Taking the Plunge

Ariel experiencing the gift of flight (at least temporarily!)

While staying on the Blue Gill at Raystown Lake, I often wandered up onto the Sun Deck and looked down at the water – about ten or twelve feet below.  I wondered how it would feel on some of those hot days to leap from the highest point of the boat into the deep and cool water below.  I didn’t try it, though, until the day that my friend Adam was visiting.  I was putzing around in the kitchen, and he was exploring the boat.  I heard him walking around up top, I heard the furniture moving, I heard running, and as I looked out the back door of the Blue Gill, I saw Adam fly past and land in the water with a shout of joy.  I wanted to try – but I didn’t want to go alone.  Having Adam encourage me allowed me to venture into a new place of joy and recreation.  In the days that followed, I taught others the joy of taking the high dive into the lake from the top of the Blue Gill.

A typical rocky wall face at Raystown Lake.

A week or so later, my niece Amy and her family drove up to the Blue Gill on my small boat.  They’d been out tubing, etc., while I had been tending to matters on the big boat.  As her brothers got off the small boat, Amy looked at me and said, “Uncle Dave, would you come jump off the rocks with me?”  Raystown Lake is surrounded by undeveloped shoreline, including a number of places where rock faces seem to rise straight from the watery depths.  Again, I’d seen some other folks do some climbing and jumping, but I was usually in the company of sensible people who dismissed such madcap behavior.  I said to Amy, “You want to climb up the rocks and jump into the water?” She shook her head and said, “I do.  Will you do it with me?”

Amy takes the plunge!

And so it was that Amy and I, along with her dad Alex, found ourselves climbing up a rock face and jumping into a lake (I know, “If all your friends were jumping into a lake, would you do that, too?”  In this case, evidently, the answer is “Yes, I would.”)  It was a rush of adrenaline and a great joy to share that memory with these two dear people.

As I have reflected on the time I spent jumping around at Raystown, I am grateful for the number of times that God has put someone in my life who has encouraged me to take a risk or try something new.  Mark Campbell telling me to get off my duff and propose to Sharon McCoy…Bob Salinetro and Dave Kier saying that maybe that old theater on Stratmore Street could be turned into a youth center after all…Bill Paul suggesting that maybe I might enjoy a trip to Malawi…Gene Roehlkepartain at Group Publishing encouraging me to submit articles for magazines and The Youth Bible…Don Weaver inviting me to try my luck fishing for steelhead in Erie…Sheldon Sorge suggesting that maybe an application to the Lilly Endowments might help nurture my spirit and enhance my long-term ministry in Pittsburgh…

Alex, Amy, and I learning about the law of gravity

I have been blessed with a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who have encouraged me to learn and grow through my entire life.  As a result, I’ve been able to experience a great many thrills and deep, deep joy.  I’ve also wound up with the occasional black eye and skinned knee, but you already know about that.  As I continue the Sabbatical, my hope is that I might be the kind of person who is inviting others to “take the plunge” on a daily basis.  Maybe you’re not jumping into a lake, but I hope that somehow my life is an invitation to grow in your ability to become more fully the person that God intends you to be.  More than that, my hope is that you are calling your friends to dive deeply into the great opportunities that are put in front of each of us daily.

To all of you who have been an encouragement to me, THANKS!  And may each of us keep looking for ways to experience the joy that God has for us even when they seem a little risky.

A Creature of the Air

WOOSH!  WOOSH!  WOOSH!

The Osprey scans the waters for its next meal.

The Osprey’s powerful wings filled the air with sound as it lifted itself from the water, winging towards his perch with a sushi dinner.  My friend Tim and I had been drifting through the cove at Raystown Lake for a couple of hours.  Although we weren’t catching many fish, there were three Osprey who were having a pretty good night.  We’d watch as they soared high above the water and swoop down, flutter for a few moments, and then hurl themselves into the water to grab their prey with razor-sharp talons.  It was simply amazing – better than fishing!

