Lessons From a River (by Lisa Wingate)

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Around here, the weekend started out with a good, slow rain, which we desperately needed. For me, that water song is sweet music anytime. I am a lover of water and have always been. I grew up along a little creek, waking, and sleeping, and playing, and dreaming to its changing rhythms.

After a rain, the man-children and I can never resist checking to see if “their” little creek in the back pasture has risen to temporary river status. These days, we just stand on the bank and look, but there was a time not so long ago when those water levels were critical, all-important, all-consuming. No water meant no swimming hole, no campouts, no fishing, no long afternoons of campfires and hotdogs and s’mores until dark.

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Even now, when I visit this place alone on my evening walks and stand and listen as the water passes by, I hear voices. I hear high-pitched laughter and double-dog dares. I hear the splash of inner tubes. I hear, “Mama, I got a fish!” I hear the rapid breaths of a child running back to camp with a treasure found among the river gravel — a fossil, an arrowhead, a lizard captured in two hands. The very first lightning bug of evening. Do we have something we can keep him in? Or should we just set him free?

This place is alive with memories, but even more than that, it’s alive with something deeper. Something longer-lasting. A river teaches lessons. Those lessons become the bones, and blood, and marrow of children raised near water, and earth, and sky. I hope they’ve been passed to the next generation, these lessons from a river.

Take time to sit and listen. Stop. Stop rushing. Close your eyes a moment. Listen. What lies beyond the constant white noise? They are there, the transient sounds of life. A bird flitting by, a breeze stirring leaves, a doe passing in the shadows of the wood. The sounds change moment to moment, never the same twice. Everything is passing. The water, the creatures, the day. Each moment is unique along a river. Each moment is unique in life. A moment unappreciated is a moment lost.

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Don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet. Go for it. Don’t let fear keep you on the bank. Trust the water. Trust yourself. Trust God to catch you. To experience something new, to soar, to fly, you must first let go of where you are now.

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Look beneath the surface. Don’t be fooled by what’s on the outside. Look beyond the ripples and mirrored reflections. So much hides beneath the surface of a river. The skittering of tiny creatures, the silver flash of minnows, an ancient license plate washed from somewhere far away, a shimmering quartz crystal, a bit of fool’s gold. The truest form of all things is found beyond what can be seen at first glance.

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See with new eyes. The river is always changing. It changes with the seasons, with the days, with the hours, with the cycles of drought and flood, with blooming and dying, and blooming again. Where there was bland gravel yesterday, today there may be gifts — a fossil washed ashore, a wild rose bursting forth, a butterfly. Don’t assume that what was ordinary yesterday will be ordinary again. Give each day and each season rapt attention. Expect something extraordinary.

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Take a friend along. Value your solitude on occasion, but when possible, share your time with old friends and open yourself to new ones. Reveal your secret hiding places, invite others in, offer shelter, offer beauty, offer comfort and companionship. An experience shared is an experience multiplied, a memory made. It is in connecting with others that we broaden ourselves beyond one life into many.

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Value the journey. Don’t rush. Don’t focus far ahead. Look down. Look at where you are. Don’t be afraid to walk aimlessly, to feel the water, to let the current slow your steps. The goal isn’t to reach the end of the river as quickly as possible, but know the river for what it is, to take in all that it has to offer. Understanding a river takes time. Devote the time that’s needed.

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Don’t be limited by what you can see. Dream, imagine, pretend. Take a creek and create a river. Take a twig and create a boat. Take a log and create a raft. Sail not from bank to bank, but from far sea to farther sea. Take a dragonfly and fashion a dragon. Climb aboard and soar. It is never too early or too late in the day to daydream.

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These are the lessons I carry with me as a sudden rain shower dabs the river’s surface, chasing us up the banks yet another time. We hurry home, laughing, these man-boys and I. We leave river and know in some innate way that we’ll never see it again. We will come back to this place, but when we do, a new river will be waiting. Water coming, water going, leaves drifting, something growing, something fading.

It is impossible to step twice in the same river. The river is always changing. It cannot be preserved, other than in memory.

But the lessons are ours to keep. And in the end, the lessons the matter most.

Lisa

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Water and Sky Giveaway

In celebration of rivers, imagination, and Memorial Day, we’re giving away a sweet sea glass heart (red, white, and blue of course) pendant and earring set from Sandy’s Seashell Shop. To enter, leave a comment, answering the question of the day any day this week. We’ll leave the contest open all week, and announce a winner on Sunday.

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Question of the day: What lessons were passed down to you, growing up? Have you passed any of those lessons on to the next generation?

