It was end of the summer of 1999 and I decided to take my young sons up to one of my favorite places in the world – Camp Anjigami – so they could have their first, of what has become, 16 straight Canadian fishing experiences. My three boys’ ages ranged from 7 to 4 years old. Quite young to be in the Canadian wilderness, but it’s the context where I experienced unexpected joy.
During those early trips I never fished. I spent all my time helping my young boys tie hooks and lures to their lines, net and unhook fish, and keep their lines from getting tangled. In particular, we always took a day to fish a lake where we’d catch lots of (30 to 50) Northern Pike. If you’ve never caught or seen a Northern, they are the freshwater version of a Barracuda – aggressive fish with mouths full off sharp teeth. There were times when two of my boys would hook into a Northern at the same time. It meant chaos as a couple of really mad 3 pound fish with multiple hook lures attached to them would be wildly thrashing around the bottom of our rowboat. All of which created lots of excitement but no time for me to fish.
I remember at first finding it difficult to be in Canada and not being able to fish. It’s something I absolutely love to do. But by the end of that first trip I realized that I was receiving as much joy, or even more joy, watching and helping my sons catch fish as I ever did catching fish myself.
In those early trips I went from being a fisherman to fishing coach. This meant helping my boys become fishermen in their own right. Now today, when we go on our annual trip, I can and do fish because my boys can fish as well. We have multiplied our fishing capacity from 1 to 3 to 4.
I now know this is what leaders do; they multiply themselves and their efforts by developing others even at the sacrifice of doing what they love. And, as I’ve discovered, the reward is great; it’s the unexpected joy of seeing the people you lead being able to do what you do and becoming what you are – a person capable of developing others.
Every fall I make two trips to northern Ontario, Canada fishing with two different groups of friends. We stay at one of the great places in the world – Camp Anjigami. By making Camp Anjigami our home base we’re able to fish many lakes for different species of fish (Walleye, Northern Pike, and Brook Trout).
Each species provides its own challenges and thrills. But my favorite species, by far, is the Brook Trout, or as the Canadians call them “Speckled Trout”. They’re beautiful (and elusive) fish that put up a big fight. The only issue with catching these little darlings (at least for some of my buddies) is that the best Speckled Trout lake is also the most challenging one to get to. The trip requires us to boat over four separate lakes (including 2 sets of rapids) and make 5 portages, all of which takes about 3 hours, one way.
There is no short cut (unless you charter a floatplane) to this lake. So if you want the chance to catch Speckled Trout, you boat and hike. Now for me I love to catch these fish, but truthfully I may even love the journey there and back more than the fishing.
Now why would I love the journey more than the fishing?
First, because it’s an adventure. Every time I make the trip something unexpected happens.
Second, the lakes and walks are absolutely rugged and beautiful.
Third, it’s a quest. I have a sense of accomplishment in getting there and back, and it doubles if we catch fish.
But primarily the journey reminds me of the most important work and activities in my life such as raising kids, building a lasting marriage, achieving career goals or becoming the man God’s created me to be. I’m reminded that these endeavors are also journeys. And like my Speckled Trout journey, if seen in the right perspective, all have a sense of adventure, beauty, and a quest for something big, meaningful, and lasting which makes the journey itself as joyful as the destination.
This past August, on the annual Perry men’s Canadian fishing trip, my boys and I stumbled into a conversation about other types of fishing – fly, saltwater flats, and deep-sea fishing. We agreed that it would be fun to try these other kinds of fishing in addition to our spin casting (traditional), cold water fishing we do, knowing each type of fishing is capable of catching lots of fish.
Yet the more we discussed the idea of trying these other methods of fishing, the more we realized it might not be as good as it sounds. For example, because of our fishing experience, we understand all too well that to be successful catching fish requires the right equipment, knowledge about the body of water to be fished, a working understanding of the habits of the targeted fish, and, most importantly, having the simple experience gained by hours of actual fishing. Which means, because each one requires its own knowledge, experience and equipment, the additional resources (time and money) needed to be successful would make it impossible to be really good at more than one method of fishing.