The Osprey is a raptor (a “bird of prey”) that grows to a height of nearly two feet.  Its wing span is five or six feet wide, and it can weigh between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds.  It’s called a fish eagle, and the word “osprey” comes from the Latin ossifragus, which means “bone-breaker.”  While Bald Eagles are limited to simply flying above the water and grasping fish that are near the surface, Ospreys are able to become completely submerged and then fly away with their dinner.  The Osprey is an immensely powerful bird.  It was that power that attracted our attention as we observed this display of fishing prowess.

The Osprey takes the plunge (Photo: Tim Salinetro)

The air is a blur as the Osprey's powerful wings lift it from the water.

The Osprey bringing home dinner

A female Mallard heads for cover

As I listened to the tremendous amount of air being pushed aside by these massive wings, it occurred to me that the Osprey is a special creature.  We’d seen a lot of birds that engaged both the air and the water.  Ducks and Gulls, for instance, are always around the surface of the water.  Herons prowl the shoreline in search of small animals and fish who are unlucky enough to be caught away from cover.  Cormorants, which have been known to dive nearly a hundred feet beneath the water’s surface,  were plentiful at Raystown.  Yet none of these birds had the combination of amazing strength and grace that the Osprey possess.

The Osprey is so impressive to me, I think, because it knows to which world it belongs.  While it is capable, and even willing, to enter the water in search of a meal, it is first and foremost a fierce creature of the air.  Its wings lift it through the air and propel it heavenward, even when heavily laden.

The Great Blue Heron

Each day, I must remember that I was created as a child of the King.  I am not always soaring with Eagles, I know.  There are times when I find myself in all manner of environments – but if I am to be true to my created nature, I must remain connected with the One who fills my life.  All day long, every day, I have the power to shape my surroundings.  I determine what I listen to and what I see; I decide where to go and with whom to go.  If I am not wise in those decisions, I could find myself acting in ways that are contrary to my created nature – as if an Osprey were raised by a Heron and spent her life wading through the shallows.  John chapter 1 describes the ministry of Jesus as follows:

“But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.” (The Message)

C. S. Lewis talked about the power of human choice and our ability to fit ourselves for our environment in this way:

“Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature — either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

My hope and prayer is that during sabbatical and during my every day life, I remember who I am, and whose I am – that I live in the environment for which I was created, and that I continue to grow into my true self – my “child-of-God” self.

Like I said, it’s better than fishing.

A Green Heron waits for something to happen...

A Bald Eagle on the hunt.

So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish

Geeky readers will recognize the title of this post as the title of the fourth volume of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a smart and quirky exploration of what it means to be human and a part of the universe which is, of course, unimaginably  vast and complex.  In the book, Adams tells about the destruction of the planet Earth by a race called the Vogons – Earth being demolished in order to make room for a new hyperspatial express route through the universe.  As the plot to the book unfolds, it becomes apparent that humans, (the third most intelligent species on the planet) are unaware of their impending doom, while dolphins (the second most intelligent species) are not only aware, but manage to get out before the planet is destroyed.  To read more about the Guide, click here.  To see a video featuring a song called “So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish”, click here.  Warning: it’s really silly.

Is that a vision, or what?

Here’s the reason that I’m thinking about this line right now: because I’ve left the friendly confines of the Blue Gill and re-immersed myself in life on Cumberland Street.  As I drove back yesterday, it occurred to me that life on the water was really like living in a parallel universe.  I was able to be in contact with friends and family, and I pursued my passions of reading, fishing, and boating…but all within the confines of a couple of square miles (and even more rigidly, on board the 44-foot Blue Gill).  Except for swimming and a brief hike with Sharon one Saturday afternoon, I was never really off the boat for nearly three weeks.  It was amazing!

In fact, when I was leaving the marina, Pam (one of the many incredibly helpful and gracious staff at Seven Points Marina) came around the desk and said, “Wait, wait, wait…let me see…Yes, he is wearing shoes.”  It was the first time since my arrival on August 2 that Pam had seen me with anything on my feet – because who needs shoes when all you’re doing is padding around a houseboat, swimming, or buying bait?

