Affirmation, beauty, Blessings, Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Storms, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, wind, wisdom

Soldiering On

There is a dead calm in the trees today after a string of gusty days. The calmness amplifies animals’ movements; looking out just now, I can see a doe raise a front foot, then continue her slow browsing in the woods across Trout Creek.

Though a calm is often just a comma between storms, we should pay attention to it, because it invites introspection and watchfulness, a time heavy with anticipation like a maple leaf just waiting for the wind to ask it to dance.

I am at a point in life of watching and waiting. Watching sick loved ones cling to life, waiting for God to answer prayer. My eyes see misery clawing at hope. My pulse drones in my ears and pacifies the waiting like an undisturbed river flowing deep and sure.

Vigil is the gutsy response to life’s gusty times.

It is a posture of watching with loved ones, and waiting for an outcome while in the eye of the storm.  Every day I see adult children in their 60’s and 70’s visiting aged parents at the nursing home.  The visits are difficult-many residents can’t even remember their kids’ names-but the children soldier on out of respect, accepting the duty to honor the last days of a parent’s life. There is calm, and order, and rightness in the watching and waiting.

Vigil gives time for forgiveness and reconciliation, for sharing old memories, and for meditation on the way all of life soldiers on.

At the bluff, there is a lone cedar tree about 10 feet from the dune’s edge.  The dunes along this stretch of Lake Michigan have been unstable since the ice age created them, crumbling in the constant onslaught of waves and winds. The property my grandparents bought has lost 88 feet since the early 1960’s. This means that the cedar soldier was once deep in the forest at the back of the dune, playmates with the grand, towering beech, the stately ash, and the playful maple.  But, time has marched on with unstoppable force. The other trees succumbed to the storms of disease or the loggers’ saws. The dune continued to roll into the deeps.  So, now this cedar stands alone and bent, facing its inevitable demise with deep roots and grace in its vigil of watching and waiting. Each morning it greets the eastern sun and takes delight in the jays and cedar waxwings that haunt its branches, and the bald eagle who hunts from its crown. At night, it lifts its face westward, basking in the sun’s glow, a view it never had in its youth.

Today, my dad would have been 90 years old. But, like the ash and beech, disease took him before he could have a better view, a vigil cut short. Like the cedar, my mom stands at the edge, soldiering on through the indignities of Parkinson’s disease, in a vigil for glimpses of heaven.  Watching. Waiting. Praying.

~J.A.P. Walton

Accomodation, Affirmation, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, hiking, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Parasites, Pilgrimage, Religion, Sacrifice, Serving Others, Trees, Uncategorized, wisdom

The Plover and the Crocodile

Last month, we hiked through a mixed forest of beech, oak, pine, and hemlock. It is evident all through the north that these hundred+ year-old forests are stressed; the ash still standing are all dead from the ash borer, the beech are ringed with deadly fungus, and the hemlock is next, expected to succumb to the wooly adelgid in Michigan as the tiny insects migrate from the east.

When we came across this tree (pictured), I began to think about the nature of parasitism, that form of symbiosis between species in which a squatter takes advantage of a host. The deer tick is a good example; it sucks the host’s blood, and transmits Lyme disease. Obviously, there is nothing good in the relationship for the host. The photo is of a hoof fungus on a decaying tree. It is a true parasite, attaching to a vulnerable place on the tree and causing stem rot, which eventually kills the tree.

Other symbiotic relationships can be mutually beneficial, in which both host and parasite benefit one another. In Egypt, the plover and the crocodile have made peace for millennia. The crocodile opens wide, the bird flits in and eats the rotting food stuck in the croc’s teeth, and, in apparent gratitude, the croc doesn’t eat the plover. Voila!  The bird eats and the reptile gets a free dental cleaning.

I think the most interesting of these relationships is that of commensalism, in which a parasite attaches to a host for a free ride. One benefits, while the other is not harmed; think barnacles on a whale. Or a person who has asked for prayer.

This has had me thinking mostly about human relationships.  I am people-shy by nature,

in a lifelong struggle to reconcile scriptural demands to love my neighbor with the fact that I prefer solitude. Instead of open arms that welcome “the inconveniences and suffering that love requires,” [1] I tend to flee into myself, wrapped, not in apathy, but in a dread-frosted cake of isolationism.

I do not want to be needed. I do not want my energy to be sucked dry like a tick sucks blood. I do not want to be used. And, to be sure, there are people who are parasitic on one’s time, emotions, money, and good intentions. Thus, most of my freely-given time goes to things like making the coffee, offering to pray for people, serving a meal, helping people move across town, even recover from a hurricane. I can do these things without much chance of exposing my inner self to the deep, sometimes twisted, often long-term (even endless) neediness (especially emotional neediness) of others. It is as much as I can do to avoid parasites while agreeing to a time-constrained spell of commensalism.

I guess, if I am honest, I dislike sacrifice.

And that’s too bad. Here, Nature is such a good teacher. I know that, like the plover and the crocodile, the Church is full of people who both need and love God.

I know that people will come alongside me to model what it means to love without dread, to give without constraint, and to be the hands and heart of God to someone who is hurting-even when that someone, someday, is me.

We always want our relationships to be mutual, in which both parties benefit. I see this naiveté all the time when young people head out on a mission trip; it’s less about sacrificial service than they like to think.

