Rivers of Life

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

After last week’s polemic, I need a rest from our country’s civil war; and so do my readers. Life will go on without listening to Clinton and the Trumpster’s attacks on each other. There will be ample time to re-engage before November 8th. And frankly, though there may be disengaged, clueless, zombies in America, I don’t believe there are many undecided voters left.

I’ve always had a wanderlust, but it has dissipated in recent years with the chaos in the world and my own health issues. It is amazing how new life has rekindled in me a desire to travel again and has refocused me on what is really important. It happened virtually overnight with the recent birth of my fourth grandchild. And by the time you read this Becky and I will be in Portland, Oregon, cradling Cleo Rebecca. I love my children, but I worship my grandchildren. Perhaps this is because, as a grandparent, I’m in a different place and a different season of my life.

I am blessed with a healthy family and enough of everything I need. The ancient Romans had a goddess of chance named Fortuna from which we derive the word fortune. I believe reality is one of Grace rather than chance. However, I don’t pretend to understand God’s big picture where suffering exists. I don’t even know that prayer changes God’s mind, but I do know prayer changes us. and for that reason, I regularly ask Him/Her/Spirit to remember me just as King Hezekiah prayed for the Lord to remember him (II Kings 20).

My granddaughter was born September 1, 2016. All babies are cute, but I have to admit this little girl is beautiful. They say she has my hair, but I suspect they remember my mop from years ago. Her natural part does seem to be on the left just like mine – necessitated by my boyhood cow lick. I’ll let you decide for yourself with another baby pic which is undoubtedly more fetching than my standard Focus mug shot.

Momentarily, it may seem tangential for me to say that I remain fascinated by rivers, but hang with me. Civilization originated alongside rivers such as the Indus River in India, the Nile in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, the land “between” (meso) the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (potamos).

This is my sixth trip to Portland since my daughter moved there after college. Like Knoxville, Portland is a city on a river spanned by many bridges. I’ve previously written about the Tennessee River as it forms just outside of Knoxville, and then in another essay as it flows southward through Chattanooga. Portland sits astride the Williamette River just as Knoxville does the Tennessee. Rivers don’t determine a city’s size because Portland is three times more populous than Knoxville, even though our rivers are comparable in size.

Portland is known for its many bridges, but also for beautiful Mount Hood a short drive away, just like our Smoky Mountains which are just up the road from K-Town.  Like Knoxvillians, Portlandians love their microbreweries. However, Portland’s passion for coffee houses exceeds our local interest. Perhaps our southern climate stifles the desire for a hot cup of Joe. We certainly don’t have the scantily clad baristas some Portland coffee houses use to attract business! Despite having the latitude of Maine, Portland’s climate is quite similar to Knoxville’s. The Japan Current in the Pacific ocean is the reason. It brings warmer water to the northwestern coastal areas of the US and tempers the climate.

Becky and I have traveled along the mighty Columbia River many times. It is the fourth largest river in the US and drains an area the size of France. Its headwaters originate in British Columbia and is joined by multiple tributaries, including the Snake River, before cutting a path through the Cascade Mountain Range to form the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. I never tire of sightseeing along this beautiful River and gorge lauded by Lewis and Clark on their epic Journey of Discovery.

A tragedy recently struck a friend of ours. Humans are rational creatures and realize that we all die. However, there is a difference between logic and personal tragedy. And some deaths are just less understandable than others. An early morning car wreck took our friend’s daughter, carving an emptiness in her father’s heart.

As a high school senior, Taylor had many aspirations, but one was to see the spectacular Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge just outside of Portland. This weekend Taylor will make it to the Falls as we carry her ashes and sprinkle them into this tributary of the Columbia River. Though Taylor’s spirit has moved on, her ashes and her atoms will now be resculpted and used in God’s further creative efforts. And a part of Taylor will merge with the “living” waters which enable and sustain life on earth.

I often imagine my life as seasons. Figuratively, I was born one “spring,” and hopefully grew in “wisdom and stature” like Jesus (Luke 2:52). I then cruised through the halcyon days of my summers raising a family and practicing medicine. Now, as I look in the mirror, I know that my “leaves” are changing, heralding autumn’s arrival. Thankfully, those leaves have not yet fallen as the prelude to the deep sleep of winter, because, as the great poet Robert Frost once said, “I have miles to go before I sleep and promises to keep.”

So in this autumnal season of mine, I am encouraged as I see the great “circle of life” continue, renewing itself in earthly newborns and the liberation of souls “born again,” who now fly unfettered to drink at the Holy font of the Living Waters.

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