My husband and I became almost immediately addicted to stand up paddling from the first moment we tried it. It was on a mini vacation to a lake house when we rented our first board and discovered, as we jokingly refer to it now, the “SUP lifestyle.” That phrase can certainly be interpreted a few different ways, but for us, it just means that stand up paddling has changed the way we enjoy any free time that we have - including vacations - which are now spent almost entirely on the water. And we absolutely love every single second of it. Well, we did until our most recent trip.
We were excited to finally be visiting a lake we read about in a magazine and we were eager to get on the water. The first day we set out to see a waterfall on what we knew would be an 8-10 mile round trip. It was a great day and we were proud of ourselves for going a greater distance than we had on our previously longest paddle (8 miles) on the Cumberland last year.
Encouraged by our success we decided to go on a 14 mile round trip paddle to another waterfall the following day. Our thinking was “if we can easily paddle 10 miles, 14 is probably not a big deal.” And it might not have been, except we made some wrong navigational decisions and added another three miles to our trip equaling SEVENTEEN miles total. We aren’t endurance athletes. Or even athletes. And it was HOT and sunny that day, around 88-90F. Although we miraculously felt unusually strong and energetic for the first 15 miles, exhaustion hit on the last 1.5-2 miles and we started to wonder if we had the strength to get back. But we had no other option. No one to call for a pick-up, no current to float on, no sail to raise, no engine to start; nothing to do but focus and paddle. If I could have called anyone to come and get us I would have done so in a minute. We really wanted to quit.
At that point, I could barely even stand to look at the shore because it was so far away and felt impossible to reach based on the strength I had left. I literally counted paddling strokes on each side of the board before I would allow myself to look again, hoping that I would be closer than I realized. Throughout that stretch when we were exhausted and had no choice but to keep paddling, I started thinking about what a metaphor this experience was for life.
When painful circumstances occur in life, often there is no visible end to the suffering. But in those seasons, we all have no alternative than to keep “paddling,” no matter how painful or how questionable the outcome seems to be at the time. Sometimes we have to just put our heads down and not even look for a finish line other than the end of the next minute, the next hour, the next day. And that is how we arrive at our destinations. Eventually, seasons pass. Finish lines become visible. Rest awaits.
For no reason known to him at the time, that morning my husband packed about four times more water than we normally take. It was like manna because we had just enough to last us until we got back to land. In keeping with His promises to always provide for our needs WHEN we have them, God gave us extra strength AND extra water that day at exactly the right time.
In retrospect, we experienced first-hand our Lord’s name “I AM” that day. I heard a pastor say once that God did not refer to Himself as “I was,” or “I will be,” but “I AM” because He is always in the present. I hope the next time when our strength is failing and the shore line seems unreachable, literally or figuratively, that we will remember how God faithfully plans in advance for our needs, whether that is an extra few bottles of water, or divinely infused physical strength, and delivers at exactly the right time.