Just Around the Riverbend

I hope you all, whoever you all are =) , haven’t felt too neglected the past week or so. I had some family visiting and decided to take a little break to spend good quality time that I don’t often get with them. But, they are home now and we are re-finding our routines. It was a lovely visit and we all were sorry it was over. I know that my family will miss us as much as we will miss them, though there are probably a few things they are happy to be leaving behind them as they board their plane to head home.

One thing that they are likely happy to leave behind are all the movie soundtracks we listen to. All, day, long. Really, we have music playing pretty consistently during the day, periodically breaking out into song and dance to go with it. John has a sensitive side and is very drawn to visuals, so he loves movies and TV. However, he becomes overly committed emotionally to pretty much every character he encounters, good or bad. One way we are helping ease him into stories and plots is through the music. We can play a soundtrack and talk about who the characters are, what is happening, who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy.” We are also doing some music appreciation by letting the soundtracks play when it is only instrumental music so John and Rosie can try to figure out if it’s a happy song, a sad song, an angry song, etc.

Our current obsession just switched from Tarzan to Pocahontas, in case disney-pocahontasyou didn’t catch the reference in the title. I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head! Due to the fact that it’s on repeat, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Just before the song officially starts, Pocahontas’ father, Powhatan, has a few lines of song/dialogue. They are:

As the river cuts his path
Though the river’s proud and strong
He will choose the smoothest course
That’s why rivers live so long

They’re steady …
As the steady beating drum

Then the song starts:

What I love most about rivers is:
You can’t step in the same river twice
The water’s always changing, always flowing
But people, I guess, can’t live like that
We all must pay a price
To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing
What’s around the riverbend
Waiting just around the riverbend

(lyrics from http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/Lyrics/Pocahontas.html)

And so on. I was thinking about their two different perspectives on rivers. Chief Powhatan sees them as steady, constant and unchanging. Yet his daughter has a completely different take on it. I found myself thinking about how these two views of the river can be applied to life. In some ways, our lives are steady and constant. We have routine and ritual. We wake up, we live our day, we go to sleep, we do it all over again. But our lives are always constantly changing and evolving. I am seeing it every day as Clare grows. Just 10 days ago she was starting to cruise around on furniture, holding on with two hands and taking tentative steps. Today, literally 10 minutes ago as I type this, she was walking along a wall, got to the end, looked at me across the room, let go and took about 5 solo steps before falling. Incredible! What a change.

Sometimes change is hard. In life, there are always unknowns and uncertainty. We all have our own riverbends. We can’t quite see around them. As we get closer, we might get a bit of a glimpse, but we won’t see the full picture until we round that corner. Maybe there will be a calm stream. Perhaps a swift current or even some rapids. It’s difficult to anticipate what is unknown.

It is easy to be paralyzed by this unknowing. There is a lot of risk turning that corner. It may feel like the unknown is too big to risk the safety of our current spot on the river. This has been a challenge for me for a long time. I like to plan and as I’ve shared before, I am an excellent worrier. But God has been working on me, giving me lots of opportunities in this Air Force life to let go of the worry and the long-term plan in favor of His plan, both for me and for my family.

As I’ve let go, I think I’m starting to understand something about the riverbends in life. If I believe that God’s love and grace has been with me up until now, then I should logically believe that His love and grace is waiting for me around that riverbend. If His love and grace are waiting for me, then what’s around the riverbend isn’t necessarily unknown. Yes, I don’t know the exact situations or circumstances that I will be facing, but I do know where God will be, and isn’t that the most important thing? There is a great prayer that expresses this. It is part of a much longer prayer by St. Patrick.


Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

(For full prayer, click here)

I just love the concrete imagery. Now, as I wonder about what will happen next for our family, especially if and when we will be moving to a new duty station, I can slow myself down and think of this prayer. I can even add to it.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ even beyond my sight.

So much whining, where’s the wine?

