“The plan is to put in the water on Sunday and get out on Friday.” With those words I realized we were not just going on a camping trip. This trip was going to be work. I thought we were just going be going to be sitting around the camp fire and doing some hiking. It wasn’t until I had my airline ticket that I received trip details from Heath. It was then that I found out that in fact we were going to be canoeing 50 miles. My arms got sore and my back went into spasms just thinking about it. He also added a word that I don’t think I had ever heard before: Portaging.
“We’ll also be portaging 5 miles,” he said. Pretending I knew what he was talking about, I quickly Googled it while still on the phone with him. Definition? “The act of carrying.”
“Each day we have challenges,” he said. “Different length portages varying from 100 meters to 2,300 meters (almost 2 miles). We ask for volunteers to portage, carrying the [50 lb.] canoe (along with their 50 lb. pack), while their canoe partners carry the paddles and encourage them.”
I volunteered for my share of the portages during the trip, and all I can say is this:
Carrying 100 lbs. on your back is tough!
Carrying 100 lbs. on your back on uneven ground with wet, slippery shoes is tougher.
Carrying 100 lbs. on uneven ground with wet, slippery shoes, virtually all uphill for 1/2 a mile is really, really tough.
Carrying 100 lbs. on uneven ground with wet, slippery shoes, virtually all uphill for 1/2 a mile with a bad back is downright grueling. (No, seriously, I do have back issues. I even had surgery a few years ago.)
Of course, I didn’t know it was almost all uphill when I volunteered for that particular portage, which turned out to be the toughest of the trip – even tougher than the almost-2-mile one because of the incline (according to Jonathan who did both of them).
O, and one more thing. The deal with the portage challenges was this: You pick the canoe up out of the water, and you don’t set it down again until it’s in the water at the other end. In other words, no stopping to rest or stretch or get a drink or cry or ….
It took everything in me and more to not stop, to not dump the canoe, to not quit. I was sweating. I was breathing heavily. I was in pain. I thought I was going to die. But I was not going to quit. I was absolutely determined to finish the challenge. And I did. There was no greater sight than coming around the final bend and seeing the water, and there was no greater feeling than getting that canoe off of my shoulders and into the water.
Endurance, more than anything else, has kept me in youth ministry so long. It is fundamental to a successful marriage, parenting kids, working with people, physical exercise, … life! Knowing that there is water at the end of the trail – having a vision – is what gives us the strength and determination and hope we need to keep going when everything in us wants to quit.
I spent some time meditating on the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 2, and also his assessment of his own life as it was nearing its conclusion: “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). That has become my prayer. Paul didn’t say he won all of the battles. He said he fought the good fight. He didn’t say he won the race. He said he finished the race.
God, keep your vision ever fresh in my mind and give me the endurance to keep on keepin’ on for you. Amen.