adventure, Anishinaabek, beauty, black bear in Michigan, Creation, Do all bears hibernate?, Faithful Living, Forest, God, going against one's instincts, Hardiness, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Living Faithfully, National Parks, Nature, Seasons, taking risks, The Legend of Sleeping Bear, Tracks, vigil, What does it mean to go against one's nature?, when time stands still, Why do bears hibernate?, wisdom

The Bear who wasn’t Sleepy

We live in lower Michigan not too far south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. https://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm The Sleeping Bear is a 400’ silken sand dune famous for its shimmering white presence in the afternoon sun and glorious lake views of the two Manitou Islands. People love to run down it to Lake Michigan. The climb back up-not so much.  Anishinaabe (Ottawa/Ojibwe) legend has it that a mother bear and her two cubs fled a great famine in Wisconsin by swimming across Lake Michigan. When Mother Bear reached shore, she turned to watch her cubs founder and drown in the waves. The great dune marks the Mother Bear’s place of vigil, and each cub one of the Manitou Islands.   https://www.nps.gov/slbe/learn/kidsyouth/the-story-of-sleeping-bear.htm

And Mother Bear sleeps on. As a child here, the legend did not much resonate with me because we never had any bears in our forests. That has changed in the last several years. Mamas, cubs, and boars are now routinely spotted, and their tracks are common. Here in the northwest tip of the county, we’ve had a large boar by the name of Buttons roaming from cottage to cottage for about four years. Buttons is, most definitely NOT a sleeping bear. Around here, we like to joke about the bear who isn’t sleepy! He has a regular site visit schedule, meandering from bird feeder to bird feeder, from trash can to trash can. He may be upwards of 400 pounds. Just last month he tore through the screen on our cousins’ porch trying to get at a trash bag.

A bear that doesn’t hibernate? Is that normal? Doesn’t it go against what bears are supposed to do?  Our friend Alan, a retired DNR game warden says that hibernation is less a deep sleep than a nap, and that “boars, in particular, are not powered by the maternal instincts that drive pregnant sows to ground, often resisting slumber as long as there is ample forage- an unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.”  https://summerassembly.org/stories

Still, I find myself ruminating on what makes anyone go against their better instincts. Why do we go against our own nature sometimes to take risks, to do something totally out of character, to fly in the face of everything that’s been done before?

In my late thirties I left a good, fulfilling, and secure job to accept a temporary two-year post as a college professor. People thought I had lost my mind. But for me, there was an inner nudge, a very small, still voice saying, “Go ahead and try it out-you will like it!” And I never looked back, having jumped impulsively with both feet into an unsecure and unsure situation. I was the bear who refused to sleep.

Now, sometimes we need the respite and the dormancy. We need to give ourselves permission to enter a temporary torpor that we might recover from a particularly stressful season in life. The pandemic was a hibernation of sorts, where entire populations joined the turtle, frog, skunk, and groundhog in a metaphorical winter of forced inactivity. But now, maybe it’s time to rise up, snuffle around for some goodies, and get busy not sleeping-more like the energetic chickadee and the lumbering Buttons the bear than the sleeping bees and bats. Happy lumbering!

Thanks for reading along! If you click on the BLUE FOLLOW button (top and bottom of site) you will automatically receive blog posts by email. I truly wish for my writing to be easily and freely accessible for any who can use the encouragement. 

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

Send me a note at jpraywalton.writing.com

Buttons the bear
How to Inhabit Time, James K.A. Smith, Lake Michigan, Lament as a Christian Practice, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Living Faithfully, Moving during a pandemic, When God is Silent, when it hurts too much to pray, when time stands still, When your mother dies

“Some Years are Longer than Others”

I had a solo 6-hour drive to Chicago last week, and the time just dragged. As a matter of fact, the time always drags when I leave this place. As a child, my grandparents would pick us up after school, a tin full of ground ham and peanut sandwiches (ick) on the back seat, and the nose of their old Buick turned toward the bluff in northern Michigan. Time sped up in glowing excitement-my mind bursting with out-of-the-city-and-into-the-forest-and-dunes anticipation of the carefree summer at hand. The opposite occurred around Labor Day weekend. We’d buried our newest treasures, released our “pet” salamanders, and hiked our last dune until next year. Time back to Chicago on that same well-worn road crawled, the summer gone so quickly, a heart full of memories, shoes full of sand.

