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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 38
Friday, February 11, 2005

Crystal opened the door and said in surprise, “Nanci, what are you doing here?”

“I drove past the Girls’ House and it was dark, so I figured you were here,” Nanci replied. “Are you busy or something?”

“No, Preach and I were just watching a little TV. It’s strange to have a TV to watch after not having one all these years. Come on in.”

Nanci stepped through the door; although the living room looked a little barren to her, it also looked lived in. “I take it you’re living here now,” she said.

“Yeah, we’ve got all our stuff out of the Girls’ House, and the stuff we had stashed at Dad’s,” Crystal said as Preach got up and shut off the little portable television. “We’ve only been here a couple of days. We could have stayed there a little longer, but why stay there when we could move in here?”

“It makes sense,” Nanci agreed as she found a place to sit on a ratty-looking couch that had been rescued from Jon and Tanisha’s basement storeroom.

“I’m a little surprised the news made it down to Phoenix already,” Crystal said. “Mom must really work quick.”

“What news? I haven’t heard anything.”

“That settles it, Mom must be getting old. Nanci, we didn’t waste any paint when we decided to paint that room yellow.”

“Crystal, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“Yes,” Crystal grinned widely. “You’re going to be an aunt again, along in the middle of October. We just found out this afternoon.”

“That’s great!” Nanci smiled. “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Pretty much. I’d hoped it would be a little longer since I’m going to be heavily pregnant during the peak of the season, but yes, it’s been what we’ve been working toward.”

Nanci shook her head. “Does that mean you’re going to have to be off the river like Michelle was last summer?”

“We don’t know yet. There’s not the time pressure Michelle had, but I’m going to be seeing a specialist next week. I should know more then, but if he does let me run, it’ll probably only be the spring trips before the colleges let out. Dad and I haven’t made up our minds yet, it’s still too soon, but I may just not try to run next summer at all.”

“I’ll tell you what, I never thought I’d ever see that happen.”

“Well,” Crystal replied sheepishly, “for a long time I never thought it would happen, either. A few years ago, before Preach came along, I would have never considered anything but being a boatman. But, well, things changed, and I think I’m just as glad.”

“I guess that’s what counts, Crystal. You know, people keep talking about how much I’ve changed since we were kids, but you’ve changed, too. There was a time I never thought you’d consider having kids.”

“Well, for a long time I never thought I would, either. I thought I’d found a home in the Grand Canyon, and I guess for a while I did. But that was before I got married, and well, now having kids doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I’m actually looking forward to it.”

“Good for you, Crystal. I think in a way you’ve changed a lot less than I have, but you’ve really changed, too.”

“So what brings you up here? I thought Preach was going to be giving the service at the Fellowship Sunday. Are you going to be filling in at Hillside again?”

“No,” Nanci shook her head, now serious rather than lighthearted. “Crystal, Preach, I got accepted.”

“Accepted? To seminary?”

“Yes, Hickory Run Methodist Seminary, somewhat surprisingly located in Hickory Run, Kentucky.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Preach smiled. “I don’t know anything about it, except that they’re supposed to be pretty good.”

“They’re the highest-ranked place I applied to, and they are very highly thought of,” Nanci replied without much luster in her voice. “It’s just a seminary, and not affiliated with a college or anything. It’s supposed to be very intense and not easy to get into since they have a very small class size.”

“Nanci,” Crystal said, picking up on her sister’s discomfort, “are you trying to tell me that you don’t want to go?”

“I don’t know, Crystal. I just don’t know. It’s the same thing I’ve struggled with for over two years now. The heck of it is that I’ve got to give them an answer pretty soon, since they’ve got a waiting list. I can’t let it go until the last minute, because it wouldn’t be fair to someone else.”

“No, you’re right,” Preach agreed. “It wouldn’t be fair all the way around. But look Nanci, I went to seminary, and I never became a minister. Well, I did become a youth pastor and that’s a little different, and being a supply speaker at something like the Fellowship just doesn’t count.”

“It’s a little different for me,” she replied. “I can’t afford to go out of my own pocket. I just don’t have the money despite being able to save most of what I’ve earned as a boatman thanks to the kindness of you two, Al and Mom, and Jon and Tanisha. A little to my surprise, even Dad has helped me out a little.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I was surprised at it too,” she admitted. “I mean, it hasn’t been lots and lots of money and mostly it’s gone for books and fees, but even though I surprised him a lot at what I was studying he’s supported me.”

“As non-religious as Pete has always been, I find that, well, I can’t just say surprised. Something of a shock might be a better term.”

