Affirmation, Cancer, Cancer treatments, Creator, Darkness, death, Desert, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Mary Oliver, Pilgrimage, Uncategorized


Another brother has cancer.

We are not stunned like we were with Hugh. All the same, it’s another round of watching and waiting and praying it through.  It is true: our body ages and decays in this broken world. I have never stopped wondering at the marvel: that we are created body, soul, and spirit together. An amalgamation of identity and being. It isn’t an integration where one is a receptacle for the other, like lock and key, but blended, so tangled up together that they cannot be distinctly teased out.

It is a ONENESS that defies full description, almost impossible to appreciate or embrace but for a blind faith in God who is himself three yet one.

So, when our body gives way to time, disease, unlucky genes, and the random tragedies of this earthly life, we spend most of our resources on trying to eradicate the physical dis-ease with drugs and surgery, while often ignoring the impact this all has on our whole self.

It’s easy to forget that the wilderness, which we seek out for its inherent beauty, quietness, and solitude is also constrained by the world’s brokenness. We tend to think, wrongly, that the wilderness is eternal, unchangeable. But, even its fullness is stained by decay, predation, random fire or flood; dangers lurk in its untamed, and indifferent beauty.

Upon hearing her own cancer diagnosis, poet Mary Oliver wrote,

Why should I have been surprised?  

           Hunters walk the forest without a sound. 

           The hunter, strapped to his rifle,

            the fox on his feet of silk,

            the serpent on his empire of muscles-

            all move in stillness,

            hungry, careful, intent.

            Just as the cancer entered the forest of my body,

            without a sound.*

The same goes with us. Though God promises us eternal life –conditional on our recognition and acknowledgement that we cannot save ourselves- we walk as pilgrims through (rarely around) life’s wilderness and dangers. And, for each of us, there is an appointed day in which the shroud of our whole self is forever torn by death, our body returned to the dust from which it came. What was once whole is now separated, that our soul and spirit can rise unburdened to God. Who can explain it?

And so we go forward, hand in hand in the hope of healing for our brother, the one who’s “got next”. If God is for us, who -or what- can be against us? We call the treatment of cancer a battle, and its eradication a victory. A curious thing, that it is couched in war language. But, it’s not just our physical self that is saved is it? All through the wilderness of living is the battle, often unseen, for our soul and spirit too. God wants, he demands that we yield all of what and who we are, cancer or no. On this side of the river, you just can’t be whole without it.

~J.A.P. Walton

* Mary Oliver. “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” in Blue Horses.2014








adventure, Adventure Tourism, Cancer, Cancer treatments, canoeing, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Perseverence, Prayer, Religion, River, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling

When God Floats Your Boat

Two years ago, the Walton brothers paddled in Ontario’s Spanish River Provincial Park. SRPP info   They chose a route that threaded through multiple lakes connected by short, shallow outlets. In low water, these outlets turn into tricky portages that leave the canoeist knee deep in boggy, rocky muck. It can quickly become a slog hauling canoes and supplies over challenging barriers that were supposed to be paddled but instead have to be portaged without any trails to follow. The brothers were dismayed to find when they arrived in September that the water levels were at their lowest in a long time, clogging their planned paddling route with clots of muck and rock where lakes should have been.

After Hugh underwent his second round of chemotherapy and subsequent bone marrow transplant, he developed blood clots called DVT, or deep vein thrombosis in one leg.  It is actually quite common for leukemia patients to acquire DVT.  DVT info  These clots are life-threatening because they can move through the blood and lodge in the lungs. Once in the lungs, the clots become barriers to oxygen exchange, and the patient can quickly die of suffocation. As a result, Hugh is now on blood thinners. While this is a terrific remedy for blood clots, it does raise the risk of a dangerous bleed-out from cuts or accidents. As a matter of fact, on one trip, Hugh was pulling a canoe up onto a sandy beach in his bare feet when he stepped on a buried and severed tree root that stabbed deep into his instep. It took some time for the bleeding to stop, and the brothers were too far into the wilderness for immediate help. They now have a rule that you can’t ever be barefoot on trips unless in your sleeping bag.

