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Not climbing alone

I had one thought as I looked up at the big sand hill.

That sucker was going to be hard to climb.

After eight years as Up Northerners, the fam and I finally made it to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Scampering children and vigorous young adults made me feel my age as I trudged up the big pile, thigh muscles whimpering.

My husband and youngest son, outpacing me with their long legs, stopped to wait as I paused and caught deep lungfuls of air.

Below my bare feet, the sand was laced with footprints.

A hundred people had been in that very same place before me — breathing hard, wondering what they were doing there, trying to muster up the fortitude to keep going.

It would be nice, I thought, if those people could reach through time and give me a hand up that hill.

We all climb alone, though.

Beside me, a hard-breathing wife told her husband in no uncertain terms that he could keep climbing, but she was going no farther.

On my other side, a dad laughingly got on all fours and crawled to keep up with his sprightly daughter.

At last reaching the summit of the giant hill, we paused, winded, and turned to watch green sunspots dancing on a distant lake.

Behind us, a new world waited to be explored.

My youngest — days from his first day of high school in a not-normal world — led the way, veering onto a small, solitary path strewn with some kind of sand-grown tumbleweed.

Surrounded by people moments before, we were abruptly alone in the scrub at the top of the dune, wandering low hills covered in an alien foliage. Voices of distant wanderers mingled with frog hiccups and the occasional thoughtful hmm of some small insect.

Somewhere, we lost the trial. Stepping gingerly between hard-working sand plants, we made our way to what looked like a tame path up a steep slope.

The sand — on what, it turned out, was most definitely not a path — melted devilishly beneath our feet as we scrambled upward, and we dropped to hands and knees to claw our way to the top, heady with giggles.

Finally, the three of us emerged from our solitary ramble, peering down the big hill that had been so great a challenge on the way up.

Climbs are like that, sometimes.

They can take your breath away.

A really hard year, unexpected and terrifying in its strangeness, can make you drop to your knees, make you cry out that you are simply going no further.

That you can’t.

You don’t want to.

It’s too hard.

In the distance and close by, people are putting one foot in front of the other, trying to catch their breath in the middle of a rough climb up a rough year.

Nobody can say what the top of 2020 will look like. I suspect, though, that it won’t resemble the life we left at the bottom of the hill.

Tumbleweed will tangle our feet as we explore an alien landscape, voices of other new-world explorers falling through the distance.

There may be other hills to climb, even after we think we’ve made it to the top, deceptive soft sand sucking our feet out from under us.

It’s going to be all right up there, mates.

There’s great beauty in the unexplored, and healing bonds to be built as we follow our separate paths together.

It’s a few days and several showers since we climbed the dune. I’m still finding grains of sand in my hair, reminders of a joyous somersault roll down the big hill and of an afternoon’s opportunity to wander and ponder and come to grips with the year around me and my place within it.

As for everyday faith — where does that fit into the story?

Where, in all this plodding and breathing and musing, was God?

You know, I can’t for the life of me explain what my Creator had to do with that trip up the Sleeping Bear dune.

There’s no deep, spiritual message in my head. The metaphor of the big hill spoke to me of life, and acceptance, and climbing through hurt, and the thrill and danger of the unknown, but it didn’t teach me how much I’m loved by a Being greater than I as I stomp up my hills.

But God was part of all of it.

He just was.

That’s everyday faith, I think.

He’s just … there. In the middle of the little moments that teach us about us. In the big moments and on the big hills — in, with, and under life as we keep on living it.

I’ll gladly take Him with me on my journey.

Especially this year. Especially on this hill.

I don’t want to climb alone.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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