Sunday, February 10, 2008

Joy in the Journey of Endurance

By Joyful Fox


I look at the mounds of snow pushed into the guardrail at the end of our street, driveways awash with waist-high banks of winter white, gleaming, glistening and calling children to conquer. Across the field, wheat-coloured grass and brown shrubbery rises above drifted swirls. Even the rooftops are covered in this blanket of eiderdown. The dark silouette of trees, marked by a cascade of whiteness, is serene and beautiful. I am thankful to be alive... a part of this day. I think of the storm earlier this week and the joy with which my children shoveled so much snow. I think of endurance.

We have studied The Antarctic this week. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn along with my children. Antarctica is the coldest place on earth, winter temperatures reaching -120 degrees F or colder (not including wind chill whose average speed can reach 100 mph on any given day) - makes our temperatures in central Ontario seem balmy by comparison. So really, what's -20 degrees F?

Not surprisingly, Antarctica is virtually uninhabited by man. That is, there are approximately 1000 scientists that live there year-round and about 6000 that travel there for the Antarctic summer. Antarctica is unowned and in 1959, a treaty was signed by several countries, dedicating this continent to peace and the international study of science.

In 1914, at age 40, Sir Ernest Shackleton and 27 men with him, set out to cross Antarctica from coast to coast, on foot. This is 1800 miles across frozen, wind swept, and inhospitable land. Breathtakingly beautiful landscape in simple colours of blues and whites, to be sure...but a battle of endurance for any who journey there, none the less.

So at the dawn of WW 1, in the heroic age of exploration, Sir Ernest set out in his wooden ship, aptly named, "The Endurance". It is ironic that Shackleton's family motto was, "Fortitudine Vincimus", or "By Endurance We Conquer". Without question, Sir Ernest lived up to his name, or could it be said that he grew into it.

On December 5, 1914, The Endurance left Stromness, a whaling station on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Shackleton's journey turned out to be an incredible test and battle for survival. Reading about his journey in various reference sources and watching the DVD "Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance" was quite an experience. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, they did...over and over again.

Shackleton and his men never arrived in Antarctica. On January 18, 1915, just one day sail from its destination on the coast, the ship got stuck in the polar ice of the Weddell Sea. That is to say, as The Endurance pushed forward into a lead of pack ice, more ice froze behind and beside the ship, and in front as well. One of the men quoted in his diary, "Temperatures were so low you could hear the water freeze."

The ice floes carried the ship over 600 miles north (away from Antarctica), and the crew stayed on the ship for the long, dark winter months. Finally, on October 27, 1915 the huge timbers of The Endurance snapped like matchsticks and the men were forced to abandon ship. For the next six months the crew camped on drifting ice floes they named Ocean Camp and Patience Camp. Eventually, the ship sank and the crew members salvaged 3 rickety life boats.

With the arrival of the Antarctic spring, new challenges arose. Along with intense blizzards, the rotting floes they camped on began to give way. On April 12, 1916, when the ice shattered beneath them, the men took to their three small lifeboats. After spending over 4 months in the frigid darkness of the long polar night, subsisting on a diet of mostly penguin, seal, and sometimes dog,they were thrown into an intense battle for survival that brought them to the limit of human capabilities. For 6 days, they rowed lifeboats, battling their way to land. They chipped ice away from their hands that were frozen to the oars, to relieve each other from rowing. Their tongues were swollen in their mouths from the splashing salt sea water and their incredible thirst. Finally, by the grace of God, and incredible strength, they made it to Elephant Island on April 18. This was the first dry land they had stood on since they left South Georgia sixteen months earlier.

Still, they were miles from civilization, stranded in the middle of the Southern Sea, with little hope of rescue, as the Antarctic winter was again approaching. In a desperate attempt to save his men, Shackleton took 5 other men in a 22 foot lifeboat, the James Caird, and sailed 800 miles to South Georgia Island and a whaling station.

The 6 men reached South Georgia Island in 17 days, in spite of violent storms that almost sank their boat. But they had landed on the wrong side of the island. A range of mountains, a waterfall, and an uncharted distance over land lay between them and the whaling station at Stromness. Two men were sick and could go no where. A third stayed with those who were sick and Shackleton set out for Stromness with the remaining two. With just a make-shift axe, the thread-bare clothes on their backs, a short length of rope and carpenter's screws in the souls of well-worn boots, the three climbed over the mountains in 36 hours. In the final leg of their journey,they tobogganed down an ice field to safety. A short time later, they stumbled into the whaling station. It was May 20, 1916. Miraculously, they made it.

It is interesting to note that both Shackleton and Frank Worsley swore there were four men on that trek across South Georgia Island. They felt the holy spirit was present as a man. I do not doubt it. These men had incredible fortitude and endurance, but without the grace and presence of God, I do not believe any man could persevere against so many, seemingly unsurmountable odds.