There are barriers in life that quickly and easily clot our thinking. I often find that they are spiritual in nature, and usually begin innocuously when we let our focus become too heavily inward. Our inner dialogue evolves into a diatribe. We’ve been wronged, treated unfairly or with disrespect, and the “I” language in our head bubbles over in frustration and anger. These are times to take great care, because the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit is clogged, and our sour thinking then deprives us of the spiritual oxygen to act and live rightly toward God and others. Days become a slog of carrying heavy burdens that weigh us down in the muck of our darkened thoughts.

There is a spiritual blood thinner though, and it is incongruously connected with the blood of Christ.

If you can intentionally move your thoughts from yourself to God, if you are willing to unyoke yourself from life’s burdens, to think of and serve others first, God will float you up out of the muck. It’s a wonderful experience to feel the waters of the Spirit float you up, out, and on your way. Next time your language is laced with “I’s”, get in the boat with God and get moving again.

~J.A.P. Walton



Cancer, Cancer treatments, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Prayer, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Bad News Comes Calling

We were just getting ready for bed when my brother-in-law Hugh called. He was in graduate school at the time, and I assumed he was calling Mark with an idea for their next wilderness canoeing adventure. Mark gasped and motioned to me to pick up the other phone. Hugh was shaky and emotional as he related to us that his visit to student health services that afternoon for flu-like symptoms ended up instead with the diagnosis of leukemia. Out of nowhere.

Life is a wilderness of unexpected challenges, of things that burrow in and deposit a twisting terror deep in our marrow. None of us could know all that lay ahead for Hugh…dropping out of school and moving home, not one but two body-slamming bone marrow transplants, the agonizingly unfruitful search for a donor, the enrollment in clinical trials for new drugs, the knowledge that nothing again would ever be the same. And it all hit him, and us, out of nowhere.

Death is often referred to as passing. We liken it not to an ending but a transition from here to somewhere else. Not many people like to talk about the process of dying, but the notion that it is like a water crossing is a biblical one. Israel crossed the Red Sea into freedom, and again the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in a killer storm. * All relate to the idea of passage from an old life into a new one, from chaos into calm, and from death of the old self into a new, better one.

When you stand along any river, whether the water is sluggish or swift, your mind automatically looks both across and downstream. What’s over there? What delights are just around the bend? What threats are hidden under the surface? The waterman learns to read the currents and the shoreline, but the only real way to find out what’s across the water is to go there. For Hugh, the far shore of the river was closing in, and it felt like he was being swept away. For us it became a 10-year exercise in the power of prayer. Hugh’s positivity was amazing, and he never did cross that water and leave us. Instead, he turned into the downriver swifts, and ran the rapids of experimental cancer treatments for 9 long years until he reached the calm waters of a cure. He has been in remission for 14 years.

Hanging on for dear life is not easy. Your physical self is decimated, your finances often ruined, and the loss of all control intensely frustrating. The drugs make you crazy, and the loneliness cuts deep. But God is in that despair with us. Jesus crossed the water before us, for us. Even if the cancer grows unabated, Jesus stays with us, and promises no more tears, no more suffering. And if the treatments are successful, we are reborn into a changed life. Because you cannot be unchanged by cancer.

Bad news will come calling out of nowhere. That’s just how life works; suffering is as much a part of life as is joy. We must be brave and prayer-full, and accept a lot of help. What’s more, God is always here in the boat with us no matter the destination. He does not come out of nowhere. So when bad news calls, get ready to ride.

* I highly recommend Leslie Leyland Fields’ book, Crossing the Waters, Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?, and Kara Tippets’ & Jill Buteyn’s book Just Show Up: the Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together.


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