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The Courage to Sail

Many years ago a friend asked me to go sailing with her. She was a member of the Toronto Sailing Club which would mean we would sail on Lake Ontario out of Queen's Quay. It was a wonderful opportunity because it was Canada Day and we would watch the fireworks from the water. I didn't know Jill really well. I was a Program Manager for a few programs at Christian Horizons and she was a nutritionist at, what is now, South Lake Regional Centre. We had got to know each other through work and developed a friendship from there. She had learned to sail a few years before our adventure and wasn't very experienced. I had sailed occasionally throughout my growing up years and wasn't experienced either. I had always sailed on calmer waters - on land-locked lakes or sheltered areas of Georgian Bay. I never had sailed recreationally on any of the great lakes, and had a smattering of knowledge on the basics.

We met a group down there and they started divvying up persons to boats. These were small craft - 2, 3, 4 or 6-person sailboats, perhaps 14 ft. at most, in length. We donned our life-jackets and it turned out there were three in our boat. People began to set sail and we were prepared to leave. I don't remember exactly how it happened but it turned out there was just the two of us in our small boat.

Before long we set off to catch the others. We putted out of the harbour and got ready to sail, her giving me the "lowdown" on everything I'd need to know for the trip. Things were going well. We were enjoying dusk and then the sunset sailing around the bay. I enjoyed the calm, the lull and lapping of waves on the lake, the gentle snapping of the sails, the smell of the air over the water, and the beauty of the Toronto skyline. I was thinking, "Life on this earth can't get much better than this." We were talking here and there and were pretty relaxed. So relaxed and so taken with the beauty that we missed the wind starting to pick up and the waves become more intense. Suddenly we heard a whistle. I wondered what the whistle was for.

Jill said, "We gotta get back." The director was calling all boats in. I began looking around. We were the last boat out and quite a distance from the others. Not a sailor, but a power boater and familiar with water safety, I instinctively knew things were starting to deteriorate. Jill seemed tense as she shouted to me, "Prepare to come about." Basically, this means duck or else be hit with the boom as it passes over your head because your about to change directions. We weren't quite around when a wave hit us broadside, and sloshed over the boat.

I noticed Jill was moving up on the gunwhale, and I quickly followed suit. Instinctively, I let go of the small sail because I was fighting it and the wind. I had no idea what to do so "letting go" seemed appropriate. We were almost over, both of us sitting high on the gunwhale, holding a rope each, and leaning as far back over the water as our weight would allow. I didn't think it was possible to be so perpendicular to the water without going in. I watched the other side of the boat, less than an inch from the cold waters of Lake Ontario. Both of us were willing the boat to right itself as we continued to be broad-sided by several waves. I remember thinking, "That looks mighty cold and I don't want to go in there!"

I saw fear on Jill's face for the first time since I'd known her. It wasn't encouraging. It was then I realized our situation was no longer in her control. I continued to pray but I guess a part of me figured there was no real fear, just inconvenience. It would be cold, embarrassing and awkward but there were tons of boats around and after-all, we were on the shoreline of Toronto - one of the most populated cities in Canada.

Although time seemed suspended while we were in crisis, it probably was less than 3 minutes in actuality. With in seconds the boat righted and we were on course for the harbour.

We returned safely to the yacht club, docked the boat, and packed away the bailer, centre board and other stuff. Life jackets were placed in the wooden bin.

As with all crisis', we talked about it from many different angles and many others joined in our story. A few guys asked what I thought but mostly I listened because I didn't know them, they didn't know me, and I wasn't a sailor.

We did end up watching the fireworks. We went to the rocks just outside Ontario Place. My sense of adventure was more than satisfied, however and I wasn't disappointed we were no longer on the lake.

It was when we got to the rocks that Jill shared with me her fear of sailing. She said she wasn't adventurous by nature and chose to learn to sail because for the last 30 years she had usually avoided anything she was afraid of. She felt "fear" had robbed her of many experiences she might have enjoyed. I began respecting Jill even more after that. Jill expressed that, sailing with me was the first time she had ever been "in charge" of a trip "out". Jill had also never experienced a time like ours before and I said I was glad I was with her. She talked to a few of her friends to make arrangements for the next week, so she would be accountable to "sail" again.

That's what courage is all about. It is not the absence of fear. It is choosing to do what is right, or what is important, in spite of our fear. We all have "giants" in our lives. Those things that threaten to rule us, or rob us of our "promised land".

When God showed the Israelites the promised land, there were 12 men (representing the 12 tribes of Israel) who were sent to scout out the land, "flowing with milk and honey." Of the 12, only 2, Joshua and Caleb trusted that they were able to occupy it. The other men saw the "giants" that were living there and all the fortified walls. They couldn't see
victory. God was on their side. He had shown them many miraculous displays of His power on their behalf. Only Joshua and Caleb chose to be courageous in spite of their fear, knowing God was fighting for them.

God spoke to Moses and said, " But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he shall give them as an inheritance the land which you will see." Deuteronomy 3:28 NASV

Time passed, Moses died and God spoke to Joshua, "Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail or forsake you... Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:5,9 NASV

Joshua followed God, in spite of His fear and the giants that loomed in his path. He lead the tribes to occupy the land and did what God commanded. He experienced victory.

My friend, Jill, chose sailing to begin to cultivate a pattern of overcoming fear in her life. Her friends encouraged her and she was strengthened in her resolve. She acknowledged her fear, faced it, and chose to be strong and courageous. Every time she sails, she is still frightened but she does it anyway.

As each of us face our fears, may we be bold, strong, and courageous and claim the "promised land" that God intends for His children to experience.

"Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a
thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments..." Deuteronomy 7: 9 NASV

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