Me, a Fish & Emmanuel
I’ve been wanting to write down my fish story properly this week, so here goes [pulls keyboard onto lap]…
I was about 5 years old. I still had a speech impediment and didn’t know it. I loved catching green anoles, spiny lizards, and toads. I wasn’t afraid of handling creepy things like earthworms, especially when it meant catching a fish on PawPaw’s farm.
Or rather, helping someone else catch a fish, because I had never caught one before. I had seen Dad catch them. PawPaw and Uncle Pete, too, of course… they were fishermen types. All these men collectively taught me that fishing wasn’t all the excitement I thought it was. I had to sit. I had to stay quiet. Not just for 3 minutes, either. For 10 minutes or more! I hated the stillness, but this is what it took to catch a fish, I was told, so still I would be.
I gave the fish plenty of opportunities to let me catch them. At the pond, the lake, on the dock, on a boat, I don’t know how many times. Cambryn, my big sister, caught a fish almost every time. Slowly, I felt a burden building inside of me. I had to catch a fish soon.
It wasn’t long before a camping trip presented the perfect opportunity. All my friends would be there: Anna and Natalie. Just the kids and the dads and the great outdoors. “Heck,” I thought, “I’ll even go coon huntin’ while I’m at it.” I had only heard about this from “Where the Red Fern Grows,” but camping meant trying something new, even if I wasn’t sure what a “coon” was.
Natalie and I made a “trap,” which consisted of an egg carton full of dirt, pine needles, and twigs. That night, our fathers left the food on the picnic table and there were enough raccoons for us to think we had succeeded.
Although I was excited about the raccoons, the first day had come and gone without any success at the pond, where I was really focused. Anna, Natalie, John… everyone had caught at least one fish today. Cambryn had caught two. That was hardly fair.
"Tomorrow," I promised myself as I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
The next morning was a frenzy as everyone ate breakfast, tore down tents, and cleaned up messes. A few of the kids had already run off to fish and I heard, “Dad, look at what I caught!” one too many times, so I quickly fetched my Mickey Mouse pole and trotted off to the pond. On the way down, I heard one of the girls say they were tired of fishing and had already caught a couple this morning. My heart started pounding with fear. “Everyone but me… Everyone…”
Not only had I not caught a fish on this trip, I had never caught a fish since the beginning of time: five years. I could feel the fear and disappointment of being left behind well up in my little body, but I would suppress it for now, or one of the boys would make fun of me. I resolved not to leave until I caught a fish.
With every cast of the line as far into the pond as Mickey would go, I lost a piece of my confidence. Behind me, sounds of loading up cars with bags and coolers struck my heart like needles. The line was always loose! The red and white bobber wasn’t doing the thing it was named for! The thing it did when all the other kids went fishing…
"Season, it’s time to go!" Cambryn yelled in my direction.
Suddenly, I knew that nothing was going to change. I had seen the other kids struggle to learn things, but I was an exceptional failure… I was put here to watch everyone else so easily get the simple things that I struggled so hard for and still didn’t get. They were first class. I was only fit for second class, and I was alone.
"I’m NOT GOING," I answered.
Dad came over and, having no idea what he was about to get himself into, told me it was time to go.
"I CANT GO TILL I CATCH A FISH. EVERYONE ELSE CAUGHT A FISH. I DIDNT CATCH A FISH." I cried through tears and a broken heart, loud enough for everyone in the camp to hear.
My dad, my sweet, sweet dad… I don’t know how he always knew what to do. He came over and sat down, put me on his knee, and said something I didn’t expect at all.
"Let’s ask God to help you catch a fish."
He took my shoulders and prayed a simple prayer that I don’t remember exactly, but went something like, “Jesus, please help Season to catch a fish. Amen.”
Still dumbstruck with my dad’s response, we took the pole together and cast the line out one last time. Before the hook touched the water, a fish jumped out of the pond and swallowed it.
I really don’t remember anything after that. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, but I couldn’t not believe it… I had seen it with my own eyes! And dad… he was probably shocked, too.
What I do remember very clearly is having a real relationship with God from that day forward. I was only 5, but I spoke to God and I didn’t just believe, I knew He was listening to me, looking at me, responding to me, no matter what it was I asked.
When I say I’ve been “saved” since I was 5 years old, what I mean is, God showed Himself real to me in such a personal way that it has carried my faith in Him for these 20 years straight. Of all the testimonies of salvation I’ve heard in my life, mine is by far the silliest… but I can honestly tell you that catching that fish proved God to me. It still does. When I remember the story, when I ask my dad, “Did we make that up? That really happened, right?” he says, “Yeah, it really happened.”
This month, God reminded me of my fish story. He’s told me I need to ask Him for something that I want. I didn’t want to ask, because it’s hard for me to ask. It’s hard because I’m still afraid the answer will be, “You don’t measure up like the others do, so I can’t give you what belongs to the first-class.”
He reminded me this week that that response is not from Him, and that fish is His proof. I ask God for things because I don’t measure up, because I never could. But, praise God, I don’t have to, because He gives grace to the humble, and provides for me even a fish, or whatever I ask. And when I get it, I forget completely why I wanted it in the first place, because the asking and receiving was so holy, because in the same moment He gave me what will pass away, He gave me what will never pass away… It’s not about the fish anymore, it’s about Emmanuel, God with us.