John will be 4 years old in a few days. Where did the time go? Cliche, but seriously, where did it go? If someone can find it for me, I’d really like to have it back. Though, if it’s possible, I’d like to be selective about what parts I would like back. For example, I would absolutely love to have back John’s first time he found his toes. He could suck on his toes like they were thumbs, it was hysterical. I would also love to experience again John’s delight when he finally let go of the wall and started to walk across the room. His amazement at his accomplishment was beautiful and so much fun (and a huge new challenge for us) to have a real walker.

With all those good memories are of course some that aren’t so great. Presently, I would be happy to let go of the whining. Oh my goodness, the whining!! It feels like every time I have to tell John “no” or “stop” or “John, you may not play baseball in the house, or give Clare a hug so strong she falls over, or push Rosie out of the way (after politely opening the refrigerator for her) so that you can get your milk first and proceed to spill it all over the refrigerator, the floor, and your sister” he has a complete melt down. Or, my personal favorite, flat out tells me no. Me – his mother! Oh no, that’s not how this house works. It’s all I can do some days to make it to bedtime when I can sit down with a glass of wine.

How I feel at the end the day sometimes, especially when Ben is gone
How I feel at the end the day sometimes, especially when Ben is gone

I’m not sure how I’m going to effectively, compassionately and patiently deal with John. But his whiney attitude has gotten me thinking. Do I whine? Or, to be a bit more sophisticated do I complain (but let’s all be honest, complaining is just whining with somewhat more articulate words)? As I thought about it more, I was shocked to realize that one of the first things that came to mind was a phrase that you may be familiar with: “I don’t mean to complain but…” What I’m really saying is “I’m about to complain about something, but I’m going to throw this little disclaimer in front of it to make it all aright and now you have to listen to me.” And, I hate to admit it, I say this more often than I would like.

God never said “Thou shall not complain.” Jesus never told his disciples “Guys, stop complaining about how many people are following us. I’ll deal with dinner.” God lets us complain.

What is complaining? Why do we do it? We complain when something/someone irritates us or when we are lacking something. When we feel something is out of order, most of us at least, will probably complain about it, even just to ourselves. We complain when we are worried, when we feel things are not going the way we want it, or when something is beyond our control.

To be fair, there are very legitimate times in life when a situation may be unfair, when something happens that we do not like or are hurt by, or when we are feeling under-appreciated.

Take this story from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 4:35-41) from a few Sundays ago. Jesus tells his disciples they should cross to the other side of the lake. That night, there was a storm. Jesus, apparently, is a heavy sleeper and doesn’t notice. The disciples are worried and scared so they go to wake Jesus with this fabulous line: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.” Do you not care is about as close to complaining as you can get in my book. Our pastor had an interesting take on this scripture. He asked us to think about the level of trust the disciples demonstrated in this situation versus how much they should have had in Jesus. Didn’t they trust he would take care of them? Why were they so concerned? They were, after all, pretty much all fishermen. And yet they were worried enough to wake Jesus and complain that he did not care about them.

Jesus’ response is excellent: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Do you not yet have faith? Our pastor had another interesting insight to offer, one I hadn’t thought about before. Remember how I said maybe Jesus was a heavy sleeper? What if Jesus was only pretending to be asleep, waiting to see how long before the disciples faith weakened – a test, if you will. This was my big take-away.

When I complain about something, I am usually still trying to control and fully understand the situation. I am acting like the disciples – questioning whether or not God cares.

God does care. Time and again, scripture and experience have confirmed for me that God doesn’t simply care, He is wholly committed to my happiness. So, instead of whining about when things aren’t going my way, I need to let go of the problem. The harder I hold onto it, the longer I keep it to myself, the louder the whining. So, when I find myself whining, it means it’s time to take a minute, breathe deeply, sometimes have a glass of wine, and loosen my grip.

If you feel like your boat is rocking in waves beyond your control, maybe it’s time to wake up Jesus, maybe it’s time for that glass of wine.

