God’s Punctuality

So I was walking toward a trout stream the other day with a friend I had not seen in years. We ran into each other on another stream earlier in the morning, and we were catching up as we went to the next spot. He told me about his family, and mentioned that his college-aged son was going through a rough spot right now. I’ve had my share of rough spots too (we all have), but the more he talked, the more I sensed God tugging at my heart and mind.

“I’ve asked for help,” he said. “I just wish someone could talk to him.”

“I’ll go,” I said. “It’s no accident that we met up like we did. There is a reason.”

And so, last week, I drove down to Athens, Tennessee early one evening to meet up with his son. His schedule was full, so we ended up meeting later than expected.

We talked over dinner. We talked about God and life, loss and hopes, struggles and joy, grace and faith. It was a great time, and we agreed to meet again. Just two men-one in the fire, and one still smelling of smoke-walking alongside each other.

As I left Athens after dark, I saw I needed gas, so I found the first opportunity along the Interstate to fill up the tank. As I stood at the pump, I noticed a little SUV with a raised hood in the dim light just at the edge of the parking lot of the gas station. Behind it was a U-Haul almost the size of the vehicle itself, and poking around under the hood by the light of a cell phone screen, were two women.

I drove over and asked if they needed help.

The low-down:

Minnesota to Florida.

Dying transmission.

No idea where they were.

I told them that they needed to find a place to stay for the night and then find somebody to fix it in the morning. Since my friend’s son had picked the dinner spot earlier, and since it was surrounded by hotels, I suggested they drive down to the area from which I had come.

They followed me down, and then, about two hundred yards from the hotel’s entrance, the transmission gave up the ghost. I pulled around and walked to their window. They were crying. The stress of it all had gotten to them.

I told them it was all going to be okay, tethered our vehicles with tow rope and pulled them to the parking lot of the hotel. As I was untying us, we continued to talk. They found out I was a pastor; I found out they had been praying for help.

They said that they now knew that I was there, at that gas station, at that time, for that specific reason. I agreed with them that God’s hand was all over the evening.

“You know,” I told them. “I live about an hour north of here. Tonight is the first time I have ever stopped in Athens.”

“Really? Why were you here?”

“Yeah. Funny thing about that. So…I was walking toward a trout stream the other day with a friend…”

Two minutes later, they were in tears, and I was fighting back my own. We all realized just how out-of-control life is, and how in-control He is. I prayed for them and thanked God for His perfect timing. They got my number so they could let me know when they arrived. We all hugged and went our ways, resting in the care of a sovereign God.

Got a text from them the next day that they had made it safely there.

Then yesterday came…

Got up early, decided to visit some isolated streams I had never before fished. Got everything together, drove into the Park and found a tiny pull-off near a series of pools tucked away in the trees. As I assembled my rod, I couldn’t find my reel. I was certain I had packed it, but it seemed to have disappeared. This could not be. I just drove over a half-hour to get there, and I didn’t have my reel. Unbelievable.

“There is a reason, God. Right?” I said. Climbing back into the driver’s seat, I drove home.

No reel.

Then, after searching again, I found it.

Under a blanket.

In my truck.

I stood there, staring at it like a prisoner finding the key to his cell under his own pillow. It was with me the entire time. Doubly unbelievable.

I sighed and drove back to the stream, back to the pull-off, assembled my rod (again), and then it began to rain. “No matter what,” I said. “I’m going to fish.”

So I was walking toward the trout stream, just about to disappear into the trees…and my friend (whose son I had visited) pulls up in his vehicle and rolls down his window. We just stared at each other. He said, “I can’t believe I am running into you here at just this moment. What timing!”

“You have no idea,” I said.

He and his lady friend climbed out and stood under an umbrella as we talked about his son and stranded motorists, lost reels and found opportunities, struggles and joy, grace and faith. And there, with heavy raindrops pattering the brim of my hat, on the edge of a trout stream, we three held hands, and my friend prayed.

And I thanked God, once again, for His perfect timing.

Snagged

The other day, while fly fishing in the mountains, I suffered the inevitable: I got snagged.

