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Lessons from a Canadian Fjord

So far in 2017 I have escaped to Canada three times. Retreating from the American political landscape and the gloomy Seattle weather, a few close friends and I traveled to a cabin north of Vancouver, located in a mountain-rimmed fjord. It’s only accessible by boat so there are no cars or tourists. Just the sea, the mountains, and us: in a word, perfection.

We spent most mornings blissfully caffeinated with a fire at our backs, marveling at the view outside. But one morning I decided to not just gaze at the mountains and sea but to experience them. My Canadian friend James and I planned a kayaking trip to the northern part of the inlet. The wind had kicked up, making the water abnormally choppy, but we were determined to give it a try. I dressed in layers, grabbed a life jacket, and met James at the dock.

The start of our journey was effortless as we paddled out of the cabin’s sheltered cove. Once we passed the protective rocks, however, the wind gusts and waves hit us full force. For over an hour we hugged the cliffs along the edge of the fjord in an attempt to avoid the elements. Eventually we were left with two options: cross open water to reach the other shore or turn back.

An abandoned power station from the early twentieth century sat on the other side. I had been itching to visit it since my first trip to the area and it taunted me. After checking our energy levels (and gumption), James and I decided to make the most dangerous part of our journey. We would cut across the wind and waves, now coming at us sideways, to reach the power station.

Though the sky was blue and cloudless, the temperature had dropped to just above freezing. Two- to three-foot tall waves slammed against our kayaks as soon as we abandoned the safety of the rocks. Those waves might not sound large, but try sitting half submerged in a little plastic tube with nothing but the lip of a kayak to keep water from leaping over the ledge, and you’ll understand our fear.

It didn’t help that after we hit the first few whitecaps James called to me, “You know, we would only last about five minutes in the water at this temperature…so don’t fall in!”

Trepidation in my heart or not, I wasn’t about to back down now. Stubbornness: 1, Caution: 0. We continued forward as the wind bit at my skin and each wave dragged my kayak off course. And it was there between the wave troughs and peaks that some truth roused inside me as if coming out of hibernation. And as I focused on that subtle voice with renewed clarity, I realized this journey offered a metaphor for how God leads me.

I believe that we follow a God who sends us out on great adventures. He gives us a dream to start with, maybe something as vague as kayaking out of a sea cove and turning north. As we set out He reveals something worth fighting for—even if it’s far off in the distance. Sometimes our path unfolds without trial, but other times it’s fraught with waves that threaten to sink us. When God beckons us to reach that other side, He doesn’t promise a journey without danger. We might still take on water, curse in frustration as the waves yank us off course, and fear being tossed into the sea. Yet these problems don’t mean we’re on the wrong path. They might just mean the course we have chosen is worth fighting for.

An hour later the waves began to subside and the sea relinquished its hold on my kayak. I was exhausted. James and I slipped into the shadow of the mountain on the opposite shore and instantaneously the sea shifted from chaos to calm. As we skirted around the rocky bend from shade to sunshine, something rippled in the water ahead. My eyes took a moment to adjust, and then I saw the gleaming head of a seal. It peered at us before slipping beneath the water as we approached. With one last turn along the rocks, we saw the faded baroque architecture of the power station and the boulders at its base, all bathed in sunshine and protected from the wind.

We laid out our jackets to dry in the light as we shared a lunch of muffins, apples, and a thermos of hot tea. If you doubted how truly Canadian this moment was, we even brought a tub of maple syrup to sweeten the tea.

The sun filtered along the water, the trees bowed over the cliffs as if to watch themselves reflected on the surface below, and the clear water revealed a pebbled sea floor. We sat and talked for nearly an hour. Even when we didn’t speak there was a comfortable silence, the kind won after facing a challenge together. Eventually we said goodbye to what now felt like our powerhouse.

Though it was every bit as dangerous, wave-ridden, and difficult to paddle our kayaks on the return trip, the journey didn’t seem as difficult. Perhaps it was because we had done it once before and had proven to ourselves the strength we didn’t know we had. We fought the wind and the waves one last time before reaching the cabin’s cove, relatively dry and four hours after we had set out.

As we stepped onto the dock, I looked out over the cove and the choppy sea beyond. That quiet truth inside me stirred again as if to say, Look at where I’ve taken you. Look at how much strength you have. I didn’t reveal the entire plan at the start, but you kept pushing for more—and now look at how far you’ve come.

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