Her eyes fluttered. Consciousness began to slowly work its way through her body as light filled the space behind her heavy eyelids. Finally, she managed to open them ever so slightly and was rewarded with searing blindness. Groaning, she turned her head and tried to shield her eyes from the blazing light that seemed to bore its way through her head. She wasn’t in pain exactly, but everything seemed heavy and achy. Movement required too much effort, but now that the light had forced her back into awareness, there was no other way to escape it than to sit up. She rolled over, her eyes still struggling for clarity and vision. The feel of rough wood—logs?—and the sound of lapping water very near to her added to her confusion. Where was she?
She sat up, pulled her knees to her chest, and rested her forehead on them, her downcast eyes finally shielded enough from the blinding light to once again find solid, focused footing in wakefulness. Slowly she lifted her head and looked around, trying to recall anything that would explain how she ended up on a log raft floating down the river.
Floating. The river. In an instant the memories flooded in, like the rushing tide that fateful night. How long ago was that? She shook her head, deciding that it didn’t really matter now; even if the flood had left anything intact, time was irrelevant at this point. She’d still be starting over, and she could do that whenever she found her way back. And she knew she would, too. Somehow, she’d get back there and start over again. The only question remaining was how long it would be until the next one.
She forced her thoughts to focus on the scene before her. The raft was floating downstream at a decent pace, and she was—wait, the raft. She hadn’t had a raft; she’d been floating in the rushing current, trying to keep her head above water. That she did remember. She chastised herself as she thought back, trying to pinpoint when it had started and how she could have been caught so off guard. She should have guessed something was coming when the rains began; they were unseasonal but slow and soft, with breaks of warmth in between. It was unusual, for sure, but no cause for concern.
Living on the floodplain, rain was a mixed blessing. It watered crops and cleansed the landscape, but it also fed the river. Eventually, if it wasn’t falling from the sky, the saturated ground quietly sent it snaking to the nearby current in deceptively charming rivulets and streams. She’d been so busy with the rhythms of life that she never stopped to consider and prepare. The people often sang about how building your heart on the floodplain meant keeping one eye on the sky for rain,* but that’s exactly what she’d stopped doing. She’d stopped paying attention. Or maybe it had simply been too subtle and unfamiliar to recognize for what it really was. Regardless, the river had slowly inched closer, and she’d missed all the signs, until suddenly the major storm broke and the tide rushed in with maddening speed, the water spreading like sadness* and consuming the floodplain and the hearts and life settled there.
Her heart. Her life.
How she’d ended up there, she didn’t know, but she did love it—verdant with promise and hope, yet brimming with the risk of destruction and ruin. The river was life here. It brought trade and connection with the rest of the world, provided food and water, nourished crops, even offered the thrill of adventure and fun. But living close came at a cost. The lyrics of the river song rolled through her mind, washing her thoughts like the water that splashed on the logs beneath her. Closer to the life and the ebb and flow, closer to the edge of I don’t know, closer to that’s the way it goes . . . closer to the danger and the rolling deep, closer to the run and the losing streak and what brings us to our knees.*
That is definitely the way it goes, she thought to herself, resignation creeping in. She’d weathered it before, and she would do so again. Somehow. Maybe. Assuming she could figure out how to get back there. From wherever she was. Where was she, anyway?
Once again she forced her thoughts back to the present, taking in the details of the shoreline on both sides of the the river and trying to figure out just how far she’d drifted. As she started looking around, her peripheral vision registered a presence behind her. Turning, she saw him sitting calmly, watching her, waiting patiently.
Of course it was him. She should have known. It was always him. Somehow he always found her. Closer to Lord please send a boat.*
“Good morning,“ he greeted her knowingly.
“You know, the song says, ‘Please send a boat,’ not a leaky log raft.”
“Yes, well, it was time for something different. Are you hungry?”
Before she could ask what he meant by something different, her stomach began to churn loudly. She probably hadn’t eaten in days. Or longer. “Yes,” she sighed, scooting over to him and the two breakfast platters awaiting them. “What do we have this time?”
