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Down By the Riverside book cover

Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 13

They were a long time getting back to the rafts tied off in the rushing river below their feet. That was because most of the members of the group came up to Nanci to talk to her, one on one and in small groups, for it seemed that her words had touched a lot of people in places where they hadn’t expected to be touched. There were hugs, there were tears – plenty of those – there were prayers, there were apologies, and there were words of praise.

There were especially warm words and hugs from Kevin and Preach, who had been present here at the mouth of Havasu Creek when Nanci had turned to Jesus, and who had been responsible for much of it. “Nanci, you did wonderfully,” Preach said in a voice low enough to make it a private conversation. “There’s something I feel led to talk to you about, but I don’t think this is the time for it. Maybe when we get into camp tonight.”

“That will be fine,” she told him. “I think I need a little time to process this anyway. I wasn’t exactly expecting to say what I did, but I’m glad I did it.”

“I think we’re all glad you did, and that’s part of what I want to talk to you about, but let’s do it later. I think I need to process my thinking a little too.”

It was hard to get everyone aboard the rafts again, possibly because most of the people in the party realized that something special had just taken place here, and were reluctant to let the glow resulting from it leave them. The fast-moving water made getting away from shore a little tricky, and Kevin had to make a flying leap into his raft and onto the oars to become the last one onto the river. Nanci was reluctant to leave as well; she kept looking back until they drifted around the bend and away from the sight, for she realized more than most that something special had happened to her there again, something she didn’t begin to understand yet.

It was very silent aboard the raft for some time before Bethany gathered the courage to speak shyly, “Nanci, what happened to Allie? I mean, her body?”

“Bethany, I have no idea,” she replied. “I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Her body was still in the bed where she died when I left.” She paused for a moment to choose her words before she continued, “Later that summer, after I’d pulled myself together, I tried to search for news of her on missing- and exploited-children websites. I didn’t find anything. It may have been because I never knew her last name, or it may be because her body had been returned to her parents, which I consider very unlikely.” She wasn’t going to say that her own guess was that Allie’s body had most likely been left in some dumpster and was resting in some landfill.

“It may be that her parents were so disgusted with her breaking away from them that they never reported her missing,” she went on. “I don’t know, and I doubt if I’ll ever know. That’s why I pray for her just about every time I pray. Like I said, in giving up her life she inadvertently and unintentionally saved mine, and I’ll always be grateful. I was not far from doing what she did, but she beat me to it.”

“Why didn’t you tell the police or something?” Cassie asked, without any of the venom in her voice Nanci had come to expect.

“Looking back on it, that’s probably what I should have done, but it never crossed my mind at the time. I was pretty strung out and in a lot of pain. All I could think about was escaping, getting away from Curt, getting away from Chicago and the life I’d lived there. The person I was at the time considered the police to be the enemy at best, and if I’d thought about it I would have expected that they wouldn’t take me very seriously. By the time I got my head together enough to do something, it would have been long in the past and there would have been nothing to find, and nothing they could have done.”

“You must have been pretty lucky to wind up here,” Cassie observed.

“At the time Mom and Al decided to take me with them down the river, I thought I was pretty lucky. Even though I was hurting pretty badly, I knew that I’d have to make things up somehow. Al told me that I couldn’t just go along for the ride, so he made me an apprentice swamper. I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing, but I worked hard and did my best. I can see now that it wasn’t simple luck, but God’s hand was involved all the way through. I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I can’t help but think that He has more in mind for me. When I was in Chicago, I could never have imagined in a thousand years that I’d wind up here, doing what I’m doing now. If you want to see one of God’s miracles, here I am. I am walking, rowing, living, breathing evidence of God’s grace, and I know it better than anyone.”

There was silence in the raft for a while, everyone deep within their thoughts. After some time Bethany spoke up again. “A lot of the time when you were talking about Allie, you were looking at me. Do I remind you of her?”

“A little,” Nanci smiled. “There are some physical similarities. She was older than you are, but not by much. I don’t want to upset anyone by saying it, but from what she told me, there must also have been some similarities in how she was brought up, and that has been on my mind from the first time I met you. Bethany, I know you think your parents are too strict with you, just like Allie thought about hers. But in the end Allie would have been better off if she’d stayed with her parents, no matter how bad it might have been.”

“I thought you were saying something like that,” the teenager replied with her eyes downcast.

“I was, but the other side of the coin is true, too. If Allie’s parents had given her a little room to grow, a little room to explore things in her own way, she may not have felt the need to take a big step by running away from home. It proved to be the death of her.”

Nanci turned her eyes toward Cassie and said, “You can tell a small child that a dish is hot a thousand times, but sometimes they have to burn their fingers a little to realize that you’re telling them the truth. Allie was never given the chance to learn some of the things she needed to know, and the dish proved to be very, very hot. Kids grow up, Mrs. Fletcher. They’re like bonsai trees in a way. They have to be given room to grow or they end up stunted. On the other hand, you can give them too much room to grow, and you now know what happened to me. There has to be some kind of balance struck, and that may be the hardest part about being a parent. You can take out of that what you will, but I hope you will think about it. What’s more, I hope that you will all pray about it.”

