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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Faith and Values: Where’s the bottom? God knows

For The Spokesman-Review

Editor’s note: Columnist Paul Graves shares a letter to his grandchildren.

Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,

A month after Katie was born 20 years ago, I wrote my first letter to her. This 20-year journey of letters to you three continues to be a high privilege to me; and hopefully to you. Every letter honors you today, and as you grow into tomorrow.

But for the moment, I want us to look back – all the way back to when your dad was about 13 years old. When we lived in Lewiston, a pastor friend and I took our teenage sons on an overnight camping trip. We set up at a campground on the Clearwater River, then drove east to Orofino, where we put our canoe into the river. It was late August, so the water level was really low.

More than once, Dan and I stepped out of the canoe so it could float through a high spot in the riverbed. There were only a few spots in that long section of the river that were deep enough to allow us some serious paddling and floating – until just above where our camp was.

The campground was on a point of land that jutted out into the river, so the water began moving more swiftly through that narrower section. Plus a fissure in the ground made the river bottom deeper than it was just 50 yards upstream. The deeper water and narrower river combined to make a mini-rapids.

We were having a great time paddling through the swift and swirling water until the water began to slosh inside the canoe. And stayed there.

In a matter of moments, the canoe sank beneath the water’s surface, with the four of us trying to decide when to stop paddling. When we drifted out of the sunken canoe, it popped to the surface. Hanging onto the canoe, we tried to swim for the shore, but the current pulled us downstream.

Soon we realized we weren’t in any real danger. Just past the campground, the river widened again, this time into a good-sized inlet of calmer water. With some effort, we did our best one-armed swim toward the shore, dragging the canoe beside us.

A brief trip with long-term memories, for sure. I remember our adventure for another reason. I’m regularly reminded that spiritual maturing is an uneven process. It’s especially uneven, ironically, when we settle for standing only on shallow spiritual ground where we think we’re still in control of what happens.

Dan and I had much more control of that canoe when we were directing its movement from the outside. It was only when the water got faster and deeper that we experienced life outside of our control.

That deeper, faster water has impressed my spirit since. I’m reminded that the preciousness of life doesn’t depend on what we do to control it, but what we do to move with it as best we can.

I find it easier to “let go” of control when I’m confident that the God in charge is not the fickle and vengeful God too many folk seem afraid not to believe in. The God I know uses this ultimate “in-chargedness” in radically hospitable ways. I need that God! I think you do too.

Drifting only in the shallower water makes us shallower people. God didn’t make us to live in the shallows of life. It may be a safer place. But God knows that the more abundant life is in the deeper, faster water, where we can live the real adventures awaiting our souls. Come on in, kids, the water’s fine!



The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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