So it became apparent in our discussion that spreading our limited resources out to thinly between numerous types of fishing would lead us to not being very good at any of them. As a result we decided our best shot at being really good fishermen was to focus our limited resources on one type of fishing (spin casting, cold water fishing).
Which led me to reflect on just how easy it is for individuals, teams and organizations to be enticed by new and novel strategies and opportunities which promise only to deliver the same results (catching fish) as current methods, without considering the additional resources necessary to pursue these strategies nor the negative impact that a wider focus can have on the current work.
This has been the longest stretch I’ve had in three years between blog posts. I have no excuses except its September which means two things. First, September is when we transition out of our busiest season at SpringHill – summer – and move to catching up on all the things, both personal and at work, that didn’t get done during this busy season. Things like those pesky yard and house projects which I got started but now need to be finished before the snow flies.
Second (and the real reason for my sporadic posting) I went on two fishing trips to northern Ontario, Canada (Camp Anjigami) this month (I know you don’t feel a bit sorry for me on this one and, frankly, you shouldn’t). One trip was with a large group of SpringHill friends and other was with long-time friends from college. Both trips were excellent, full of fishing, food and fellowship but not a lot of writing (or sleep for that matter).
But I’m now back at it, thankful for the break, but also energized for the great fall ahead.
So here’s a few of my take-a-ways from this September –
It’s always good to step away from regular routines or disciplines, even healthy ones like writing. Even a marathoner has a rest days.
There’s something very special about being with good friends in cool places, doing fun, adventurous activities. It always gives me a deeper appreciation for my friends and for my life.
Last week the Perry’s had a family reunion at Camp Anjigami in northern Ontario, Canada. The trip was a result of our boys and I “taking a risk” by inviting our entire extended family to join us for our annual fishing trip.
It was a risk because going to northern Ontario means there’s absolutely no connectivity, and we had no idea how everyone would handle such a 5 day “technology sabbath”.
Well the consensus from the family was simply this – it was an incredible vacation. Our family said things such as
“The most relaxing vacation I ever had”
“I got to know my cousins in a way I never have before”
“It was so nice not having any distractions”
There’s no doubt that the lack of television, video games, cell phones, text messages, internet surfing and social media monitoring was a major contributor to this great experience (as well as being in God’s stunning creation). Why? Because all of these technologies add stress and distractions instead of eliminate them.
But it wasn’t just the lack of technology that eliminated stress and distractions, the difference was the lack of the temptation to use it (you can’t get cell service or internet in the Canadian wilderness). You see, we tend not to crave the chocolate cake when it’s out of our line of sight or reach. This is especially true when we’re immersed in so many other incredible things (people, nature, facilities).
So the lesson I took away from our family reunion? Take the occasional break from technology but do it in a place that’s beautiful, peaceful, with great people, and where there’s no possible temptation to be connected, then you’ll have a true sabbath (rest).
As I said in my earlier post, A River Runs Through It is one of my favorite stories, much of my love for it has to do with its observations about life not just its insight on fishing. So below I’ve pulled some of my favorite “non fishing” quotes. After your done reading them, even if you’re not a fisherman, you may want to read the entire story for yourself. It may stir your heart as it does mine.
“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”
“Sunrise is the time to feel that you will be able to find out how to help somebody close to you who you think needs help even if he doesn’t think so. At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.”
“Even the anatomy of a river was laid bare. Not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death. But years ago I had known the river when it flowed through this now dry channel, so I could enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.”
“As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other. I could feel the patterns from my own life joining with them. It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”
“For all of us, though, it is much easier to read the waters of tragedy.”
“‘Help’, he said, ‘is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly. So it is,’ he said, using an old homiletic transition, ‘that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, ‘Sorry, we are just out of that part.’
