Canadian Wilderness Trip Lesson #4: Endurance

“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.

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Canadian Wilderness Trip Lesson #3: Rest

My terrible sleeping habits started in college. and only got worse from there. I worked second shift in a factory and didn’t get off until 11pm. I worked close at McDonald’s and would get home at 4am. Of course, when one gets off of work, it’s not simply go home and go to bed. It’s go home and unwind for a while before going to bed. I went back to work second sift at the factory again. Then we had our first child, so when I would get home and take my turns up in the night (my wife might argue me on this one). Then I went to graduate school … while working full time … so … more late nights. Of course, being a youth pastor, many of our events and activities are in the evenings, so … I have been a night owl for a good 20 years now. But, honestly, I feel the drain. I know I don’t get enough sleep. The third lesson I was reminded of on this trip was the importance of rest.

While going on a canoe and camping trip isn’t necessarily a recipe for comfort and sleep (paddling all day definitely makes one tired, but sleeping in a tiny tent on nothing more than a 1/4″ pad while trying not to bump one’s big ole 6′ 4″ tent mate doesn’t lead to the best night’s sleep), it did prove to be restful in a much deeper sense of the word. Indeed, I did find myself going to bed earlier and waking earlier, but the rest I received was more holistic. I experienced the shalom – the peace – of God. The trip provided me with a week of stress relief, quiet from the noises of daily life and responsibilities, and most of all, a time to rest emotionally and re-center myself in God.

Psalm 62:1, 5 – “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him … Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.”

As I found rest in the Lord, He assured me of His intense love for me as His child, and in light of that love He helped me reflect on areas of my life that were out of alignment with His best and need of my attention, including my sleep patterns.

I know that my physical condition affects my mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual conditions (See post: The Life of the Body).  So, ever since I have returned home, I have been more intentional about getting to bed earlier, and I have definitely felt the affects in my body. I have felt less tired, less stressed and  that has allowed me to be more alive and present during the day. S1160035

Canadian Wilderness Trip Lesson #2: Camaraderie

Guys, generally speaking, are terrible at deep friendship, and I am the chief of sinners in this regard. I have a lot of friends, but very few close friends. I long for such friendships, but I’m a dude, and I suck at them. When asked what our goals were for our spiritual retreat, one of the things I wrote down was camaraderie. I was really looking forward to some “man time” with the fellas – my college friends Heath, Jonathan, and James, specifically. This trip did not disappoint.

Catching up on life over the past 18-20 years, praying for one another, paddling until our arms felt like they were going to fall off, encouraging one another as we took turns portaging 50 lb. canoes on our shoulders while also carrying 50 lb. backpacks, laughing at dumb guy jokes and noises until …

(What is this strange moisture on my eyeballs?!),

sharing our stories of struggles and triumphs until …

(Gosh, I’ve got something in my eyes again. Do you see anything in there?!),

and seeing each other naked bathing in the lake until …

(Dude! I swear I must have styes in my eyes, they burn so bad! I can’t open them anymore! The burn is so deep!!!),

relationships were deepened, lifelong friendships were formed, and more than likely our minds suffered scarring.

I was reminded afresh that life is not meant to be lived in isolation, and adventures are meant to be shared. The great joy of life is experiencing it with others and creating stories that will be retold years down the road. The great challenge of life is to remember that we are not the only ones who struggle on this journey. We know this in our heads, but we need to risk experiencing this truth by opening up our hearts and being honest with one another. As the great C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself …’” (The Four Loves). Going on a trip like we did created a space in which we could all say, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself …”.

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Canadian Wilderness Trip Lesson #1: Nature

A month and a half ago I went on an awesome trip with some friends to the Canadian wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park. When I returned I had to really put my shoulder into our missions trip. Now that I am past the trip, I wanted to share some lessons I learned/was reminded during that experience.

The first lesson is this: Nature nurtures the soul. I need nature. I need times of detachment from the busyness man’s creations to be present in the serenity of God’s creation. The impressiveness of mans creativity pales in comparison to the beauty of God’s creativity. There is just something about being out in nature that is healing, life-giving, and centering. One day, while on the trip, I opened my Bible and spent time meditating on Psalm 23:1-3 which reads, The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. There is a lot of beautiful metaphor here, but I would suggest that there is tremendous power in literally being in green pastures, quiet waters, and traveling along paths. Being in nature contemplating God and life makes the metaphors come alive.

While I can’t always go up into the Canadian wilderness, I can find time and space during my weeks and days to spend a day at the beach, go for a walk in a local park, or even just sit on my porch for a few minutes and look at the trees and flowers and bugs. How about you?

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