Reflections in the Wild

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This year, Dawn and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary with a week-long canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. We have been there many times over the years and have made some wonderful memories with our kids and special friends who have joined us on these excursions into what is one of our favorite places in the world.

For most of our married life we have enjoyed vacations in the outdoors. It is a common interest that has not waned in all the years we have been together. In fact, we met while serving at Camp Hebron where I worked as Adventure Director and Horsemanship Director. Dawn is now an avid backpacker, taking annual trips with friends, University colleagues, and students.

Our children and their friends also take up outdoor adventure pursuits. It does our hearts good to see them continue on in their own way with the interests we exposed them to early in life. Teaching them to build a fire, read a map and compass, pitch a tent, fish, cook outdoors, and deal with weather was something we relished. They embraced these things with such enthusiasm that they never asked to go to an amusement park or a resort. They wanted to be in the woods, and we were very happy to oblige. These trips have been a family thing, a blessing from the Lord that we have tried not to take for granted.

This anniversary trip was the first canoe trip we’ve taken alone since our very first one twenty-seven years ago. And while we missed having our son and daughter along and the extra hands for camp chores, we enjoyed paddling together and thoroughly enjoyed the time we had in God’s creation. It gave us a chance to reflect on so many gifts and lessons that came to us in remote places.

One such lesson regards change and adaptation. It’s a bit ironic that this would be the case in a primitive setting, but it is true. When the kids were very young, eight and eleven, we encountered a severe wind storm while paddling a very large lake. I had our daughter with me. Dawn had our son in the bow of her boat. Heavy swells made paddling hard. We got separated and were unable to turn around without swamping our canoes in crosswind whitecaps. So, onward we pushed, against a headwind unlike any we encountered before or since.

Crossing that lake normally took us all of an hour. On that windy day years ago, it took us more than five.

We finally reached the portage to the next lake exhausted, shaken, and thankful to be dry and safe. After carrying our boats and gear to the next lake where we found a campsite just as dusk set in, I opened to Job 28 and read a passage that included these words about God’s knowing where wisdom is found: “For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When He gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then He saw it and declared it; He established it, and searched it out.”

The lesson we discussed that night is one we have been shown over and over again in the wilderness. It does not accommodate you, you must accommodate yourself to it. God made all there is, made a way for it, set it on its course. He is sovereign over creation, not us. The rain does not stop because you are wet. The wind doesn’t lay down because you are afraid. The cold won’t relent because you want to be warm. Wet firewood, stinging insects, thick fog, lightning storms, bears ravaging your hanging food packs. We have experienced them all. And through all of that we have learned to adapt, change, anticipate, and press onward.

This is a life lesson, gleaned from creation in the spirit of Solomon’s proverbs and God’s answer to Job. In this edition of the magazine you will see and read about how we adapt, change, and press onward at Cairn given the changing world around us. You will see and read what God is doing here as we faithfully pursue our mission, trusting God for wisdom and insight into the kinds of adjustments, changes, and new ventures that will position us for the emerging needs of those we serve and teach. I trust it will be an encouragement to you.

Dr. Todd J. Williams has been the president of Cairn University since January 2008. He served on the faculty and administration from 1996 to 2001, and then returned as provost in 2005. He can be reached by emailing