The River of Life

            “Eventually, all things merge into one, and river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”—Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through it and Other Stories


            For from Him [all things originate] and through Him [all things live and exist] and to Him are all things [are directed]. To Him be glory and honor forever! Amen. —Romans 11:36 AMP


No matter how my morning, workday, or even weekend errands are going, driving over one of our numerous bridges in the Tri-State area and gazing upon the mighty Ohio River never fails to initiate a deep inhalation and sigh of release.   Even driving by or over one of the many local creeks and other smaller rivers and streams can provide a similar feeling of momentary relaxation; and, even a sense of assurance in an often-chaotic world.

Creeks and streams source rivers. Smaller rivers flow and feed into other larger rivers, and, eventually, all waters merge in the great oceans of the world. It is this continuous flow from source to destination that may subconsciously be signaling my reassurance as it is deeply symbolic of life.



All rivers have a source, a starting point, called headwaters. These river building waters begin in a variety of unique settings. From clear spring mountain snow melt trickling downward, to desert groundwater the rises and flows momentarily above the surface during spring rains; and, from mud-brown seasonal rain-dependent hill run-off to the sluggish tea-colored waters flowing from marshes, all headwaters may appear to start insignificantly; but, in fact, are a minor miracle in its own right and critical to the rivers they supply. Furthermore, these miraculous headwaters perform numerous other key tasks


For example, headwater streams often trap floodwater and prevent soil erosion. They recharge the groundwater supplies by providing an outlet for these underground flows, and headwaters increase and remove pollution from our water supply. Additionally, headwaters, even those that are seasonal, filter and provide fresh water for fish and wildlife habitat as well as supply clean drinking water for human consumption.


Likewise, people are distinctively formed and created from the source of all life. No matter the country in which a child is born, the language spoken, or the color of the skin; whether born in a hut, in a car, or in a hospital; regardless of financial means, social status, or cultural background, all individuals are miraculously and gloriously a child of our Creator, the Ultimate Source of all life. It is from Him, just like the headwaters, that we are inimitably fashioned and from Him all life flows like the rivers over which I daily traverse.



Once given the gift of living water from the headstream, rivers flow continuously. However, the river course is not often smooth. Depending upon where the river is located, its waters may flow over rocky and/or sandy surfaces, have sharp bends that may swell and overflow with too much rain, and it may be filled with obstacles both natural and made-made, such as tree logs, larger rocks or boulders, sediment, trash, and pollution—both seen and unseen.



Likewise, human life does not always flow smoothly. The flow of human life is often dependent upon where one lives, how one is raised, as well as other external and internal influences. As one grows, each individual may encounter rock-strewn situations, deal with jagged twists of change, and sometimes, an overflowing of negative events. Furthermore, life often possesses copious obstacles that appear to interrupt the flow of life causing it to seemingly spin out of control.


In rivers, eddies (sometimes called whirlpools) form due to obstructions, back-filling the void space behind or downstream with its characteristic swirling counter-rotation spinning, spinning, spinning to the river current’s forward direction. Some eddies may be quite strong, while others seem more meek, but all eddies appear to possess a sticking point and can seem to negatively impact the flow of the river. However, nothing could be further from the truth.


Eddies invigorate the water with much needed oxygen to support fish and other wildlife. Eddies also trap insects and other bits of food that fish can then dine upon in a lazy-Susan fashion. Furthermore, these whirlpools of action also spinout debris, trash, and unwanted detritus. Therefore, the seemingly sticking point of water flow is, in actuality, beneficial to the health and well being of the river. Thus it is life.


How often do the obstacles in life appear to spin out of control? How often does it seem the flow of life is stagnant, stuck; and like that river eddy, spinning, spiraling, and, perhaps even, strengthening to the point of either no-control or no perceived purpose. Could it be, that these life-eddies are necessary for personal, or even, global health, renewal, or growth?


Perhaps, the eddies of life that currently appear chaotic are invigorating individuals, large groups, or certain geographic locations with a fresh supply oxygen—breathing new life into negative situations. Maybe these whirlpools of life contain within their spiraling waters nutrients for a new way of thinking, living and/or problem solving? Finally, it may just be possible that life eddies might be spinning and filtering-out that which is not needed and rather than impeding life, or harming/damaging the individual or collective humanity? It is worth considering.


All rivers are derived from ancient raindrops, flowing over the dust of what was, and finally, merging into the great body of what is and will be as the water dissipates into the air, ultimately returning to the earth source once more; and, so it is with life.   Let us have faith in the Source through whom our life flows originate, exist, and are ultimately directed.








Focus on the Positive: A parable of three strangers


“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”Proverbs 11:25


John, my husband and middle school Theology teacher, once had a discussion with a few of his classes regarding if there were more bad people or good people in the world. Most of his students felt there were more bad. I was stunned to hear this. However, I experienced three encounters of late that illustrated how easy it is to allow one bad apple to overshadow all the good in the world.