First and foremost, I want to publicly thank all the folks at the Marina for a wonderful Sabbatical experience.  From the time that Mike walked me through the operation of the Blue Gill and showed me all the ins and outs of navigating that craft to the time when Tom settled my bill on the 20th, those folks were eager to make sure that every second on the water was a blessing.  And it was.

I also want to thank those of you who sent notes, called, or otherwise contacted me during the trip.  Even though I was in a different place, it was a joy to be able to connect with people from various parts of my life.

Is the sun rising on a new day? Or setting on one that is past? So much of life is about perspective, isn't it?

When I got home last night, I experienced a little bit of “the blues”.  I had been told to expect this as the Sabbatical progressed – a sense of mourning at the passing of various opportunities.  Last night, I realized that even though I had not left the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the month of August, in many ways I was (like Adams’ dolphins) in a parallel universe.  I was playing at house while on the boat – I had my own (rented) bed, a mini refrigerator and a small bathroom – all the comforts a guy like me needs…but it wasn’t really home.  There was no mail, there were no bills to pay, no TV to watch, no news (yes, I went through an entire month without hearing about the Steelers!).

Yet there was also no real community – I was always seeking the most private and remote places to moor.  There was no communal worship.  There were no neighbors stopping by to help me pick blueberries.  The absence of these things gave me the chance to reflect on how important they are in my life.

There will be a few more posts in the days to come reflecting on lessons learned on board the Blue Gill, but at this point, I do want to simply say how grateful I am to have been there, and how good it is to be home.  So to Pam, Tom, Sis, Mike, Gary, and everyone else at the Marina: So long, and thanks for all the fish.  It was a privilege to be on board with you.

And to Samaiya and Sheldon and Lindsay and Dani and Glenn and everyone else who is a part of my more “regular life” in Pittsburgh, thanks for your presence on the journey, and for helping me discover beauty in each of the sunrises and sunsets that God puts into our days together.

Back to the Basics

The opening lines in the application that we submitted to the Lilly Endowments for this Sabbatical experience were these:

When the Lord of Life began to re-shape humanity by means of the Gospel, he put himself in the company of fishermen.  Not your Robert Redford A River Runs Through It trophy-hunting sportsmen, but rather strong, honest men who contended with the uncertainty of the waters for their daily bread.  In building a community that heralded the Kingdom, Jesus called those who had spent years reading the surface of the waters, trusting each other in the cooperative nature of net-working, and appreciating a nourishing meal at day’s end.

Pastor Dave Carver is a fisher of fish.  If he has a chance to spend a few hours alongside the creek or the lake, it’s a good day.  If you are there to fish with him, then it’s a better day.  And if you and a few friends agree to sit on the deck and share not only the freshly-grilled catch of the day but also the contents of your hearts and minds, then it’s about the best of all days.

Sparky holds a striped bass that weighed nearly 54 pounds - his fourth state record fish from Raystown Lake.

And, you see, that’s who I see myself, most days.  That’s who I’d like to be.  But when I get in the middle of things, sometimes my priorities and expectations get a bit skewed.  Take fishing at Raystown Lake, for instance.  In my “cover” materials, I say that I want to fish for “real” fish; I want to be able to feed my family and friends, and that the trophy doesn’t matter.  Of course, when I show up at Raystown, I decide to go ahead and hire a guide who just happens to have the PA State Record when it comes to fishing for Raystown’s “signature species”, the striped bass.

As you may have noticed, there are no photos of me holding giant fish.  But yesterday was the best day of fishing I’ve ever had at Raystown Lake.  Why?  Because I got back to basics.

Dave Carver holds a blue gill weighing nearly two ounces, one of four that he caught with Tim while fishing James Creek.

