Lessons From A Trout Stream

ImageTrout season is a wonderful time of year for those of us who live in regions where this beautiful fish is found. When it starts, winter is on the way out and the smell of spring richly fills the air. Everything is getting ready to burst forth with new life and the promise of summer yet to come fills every heart with joy. People in the northeast may be dealing with “cabin fever” but they come back to life as the snow melts and the streams fill with ice cold runoff. As the water runs, maple sap starts to run as well and so do the trout!

Of the creatures found in freshwater streams, a native brook trout is one of the most aggressive and it can also be the most elusive to catch. It hides under banks, on the downstream side of half-submerged boulders, under logs or in the shadow of an overhanging pine. As a member of the Salmon family it loves the cold, clear water of a well aerated stream and will quickly vacate streams where the water becomes muddy or warm. Brown trout can thrive in such turbid, tepid waters but Brookies only inhabit the cleanest, coldest streams.

Two things I learned from my father when I was very young is that trout have well developed vision and they also have a line of vibration sensors that run down both sides of their body. Their eyes are especially designed to detect light and dark, such as shadows cast on the water, or a bright shirt worn by some lurking fisherman. The sensors on their sides can pick up the slightest vibration and alert them to any source of movement. More than once I have missed a big trout just because of a heavy step at the last moment as I was casting a nightcrawler into the perfect, deep pool.

Having this basic knowledge, and withholding it from one of my fishing buddies, resulted over the years in me acquiring the honorary title of “Trout Master”. We have been friends for decades at this writing, and over 20 years ago I reintroduced him to trout fishing. Over the years I have taken him to several of my favorite streams where I inevitably caught more trout, bigger trout and the first trout of the season on a regular basis. More than once I would let him go first to a promising spot where he would catch nothing. After a few minutes, I would move to the same location and gently toss in my line. The moment the bait hit the water it was often grabbed by a hungry trout. After a brief fight it would be hoisted in the air and soon found gloriously slapping the inside of my creel. Since he never asked me why I was able to do this time and time again, I never told him.

Finally one day after losing the coveted “Trout Master” title for about 6 consecutive years in a row he finally swallowed his pride. “OK how do you do it?” I told him “compare how you and I are both dressed”. He had on a white tee shirt and bluejeans. I, on the other hand, had on a drab green, long sleeved shirt, sun glasses, a drab green hat and dark jeans. A lightbulb went on in his head and he understood what he had been doing wrong. However, our next fishing trip ended up with the same results and I was “Trout Master” once again.

He had fished a beautiful hole with no results and was ready to just give up. As he prepared to leave the stream out of mock humility he asked, “What am I doing wrong O mighty Trout Master?” With a laugh I said “Lets sit down and wait a few minutes. Compare what I do to what you usually do”.

We waited about 10 minutes and then I slowly moved to the side of the stream. I whispered and watched each foot step so as not to make any vibration. I made sure to keep the sun in my face so my shadow did not fall over the water. I slowly crouched halfway behind a big tree to block the motion of my cast, and then quietly flipped my nightcrawler into the water. It naturally flowed with the current and within a few seconds a trout flashed out from under a bolder and I was about to have diner in my creel.

The lesson of the trout stream as many implications. I learned how important it was to instruct people in the right way to do things or they can become frustrated and give up. My friend, on the other hand, learned that it takes the right preparation, the right approach and careful patience to gain the prize. Isn’t this just how God deals with us? We go blundering through life without praying, or taking the time to just sit quietly with God. We fail to ask Him for His help, for His insight or for His heart. Our clumsy actions only drive off the very things we were hoping to get hold of, and in frustration we often blame Him or others for the wretched results.

Has that been you? Have you fished in the stream of life your own way and come up empty-handed or frustrated with the outcome? Learn the lesson of the trout stream! Slow down and carefully watch how you walk. Keep the Son shine on your face and move with quiet focus into every situation. Present what you do with care and let things flow naturally. You don’t have to force the issue to get the job done. You might just be amazed at how much God can accomplish through you if you simply invite Him into your daily life and then follow where He is going. That’s what makes life as a christian a genuine adventure!

Life In A Winter Season

Life in the “North Country” of New York State is amazingly beautiful but it is also filled with many harsh realities. There is a magnificent change of seasons but high unemployment due to the seasonal nature of most jobs. There is a lusciously green spring, but a very short summer that is filled with swarms of black flies. One of the harshest diversities is the beauty of snow-covered peaks and the long, cold, dark winter with sub-zero temperatures. People who live in this region expect at least one or two extended blasts of Canadian Arctic air to sweep over the mountains in January and February. It drops to 35 or 40 below zero and can stay there for weeks at a time.

When this happens most everything slows down, and in some cases grinds to a frozen stop. Schools close, vehicles will not start and businesses don’t open. Life comes to a momentary halt as people curl up next to the fire, throw wood on the stove or crank up whatever it is that heats their hone. Most only go outside when they have to get food, walk a dog, restock the wood pile or clear the driveway from a few feet of snow. Those who do brave the weather are bundled up in layers so that only their eyes are left peeking out through a cloth tunnel.

