Impeded Streams

by Liz Mitchell

One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, said, “The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I’ve been thinking about the dimensions of such a statement. What are impediments? Failed relationships, unemployment, stilted finances, abuse, poverty in all its forms. The list goes on. Some impediments I know intimately. But how do they make me sing?

When water flows freely, high and fast, it doesn’t create much sound. It sparkles in the sunlight, catching rays and reflecting them back to the sun on ripples that speed along the sides of river banks. If you’ve ever been in the ocean and in deep water, you know it’s pretty quiet out there. Unless a storm blows up, the water is still and hushed, even if it’s teeming with life beneath. Water, on its own, doesn’t say much.

But if I throw rocks into that riverbed and listen, the water begins to speak. It crashes against the rocks, seeking a way through, around, or over them. It gurgles through the cracks, splashes down the back side, swishes between those rocks and the bank. In its excitement, it might pull a dry leaf off the grass above and hurry it along its path, creating crackling applause. And that still, quiet ocean? Try putting a shoreline in its path. What miraculous sounds are unleashed when waves meet the sand? Booms and crashes, splashes and fizzes, white foam curling around your toes and salt spray clinging to your hair and eyelashes. It sings, that ocean, once it’s met its greatest impediment.

I’ve sung a few times, too. I sang when my mother told me of her diagnosis of breast cancer. I had no idea she’d found a lump. No idea she’d spent that Christmas waiting and waiting to hear back. A few weeks later, in January of 2008, she told my father, brother, and me that she had Breast Ductive Carcinoma, Invasive. Our family, which normally ran smoothly, encountered not just a rock but a mountain in our path. We didn’t see it coming. We could see no way around it. We would have to go through it, singing.

Just as the water in the river seeks to push through the cracks between the rocks, we sought to push through man’s diagnosis with God’s healing power. We called up every prayer warrior we knew and asked them to lift their voices. We laid our hands on my mother and we called down heaven, tearing open the veil between the two worlds and asking for what was possible to become what was. We stood by her at her doctor’s appointments and at her bedside when she had a lumpectomy. We loved her and sought to support her in every way we could throughout her journey, as she endured thirty-three radiation treatments and five years of a chemo pill called Tamoxifen. My mother, whose last mammogram came back clean and perfect, now considers herself cancer free. And she’s still singing.

I sang, too, as my husband and I felt like it was time to have our second child. God had spoken specifically to us that his name would be Benjamin, that he would be important to the Kingdom of God on earth, and that it was time for him to be born. But month after month, those promises were unfulfilled. Eighteen unfulfilled months went by before I began taking a fertility drug called Clomid. If you’ve ever longed for a child, you know that desperation is not a normal feeling of hope. It crowds your waking mind with its immense weight and pressure, drawing your attention to itself over and over again, continually rubbing raw the same wound. Six months of Clomid and six more unfulfilled promises dashed against that rough-edged wall of infertility.

At that point I needed a break. I couldn’t do one more month. I was tired of beating myself against the rocks in my path. I’d pushed through their cracks, singing until my voice was hoarse, rubbing myself raw with the sands of disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger. I wanted God’s promises to be fulfilled. I wanted my Benjamin. But after six months of surging hormones, my thyroid called it quits and I felt my body slide downward into sickness. I ached. I cried. I stared at my mountain. But my doctor, who dealt with bodies in messes just like mine all the time, put me on thyroid meds. My body, still responding to the previous six months of meds, awakened to both and within a week, Benjamin was on his way.

Since his birth, God asked us to have another child. I fought Him because I didn’t want to go through the same process of infertility, drugs, hope and hopelessness, for months on end. But finally I agreed. He knew my fear and He took care of it. Nine months after I made that decision, our second daughter, Hazel, was born. And on that day, God sang, too.

When I am an impeded stream, I pray more. I seek more quiet time with my Daddy God. I worship and praise and hunt Him in His word. The fast paced routines of my days are interrupted, turned sideways, and I am poured out in a new way. Like water through the rocks, I sing. And my Savior listens.

After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Evansville, Liz Mitchell taught adult education for two years in her hometown of Madisonville, KY, followed by ten years in public high schools as a Spanish teacher. During that time she also earned an MFA from Murray State University. Liz currently lives in Fairview, TN, with her husband and three children. She blogs, juggles mommy chores, and writes fiction when the planets align and she has free time. Liz has a piece coming out in an upcoming anthology from Family Fiction.

Photo’s from here.

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