ready to run.

The funny thing is that I didn’t even come to Mackinac with the intent to run from what was hurting me. I just came because I needed a job and thought I wanted an adventure and liked horses.

Yet Mackinac has proven to be a more rejuvenating retreat than I could have known to request, if I thought to request a retreat at all. And it’s also a strange place to feel so deeply revitalized, because this isn’t your traditional mountain-top spiritual hideaway.

I am working long hours with people who, while kind, do not share my faith. There are no pastors daily pumping me full of well-considered interpretations of scripture or guitarists inviting me to join them in songs of faith-fueled praise.

Even so, I am more at peace than I have felt in a long time.

Possibly because Michigan air is easier to breathe.

Which I mean a little bit literally, because I grew up on Bakersfield air so dirty that you can chew it up, spit it out, and build a sooty sandcastle out of it. But metaphorically too.

Life itself feels more abundant here.

Even after nearly three weeks I find myself still silently gasping in delight when I catch sight of Lake Huron as I round the corner to stage along the point, still nearly laughing aloud when I pause to consider the fact that I am holding the lines to a team of horses the same way that my ancestors did.

Lately I laugh a lot.

And if you know me, you’re probably smiling because that’s what you expected. But if you’ve known me during school, when the trying to juggle classes and people and fear and exhaustion have transformed me into a snarling disaster of a person, then you might begin to guess how refreshing it is to laugh.

People smile at me because I am always smiling. They chuckle because I dash at new tasks with such enthusiasm, even though I’m tired and kind of just want to go home. And their amusement brings me more joy, which only increases the infectiousness of my laughter.

I truly do feel as though I’m breathing easier. As though life were painted in brighter colors than it was before.

Contentment and restfulness bring a certain vibrancy to the world.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel particularly well-rested. Even today, on my day off when I’ve slept in and napped and generally relaxed all day long, I am yawning with exhaustion before I’ve even eaten dinner.

Nonetheless, these few weeks in Michigan have brought me a certain level of restfulness.

There’s been heartache, too, and my tears have mingled with my desperate begging to the heavens for explanation of things I can’t understand.

But through it all, this peace. This knowledge that I am both where I’m supposed to be and where I want to be. And this almost audible song of celebration coming from everything around me.

I really don’t know how else to describe it, and kind of feel like I’m chasing my tail now as I try to explain.

It’s as though I’m alive again.

As if a person I’d long forgotten how to be is emerging from the storm of the past few years, and she hasn’t forgotten how to be bold or courageous or outgoing. (She has forgotten how to love to run and be active, but we’ll cross the exercise bridge some day in the maybe-never future.)

All that said, I am eager for this summer to end if only to end the torture of the crazy-early mornings. While I have settled into the routine of awakening at 5:30 every morning, I still don’t like it. And every morning I get a little closer to clinging to my pillow and sobbing at the thought of being parted from it.

I guess I don’t have much energy left for a well-worded conclusion. It’s taken long enough to just achieve anything like sense on this page.

My heart-song doesn’t much want to be translated today.

Anyway. Life is an adventure, and I’m so happy to be living this chapter of it. Feel free to come visit and write yourself in.

– Melissa

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. /Psalm 19:1-4a/

I’m Actually Covered in Horse Hair

There are three really big hills here on the island. There’s Turkey Hill, which we don’t take tour carriages up or down. There’s Mission Hill, which is off by the east bluffs and which I’ve only driven down once. And there’s Grand Hill, which goes up past the Grand Hotel and which we drive multiple times a day.

When we take our horses up Grand Hill with full carriages, we give them multiple breaks, just because the carriage is so heavy and because we want them to pace themselves. They are nowhere near overworked, but we’re still careful. (Actually, they just get diva treatment all the time and can I please have their job instead of mine because oh my goodness.)

I think that, more than learning how to give a tour of Mackinac or learning how to drive a carriage, this summer is going to be about learning to pace myself.