*   *   *

They drifted on down the river. Crystal wound up bypassing a couple of possible places to camp for various reasons, deciding to hold out for a little larger spot in hopes of people being able to spread out a little. They finally pulled in at a spot just below a small rapid and went through the normal setting up camp procedures. Several people opted to be re-baptized; Nanci’s, Kevin’s, and Preach’s legs got very chilled in the cold water before they were finished, and they were barely able to stumble out of the water.

There were a number of very intense discussions around the camp while dinner was being prepared. Nanci, Kevin, and Preach concentrated on thawing out and talking with people while Crystal and Larry did most of the cooking with the somewhat surprising but more skilled than expected help of Bill Barber, who rarely pitched in on some camp chores any more than he had to. It was clear that he had been affected by the stop at Havasu Creek too, but he didn’t have much to say about how.

By the time dinner was served the feeling had returned to Nanci’s legs. She still felt like she needed to sit down, so the front tube of her raft provided her seat for dinner. She was partway through eating when Crystal came over and sat down next to her; it was the first chance they’d had to talk privately since leaving Havasu Creek.

“Nanci,” Crystal began without preamble, “I knew that some bad stuff had happened to you, but I never knew it was that bad.”

“I told you the truth back when I first showed up here, Crystal,” Nanci replied, setting her fork down in her plate. “I just never told you all the truth, mostly because I didn’t want to admit it to myself. It was hard for me to admit just how bad it was until after it didn’t matter quite as much.”

“Is there even more?”

“Well, yes and no,” Nanci shrugged. “Yeah, there was a lot more, and there were things I didn’t think I really ought to talk about very much this afternoon because I knew I didn’t want to gross people out. But at the same time, the more was all pretty much the same thing.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“Look, when we go down the Canyon, we interpret things for the customers, right? Like saying, that’s Coconino Sandstone or Hermit Shale, for example. But we don’t go down the Canyon saying, that’s a rock, and that’s a rock, and that’s a rock, and that’s a rock over there, because there are a lot of rocks down here. After a while they’re pretty much the same thing. I hit a lot of rocks, Crystal, and I only pointed out the big ones. Although I know I’ve been forgiven by God, it’s still going to take me a long time to get over what happened to me, or what I did to myself.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Crystal sighed. “You had a lot happen to you that I know I won’t be able to understand. Look, it may not be very Christian of me, but I spent a lot of time this afternoon thinking how I’d like to introduce this Curt to my fist.”

“No, Crystal. Don’t think that. ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.’ I have to have a lot of faith that He will take care of it for me. Maybe He already has, but so long as I have faith that He will take care of it, it’s fine with me, and that makes it something I don’t feel I have to concern myself with. Like I said this afternoon, I was relieved when you dealt with Kip, but it may have given me more problems than I already had. Let the Lord deal with it, since it’s His to deal with.”

“You know, you’re taking your religion pretty seriously. I mean, even more seriously than I understood. You may be more serious about it than Preach.”

“I may be, but then, I have reason to be. Again, like I said this afternoon, I wasn’t brought up with it like Preach was.”

“Preach wasn’t brought up with it, at least not all the way,” Crystal said. “I’m sure you know his parents were killed when he was fourteen.”

“I knew that, but he doesn’t talk about it much.”

“He’s told me quite a bit about it. I get the impression that he wasn’t particularly religious before then, although he’s never come right out and said it like that, but that turned him around. He was looking for meaning and he found it, but it was a little different than what happened to you.”

“God works with people in different ways, and they react to Him differently, too. He hit me harder than most, but then, I had further to come. What’s more, I’m sure I’m not where I’m going yet, wherever that is. I’ll find out when God leads me there.”

“Nanci, you know I’m not as religious as you or Preach, but somehow I have no doubt that He will lead you where you’re going.”

*   *   *

After Nanci finished her dinner, she took her plate up to the wash station and washed it, then left it hanging to dry in a big mesh bag. She was walking away with the thought of talking to someone, when Preach came up to her. “Are your legs warmed back up enough to take a little hike?” he asked.

“So long as it’s a short walk up the beach, not one of Crystal’s death marches.”

“I’m never up for those myself,” he grinned. “Every now and then she gets into the mood for one, and about all I can say is, ‘enjoy yourself.’ I’ve come to realize it’s how she thinks things out sometimes.”

“To each his own, I guess.”

There wasn’t a lot of room on the beach, but they picked their way along the narrow shore, and among some rocks until they were a ways away from camp, and then found a place to sit a little uncomfortably near the small rapids just above the camp. They looked down the river a ways, to where Mark was teaching Bethany how to skip stones on the water; her parents were nowhere in sight. Nanci was happy to see it; perhaps that message been taken to heart, at least a little bit.

“Nanci,” Preach said after a couple of minutes, “I would like to say I was proud of you this afternoon, but pride is a sin, so let me say that I was very, very impressed. You talked like you were inspired, not just your normal self.”

“I have to think that I was,” she replied slowly. “I said a couple of things that I didn’t expect to say. Well, more than a couple toward the end.”