Encounter #1. It is often my habit on weekend to complete grocery store stock-ups at a nearby location with a Starbucks. After unloading my groceries and returning the cart to the store’s entrance, I’ll usually visit the Starbucks kiosk. Corey, the familiar and affable, ever-smiling barista, remembers my coffee preference, makes it extra hot, and serves it to me without a wrap in order for me to warm my store-frozen fingers.


On a recent Saturday, I was pushed for time. I decided if there were a line at Starbucks, I’d skip the coffee.   From the shopping cart area, I could see there was no one in line. I walked hastily to snag my spot at the counter when a tall, elegant woman, perhaps 5-10 years older than me, approached from the opposite side. I slowed my pace in order to turn around and exit the store. As I began to turn, the stranger’s eyes met mine.



“Please, Dear, don’t go. You seem in a hurry. I have all of the time in the world,” she stated, gesturing with her arm for me to step up first.


I felt reluctant, but her smile assured me of her genuine feelings. As my coffee was made, I thanked the woman once more. She smiled and uttered, “Merry Christmas, my Dear.” I can still see her smart red pea coat with matching name-brand leather purse, black dress slacks, coifed short bottle-black hair as well as Corey’s beaming face as he handed me my coffee.


Corey is an example of a person who continually offers positive and joyful energy to others on a daily basis–even if he doesn’t like to get his picture taken!  🙂


Encounter #2. Inevitably, it seems I must stop at the grocery store during the workweek. On one such stop, I was moving up and down aisles at a clipped pace trying to find the items on my list. Repeatedly, I encountered a warmly dressed elderly lady with tightly ringed gray hair encircling her head like a silver tiara. Her demeanor was almost ethereal, and her self-possessed smile was a constant fixture upon her finely lined face.


She had the habit of leaving her shopping cart in the middle of aisles, so that no one could get around it as she focused on reading labels and searching shelves. By the second, third, and fourth encounter with her, she recognized my face and laughed, “Oh, here I go again, blocking your way.”


I tried not to feel irritated, as I knew she genuinely did not mean to slow me down.  I had also inadvertently blocked the path of numerous other customers over the years doing the exact same thing.


Later, quickly trekking to my car, I paused just before nearing it. A shopping cart blocked the path to my vehicle as someone placed groceries into a van. It was, unbelievably, the same woman.


“Oh, here I go again, blocking your way. Is this your car? I was just admiring it. Here, let me move. I am not in any hurry.”


While I loaded my bags into my car, she explained that she was making food baskets for low-income families.


“And, I refuse to buy the cheap off-brands for them with all those chemicals. If I won’t eat it, why would I give it to someone else to eat? I buy them the same foods and brands I eat. What kind of gift would it be, if I gave them less than my best?”


Encounter #3. Returning the following Saturday for another weekend grocery stock-up, the store was packed. Every cash register was open; and yet, lines were still backed up into the aisles. I chose a line and prepared for the long wait. Suddenly, a small, beady-eyed woman, perhaps a bit older than me, bustled her cart beside mine.


“I’m going to stand beside you until I can get behind you. I don’t want to block the aisle.”


It was then that I noticed she only had a few items in her cart. I was prepared to tell her she could get in front of me; however, she was talking in a nonstop manner with one continuous breath. I smiled, waiting for an opportunity, when suddenly my ears perked up.

“And you know, we prayed and prayed, and the Lord provided them with a white baby to adopt . . . .”


Wait. What? I felt the implication in my bones and thought of the range of skin colors within my own family, friends, students, co-workers, as well as my day-to-day interactions. Surely, I misheard, right? Nope, her blatant attitude was as set as her chin. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks as I interrupted her, stating through teeth wanting to clinch, that she was welcome to step in front of me. Thankfully, an acquaintance joined the line behind me, and distracted me from this unkind person.


We can choose to focus on all the broken & sad pieces of news, or we can choose to focus on the positive. 


Several minutes later, driving home, I reflected on all three women. I could choose to focus and seethe over the words of the last woman; or, I could, instead, focus on the words and actions of the other two ladies, and for that matter, all of the other countless kind and generous people I encounter on a regular basis. If I continued to allow this encounter to fester within me, then I was, in some way, becoming like her.


In a time-period full of off-putting people and/or events, it is all too easy to focus solely upon those negatives. We must, instead, heed the examples of the first two women, and offer kindness to others. Furthermore, while we must diligently be aware of all the harmful forces at work in our world, we must also strive just as conscientiously to provide the opposite. We must join forces with others who seek out actions that attempt to bring about positive change.   Finally, just as we sometimes focus on the dust, dirt, and disorder in our own home, overlooking the shelter, warmth, and respite it offers us, so too, must we train our minds to look beyond the disorder and decay of our world, and see there still remains much for which to feel optimistic as the first two woman beautifully illustrated.









