Snapped fishing line and the strain of life

A week before we departed for Topsail Island, North Carolina, I started prepping my fishing gear.

Last summer, the house where we stayed had access to the sound side of the island. It was a short walk down the side street.

On that walk, I admiringly gazed at other houses and loved a pretty stand of live oak trees. On an undeveloped point of land, I could easily cast into the early dawn stillness of the sound and watch the pastels of the sunrise forming in the eastern sky.

For this trip, I was hoping I would have a similar sound access. We were staying in a different house, and it was tough to determine from a Google map if the sound would be approachable.

I let my hopefulness to have sound access cloud my thinking. I organized three lightweight fishing rods, and my fly rod to take with me. I opted not to take a rod that was strong enough to handle the unpredictable whims of surf fishing in the ocean.

Not taking a surf rod with me turned out to be a mistake. The house where we stayed did not have access to the sound. This meant I would be relying on those lightweight fishing rods to cast into the Atlantic.

I picked up some shrimp bait at the IGA grocery store in Surf City. Two of the rods, I set up with lures for casting, and one I set up with a fish finder rig. The fish finder consists of a hook and a sinker slider that holds the weight.

On the days I fished in the ocean, there was a steady wind from the south. This wind churned up the surf. That chaotic surf would not be ideal for my lightweight rods.

A couple of times I was excited. I could feel the nibble of a fish. Once, there was a really strong tug on the line, but the tugger disappeared. And one day, a good sized crab hitched a ride up to the shore after devouring the shrimp bait.

But two times during the week, I snapped the fishing line. The light line couldn’t take the stress of the cast with the two ounce weight. Sadly, I tainted the surf with a lost hook, weight, and fishing line. I hoped that the roiling surf would bury the lost tackle so it wouldn’t hurt a swimmer or a sea creature.

In the late sixties, singer-songwriter, Jimmy Webb, had quite a run of luck with songs he wrote that were recorded by other artist.

One of my favorites, “Wichita Lineman,” was a hit for Glen Campbell.

As the title implies, the song is about a lineman who takes care of miles of telephone lines stretched from pole to pole in the flat plains of Kansas. Webb also weaves in the contemplative emotions of a relationship.

For some reason, this line from the song always catches my attention: “And if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain.”

Growing up in the south, I’ve seen those lines snap under the strain of a heavy wet snow or from the weight of a coating of ice from an ice storm.

My fishing line couldn’t withstand the strain of my casting action and snapped.

And as sure as I am writing these words, somewhere today, someone in this world is going to snap from the strain of life.

Earlier this summer, I reached out to a painting contractor to take a look at an exterior project at the front entrance to the sanctuary of our church. I was tardy in meeting the appointment time, but the contractor was patient with me.

Once we had completed discussing the pending project, I walked him back to his car.

I had worked with this contractor on another church project, and I guess for whatever reason he felt comfortable in talking with me.

For the next several minutes, he unloaded his strain—health challenges.

A rare tick bite had totally disrupted his normal diet and digestive system. Last year, he underwent significant surgery related to his prostrate gland. And he shared that his wife had challenges with her thyroid gland.

Now, here is the challenge with the painting contractor’s unloading the strain of living—his outward appearance didn’t reveal these difficulties, and in truth neither did my snapped fishing line.

Everyday we encounter people who appear to be fine, normal, and yet, we don’t know the strain and stress that remains unseen or untold to us.

My two snapped fishing lines are nothing compared to what another person might be carrying.

I will never know why the painting contractor opened up to me.

And as I listened, I never thought about how to respond. I just listened.

Maybe that was all he needed—someone to listen.

His story has stayed with me.

I wonder if I have another encounter like this—how will I respond?

With lots of care and diligence, the Wichita lineman watched over the telephone lines.

To our left and right, in front of us, behind us, on a walk, at an intersection, in a meeting, in the aisle of a grocery store, and sitting in a church pew we have friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, and strangers who are strained, stressed, and weary.

Who is watching over them?

Could part of that answer be found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

A human fishing line is going to snap today.

Someone will need you, me, we, and us.

How will you, me, we, and us respond?

Can our hearts help that person find rest from the strain?

Rain storm over the ocean at low tide Topsail Island, North Carolina Photo by Bill Pike

North Carolina’s stunning coast is something to cherish

On Saturday, July 16, we departed our home in Richmond, Virginia. Topsail Island, North Carolina was our goal.

Including a rooftop carrier, our car was overpacked. We would stop in Raleigh to pickup our youngest daughter. That meant finding more space where no space existed.

I grew up in Burlington, and I will confess, I don’t remember making many vacation trips to the North Carolina coast. Cherry Grove, now part of North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, was our beach destination.

Having lived in Virginia since 1975, I find the state’s Eastern Shore to be more satisfying than the admired Virginia Beach.

This was our second trip to Topsail Island. Over the years, we’ve explored Duck, Atlantic Beach, and I’ve been to Ocean Isle. I’m no expert, but the North Carolina coast is a treasure.