In remembrance of Mark Olson, past President of SpringHill on what today, May 20, would have been his 54th birthday, below is one of his last published letters.
“Smiles are the outer representation of the long-term impact camping has on kids.”
I will never forget hearing the doctor tell me “this [disease] goes quickly. If you do not get treated soon, you could die within the next four months.” Over the next few weeks, while determining the best course of treatment and emotionally preparing for the road ahead, I also reflected upon how I have spent the time given to me. Inevitably, the question arises, “what of my life has eternal value?”
My initial response was to create two mental columns, one with the heading “eternal” and the other “temporal.” I then tried to distinguish those parts of my life that had eternal value and those which did not. This proved to be a difficult and basically unhelpful exercise.
Upon later reflection, I also found this approach contrary to what Scripture teaches. At the core, creating columns to dichotomize our existence is rooted in the type of thinking that John addresses in the first chapter of his first epistle. “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.” (I John 1:1). John was addressing dualistic thinking in which people persisted in dividing the components of their lives into that which is spiritual and that which is not.
In our vernacular we use the term “spiritual” to refer to that which is most important. We often attach great eternal value to activities such as leading a bible study, preaching a message, working at a Christian organization for “God’s purposes,” etc.
From my present vantage point (that is, struggling with a life threatening disease), I have come to believe that the faithful execution of the most menial duties of life will, in the end, have the greatest eternal value. Washing dishes with my wife will have a value that extends into eternity. Going fishing with my sons while listening and chatting about the realities of being a first and fourth grader will have a value that extends into eternity. Going to my daughter’s dance recital has a value that extends into eternity. Going to breakfast with a group of guys on a regular basis, getting to know them while they learn to know me, has a value that will extend into eternity.
Eternal value can never be defined by simply listing those things that are perceived as spiritual and those that are not. The “Word of Life” was something handled, touched, and seen. So, that which has eternal value is anything that is done in a spirit of faithfulness and service to our God. We demonstrate our faithfulness, gratitude, and love to Him by being faithful, grateful, and loving to Him as a husband is to be toward his wife by following through in the seemingly mundane and “earthly” aspects of our life. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he so closely links love with obedience – “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)
It is within this context that I have come to believe that everything we do to bring glory to ourselves has temporary value. This brings us back to the very first commandment, “Do not worship any other gods beside me.” Anything we do with the purpose of bring glory to ourselves (whether it be a basketball game, a business deal, a makeover, or academic excellence) is simply a form of idolatry. Everything we do with the purpose of bringing glory to God is worship of the only true God. As a friend once told me, there is a god someplace in everyone’s life.
Furthermore, this journey has confirmed for me the value and the importance of camp experiences like SpringHill and InPursuit in the life of a child. At camp a child goes through the day with a counselor, a friend, a role model. This counselor is reminded constantly that they are here to serve and to be “Jesus” for a child who may never have the opportunity to see Him again. They go to the archery range, climb a tower, go to the craft shop, eat a meal, ride a zipline, canoe in the lake, have a campfire, go to ‘club,’ sleep in a teepee, while the counselor bears testimony to who Jesus is by serving and loving the child in the midst of daily activity.
Because of this relationship, the counselor has a “voice” in which they can share in word and action the “good news.” As a result, the child experiences the love of Jesus and may respond by placing their trust in Him to remove their sin so that they can know their Creator who loves them dearly. A life is changed for eternity.
It is because of this I have very few regrets. I would not have changed my involvement at SpringHill and InPursuit, which continues to be a very rewarding way to serve my Savior. When I walk away from this disease, though, I will aspire to do less of that which is seemingly spiritual, and do more of that which is seemingly temporal but in the end has great eternal value. I will spend more time fishing with my sons and friends, take the girls to the golf course, and listen more carefully to the person with whom I am sharing a conversation.
