The one that got away…

Last month I had the joy of spending a day fishing with my cousin Paul and his fishing-guide buddy, Allen. We were in South Louisiana near the Gulf of Mexico, (we could’ve been in the gulf for all I know.) When I say joy, I mean “opening presents Christmas morning” joy; “lose 20 pounds” joy; or “find your keys after looking for hours” joy. The remembrance of that day brings a smile to my face.

Stay with me on this story. That morning, I walked out the door at 5:30 AM. I was dressed for the day and ready to go. We stopped by a local store to pick up our lunch–2 containers of fried chicken–which tasted much better than your average fried chicken and we picked up my fishing license (I’m not a poacher). When I tell you they want all of your information to give you a Louisiana fishing license–I mean ALL of your information. They want color of eyes, color or hair, current phone, SS#, address. I don’t remember giving the state of Louisiana that much information when I registered to vote the first time. (I’m from Louisiana, so I can say that.) With my 3 day license in hand, off we went. We had live bait, we had chicken, we had a cooler of water & Gatorade and nothing but fishing on our to do list.

We arrived at the marina, put the boat in the water and were on our way. I love watching the sun come up, watching egrets fly overhead, enjoying the stillness of the water, or watching dolphins playing. It was a great day. I was thinking, “what I great life.”

Allen took us to our first spot. He handed me a pole and baited my line. I quickly told them I wanted to learn how to bait my own line–how tough could it be to put a little shrimp on a line? I didn’t know much about fishing–I was pretty much a clean slate. You tell me what to do or what I’m doing wrong and I’ll learn. I’m fairly teachable, when I want to learn—(there’s a golf story from New Mexico that could be inserted here, but I’ll save that for another devotional). After a few lessons on casting, I was a seasoned veteran, almost. I watched them catch one fish after another. They continued to coach me… “pull your line in slower, Celia” or “when you feel that tug, your bait’s probably gone”.

I would switch hands, I’d try to reel more slowly. Finally it happened. I caught one. Not a big one, but it was a fish. My first few fish were pretty small. Paul helped me unhook them and release them. I remember thinking, “he’s gonna get tired of this”, so I just started grabbing those fish myself. There are times in our lives when we’re not sure how to do something or we’re not sure if we’re doing it right, when we have to “gut it out”–just bear down and try. There have been times when people have said to me, “how do you do that and look so confident?” I guess I just say to myself, “I can do it.” Then I BECOME the thing I’m striving for. That was my approach that day. Finally I was fishing! I caught trout, red fish, and even a shark! My largest fish was a red fish about 28 inches long and around 10 to12 pounds. I was screaming and having a grand old time. Allen & Paul were laughing that laugh–like you’re killing us and you’re killing the fishing for all of the fishermen who can hear you and are trying to catch something.

Reeling those fish in is a job, but what a sense of pride when you do it. A couple of times I know I blinked and said, “hey guys, how I am doing?” My intent was to communicate the thought, “can either of you help me reel this in?” They’d smile and say; “you are doing great. Lift up your pole and bring it down and as reel.” It was my fish and it was my job to do.

THEN IT HAPPENED—it was about mid-day and we had fished in several different locations. I was casting, when all of a sudden, my line started going out like crazy. This got the attention of my fellow fishermen. They told me “that’s a big one, Celia. The biggest today, by far.” Finally my line broke. As we fixed it, we talked about the one that got away. We talked about how big it probably was, what it could have been–maybe it was a shark, they listed a slew of fish names that I had never heard of. We continued to fish and I thought, I’ve got two option–I can dwell on the one that got away and think I’ll never have another one like that OR I can choose to think there’s a better one and a bigger one out there. I know why folks love fishing. Some of the fun of fishing is knowing that next time might be the time when you will catch the big one or the one that got away.

Well, the day ended and the fish were cleaned. We readied the boat for another trip. I wanted to beg them to take me the next day, but I had a life to return to in Franklin. I had a singing engagement the next weekend. I had Ron, who lovingly and patiently kept our sons while I fished. I had two sons, Max and Zach, and I had stories to tell of Mama fishing on a boat.

The original purpose of my trip was to attend Paul’s father’s memorial service. He died from complications after a long-awaited liver transplant. I flew from Nashville to Houston and drove to Lake Charles to meet my family, many I hadn’t seen since the death of my own father. As I drove, I wondered what I would feel–sadness, connectedness, sense of loss, sense of belonging. I kept coming back to the thought that life has a way of moving on. I remembered good days and I believe that better days are ahead. When I saw my family, I didn’t have any words of wisdom about their loss. We shared something unspoken in our togetherness. It was a silent exchange—rooted in our common experience of the loss of a parent. No words were needed–being together was enough. In the silence, I felt right with the world and right with myself. At the memorial service, my Uncle Billy squeezed my hand during the closing song. Instead of feeling flooded with loss, I was reminded of all I have and all that is ahead–the overwhelming blessings. I was also reminded that my best days are ahead.

I go to churches and sing for youth groups. Occasionally, I meet a group or a church that dwells on days gone by. They are stuck with the notion that their best days are behind them. Of course, I am not talking about your church. This mindset is about living from a sense scarcity rather than living with an understanding of God’s abundance. Ultimately, the confidence to live this way comes from a trust that God holds the future.

Life is different when lived with the mindset that my best days are ahead of me–my best ideas are yet to come, my marriage grows better and stronger with time, my best songs are not yet written, and my biggest fish is still swimming. The day I spent fishing was a wonderful reminder of this truth.

**Here is the rest of the story and the real-life true story about the ones that got away. — Paul packed my fish on ice so I could fly them home. When I got to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter in Houston, the ticket agent smiled and said, “Ma’am, can you tell me what’s in your ice chest?” Proudly I answered, “fish I caught today near the Gulf. You won’t believe the day I’ve had.” I watched as she cut open my duct taped Styrofoam ice chest with a box cutter. As she worked, she muttered, “no, no, no. You can’t fly with this kind of ice chest, you can’t fly with loose ice, and you can’t fly with fresh fish–it has to be frozen.” So I left my fish and passed through security and flew home with only the things I had brought from Tennessee.

There is an end to this story in my mind. I have a vision of those airline employees and all their friends, gathered for a fish fry that night. It brings a smile to my face, knowing that they really might have had a party with MY fish. Those fish were the real ones that got away. I am left with the memory of an incredible day. My best trip is STILL in my future and I am ready to go.

A personal thanks to Paul and Allen, who were great sports to risk their day of fishing to take a girl like me out and teach me how to fish. You guys are great!

Jeremiah 29:11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

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