Down in the belly of the riverbed, a small stream trickles west. The ocean is calling reluctant waters to run from the cracked, dry Los Angeles earth.
An earth that begs for something to drink more often than it can offer to quench its inhabitants’ thirst.
It is in the ordinary imperfection of this place that I’m reawakened to the power of Christ to unify the tension of beauty and pain, of brokenness and innocence—all equal partakers of a living hope.
We’ve crept down here in search of adventure—Lala, also known as Grandma to the little people in my life, myself, and my oldest two sons ages 5 and 3. No longer toddlers, but still at the age of believing mom’s kisses cure most ailments, they are always eager to take the road less traveled.
Our first walks together began as the world slowed down.
At times it felt like the earth’s orbit itself had begun to lag—catching the sun off guard and leading to jerks in motion as we attempted to regain the schedule of turning in time.
No longer rushing to get to school, no longer worried about schedule or obligations—the distractions that had filled our days started to recede, and we stretched our limbs and our minds and set out in search of hope.
IN SEARCH OF HOPE
Perhaps we didn’t know we were hunting hope but, nonetheless, step by step we started to find it.
Early routes surrounded our neighborhood. Still unsure, we clung to the sense of safety the familiar provided us. We armed ourselves with snacks, look-and-find activities—“Let’s count the stop signs; List the colors we spied today”—and a sense of yearning to find what was lost.
The stroller quickly transformed to a bus or train, tickets to ride gleefully purchased and provided in imaginary stations. Sometimes my heart aches for the simplicity of these early days, when so much was still left to be discovered.
We hadn’t used the car for two months when we decided there must be more to see.
Loaded up with additional snacks, having abandoned counting games and replaced them with audio books, we drove just a few miles and found ourselves in someone else’s backyard. Old news to the locals of this neighborhood, we sprayed sunscreen and commented, “It feels like a vacation!”
The evolution of these sojourns continued until we landed in the concrete trough known as the Los Angeles River—certainly man-made but also somewhat divine in the magic it holds for us this day.
The ramp that leads down to the stream takes us across bumpy cement that was once smooth but now has been weathered to create an uneven surface, forcing us to step with intent. A call for attention I can’t help but obey, bringing me to recollect the uneven surfaces of my life where God has called me to move mindfully.
The boys run despite the uneven footing, not having yet learned the lesson of caution. This is true of most things they do—full throttle. We reach the flow that is as close to a river as locals can expect, and we soak it in.
We pick up leaves and launch them down the trickle imagining the travelers aboard—ants out for their morning walk, displaced with the sudden voyage.
It is picturesque in the emotion it offers us but far from storybook in surroundings.
Trash litters the ground. A homeless encampment looms above our heads, opposite the trail that brought us here.
Two figures in the not-too-far distance bend down to gather water for their thirst this morning, not having the luxury to worry about filtration.
I stand looking at human forms that will bathe and drink from the same cup. I feel both sorrow and caution, and then sorrow again.
I am tempted to omit these broken beings from the memory of this morning as they interrupt the magic of childhood adventure and imagination.
They bring me to an awakening that challenges the comforts of my day, as well as highlighting the carelessness of my moans when things don’t go my way. It would be easier to ignore the suffering of others.
To shield the little ones that I love from knowing the pain of this world.
Yet, Psalm 34:18 whispers to me,“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
He is here now.
In this man-made concrete valley that knows more drought than storm.
He is here, offering the same gift to all of us.
And I realize that the polished exterior in my life only serves as a barrier to come face to face with the power of God.
For a moment, I see the beauty and the pain in harmony—currents dancing down the stream nipping at our toes. The two dance together as God knew they would from the beginning.
Just as there is no light without darkness.
I look toward my boys. Yipping at sticks tossed recklessly downstream, they brush off Lala’s attempts at scientific discovery—“What travels faster, leaf or twig?” They are too young to truly see the pain yet. They will not understand for some time still.
And then I turn back toward the distant figures also at the water’s edge and see that we are all wading in the same water just as God had envisioned at the beginning—His love having no preference for our bodies.
Here, in this small patch of earth, we are all His children. I am reminded of His hope that we would all partake in His Living Water, as clean and dirty hands are washed over in the same stream.
And I suspect that to Him, the beauty and pain hosted here in the riverbed are equally seen, equally beloved, equally His.
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