Also in honor of Mark we have a limited number of copies of Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust – A Ragamuffin’s Path to God (one of Mark’s favorite authors) I’ll send a copy to anyone who subscribes to my blog while the supply lasts. If you’re already a subscriber and would also like a copy let me know and I’ll send you one as well.
In honor of it being spring and the beginning of fishing season I’ve re-read some of my favorite fishing passages from one of my favorite books – A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. See if these words don’t get you ready to wet a line and land the big one.
“Poets talk about ‘spots of time,’ but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.”
“‘Brother,’ he said ‘you can’t catch trout in a bathtub. You like to fish in sunny, open water because you are a Scot and afraid to lose a fly if you cast into the bushes. But fish are not taking sunbaths. They are under the bushes where it is cool and safe from fishermen like you.”
“One reason Paul caught more fish than anyone else was that he had his flies in the water more than anyone else. ‘Brother,’ he would say, ‘there are no flying fish in Montana. Out here, you can’t catch fish with your flies in the air.'”
“Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart – I don’t know what it is or where, because sometimes it is in my arms and sometimes in my throat and sometimes nowhere in particular except somewhere deep. Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.”
“Every fine fisherman has a few stunts that work for him and for almost no one else.”
If you aren’t going to go out and fish soon, readThe River Runs Through It, there’s more to it than some wisdom for fishermen.
“Now that you’ve finished your master’s degree what are you going to do?”
That’s the question I’ve been asked a dozen times since this past Friday when I graduated from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. I’ve felt a bit like the Super Bowl winning quarterback when the reporter asks, “now that you’ve won the Super Bowl what are you going to do?” Of course the quarterback always answers’, “I’m going to Disney World”.
Now that’s not been my answer. Instead, if I’ve had a moment, I’ve responded by sharing all the things I’ve pushed to the “back burner” during this program, including – trout fishing on opening day, taking care of a very bad lawn, tackling the ever-growing list of house projects, and most importantly, reading what I want to read and writing what I want to write, and do so in my timing.
My Systematic Theology professors, Dr Grinnell (left) and Dr. Wittmer (right)
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret for a moment the work, effort and commitment needed to complete this program. I gained much more than I ever anticipated in essential knowledge for my work at SpringHill (which was one of my primary goals in pursuing a seminary degree).
Plus I’ve had the satisfaction of living out, in a more formal way, one of my personal “core values” – lifelong learning. And it’s because of this core value that I’ll most deeply miss the opportunity I’ve had to sit in class, and be challenged intellectually and spiritually by both my classmates and professors.
It’s also probably why a couple of people, who know me well, have said they don’t think this will be the last of my formal education.
Well they may be right, but for now, I’m going to see if I can catch a few Brookies in the stream near our house.
Why do I journal? Why do I keep a journal of my workouts and health, a fishing journal, a work journal and a journal of my spiritual life? Simple answer – I can’t help myself.
But there are reasons I can’t help myself. They’re the things I’ve experienced over the past 30 plus years of journaling.
First journals have created a record of the activities and events I’ve been a part of and the associated reflections I’ve had so I can refer back to those moments at a later date.
Second, writing helps me process what I’m thinking and experiencing by bringing clarity to a topic, situation or season of my life. Some people talk things out, I write them out.
Finally, for what it’s worth, I’ve created a record of my life that one day my family and friends may want to experience and share.
More recently I’ve converted some of my journals from written only to photo journals with some writing. For example I’ve converted my fishing journal to a series of photo journals because capturing the moments of a fishing trip in pictures has become more important than creating a detailed record of the number of fish we’ve caught, the type we caught and where and how we caught them. I use Shutterfly to create these journals and I’m happy with the results.
In my written journals, apart from this blog, I still write them out with a pen in an actual journal. Somehow it feels more intimate and authentic doing it this way. Plus my handwriting reflects my mood, physical condition and the environment I’m journaling in, making my entries more reflective of the moment.
So now you know why I journal. It’s really not a compulsion in my life; it’s more like the act of breathing.
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.