Touching the Water

Last night I was giving Clare (the baby) a bath. She loves bath time, especially kicking and splashing water everywhere. She is fascinated with the water. It’s interesting to observe how she is learning about water and how it is different than anything else she encounters. She will go from kicking and thrashing around to very still while she tries in vain to pick up the water. She stares intently at the surface of the water and slowly lowers her hand. She tries to keep it above the water and pick it up with her fingers. Fail. She tries to put her hand under the water and then pinch it between her fingers. Foiled again. Last nightExploring water she kept looking up at me as if to say, “Come on Mom, help me out. What am I doing wrong?” She will, of course, eventually learn about how water works and that we can’t just pick it up like a ball, a crayon, or the rather noisy bunch of Legos she is currently banging together as I type this.

It’s funny how one thought, one image, can send your mind hurtling down a path of which you feel like you have no control and then pull you back to the present in a matter of seconds. That sensation is what happened to me while I was watching Clare try to understand how the surface of the water worked. While she explored this basic principle of life, my mind went whizzing through the story of Peter in the boat when Jesus walks on water. (Refresher: see Matthew 14:22-33).

He had just fed the crowd of 5 thousand with the 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus tells his disciples, “Go on ahead, I’ll finish saying good bye to the crowd and send them home. I’ll catch up” (Or something like that, I’m imagining and fleshing out some dialogue here and following:) Maybe the disciples were grateful, after all they must have had a long day passing out food and managing the crowd. Maybe some of them tried to stay with Jesus, insisting that he must be exhausted too and need not over exert himself. However it happened, the disciples were on the boat without Jesus. Matthew tells us that it was the 4th watch of the night, so very late at night or very early in the morning, depending on your view. The sun had probably not broken over the horizon, but dawn was not too far off. Enough light to see a shape coming toward the boat, even in the wind and waves.

Can you imagine the thoughts that went through the disciples’ minds? Scripture gives us one – a ghost. And what else could it be really? We all know that nothing can stand on liquid water. We know this fact so deeply it is not something we even ponder or debate. It seems our desire for survival forbids us from even testing the possibility. And yet, Jesus walked on water.

Walking on WaterEven more shocking is what happens next. Peter, in all his brashness, in his forthright, confident, and somewhat naive manner, commands Jesus! Can you picture yourself as one of the other disciples, listening to Peter? Have you ever seen people take a step away from someone who has just said something outrageous, silly or wrong as if to say “I’m not actually with that person who just messed up over there, don’t look at me please.” I kind of imagine that’s what the other disciples did. “What did he say? You didn’t actually mean that Peter. Jesus, he really didn’t mean it. Please Jesus, ghost, or whatever you are, don’t make us walk on the water too!”

Jesus, in the rendition I currently have playing in my head, smiles and shakes his head at Peter. He acquiesces to Peter’s request and commands him to come out on the water. Incredibly, Peter does. Remember, he has just witnessed Jesus feeding that huge crowd with a small amount of food. It truly was a miracle of enormous proportions and must have been fresh in Peter’s head. His belief in Jesus and who he was had been steadily growing. Matthew’s Gospel details numerous healings and teachings. In another instance in a boat, Jesus calms a storm. The disciple’s reaction is to question among themselves who Jesus really was.

Peter must have made a decision. In this moment, he has made a choice. No longer uncertain of who Jesus is, Peter boldly steps out of the boat. He is leaving behind the known, the understood and the safe. He is choosing to walk toward Jesus, even though the way was unsettling, uneven, and most definitely not solid. But Peter has made a choice. He must have believed that Jesus was more than just a man. He was convinced of it, or he would not have left the boat.

Once Peter was actually out of the boat, in his shock and amazement, he looked down. He doubted and that is when he began to sink. But Jesus, of course, reaches out his hand and pulls Peter up. Once back in the boat, this time the disciples do not question and wonder about who Jesus is. In Matthew’s Gospel, this is the first time that the disciples articulate that Jesus is the Son of God. Peter’s faith was the turning point.

Faith is a turning point in our lives. What do we believe in? Just how much do we believe it? Are we willing to get out of our boats – our places of safety, comfort, the known – and explore the places faith is calling us to walk. They may be places of discomfort, of the unknown, of being uncertain or perhaps even a bit afraid. Faith pushes us, it stretches us, is demands much of us. But in return, faith in God rewards us, brings us joy and peace and never, not even once, leaves us.