Small Steps can Create Big Change

           “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”—Arnold Bennett


        “But, Mrs. Hill, if resolution is the end of the story, why do people make New Year’s resolutions?  It’s not the end of their life,” asked one of my 6th grade students–his face was earnest, sincere, and genuinely perplexed.


        I was leading a class lesson regarding elements of a plot.  On the board was a triangular shape representing the parts of the plot.  We had already discussed other components of plot, such as rising/falling action and climax. Additionally, the students appeared to grasp that not all plot development looked like the classic equilateral plot-triangle illustrated on the board, but that plot development can take all shapes, depending upon the story, evolving more like the dips and darts of ocean waves. The student’s question, however, gave me pause.  Hmm . . ..



        I suggested we look up the definition.  Pulling up the definition on my classroom computer and projecting it onto the whiteboard, the students and I observed multiple definitions for the word, resolution.  As so often happens with 6th graders, who are still willing to be openly curious in front of their peers, a class discussion ensued regarding all the meanings of the word, taking us way off the given subject of plot.  Still, it was a teachable moment that later led me into deeper thoughts regarding New Year’s resolutions and methods for successful change.



  I recently listened to a podcast in which the speaker was discussing ways to increase positive change.  It was his belief that many people fail to attain New Year’s resolutions because they see it as an all or nothing mandate.  Furthermore, many health programs, books, and/or businesses profit off our desire to change, by encouraging this all or nothing mentality; such as, “Buy all of our products.  Only eat what and when we tell you to eat.  You must exercise on these specific days and in this manner, and so forth . . ..” Thus, numerous people feel as if they have “failed” if they do not perfectly adhere to the book directions or company protocol at all times.   This speaker was onto something, just like my 6th grade student.




        Changing one’s behavior is a lot like the plot—what works differs from person to person, just a story plots vary from novel to novel.  Unfortunately, many people hold the belief that change should occur the same manner from person to person like that of right triangle—you are either adhering to the straight line climb of established rules, or sliding down the long hypotenuse right back into the sea of old habits.


        What if, however, change was viewed more as a jagged line of progression, like the rising and falling action of a story plot, which gradually leads towards the resolution?    Additionally, what if we attempted to change in small incremental steps towards a specific purpose or direction, rather attempting to change everything all at once? After all, those negative habits we desire to change most likely developed slowly and over time–just like the plot of your favorite book or movie!


        Why not divide habits into those in of need of increasing, and those in need of decreasing.  Perhaps, this might lead to multiple opportunities for feelings of success rather than one.  For example, if your the goal is to eat cleaner and exercise more in order to lose a few pounds and/or increase health, rather than declaring to strict adherence to the latest, greatest diet/exercise plan, why not look for ways to gradually increase and decrease parts of that plan.


        One such example might be,  “This week, I’ll focus on increasing the amount of vegetables I eat at dinner, and decrease the number of times I eat ice cream to a twice-per-week treat.”  Then, the next week, continue the previous week’s habits, but add-in another “increase” and “decrease;” such as, “This week, I’ll increase my activity level by walking (or any other type of exercise) three days, and decrease my consumption of soda from two-per-day to two-per-week.”  If there are moments, days, or even weeks, where you fall off the proverbial wagon, and we all do (Heavens knows I do!), just start all over the next hour, the next meal, or the next day.

Maybe try committing to rolling out that dusty yoga mat 2-3 times per week and practice either a 20-minute yoga session or meditation practice using a youtube video.     


  Even if your resolution to change has nothing to do with diet and exercise, it doesn’t mean the “what can I increase, what can I decrease” notion cannot be applied.  Trying to improve your faith life?  Perhaps, consider decreasing time spent on social media each day for 10 or so minutes, and use that time to increase the time spent in prayer/meditation.  Trying to spend more quality time with family, friends, or loved ones?  Then, maybe try decreasing screen time or work time by 10-20 minutes each day, and increasing time spent in face-to-face conversation, or at the very least a phone calls, with those dear ones.


        Whether contemplating a New Year’s resolution or seeking some form of change for 2018, there will inevitably be some drawbacks, discomforts, or mistakes made along the path of change.  It is often the dread and/or fears of these perceived negatives that often prompt us to give up, or even avoid attempting to change at all.  However, by working on small changes, implemented over a long period of time, the likelihood of success just might increase as the pain of change might be decreased.  Furthermore, each triumphant step can potentially induce the desire for the next positive step, and the next, and the next.


Small step by small step, you can create positive habits as you create and climb your own ladder of success!

