Who knew a horrible canoe trip could teach you important life lessons?
Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to go on a field trip with my kids to a local summer camp. It was a gorgeous day in early September, and our activities included rock climbing, archery, a creek study, and canoeing.
I volunteered to canoe around a large river inlet with my 6-year old son and his friend. We set out on the gleaming water, the still water sparkling under the blue sky and sunshine.
Little did I know it was about to be one of the most challenging canoe trips I’d ever taken.
Our first surprise lay beneath the surface.
Under the surface, the water was choked with vegetation — it was absolutely everywhere. Thick weeds caught around our canoe and oars, making each stroke ten times more difficult than the average glide around a lake. Again and again, we had to pull our canoe and oars free of the green muck as we strained to push through the water and advance a few more yards.
The second surprise happened around the bend, as we finally we were within sight of the dock again, arms aching from an hour of heavy effort.
A strong wind put a stop to our progress.
Each time we’d round the bend toward the dock, the wild wind would push our canoe sideways and backwards in the water, further from our goal than before. We tried again and again to row against the wind– once, twice, three times without success.
It wasn’t until another canoe pulled alongside us, pushing us along and helping buffet against the wind that we finally made progress.
The boys were near tears from effort and disappointment.
I found myself wondering if we’d ever make it to the dock. I seriously debated hopping out into the weedy water to see if I could swim us to the dock more effectively.
Instead, I studied the distance between our small canoe and the dock.
“100 more strokes.” I said to the boys with a new determination.
“That’s all it will take. We can make it back in 100 strokes. Let’s start counting.”
Their young voices and tired arms joined mine as we slowly advanced, counting and rowing our way to the dock.
At stroke 87, we gently bumped into the dock’s side, more worn out than we’d ever anticipated. The trip had taken four times its normal length. We’d rowed constantly through weedy water, fought the wind, and battled our own desire to give up.
But we made it.
A while later, I realized that this miserable canoe trip could offer more than just sore muscles and a sense of accomplishment. It also offered a great analogy about life.
Here are three life lessons I’ll carry with me from the worst canoe trip ever.
1. There’s more beneath the surface that we could ever imagine.
As moms, it’s easy to look at the smooth glass of someone else’s life and assume that they must sail through it with ease. The reality is that for many of us, what’s beneath the surface is pretty difficult.
It takes effort, grit, and perseverance –sometimes for just the simple day-to-day things. Give yourself and others so much grace. Author Wendy Mass put it this way, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
2. It’s better when we face new challenges together
Sometimes, when the winds of life are pushing you back with a force that discourages and exhausts you, call out for help. With the encouragement and support of others, we can face the winds together. We’re less likely to be blown around and more likely to gain ground when we stick together.
3. Just do the next right thing.
When the boys and I had just a little way to go, we counted out our strokes, focusing on just one effort at a time to reach the dock.
In the same way, when I feel overwhelmed by what’s going on in my life, it is less stressful and more manageable when I simply focus on the next right thing. Each small effort gets me closer to where I need to be if I take it one stroke –or step- at a time.
My son and I laugh now about our crazy canoe trip. We’re all proud that we made it through despite its challenges.
And I hope that the next time I’m feeling utterly overwhelmed by a challenge I’m facing, I remember these life lessons from that early fall day.
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