Tag Archives: kayaking

Reflections from a day of kayaking

Two friends invited me to go kayaking on the Thornapple River in central Michigan, and I gladly accepted.

Kayaking is one of my favorite outdoor activities because it offers an easy way to be on the water surrounded by nature. Kayaking requires minimal strength, and on the Thornapple River, the current did most of the work. We had to steer around some fallen trees and other debris, but the water was relatively calm and the trip downriver peaceful.

Photo from Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Nature gifted us with sightings of deer along the riverbank and herons standing in the water. There were more turtles than I could count, lounging on fallen logs along the river’s edge.  

Being carried along by the current, I rested my paddle and looked up into the canopy created by the trees. Although mostly green, a few had started to change to fall colors and some leaves even fell into the kayak along the way.

I remembered a meditation about trees and how they change every season without resistance.

They seem to trust that even though their leaves are dying now and they will be dormant over winter, in the spring, new leaves will bud and grow to cover them again. Every year the cycle repeats itself, and the trees move naturally through the cycle. They don’t resist the changes—the death of autumn or the new growth of spring. They just do what trees do, living the cycles of their lives.

Be the tree, I said to myself. Let go of what needs to die and trust that something new will grow in spring.

When I lowered my eyes and looked at the trees at water level, I realized that the riverbank had eroded, and the roots of most of the trees were exposed. I wondered if that exposure weakens the trees and makes them more vulnerable.

The words of St. Paul came to me: When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Be the tree, I said to myself again. Let your roots be exposed and risk vulnerability.

Yes, I thought, I want to be like trees and let go easily. I want to accept the changes of life as they come and move gracefully through each season. I want to let my vulnerabilities show, to be less certain and more open, less fearful and more trusting.

A little further down the river, I had the opportunity to lean into my vulnerability—I fell into the water in a less than dignified way. I was not hurt—just drenched. And like the time I had to climb a tree to get over a barbed-wire fence in England three years ago, I was grateful no one was videotaping the escapade.

Letting go of my pride and laughing at myself moves me along the path to humility, the path of accepting my vulnerability. Those few minutes of embarrassment were part of the hours of peaceful contentment kayaking down the river, helping me be the tree and embrace whatever comes.

Being open to something new

“I’m glad you’re willing to try new things,” a friend said as we kayaked across the lake at her cottage.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“So many people our age won’t try new things,” she said.

It was my first visit to her cottage and just before we got into the kayaks, I had learned to paddle board.

I think I come by it naturally. My mother, at ninety years old, is still trying new things. She tries new recipes, new card games, new stores, and she wants to get a rain barrel. I love that she continues to be open. Trying new things—like learning to kayak and paddle board in my sixties—does not seem so unusual to me.

Being open to new things is also part of my spiritual life. “I am doing something new,” God promises in Isaiah 43:19, and Jesus invites us to change direction time and again. Think of the apostles who were living their lives and then changed course or of St. Paul and other holy people throughout the ages. The openness to hear God’s voice and move in a new direction is one of the hallmarks of the spiritual journey.

My life has undergone so many changes in the past five years, and I can’t say it has always been easy to embrace the new. But God keeps inviting me to be open, to let go of the past and move into a new future. Trusting that God is with me through it all makes accepting and adapting a bit easier. Letting go of expectations of how things “should be” also helps.

Still, it can be scary to step into the unknown and to feel vulnerable and uncertain. I think my paddle board lesson offers a good model, though, for moving into the future.

I started in shallow water with someone holding the board. First, I knelt on the board and paddled around a bit to get a feel for it. Then I stood and found my balance. I paddled in the shallow water first and then venture further out.

Starting out small and building confidence makes the change easier.

Of course, not all change is voluntary. Aging brings about physical changes that can be difficult to accept—failing eyesight, less stamina and the effects of gravity, to name a few. Disease or disability can also cause changes and present challenges. Not all of “the new” is positive; God does not say it will be.

I think that practicing a willingness to try new things sets up an openness to change that can help when the involuntary changes happen. When brain cancer limited my friend Jim’s use of his right hand, he said, “I guess I’ll become a lefty.”

Being unwilling even to try anything new results in missed opportunities. I am not advocating recklessness (like sky diving or extreme sports), but rather an openness to experience whatever new God is presenting.

Once I get the hang of it, I just may try paddle board yoga.

paddleboard yoga

Looking for the opening

St. Philip’s Mission in rural Swaziland was one of the places I visited as director of Cabrini Mission Corps. Getting to the Mission required a thirty-minute drive down a dirt road lined by high, dense brush. The brush appeared to be unbroken, but on my first trip, I learned that there are small openings that lead to homesteads and farms.

I could not see any openings, and I would spent the thirty-minute drive staring at the brush, hoping someone would be entering or exiting at the exact moment we were driving by.

I was reminded of those trips down that dirt road when I went kayaking recently with my brother and sister-in-law on a small lake in a state park. It was a beautiful Michigan summer day, sunny with a bit of a breeze, low humidity and the temperature hovering around eighty degrees. We paddled and floated on the calm water and then my brother suggested we move to another lake. “How do we get there?” I asked. “There’s a canal,” he said. “Where?” I asked. My sister-in-law said, “You can’t see it, but there is an opening along the shore.” She was right; I could not see it.

But my brother confidently led us toward the shoreline and sure enough, an opening appeared, revealing a small canal, barely wide enough for our paddles. We followed its twists and turns through tall reeds until it opened up onto another lake about the same size as the one we had left.

It was magical.

As we paddled around this second lake, my brother suggested the possibility of another canal on the far side of the lake. My sister-in-law and I could not see any openings, but my brother wanted to explore, to see if he could find another canal that would take us to another lake.


Floating along on that lake, looking for the openings that would take us to other lakes, reminded me of the dirt road to the Mission in Swaziland and how the breaks in the brush led to homesteads and farms.

It also reminded me of my walk with God.

Recently, I have been praying about direction and trying to be open to where God is leading me. Through scripture, prayer, conversations and dreams, I believe God is inviting me to something new. But, like the openings in the brush in Swaziland and the reeds on the lake, I do not always see the possibilities.

My spiritual director reminded me that how God is inviting me to proclaim Good News might not be what I expect, and that responding to God’s invitation might require me to move out of my comfort zone.

I reflect on how my brother’s spirit of adventure enabled him to discover hidden canals which lead to other lakes; I want to be that adventuresome so I can recognize and respond to the openings God is revealing.