When I was in high school, we lived in Germany. It was beautiful and interesting. Of course I undervalued it at the time. I cared more about girls and music and wrestling than I did about being in Germany. What can I say? I was in high school.
In retrospect, there’s a lot I wish I’d seen or done. I didn't go to Berlin in all that time. I never even drove just 33 minutes from my house to the Diet of Worms, where Martin Luther posted his 99 Theses. That’s one of my favorite events in history by one of my very favorite people of all time. And I may never have the chance to go see that chapel door after living half an hour away from it for two years. What a shame!
But despite all the things I’d do differently, I also have wonderful memories of Germany that sometime resurface. Things that I hadn't realized were special as they happened. Every Christmas brings lots of memories back from Germany because it’s just a wonderland. All the castles are frosted over and glow at night. There are huge outdoor Christmas markets with shops and trees and little stands everywhere to buy delicious sausages or potato pancakes with applesauce.
Another Germany memory came today in Church. Someone gave a detailed description of the Panama Canal and all the work that went into it. He described the function of river locks in some detail, and explained how they are used to move boats uphill and then to ease them back downhill afterward.
I've seen illustrations and diagrams of river locks since I was a kid. I never quite understood what they did, and they certainly never piqued my interest. But when I was in high school in Germany, my grandpa Burton took me canoeing down a local river and we got to go through multiple hand-operated locks.
Canoeing through the locks was like a miracle. It was beautiful. The design made immediate sense as I pulled the doors shut behind us and then ran to the doors in front of us to open up the flow of water and raise us up or drop us down to the level of the next lock. The magic of engineering and design was startling. From then on, every time I've seen an illustration of how locks work, I get excited.
I don’t have any pictures of that trip and I’m hazy on its details. I mostly just remember the locks. I don’t know what river we were on. And I can’t even say for sure if it was with my grandpa or with my Boy Scout troop. (I do think it was with Grandpa and there’s some support for that in my Mom’s memory too.)
This was in the 1990’s, back when we didn't take selfies every day. If we took the trip today, I’d have a hundred pictures of the locks, plus a dozen of me making funny faces, and then one or two each of all the food I ate on the trip. I wish I did have these, because I’d love to show what the locks looked like. And I’m sure the food I ate would be really interesting to everyone. But, so far as I can remember, the locks looked a lot like these from various European rivers:
Tonight I reflected a lot on how easy it is to get buried in our ordinary daily lives and not take enough time out to do extraordinary things. As the days in Idaho have gotten short and cold in these last few months, it seems like our normal spontaneity has dropped way down. No late night biking or evening trips to the lake. Mostly now it seems just to be Netflix, carbohydrates, and early pajamas. (And, to be clear, all of those things are also pretty wonderful.)
I asked the kids at family dinner what they each wanted to experience during their upcoming break from school. The answers were simple and unimaginative: movies, games, friends.
We talked about my river trip with Grandpa (or the Boy Scouts) and resolved to do something equally unique as a family this Christmas. We’re looking now at maps and websites to find somewhere we haven’t been yet that we can explore. Maybe a lava tube or a new hot spring. Maybe a tour of the local human waste processing facility. (I’m the only one voting for that.)
Wherever we go, I’m grateful for opportunities to break out of my routine and do something extraordinary. The world is so incredibly beautiful and complex. It’s full of so many creative, kind, generous people. There’s not much better in life than every once in a while turning off the TV, saying goodbye to the school friends, and getting out there to experience some of that world.
It made me want to share this gem from Richard G. Scott, the apostle I most love listening to:
“With all my capacity, I encourage you to discover who you really are. I invite you to look beyond the daily routine of life. I urge you to discern through the Spirit your divinely given capacities. I exhort you to prayerfully make worthy choices that will lead you to realize your full potential...When you push against the boundaries of experience into the twilight of the unknown, the Lord will strengthen you. The beauty of your eternal soul will begin to unfold.”