“Fish, of course. And bread.” He smiled at her in that way that always steadied all the swirling, churning things inside her. It was the smile that made her believe that somehow everything would be okay. She smiled back and began to eat. Somehow there was always enough to satisfy her hunger. She wasn’t really sure where it came from, but when he was around, for some reason the where and the how didn’t seem to matter all that much. She ate in silence, taking in the scenery around her and resting in the reassurance she felt in his presence. Today the sound and movement of the river soothed; this was an ebb-and-flow day, and she tried to focus on that.
When breakfast was over, she lay back on the logs and closed her eyes, allowing her body to absorb the strength it needed and her mind to rest in the warm breeziness around her. Normally, this might be the point at which she would begin trying to figure out how to get to shore and find her way back home, but for some reason the sunlight and breeze, the sensation of drifting, and his presence all seemed to silence her natural drive to figure and plan and do. She opened her eyes and glanced around, confirming her suspicions. There was no rudder or motor or any other method of steering, so she might as well just sit back and soak up the peace and rest while she could. The time for trekking and working would be upon her sooner or later. If she wanted to get through that, well, she might as well refresh and relax, because who knew what she would face next or what it would require of her.
She watched him watching the world around them. His peacefulness was contagious. Sitting with him always seemed to soak the worries and woes right out of her. It’s not like they stopped existing, but somehow there just wasn’t room for them. His presence and strength and steadiness just seemed to fill the space around her, pushing the rest of it to the periphery. When something did find its way close enough to gain her attention, it was much quieter, more submissive, and with him there next to her, the absence of an answer was no longer a cause for concern. She didn’t really understand it, but neither did she feel the need to in that moment. It was nice to have a break from it all.
As she mused, her gaze began wandering through the world around them. The soothing sounds of water lapping against the raft as it washed past them filled her ears and stilled her mind. There was nothing entirely unfamiliar in the wilderness that flanked the river, but it still felt new somehow, unknown, unnamed.
Colors became more vivid, nature’s rhythms more playful and carefree. She watched the birds flying, dipping here and soaring there, playing together, hunting together, singing together. From time to time she noticed that all of nature would quiet down as the various birdsongs rose together in a simultaneously cacophonous and harmonic chorus. It was deafening and thrilling, and as quickly as it built it would die down until only a single twitter echoed on the air around her. She watched the trees swaying and dancing in the breeze, weaving in and amongst each other, and listened to the rustling of their leaves, wondering what they saw in the world and what they were saying to each other about it. She noticed the clouds floating in the sky above her, keeping pace with them as they drifted in the river’s current. Every now and then they would join forces to provide shade from the sun in the heat of the day, then suddenly break as rays of light shot through like fingers reaching down from heaven to gently bathe some part of the world in light, illuminating or revealing something unseen. Or unrealized. In the river around them, she occasionally caught sight of fish darting to the surface or swarming together just under it. Any little thing would startle them, and they would scatter, but never for long. They seemed to find solace and safety in the nearness of each other; the closer together they were, the calmer they became.
The two of them sat on the raft this way for some time; it could have been only hours, or it could have been days or weeks. She’d lost track of time; she’d also lost track of caring about time. Back home on the floodplain, she rarely got to just sit back and enjoy what was around her; the toil for survival was real and consuming. It was also exhausting, so much so that on the rare occasion she did get a break, she was too tired and drained to enjoy it very much. But there on the raft in the companionable solitude—being still and just watching, drifting, soaking—she felt her mind and her soul being filled and rehydrated and her imagination resuscitated.
The quiet between them as they rested and watched felt holy, sacred. She knew it wouldn’t last forever—she wondered when it would end and how—but she had no desire to shatter it any sooner than necessary. So, she simply sat and watched, never asking her questions, never even feeling the need to.
Life on the river raft began to claim a rhythm of its own. Each morning, they awoke and sat for a while, talking about this and that. Or not. During the day they’d continue down the river on their raft, fishing off the side for their meals, and most nights she’d fall asleep counting the stars. Sometimes she would tell him stories, usually the kind that began with “Remember when . . .” Of course he remembered, but he never seemed put out by the implication that maybe he didn’t; he just smiled and reminisced with her, laughing, crying, joining her in silent remembrance, or whatever the recollection elicited. Sometimes he even joined in the retelling. Sometimes he even let her in on details she’d never known before.