On Tuesday morning, I was joined for almost 24 hours by my good friend and fishing/birding partner, Tim.  When he arrived, we enjoyed a delicious meal of fried catfish and corn.  Then we went fishing, and while we brought in a few nice bass, the real treat was watching the pros – a trio of Osprey put on a fishing clinic for us.  More about that in a future post.

An osprey, looking rather disdainfully at a couple of amateur fishermen.

Wednesday we got up early and didn’t do so well in terms of putting fish on the stringer…OK, we struck out in that department.  But we saw a mink, a pair of bald eagles, a snake, some turtles, and about eight species of birds.  As I bid farewell to Tim, it occurred to me that it was the second anniversary of my dad’s death – the man who taught me to love fishing and to care for the earth.  As I cruised around the lake, I gave thanks for the life of the man who so enriched the first half of my life.

Eat Fresh, Eat Local (except for the Pepsi...

When it got to be evening, I thought I’d troll around the deep end of the lake.  “Who needs a guide to get stripers?” I thought. You could hear them jumping in the night.  Every now and then, one would jump clear out of the water.  “I can do this,” I thought.

A mink pauses in his morning routine to check us out...

Well, not yet I can’t.  No stripers.  No problem.  Ariel’s friend Mina had come through with some chicken livers for her friend Dave, and so I sat on the back of the houseboat with a few lines in the water.  I was looking for a couple of really nice channel catfish – make a few steaks for the freezer and set myself for winter.

What happened, of course, was that there were no channel cats.  But let me tell you something marvelous: whereas I was watching the lines hoping for a giant strike followed by a huge battle ending with me one-arming the net laden with a giant fish into the boat, what I saw was a series of subtle bumps and twitches.  At first, I didn’t see anything when I reeled my line in.  But then a small bullhead took the bait, and I saw what I was dealing with. I lightened the weights on my line, put on smaller hooks, and went to town with these small catfish.  I probably pulled in twenty or so.

A fine day of fishing in what we called "catfish lake". That's my brother Tom on the left, me on the right, and our friend Kevin in the center. Dad is, of course, behind the camera.

When we were kids, my brother and I would go with my dad to a lake in southern Delaware that has a real name, I’m sure.  We just called it “Catfish”, because every time we went there, we wound up with a mess of bullheads.  They are not particularly difficult to catch, and they are a royal pain to clean.  But they taste great.  And today, they will taste sweeter as I remember that I continually need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing, and to take what the Lord offers.  It was a great evening to remember my dad; it was a wonderful time to acknowledge the fact that my happiness so often depends on my expectations and my ability to be flexible and to deal with the things that are actually here, rather than my hopes or fears.

Maybe I’m the only one who needs a reminder, every now and then, that it’s ok to switch the tackle and adapt to the situation that I have, rather than doggedly pursuing the situation that I wish existed.  Maybe I’m the only one who needs to remember that sometimes the gifts of God come with a bump and a twitch, and not a giant splash.  Maybe I’m the only one who wanders away from where I say I want to be and in doing so lose my focus and my ability to be God’s man in this time and this place.

But if you’re still reading this, then I bet that I’m not the only one.  I hope your day is blessed with a couple of little nibbles and a few prizes that bring you joy.

The Sad Truth…and Seeing the Big Picture

In my last entry, I asked people to consider various scenarios wherein a guy like me could end up with a black eye while spending 18 days in the peace and serenity of Raystown Lake in central PA.  Thanks to all who took the time to comment and offer feedback – you added a great deal of levity and joy to our conversations in recent days.

