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Humble, Humble Portage

If you’ve never been on a Coldwater Trip or are unfamiliar with the concept of portages, it’s the process of carrying one’s canoe and gear between two lakes. It seems like a simple concept, and in theory, it is. But every portage trail is different and may include mud, bushwhacking, elevation, large rocks, bugs, or all of the above. As the famous canoeist and naturalist, Bill Mason said, “Anyone who says they like portaging is either a liar or crazy.” I would agree and also add that being on trips all summer lends itself to being a bit crazy, especially since I find myself enjoying a portage every now and then. I found this happening on the last trip I led for our Service Team members. I was feeling good; I had successfully solo lifted a canoe (something that I usually struggle and fail to do) and was pushing through bush over my head. I felt hardcore and had adrenaline running through me. I believe my thoughts were something like this: “Man, look at me; I’m a girl, and I can totally lift this canoe and am able to jog down this trail with a heavy canoe on my shoulders. I’m pretty much unstoppable.”

Oh how easy it is to fall into the sin of pride! And oh how easy it is for our powerful, wise God to humble us. It only took the next portage for me to be humbled in the seemingly smallest of ways.

I would consider the Nalgene water bottles we bring on trips some of the most important pieces of gear. A one liter piece of plastic is the bridge between being dehydrated and not able to function to being hydrated and healthy. Somehow my green Nalgene was lost on the next portage. I didn’t discover it until all the canoes were loaded and the team was regrouping. This meant that everyone had to wait on their instructor to return to the trail and search the bush for her Nalgene. Not a great model of responsibility and care for my part. As I walked the trail, I saw a plethora of green ferns lining the path and got very concerned that my green Nalgene would be lost in the midst. And the panic set in. I needed that Nalgene. Without it, I would be destined to share with someone else and be more susceptible to being dehydrated. It would be inconvenient, and now I was that person who lost his/her water bottle. And I was the instructor.

Proverbs 29: 23 says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”

I was brought low by a piece of plastic. I was not unstoppable or hardcore. I was dependent on a Nalgene, and there was no way I would find a sole, green Nalgene in a sea of ferns. But I had a greater problem - I had begun to look to myself for strength instead of God. And so, Christ brought me to repentance on a portage trail in Chiniguchi.

Christ reminded me of the truth that he is present in every part of my life and that I am in desperate need of his provision. My pitiful successes of earlier were nothing; I was totally dependent on Him, and He reminded me of this in the form of a lost water bottle. My God humbled me and then showed me kindness. There in the midst of ferns I saw a bit of purple from one of my stickers on my Nalgene.

You never know what to expect on portage trails. There’s the physical aspects of mud and bugs that might be present and then there’s the spiritual aspects of growth and development. How great a God we serve who offers us forgiveness and gives us kindness in the midst of our shortcomings. And the great God who is in control of the world, was there with me, on a random portage trail, molding me to be more like Christ.

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