From time to time they’d spy a spot on the shore that intrigued them, and somehow he’d steer the raft over so they could explore. Some of those places were already familiar to her, haunts from her childhood, but he always found a way to uncover new mysteries and details that she’d never seen or considered before. Then he’d stand back and watch as she took her time climbing or digging or smelling or watching—whatever the mystery, he never seemed to mind letting her do the discovering. It didn’t matter how long it took her, he gave her the freedom, and she felt his pleasure as she learned to enjoy her days again.
One evening, after just such a day, she sat at a campfire in the woods, roasting fish and sipping coffee in reflective silence. After breakfast, he’d left her to hike on her own up a trail that had caught her attention. She’d enjoyed the journey, the space and time to herself, getting away from what had become their predictable daily rhythms. Not that she minded the rhythms or the predictability they provided; on the contrary, it was all very pleasant and grounding. But there was a part of her that frequently needed to shake things up and walk in the break; they both knew it, and she loved him deeply for embracing that about her and making time and space for it. When she’d returned from her trek, the sun was setting and the campfire awaited her, complete with roasting fish and the pot of coffee. She poured herself a cup and sat down to wait for the fish to finish cooking and for him to join her. She didn’t know where he’d gone off to, but she knew he wasn’t far. He never was. And he always returned.
As the last remnants of light faded into darkness, she noticed something illuminated by the light of the fire. She left her perch and crouched down to inspect it. There appeared to be writing on the rocks around the edge of the fire:
Eat. Drink. Be satisfied. Then meet me at the river.† It’s time.
She wondered how she hadn’t noticed the writing when she first arrived, but as she looked more closely, she saw that the invitation was not written, but carved. The rocks that had been used all had a crystalline component, and the letters had been carved in such a way that the crystals inside the grooves caught the light from the nearby flames and reflected it in a way that made the letters glow brighter as the darkness spread. She smiled to herself over the care he’d taken in creating the simple invitation. But then again, his creativity had always astounded her. No one ever seemed to hit the mark quite like him.
She took her time eating and drinking. He’d said for her to be satisfied, and she knew she could take him at his word. He always told her to take her time, and he never seemed to grow impatient with her; she knew this time would be no different. He would prepare for and wait for her to arrive and be thrilled to see her when she did, as though it were the very moment he’d expected all along. She was intrigued and a little anxious to see what he had planned, but she knew she’d better do as he said and be satisfied while she still had the chance.
When she was done, she carefully put out the fire, gathered the things she could carry in her pack, and headed back toward the river to find him. It wasn’t a long walk, but it was a sweet one. The cricket calls drifted on the night breeze, and the undergrowth swashed beneath her feet. She could smell life in the night air, feel it embrace her as she passed through the awakening woods. She finally emerged onto the sandy beach and saw the raft moored right where they’d left it, awash in moonlight. She climbed on and sat down next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. The stillness enveloped them; she closed her eyes and breathed it in.
“Hi,” He said softly a few moments later.
“Hi,” she replied.
“Did you see my invitation?”†
“Mmhmm. It was so lovely, I had to bring it with me. It just hurt to think of leaving it.”
“I’m so glad you liked it. And that you came.” He smiled at her as his hand came around her shoulder.
“Oh I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. But what did you mean ‘it’s time’? Time for what?”
“I don’t understand,” she sighed.
“We have been drifting together for some time now. At first it provided the rest you needed after the hard fight in the storm and flood. You settled into this season of rest and reawakening, happy to let the days be what they were without planning or toil. But I have heard the return of your questions in the night. Your heart and mind long for answers and restoration. It is time to go searching.”
“For what?” she asked, sitting up and angling herself to see him better, looking for clues to help her understand his words. His statements seemed straightforward enough, but she knew that nothing with him was ever as it seemed—not necessarily in a bad way, but definitely in the sense that there was probably more to his explanation than she would be able to comprehend at the moment.