Congratulations to Gramps McCoy, Gabe Kish,  Carol Giffi, Dan Durkin, Dani Anderson, and Marge Freeman who all selected the correct answer…#6, the tale of woe involving my stumbling through the cabin of the Blue Gill in a desperate effort to get the big fish that I know is waiting for me here at Raystown.  Here’s the story…

The Blue Gill is 44 feet long.  You can see a floor plan by clicking here.  My faithful and loving wife had arrived with a couple of beautiful steaks to put on the grill.  We had a nice little spot picked out in a cove near James Creek.  For a map of the lake, click here.  The water at the stern of the boat was about 18 feet deep, with a sandy bottom.  I put a few chicken livers on the rods and set them at the stern.  The grill and table are at the bow, where the water was only six inches deep.  No problem – I could see the rods perfectly when I sat at the table – a scant 38 feet away with a straight shot down the cabin of the Blue Gill.  No sooner had I sat down to this delicious, rare, piece of beef than the rod started to dance – I mean to tell you, I thought it was going over the side.  Something BIG had a hold of the chicken liver.

My nephew Ryan, a world-class skier and the author of the story involving my Brad Pitt-like alter ego

Without a thought to the dinner before me, I leapt to my feet and scrambled to save my catch.  Unfortunately, the welcome mat just inside the cabin slid on the floor.  To steady myself, I reached to grab the dining room chair…only to discover that the chair had casters.  Who puts wheels on a chair on a boat??? The chair gave way, and my face crashed into the metal armrest.  Meanwhile, my foot scraped across the threshold, my knee caught the table leg, and I went down, cursing myself and the rod that kept leaping as if to taunt me.  As my glasses went flying and the blood started to flow, I crawled to the back door, only to discover…that a snapping turtle had taken the chicken liver, the hook, the sinker…and my pride.

Among the things that my niece, Amy, is learning from her Uncle Dave are 1) the importance of knowing how to bait your own hook and 2) that there's a reason we call it "fishing" and not "catching". Ah, the disappointment....

Most of the staff at the marina know me and my story.  Do you know how embarrassing it is to walk into the bait shop every day and have a bunch of people asking you, “Hey, Dave, how’d you get that shiner?” and have to tell them that I slipped on the carpet chasing a turtle?  How glad I am that my family gave me some other stories to spice things up.  It would have been so much more interesting to have been in a fight or developed an alter ego.  But I am who I am…an incurable fisherman who just keeps hoping and dreaming.

That reminded me of some conversations I had a with a very wise man once.  My friend Art Parris – by that time, well into his 80’s –  greeted me after church. When I asked him how he was doing, he said, “Dave, I think I’m in a real groove.  Of course, at this point, it’s hard to tell whether I’m in a groove or in a rut.  I mean, I might think I’m just cruising along, while you might think I’m hopelessly stuck…”

One of the gifts of Sabbatical is the ability to spend time in new ways.  I may always be in the “rut” of needing to fish whenever I can, but I hope that I am able to invest these days in getting a new perspective of what it means to be a faithful friend, partner, pastor, and person.

Sunrise at Raystown Lake

This morning I got up at dawn and spent some time on the back deck of the Blue Gill (yes, there were chicken livers involved) reading Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.  In the chapters I read this morning, he was talking about the fact that so often we fail to notice the reality that surrounds us because we are simply too close to it.  He quotes a poem by Robert Siegel called “Looking for Mt. Monadnock” (The Waters Under the Earth, Moscow, ID: Canon Press 2003).  Listen:

We see the sign “Monadnock State Park”

As it flashes by, after a mile or two

decide to go back.  “We can’t pass by Monadnock

without seeing it,” I say, turning around.

We head down the side road – “Monadnock Reality,”

“Monadnock Pottery,” “Monadnock Designs,”

but no Monadnock.  Then the signs fall away –

nothing but trees and the darkening afternoon.

We don’t speak, pass a clearing, and you say,

“I think I saw it, or part of it – a bald rock?”

Miles and miles more.  Finally I pull over

and we consult a map.  “Monadnock’s right there.”

“Or just back a bit there.” But we should see it –

we’re practically on top of it.”  And driving back

we look – trees, a flash of clearing, purple rock –

but we are, it seems, too close to see it:

It is here.  We are on it.  It is under us.

