Looking back of some of my previous blogs, I notice that I often mention the winter weather that is happening here in Central New York.  It’s easy to understand really, especially if you hail from these parts.  In fact it’s been said that we only have two seasons in upstate instead of the normal four: Winter and July!

A bit of hyperbole, yes, but with a hint of truth.  This winter is another long one.  It started snowing for keeps in November and is still going strong as I write this on March 3rd.  Instead of my usual whine about the length of the season, I’ll start today by thanking God for the provision of a warm home, a safe vehicle to get around in and the wisdom to know when to stay home.  It’s in this more positive state of mind that I recall some of the enjoyment I have had in winter seasons past.

As a young guy, playing hockey on the snow-covered streets or football in a snowy field was always a blast.  As I got a little older, I would borrow my Dad’s snowshoes and go for long hikes in the Arctic landscape.  Another pastime I thoroughly enjoyed in my early  years was ice-fishing.  The above-mentioned cold weather made this an easily accessible hobby.  Once the ice got to a thickness of at least four inches, it was deemed safe to walk out on to ply our fishing skills.

As long as one had enough layers covering their body and warm, dry boots for the feet, not much had to be spent to go.  A short fishing pole(s), with line wound around two screws sufficed, and we could make them at home.  The only purchases necessary were for an auger to drill a hole through the ice, some bait (minnows) and to the point of this entry, a gaff hook.

For those of you who might not know, a gaff is a hook attached to a pole that is used to grab on to a large fish, making it much easier to pull up through the somewhat small hole that has been chopped in the ice.  My group always brought one of these along, but where my primary interest was in the smaller (and tastier) Perch and Crappy, I hardly ever needed its assistance.

That is not to say I never needed a gaff, however.  On one particular day, an older brother of one of my usual fishing buddies joined us.  He stated, loudly for all to hear, that he was only fishing for Northern Pike.  These are much larger than the pan fish I was after, as he mentioned to me more than once that day.  He set about his quest, placing his tip-ups, a fancier ice-fishing pole than my simple hand-made ones, over the span of the dozen or so holes he had dug.  Once set, he announced loudly that he wanted to know where the gaff was, for he would surely need it soon.

As luck would have it, good for me but bad for him, a large game-fish struck the bait on my line.  I quickly realized I would need the gaff to land this one.  I called to one of my friends who raced it over to me.  Together, we landed a nice-sized pike.  Needless to say, the older brother was none too pleased with this development.  He would soon be thrown into a tizzy as yet another big Northern hit my line! My partner and I struggled with this even larger fish, again needing the gaff to barely bring it up through the ice.  It’s a wonder the ice around us didn’t melt, there was so much hot anger coming off the older boy.

But alas, the point here is not to gloat on my successful (though thirteen-year-old me sure did) fishing trip that day, but rather to speak of expectations.  I had  assumed that the hole I dug and the gear I had with me would be all I needed, because they always had been in the past.  Because of the limits I had placed on my expectations, I was not prepared when the ‘big one’ hit my line.

Reflecting on that in these days of ministry, or just life in general, I wonder how many times I have missed an opportunity to speak a kind word or simply share some of the hope in the Lord I have, simply because I wasn’t prepared. Don’t get me wrong, I bring my ‘gear’ with me everywhere I go.  I read and study the bible daily and spent precious time praying to God each day. When things are proceeding as planned, I usually fare pretty well in the field.

However, it’s when something comes out of the blue that throws me off.  The unexpected/unplanned for event that makes me yell for the gaff, if you will.  To carry this metaphor a little further, it’s these types of surprises that make me realize I didn’t cut the hole wide enough to make room for what’s coming through.

It’s a matter of limited expectations on my part that causes these shortcomings.  Time and time again I tell myself to be ready for the unexpected, but when it comes, I’m still not prepared as I stay comfy in the familiar.  It’s as if I place restrictions on what I think God is capable of. And that’s the biggest gaffe of all!

How about you? How do you deal with the unexpected things life throws at you?

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

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