I am slowly reading my friend and former colleague James K.A. Smith’s newest book, “How to Inhabit Time.” jameskasmith.com It’s not a slow read because it is difficult. No, this is like a deep, purply glass of royal wine; it is to be savored. Part of the reason is that I am just coming off a time of deep change and challenge. Of loss. Of leaving. Of the critical illness of our only child who lives far away. All things filled with longing, lament, grief and fear. Of feeling as if God had retreated to the margins and adopted a hands-off stance. My prayers were whispered. Then shouted. Then stilled altogether. The temporality of life invaded the heart, and the future became the present, which became my history with blinding speed. Yet, it felt as if time had stopped. Even the ticking of my grandmother’s clock was irksome.

It has been a 3-year tempest with numbing spiritual paralysis. In writing about light and darkness in the Arctic, Jamie Smith asks, “What if all the sunlight in your life comes late, at an oblique angle? What if the sun cyclically disappears from a life for nights that seem like they’ll never end?”  

Some years are longer than others” he writes.

James K.A. Smith. How to Inhabit Time. Brazos Press. 2022. Quotes from Chapter 2.

Amen to that my brother. For the last 3 years I have stayed almost manically busy. Traveled. Cooked. worked the garden and the food pantry, watched more than a few Hallmark movies. But now, it is time to begin the great, long-awaited reconnection because we are finally settled. The pain of the uprooting is subsiding. The flow of words has reversed course, ready to run like a river. Our daughter’s health is stabilizing. We will soon be joining a new church. Things like a pot of homemade chicken soup and a fresh loaf of bread are no longer tasteless sustenance; instead they waft glorious whiffs of goodness and rightness throughout the house. We are sleeping well in our own bed; Jamie Smith reminds us to treasure the truth that “there is rest in the dark.”

Rested and ready.  There was evening and mourning. Then morning. A day.  A year. Three years. Only the grace of God gives us the strength and endurance for dark times. And those times are critical to our growth in perseverance and character and hope (Romans 5), creating our own unique history to inevitably shape all our tomorrows.  

If you are in a dark time, hang on. The wilderness eventually gives way to glorious and flourishing life because

God is preparing you for something wonderful!”

He and time are on your side.  

Thanks for reading!

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Please consider submitting your email to get on the list for each new blog piece. I try to post no more than once per week.

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

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At Home in the Here and Not Yet

It has dawned a clear, crisp early November day at the Bluff following two days of gales on Lake Michigan. As I sit at my desk writing, Mark is out with his chainsaw helping saw up the neighbor’s fallen ash tree. The whipping wind pushed it right out by its roots.

There’s something doleful yet timeless about a tree’s newly exposed roots- it is death, and homelessness, and loss, and capitulation and rebirth all rolled into one.”

I have been thinking about home lately-all the places I have called home, making a new home here at the Bluff after pulling up our lives at Trout Creek by the roots, and all the years my heart was searching for a home when what it really needed was God himself.

Being at home is a sense, a feeling of being nurtured yet challenged, content yet ever searching, with a pillow for your head and loved ones within reach. I have been at home in hiking boots on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the rain forests of Costa Rica, and the stony paths of the French Alps. I once had a home in Wales for a semester, rope-climbing the steep cliffs that face the Irish Sea, and paddling the wild Welsh rivers. I have made my home in a flat in Paris, writing for a whole blessed month while my daughter was at work. I was at home for many years in my calling as a college professor, enjoying the gift that thousands of students unknowingly gave me to fill the emptiness of infertility.

