Downstream

Snowflakes flurried in the beam of his headlamp, which shone like a bright white wedge, a drastic contrast to the dark woods. The fog of his breath also caught the light of his headlamp, and then lifted and vanished into the moonless night. Nothing could be seen outside the distinct boundaries of that beam of light. He tilted his head back and looked into the thick, clouded sky, and the light caught the crystal edges of each glimmering snowflake as they floated and fluttered, taking their time to drift down to earth by the most indirect route. 

The night was so quiet that I could almost hear the snowflakes landing, a muffled quietness only undertoned by the crackling of the campfire. I directed my gaze downward and stared at the movement of the flames and the glowing embers, warmed by the closeness. I watched snowflakes blow into the fire and disappear, amazed by how such extremes of cold and heat can get close enough to touch for just an instant, and I was equally amazed that I could be so comfortably warm while being entirely exposed on this snowy winter night.

Later that night, I snuggled into a down sleeping bag in a tent in the woods and smiled my toasty warm self to sleep on a 20 degree night, and my thoughts drifted off like snowflakes. 

For four days, I enjoyed the wilderness of the Buffalo River with my dad and his camping buddy as we paddled, camped, and hiked together off the beaten path in the Ozark Mountains. It’s one of the few places on earth where there is still no cell service. It’s funny, we didn’t see a soul all weekend. I guess the average person doesn’t choose to do a float trip in December when the forecast predicts constant rain, snow, and ice with temperatures in the 20s and 30s. 

As much I like to say that I’m a person who thrives off a busy schedule and who finds meaning in activity and accomplishment, it’s the very void of those things that makes me love these river float trips so much. For four days, there is no place to be at any certain time. There are no expectations to meet and nothing to do or accomplish. Except go downriver. 

The lack of busyness allows the freedom of creative thought, the gift of pondering, wondering, meditating. You float downriver with everything you need in a small well behind the seat of your kayak, and you are free to see and think and linger on things that your mind normally wouldn’t have the energy or time to explore. 

There is something about being so intentionally isolated in creation that reminds me that I, too, am a created thing among created things. And it makes the Creator feel much closer, as if I’ve changed the direction of the beam of my headlamp, and I’m beginning to catch glimmers of his beauty in a new light. 

I become consciously aware that a tree grows exactly where it is planted and a mountain stands exactly where it was placed. Snowflakes land where the wind blows them, and a river runs to the lowest place with water filling in all the cracks. There certainly is a natural order of things, and nature sure doesn’t seem to complain about it’s place or try to go against it. God is glorified by the tree growing where the seed was buried. He is glorified by the river following its path. And somehow, in a divine and mysterious paradox, the sovereignty of God is displayed when things just run their natural course. 

In the same way, I wonder if I am not too different. As a created thing, I can grow where I’m planted, stand tall where I’m placed, land where I am blown. And God is glorified and his sovereignty displayed in that. 

Yet there is something that distinguishes us human beings from the rest of the created world. We don’t have to follow that natural order. We can choose to climb a ridge against gravity, to fight against the wind, to paddle upstream. In the choosing there is uncharted ground to cover and opposition to fight. A spirit of adventure. A motive to explore and experience and conquer. And God is also glorified in this adventuring, this choosing. 

I want to live my whole life a little more like this float trip. Perhaps the joy in life doesn’t come from accomplishing more, meeting expectations, or getting places. Perhaps it comes more from enjoying the way the snowflakes dance in a beam of light. Perhaps it comes from growing where you are planted, landing where the wind blows you, and sometimes choosing to climb up a mountain against the wind. 

Just like we point our boats downriver and enjoy the beauty of the journey, maybe we could just point our lives toward God and enjoy him all along the way. 

I rest on knowing that God is directing my life downstream, just like water to the area of least resistance. That’s me, a created thing, following the natural design of my creator. 

I may also get to pick my path through the rapids and pools. That’s the choosing. 

But all the water is going to the same place, and we are all in boats within the current of his love and grace, swept into his great design for the kingdom of Christ in the whole world. That’s his sovereignty in the playing out of things, and he is glorified in both the natural order and the choosing. 

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