“Yeah, that might be a good term to use,” Nanci smiled. “But what it comes down to is that he’s put some faith in me, after I gave him all the reason in the world to not do it. But that’s beside the point. The thing is, if I go I’m going to have to have support from the Conference. They have already given me a lot of support, but this time I’m going to owe them, not necessarily money, but call it a debt of honor.”

Crystal nodded understandingly. It was starting to make sense now. “You’re saying that if you accept, you’re going to feel honor bound to have to put in some time as a minister, whether you want to do it or not.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” Nanci admitted. “Maybe not the rest of my life, but I’d feel that I have to give it a fair try. Frankly, with my financial position, the same thing would be true at any seminary I went to.”

“I get it,” Preach spoke up. “Now it’s down to decision time, and you still don’t know what to do. Nanci, would you like us to pray with you about it?”

“Yes, I would,” she replied, “but not just now. What I really came up here for was to try an idea out on you and get your help with it if we can work out the details.”

“What’s this idea?” Preach asked, getting up from his chair in front of the TV and joining her on the couch, slouched down at the far end.

Nanci let out a long sigh. “Preach, Crystal, this all started to be a reality the first of the week, and I’ve had several thoughts about it. I think the most important are in Matthew and Luke where they talk about Jesus going out into the wilderness for forty days to fast, pray, and be tempted. I keep thinking about that talk you’ve given on all the Christian trips where you talk about vision quests.”

“Is that what you’re thinking? Forty days and nights fasting in the wilderness?”

“No,” Nanci sighed. “If for no more reason than I don’t have forty days to make up my mind, but this is spring break week, so I do have a few days. Do you remember telling me about that woman up in Spearfish Lake who did a Native American vision quest and it changed her life?”

“Quite vividly,” Preach smiled. “She also explained that her vision quest was also a little more orchestrated by her fellow shamans, she called them kataras, than she had realized at the time, but it gave her a powerful vision that she still hasn’t fully integrated.”

“I wish I could have been there to hear that story myself,” Nanci sighed. “But one of the things I remember you telling me was that the spot where she had that vision quest was her special spot, where she felt closer to her spirits than anywhere else, and that she still goes there to pray when she feels she needs their guidance.”

“I don’t know if I can buy off on all of her beliefs,” Preach nodded. “But I have to say that she had a great deal of wisdom, and she left me with a few thoughts I’ve had to examine, too. So, Nanci, where is this leading?”

“I keep thinking I need to go to my special place where I feel closer to God than I do anyplace else,” she replied seriously. “I want to go by myself, like Jesus did in the wilderness. I want to take communion, and I want to fast and pray. If I can’t come back with a clear-cut answer, I guess the answer is no.”

“You’re talking about the mouth of Havasu Creek, right?” Preach asked quietly.

“Yes,” Nanci said. “I can’t think of anywhere better.”

“You’ll be down there in May,” Crystal pointed out. “I mean, we stop there just about every trip. You could do it then.”

“No, Crystal. I wouldn’t be alone, and I wouldn’t be able to spend much time there. I don’t think this is something I can do in a couple of hours. It may take a couple of days, or even more. Besides, I need to have an answer before then. The only way I can see to do it is to hike down there.”

Crystal shook her head. “That doesn’t sound like a very bright idea to me,” she stated flatly. “I mean, going down there to pray, that’s one thing. You’re talking this week, right? Nanci, this isn’t summer. It’s February out there.”

“I’m well aware of that. I’ve looked at the weather report for the next few days, and it doesn’t look bad. Besides, like I said, this is spring break week, so it’s really the only chance I have. I know February is a goofy time to have spring break, but that’s how they do it at Black Mesa, so I don’t have much choice.”

“Yeah, but it’s still February. Nanci, I’ve been up that trail to Mooney Falls several times, and it’s not the easiest trail in the world. Besides, it’s spring, and if it warms up at all the creek could be pretty high.”

“I’ve been up to Mooney Falls a couple of times myself, and I know what the trail is like, and you’re right, it’s pretty rugged but I know what’s there. I know I can handle the hiking part of it, especially if I take my time. I called up Michelle last night, since I knew she’s been down the whole trail at least once.”

“Yeah, she made a real fast trip down there that time when Dan had his seizure and had to be airlifted out.”

“It turns out it wasn’t the only time she’s been down there on the trail. It was something like her third trip. She said she even did it when she was still in middle school, some sort of a class trip or something.”

