Some events in life do not occur by accident nor are governed by free will. They are providence, and they transform our lives. We call them “Golden Moments,” reflecting on their value first and their identity second.
Yesterday, in my mentorship class, each person had to identify and tell a golden moment story. A few of us wanted to know details of what defined a golden moment other than our feelings and memories. I had a car wreck that was defining but anything but golden. So I needed a bit more.
Above all things, golden memories create a deeper awareness of God in your life, even if that isn’t necessarily the top thing. There is something about Him that gets revealed. And in that, something about you gets revealed.
I remember taking my oldest son on a father-and-son canoeing and fishing trip to Quetico, a national park in Canada, directly above Minnesota. My friend from Texas and I had been there many times, but this one was an extended trip that would last nearly two weeks. We had spent the first week or so paddling North. We fished, camped, lit campfires, swatted mosquitoes, swam, portaged our gear between rivers and lakes, and lived through some hardcore rainstorms. We ate what we caught and snacked on Pop-Tarts with no women telling us, “OK, that is enough of that,” when we would finish one box and open the next.
Once we reached the furthest north point on the trip, we started our return journey down a river system that ran at a 45-degree angle to the route we had taken north. Overall, we intended to paddle about 80 miles and draw a large triangle on the map with our route. In essence, we had just completed the hypotenuse, and we are now on one of the smaller sides of the triangle.
We were about to paddle through a section on the map called the Falls Chain. Every few hours, we would encounter a waterfall that required us to lift our canoes out of the water and carry them up perhaps 50 feet to the lake above us. Over the course of three days, we had something like 5 or 6 such waterfalls. Each time we reached the base of a waterfall, I would point to my son where to cast his lure to try to catch a fish in the pools below the thunder. We would spend an hour at the bottom of each waterfall, and I would paddle the boat around the perimeter of the pool below the falls, and he would cast.
As I told the story to the group, I looked down at my hand. There are scars on my right hand still from all the Northern Pike that he caught that I had to unhook and release. On that trip, I didn’t bring a net to catch the fish, so I had to do all of it with my hands. Northern Pike have lots of razor-sharp teeth, and at some point on nearly every day in the falls chain, one of those suckers would sink his teeth into my right hand and tear a chunk of me. There was nothing noteworthy enough to need stitches, but it was a repetitive injury. Even as I type this, I see two scars above my thumb. And the golden memory makes me smile.
That memory was golden because he was truly in love with that place and that moment. He would casually say, “Got another one,” and I would maneuver the canoe in such a way as to make the act of getting the fish in the boat and the hook out as easy as possible. Even though it never was, I enjoyed doing it. He was hungry to live life, and it never seemed like he could get enough. Eventually, we would circumnavigate the pool, and we would have to carry our canoe up to the next one.
Golden memories are defined. You are your truest self when they are happening. They create a transcendent peace, and there is nothing but love in your heart and your actions during them. You are hitting on all cylinders, both physically and emotionally. There is no sense of fear, and you know that God is near, and you can feel him. You are never just sitting there; you are doing something. Golden memories include action. They are not events that happen at the dinner table. They happen in the wilderness of life.
Once I would release the fish back into the river, we would both watch it move its massive tail and dive deep. We would always be in awe at the power of majesty of a big Northern Pike in the river system, and we would shake our heads in wonder as it returned to the pool below the falls that it hunted. Then, he would hear me joke about the bloody mess that was forming at my end of the boat, and he would look me in the eye and say, “I want to catch another one.” My response was a consistent, “OK, let’s do it.” Then, a few minutes later, the experience would get repeated, and other Northern Pike would be in the boat.
That Falls Chain fishing allowed me to reflect a love from a father to a son in the same way that God, the Father, loves us. I took the teeth on my thumb so he would be happy. I sacrificed my expectation of a great fishing experience so he could have an even greater one. Seeing the look of joy on his face when he would set the hook and feel the tension in the line as the next fight started was better than Christmas morning. I saw his awe and wonder that a place like this even existed and could be so much fun. It took a lot of hard work to get there, and he was experiencing the joy that any true outdoorsman can relate to. I could see the image of God throughout all that we did during those two weeks.
Many years have gone by, and I never really had a golden moment with him that mirrored that. Sure, I got to watch him participate in sporting events, get married, etc., but he and I have faded apart as he starts his own family and creates his own life experiences. But I can still relive that moment in my head and feel nothing but good things. It made an imprint on me. It is part of the many picture pages I have of what it means to be a good father, and I associate it with the face of God.
Fishing is called fishing because it is not called catching. It is very tempting to think of those moments when you catch them for days in a row as being something related to water temperatures, seasons, feeding habits, and the like. That trip through the Falls Chain was about how father and son were meant to connect. There was a shared special feeling in that moment that no painting or story such as this one can recreate, no matter how many fancy words we authors use.
Soon, I will begin mentoring young men about how to become Godly. Learning what your golden moments are can help you see God’s calling in your life. Nowadays, I lead people on fishing trips down the rivers of Western Alaska, catching trout and salmon. By every measure known to man, catching a salmon is a richer experience than catching a pike. Yet, that golden moment in the Falls Chain is one of my all-time favorite ones. I anticipate getting a chance to reproduce it when I get to heaven, and maybe my son and I will have bridged the gap and find the Falls Chain in eternity.