Natalie Ogbourne

My parents are not lake people. They aren’t river people. When my brother and I occasionally talked about swimming in a nearby lake, they talked about field runoff. So when my mom told me we would be wading a river as we–my parents, the five grandchildren, and I–made our way from Iowa to San Antonio, I suspected travel psychosis in one of its more optimistic forms.

The starting point was the Pedernales campground, where we were taking a blessed break from the road for a couple of days. We wrapped the children in life jackets and our feet in water shoes and cautiously began the Great Wade. The Pedernales’ chalky water swirled around our ankles.

We hadn’t gone far when the water began to deepen. It crept above our calves and inched over our knees.  As it rose the smallest children began to float. The water reached our waists.  Nothing was posted about the river’s depth and we hadn’t seen this coming. We pressed on, delighted children bobbing at our sides. One step more and the riverbed was gone. There we were, five gleeful children and three adults unaccustomed to immersion in non-chlorinated water, unexpectedly floating along with the little ones, impatient for the riverbed’s return.

Return it did, in the same way it had gone; leaving us to walk, dripping wet, through the humid Texas heat toward our campsite, where we would exit and shower. Immediately.

Our walk through the Pedernales should not have come as a surprise. It’s the nature of the river. And life. We walk along, barely noticing the water deepen until it gets high enough to make each step an effort, perhaps wondering how far it will go on like this when on the next step, the riverbed disappears.

That the river will rise can’t be helped. New babies and new jobs, illnesses and unemployment, relocations and relational troubles of every kind narrow the banks and deepen the water.

We have to float our way through, knowing that eventually the terrain will change. The baby will grow and the job will–finally–be adjusted to. Illness and unemployment will run their course. Eventually, the water recedes and our feet, yours and mine, will find the bottom.

I don’t like getting in over my head, floating when I’d rather be wading, but the real trouble doesn’t come from getting in over my head, it comes from staying that way. I’ve been known to narrow my own banks, overfilling the days, the hours, and the minutes. I get myself in over my head and I take the whole household with me. Life jackets won’t help a family survive mom’s busy life. They’re along for the ride and they need me to pay attention to the water level.

This is where it gets difficult. The nature of this section of the river, its pace and its footing, are my own design, and it will flow on, fast and deep, until I take some pressure off the banks, until I make a change.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life, a haunting warning I recently ran across. I like to go. I like to do. I need stillness. Without that, the small voice is drowned out.

Just as I followed my parents into the Pedernales, my children follow me. They watch to learn to live. One of my jobs as a mom is to help them with the hard work of learning, to guide them through shallow water swirling around their ankles and hold their hands when it rises. They’re watching me all the time, and they see how I navigate the natural rhythm of the river and what I do when my own choices threaten to send it over its banks. They need to learn how to float, how to take pressure off the banks, and how to be still. Soon they’ll be navigating rivers of their own.