Building a Canoe:
Moving from Rough to Smooth
By Nita Gilger
Just think of it! One hundred and thirty hand-cut strips of cypress wood masterfully put together to make this 16-foot wood strip canoe. While the process has had many starts and stops, it does appear that the completion of this years’ long process of my handy, artisan mate is coming together toward the finish line. In retirement, there is finally time to work on this project. Now, the outside and inside of the canoe have fiberglass and are due to get several more coats of epoxy with a ton of sanding in-between.
To my eye it is rough but it is becoming smooth. At the completion the canoe will be absolutely beautiful and very trustworthy in the rivers, lakes and streams around us. The design includes seats and some dry storage in the bow and stern underneath the decks. It is being built with fishing in mind so it will have rod holders on the gunnels and plenty of room for two travelers to haul in their catches of the day. I have made many trips out to the garage to admire the handy work and progress. I know that I would not have the patience or skill that it takes to make this masterpiece. There is so much work left. I would be easily overwhelmed. Sanding, varnishing, more sanding, and all sorts of exacting work is necessary to create this rough state into a thing of beauty and sea worthiness.
I am trying to hone a different kind of patience for other kinds of roughness in life. So many areas of growth, understanding, forgiveness, and keeping hope alive call for a steady heart and a devotion to help the rough parts of life and relationships move toward smoothness. The care I need in loving others is much like the image of moving from the roughness to smoothness of this long-dreamed of canoe. With God's help, I know I will be given what it takes with to create smoother places, but I confess it is not always easy. It takes time and a great deal of patience. Like the canoe, I am flawed here and there but with care, I can get to the needed places of healing and love. I can be a voice of peace in the wilderness in all kinds of strife if I seek it and offer it to others.
The New Testament teaching tells us that love is the greatest commandment. What does it take to keep turning the other check and staying on the side of God's amazing love? It takes courage, trust and a level of commitment and determination that is not easily acquired and held when I am bewildered, challenged or hurt. It takes a faith and hope that God is greater than all that life can throw at me. We have the promise and assurance that we are not sanding or sailing alone.
Once that canoe is finished, we will have a big party and christen it and launch it in our Neely's Slough and perhaps paddle at least to the marina. Hunny, our loyal pup, will have a built-in platform and a life jacket. Even the paddles will be hand-made, not store-bought. I have every confidence that not only will this canoe be safe, but it will be a thing of beauty and shared friendship with many buddies who have supported, helped, and cheered my favorite woodworker to finish the good race--to complete his goal which will be a work of art.
Right now, we are still moving from rough to smooth not only with the canoe but with challenges in our society and some relationships. Those conflicts sometimes bring me to my knees and almost make me want to quit sanding. But what I know is that moving from rough to smooth is worth the effort. It is worth the time. It is supported by love. It is a love that knows no end. It is not a love I can manufacture all on my own. To my mind, God provides a way as a relational God who invites us and supports us to navigate the choppy waters and unfinished business of life with love.
Hum? It seems like there was maybe another carpenter--one from Nazareth, who fished from boats, made fishers of people, and even walked on water. He was up against a lot of roughness in the form of political and religious oppression, hate, and violence. Even some of his closest friends betrayed him. This power of Spirit and love incarnate that shows me a way forward even in rough times.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah, the prophet, gives these words of redemption and hope of moving from the rough places of life to the smoother ones with Divine help:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Most of us probably long for the broken, rough places in our lives to find a smoother, more love-filled, healing way to move forward. I believe God’s best hope and invitation to us is to move toward beauty, wholeness, and love with God’s self, with each other and with all creation. Today, I am praying for more than a little soul force and the patience to keep on keeping on with the sanding in the rough spots of life. God have mercy. Amen.