All this week I have been going full throttle, throwing myself into the work and finding a new task as soon as I finish whatever I’m doing. And I don’t regret it, because I’ve proved to my superiors and peers that I’m both dedicated and competent, and I’ve moved quickly through training and should be done sooner than later, but oh boy am I tired.

I didn’t even fully realize how exhausted I am until I was stripping harnesses off horses at the end of today and met eyes with a quiet old gelding.

Horses’ eyes are actually magical, and they can plumb the depths of your soul without even trying.

So when our gazes locked, suddenly the lack of sleep and the trying so hard and the lurking anxiety and everything else just washed over me and my whole being acknowledged my weariness and tears rushed to my eyes and all I could do was burrow my face in the horse’s neck and focus on keeping my breathing steady. Believe it or not, I’m not a fan of bursting into tears in the middle of a barn of people I’ve worked with for less than a week.

Horses got cared for and I clocked out with dry eyes, but as soon as I got back to my room, I just let myself fall onto my back on the floor and lay there as I felt the tears trickle down my cheek to my hairline.

I legitimately love my job. I love the horses and everything that caring for them entails. (Except maybe the getting hit with overspray during morning baths. Because that’s freaking cold.) I love the driving and how I’m learning to keep the carriage where I want it at the speed I want it. I love the tour and discovering all the fantastic history of this island. I love my roommates and how we laugh and commiserate and explore. And I love the lake and the trees and the wildflowers and the quaint little buildings that are older than I can quite comprehend.

But I am so tired.

Part of me feels weak for needing tomorrow off, even though the day was just assigned to me; I didn’t have to ask for it or whatever. I want to be able to work harder, longer, faster than expected, to keep pace with the people who’ve been doing this for years. I want my tour to be spectacular, my driving to be flawless, my harnessing to be seamless right now.

Like the team I drove yesterday, Elvis and Hogan, I want to throw myself into the weight of the load and just push it until my heart gives out and I fall over.

Being paced is hard. Pacing myself is proving even harder.

And yes, I have lost count of how many of my coworkers have told me to slow down, catch my breath, and take it easy this week. At one point, I got sent out to the wash rack to cool off because I looked so frazzled and overheated. Oops.

I’ve lost the concentration necessary to bring this to any cohesive conclusion, because it’s after 7pm and way too close to fall-into-bed time. So suffice it to say that my goal for tomorrow is to rest up, and my goal for my next week of work is to strike a balance between giving it my all and not overdoing it. Because if I hit this tired again and providence doesn’t provide a day off the next day, I’ll end up sobbing or sick or both. And everyone up here tells me that it’s next to impossible to get healthy again once you’re sick.

Also, if you need a summer job, check out openings on Mackinac. They’re still hiring at a lot of places, and the island is fantastic.

Sleep well, my people. I know I’m going to.

– Melissa

P.S. This week I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on the words to Whatever Comes by Rend Collective, and it’s been such an encouragement. Check it out here!

to the rhythm of hooves outside my window

Monday, May 15, 2017 – 8:05am

Well, it’s been twenty-something hours since I landed on Mackinac Island, and the truth is that it’s been a beautiful whirlwind. (Notice that I didn’t misspell “whirlwind,” which I did during my freshman year when my hashtag that I used for an entire weekend home was “#whirlwhindweekend,” and I probably will never forgive myself for that idiocy.)

If you’re not up with my latest adventures, I’m going to be spending the summer here, on Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island in Michigan, working for the local carriage company as a driver. Mackinac Island is known for banning cars back in the early 1900s, so now transportation on the island is limited to bikes and horses. Hence the carriage thing. It’s quite the tourist destination, which I’m sure will get old but yesterday just meant seeing a lot of happy people.

