by Cathee Poulsen
Exactly fifty-seven years ago I rolled into Lake Placid for the first time on a Greyhound Bus. It was Christmas vacation and I’d been invited to come to Tully’s Silver Sands to spend the winter break with my friend Jeanne Tully. We both lived in Miami and were at Miami High together. Her family vacation spot is still there today.
“Going to the lake” became a series of four words that drove the adrenalin to immeasurable heights of joy and excitement. Today, five generations later at our own house, Simplicity Cottage, my great-grandkids cop the same feelings when their parents scream “We’re going to the lake!”
I came often those luxurious summers of high school. The boys we dated came on weekends and we’d ski, eat Lola Tully’s fabulous southern cuisine and the fried bass the guys caught, and in the evening I’d play my guitar and we’d sing until the stars came out.
One weekend when Bob Poulsen got off work at Florida Power & Light and drove up with the guys, we were talking quietly at the edge of the lake at night and he told me he loved me. I remember not knowing what to say back. No one had ever said those words to me and I was only 17. The times were magical.
Even though seasons changed…
In 1967 my parents discovered Lake Placid and decided to make it their residence when they retired from catering and restaurants in Miami. Bob and I had married, we had Buddy and were into our third family generation. By then, our life at the lake was a theme woven into our lives and going there always meant fun, recalibration, and a good kind of tiredness after a day on the water. It goes without saying—the food was off the chain.
By 1979, when we came to the lake, there were now six of us. I was working full time and hard-wired to stress, to-do lists, pleasing people and juggling parenthood that spanned from a preschooler to a first year college student with two high schoolers sandwiched in between.
It was the lake that taught me how to begin dialing down. At the outset, I wasn’t very good at it, but I’d wake early, grab some hot coffee and my Bible and sneak down to the dock before anyone woke up. The quietness of a fresh morning on the water would help me let go of all that angst. Reading “…if I rise on the wings of the morning and settle on the far side of the waters, you will be there” (Psalm 139), I would allow the words to carry me to peace.
In time, my kids grew up and my parents died. Then it was just me and Bob and the house at the lake was where we went to get away.
…I was still the same.
I would come here with my “shoulds” and “musts” and a To-Do List that would choke an elephant. Not only did we need to do maintenance on a house left to itself weeks or months at a time, but I now was the overseer of 30 small groups, their leaders, retreats and planning meetings, and so much responsibility that I found myself asking Jesus often if all this was what it really was about.
I knew something had to change, but I didn’t know where to begin. Or how. Sometimes what we need to see is right in front of us. At the time, I had a friend who, after watching my frantic scurrying, said one day, “Cathee, this isn’t how God called you to live. You need to learn to let Jesus be your rest.” (Or something like that. It’s been 20 years and I don’t remember exactly.)
Those words were like bothersome gnats. Flying in my face, getting in my food, going up my nose. I just wanted them to go away.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
No one really knows who spoke those words for the first time, but we all have experienced them. I was drowning and crying out to God for deliverance from overwhelm, but I resisted the first person He sent to help me. Haven’t you done that too?
Thing about God, about His faithfulness, is that it doesn’t matter if we fail His tests. He’ll just keep giving them over again until we get it. Over and over and over. Several years, and too many experiences to recount here, I got that test until I was desperate to learn another way to live my life.
When the world turned upside down financially in 2009, we entered another new season.
Once the dust settled from the mortgage crisis—Bob being a mortgage broker—we got the message loud and clear: “You’re moving to the lake!”
This time it wasn’t a vacay, or a skiing trip, it was for good. And you can take that several ways. It was “for good” because we had come full circle. It felt like we’d come home. It was “for good” because we had a house on a lake to move to. It was “for good” because we had always loved it here.
But I didn’t know it was “for good” because it was the teacher appearing for the ready student. Downsizing from a 3000 sq. ft. home to 1600 sq. ft. meant I had to simplify. In comparison, the house is more of a lake cottage than anything else, so I jokingly named it “Simplicity Cottage.” But the name turned out to be prophetic. Simplicity was what God was calling me to now and the lake became my teacher.
The Treehouse on the Lake
In many ways, being in this cottage is almost like living in a treehouse. The trees are much taller than the roof and one old oak branch runs the length of my deck. The clear waters of Lake Clay lay beyond that branch which has hosted hawks, wood ducks, ibises and a plethora of regular birds that come to the feeder. Squirrels race up and down the trunk and across that branch and if you sit very still you’ll get the feeling you’re outside. It’s through the blend of silence and nature that my soul finds the stillness for which it thirsts.
Stillness has never been comfortable for me. What is comfortable are lists and action and responsibility. I’ve believed the lie for decades that if I’m not busy, my life is meaningless.
But here’s what I know for sure—Jesus knew how to rest.
And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) Mark 6:31 NASB
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
The principle of rest goes all the way back to Moses when God is leading him out of Egypt: “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14 NASB
What the lake has taught me are the “unforced rhythms of grace” as Eugene Peterson says in The Message version. I love that phrase. It may never come naturally to me, but it is a practice I can develop; a spiritual discipline.
I love living here not because I’ve “retired,” but because I love the sound of rain on the roof, the lap of the water on the shore, the tri-colored heron who dominates the edge every day scouting for little fish, and that I finally notice these things. I’ve learned “to calm and quiet my soul like a weaned child,” as David wrote in the Psalms.
The contentment is new to me, and I love it. But we weren’t made only for contentment. That would make things all about us. We’ve also found meaning and purpose and a high calling here.
This year I hope to find someone who can letter across the wall over the French doors that lead out to the lake: “It is glorious to be here.” It’s a choice to acknowledge that as truth for all of us, wherever we are.