Throwing the Shoe

I really love stories about long walks and journeys because they are so filled with metaphors about life and adversity and faith. In the next few posts, I thought I’d share thoughts and observations about my own experiences as well as stories about journeys that have inspired me.

This first story is my own personal experience.

Michigan is a beautiful state filled with many beautiful forests and lakes. Surprisingly, Michigan also has miles of sand dunes–some 400 feet high. In 2011 viewers of the television program Good Morning, America voted the Sleeping Bear Sands Dunes to be the most beautiful place in America.

When I was about 19 years old, my parents, younger sister, and I camped at Silver Lake, which is a campground at the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. My sister and I heard that Lake Michigan was only a three-mile hike across the dunes from our campground so we decided to make the trek.

We started out in good spirits. Three miles is not far and we didn’t expect the hike to take long. However, I suspect that “three miles” was “as the crow flies” and did not figure in the huge mountains of sand we had to climb.

Silver Lake Dunes PUre Michigan
Photo from Pure Michigan

We wore sandals, which are not good sand-climbing shoes. For every three steps we climbed, we slid back two. The day was sunny and hot. With much effort we finally made it to the summit of a dune expecting to see Lake Michigan. To our dismay, all we saw was another huge mountain of sand that was taller than the one we had just climbed. “Well,” we encouraged each other, “when we get to the top of the next dune, we will be within sight of Lake Michigan.” So we climbed and slid and sweated up the next dune. No Lake Michigan. Only another dune. My sister wanted to give up and turn back. I convinced her to keep going. We climbed the next dune. More sand. I can’t remember how many dunes we climbed, how many times my sister wanted to turn back, or how many times I convinced her to keep going. I hated giving up. I felt that if we turned back, we’d return to the campground in sweaty defeat, all our efforts wasted. If we kept going, we could jump into cool Lake Michigan in victory.

Finally, my sister firmly declared that she was turning back. An idea suddenly popped into my head. I have no idea where it came from “Give me one of your shoes!” I urged my sister. “Why?” she asked. “Don’t argue, just do it. Give me one of your shoes.” She took off her sandal and handed it to me. I also took off one of my sandals and I threw them up the sand dune out of reach. “Why did you do that?” my sister shouted in disbelief and anger. “Well,” I explained calmly, “We now have a choice. We can either climb up and get our shoes or we can return to the campground without them.”

Lake Michigan beyond the dune.
Lake Michigan beyond the dune.

We scrambled up the sand and retrieved our shoes. “Now let’s throw our shoes again,” I said. My sister understood what I was doing. We kept throwing our shoes up the dune, climbing up to get them, and throwing them again. In no time at all, we had reached Lake Michigan. After the hot journey, it was awesome jumping and splashing into the cool Lake before heading back to the campground.

Throw your shoe!
Throw your shoe!

What I learned that day is that sometimes a long journey over mountains of hot sand can seem too far to reach, but it takes no effort at all to climb a few feet to retrieve a shoe. That applies to life as well. Sometimes situations can be so difficult and dark that it can seem impossible to make it through. However, a person can shorten his focus and make it through one day. Or an hour. Or five minutes. Or even just this one moment. Anyone can make it through this one moment, this one second. Sixty seconds add up to an hour. Twenty-four hours adds up to a day. Seven days add up to a week. Four weeks add up to a month….and soon a person makes it through the suffering into victory on the other side.

Years later, I told EJ about this journey. Whenever we need to reach a distant goal by focusing on a shorter obtainable goal, we encourage each other, “You can make it. Just throw your shoe.”


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