Back in 1974, just days before the second Iditarod Race, I picked up a well-conditioned swing dog. Several hundred miles into the race, I’d rue that acquisition. Today, I can’t recall the dog’s name when I got him, but by the time we were slipping, sliding, and falling on the wind-polished, incredibly slick going on the broad South Fork of the Kuskokwim, I had renamed the creature, “Insect.” He was little, bug-eyed, and irritating; it fit.
Insect hated the ice. But though slick of footing, the polished surface provided the clearest, fastest passage so that’s where we needed to travel. Instead of helping the obedient lead dog perform his demanding tasks, he fought to undo his efforts. He braced back with all his might to resist forward progress. The leader was having one tough time of it, battling to follow commands to keep us off the bars while Insect pulled for all he was worth to redirect the team onto the runner –abrading rock, gravel, and sand strewn with driftwood tangles. The team dogs, having figured out where the traction was, were all too willing to follow disobedient Insect instead of my captain.
Although one of the chief jobs of a swing dog is to help the leader, and though had Insect had plenty of natural talent to have enhanced our efforts, he was so rebelliously disruptive that I took him from near the front and put him in wheel position, just in front of the sled. After that, our progress went on almost as if he were not there. The dozen dogs pulling ahead just skidded him along.
From Hell’s Gate, we’d made the better part of fifty miles downstream, past the Rohn checkpoint and almost to where the trail left the river toward the old Farewell Lake checkpoint, when every musher’s worst fear happened: Right under the sled, with a rifle-shot crack, the ice broke!
How deep the water below might be, I had no idea. And I sure-as-shootin’ didn’t want to pause to measure. Chances were great it was only overflow, in most cases not very deep. Yet even that can be disastrous because of what wetting man or dog can precipitate in extremely cold temperatures. But, then again, it might have been a deep, swiftly-flowing main channel that could within seconds draw the whole shebang—sled, driver, and team—under the ice, gone forever.
With my desperate cry to the team, they hit it! Out of their trot they burst into a run. With ice being so plastic, the speed kept the front of the sled riding up on the sagging surface even as the driver-laden runner tails broke through. If only the dogs could keep flying, it looked like we could make it.
Trouble was, Insect not just resisted, but now dragged under the sled in the water! Against his rebellious pulling back, when the team burst, the jerk on his neckline snapped it. Instantly he was off his feet trolling backwards by his tugline beneath the load. Amidst the unknown terrible possibilities that might lay under the ice, there could be no thought of stopping to extricate him.
Thankfully, the team overcame the drag and kept up their run. When danger was finally behind, I shook Insect off and loaded him. Soon I had him toasting before a roaring bonfire. Painstakingly dried, in a comfortable nest in the sled he rode the next hundred miles to McGrath, then was flown home.
When we could give God our rightful service, why do we resist him? When God would head us His direction, why do we want to go ours? Don’t we understand that He only heads us in ways most beneficial and we resist or rebell only to our detriment? As the Lord told Saul as he lay felled on the road to Damascus, “…it is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Why do we make our pastor’s best attempts to lead his flock by God’s commands difficult? Why do some individuals not work in concert, but, thinking they know better, foment disruption within a congregation?
Yet, amazingly, even when we sin and don’t deserve God’s grace, in His long-suffering He will often dry us off and mercifully carry us on.