“I didn’t know that,” Crystal shook her head. “But now that I think about it, I have seen groups of kids down at the mouth who had to have hiked down from the campground. That means they had to have hiked all the way down from Hualapai Hilltop over a couple days or something. But again, that was in the summer, not February.”

“True,” Nanci conceded, “but Michelle says the trail above Mooney Falls is a whole lot easier than it is from Mooney Falls down to the mouth, so there’s no question about my being able to make that part of it. I’m not talking about racing down the trail in an afternoon like she did that time after Dan got flown out. I have a week, and I can take my time.”

“Nanci, even if the water isn’t very high, which is not something you can bet on, it’s going to be colder than snot. I don’t remember how many stream crossings there are, but there are a lot, and some of them are pretty deep. I’ve spent a lot more time in cold water than you have. I used to even go surfing up on Lake Superior when I had icicles hanging from my wetsuit. You can get into hypothermia real quick in wet clothes this time of year.”

“I know. That’s one of the problems I was hoping you could help me out with.”

Preach sat back and looked at Nanci for a moment. “Now, there’s an idea,” he said. “I don’t see any reason you couldn’t wear a wetsuit on the hike, at least on the lower stuff where there are those deep crossings.”

“Preach,” Crystal shook her head. “Are you agreeing with her?”

“At this point, just talking things out,” he replied. “But yes, she might have a good idea. I don’t mean necessarily the hike down and back, but going down to the mouth of Havasu Creek to pray and seek guidance. Nanci, I agree that if you go down there and don’t come back with an answer that’s clear in your own mind, you might well be better off to give up the idea, or at least put it off until you do have that guidance.”

“Well,” Crystal conceded. “I do have to admit that if she’s going to take this hike, a wetsuit might make it feasible. But I don’t know where she’s going to come up with a wetsuit her size around here this time of year on that short a notice.”

“I do,” Preach grinned. “Over at Al and your mom’s place.”


“Your mother has that wetsuit she took with her when she and Al went to Truk last year,” he pointed out. “She and Nanci are pretty close to the same size. I’ll bet it would fit Nanci.”

“That’s a springsuit, a Farmer John and jacket,” Crystal protested. “It’s for surfing in cool, but not cold water. Mom wore it there mostly so she wouldn’t get nasty coral stuff on her skin if she happened to bump into it. It’s not made for water as cold as Havasu Creek is going to be this time of year. It’s not a full-out neoprene diving wetsuit.”

“So?” Preach shrugged. “Nanci wouldn’t be spending that much time in the water, only a minute or two on stream crossings, and there are only a few real deep ones. Besides, I would think that a full-out diving wetsuit would be hard to walk in. I mean, cool as it is, it seems to me that a person could sweat themselves to death having to walk that far in a diving wetsuit.”

“Yeah,” Crystal furrowed her brow and thought slowly. “You might have a point there, Preach. At least if she did get a little overheated she could take the jacket off. But I’m still not crazy about the idea of her going down there by herself. Nanci, I could come along with you, just for safety’s sake.”

“No, Crystal,” Nanci replied flatly. “The whole idea of this is to be by myself, so I don’t have the distractions. This is something that has to be between God and me. I mean, Jesus didn’t take his disciples with him when he went out into the wilderness.”

“He didn’t have disciples when he did that, but I take your point,” Preach nodded solemnly. “What’s more, I think you’re right. It is something that you and God are going to have to work out between yourselves. But Nanci, I have a question for you that’s been bothering me for some time as I’ve watched you struggle with this decision. I think it really needs to be asked before we go any farther.”

“What, Preach?”

“Nanci, it’s pretty basic. Do you want to be a minister?”

“Yes, I do,” she replied instantly. “It took me a little time to come to grips with the idea when you suggested it to me on the first Christian trip we took that time, but by the time I got off the river, it seemed like a pretty good idea. I’ve been working around the edges of it by speaking at Hillside and the Fellowship, and it still seems like a good idea. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”

“Then, can I ask what your problem is?”

“Preach, it’s not a question of whether I want to be a minister or not. If it were, I would have been able to make the decision a long time ago. It’s a question of whether I should be a minister.”

“Whether you should be one? Can I ask you to explain that a little?”

“It’s not easy,” Nanci frowned. “I didn’t really get that part of it into my perspective until the Christmas party. Look, you know the troubles I went through before I came out here to Flagstaff. It’s no secret that I was close to suicide, and I probably would have killed myself if everybody, Al especially, hadn’t taken me in.”

“That’s not exactly news, but we’re all glad it worked out, especially after you committed yourself to Jesus down there at Havasu Creek that time.”

