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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

On Bayou Cane

Jimmy Moragne has been telling me about this great place to launch my kayak for months now. This past weekend Jimmy, his cousin Leland and I took our boats (a small aluminum boat w/ a 25 hp outboard, a pirogue and a kayak, respectively) out to Bayou Cane. There are lots of great little bayous around here. The cool thing about this one is that on one side you have Fontainebleau State Park and on the other Big Branch Marsh Natl Wildlife Refuge…very scenic, plenty of wildlife and once you get away from the highway you can’t hear anything but nature. I lost track of how many alligators we saw (most were pretty small but there was one…wow).

We paddled and trolled down the bayou to the lake (Pontchartrain) and fished for a while. We caught several croakers (which I took home and had for lunch!) and some other little stuff. It was a great day – I wish I had been more intentional about taking Jimmy up on his offer to go out a long time ago!

This morning was a really good one for me. I got up early…okay, not really that early, but this is my story, leave me alone. I took my kayak back out to Bayou Cane (that's when I took the picture at the top of this post...floating in the middle of a particularly wide stretch of water). Jimmy and I had talked about how perfect a place this would be to get out early and spend some time in silence and prayer. It was great. (An added benefit, I found out that 1 hour of kayaking will burn about 520 calories…bonus!)

I love the outdoors. I love camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and most recently kayaking. I love to simply sit or walk out in the woods with no real goal or agenda. I used to make fun of bird watchers but I’ve grown to enjoy looking for new birds. I saw an osprey flying by with a fish the other day – that was cool. Not long after that I paddled my kayak right over an alligator that was about 6 inches below the surface, eating a fish (not a good day to be a fish…).

If you’ve spent much time out you know, everything tastes better in the woods (or on the lake, river, whatever). Coffee tastes better. Jambalaya tastes better (living here has affected me in several ways). Fresh fish always tastes good, but cooked outdoors 15 minutes after being caught…

And there is nothing BUT outdoors around here! True we’re just outside New Orleans…but it’s 24 miles across that lake, and up here alligators outnumber people. Within 10 minutes driving distance from my house there’s Riverbend State Park, Fontainebleau State Park, Big Branch Refuge, the Tchefuncte River, countless bayous and of course Lake Pontchartrain. But do I get out and enjoy it very often? No.

Starbucks is a great place for me to study because there are plenty of people there and I get to interact with them. But when I need time for solitude and silence do I head out to the lake front or float the river? Nope…I usually waste time and then as I’m laying down at night I think, “I wish I’d used my time better today.”

Isn’t that interesting? It’s not that I wasted my time doing unimportant things – contrary to popular belief, as a preacher I work a lot. I spend a good deal of time studying, preparing lessons, talking and praying with people, counseling and listening to folks in the midst of crisis…

And I’m usually exhausted; often I’m giving out of my emptiness rather than abundance. Our first year in LA was extremely rough for a lot of reasons. The past year has been much less drama-filled but I’ve struggled with a deep sense of loneliness – its not that we haven’t made friends; we’ve actually made some very good ones. But it’s been hard to be alone in ministry.

Truth be told, much of this is really my own fault. Not that I could’ve done a much about the lack of coworkers, but I haven’t been intentional enough about handling the small things I can do something about. Eating right, exercise, getting outdoors to read and pray (early in the morning when it isn’t a million degrees and the mosquitoes haven’t begun hunting…); all of these things could have really helped. An hour in the kayak once or twice a week could have been doing wonders…if I would just get up early enough to do it!

Okay, what’s the point here? This isn’t just meant to be a rant or self-disclosure. I think that for many of us – especially those in ministry who spend lots of time reading and teaching about spiritual formation – there is a need to remember that God created a beautiful earth (in part) for our sanity and health. We can and should spend a great deal of time and energy serving and investing in others. We can and should be concerned about being a voice of hope to the poor and oppressed. We can and should have disciplined times of study. But perhaps we should also hike or kayak or sit on the porch…or whatever it is that you enjoy. Floating down the bayou didn’t seem like work; didn’t feel like practicing a spiritual discipline, but it was an important opportunity for God to work through his creation to begin refilling my ridiculously empty tank.

Some recent events around here have raised my anxiety and frustration level. I've been trying to shake 'em but it has been very difficult. This morning I didn't think about those things...and when I began to I'd just paddle harder and my less-than-skinny self didn't have enough energy to stress out.

It doesn't make sense that God would create a place as beautiful as this and not desire for us to stop and enjoy it from time to time. I'm going to start doing that more. What about you?

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