Nowadays, having endured the moving of the house back from the bluff’s edge and reconstructing the entire lower level, we are finally settled into home at the Bluff. Since I was five years old, I knew I would live here someday. That is because it has always been the place I come back to; on this side of the river, this has always been my one true home. This is where I set down roots and made lifelong friends, clothed in the balm of nature’s call and care. Here, I am embedded in forest and dune, blissfully at home on the long, lonely stretches of beach with a cherished petoskey stone in my sandy pocket. Here is the delight of slowing down, of welcoming the unplanned coffee and conversation with a new friend, and of taking the time to read, and reread some timeless favorites.

We are one short step from heaven here, figuratively, and literally.

 I know full well that this home is as temporary as all the others.”

Even as I wait on God in prayer and obedience, he too waits for me to finish my upward climb to my last and forever home with him. On that day, that most glorious day, my physical body tumbled like a dead ash tree by the gales of age, my soul will be loosed to heaven, my new and forever home. I can’t know from this side of the river what that will be like, but I suspect the surprise outweighs the not-knowing.

Keep climbing-your home awaits.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Contact me at jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

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The Advent of Aging

The fall winds have picked up intensity here at the bluff, mercilessly stripping the bluff-top maples of their leaves. Although I welcome the changes autumn brings, I must steel myself against the knowledge that winter will be fast on fall’s heels. 

The nakedness of the maples always shocks me, and that jumpstarts a sort of nesting instinct. The to-do list is long. Wash and store the outdoor furniture and bird baths. Do a final weeding. Pull and compost the garden and plant the winter greens in the greenhouse. Ready the tiny milk jug “greenhouses” to plant the saved milkweed, butterfly bush, and black-eyed Susan seeds for overwintering. Get more firewood split and stacked and top off the propane tank. Fertilize the evergreens and blanket their hems in fresh mulch. Make applesauce and apple butter. Start up the soup pot. Get the outdoor Christmas lights up before the polar vortex takes its first frosty bite. Lay in the baking supplies-all that butter, and flour and sugar and cocoa that the holidays will demand. Waterproof the winter boots and get out hats and gloves. Re-dress the beds with flannel sheets.

I am, obviously, just a giant squirrel with lists.”

And the lists seems endless. Still, it is good to have things to do that anchor us in the present while preparing us for the future. But I must yet do the harder work- to see the coming of winter as a gift, the advent of salvation as the real hope that it is. 

How incongruous that the maples shed their clothing just as I reach for more; I cannot go naked into winter like they do.

And all this reminds me to hold fast to my hope in the future God has ordained. We watched our parents leave us. Dust to dust. God gave them first breath, and gently helped each one to take their last. Naked they came, and naked they left. We have had to wear our hope like a stole to fend off the snows of grief. 

It has always been human nature to understand aging as decline, as the loss of robust strength and youthful vigor. To see it as a descent into nothingness. My own entry into my elder years has me thinking much differently, much more hopefully. 

This aging is not a mournful descent but a peeling away of the things that keep us from God.”

It lightens our souls for the glorious ascent to heaven. God removes our health, our energy, our ability to will an outcome through sheer hard work to strip us bare in preparation for “next.”  

Aging is not descent but an advent. 

Entering our older years is the beginning of something mysterious. A victorious yielding of what was and what is to what will always be

May you find your own aging less about mourning what you lose, and more about an ascent that promises to be breathtakingly beautiful.

Thank you for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

jpraywalton.com

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Autumn, beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, joy, Light, Nature, Pilgrimage, Praise, Religion, Seasons, sunrise, sunsets, Uncategorized, vigil, wisdom

The Light that Counts

I have been thinking a lot about the nature of light as autumn days descend into their routine darkness. Three years of grief, lament, and difficult decision-making have finally yielded to time, and my heart again swirls with light, and words, and reborn delight. It is like coming up for air after a long, deep dive. It is like coming out of shadows into soft, arms-wide-open light.