I hope that I never lose the ability or desire to drop a line in.  And, frankly, I hope I never lose the intensity that makes me want to chase a jumping pole halfway across a houseboat.  But I also hope that I never forget that God has placed me where I am, and that it is a good, good place.  I hope that as I drive through the trees, I remember the forest.

So thanks for giving me a laugh with your stories about the black eye.  And thanks for helping me to remember what is really important as we share the gifts of God.

Yes, of course, THE HAT has made it onto the Blue Gill. Seriously - where would we travel without it?

Some Guys Give Boating a Black Eye…VOTE!

My nephew, Pete (another out-of-towner) comes in to show up Uncle Dave. Maybe I should stop fishing and just be a guide?

An interesting thing happened over the weekend on board the Blue Gill. The Cascardo family (Sharon’s sister Linda, her husband Alex, and their children Ryan, Amy, and Peter) came on board to spend a few days playing and relaxing on Raystown Lake.  Sharon and Ariel also arrived – so the Blue Gill is fully staffed.  However, when they got here, they saw something strange: Uncle Dave had a black eye, a skinned knee, and a cut foot.

How does a guy, living alone much of the time, on a houseboat, surrounded by water, get beat up like that?  Sure, they could understand the fact that I haven’t caught many fish.  Heck, they’ve seen that often enough.  But a real shiner?  On the Blue Gill?  Who does that?  What happened?
Before I told them the real story, I asked them for their ideas as to what might have happened to result in this terrible disfigurement of my noble visage.  In an effort to share their creativity with you, the readers, I’ve decided to have another “cast your vote” contest on the blog.  Here are the stories that they’ve come up with as well as the real story.  Read them, and then you vote as to which account you think is most convincing.  You can vote by sending me an e-mail, by visiting my facebook page, or by posting a comment on this entry.  I’m also open to suggestions as to what a suitable “prize” for the person who gets the most votes for his/her story might be.

At any rate, the question is, “How did Dave get the black eye?”  The answers are:

"The Party is Here!" - night life on Raystown Lake..

  1. Dave got lonely while staying on the houseboat, and decided to invite a few other folks on board for a little get together.  Things were getting a little crazy, and at 2 a.m., Dave wanted to show off for his guests by jumping off the roof of the houseboat into the water.  However, while getting a running start, he slipped on a spilled drink and hit his head on the railing before falling helplessly into Raystown Lake.

    The competition????

  2. While on a fishing trip near the Bald Eagle’s nest, Dave spotted a nice bass swimming near the surface of the water.  Dave’s lure got to the fish just before the eagle did, and the enraged eagle then attacked the boat in an effort to feed his family.  Dave’s injuries were the result of the ensuing scuffle.  Since the eagle is a protected species, it emerged from the fracas unscathed.
  3. Dave was out fishing and thought he had hooked into a big one.  Unfortunately, it was only a snag.  He reached to clear it and yanked the pole so hard that he fell into the windshield of the small boat, resulting in his injuries.
  4. While Gene and Mary McCoy (Grammy and Clamps) stopped onto the boat earlier in the week, Grammy was particularly irritated by the plague of houseflies (boatflies?) that filled the small cabin of the Blue Gill.  She found both the flyswatter and the energy to chase these insects; however, in the tight quarters of the houseboat, she wound up smacking Dave in the face with the flyswatter, whereupon he stumbled and fell to the floor in a heap.
  5. Time alone on the houseboat has taken its toll on Dave and, well, the isolation has just gotten to him.  Day after day of fishing, hoping, being quiet, and having limited internet access has resulted in the development of an unusual alter ego (who actually looks a good deal like Brad Pitt).  In the persona of this alter ego, Dave has taken to visiting the other houseboats on the lake and starting fights with the occupants thereon, and while you can’t tell it from reading this blog, there are actually several other houseboats on the lake whose drivers are sporting black eyes, gashed cheeks, or raggedy chins as a result of this nightly violence.

    At least I'm not the only one on Raystown Lake with a black eye...

