A Canoe Trip


Stasi Eldredge talks about how being part of a rescue effort made her feel closer to God.

The snow is melting but it’s still freezing cold outside and I find myself dreaming of summer; the one to come and then the one that just ended…One of the highlights of this past summer was a camping trip our family took to the Tetons.  Oh the beauty! Sharp, dangerous, glorious beauty. I close my eyes and I can see the mountains rising up across the lake.  Pure grandeur. 

One favorite day, the five of us went down the Snake River in our canoes and a rented kayak.  A storm came up suddenly and we took refuge along the bank under a huge pine tree that sheltered us from the pelting rain.  No other prints were along the bank but ours and a big bears'!

Later, back on the river, we passed a young man alone in a canoe.  He was struggling.  It was a windy day and he was spinning around in circles.  He had a long way to go yet but he didn’t want to come with us.  Didn’t want to hear some advice on how to do it differently…do it better.

Well, not yet anyway.

When you approach it, the take out point from the river is a little tricky.  A huge rock is in the middle of the river making quite the wave that you need to avoid.  (Sam and I went through it one year and well, that’s another story!)  Anyway, our family had stopped for a lingering picnic lunch and as we approached the last little bank before the stretch of water approaching the take out point, we saw the young man again.  He stood perusing the river.  He look daunted, worried.  This time, he was ready to accept help.

When we got up close to the fellow, we saw how young he was.  Oh my.  So young.  Maybe twenty.  His name was Mike.  Turns out Mike had begun the trip with his father and his younger brother but the canoe had gotten caught broadside in the current.  They had all gone swimming, lost valuable fly fishing gear and been quite shaken up.  The younger son was too frightened to continue so the dad took the younger son and walked back to the road hoping to hitch a ride to the take out point and meet up with his older son later.  The older son, Mike, had bursitis in both of his feet making him unable to walk long distances.  He didn’t feel he had a choice but to continue on down the river on his own.  He had never done this before…no one had taught him how.  His father had left him alone to manage the river by himself.

He had tipped the canoe two more times.  He was utterly exhausted.

John talked to him about where he needed to be sitting in the canoe to make it easier…how he needed to turn the canoe backwards since he was alone.  We would tell him exactly where to go on the river and he could follow us.

Or he could get in our canoe and we would tow his.

'He was tired.  He wanted in our canoe. 

Sometimes you need to help people by leaving them alone and conveying your belief that they can do it; they’re going to be alright.

Sometimes you need to help them by giving them encouragement and advice; telling them what to avoid, what to aim for.

Sometimes, you need to help by giving them rest and offer to carry them for awhile; let them know there’s no shame in that.

Our boys went on ahead of us and positioned themselves to be ready to do a water rescue should we capsize while John attached the fellow’s canoe to ours with a rope.  Mike got into the middle of our canoe and we began to paddle down the river.  The current was swift. Mike’s canoe was passing us making the situation worse.  We had to regroup.

We pulled over again and made our plan.  I would go with Mike in his canoe and John would go by himself behind us.  I’d gone down this river maybe ten times before; canoed part of it once by myself on what was a horridly windy day.  I knew how tired and discouraged Mike was.  Now, I was called to help him navigate, tell him when and where to paddle but wanted to do it in a way that didn’t emasculate him.  I wanted to encourage his masculinity and his strength.  And pray like the dickens that we didn’t flip over and get hurt.  (Been there.  Done that.  Didn’t want to do it again.)

I was a little nervous but I felt something good and strong rise up in me.  John believed I could do this, didn’t hesitate in giving me the responsibility.  Fear tried to raise up its pointy little snake of a head but there was no room for fear here.  My strength was called upon.  I would rise to the occasion.  And I would trust God for his help.

Oh the glorious moment of pushing off and heading into the rapid current.  “Paddle right”.  “Stop!”.  “Right again, not so strong.”  “Yes!  Good!”.  We avoided the rapid and at the right moment turned the canoe towards the bank.  I could see my sons at the ready.  There was Mike’s father and mother, waiting, watching, concerned.

Mike did great.  No incidents. Just smooth paddling and a semi rugged landing and a warm greeting at the shore.  Then John arrived, strong, steady, and capable.

We were proud of this young man and told him so.

God had given us a fabulous afternoon having invited us up into his Larger Story yet again.  It makes you feel so alive to be a part of a rescue!

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