Strangely enough, there are a few brave souls who still take their daily walk in these frigid conditions.  They can be heard walking a quarter of a mile away because at that temperature, the snow squeaks under foot like nails on a chalk board. It’s a truly amazing sound that must be heard to really be understood. One other sound that is truly unearthly is a loud, wooden “POP!” that emanates from deep inside the trunk of spruce trees. This happens because the sap in the tree freezes and expands. However the trunk itself is shrinking due to the strong cold and the results is that something must give. Fibers in the wood split open under immense pressure and that cracking can sound like a gunshot on cold January nights. Strangely enough, out of that pressure and damage comes a great good. It is this very process that makes spruce such a tough, resilient wood and the preferred material for building the best log cabins.

All of us experience our own winter season at different times in life. It comes when nothing seems to be going right, and life feels bitter, cold and harsh. We have disappointments, misunderstandings or just do the wrong thing in a moment of thoughtlessness. People we love may die, a job we need may be lost or a dozen other unexplained things can sweep in and take over like an Arctic cold-front. When this happens what are we to do? Do we give up and become bitter and resentful, or does God have a better plan?

In those times of winter distress, the best thing we can do is to move in close to the fire of God’s love, and patiently endure. No matter how cold it may be in that season of life, the Song of Solomon gives us an assurance that eventually the winter will pass! God has not forgotten you, even if at times you may have forgotten Him. He will never forget you because He loves you with a fierce, everlasting love. What He wants to do in those difficult seasons is to make changes deep in you that can’t be made in any other way.

Like the Spruce tree that cracks deep inside on a cold January night, God uses our difficult seasons to make deep changes in us. He allows pressure to build up against those things that have to go, and then “CRACK!” they are exposed and can be dealt with. Take a moment to ask God right now to help you change in your winter season. You can do more than just “go” through it, you can “grow” through it and become better. If you learn the lesson of the Spruce tree, who knows what magnificent things the hand of God may yet build out of your life. Now go and live your life with honor and expectant joy. Remember, no matter how cold and dark the winter may be, your Spring will surely come!

The Life You Have

Over the years I have watched some of the best people make some of the worst mistakes you could imagine. In a moment of desperation, fear or thoughtlessness things have been done or said that change the course of life for all those who were present. I know of children who have been called degrading names by tired, frustrated parents. I have heard from young women who drank too much at a party and found their date more than willing to take full advantage of them in that situation. I have counseled wives who were shattered by the selfish, thoughtless actions and words of clueless husbands. However, even when tragic things like the above happen, when all is said and done, one fact still remains, the life you have is the one you made.

In this world of endless excuses, victimized helplessness and personal drama, it’s time to face the fact that your life, the one you are living right now, is the one you made for yourself. It may have been created by deliberate planning or the consequences of your own foolish actions. It may have come by the hand of an abuser or by default from your own negligence. However it came, the bottom line in everyone’s life is always the same. We all end up with the life we have allowed to be there. My father, whom I loved dearly, was a prime example.

Dad was never one for planning and he did not have a knack for making money. Don’t misunderstand me, he worked very hard and with honor his whole life, and he refused to ever take a government handout. He was proud of the fact that he always provided for his family, even if at times things were very tight. This struggle to financially survive stemmed from a choice he had made at the ripe old age of twenty. That one decision haunted him on a regular basis for the rest of his life.

Dad was a stubborn Scotsman, but he was also very intelligent and highly gifted with his hands. As a result, in 1925 he was given a full scholarship by his Uncle Martin to go to medical school. Martin also agreed to give dad free room and board as an added bonus in the deal. However, when my father arrived to begin his studies, he discovered his Uncle Martin was a devout Methodist, and he had made three rules dad must agree to live by if he was to provide for his education. There was to be no drinking, no smoking and no women. Dad told me he promptly packed his bags, walked out of medical school and moved back to the family farm.

In that moment, my father’s independent Scottish heritage, and his youthful rebellion to authority, had fatefully overruled his better judgment. That one action changed the course of his personal life and our family financial history. Instead of vacations at nice resorts, dad spent all his free time hunting and fishing to put food on the table. Instead of building a comfortable retirement for himself and my mother, he worked every day until he had a heart attack at age 69 and died quietly at home a few years later, from cancer. I was there when he passed away and I know he was concerned for my mother. After a lifetime of financial struggle he suddenly realized that all he could leave her was a simple country home and a small social security check.

What kind of life are you living at this present moment? Are you happy with the outcome of the decisions you have already made? Dad was not, and if you are not, the solution is very simple; start making better decisions today. If you do, you will like the life you end up with tomorrow. The alternative is to do nothing and embrace what comes from living life by default. The choice is yours, and so is the life you end up with. Now stop making excuses, learn from your mistakes, and use the gifts and talents you have  to make your life a good one! I know from experience you’ll be glad you did.