Saturday, September 20, 2014


If you have ever been to our house and happened to look out into the backyard, you have probably seen an old "birch bark" fiberglass canoe that's been sitting there for years. It's all of 40 years old and is scratched, cracked, bent, faded and it hasn't seen any white water in years. Kind of like me.

One could easily say, "Why don't you get rid of that old eye-sore? What good is it? It just sits there." One could easily say the same thing about me. Well, today I will let the world know why I don't simply put my old canoe in a dumpster. Hopefully, this story will provide encouragement to you, just like that old canoe does for me.

When I was in my early 20's me and my best friend Chris did a lot of canoeing. And I do mean A LOT of canoeing. Our summers were filled with trips "up north" to run as many whitewater rivers as we could. The nastier the river, the better.

One spring we decided to run the Namekogan, a tributary of the St. Croix River in Northwestern Wisconsin. One could tell that it was springtime because it was still cold and the river was rather swollen. High water levels can be both good and bad when canoeing a river. It's good in shallow parts of the river so the canoe doesn't scrape it's way along the gravely bottom.

[That's why I chose a fiberglass canoe over aluminum. There is nothing louder in the otherwise quiet wilderness than an aluminum canoe scraping across gravel or rocks.]

The bad part of running a river in springtime is that all that extra water from the melting snow makes the rapids more dangerous. I have seen aluminum canoes literally wrapped around rocks by the force of the current. Springtime canoeing can really be rather dangerous.

Chris and I were canoe camping that weekend, taking a two day trip to one of our favorite rivers. We were veteran canoeists but we were also young and over-confident - not a good combination as we approached our first major set of rapids.

We got out of the river upstream of the first big rapids we encountered and scouted which route to take through the rocks. We did that for half an hour. Then we emptied all of our camping supplies on shore "just in case" and ran the #3 rapid with relative ease. Rapids are rated 1 through 5 . . . 1 = easy, 5 = portage. We had just gone through a #3, which is actually more like a #4 in springtime with that extra water.

"Wow! That was easy!!" we said to ourselves. Over confidence, coupled with high water levels is a VERY dangerous thing. Our overconfidence, pride and youthful exuberance were about to do us in.

We loaded all of our supplies back in the canoe and headed down the swollen river to the next #3. This time we didn't even bother to scout it. We didn't bother to empty our canoe of the things we wanted to keep dry. We just went on ahead . . . through the 3-foot high standing waves in the middle of the channel. Our canoe immediately filled with water and swamped. Our supplies were floating down stream and so were we. A random kayaker, who just happened to be there, grabbed our tent and sleeping bags as we rode the rest of the rapids as swimmers.

As I tried to keep my head above water I also looked around for my canoe. Nowhere. Then suddenly, it shot out of the water like a breaching whale, landed upright in the water, and began floating away downstream. I swam to shore and began running through the woods after it.

I eventually caught up to the canoe and we started placing our supplies back in the boat, although everything was wet, and we continued on. What were we going to do that night? Sleep in wet sleeping bags in the 40-degree wilderness? Our only hope of surviving hypothermia was to paddle our butts off and try to get back to my truck, parked 24 miles downstream . . . and it was already late afternoon.

So we paddled . . . and we paddled. The sun set . . . and we paddled some more. Finally we saw the lights of the dam, where my truck was parked. Exhausted, frozen, and weary, the lights became our focus. If we could just make it to the lights.

Then through the mist that floated just above the river, we suddenly saw something approaching us. Something white, bobbing up and down. What was it!? It was coming right towards us. Well, it was a bald eagle, flying three feet above the water. It flew right past us, turning its head to look at us. That was a sign if we ever saw one! We had made it!

You have probably had events in your life that have made you grow, in one way or another. Sometimes that growth can be painful but that pain is usually accompanied by growth. Why do those events happen? Are they just random occurrences? Or does God put certain events into motion in order to grow or develop us in some way, for His ultimate use in the future? Interesting question.

My incident with the canoe taught me and my friend that we are NOT the most indestructible forces on the planet. That our lives are capable of taking turns for the worse at any moment. But it also taught me that life's challenges can be overcome through a reliance on things unseen, through the help of others and by meeting our challenges instead of succumbing to them.

God is an amazing teacher. He uses any method He wishes in his universal classroom. Sometimes we get wet in the process but we always reach our destination, praising His name. So why is that old battered canoe still in my back yard? It is a memorial . . . to a lesson learned and to a great God who saves.

Do you have things that you hold on to, mementos, that remind you of special moments where your life became forever change? God's chosen people did.

"Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 6 And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.

7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

4 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever. - Joshua 3:1-17-4:1-7

The following in not a Christian song but it is a good song nonetheless, encouraging us to ALWAYS . . . remember.

Remember - Harry Nilsson

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