“That’s definitely a part of it,” Nanci sighed. “But look. I came in from the dark side, back into the arms of my family, even if part of it was family that I didn’t know I had. They took me in without question, held me in their arms, and protected me from the world that had almost killed me. Ever since I’ve been out here, four years ago this spring, I’ve known I’ve been safe, that people would help me out and guide me where I went wrong. Knowing I had that backstop has helped me keep my faith in God, and I know he’s helped me, too.”

“Yes, and you’ve grown considerably since then, too.”

“I think I have,” she nodded. “But Preach, the world that almost killed me is still out there, and I’m a little scared to have to go out and face it again. How do I know I won’t fall back to some of my old ways if I don’t have my family keeping their eyes on me? You’ve heard me talk about the enormous responsibilities a minister has toward his flock. What if I’m really the sort of person I was back in those days? Wouldn’t that be a disservice to God and my congregation if I were to fall away?”

“So you think those days are still affecting you?”

“Of course they are,” she said softly. “They’ll never go away, Preach. Never. I still pray for Allie every day. I’ll never forget her body lying on that dirty bed, all collapsed over with the most wonderful smile on her face. I don’t know if it was the drugs or the fact she knew she was escaping from the hell her life had become, but I could see she was at peace at last. That sight will be with me always, Preach. Always. Yes, I’ve managed to put it behind me, but it’s still in my past and I know it. I’m just worried my past is going to poke its way out again.”

Preach looked at her for a moment before he asked, “Nanci, I find I have to ask if you truly believe that God washed away your sins when He took you into his arms.”

“I have to believe it, Preach. It’s been proved time and again to me ever since, but I still know that my sins are part of my past.”

“PTSD,” Crystal said softly. “I’m ashamed to think that I never realized that you had to have a great big wad of post-traumatic stress disorder. You were wide open for it, but I never saw it. You always seemed to have put your past behind you.”

“I’ve tried, Crystal. I really have, but my past gives me doubts I can’t quite bring myself to overcome. Now do you understand why I’ve struggled with this whole question? I know that leaving what’s become my home to go to seminary and to be a minister means leaving behind the family that has kept my faith strong and carried me over the rough spots. I mean, you, Preach, Mom, Al, Tanisha, and Jon especially. What happens when I’m out of the arms of my family?”

“Nanci,” Preach said. “Butterflies do have to come out of their cocoon sometime.”

“Yes,” Nanci spat. “I did it once, and look what happened.”

“Nanci, when Jesus took you into his arms down at Havasu Creek, you were born again. Now you get a chance to come out of the cocoon again, but this time it’ll be different. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.’ Don’t you believe that? I’ve heard you say more than once that you do.”

“I believe it, Preach, but I’m still, well, I guess I can’t say scared, but concerned.”

Preach looked at her silently for a long time. Perhaps he was praying; Crystal and Nanci couldn’t tell, but they didn’t dare break the silence. “Actually,” he said finally, “You have a right to be concerned, but it’s going to have to be your faith that overcomes the concern. That is something you’re going to have to work out with God.” He was silent for a few moments more, then went on, “I think you have the right idea. Down at the mouth of Havasu Creek is probably the best place for you to work it out since the place means so much to you. I think I can honestly say that’s where your ministry for God really started, and I know it’s where I realized it.”

“Yes,” she nodded, and went on softly. “I think you’re right on that.”

“I agree with Crystal that it’s not the safest time to go down Havasu Canyon, especially alone,” he replied. “But under the circumstances, I think it would be worth the risk, if only for you to settle your own mind. If that is where you feel closest to God, then it’s probably the best place for Him to ease your concerns and make your path clear to you.”

“I think so, Preach. I’ve been realizing more and more that I’m drawn to the place. If I’m going to find an answer, it’ll be there. Crystal, do you agree with me?”

“I guess, when you put it that way,” she replied. “It’s still a pretty big risk, though.”

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Nanci said. “I’ll be careful, Crystal.”

“Crystal,” Preach smiled, “you’re the backpacking expert. I know we can’t take away all of the risk, but we need to draw on your knowledge to keep the risk as small as possible.”

“All right,” Crystal conceded, still obviously not entirely sold on the idea but realizing it was going to happen whether she liked it or not. “I suppose you’d like to start tomorrow.”

“Yes, if we can work it out, but no later than Sunday.”

“Then let’s get started,” she sighed.

“Just a second, Crystal,” Preach said. “I think we need to pray before we start.”

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To be continued . . .

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