  6. Dave was enjoying a quiet meal on the front of the houseboat.  However, since he’s such an incurable fisherman, he couldn’t just eat – he had to eat and fish at the same time.  So he set his rods off the back of the boat while he ate his dinner in the front.  All of a sudden, one of the rods looked like it was ready to jump into the water.  In his mad dash to save his fishing reputation, Dave tore through the entire length of the Blue Gill; however, he slipped on the loose “welcome mat” and smashed his face against the dining room chair.
  7. When the fish aren’t biting, it’s just as easy to watch birds as it is to fish.  While out on the small boat one evening, Dave thought he saw something really amazing.  He craned his neck upwards to follow the flight of the bird (taking his attention away from driving the boat) and wound up driving right into a low-hanging tree.

Wow...How did I get from looking like this...

...to looking like this? Yikes!

I know, none of these stories are even remotely plausible, but I assure you, one of them is true.  The question is, which one really happened?  Vote by 11:59 pm on Monday night the 16th of August.  The real story will post on Tuesday the 17th.

Careful What You Pray For!

Faithful readers will have discerned by now a certain, shall we say, paucity of fish in my boat at Raystown Lake.  Oh, I’ve known for a long time that this is a tough lake to fish.  But while I may not be the shiniest lure in the tackle box, I can pick up on a few things now and then.  And I have a lot of time to explore.  And one of the good things about Raystown Lake is the fact that there are a number of people who are available as guides – local pros who know the hot spots and are willing to take you out (for a fee, of course!) and show you their favorite honey holes and fishing strategies.

So it was with a certain degree of optimism and enthusiasm that I stepped on board Sparky’s boat on Tuesday evening.  Sparky has held the PA State record for striped bass four times.  He was raised in this area before they flooded the valleys and made the lake.  He knows it inside and out.  Everyone here told me: “You want to catch fish, call Sparky.”  And I did.

Do you remember a few postings ago I talked about having space to wonder and to wander, and about not allowing my expectations get in the way of the thing that God wants to do?  I thought it sounded pretty good, myself, as I talked about looking for God’s purposes in the midst of your own plans.

So just how funny is it that after five hours of fishing in one of the richest striped bass lakes on the continent with one of the most skillful practitioners of striped bass fishing around, ol’ Spark and Dave had exactly ZERO bites and ZERO fish?

But here’s the thing: we talked.  And we talked.  After all, we weren’t distracted by those pesky fish.  Sometimes, we talked about fishing, and I learned a lot about this lake.  And sometimes we talked about things that were a lot more important.  Because it was me and Sparky, and he’s not here with me as I write this, I won’t say what we talked about, but I will say that as he was winding in the tackle, he commented, “You know, Dave, I’m usually all about the fish.  A good night is a lot of fish.  A bad night is a couple of fish.  I can’t remember a night when we got skunked so bad, or a night when my gear got so tangled up.  By rights, I should say this has been a horrible night.  But do you know what? This has been about the funnest night I have had in a long, long time.”

And he was right.  We were two guys, both believers, both talking about looking for ways to be faithful to our calling day in and day out.  We talked about church and forgiveness and hope and faithfulness and the incredible God who made it all.

I kid you not...when I sat down to write this blog entry about how terrible the fishing was, I put my line in the water for the heck of it. This monster just about pulled me in. It doesn't look so big in the photo, I realize...

I didn’t catch any fish.  But I learned a lot.  And while I did, as he suggested I might, cringe when Sparky said “funnest”, I couldn’t agree more.    It was a good night – a Sabbatical night (after all, neither Sparky nor Dave was spending much time actually doing our “real” jobs…).  May God grant me the ability to be free and flexible in my journey to see Him wherever He leads me, and to follow His plan, not mine.

Sharon says, "Why waste time fishing when you can ride these babies?"

A meal shared with the Summers' and the Buttis...twice as delicious because of shared friendships.

Well, not everyone is getting skunked. Maybe Sparky and I should go out to see Henry's "honey hole".