Transforming Thoughts on the River
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)
They flow, curving through Northwest Montana.
The North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork. Swan. Whitefish. I most appreciate these rivers in late July. August, if the smoke hasn’t settled in like a thick, wool blanket.
The hot sun bakes my shoulders. Sweat trickles down my back. My eyes blink, squinting in the sudden brightness as I step out from the dappled darkness of the trees to the rocky “beach.” Thorns and bushes scratch my legs and my feet twist, walking over flat, large stones. This place was riverbed not two months ago.
An old favorite chorus at church growing up proclaimed, “I’ve got a river of life, flowing out of me. It makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Opens prison doors sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up a well!”
How freely does that river flow through me now? Have I somehow dammed it, leaving only a trickle?
I tuck the thought away.
Deep, slow breath. It smells cooler here, immediately next to the river. I smile, it always does. My baseball hat feels like a winter stocking cap. Now sweat drips between my brows, furrowed as I squint. It is sweltering.
Still, I hesitate at the edge of the water. The rushing, constant roar of the water muffles the little voices behind me.
A step. The initial shock of icy cold is unpleasant, 90 degree heat and all. I always have to pluck up my nerve.
Another thought surfaces: The kids were babies. Yesterday, wasn’t it? We were bleary-eyed. Arms locked in a clutching position. Our voices gentle, babbling noises and delighted smiles. Shhh and da-da-da-da. Repeating words with delight – “leaf” “rock” “river!”
It carries us.
I have been trying to grasp and hold. Slow it. Stop it. Sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day. Waking every morning to the same everything…mind-numbing, monotony. But then it rushes by, dizzying. When did my oldest spring up, nearly as tall as me? There are no toddlers or babies in the house anymore.
I cannot control how it flows. We are out here in the middle, being carried forward. We can’t go back upstream. We can only position ourselves to navigate what’s ahead.
I realize that my feet and shins are now comfortable. I am exactly the right temperature. Red, brown and grey rocks are clearly visible beneath the clear water. It’s low today. Shallow.
A yellow leaf floats past.
The red raft drops next to me. Half ashore, half bobbing in the current. Sides streaked with grey mud. The kids shriek as they splash into the water, too. The littlest slips on a rock, barely keeping his balance.
Jesus’ words to the woman at the well now rise to the surface of my mind, “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
We climb aboard. One paddle per person. He shoves the raft out from shore, holding it momentarily from drifting downstream as he swings his legs over the side. We’re off! Slowly following the leaf downstream.
Ahead, the water spits and churns. “Everybody paddle!” Our paddling is uneven, adults on one side, kids on the other. The raft responds, turning to the left. For several moments we head toward the spitting, churning section sideways. From the back, Kagan dips his oar a few times and we right. Nose forward we now squarely face the “rapids”.
The boat jerks violently several times. The youngest begins to cry. He huddles in the bottom of the raft, chewing on his life vest.
Minutes pass. We now face only a long stretch. We are moving swiftly, but there are no more bumps to face. I attempt comfort. The illusion of safety has been lost. He is impervious to my assurances.
I think of the disciples, long ago on the sea of Galilee. Grizzled fishermen terrified by a powerful storm. Jesus, sleeping in the boat.
Half an hour later, our youngest child’s continued crying is now under my skin. It feels like a splinter, uncomfortable and annoying. It’s self-indulgent. Sharp words rise to my tongue. As they begin for form, I feel a nudge in my spirit.
“You can be very like him, Becky.”
The sharp words evaporate before I release them.
In life, I am swept in the current. I am tossed and jostled and dropped in the rapids. I have fastened my life preserver. I clutch my oar. But, just like this little one, like those disciples, at times I find myself huddling in the bottom of the boat. Eyes screwed shut against the sun and scenery, ignoring the Parent who rides with me.
At those times, terrified questions leak from me: “what’s next?” “Remember that trouble!?!”
Our raft floats to the edge of the river, now caught in an eddy, gently turning. The crying continues. So do my thoughts. We paddle, just one side, and the raft turns another circle.
I find my thought swirling, too. “I’ll always be like this” “Who do I think I am?” “It’s already too late…” Vivid embarrassment, guilt and shame from past failures color the thoughts and the circles are no longer lazy, but frenetic. All that remains now is those feelings.
A new thought pierces the barrage. The oar of Scripture gently slows the swirling:
“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6). My ineptitude will not defeat God’s good work.
“The Counselor, the Holy spirit, whom the Father [has] sent will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26). I will not forget. I will hear. I will see. I will proclaim.
The Spirit carries us along. Jesus knows what rapids lay ahead. Those rapids I did not anticipate yesterday? They were no surprise to Him. He positions me to navigate. He gives me the oar and guides my strokes.
We paddle on one side, then the other. Our arms burn slightly with the effort. It’s work. Forward motion now.
The boat noses back into the current, and begins again downstream.
It’s slow now, barely moving. The littlest one’s tears have slowed, but he is still huddled there in the bottom of the raft, clenching his life vest for security. His big brother jumps off the side of the boat with a shriek of delight. Cool water splashes us. I laugh at his joy.
I remember Paul’s words, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
The youngest looks up. His sister offers him cherry, her own teeth stained with the juice. Conflicted for a moment, his desire for one of his favorite fruits wins out and he lets go of his vest to take it. Soon, he is reaching for more with both hands.
He might have fun yet. I think I will, too.
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