Sunday, September 12, 2010

If You Want To See How Strong Your Marriage Is...

...Go on a long canoe trip in the middle of nowhere in Cumberland, KY. I promise that you will discover the best and worst about your marriage. You will see what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong.

This was a last minute trip. We didn't think we'd be able to take the trip this year for a variety of reasons, but when we cashed out some 5/3 rewards, we decided to go for it. We always take a camping trip at the end of summer over Labor Day weekend. We also always go to Putin Bay. But we wanted a different kind of trip - more of a hiking/canoeing kind of trip. We looked all over Ohio but everything was booked. Erin found a nice campsite in southern Kentucky, about 75 miles south of Lexington near the Cumberland Falls. The weather was cooler, but absolutely beautiful. We made good time getting there early Friday evening. We got set up at camp and relaxed, read, and went to bed early. We were both exhausted. The next day we drove to Cumberland Falls. It was even better than I thought it would be. We took a long hike through the hills and just took out time enjoying the Falls and the quiet of nature. It was very nice. On our way back we stopped at the headquarters for the outfit that was coordinating our canoe trip for the next day and we got all of our paperwork done ahead of time. But here's where things started to get interesting. We had booked this trip ahead of time, and it was to be an all day canoe trip. We were really excited about it because we love to canoe and we knew the weather was going to be great. Now at this point we are 45 minutes away from our campsite. The lady at the canoe place explained that where we would be ending our trip was where we would be going the next morning, which was an additional 45 minutes away from headquarters, so we would be driving an hour and a half to get to there - plus 45 minutes by bus to where we would be starting our canoe trip. That's over two hours of driving early Sunday morning just to start our all day trip. But we had dropped a good bit of cash on the trip and we weren't going to get it back now, so we had no choice. We were still excited though. So we get up Sunday, drive all the way to the river. And let me just say that some of the roads weren't marked. I expected to hear dueling banjo's at any moment. After a bit, the bus shows up - a short bus (my first time on a short bus) pulling kayaks and canoes. Two couples just finished their early morning canoe trip, and Erin and I and another family of four were on our way to start ours. 45 minutes later we turn onto a steep, winding, freshly graveled road that snaked its way down to the river where we would be dropped off. It's an absolutely gorgeous morning. The scenery is breathtaking. The weather is in the high 70's. And we are looking forward to some quiet time together on our all day canoe trip just talking and taking in all that nature had to offer. But isn't it just like life to get in the way? Sure, we had this planned out; it was going to be great - what could possibly go wrong on a morning like this? It's a canoe trip - with my wife. It's meant to be...chill. No stress. We have enough of that back home. After all - we were on a technology-free trip. It was just her and I - together. And that's about the time that my thoughts were interrupted by a sickening feeling - the brakes went out on the bus - right at the point in a sharp curve that overlooked the river which was about 50 feet below us going down a steep hill. I had enough time to put my hand on Erin's leg and say, "There goes the brakes." It was all very surreal, and even almost serene. But the kid driving the bus (and I do mean kid) acted quickly, if not instinctively, and dropped it down into 1st gear and turned the wheels just enough to break our momentum, and we stuttered to a stop about three feet away from the edge. We all slowly got out of the bus, and we didn't say it out loud at first, but we all knew that was close. Let's just say the kid got a nice tip. I mean - we were within feet of going over and only God knows what would have happened.