I have never liked to drive at night-especially on rainy nights. I am oversensitive to oncoming headlights, and I must rely heavily on the white lines on the pavement. Faded paint is my nemesis. Headlights cast a garish glare, a harsh light that overpowers. Pity the deer or driver confused yet mesmerized by the twin moons flashing by.

The world’s light can be blinding.”

As a student of the sunset, I find myself trying to find words for the varied nature of light and color at day’s end. Most times, the sun is simply too bright to peer at directly, so strong in fact it is dangerous. I often think of God as this kind of fascinating but dangerous light-one direct look and you’ll fry. After all, Moses could not look upon God and live. Light like that can kill. Still. Jesus is God, and we can look directly at him. 

Think of it this way. The setting sun presents a giant, fiery orb low to the horizon that burns its image into the eyes that watch it. But turn away from the spectacle and discover that all things the sun touches in its last minutes of the day are warmed and softened by the sun’s reflective glow. Not gaudy or brash, but luminous, suffused, burnished and aglow. The sun’s last rays are reflected and golden instead of white hot. Captivating. Lovely.

Jesus confused people when he taught that seeing him meant you had also seen the Father because no one had ever seen God. Until Jesus that is, a perfect and perfectly beautiful reflection of the Father, like a setting sun on a sandy shore or bank of trees. Perhaps that is why we have this marvelous Creation at our fingertips-that we might get a tiny glimpse of God’s light in the things and people around us.

God-given art and love.”

People who “die” but come back to life speak of a transfixing light that beckons irresistibly. It is a light you can trust. They describe it as a soft, white, shimmering, welcoming light aglow with an abiding sense of love and rightness. It is the same type of light I look for in this life because light is part of God’s very essence. Now, when THAT light shines on our secrets and shame, it is fearsome. But, Jesus said, “I AM the light of the world.” He was, and is, and always will be the light of God that overcomes the darkness of all that is lost, broken, sad, and sinful. He reflects God’s great love and mercy to us as that resplendent, radiating, captivating light that says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”  May the light that counts shine in your life today.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Autumn, beauty, Birds, Creation, Faithful Living, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Perseverence, Seasons, virtue, Winter, wisdom, worry

The Junco

When the sun is at a certain angle, birds see a reflection of the vast expanse of trees and lake in the west windows here at the bluff. A junco flew into a window just last week, falling onto his side, eyes shut tight, tiny talons stiff and thrust laterally.

It is rarely good news when our feet go out from under us.

As the junco lay stunned and panting, I wondered at his presence. Why is he here so early? It is sunny and delightfully warm for early October. 

Around here, on the edge of dune and dense forest of maple, beech, and hemlock, the junco is a harbinger of winter. A flock will stick around all winter scrabbling the earth for seeds. Dressed in drab, dark coats with a buff white undershirt, they forage and flit in the cold, short days. They are as colorless as many of the cheerless gray days of the far north in winter, and as hardy as the cedar and dune grass and snow-bound trillium patiently waiting for spring’s warm kiss.

Still, they hold a fascination. I like that they flock together and am reminded of the reason God calls his church to be serious about fellowship. In that community we are afforded a measure of safety, companionship, and encouragement. The society we keep is a salve to some of the drag of winter’s bleakness. 

The juncos’ cheerless plumage makes me appreciate their contentment at keeping a low profile, nothing flashy, no brash “look at me” behaviors. They are happy to wear what God designed and shun being the center of attention. I marvel at my own lack of such inherent humility and contentment with what God provides.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matt 6:25-27.

Basically, the junco is a bottom feeder, a forager snuffling through grasses and low foliage for insects and seeds.

I inherently like anything or anyone who is willing to work at the bottom rung of the ladder in humility, without compunction to produce or hoard. For me, the junco is a perfect example of the difference between the innate drive to work and thrive, and the big lies we swallow when we become driven, competitive, and overly ambitious. I am reminded that I must not think more of myself than I ought.

