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Monday, November 19, 2012

paddling in place

{photo source}
"It's like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you're finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn't seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you'll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn't going to be over soon.

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It's about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat...the far shore doesn't get closer no matter how hard you paddle.

The shore you left is just as distant, and there is no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea. Maybe there's another story at the bottom of the sea. Maybe you don't have to be in this story anymore.

It's been like this with all my crossings. I have a couple of boats, and every couple of years I take them to Orcas Island and make the crossing from Orcas to Sucia, and it's always the same about leaving the shore so fast and getting to the middle and paddling for hours...

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger...they go looking for an easier story...

If it weren't for the other guys on the trip, I would have quit that night. We'd gotten up before sunrise, spent the day at Bob's, and were paddling now nearly twenty-four hours later. If it weren't for the other guys, I would have lay down in my hatch and slept and drifted out with the tide. But hours after I thought we'd arrive, I made out the gray wall of the cliff face on my right. We were close to it before we saw it, and it was like the walls of an ancient cathedral; our sounds were coming back at us off the rock. We had to follow the cliff to another, smaller crossing where there was a beach we'd made camp at on the way to the back of the inlet.

Then one of the guides pointed out bioluminescence was happening. He dropped his paddle into the water, and what looked like sparks splashed, and some of them floated like embers on top of the water. We all looked at our paddles and stirred them around in the water, and there in the darkness the oceans glowed. The farther we paddled into the opening, the darker the water got and the brighter the bioluminescence became. We could see each other now because there were comet trails behind our boats and there were sparks flying off our bows and onto our spray skirts, so bright you thought you needed to wipe them away for fear they would burn the fabric.

{photo source}
It was four in the morning, but we were energized by the ocean. As we got closer to the other shore, there were a million fish swimming beneath our boats, each leaving a trail, and the ocean was flashing from beneath us as though fireworks were going off in the water. "I've never seen it like this," one of our guides said. He said he'd seen the ocean glow when you splashed your paddle, but he'd never seen the fish light up the water from underneath. When we were a hundred yards from shore and paddling into the lagoon, the whole ocean glowed like a swimming pool. None of us wanted to get out of our boats. I paddled around in circles in the lagoon, watching the fish streak beneath me like a meteor shower.

It's like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand."

-Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

For whatever reason, God has given me a story in which my only real dream in life has been deferred for much longer than I ever would have imagined. My story currently has me paddling, waiting for the other shore to start growing, hoping against hope that once it begins, it will indeed grow fast, welcoming me home. By and large, I deeply enjoy the journey God has me on even though it's been a much longer one than I'd have ever chosen. My journey has been richly blessed, with some amazing experiences and most greatly by the companionship of so many dear friends and family. But this is one of those days where I long to see the shoreline of my dream approaching, so rapidly that I actually feel bittersweet about this part of my journey is coming to an end. Until then, I just keep paddling...

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