 

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Selected among BOOKLIST'S Top 10 of 2012 and Top 10 of 2013, Lisa Wingate weaves Southern settings with elements of women's fiction, history, and mystery to create stories that Publisher's Weekly calls "Masterful" and Library Journal refers to as "Lyrical and beautiful." She is a seven-time Carol Award nominee, and a two-time Carol Award winner. She once dreamed of making the Olympics and winning the National Finals Rodeo, but was thwarted by an inability to do a back flip on the balance beam and parents who wouldn't finance a rodeo career, so she took her first-grade teacher's advice and became a writer instead ;)

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Comments

  1. says

    Beautiful post, Lisa. My parents were caretakers on a Christian camp for eight years of my childhood, and my brother and I explored the creeks and ponds that wound through that 365 acres of paradise. I still search for water to this day, and for Indian money (fossils), too. Thanks for taking me back to such a sweet, simple time. Hoping to enjoy many moments like that with my daughters. :)

    • Lisa Wingate says

      What a wonderful way to grow up, Jolina! I can imagine those 365 acres seeming like paradise to a little girl. I know you and your daughters have many wonderful explorations ahead of you. Enjoy ;)

  2. Cheryl Wood says

    Growing up in a Jewish home we were not allowed to talk about God. When I married my best friend, we had decided that religion was not an issue. Once we had our daughter we decided that we all needed a relationship with Jesus. Now that my daughter will be a senior in high school she will be heading off on her first mission trip. I am beyond words that I continue to model my life for Jesus and that our daughter is following in the same steps.

    • says

      Cheryl, thanks for visiting us at SBV today. I just had to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your comment just now. I’m so delighted that you and your man have sought our precious Jesus and clearly taught your daughter to live for Him. Blessings on her trip~

    • Lisa Wingate says

      This is such a blessing, Cheryl. Thank you for sharing with us. Your daughter is blessed to have parents who have found their feet firmly planted in a strong faith. I hope your daughter’s mission trip is only the beginning of many wonderful experiences!

  3. Becky S. says

    Don’t try to grow up too fast–enjoy those carefree, childhood years while they last. Seems that you just blink and they are gone. It’s a hard lesson to teach to young people who can’t wait to be “all grown up.”
    I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful Memorial Day!

    • Lisa Wingate says

      *sigh* yes, isn’t this the truth? We want to be all grown up and then once we are, we wish we were kids again ;)

  4. says

    Well said, Becky! It’s hard to teach or even hear when you’re in the throes of the thing, but yes, those days move quickly. What’s even more challenging for me is to keep in mind that the days I am in now, these are the “good old days”, too! :) Happy Memorial Day!

  5. says

    Classic Lisa post. So glad I made it to the porch this morning. Love this line most of all: Don’t assume that what was ordinary yesterday will be ordinary again!

    Happy Memorial Day!

    Hugs,
    Shellie

  6. Tricia Bahnsen says

    Wonderful post, Lisa!

    A practice in our family was to gather for dinner. We were all around the table, usually each with some role in contributing, and spent that time reflecting on the day and enjoying one another’s company.

    • Lisa Wingate says

      I think one of the saddest things of my lifetime has been seeing the family dinner table fade. When I was young, days around the neighborhood always ended with moms calling from backdoors, beckoning the kids in for supper. We ended our days around the table together, talking about everything we’d done. What a wonderful way to stay connected as a family. Thank you for reminding me!

  7. says

    I learned that life is about making mistakes but never to repeat that mistake. If you learned something from your mistake it was worth taking a chance. When you fail at something pick yourself up and try again. My boys have heard this many times over the years.

  8. Pamela says

    My mom taught me to love and honor God above all else. I try to pass that on to every child I meet. My heart dances with joy when one of my honorary nieces or nephews says something to their parents like, “I’m not worried about going to a new school. If it’s hard, then that’s a bigger opportunity for me to depend on God. Like Aunt Pamela says.If you’re worried, Mom, then let’s pray about it. I’ll start…”

  9. Jackie Tessnair says

    Going exploring through the woods to the creek behind our home when I was growing up was one of my favorite things to do.I would sit on a rock and day dream.It is something that now kids don’t do,due to all the technology and the fact that times has just got so dangerous.I passed this along to my children.When they were growing up I would take them exploring through the woods and to the creeks.We still go exploring when we go to the mountains on vacation.

  10. says

    The lesson that stands out in my mind the most, comes from my Grandmother. I always enjoyed spending time on the farm and being in the kitchen with her while she cooked. She would always say “A good cook always cleans up their own mess”. I have passed that advice along to more than just the next generation. I believe that it is the responsibility that comes along with not only the joy of cooking, but also the pride and compliments of the dish that is created.

  11. Cynthia Moore says

    Lisa, I believe your thoughts about the river are so poetic and timeless like the river itself. I myself have always been drawn to water. I dearly love to go to the ocean and could sit for hours looking at its majestic, mysterious beauty. Growing up, my daddy gave me a love of the ocean when we would go to Padre Island for vacation. Holding up a seashell to listen from, chasing ghost crabs and looking for the perfect sand dollar. These are my memories from those vacations and my husband and I were able to pass along just the exact same memories to our 3 men-children. They in turn have shared their special memories with their children. A timeless cycle that I have no doubt will be passed to my great-grandchildren some day.