“Nanci, that was easily the most inspirational testimonial sermon I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard some pretty good ones.”

“Sermon? I didn’t think I was preaching a sermon.”

“If that wasn’t a sermon, I don’t know what is. Look, I’d been troubled ever since we left camp this morning about what to say at that service. I just wasn’t getting any ideas. I knew I needed to say something that would calm some people down, Cassie Fletcher especially. That much was clear. But I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t talking down to her, lecturing her, and in the mood she was in she wasn’t up for a lecture. It could have gotten really nasty.”

“It already was pretty nasty.”

“Yes, it was. You know that a lot of times I don’t think out a sermon ahead of time, I just stand there and say what the Lord puts in my mind. When I stood up in front of everyone this afternoon, there wasn’t anything there. He put it in your mind instead, and that was where it needed to be. It was a few minutes before I realized what was happening, but I was in awe of the power of your message.”

“Thanks, Preach. It wasn’t exactly my message, though. I really only intended to speak for a couple minutes, but I guess God took over.”

“That he did,” he said slowly. “Nanci, when I first met you, back up at Lee’s that time, and Crystal asked me to work with you, I, well, I wasn’t very optimistic about your future, and I might as well say that she wasn’t either. Well, I was wrong, and I’m happy to admit it. You have grown so much in the Lord, and your faith is so strong, that I sometimes have difficulty remembering that you’re the same person.”

“I’m not the same person,” she said flatly. “I didn’t have God with me then. I do now.”

“That’s what I mean. That’s just exactly what I mean. Back then, I was hoping to introduce a little healing into your life, and maybe when the time was right you’d at least admit to wanting to repent and become a better person. But I wasn’t real hopeful about it, and I was wrong. You and God exceeded my wildest expectations, and if that doesn’t say something about my own faith, I guess nothing could.”


“I was having a crisis of faith back then, Nanci. Crystal knew about it, at least after we got down the river a bit, and Al knew a little about it toward the end. I was all messed up over whether I was supposed to have a church or not. It was what I expected to do, and what I was expected to do, but for some reason I can’t explain it didn’t feel right to me. But after what happened with you up at Havasu Creek that time, well, somehow I understood that my ministry was to be here, at least for now. I wasn’t supposed to have a church then, and perhaps not ever. That revelation led me to staying on the river and marrying Crystal, and that’s why I’m here now.”

“I guess I knew that a little, but never quite that clearly.”

“It took me a while to be accepting of it,” he said. “Again, there was a big difference between what I was expecting to do and what I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t until I got to reflecting on Ephesians Four that I got it straight in my own mind. Paraphrasing it a little bit, Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers, and teachers to the church to equip the members for the job of building up the church. Do you remember that?”

“Of course I do. I’ve read Paul’s epistles more than just about anything else in the Bible.”

“Believe me, I thought hard about it. In this modern era, the church has gotten away from that, and I think ministers are expected by most people to be all of the above, but it still works the way Christ intended. Kevin was really the evangelist with you, and I was only the teacher. If my thinking is correct, Tanisha was the preacher, although I’m sure she would never accept it if I said it to her that way. I failed you in that, Nanci. I thought I was supposed to be doing the things that Kevin and Tanisha did for you, but I didn’t. Fortunately, the Lord made it work for you.”

“Preach, I’m still not sure what you’re saying.”

“I was teaching you, Nanci. That’s what I did all the way down the river and I was still doing it when Kevin began evangelizing you, telling you things that I didn’t think you were ready to hear. I was wrong, you were ready to hear them, you were aching to hear them, but at least I got your mind opened up so you could hear and understand them. But then it was Tanisha the preacher who put you on the spot, confirming the words of Kevin the evangelist. Those were things I thought I was supposed to be doing, and didn’t do because I thought I knew better.”

“That’s pretty convoluted thinking, Preach.”

“I know it is, but it’s how I thought it out, and how I understood it after a lot of prayer. What it taught me was that I needed to learn more and grow more, and this was the place to do it. So here I am. I decided I wanted to be a minister not long after my parents died. I worked toward it, studied toward it, lived toward it, but it wasn’t what I was really supposed to be doing. Now, the reason I’m telling all you this is that after this afternoon, I think it’s time that you started thinking and praying about what you’re supposed to be doing.”

“I know. It’s been bothering me, and I’d hoped to work out at least part of the answer this summer.”

“I know you’ve been troubled about it, even though you haven’t said a great deal about it to me. But Nanci, after what happened this afternoon, I would like to suggest that you spend some time thinking, considering, researching and especially praying about whether you’re supposed to be a minister.”

“A minister? Me? You have to be kidding! That’s something I never even thought about.”

“Nanci, I’ve given services and teachings every day of this trip down the river. Have you seen people crying, praising Jesus and begging the Lord for forgiveness after one of my teachings? Think about it, Nanci. Think about it, and pray about it. You don’t have to make up your mind tonight, or anytime soon. But like Tanisha told you up at Havasu Creek, ‘whether’ is a question you have to answer yourself, because it’s your faith that has to make the decision.”

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To be continued . . .

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