It hits me how this mirrors parenting. Lately, I have been paddling hard, telling my kids where they’re off track and how they need to change what they’re doing. I tire myself this way. Instead, I should simply set my paddle in, fixed on what I know God is asking of them — of me — in the moment. With my gaze firmly on him again, I am more able to push against the current of our habits and culture to shift us back on course and out of the weeds of life.

This perspective, along with the family outing itself, is a blessing. Somehow, I thought being a mom would be easier. The reality is that we’re all sent out onto the river of life as a parent without instructions — that is, until someone calls out over their shoulder with a much-needed tip. We shove off in ankle-high water, and I settle into the two-person kayak, taking a tentative dip with my paddle. In front of me, my 9-year-old daughter does the same, and we glide along behind her sisters in their shared boat. My husband follows solo.

Once the initial splashing subsides, a mantle of quiet settles over the river. Tall trees line the riverbanks and beyond them, I look into the forest. Soon, we’ll be deep into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, leaving commerce, houses and people behind. That is if I can stop running into the fallen trees that jut out into the water on either side.

“Paddle on the left,” I instruct. We inch around submerged branches, then suddenly break free and shoot across the stream into another set of logs. We limp this way down the river for a half-hour. Occasionally, I jump out and push us back on track.

Never mind that it is our first kayak trip, and we haven’t received any instructions. It should be simple. And if the waters were wide open, we’d be fine. But they’re not. My frustration mounts.

I rest my paddle against the boat. My neck and arms ache from the constant effort. It’s almost too much trying to paddle a kayak for two in such cramped spaces. My instructions to my daughter come too late. Her strokes fight against mine. This isn’t what I expected.

Somehow, I expected it would be easier.

My husband pulls alongside us and offers to switch places. I agree.

As they push off, my husband calls out over his shoulder, “If you hold your paddle down in the water on the side you want to turn, it will go that way.”

I try it his way, holding my paddle against the current and watch as the tip of the kayak swiftly tilts the direction I want it to go. At a narrow gap, I try it again, breezing through without tangling in branches.

The tension eases from my shoulders. My boat behaves the way I intend by simply holding my paddle motionless in opposition to the pull of the stream.

Later when we trade places, and I’m with my middle daughter, the value of this principle becomes even clearer. I no longer depend on her to help steer. I am captain and can keep us on course. I match my strokes to hers and hold against the current when I need to. We are a peaceful pair.

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