June 8, 2015

Living on a Prayer

It was late morning before Jeff and I got on the road to head to the creek. The rainy spring has flooded the rivers and streams in this part of the country. Last week was dry, though we hardly saw the sun.

I drove ahead in the truck a tad prideful that I can still drive with a stick. I passed a hayfield freshly cut. The sweet aroma triggered an ancient memory of sitting in a truck with one foot on the clutch and the other on the brake. In no way would I have dared to touch the gas pedal.

I must have been ten or eleven when Grandpa put me in first gear. As a “driver” in the hayfield, I could only use the brake on the truck, coming to a stop only if I heard hollering through open windows telling me to do so. I was a grimy little girl covered in dust on sweat. In the heat of summer, my thighs stuck to the plastic seat of the truck. When I lifted them to move, to rearrange myself behind the steering wheel, it was like I was stripping my skin free of a giant bandage. My short legs didn’t give me the option of leaning back. I kept my hands on the steering wheel, guided the truck as it crept along through the pasture while the men gathered the hay, laying it brick by brick on a flatbed trailer.

Feeling nostalgic behind the wheel of Jeff’s little truck, I shifted into fifth gear and found an oldies station on the radio.  Winding my way up the foothills of the Ozarks, I took in life along the country highway. The cream colored Charolais rested on a hillside, their calves gathered together, a play group standing in a circle, deciding what they should do with the gift of a blue day.

The brushhogs had not yet put the ditches under the knife so wildflowers spread out along the road, a mixed bouquet of memories, growing beside green pastures ripe with wild oats. The Black-eyed Susan wears a stunning yellow-gold each summer, the color of a warning sign. She couldn’t go unnoticed. I gave her a nod like I’d passed an old friend.

On the ditch side of the fences, the thistles held up their hands, a purple bloom on each finger. The pesky thistles stay on the road side of the fence because the farmers hate them in the hayfields, but I like them. When I was in France, I saw someone had planted them in a container in a town square. It had made me giggle.

I found myself drawn to the barns along the way, because really, who doesn’t love a barn? Most were in disrepair and empty, the rusty tin peeling back or needing patched up on most of them. One had imploded under a heavy layer of ice clinging to its cold metal roof. The barn is now a tumble of broken bones, lost to time and the elements.  

We left the truck at a bridge and I jumped in with Jeff to drive from the river access to another upstream. We slid our kayaks into the cold water at mid-day.

I paddled when I had to, but most of the day, I let the river carry me.

The banks along the riverbed are a jumble of vines, grasses, and hardwoods their arms reaching over the river in warrior pose. When the channel narrows, the branches arch together into a holy place, a cathedral with the sound of the voice God tumbling over rocks, resonating of the place where we are from--- and maybe, of the place we will be.

When we got on the water, the world peeled away into the present. I had never traveled this way before. 

Is this not the way of life? It is important to remember the past, the way it shaped us and what it taught us, but we must be open to where the river is taking us, follow the Way down new paths to wonders around the bend just beyond our knowing. 


The majority of the journey was peaceful with deep pools where ropes hung from the jutting branches, a sure sign of a swimming hole. But the river wasn’t without rapids, places where a paddle was necessary. Fear sent me down one run backwards. Out of control and living on a prayer, I made it to the broad place.

Danger lives in the shallows, especially in the narrow places. There is a comfort I need in the depths.

The closer we got to the bridge downstream, the swifter and more challenging the river became. There wasn’t a choice but to go on; we weren’t getting to the truck if we didn’t go through those last couple of miles. At times it was hard to see. The sun had slipped into the golden hour and the river came alive with light. Past a grove of willow strainers in the middle of the stream, we eased into a quiet still place holding giant boulders and hemmed in by bluffs. The evening shadows were falling and all I could think of was heaven.

I’ve lived so much of my life letting the river carry me, living on a prayer on days when life swept me up and taught me I wasn’t in control, days when I got turned around backwards along the narrow way. There are days I find myself looking back when I need to set my eyes on what is to come--- to the day John wrote about in The Revelation, to the place where I will step from the present to stand beside the river full and flowing with the water of life…

"Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev. 22:1-5 NASB)

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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