The fishing rods in this picture should still have lures attached and be holstered in rod holders. There are still charters to be run and fish to be caught.
But last week I finally accepted the difficult fact that my 2018 charter-fishing season was over—2 months early. Last week I took the gear off the boat, earlier than planned. My back had a “flare up” Labor day weekend and the nerve pain radiating down my leg told me things were not as they should be. Following an MRI and an injection mid-September, I had secretly hoped that I would recover and be able to work the end of October—run a few last charters, catch a few more fish and make a few more bucks.
As I sit in my hospital room at St. Mary’s Hospital at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN recovering from a multi-level lumbar spine decompression, reality has set in. The 2018 season came to an end prematurely for me. While I had planned on fishing until the end of October, my season ended abruptly Labor Day weekend. As many of you know, back pain has ebbed and flowed in and out of my life since I had a spinal fusion in 1977.
Endings . . . can be a blessing, or a curse. Some endings come in the blink of an eye and catch us by surprise, arriving earlier than we anticipated. Other endings are well engineered and celebrated. And then there are those other endings, however, which seem to drag out painfully slow, if you’re a Chicago sports fan, you know what I’m talking about.
The rods in this picture prior to being decommissioned, each served a particular function. But now stripped of their lures and leaders, they are in disarray. Tangled, they lie in a pile, each pointing in a different direction.
And sometimes, that’s how life feels—tangled, a bit jumbled with little or no apparent direction. Lately I’m feeling a bit like that pile of fishing rods. While I know I am in good hands with the doctors and staff at Mayo Clinic, uncertainty about my work and career are clouding my horizon.
On the water I’ve always paid close attention to my environment, constantly reading the water and weather, looking for clues. Even the smallest of clues could make the difference between a slow day and an outstanding catch. Learning to read the water and make rapid adjustments has helped me survive for 36 years in the highly competitive charter business.
No matter what kind of fishing we do, we can learn so much about the fish if we would just pay attention to what’s going on in the environment around us. Do you think the same could be true about our personal lives at home and work? Nature and the relationships of our lives offer clues that can lead us to a deeper understanding of our environment and the people in our lives. I have a lifetime of experience chasing salmon and trout, but the last years few my saltwater learning curve has been trending up.
A four-letter word had a profound impact on my success—Tide. When I first started fishing in Florida, I just fished. More time on the water = more fish. There is some truth in that equation, but as my children and parents have aged, more demands were placed on my time on vacation so I’ve had less free time to fish. But thanks to a new understanding of tidal flows, I’m learning to fish smarter.
Is it possible that there are tides that ebb and flow in and out of our lives? Physical tides? Relational tides? Or, spiritual tides? Since my early teen years the tidal flow of back pain has marked my life. In 1977, age 14, I had a spinal fusion of L5 and S1. Since that surgery, the ebbs and flow of chronic, and acute back pain have marked my life.
For me dealing with chronic back problems is a bit like the ebb and flow of the tides. As long as the moon keeps going round the earth, the tides will rise, and fall, only to rise again. As long as I live, my chronic back problems will rise and retreat. I can choose to surrender to the pain and disabling impact of flare-ups. I can fight the pain, deny it exists and push myself to the limit? Or, I can learn to identify the rhythm of the tides washing over my life and make adjustments.
The fishing rods in this picture are in disarray. This week I put my trust in the hands of a surgical team as they opened my back and did a multi-level decompression surgery to free trapped nerves. I realize there is risk involved in such a procedure, but there is also the potential for great healing and new life. There are the normal, statistical risks associated with any surgery, but for me there is an added layer of risk. Charter fishing on Lake Michigan is a physically demanding job that puts a great deal of stress on the body. Will my spine be stable after this surgery? Yes, life is full on the unknown! Every day I go to work on the Lake, I look across the surface of the water and all I see is blue! I don’t see the fish, but I have faith that the fish are there, and that I will catch them.
I was not ready for the 2018 Charter Fishing season to come to an end. I was not ready for my main source of income to dry up. This was not my plan.
Uncertainty? The life of a fisherman is characterized by risk, and uncertainty; so as I enter this new season, a season of change, I’ve been leaning into the future. I've found great comfort in the following words and they have helped me keep my eyes and my heart focused on the One who gives breath to all life.
And I will lead the blind
In a way that they do not
In paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before
Them into light
The rough places into level
These are the things I do,
And I do not forsake them.