Our neighbor and adopted grandma Bea loved to fish. Her age and physical limitations, however, prevented her from indulging in that favorite pastime, until Danny put his mind to the problem, loaded the family and Bea into our 1973 Ford Pinto station wagon and drove us up to a gently-sloped mountain lake. He picked this particular lake because it was only a few steps to the shore from the parking area and Bea could easily navigate that far. We grabbed the coolers, camp chairs and fishing gear, and set up a day camp.
Bea didn't need any help baiting her hook or sinking her line, so Danny got the kids all situated, baited his hook and settled in next to Bea. I got out my book and hoped to get at least two pages read before having to put on my black and white striped shirt to serve as referee when the kids got tired of fishing (it never took long).
We whiled away the late summer afternoon, everything quiet on the lake, especially the fish. No one was having any luck. The "it's almost time to head for home" conversations were well under way and the car was half-packed when Bea let out a squeal of pleasure.
"I've got something!," she shouted. Everyone gathered around her and cheered as she reeled in the day's only catch, a 3-, maybe 4-inch brookie, well under the legal limit.
"That's OK," she said, a permanent grin etched on her face, as she removed the hook and released the little guy. "I'm just glad I caught something."
We celebrated that fish as if it had been a master angler. It had been years since Bea had baited a hook and no one knew how soon we could repeat the experience, hoping for a more productive outing.
Fall came early in 1985, the first snow fell hard in mid-September and fishing excursions came to a screeching halt. So did Bea, on Oct. 3.
The memories of that last fishing trip have stayed with me, well-polished by frequent remembering. Bea was only in our lives for a short time, but our precious memories of her -- the day she taught the kids how to create a rooster tail when husking corn by leaving the husks attached at the bottom or the day she impaled a hibernating toad on her pitch fork, over-anxious for spring to appear -- are somehow incomplete without revisiting that final fishing trip.
I have only been a licensed fisher-woman (person?) once. I don't have the patience and Danny can't take the competition. The year I had my license we were out at Jackson Lake, Colorado, one day and Danny and I sat side-by-side on the shore our poles secured by spindly forked branches in front of us. Our lines were side-by-side in the water as well, just far enough apart to prevent tangling. We fished that way all day. Danny never got a nibble. I pulled in three.
We don't fish much anymore. More precisely, I don't fish at all and I think 2006 was the last year the boys could persuade their dad to buy a license. He can't trek up and down the river bank (his favorite fishing method) nor hike to the remote coves where the fish are most likely to be found close enough to shore to be tempted to take the bait. (One of my favorite snapshots is of him standing on the bank of Ten Sleep Creek in Wyoming, pole in hand, watching the water chase itself downhill at breakneck speed before sending his line flying.)
Even so, the rudiments of fishing remain firmly etched in my mind. Bait is important but patience is paramount. If the fish aren't hitting worms, you can always change bait and maybe change your luck. But without a steady, patient hand on the line, even a hungry fish won't take the bait, no matter how tantalizing it may be.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus called Simon and Andrew with the words, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." His call continues today.
It was a full house. The setting was somber, with memorial flowers, photographs and memories displayed across the width of the room. The pastor, his heart heavy for what was soon to come, stood off by himself as hundreds of people, from every walk of life, filed in and found seats.
"I'd rather be fishing," he remarked as I approached.
Nodding at the crowd, I replied, "I think you are."
Whether by hook or by net, fishing requires patience and a steady hand. So it is when fishing for men. Life circumstances provide the hunger, the Gospel is the tantalizing bait that promises life instead of certain death and we are those called to cast our nets or toss our lines into the storms of life, with a steady hand and a patient heart. No license required.
"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'" Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.