This is the time of year elementary students are cutting, painting, and creating all sorts of Thanksgiving papers that their moms and dads will affix to various kitchen appliances and cabinetry in celebration of the things the child is thankful for. You never really know what your youngster might write on these papers, particularly if their teacher doesn’t attempt to influence their selection so as not to embarrass the parents. You can imagine parents across the country rhetorically asking, “What the hell are they teaching my kid?”
My eight-year-old daughter came home at the break with the ubiquitous turkey paper, and on the backside she listed the three things she was grateful for this season: “God, my parents, and my pets.” I could only smile when I read her paper; mind you, this was a product of a secular school.
As if the Thanksgiving season weren’t reason enough, my daughter’s choices certainly caused me to reflect upon my own thankfulness. What is the condition of my heart this year?
Apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the many blessings we, the church, receive from Jesus (note the lower case “church” connoting believers and not a specific building or religion). These are blessings we are freely given, but cannot earn. For Christians, the gift of salvation through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is at the top of the list. But even for non-believers, surely they did not pick their parents, the country or nation they were born into. Although there are environmental factors at play, our personalities and inherent talents seem to grow out of us from nowhere. We don’t seem to pick them as much as they pick us.
Put another way, could you be as thankful if you were born to abusive parents who were addicted to their sins, inflicting all sorts of physical and emotional pain on your childhood? What if you were born into poverty, or in a nation where human rights didn’t exist? What if you were born with a disability, or with a progressive condition that prevented you from enjoying good health? What if you dreamed of a life with talent in areas like music, singing, art, or even areas like mathematics or writing? Certainly these skills can be learned and developed to various levels of proficiency, but real talent is usually something we easily recognize and refer to as “a gift” for good reason. What about our physical attributes? While diet and exercise, and dare I throw in surgical procedures, can improve things, we really can’t make ourselves taller or shorter, big boned or thin boned. If you don’t have the gift of strength, quickness or hand-eye coordination you’ll never improve enough to play a sport at the professional level.
So, for the most part, we are who we are. Sometimes we focus too much on what we are not, what we don’t have, and not enough on what we do have. In his letter to the Philippians Paul also wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). He wrote this letter while chained to a guard in a Roman prison, confined in a filthy jail, while some “followers” tried to make trouble for him in prison for their own selfish reasons, and although he desired his freedom he was resigned to the fact that he’d likely die at the hands of the Romans. How could he be content in such conditions?
Contentment, being at peace with yourself and your condition wherever you are in life, is also a gift from God. It’s a contentment flowing from the certainty that you are saved through Christ, and that you are an eternal being who will live within the peace and glory of The Lord after your earthly death just as surely as Jesus rose from His earthly grave to be reunited with his Father in heaven. This level of contentment, no matter your status or condition in this worldly life, is truly a gift from God.
So yes, I am thankful for all the gifts God has freely given me, even those that I occasionally wish I could return for another.
This visit to Dacey on the day before Thanksgiving was a reminder of the gift of contentment. I had hopes of at least a few large trout. I had hopes of peace and serenity while viewing wildlife in awe inspiring conditions. And although those hopes and aspirations were achieved on some level, I’d be lying if I didn’t confess some level of disappointment. But I’ve been fishing enough to know that these adventures are always different than my expectations, and that they always offer their own elements of peace and awe if I’m willing to look for them.
While I did not land anything large, I did land many trout. While I did suffer the fall waterfowl hunters and the report of their shotguns sporadically for a few hours, I did have the reservoir to myself most of the day. While the dead weeds had jammed up the boat launch and most of the reservoir, they did create interesting channels weaving through the surface that revealed their own secrets when proper levels of patience and observation were practiced. The snow geese and a few large grey herons peppered my visit with sightings not usually seen every day. And because I was able to take an extra day off, and because we made dinner arrangements that enabled me to go fishing the day before Thanksgiving, I was able to spend a day alone with my thoughts, prayers, and my favorite hobby… something many others simply cannot do… how could I not be thankful for that gift, regardless of the number or size of the fish?
In the mid-afternoon I did hook a couple of large trout that I got to see pretty clearly. The first one eventually came to the surface and began to tail slap the tippet that held the hook in its jaw. I’ve seen this action before with large trout, especially in reservoirs. I could see the length of its body, especially the width of its tail as it slapped at the tippet, and I judged the rainbow trout to be about 16 – 17 inches. It was about 30 feet away as it thrashed on the surface, and it was successful with the last tail slap. It became an LDR statistic. The second big rainbow, not that long after the first, was brought within arm’s reach of the Water Master fishing craft. I could tell it was large when I felt its head thrashing from the depth of the reservoir, something an angler never forgets from the very first time he experiences the vibrations of a large fish. I immediately spun the slack line onto the Galvin reel with my left hand, hoping the hook wouldn’t pull out. I got it onto the reel and managed to play it within a net-handle length of the Water Master. I could see its full body, especially its broad, dark green back just a few inches from the surface. I knew it was at least 20 inches, maybe a lot more. As I reached back for the handle of the Fishpond landing net… the hook pulled out. The beast calmly finned its tail and moseyed back into Dacey’s darker depths. I confess I was angry.
But, it was a magnificent and beautiful fish. Losing a good fish before you can boat it is one of those things that comes with the territory. You don’t land every fish you hook, and the odds are worse the larger they get. You learn to be thankful you could even be on the water, that you actually caught any fish, let alone hook one close enough that you were blessed to witness its awesome beauty and significant size. Most people never get to experience even a sliver of that angling euphoria. My disappointment quickly vanished into thankfulness.
It is lessons derived from experiences like today’s Dacey offerings that develop contentment in all things for fly anglers.