“Lean in” is what I was told to do during morning thought the day before we entered the wilderness. Matt Gray was telling us that we should lean into this trip because no matter what we do, we probably wouldn’t enjoy it if we just complain for the entirety of it. We would only get out of it what we put into it.
Fast forward 6 days.
Okay so picture this… You’re 6 days into your 10 day canoe trip. You’re in the middle of Temagami, the air is numbing, you’re wet, cold, covered in mud, tears are running down your face, and you’re feeling a sense of hopelessness. What were we doing? We were in the middle of the “TUNDRA PORTAGE”! This portage, a well-known route in the Temagami region, was 1200 brutal meters long, stretching from Walsh Lake to Sirdevan Lake. It was long, full of waist deep mud, and very confusing (a few of us got lost on the trail, or thought we were lost for a while). It was raining hard, both from the clouds and my tear ducts. This felt like one of my lowest points on the trip, and I was questioning why Jon Berends, our program director, would send us here and how it could possibly be good for us. We all had a deepening feeling of helplessness in our hearts, and almost all of us wanted to give up because we couldn’t see the bigger picture of it all and continue.
Here’s the back story.
Before this trip, and even before Act Five, I’ve struggled with giving myself grace when it came to doubting God and feeling like he’s disappointed in me for not feeling his presence or praying enough to him. On the second day during morning thought, Michelle, our Coldwater guide, asked us what burdens or struggles we need to let go of, and what God was inviting us into for the next 9 days? We had to pick up a rock, pray to God about those struggles and burdens, then throw the rock away into the lake so we could be more present and not worry about our life back in the city. I prayed about my worries, various relationships in my life, and more. But the biggest thing I thought about was strengthening my faith and my relationship with God. The day we left to go out into the wilderness, David, a resident leader, and I wrote mid-trip encouragement letters to each other for fun because we were on separate trips. I had no clue that I would end up finding some clarity from this letter. I read David’s letter on the 5th day, the day before we endured the Tundra portage. He wrote in his letter that yes, we as humans do sin, but he would argue that our more relevant identity is that we are an already forgiven child of God. We are already good. The note included Ephesians 1:4, which says: “God knew you before the creation of the world and chose to see you as holy and blameless in his sight”. I was questioning as to what prompted David to write this to me, because it seemed so relevant. When I got to ask him he said “It was 11:30 at night and that’s just what came to mind”. That night after we finally finished the portage (5 hours later) and set up our camp, I started to think about David’s letter a bit more and how I need to give myself grace and remember that God loves and forgives me no matter what.
“Lean in”, is what I kept telling myself through the duration of this trip, so I tried. We had a group of 7 people but by the 6th day we ended up only having 3 people that could carry our 3 canoes. This was pretty tough at times because before we started the trip I said, “Who do you think I am, lady hulk!? I can’t carry a 70 pound canoe!” But, because there were 4 hurt people who desired to carry the canoes but couldn’t, I had to. It was during these times I felt like I couldn’t do this trip anymore. But I tried my best, and pushed myself past what I thought my physical limits were. I learned how much resilience and strength we each had, both as individuals and also as a group. I really started to see how much having an “I can” attitude does really shift your mindset and capabilities compared to when you have an “I can’t” attitude.
Fast forward 5 days.
We were all back at the Norland base camp, it’s the morning after the trip. It felt so relieving to be in warm and dry clothes. We were given an assignment to work all day – we had to answer questions and reflect on our experience of paying attention to the diversity, abundance, interdependent relationships, and lament in the wilderness. Then we had to reflect on what we perhaps were wanting restoration in or what was needing restoring in us. I was brutally honest and said that though I didn’t feel restored, but I did learn a lot about myself, my peers, and how to depend on others. I was able to let some of my walls down and share a bit of myself with my peers and allowed myself to be emotional with them.
Now let’s talk about the 10th day, the day we got back to the Norland base camp.
The night we got back to Norland, my group, the “Wilderchicks”, as we called ourselves, got together one last time to have our burn bracelet ceremony. We took a piece of paracord used on the trip for our shelters, and we melted the ends together to create a bracelet. As we did this, we were then told to think of a word or phrase that signifies the trip for us. For all the reasons listed above and many more left unsaid, I chose “LEAN IN”.
– Lou Lou