Starting the year with that old spirit of perseverance

By Moira Billinge

My first-ever trip beyond UK shores was at the age of 14 when I joined a pilgrimage to Lourdes. On arrival we were divided up into groups and allocated a leader. My group included Alice, a teenage girl with cerebral palsy, and two much younger girls, Meg and Kate, who were profoundly deaf. (Not their real names.)

Halfway through the pilgrimage we took a trip up to the lake at Gavarnie in the Pyrenees. It was the middle of March, bitterly cold, and everyone was dressed warmly against the elements. Alice wasn’t well so she stayed behind in the hotel. After a short stroll along the banks of the lake, our group leader suggested that we hire a rowing boat. I did not like the idea at all and said so but, not wanting to be a spoilsport, I very reluctantly agreed. A suitable boat was brought over and the four of us climbed in. I was – only slightly – encouraged by our leader’s assurance that ‘No one has ever fallen in yet’.

At first we just circled the lake but before long we ventured towards deeper waters. Another rowing boat approached ours. At least one of those on board was familiar to our leader, and, inevitably, caution gave way to verbal banter. Before long the two men at the helm used their oars to splash each other, both determined to inflict the greatest drenching on the rival boat – and so the icy soaking escalated beyond common sense. Our boat capsized and we were catapulted into the water. Three of us could not swim and we clung to the sides of the boat for dear life.

Within a short time, and with help from other rowers, we turned the boat upright and, shivering and extremely shocked, we climbed back in, albeit with some difficulty. Our leader was the last to attempt to pull himself back to safety but, unfortunately, his heavy, waterlogged frame was now too much for our small vessel and, as he tried to heave his body over the side, it capsized once again.

This time a rescue boat took us back to the shore to where a large crowd of anxious onlookers had gathered. The owner of a nearby hotel attempted to dry our clothes as he allowed four dripping-wet individuals to take a hot shower. Thank God, none of us came to any harm, but I am unsure how many of us ever ventured into a rowing boat on a future occasion.

I related the episode to someone recently who made the comment that a lesson could be taken from this event and applied to the times in our lives when we face seemingly insurmountable problems. On such occasions we just have to make the effort to keep going and haul ourselves back up again, no matter how many attempts it takes or how exhausting it proves in the process. 

However hard a full recovery may be, perseverance usually bears fruit and while God expects us to try to work through the hard times, He knows that sometimes we are unable to do it on our own. There are always people around to whom we can turn for help. Inevitably, in the newness of 2020, there are many unknowns ahead of us. Some of the trials that we faced in the previous year might even be carried over to the new one, but we will get through them, we will cope, and our wonderful God will accompany us throughout our journey.

Happy New Year