Brad Yoman has been navigating the swamps around the Altamaha River for over 30 years. He captains a 12-foot aluminum Jon boat with a 15hp two-stroke engine. It’s a small boat with a small motor but small is what you need when you are moving through the swamp. Many places are passable only because Brad has cut his way through with a chainsaw. Any person sitting on the front of Brad’s Jon boat as it moves 15 or 20 mph cannot tell where the next turn will be. Only Brad knows. Just when you think he’s going to put you into a 300-year-old river Cyprus, he turns his 15-hp Yamaha gently in the opposite direction he wants to turn his boat and he’s around the next bend.
The swamp is Brad’s home. It is his church. He is more comfortable with the animals, trees, and water than he is with people. He has great listening skills, not so much with people as he does with nature. He listens to the wind, the insects, an animal moving through the brush, the barking of his dogs as they track a wild hog, a gobbler as it rattles deep in the woods.
Recently, when the Altamaha River crested at 14 feet, the highest the river had been in over three years, it overran its banks and flooded the swamps, driving the animals to higher ground. Brad knew just where to find them. I watched as Brad, his girlfriend Julie, and my son John left in his boat and headed upstream to “catch some wild hogs,” and I do mean catch.
In about 45 minutes, the three of them returned with two wild hogs tied up in the bottom of the boat, each weighing about 80 pounds. They found the hogs on a little island with several others, along with some turkey and a deer. Once when the river overran its banks and drove hogs to a “safe haven” in the swamp, Brad caught 37 hogs in one day.
The two hogs were carried to a catch pen where they were placed to be fattened up a bit before being released again. These boars are “cut” (figure it out, city folks). Not only does this keep them from reproducing, but also if they are later killed on a hunt, their meat will taste much better.
Oh, I left out one part of this story. I put my 15-foot Gheenee into the swamp. It has a 15hp four-stroke Yamaha engine. It’s a heavier engine than Brad’s and not as easy to use in the swamp. However, the biggest difference was the user. I’d used the motor in open water for only a total of three hours or so since owning the boat. Even so, I had visions of following Brad through the swamp. As I began, I immediately looked like a 15-year-old behind the wheel of an automobile for the first time after getting a learner’s permit. It was obvious to everyone. With the combination of my lack of skills, the current flowing faster than normal, and a tree to dodge about every few feet, I felt like a steel ball inside a pinball machine.
Sometimes it’s better to admit, “I’m in over my head,” than to continue and reap disastrous results. I’ve always been one to say, “I’ll show you.” But along with my gray hair comes a little more wisdom, so I parked my boat and allowed Brad and the group to go up the river without us.
In my world, I see a lot of people who are in over their heads in relationships. They know they are in over their heads but they will not admit it and they keep plowing straight ahead, hitting many stumps and low hanging branches. Eventually they hit something so hard that the relationship is capsized. When this happens as the water’s rising and the current is swift, it can be disastrous.
Two of the most important things in relationships are communication skills and conflict resolution skills. People who can communicate and solve their problems find a lot of joy despite difficulties that arise.
Difficulty comes in all relationships. However, some people never equip themselves well enough to deal with the struggles and to compound the problem, many then refuse to admit they are in over their heads. They keep moving without seeking any help.
There’s no shame in saying, “We are not communicating. We are not solving our problems. We need some coaching. We need to know how to turn this relationship in these swift currents without hitting these stumps. We need some help before we capsize.” But instead of parking and getting help, people go full steam ahead and it’s one reason the divorce rate is so high, even among Christians.
Please take my advice from the waters of the Altamaha River; when troubles come that you cannot solve, park your relationship with a good counselor. Don’t drown in the rivers of “denial.” There are skilled people to help you build strong marriages. There are skilled people to help you get along with your parents. There are skilled people to help you deal with an ex-spouse. There are skilled people to help you deal with flashbacks from the past. There are skilled people to help you deal with depression, anxiety, and addictions.
The next day when we were not as pressed for time, I got my boat out again. Brad commandeered it out to a small opening in the swamp and then he let me take the helm. He showed me how to maneuver through the smaller twists and turns with my motor. It wasn’t easy. I made some mistakes. Once I went under a limb and it took the hat right off my head. However, I was learning. I was being coached and after a while, I was doing a good job.
In my world, I never know when I may run into those who will admit to me that they are in over their heads in a relationship and need some coaching. Admitting such a thing is actually a good sign. It’s the first step toward healing. I counsel many people in my office on a short-term basis, but I have referred scores of people to qualified counselors who will journey with them a ways in life. It is one of the greatest gifts a person can give himself or herself and it is a great gift a person can give to those he or she loves, because we cannot love others properly if we are troubled, depressed, anxious, burdened, or stuck in grief.
In the presence of people who are trained to listen and identify where the waters in our lives have overrun their banks, these people can help us begin to smile again, laugh again, and hope again. I can say this from experience. I am thankful for those times I have been coached through some swampland and found my way back to the banks.
Proverbs 20:18 instructs us to “make plans by seeking good counsel.” I encourage you, if the water is rising and the current is running swift and you know you don’t have the skill to navigate through the swamps of your life, humble yourself, park yourself in the presence of a skilled person who can help you learn the skills you don’t have. Your relationships with those you love are worth the investment. You are worth the investment. There’s beauty even in the swamps if you know how to navigate the obstacles, avoid the dangers, listen to your surroundings, and see what the many never take the time to see.