The fact that I’m now in Michigan implies that I somehow got from Texas to Michigan, and let me tell you, that was quite the trip. On my way home, if my fam doesn’t manage to come out to visit and give me a ride home at the end of the summer, I need to find some stretch of the trip to manage by train, just so that I can say that I’ve used every mode of transportation in one trip. This time I only managed car, plane, and bus on day one, and ferry on day two. Yesterday actually started off with a ferry ride, and that was absolutely amazing. I have plenty of friends who are pretty sure that, deep within their souls, they’re actually mermaids, and while I can kind of relate, that’s not really the type of love I have for wide expanses of water.

I personally think that I’m secretly a pirate (though someone tried to argue yesterday that “sailor” was a more appropriate label, which I think is dumb.)

Between the wind in my hair, the spray of water on my face, and the feel of Lake Huron surrounding me on all sides, I almost started weeping for joy as soon as we left the dock. Like, I was blinking my tears away so that I didn’t look like a complete idiot amongst all the tourists.

As expensive as island life might be (which is fair; all goods have to come over by ferry and get transported to the store by horse-power) I think it’s really going to work for me. The weather so far has been exquisite—which won’t be a constant, but is worth celebrating today—and the fact that I’m never more than a few miles from the lap of waves on the shore is so comforting.

Also, the view.

Oh. My. Word.

It more or less takes my breath away every single time.

(You are welcome to remind me of my prior enthusiasm when a few weeks have gone by and I’m tired and grumpy and homesick.)

Orientation starts today, and my roommates and I are all grateful that it starts at 9am. Generally we’ll have to be at the barn around 7am, so sleeping in is a rare treat. Granted, I didn’t sleep in because I’m way too nervous about the first day of work to have slept well, and the sun woke me up around 5:30, but the thought was nice.

Also nice was having the time to read the Bible. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but staying in the Word is my Christian Achilles’ heel, so to speak. God is gracious, though, and two days in a row I’ve ended up with mornings where I had nothing to do but curl up with my Bible. This morning I ended up in Psalms 117 and 118, which are both emphatic praises of God’s love and might. Psalm 117 makes me smile because it’s so short: only two verses! I can just see the Psalmist having scribbled down a few words of his morning prayer, and someone picking it up and saying, as we do in Life Group, ‘Woop, Jesus!’ and deciding to put it in the Old Testament Canon.

Okay, so no one would have said exactly that back when the Psalms were being written, but I think the underlying sentiment remains the same: the idea of celebrating God for who he is and what he’s doing/has done, and doing so with gusto.

Overall, it was a really refreshing start to the day, and my echoing heart-prayer that I’ve chosen for today comes from Psalm 118:1.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Things I’m looking forward to about today:

• Finally finding out what’s expected of me and what I can expect from work this summer
• Getting the WiFi password so that I can actually post this…
• Maybe finding some more time this evening for exploring; there are so many hiking trails and locations to explore
• Dinner
• Going to bed tonight, because sleep is just so fantastic

All in all, I have been a heady combination of excited about and terrified of this summer for months now, but now that I’m here I’m finally relaxing into it. It’s weird to think that I’ll be here for so long; one of my roommates mentioned Fourth of July fireworks last night, and that didn’t quite compute in my brain. I’ll celebrate the Fourth here, and my birthday, and miss two family members’ birthdays. When the months seem long, though, and home seems far, I keep reminding myself that this stretch of time isn’t that different from my first semester at HSU, and surviving and thriving is just as doable.

By the time I can post this, all these first-morning-thoughts will be outdated, but they’re still me and you’ll still get to read them. Perhaps I’ll even get to where I’m posting with some consistency, and we can both track how this summer grows me…and maybe I’ll grow wings and spend my hours swooping gracefully about above the island. Both are equally likely.

In the meantime and in-between-time (I just love that phrase!) keep celebrating, keep growing where you’re currently planted, and, for goodness sake, keep dancing!

– Melissa
P.S. Rend Collective is currently my jam, and I have a feeling that I’ll be posting a lot of their music this summer. For my first selection, check out their song Come On.