Next we all carried our canoes and kayaks down the rest of the way to start our trip. Surely the excitement was over, right? I mean, it's canoeing - not white water rafting. Well, we pushed out and immediately we came upon some rapids, and it's not like they were extreme, but we took the wrong approach. Erin was in the front and I was in the back of the canoe. As we were going through the rapids we weren't in unison with our paddling - it's as if we were in the same boat but trying to go in different directions. And we were moving fast toward a huge boulder the size of a large truck jutting out head high from the side of the river. Erin and I both saw it at the same time and I just knew she was going to crash into it and crack her skull. The only thing she could do was hold up her paddle with both hands to offer some protection against the blow that was coming. All I could do was watch, and I hated it. Her shifting and lifting caused the canoe to unsettle and probably saved her from getting hurt because at that point we went over. The water was actually deeper now (having just come out of the rapids) and it was cold. It took my breath away, and worse, I was wearing glasses (why???) and they flew off as I went under. I don't know how this happened because I am helpless without my glasses, but I reached out and caught my glasses mid air just out of the water - without even seeing where they went. Thank God! I was most concerned about my glasses because I'm blind without them and because they are expensive. Now, I had a little hiking bag with me in the canoe that had a bottle of water, some food, and (can you believe it) our digital camera. The bag was gone. My paddle was gone. I was under water. And the canoe started taking off upside down - rolling down the river, and I had no idea at this time what was happening to my wife, which scared me worst of all. I came up out of the water, grabbed onto the canoe and looked for Erin. She was about 20 feet down river floating as she was instructed by the driver ("in the rare event that you go overboard") - on her back, in her life jacket with her feet in the air up in front of her. And she had both our paddles, and the bag clutched to her as she was floating away from me. How that happened she doesn't even remember. Crazy. But she was heading into the really deep water, and it was a wide river, and I didn't like where this was headed. I had found that I could touch bottom where I was when I stood up, so I asked her to try because I knew she wouldn't be able to in seconds. She did, and she could touch bottom enough to get her going toward a rock island in the middle of the river. All of this time, the family from the bus was behind us watching, and a couple of teenage girls with a little girl were on the island - not sure why. But everyone was able to help us get to shore. We got the water out of the canoe, caught our breath, took inventory, and counted our blessings. Erin lost her sunglasses, and our digital camera was ruined, but other than that, we were fortunate. We shoved off again - soak and wet - but determined. We still had a few things to learn as a couple though, but lesson number one for me was:

1. Marriage is full of unexpected challenges. Everything seemed great that morning. What could possibly go wrong? Now we know.

So we continued down the river, and we quickly started bickering with each other. We were both frustrated, discouraged, wet, and even embarrassed a bit. Plus we couldn't take pictures of the awesome views all around us. Not to mention we've never had anything like that happen to us before. So as we were rowing, we were struggling a bit. I would try my way and she would try her way, and we weren't doing very well. We were fighting each other. And this taught me another lesson about marriage:

2. Marriage is not a competition. When two people are in a canoe together there is no competition. There is no one person better than the other. We have to do this thing together - in unison. Teammates is a word Erin and I like to use a lot, but in this event we were competing against each other - both of us wanting to do things our way. Marriage doesn't work that way.

Again, we continued on, and very soon, we developed a system of talking to each other about what we should be doing when we rowed. Talking. Communication. I know it's been said before, but communication is key in any relationship - especially in a marriage. And here's the simple lesson:

3. Marriage is all about communication. Without proper communication, it's hard to go upstream or downstream, or through any rapids - be it on a canoe trip or in life.

Time passes. Things are getting better for us. The tension is easing. We have a system. We're focused. We go on a bit, and then - uh-oh - another rapid. So as we approached, we talked it through - communicated - and we went through the rough waters together without any issue. This made us excited. We accomplished something together, and this produced something cool between us - comradery. We had found something every marriage needs:

4. Marriage should be about companionship. You have to be able to go through life - the good, the bad, the ugly, the unexpected - together. And as our canoe trip was growing longer and longer, we were growing closer and  closer. And that was cool. But that's not the end.

We keep going, and going, and going. Remember, this is an all day canoe trip. And we're getting hungry. And it's taking a bit longer than we thought it would, not to mention that we would encounter six more rapids. We had to dig a little deeper, find a reserve of determination to get to the end of this. And that brings me to the last point:

5. Marriage is all about commitment. You can't turn tale and run at the first sign of trouble. You can't quit on the other no matter what. Brakes going out? Does it seem like you're about to take a nose dive off the side of a cliff? Is your canoe capsizing? Are you experiencing rapids? Sharp rocks? Strong currents? Some undertow? Not sure where you're going, or how and when you're going to get there? Sometimes you have to bear down. You have to grind it out. See it through. There will be high expectations met with unforeseen challenges, but you have each other. You're in the boat together. And what I found this past weekend - the things I learned is - Erin and I are in the same boat, going the same direction - not just on that trip, but in life. We're together. And no matter what happens we have to see it through. Marriage has challenges, and they will only be made worse if it turns into a competition. Communication is a must. Companionship is a given - when you choose to be committed. It is work, but when you finally reach the shore together there is no better feeling.

I had no idea a canoe trip could teach me so much about me, my wife, our marriage, but it did. So, if you want to see how strong your marriage is, go on a canoe trip. And hopefully you'll come to understand what I've come to understand - that I am so very blessed to have this amazing person in my life. I am blessed.