This was my family’s last day in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It was supposed to be the happy ending to a trip filled with awesome beauty and family memories. It was supposed to be the last paddle across three peaceful lakes. It was supposed to be fun.
It was not supposed to be scary.
Now, I am a Christian. I have entrusted myself to the Jesus who walked on water, the Jesus who calmed a storm that had His fishermen friends terrified. So I knew that these waves—while disturbing for a rookie paddler like me—would be an easy fix for my Lord.
So I prayed He would take them away.
He left us no choice but to paddle through the waves. If we didn’t cross the next three lakes, we’d never leave the Boundary Waters. So my husband Dennis and I selected points on our maps to navigate by, and we each climbed into canoes with our paddling partners—me with our more-experienced son Timothy, Dennis with our rookie daughter Deborah. Silently, I prayed for help. We shoved off.
Timothy and I had perfected the smooth paddling rhythm of eight-strokes-and-switch (on “hut!”) during our first two days. But today, there was nothing smooth or rhythmical about our paddling. The wind dictated our every move. I’d read about the dangers of canoeing in wind. If you drift parallel to the waves, you’ll get swamped. Keep your bow heading into the waves. Or else it’s good-bye gear, hello long swim to shore. Or worse.
Despite us rookies in the bows, both our canoes inched forward. At last we waded ashore, relieved. Then came portaging. We shouldered our packs and canoes and hiked overland to the edge of Parent Lake.
The wind was stronger here. Even a novice like me could see how easily a canoe could “weathervane” and turn in between those waves. That, my canoeing book had warned, would be bad.
So I prayed again, asking the Lord to calm these waves.
Again, He didn’t.
Again, no choice but to paddle through the waves. We loaded our gear into the canoes, fighting to strike out into the wind. My husband, The Voice of Confidence, assured us, “We can do this.”
Echoing my valiant Voice of Confidence, I said to my son (or was it to me?), “Okay, Timothy, Parent Lake is ours!” And the paddling began.
With our eyes squinted against the wind, watching both the waves and our landmarks, we paddled. And paddled. And paddled. Timothy and I hardly spoke. But I carried on a silent conversation with the Lord who hadn’t calmed the waves.
“Our first day here, we had that incredibly long portage. Then we didn’t think we would ever find a campsite on Ensign Lake. So we prayed, and voila! A group of people hailed us from a campsite they were just leaving. Like You reserved it for us. That was a great spot, Lord.”
I paddled on, recalling the lovely sunrise I’d seen there, with loon calls echoing across glassy, violet waters.
“On our second day, You got us through that oppressive heat. And just when we couldn’t go farther in our search for the evening’s campsite, You provided that secluded, tree-sheltered spot on the hill. When the rain came, we were ready, and the trees softened the storm for us.”
Another answer to prayer, right? Sure, it had been too humid to sleep, but that had given me time to think and pray. Now, with the vigorous paddling I was doing, I could hardly remember what God had impressed upon me. . . Something about how each person in my family belonged to Him, and He would never leave us. . . But that was yesterday. Now I was fighting waves. We were in danger.
“Lord,” I pleaded, “why don’t you calm these waves?”
The Lord did not choose that moment to answer.
Both canoes carrying my family steadily approached the far shore. When we climbed out, we had arrived at the last portage point of our trip.
One more portage. Then one more lake. At the end of it all, we would find the dock. From there our beloved blue van would take us home. Home, friends, chickens… Ah.
We hiked that last portage, lowering our canoes and gear beside Snowbank Lake. Our hearts sank.
The biggest waves yet rolled toward us.
Now, I decided, it was time for a miracle. I prayed again. “Lord, I know You can calm these waves. You can even part the waters; I’d happily portage across on dry ground. Please, Lord, calm these waves.”
The wind kept blowing. The waves developed whitecaps. My hat blew off.
It was one of those battles I dread: trust in God’s sovereignty vs. fear of my inadequacy. I tried to walk that fine line between strategizing and control-freaking out. I calculated how best to strap our packs to the thwarts for capsize recovery; checked for secure life vests, SOS whistles attached; reviewed wind paddling techniques. I had worked out prior to this trip, but how much strength had I gained? After paddling hard across two windblown lakes, did I have anything left? Did any of us?
This was the moment God chose to answer me. He replayed our tent talk of the previous night. He reminded me that all four of us belong to Him. He loves us. Like He told His servant Daniel so long ago,
Or as another translation has it, “take courage and be courageous.”
God, who could have calmed the waves, didn’t.
Instead, He assured me of His love, handed me courage and then told me to go paddle with all the strength He would provide.
The wind never slacked off. The waves stayed high. When we checked our maps, we drifted. Recovered. Pushed on. Each of our canoes faced one critical moment of heightened danger: one point where swamping seemed inevitable. But instead we rose on the next wave and forced the bow back around into the wind. Relying not on our life vests or our whistles or our skill, but on God.
Then, across the spray and the dark waves, I saw it: the dock.
“We’re almost there!” I shouted over my shoulder to Timothy. He shouted something back, then we clammed up and paddled harder.
I still remember the feel of the warm wooden dock on my fingertips when I reached out and pulled our canoe alongside.
More importantly, I remember what happens when God doesn’t calm the waves. He steps into the water with us, saying,
“I treasure you. Don’t be afraid.
Here, take My peace and My strength.
Now let’s go.”
Describe a situation you’ve faced that seemed like overwhelming “waves” in your life.
How did things go? Where was God in all that?
Share your story below.