I most especially enjoy the juncos’ indifference to the cold and snow. Like their chickadee cousins, they seem to embrace the loveliness of that stark splendor only winter can serve up. I always resonate with any creature that welcomes winter’s caress and finds beauty in the sharp coldness of vapory breath and tingling cheeks.

Within minutes my tough, determined little junco had rolled onto his feet and opened his eyes, his milky breast pillowed and fluffed on the deck. It wasn’t long before he flew off to nurse his headache under the umbrella of the low-lying bluestem at the edge of the dune.  An omen of winter?  Perhaps. But I prefer to believe that the juncos are here as a God-given reminder to be humble and content and quietly diligent in all circumstances and seasons.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com Instagram: jpraywalton_writing Facebook: Julie Pray Walton Image by JackBulmer from pixabay.com

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Picking up the Pen

Dear Readers,

The desk is cleared. I am ready to write again. My prayer is that you will be willing to read along once more after this very long span of silence.

What do you do with silence?

There is so little quiet in our easily-agitated lives. And though my writing voice has been silent, my life most assuredly has not, so I relish the thought of sitting quietly at this desk. 

Why have I not been writing? That would take a long answer over a deep cup of tea, extra sugar. A short version would be a chronological list: 

  1. Mom died (late 2019)
  2. I settled her estate
  3. We inherited the family home on the Lake Michigan bluff in northwest lower Michigan
  4. Covid and its severe restrictions in Michigan created a literal standstill
  5. We sold our Trout Creek home, and moved ourselves to the Bluff in a pandemic 
  6. A one-time bluff cave-in of 20-25 feet, brought the bluff house to within 55 feet of the edge in a high-water climate
  7. Prayer-lots and lots and LOTS despite the physical separation from our church of over 25 years 
  8. We decided to keep the property and initiate moving the entire house back 110’ to the rear of the lot
  9. Built a barn to hold house contents during move 
  10. Remodeled the kitchen 
  11. First Christmas at the Bluff 
  12. Removed and stored everything from ground floor then demolished the entire lower level of the house ourselves (friends and family helped) 
  13. Removed 50 trees (a very tearful day to lose our little forest)
  14. Found somewhere to live for 8 months (thanks family and RV!); moved out (homeless)
  15. Moved the house (see photo) 
  16. Daughter Molly, our only child, was diagnosed in France with a blood clot in her brain (let’s talk sometime about how you can be calm and in a panic simultaneously); (clot still there, but she is better)
  17. Re-built the ground floor walkout side before winter
  18. Moved back in (spring ’22)
  19. Remediated the entire lot with new native planting and 24 trees (in a drought)
  20. Rebuilt the lakeside deck
  21. Celebrated with a spur-of-the-moment Happy Hour on the new deck with 40 friends, family
  22. Settled in (this has been nothing short of lovely over the summer)
  23. Molly and Stéphane visited in August and were engaged to be married
  24. Today: the house is nearly finished. At 82, our contractor moves slowly, so the back deck off the kitchen may have to wait until 2023. We also await EGLE ‘s (Michigan DEQ) sign-off on our permit. 
  25. God and Mark have gently nudged me to start writing again. So, I have joined Redbud Writers Guild, a diverse group of women who write about faith in community and culture (link) I am hoping it will help me be accountable to regular postings!
  26. SO! Time to write!

I will be setting down to write some of the pent-up things that have been swirling in my heart and mind, and

I invite you to come alongside and share with friends.

Some will be written here at the beautiful and flourishing bluff space-to which you are all invited for respite. Some from an RV trip to the southwest in search of sun. Some from writer’s retreats. Some from trips to France. No matter what, I hope to present you with heart-and-mind-filled pieces that bring God close, that describe his revelation in and to our world, that provide words of both comfort and challenge, and help create in you a refreshed desire to look for him in your daily life and relationships. 

May it be a blessing to you as you stand on this side of the river.

~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Feel free to email me directly at my email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

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