  12. Virginia Rush says

    you have great memories of times on that creek, those boys, dogs and you skipping right along with them. precious. Since my kids and grandgirls were raised in the same place I was, we all learned the same lessons. To treasure nature in all it’s changes, to respect cattle when they have new babies….a lesson my 40 year old needed to relearn just yesterday. In our herd each baby has a lot of momma’s, and they’ll each fight you for anyone of those babies….it’s the strangest and sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Each generation of us, has picked berries, that are mostly eaten before they make it home for cobbler. we have fished the same pond and were excited when even a minnow got on the hook. We value the time on our porch, swinging and rocking…letting laughter roll over the acres…we eat there, we TALK there, we cry there and we pray there. For me it’s been a lifetime of HOME…may it be so for them, too. it’s not taken for granted, it’s treasured. your story was great Lisa…

  13. Sharon says

    Beautiful post today and food for thought. A quick quote from my grandmother when I’d wish for Christmas to get her or my birthday. “Don’t wish your life away. You can never get this moment, hour, or day back. Enjoy now.”

  14. Dalene Wilkinson says

    I was taught to always make memories with family. My parents were only married for 10 years when my father died in a boating accident. (I was 6 and my sister was 2.) Our Mom cherished every memory that they had with each other. She raised us to create lasting memories with each other and our families, which we both have done. Our Mom is gone now, but all the memories are still with us. We continually find ways to create new memories with our husbands, children and grandchildren.

  15. Melanie Backus says

    Moments pass as quickly as a breath and are so many times taken for granted as is the air that we breathe. I was brought up and taught to put God first. My parents set that example for me and I always tried to do that with my children. Now I see my grandchildren being taught and brought up with the same conviction. It is beautiful, it is a blessing, it is as it should be.

    melback at cebridge dot net

  16. says

    This is so beautifully written, Lisa. I felt swept away by it. Love the photos, too.

    One of my brothers mentioned recently that it seems to be a requirement in our family that we must live near water. I thought about it and realized that I have lived either by the sea, on a lake, or by a river my entire life.

  17. CindyZS says

    do the job right the first time and work hard to get what you want and always help others……….and yes it has been passed on. thats what wrong with the kids today they think you are owed something. no you gotta work for it.we never got paid to work around the house, that was our way of saying thanks to our parents. now all kids want to do is play video games, text/talk on phones, etc. no responsibility, no morals, and no values. sad

  18. Miriam Lozano says

    Loved this post Linda….so profound and so poetic. I often want to say things like this and can’t seem to find the words to describe my feelings. You make it seem so simple.

    One of the lessons I learned from just living and watching my parents was to be hospitable. There was never a day when we didn’t get visitors; whether friends or family, they were always welcomed. The amazing thing was that even though we were not rich, it seemed that there was always enough food to invite the guests to stay for dinner. My mother was expert at whipping up a three course meal in no time flat. If it was later in the evening, there was always “cafe con leche” (coffee with milk) and some sweet desert. I so enjoyed sitting with the “old folks” and listening to their stories. If there were more than four visitors, the domino table came out and the men played while the women gossiped. The kids ran around playing hide and seek or tag, or watching something on TV. I learned to love classical music from Cuba, salsa, danzones, and love songs by old time Cuban musicians. I cherish the traditions brought over from the old country and learned to love family and friends and to enjoy their fellowship.

    I now do the same thing as my parents; love having people over and can whip up a meal in no time with whatever I find in the pantry. There is always “cafe con leche” brewing at my house because my husband loves a good cup of coffee. There is always time for friends and family to just drop over and sit and talk. I pray that my children have learned from their grand parents, and now from us to cherish times spent with family and friends and to take a load off and just sit and enjoy life. There is just not enough of that nowadays.

    Thank you again for sharing your feelings and emotions.

  19. Patricia says

    Love of the outdoors. As children, we played in the woods, swam in the creek and spent more time outside than in! We had chickens, for eggs, a garden, each year, and fruit trees. It was a wonderful life!

    • Patricia says

      My children were lucky enough to experience a lot of what I did, as a child, visiting their grandparents…cherished memories.

  20. Lani says

    Beautiful post Lisa! Feels so peaceful reading it, thank you! Can’t really think of anything passed down from my parents, but we have worked hard to make meaningful traditions and memories with our four girls. Family dinner every night, many holiday traditions, faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and knowing that we are truly there for each other-always! My girls are grown now, and I see the fruits of our labors and it does my heart good. Feeling blessed just thinking about this!

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