It was where the snag occurred that was so frustrating.

I was aiming for a pocket of slowly swirling water on the far side of the stream… beyond a lone, high tree limb…across a deep, churning run. Having exhausted all other methods of getting the fly where I needed it to be, including my location, I backed up and tried to just cast it over to the target.

Did I mention the tree limb?
And that it was my favorite fly?
And that I was without waders?

The cast was graceful and looping, moving through the air like a curl of woodsmoke on an autumn breeze…and then, in an instant, the fly hung some twelve feet high on the solitary limb, firmly fixed by its hook.

“I can’t believe I did that,” I muttered. “Of all the limbs in all the streams in all the world, this one had to catch my fly.” I’m a novice fly fisherman, but this was still an incredible act of carelessness. The limb was high, and sparse, and a very small target, yet, I hooked it. Had that been intentional, it would have been impressive.

Then it began to pour rain.

I looked heavenward and let the drops hit my face, then gazed back at the limb.

“God, what do You want to teach me in this?” I asked. There is always a lesson, always.

I tried tugging the line upstream to free the hook. Nope.
Throwing another loop toward the snag. Nothing.
A quick wiggle. Again, no.

Nothing was left but the nuclear option.

I waded out into that waist-deep run, got under the limb, and pulled down. After momentary pressure, there was a quick “snap” and a small piece of the limb (with fly attached) fell into the current.

Wading back to the bank, I looked at the offending scrap of wood.

There, dug in deep, was my black fly.

And right next to it…another fly.

Someone else’s fly. From some earlier time.

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A tourist staying at the campground.
A child being taught by his father how to cast.
A local who was having a bad day.

Beautiful, smart and godly fly fishing woman.
(Sorry, but it was just too easy to pass up…)

Regardless of the original owner’s identity, one thing was clear: I wasn’t the first one to get snagged.

Neither are you.

That temptation you face has been battled long before you.
Others have been rejected, lied about and betrayed just as you have been.
Countless minds and hearts have struggled with how to respond in a godly way to the pressures of sin.

There is a danger in thinking we are alone in getting caught up, but the greatest danger is thinking that the limb is too high, too distant or too small to pose any real threat.

So how will you approach your snag?

1 Cor. 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Yet Another Great Day…

Spent today fly fishing in the mountains with a couple of friends and the legendary Hugh Hartsell. (And no, since a couple of you will ask, I did not run into “beautiful, smart and godly fly fishing woman” today. But you never know when she might appear.) Hugh was kind enough to wade in alongside me to coach and lend wisdom on “all things trout.” 62 years of fishing on the rivers have taught him much.

He’s like the Trout Whisperer or something…

He sent me out with a fly of his own making: the Smoky Mountain Blackbird.

It works if you work it.

The catches were small, but stunning. God’s handiwork, spoken into existence. His infinite creativity on display in a sliver of life held in my palm. I know He could have just made them all plain, grey and neutral…

But He didn’t.

He fashioned them for cold mountain pools. He streamlined their bodies for stability and strength. He splashed color and dappled patterns and matched them to their surroundings to the point where, when motionless, they are almost invisible.

But early this morning, when lowering that first little trout back into the flow of the water, the sun hit him just right. He was ablaze with beauty.

I stopped my movement and literally gasped.

He was gasping for his world, and I was catching my breath having been given a glimpse of his life below the surface.

I faced him upstream, gently placed him into the ripples and felt him revive instantly. He left my palm and became a phantom again.

I straightened up, gazed downstream and considered how a small fish could make me feel very small amid the wonder of it all.

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Waded a mile of streams.

Tied enough clinch knots so that my fingers will be working them in my sleep.

Learned that if you think you see a strike, react. “It’s always a fish,” says Hugh. If it’s not a fish, and you react, you were just mistaken; if it is a fish, and you don’t respond, you missed a catch.

Found out that many trout will spit out something alluring the very moment they discover it’s fake…which is more than I can say for most humans (myself included).

Discovered if you take the time to correct something before it becomes a bad habit, you’ll progress faster later. Take the time to do it right.

No shortcuts.

No rushing.

Just like life.