        Why not try the  “small steps of increase and decrease” approach for your desired change in 2018?  Then, perhaps, shifting habits will become more like riding a boat on the waves of an ocean—riding up, falling down, and yet, ultimately, reaching the shore of success in whatever form it takes.  Even increasing one healthy habit and decreasing one negative habit can go a long way to overall better physical, spiritual, or emotional health!  



Dear Homeless Man Sleeping on the Steps of my Church

            “Love like I’m not scared/ Give when it’s not fair . . .”—Lyrics by For King and Country


The view of the sunshine on this morning from my school’s stairwell, just before the third floor.


It was a brilliant morning in spite of the chilly temperature. The sun, a bright bulbous orb of succulent cantaloupes, ripe nectarines, and juicy ruby red grapefruits—all bleeding into one blinding source, seemed to float above the river, gloating in its victory over darkness. It’s reflection danced the foxtrot with the silvery tipped water of the Ohio River on left side of my car as I glided across the bridge on my way to work.


Slipping on my sunglasses, I turned onto 6th Ave., heading east towards my school of employment, St. Joseph Catholic School. The green lights worked in unison as I sashayed in the sunglow down the avenue with no stops. All the while, an inspirational song played on the radio . . .


The view of the sunshine from a house window before leaving for school.           


          “ . . .Live life for another/Take time for a brother/Fight for the weak ones/Speak out for freedom . . . “


Finally, a red light stopped me, just before turning left on 13th Street.   I waited, singing along, “ . . . Fix my eyes on You/ On you . . .” basking in the warmth of the luminous light of the sun.

Looking to my left, I quickly scanned the front of my church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, near my school, as I waited for the light to change, I noticed the coolness of shadow was upon it as the sun was not yet high enough on the horizon to offer its warming radiance. Something, perhaps it was a movement, registered in my mind that something was off; however, my focus had already darted back to stoplight.


The view of the sun that morning just before pulling out of my driveway.


          “Find faith in the battle/Stand tall but above it all/Fix my eyes on You/On You . . .”




Slowly easing the car to left, I looked to the right, something was moving. It was on the church’s steps. Slowing down even more, my mind finally began to register what I was seeing. A man, who had been curled up in a fetal position only moments earlier at the top of the church’s cold concrete steps, picked up a wadded-up camouflage green jacket that had served as his pillow and shrugged it on as he visibly quivered in the morning coolness. He looked around in what appeared to be a sheepish and embarrassed look as he reached for a backpack with one raw, red hand, and clasped his chip with the U-shape of his thumb and forefinger with the other hand, absentmindedly rubbing his unkempt beard. He had to be freezing, I thought as I punched the code to open the gate to our parking lot.


Even my cats were warmer and better fed than this man I saw before me.


          “I’ve learned the lines and talked the talk . . .But the road less traveled is hard to walk . . .”

Should I go check on him? Would that be a safe thing to do? I know what my husband, father, mother, and daughter would say: unequivocally, no. But, what does my faith teach me? What words do I spout to my students?   What noble ideas do I write about?

As my mind waged its relentless back and forth battle, the seemingly homeless man made the choice for me, he was already walking swiftly past the now closing gate on towards the bus station, or perhaps downtown, as his long, lanky body hunched against the cold. I stood there frozen, watching him walk, and loathing myself for my inaction. I didn’t even try to stop him or speak to him. My inner cloud of doubt and uncertainty now overshadowed the glorious glow of the gleaming sunshine.



As an educator and former Kindergarten teacher, I try to look upon the inner kindergartner of the homeless people I observe and/or encounter around the Huntington area. Not once, during my thirty-plus years of teaching, has a child ever said to me, “When I grow up, Mrs. Hill, I want to be a homeless person!” Never, ever have those words been uttered.


Each homeless person on walking our streets has a biological mother and a father. Furthermore, each, at one point in their life, was once a small child entering school. How many countless hugs have I given over the years to “my students?” How many countless words of encouragement have I offered?


Most of my students came, and still come, from homes in which they have at least one parent who loves and wants them; however, there have been a few students with home situations that still haunt me . . .



Dear unknown man, I am so very sorry for whatever circumstance you’ve encountered in life that brought you to the steps of our church. I’d like to think that God held you like a baby in His arms that night on those steps. I’d further like to think that all the prayers, intentions, and words of the thousands of church services previously offered were seeping through the seams of the doors and windows like wafting incense, covering you with a blanket of love. And yet, the reality is as harsh as the shining sunlight must have been to your eyes on that morning.


I did nothing for you that morning. Nothing. I did not walk my talk, and I am ashamed. Thus, I honor you in this small way by recognizing that I saw the child in you: and, I pray that you will, one day, see that you are a child of God—and know that you are worthy. I will further hope that you will, one day, find peace, and that it will embrace your life like a motherly hug, or at the very least, like the hug of a caring teacher.


            “It takes a soldier/Who knows his orders/To walk the walk I’m supposed to walk . . .”