As A River Flows

[ theme music & intro ]


Having made so many necessary adjustments during the past few weeks, I’ve been looking back over my life and remembering just where and how I learned to adapt when things are changing.

Stay with me this week as we consider how to navigate through our lives the way we would navigate a moving river. As you already know, the secret will be to work with it and not fight the current and not fight the conditions.

[ theme music fades ]


Some of the best and happiest moments of my early life were spent canoeing on America’s rivers. Here is a poetic line I wrote about one of those moments that still lingers in my imagination. For reasons that will soon be obvious, I call it, Ripple.


[ sound: quiet rippling water]


Though I watched it more than it half a century ago,

that ripple still glides behind my canoe,

a lazy S swirling at the tip of the paddle’s blade,

curling, then disappearing into itself,

a liquid snake surrendering beneath the surface,

reappearing and surrendering again in endless cycle.


[ brief pause as water sound fades ]


It was here in Texas, on the Brazos River, that I spend the most time in the outdoors. On the day I wrote about in the poem, I couldn’t tell you how many times I looked back in fascination as I watched the ripple moving through the water. It seemed like a living thing. I also think about what it was like to occasionally stop paddling and allow the river to carry along me with it. Using the paddle as a rudder, my only task was to gently guide the canoe away from the banks and the sandbars.


More often than not, if the water was moving, the river did all the work and I was free to sit back and drink in the scenery. It was spellbinding to let go and allow the river to quietly carry me, and to feel myself surrounded by the art and music and poetry of nature. Being there with no pressure at all was pure enchantment.

There were passages, however, where the water was much too shallow for the canoe to move through it. And there were times when it was running so swiftly through rapids and over large rocks that there was no way to safely negotiate. In cases like that, I had to quickly adapt to the conditions, which often meant stopping and pulling onto the bank to make adjustments before I could be on my way again. Some of those adjustments included carrying my gear and my canoe through the shallows or around the rapids. The work was hard, but it was only by going through that effort that I could get back on the water again.

[ brief pause ]


Somewhere along the way, it became abundantly clear that negotiating my way through life is a lot like being on the river. Most of the time, the waters are peaceful and easy to navigate. The journey is smooth, and the scenery is beautiful, and I can stay relaxed as I get from one place or one moment to the next.

Yet, there are also times when the conditions are much more dangerous or dramatic. Just like a river, life presents twists and bends and surprises. And if I am to do well when they occur, I have to adapt and I have to adjust. The same way I had to adjust to the changing conditions on the river, I have to adjust to the sometimes rapid and unforeseen changes in my life. And yet, isn’t it remarkable how we are able to adapt and survive, even when things seem threatening.

[ brief pause ]


To illustrate what I mean, here’s another poem from my book, In Brazos River Country. Named for the bird in the poem—a bird closely related to the whip-poor-will—the piece is called, Chuck Will’s Widow.

[ sound: Chuck Will’s Widow distantly calling ]


Just before sunset,

from somewhere across the river,

you cried over and over

the call that speaks your name,

Chuck-will’s-widow. Chuck-will’s-widow.

You knew what we did not.


[ sound: approaching thunder and rain ]


A sky-blackening storm was boiling up

over the land behind us,

and still you called,



[ sound: thunder and rain, then hail ]


[ sound: Chuck Will’s Widow calling ]


First came the sky’s pale green,

then, with a vengeance,

thrashing fists of hail.

I dived beneath my upturned canoe,

and for who can say how long,

clutched it tight,

and hoped that it, and I,

would not be blown away.


Then, all at once, silence.


[ sound: storm suddenly ends ]


I crawled back out to find things wet and battered,

my canoe hammered, pock-marked,

my tent in shreds.

I listened for you,

wondering if you have survived

nature’s shotgun blast.

Sure enough, you were still there,

calling again, celebrating your life.

Chuck-will’s-widow. Chuck-will’s-widow.


[ sound: Chuck Will’s Widow calls and fades away ]


[ sound: quietly rippling water ]


When life challenges us, we can push back, or we can find ways of working with what is happening, allowing ourselves to move with life and not against it. The more flexible we become, the more naturally and effortlessly things unfold in us and around us, much like rivers flow and find their own way.


[ brief pause ]


In this time of pandemic, there have been so many changes in the flow of what we perceived to be our normal everyday lives. Some of the changes have slowly evolved and some of them have been quite abrupt, requiring us to become more flexible and adaptable than ever.

That being the case, here are this week’s two Beautiful Questions.

Question One: What changes or adjustments do you need to put into place right now to help you better negotiate what is happening in your life?

Asking that another way, what necessary changes or adjustments will help you get from where you are to where you want to go?

Question Two: What will happen inside you as you put those changes into place? What will naturally shift as you create the healthy changes you know are best for you right now?

As always, I am eager to hear your responses. After all, we’re in this together, and I am open to learning from you and from your experiences.


[ brief pause as water sound fades ]


As I say each week,

My Light with Your Light


[ theme music rises and fades out ]


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