Three Grandsons and a Million Acres of Wilderness
Hearts pounding with excitement, we paddled our canoes back and forth across the inlet, casting our fishing lines into the most pristine waters in America.
We were in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a million acres of unspoiled waterways in Minnesota along the Canadian border. Bald eagles graced the sky.
The water was so pure we drank it straight from the lake. The wilderness was so remote we saw no one for days.
The lines had barely touched the water before we felt the teasing nibbles of a walleye or the snap of a northern pike. We netted so many fish that we got picky, keeping only the fattest walleyes for our frying pan.
It was a fantasy morning of fishing, yet it was not our purpose for being together.
Bruce Van Wyk planned the trip as a tool to find common ground with three of his grandsons, Michael and Matthew Stanley, ages 12 and 11, and Jacob Stone, age 11. This was the third such trip organized by Van Wyk, 67, to overcome the barriers that naturally exist between the generations. Each quest has been an opportunity to create memories, forge friendships and build a legacy of faith for the boys. "I'm trying to be proactive," Bruce said. "You have to want to relate. Then you have to intentionally look for avenues to communicate through mutual interests."
Four other men accompanied him. Three were his sons-in-law: Paul Stanley, Mark Stone and myself. Our guide was Kent Forsline, who has been paddling the Boundary Waters since his youth.
No motors are allowed in the 1,200 miles of canoe routes in the Boundary Waters. So our group made two portages, hiking from lake to lake with three canoes on our shoulders and countless bags on our backs. Our destination was a place so prized it could never be named in a magazine.
For three days the distractions of modern American life were gone. The boys did not have their iPods or video games, and there was no cell phone coverage or e-mail access. The generational barriers were wiped away by the experience of being together in the wilderness.
The splendor of God's creation was overwhelming. The hills were thick and fragrant with scents of spruce and birch. The ghostly cries of loons resounded across the lake at night, while the stars shone like diamonds across the sky.
Bruce takes his grandchildren into nature because he says it makes it impossible to miss the glory of God.
"When you're in the beauty of God's creation, it makes you want to worship the Creator in a deeper way," he said. "It ministers to your spirit."
Living a Legacy
Bruce takes his inspiration from Psalm 78, which emphasizes telling children "the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done," so they would "put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands."
Bruce's goal is to enhance what the parents provide as the primary caregivers and teachers of the children. He also hopes to create memories so that as the grandchildren grow and go through turbulent times, they'll stay in relationship with their grandparents and not forget their legacy of faith.
"If they have good memories, those memories will be an anchor to them to help them not throw out or cast off their childhood beliefs," Bruce said.
One of the highlights of the trip was a Sunday morning conversation sparked by Michael reciting James 1:2-18, which his father had challenged him to memorize before his 13th birthday. The passage talks about considering it "pure joy" when we face trials, asking God for wisdom when we lack it, and believing without doubt, lest we be "like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."
Michael told them that memorizing the passage led him to pray more at school, particularly when the verse was fresh on his mind. The James passage launched the men into an hour-long discussion sharing advice and testifying about God's faithfulness in the midst of trials.
"You notice it says consider it pure joy when trials hit; it doesn't say if," Paul noted.
The boys watched and listened.
Everyone on the trip agreed that another highlight came that afternoon. During the fish feeding frenzy, we'd saved three northern pikes, each of them about 24 inches long. We paddled into the lake and set them on a rock that was exposed like a tabletop to see if any birds would prey on them.
Then we sat on a rock and watched the sky. "Like waiting for fireworks to start on the Fourth of July," 11-year-old Matthew said.
The bald eagles were 1,000 feet above and maybe miles away when we spotted them. One by one, like airplanes in a landing pattern, the imposing birds three feet tall with a wingspan twice that glided toward the rock. Their hoods gleamed white, their talons bright yellow against the sky. We held our breath as they swooped in, picked up the fish and, with mighty flaps of their wings, soared away.
When all three fish were taken, we burst into applause.
It was the best part of the adventure. As Bruce said, "We sat and witnessed nature at work the way God intended it to be, and not a word was spoken."