“For lost time,” he stated.†
She stared into his face for a long moment, searching, trying to decipher his cryptic reply. She’d had enough experiences with him over the years to make her wonder at a few possibilities for what he meant by lost time. But her experience also reminded her that he was far beyond her ability to predict. She didn’t understand; questions, fears, and doubts all battled furiously in her mind, and her inability to sort and order it all left her speechless and a little anxious.
Slowly, a knowing smile spread softly across his face. “I know, my love,” he said as he clasped her hands reassuringly in his. “Do not worry.”
“But lost time? What does that mean? I-I don’t know if I can—. I mean, what if I—. I don’t know—.” Tears suddenly filled her vision as her half-formed questions and fears tumbled out. He pulled her close and held her tightly, her face buried into his shoulder as deep sobs overcame her. She let herself feel it all, knowing she was safe in his embrace for as long as the internal storm raged. When the tears ended and calm settled deeply within her again, she pulled away, sniffling and trying to dry her downcast face.
After a moment, he spoke gently. “My love, look at me.”
As she hesitantly obeyed, she saw the deep love in his eyes and felt the shame she’d had over her emotional outburst wash away, taking all the fear and doubt with it, as peace claimed its rightful place in her heart once again. He smiled at her, the deep kind of smile that starts in the heart and overflows from the eyes, infusing warmth and belonging into those toward whom it is directed. She felt it infusing her with strength again, and she smiled back.
“There you are,” he said softly.
Yes, here she was, back where she belonged. In his arms, basking in the warmth of his gaze. It would be okay. She would be okay. She did not know what lay ahead of them in this expedition, but she did know it would be okay.
“How long?” she asked.
“Ooooo!” He softly chuckled. “Days and days!”† The playfulness in his tone made her wonder just how serious he was.
“But—? But what about—?” her voice trailed off, leaving her question unfinished.
“What about what?” he asked softly, knowingly.
Sheepishly, she continued. “What about . . . well, real life? I mean this can’t last forever, right? What about building and working and preparing for the future?”
“What about them?” He asked without any hint of rebuke in his voice.
“Um. I mean, don’t I need to get back to doing that?”
“Ah. The great ‘do.’ You do live for that, don’t you?”
“Well, I mean, I can’t do nothing forever, can I?
“Hmm.” He nodded his understanding. “Have you been doing nothing?”
“Well, no. Not nothing, exactly, but um, what about careers? Five-year plans? Retirement? The American Dream? This just seems a little—” She stopped, searching for the right words.
“Foolish? Extravagant? Wasteful?”† he finished for her.
“Kind of. Yes.” She felt the confusion softly swirling around inside her. She’d just implied they were being irresponsible. Was he even capable of that?
He chuckled lightly. “Yes, I can see how in light of all those demands and expectations, this might seem extravagant and wasteful. Foolish even. But that does not mean it actually is. It all depends on which dream you choose to hunt for: yours, or mine. They aren’t always mutually exclusive, but they do sometimes butt heads, don’t they?”
She smirked and nodded her agreement before settling her head on his shoulder once again. “So what now?” she asked softly.
“Trust me.” He answered.
They sat like that watching the stars and listening to the night breeze for a while, as her mind quietly sifted through all he’d said. She knew he was right, and she really had nothing to complain about. She was happy here on the raft with him. She was enjoying life again, and she couldn’t remember the last time that had been true—or if it had ever been true. Why would she go back to the life of trudging and toil if she didn’t have to?
“Days and days?” she asked him, finally breaking the silence.
“As long as it takes,”† he answered, his voice belying his smile. “We are looking for lost time, after all.”
“Lost time.” she repeated, testing the phrase for herself. “I don’t know what that means.”
“That’s okay, my love,” he answered softly. “I do.”
Featured Image Photo Credit: “Green World” by Alex Markovich (https://photo-art.me/2016/05/14/green-world), used with permission
“Expedition” © 2016 Amber Crafton, inspired by lyrics from the two Sara Groves songs mentioned here in the footnotes. No part of this story may be reproduced in any form–neither in print, nor in speech, nor on the web–without my express written consent. You may use the contact form here on this blog to request permissions, if you so desire; please be very specific about how much you wish to quote/reproduce, for what purpose, and where. Thank you.