Today was wild. We’ve been camping with a group of our friends from church, and we decided to go on an adventure. It started off pretty chill. We left our campground and caravanned over to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. One thing led to another, and I found myself at the bottom of a 450-foot sand dune. There was nowhere to go but up, which should have made me feel better, but after 100 steps I realized something that only experience can teach you. When you want to accomplish something big, it’s done little by little.

Getting back up a sand dune little by little.

What is the Number 9 Dune Climb?

If you’ve never been to Sleeping Bear Dunes, there’s this thing called the Dune Climb. You park, head up a decent sized (but manageable) dune, and end with an incredible overlook of Little and Big Glen Lakes. You can then go on to hike an additional two miles and make it to Lake Michigan. If you haven’t been there, you should definitely add it to your must-do list.

Trent and I completely the entire hike up the dune and out to Lake Michigan during our honeymoon back in 2008. Then, in 2020 we hiked just to the top of the dune with our kids.

This year, we climbed a different dune. The number 9. Now, you may be wondering what in the world is the “Number 9?” In the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area is something called the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. When you get to stop number 9 you’ll be at the Lake Michigan overlook, which includes a 450-foot drop down a sand dune to the lake.

People go down it all the time. I mean going down is super easy (#gravity), but what you don’t realize is that going back up a 450-foot sand dune is no child’s play. Well, unless you’re an actual child… They seem to have no issues going back up. It’s the adults that feel the burn.

What made me do it?

FOMO, peer pressure, and my kid. We were with a group, and almost everyone was doing it! If it was just me and Trent I’d probably say, “Let’s go do something more fun, like get ice cream.” But you know what it’s like. All your friends are doing something and you want in.

Lake Michigan overlook. Number 9 Dune climb.

Plus, Taya really wanted to do it. Now hear me out. Taya’s a wildcard. Our family likes to travel and hike, and she tends to be the one that starts complaining about being tired, hungry, thirsty, and needing to pee before anyone else. However, she’s also hiked down the Grand Canyon in flip flops. You just never know what you’re gonna get with her, but today the peer pressure got us both. My friends were going. Her friends were going, and we didn’t want to miss out.

So, I grabbed my water and off we went.

The walk down was nice. We ended up at Lake Michigan, and our whole group took a dip. The break was short-lived, though, because we knew it would take a lot longer to head back up than it did to make it down.

Here’s where my “little by little” lesson began.

Taya, who I thought might struggle to get back up, owned it. She blew past everyone and was the first person to finish. Girl, bye. I, on the other hand, was one of the last. As I started off I thought to myself, “Ok, Sarah. This is going to be a lot of work, but you just need to go slow. Take 100 steps (which were more like bear crawls), and stop for a break.”

Do you know what an asthma attack sounds like? Feels like? When I finished my 100 steps, I could barely breathe. I was sweating like a pig. My face was beat red. I turned around, sat down, and thought, “I’m gonna die.”

Luckily, I was smart enough to bring my water. I took a few drinks, snagged a few (read ‘a lot of’) deep breaths, and got my heart rate back into a manageable range.

When ‘little by little’ really means ‘miniscule by miniscule’

At this point, I realized I needed to reevaluate my slow plan. Taking a break every 100 steps wasn’t enough. My heart rate was getting out of control, so I needed to take things slower. The new plan was to take 10 steps and pause for a DEEP breath in and out. I’d complete 10 cycles of 10 steps, then sit down for a proper break. I’d also take a drink of water and get my heart rate back down before doing it all over again. I liked the plan, so it was time to start.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, pause. Breathe in… breathe out…
2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, pause. Breathe in… breathe out…

“Ok, this is working…”

3, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, pause. Breathe in… breathe out…

After 10 cycles I sat down and relished in my accomplishment. It was definitely going to take me a long time to get back up the dune, but who was I competing against? At one point in my life I would have been competing against everyone, but I’m realistic now. At this point in my life I’m only competing against my own mind.

My little by little progress

I was near death after my first 100 steps, but after my second 100 I decided to start taking pictures.

We don’t do that nearly enough – track progress. Whether it’s working out, reading our Bible, or trying to start some new healthy habit, we don’t celebrate the small victories.

It can’t be just me. Tell me if this resonates… I set crazy expectations for myself. “I’m going to read my Bible everyday this year!” Then, I make it a couple of weeks and miss a day. At that point, the only thing I can focus on is that I missed a day… Not that I read for 2 weeks straight. Why are we like that?

“Little by little progress adds up.”

In one of my favorite books, “Cultivate” by Lara Casey, she says one of the lies we believe is that “small steps don’t make a difference,” but the truth is that “little by little progress adds up.”

Yes, I made it up the dune, but I didn’t do it in one huge jump. It took me 800 small steps. The way I finished was little by little.

After I got into my groove I thought, “Sarah, don’t ever forget this.”

Whether we’re trying to grow in our relationship with Jesus, grow in our relationship with our family, establish healthy habits, overcome unhealthy ones, or fight lies, those things aren’t done in one fell swoop. They’re not failure one day, success the next.

Growth in all forms happens little by little.

Encouragement for tomorrow

I don’t know what your past looks like. Maybe it’s full of failed attempts at all the things. The world will tell you that you just need to dig deep. “Whether you succeed or fail, it all depends on you!” And you may be tempted to take that lesson away from my story today. Don’t.

Hope for success is not found in your capabilities. It’s found in Jesus.

Before I became a Christian I thought everything rested on my shoulders. I would try and try and try, and I regularly found myself coming up short. It wasn’t until I realized that God had created me, Jesus had redeemed me, and the Holy Spirit had filled me for a purpose that I stopped trying to do things on my own.

What God nailed home for me during the climb, and what I hope he’ll nail home for you too, is you need to quit relying on yourself. We weren’t created for that.

Your past does not define you. Jesus offers us a new hope and a purpose-filled identity.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

- Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Instead of trying to figure out life on your own, ask God, “What have you created me for?” And when you find yourself trying to accomplish his tasks on your own, just say you’re sorry. Then, ask him to be with you, and remember.

Your success or failure isn’t found in giant leaps. It’s found in a series of small steps.

Because there’s a better way,

question: do you ever feel like God’s voice is louder in nature?

If you enjoyed this blog and want to hear what I learned while traveling in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, you can check that out HERE.

Finally, If you’ve found value in our content and would like to help keep the blog up and running, you can now donate VIA Buy Me a Coffee.

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Jesse Sanchez
Jesse Sanchez
1 month ago

So good! And the best part was Taya hiking the Grand Canyon in flip flops! 😆