According to author, Glenn Morris, in The New Guide to North Carolina Beaches, the coast is 326 miles in length. That shoreline no matter ocean or sound side is unique and spectacular. And yet I wonder— how much more can these fragile landscapes take from mother nature and human beings?

A delicate tug of war, a complicated give and take is always at work on the coast. For this precious coast to survive, visitors and locals must work to find a balance to cooperatively manage that give and take that never rests.

On Monday, July 18, my family and I, including our four grandchildren, experienced an example of cooperative preservation at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City.

A playful billboard at the entrance Photo by Bill Pike

Our tour of the center gave us real time educational experiences about the challenges a sea turtle faces. We also learned how humans impact the life cycle of sea turtles with irresponsible disposal of trash into ocean environments.

But, despite this negligence, I found hope in the stories about the countless volunteers who work to keep shorelines trash free, and who with kindhearted diligence walk the local beaches during the season when mother turtles trudge on shore to build a nest and lay their eggs.

After the tour, we returned to Topsail Beach. An afternoon thunderstorm delayed going back to the beach. But when the sun returned, we went for a beach walk.

I was curious to see if I could locate a turtle’s nest. A short distance down the beach, I came upon a nest complete with the marker stakes, orange tape, and notification sign.

A marked and hopefully protected sea turtle nest Topsail Island, North Carolina Photo by Bill Pike

This find was perfect for our grandchildren as they saw firsthand what the docent had shared with us during the tour.

Next year, I turn 70. I don’t have many years left.

But, I will hold out hope that we humans can find ways to cooperatively take care of this stunning coast.

This preservation should not be done for you or me, but for our children and grandchildren.

Cherish your North Carolina Coast, and treat it as gently as a grandchild.

Author’s note this piece appeared as a guest column in the Wilmington Star News today, Sunday, August 7, 2022.

Sunday morning quarterbacking: First Sunday For The New Preacher

In my career in public education, I remember the “fear” I felt with each new job I took.

When I entered the school’s parking lot, fear wanted me to turn around and drive back home. I never turned around. But, there were many days during those thirty one years when I thought to myself—“What in the world am I doing here?”

My guess is new preachers, or when a preacher starts a new appointment, he/she has “fear” as a companion. Additionally, preachers probably have the same days as educators when they ask a similar question—“God, why in the world did you send me here?”

This morning, July 3, was our first Sunday with our newly appointed preacher. If he was nervous, the preacher hid it well.

For many different reasons, churches are interesting places. Sitting in the top spot as to why churches are interesting comes down to this—people.

Preachers have the daunting task of trying to figure out their congregations. While congregations have the same challenge trying to figure out their new preacher.

Today, a congregation can go check out a new preacher by clicking the archive of sermons on a church’s website. Yes, that will give you a sample from the pulpit, but today a preacher must be more than a Bible toting, word hurler on Sunday mornings.

In our post-pandemic atmosphere, preachers must possess an assortment of skills to inspire a congregation. Congregations must also realize that a new preacher can’t be looked upon as the much needed hero who in a quick snap of his/her fingers is going to turn a church around.

Gastroenterologists, heart doctors, psychiatrist, and even God probably see an uptick in their appointments when a new preacher tries to settle into an established church.

Lots of potential collisions are on the preacher’s transitional path.

First, there is saying goodbye to the previous church and coordinating the move to the new assignment.

This is rapidly followed by greeting key leadership in the new congregation, meeting staff, learning as much as is humanly and humanely possible about the church in nanoseconds. And maybe most important, quickly determining who can help the preacher navigate the hidden cow pies in the church’s complicated internal and external landscape.

So, how does a new preacher survive?

As a person who has worked in a church for the last ten years, I believe new preachers in established churches need to consider the following:

Manage your pace. Don’t over commit your calendar.

But as you manage your pace, be sure to make time for visibility. Visibility is an opportunity to learn.

Make sure you understand in detail the pulse of the communication options that are accessible to you. Use those communication tools without abusing them. Know when you can effectively apply them with your own voice and words.

Don’t make promises. Promises can promote failure and create distrust. Neither is helpful for churches.

However, there is one promise that a new preacher should make. Make the promise to listen. This is absolutely critical in churches where listening to the congregation has been a closed loop.

Opportunities to listen to the congregation must be constructed so that all voices can be heard—the timid, the elderly, the young, and everyone in between.

Learn names. Even though your brain will resist, preachers sooner, rather than later must learn the names of their congregations. Knowing names makes a difference in building relationships.

Do not be afraid of the “c”word—change. When talking about change, help a congregation to understand that change has always been a part of their church. Ask them to reflect where their church would be now if change had not been embraced?

Planning—failure is guaranteed if collaborative, long term planning isn’t initiated. Plan boldly, but with a pinch of reality.

Show the congregation your heart. Convey your heart as a we heart, not a me heart.

Now for the congregational tips, I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough paper.

But, I do believe a congregation during a period of preacher transition needs to embrace the word patience in their hearts.

We live in a very impatient world.

At times, I’m a very impatient human being in our world.

Yet, to move, to nudge, to slightly turn a church requires patience.

And there is no better reminder of this than the words found in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Photo By Bill Pike