Within hours after Shackleton had eaten and rested, he began arranging for the rescue for the rest of his men. Typical of his whole journey, this was no small feat. More polar ice, more blizzards, more hardship. Finally,with the worst of the winter past, after four failed rescue attempts, Shackleton arrived again at Elephant Island. The Chilean naval ship, The Yelcho, made it through on August 30, 1916 and Shackleton was able to pick up his men. Not one life was lost on the expedition. This was an incredible battle of endurance - a journey that lasted 20 months.

For so long I have admired the quality of endurance...the ability to persevere in spite of obstacles. Whether movies, stories, or real-life examples, I have been inspired, blessed, and have heartily rejoiced in others' victories.
Endurance is a remarkable quality...an admirable one. It takes courage and perseverance. We are all called to endure various trials and battles. We may never know the incredible experience that Shackleton and his men endured but we each have our own journey and stories of victim to victor, tragedy to triumph, opposition to opportunity, times to turn our setbacks into comebacks.

Now in my life, my trials involve the ones of being a Godly wife and mom...loving little people and training them to love God and to realize they are His workmanship, created for good works, that God has prepared beforehand that they should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). I am called to teach my children, in word, deed, and attitude about the love of Christ. For them to know that they are made in Christ's image, as is everyone that walks this orb, is important. The old addage "More is caught , than taught" is powerfully true. I can't just speak truth into my children's lives. I have to live it. You can't fool children, even if you fool yourself. My battle of endurance is to love...to rise to the challenge of being meek and peaceable in the domestic chaos of everyday.

Endurance is not the only goal... admirable, but it is not enough. To survive is one thing. To be joyful, meek, humble, gentle, kind, compassionate, and patient is the challenge of each and every moment. That is the feat of my journey. I have long ago realized, without the grace of Christ, I will not overcome.

One day this week, I was pouring pancake batter into my cast iron pan, while reading out spelling words and sentences for six-year old Olivia. One of the two-year old twins was exiting the front door in his slippers while another of the twins was climbing up to the breakfast table, the jug of maple syrup in one hand and a knife in the other. As well, the phone began to ring. Hannah and Josh were already outside shovelling the snow and offering help to the neighbours.It was just after 7:30 a.m.
These are stressful opportunities I have each day to lovingly respond to the need of the moment. Although the incidents vary at different times of the day, times like these are not uncommon in our household.

Generally, I deal well with the twins. Their antics are funny, they are absolutely adorable, and they're so little. With the older children my mettle is more tested and sometimes with my husband. We are imperfect people, incredibly flawed and at times, unloving. Love is a choice...moment by moment. It's hard to endure, joyfully, day after day. Without the grace of God, it is impossible. This is my journey, my battle of endurance.

It is recorded in "Shackleton's Way" by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell that Shackleton, in his books and lectures, offered this simple summation of the trials that his men survived on the Endurance:

"No words can do justice to their courage and their cheerfulness. To be brave, cheerily, to be patient with a glad heart, to stand the agonies of thirst with laughter and song, to walk beside Death for months and never be sad - that's the spirit that makes courage worth having. I loved my men."

Sir Ernest Shackleton understood that joy in the midst of trial is to be esteemed as much as endurance. The spirit of survival, is as important, as survival itself.

So we journey on, you and I...each of us, dying to self, learning to love, choosing His way over our way, choosing to be holy because He is holy. We live a life in the amazing paradox of His sovereignty and grace and our free will.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-4 NASV

3 comments:

Belinda said...

Oh, wow, Joyful Fox, my heart is overflowing with gratitude.

I am grateful for your skilled retelling of that incredible story of Shackleton and his men. Bravo, for a story well told. You held me gripped until the end. I loved it.

And I loved the application to our lives. Cheerfulness--courage under fire. My we be cheerful warriors. It is a choice sometimes.

And of course, you ended with one of my very favourite verses in scripture. I love the thought of "the watchers"--those heroes who are the audience for our lives.

Thank you for a wonderful start to my day!

Belinda said...

Oh, wow, Joyful Fox, my heart is overflowing with gratitude.

I am grateful for your skilled retelling of that incredible story of Shackleton and his men. Bravo, for a story well told. You held me gripped until the end. I loved it.

And I loved the application to our lives. Cheerfulness--courage under fire. My we be cheerful warriors. It is a choice sometimes.

And of course, you ended with one of my very favourite verses in scripture. I love the thought of "the watchers"--those heroes who are the audience for our lives.

Thank you for a wonderful start to my day!

Belinda said...

Oh, wow, Joyful Fox, my heart is overflowing with gratitude.

I am grateful for your skilled retelling of that incredible story of Shackleton and his men. Bravo, for a story well told. You held me gripped until the end. I loved it.

And I loved the application to our lives. Cheerfulness--courage under fire. My we be cheerful warriors. It is a choice sometimes.

And of course, you ended with one of my very favourite verses in scripture. I love the thought of "the watchers"--those heroes who are the audience for our lives.

Thank you for a wonderful start to my day!