Truth is, the foundation of faith is sacrifice. And bloody.

Freely given that we might be greedy takers of forgiveness and salvation.

But, once freed from our wayward living, the expectation is that we follow. All the way to our own death if necessary. I believe this, but I have to continually pray that God helps me in my unbelief.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]www.desiringgod.orgaccessed July 13, 2019. John Piper. Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God.  pp. 283-284. 2012.

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

Pilgrim

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, Affirmation, Cancer, canoeing, Creator, death, God, Hardiness, Hope, Life's Storms, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Perseverence, Prayer, Religion, Risk Taking, Sea Canoe, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

All Things ARE Possible with God

At the recent Quiet Water Symposium, QWS  we were thrilled when Hugh was recognized with the Verlen Kruger Award for his years of encouraging others to take up their paddles, and for his ongoing volunteer work on water quality issues in his county. In the nominator’s words, “Hugh believes in the power of water to challenge, teach, and heal.”

At the event, one of Verlen’s original Sea Wind canoes was on display, with the ever present Scripture, “ All things are possible with God,” Verlen’s favorite verse from the Bible.[1]

When you launch out into the current of life with God, anything, even all things are possible right there in the middle of your life, your sickness, your challenges, even your death-God prevails.

Verlen took his faith across 100,000 miles of paddling not just in Michigan, but from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, up the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, from Montreal to the Bering Sea, and many more. He was an inspiration in vision, perseverance, courage and faith. And he was humble enough to admit his mistakes. For more about Verlen, click here

In receiving the award, Hugh spoke about having to move home to Michigan after his leukemia diagnosis, and his desire to fully explore the Great Lakes by canoe. To do so, especially given his illness, he would need a canoe that could take on “big water.” Verlen’s sea-tested design was reputed to be the toughest canoe ever made. In 1999, Hugh visited Verlen and ordered what would become Sea Wind #125.

When the canoe was ready, Mark went with Hugh to pick it up and meet Verlen, who consulted with them about their upcoming trip to the Apostle Islands. When Verlen found out that Mark was taking a family canoe, he insisted that they take one of his old Sea Winds.  When Mark returned the borrowed canoe, he immediately ordered his own Sea Wind. That was the beginning of the Walton brothers’ Kruger Expeditions, and a blossoming friendship with the man behind these boats.

What neither of them knew was that Verlen himself was living with cancer at the time.  Shortly before he died in 2004, he told his biographer, “I’ll fight this thing as long as I’m able, but if God wants me now, I’m ready.”[2]

Hugh had the same philosophy over the ten years of treatments he endured before the curative bone marrow transplant. In those years, he paddled in spite of the fatigue, in spite of the drug-induced flu-like symptoms, and in the face of long odds.  A day didn’t pass that he wasn’t grateful for life, and for the opportunity to paddle with his brother, unwavering in his own belief that all things are possible with God.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]See accompanying photo of the bow of Sea Wind #3

[2]Phil Peterson. All Things are Possible:  The Verlen Kruger Story. 2006. p.284.

adventure, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, God, hiking, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Mountains, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, River, Rocky Mountain National Park, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Trust Your Boots Girls!

In an icy parking lot earlier this week, the footing was dicey, and, at one point, I blurted out to no one in particular, “Trust your boots girl!”  This adage bubbled up from a deeply-etched memory of a time in high school when a group of gals was climbing Mount Meeker in the front range of Rocky Mountain National Park.  At 13,911 feet, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to peaking a fourteener.  At one point along that climb, there was a steep portion, prompting one member of our group to happily call out,

“Trust your boots girls!”

While at Colorado State University, I reveled in backcountry cross-country skiing. I took a 2-day lesson the first time, and the instructor emphasized the need to trust your skis so that you could flow with them as they glided.  Just before moving back to the Midwest for grad school, I purchased a set of used skis and boots from the ski rental store. The next snow, I waxed them up to go skiing. I could not ski! My left foot kept sliding sideways, and the ski itself seemed to awkwardly tilt my boot so I had no traction or control. My husband-to-be laughed at my claims of being an experienced skier. We soon discovered that the store in Fort Collins had sold me skis with two right-footed bindings. Trust your boots indeed.

When learning to kayak in Wales, we practiced rolling in an indoor pool. Despite heroic attempts, I never did master a tip and roll.  The instructor’s advice to trust your skill in the whitewater rapids didn’t sit well with me. I knew if I capsized, I’d be permanently upside-down knocking my head on submerged rocks.  Having once before been pinned under a turtled boat (see blog post Unbounded Joy, 7-31-18), a healthy respect for the water had evolved into an irrational fear of drowning.

It is just common sense to be fully prepared for a wilderness adventure-to have the right equipment and skill set to see you through to a happy conclusion.

When paddling or hiking, you have to trust your instincts, your experience, your companions, and your preparations. It is folly to be unprepared.

Still, you can never be prepared for everything. Accidents happen with no warning. Wind and weather are fickle. Forests catch fire, and rivers and canyons can swiftly flood. What can you trust when the world turns inside out, when trickles of doubt mushroom into cascades of fear for your safety, even for your life?

Proverbs teaches that trust is an outcome of wisdom, and that wisdom, in turn, is the principal heir of a healthy fear of God.

This is not the kind of fear that makes us dread God’s judgment, but, rather, the kind that sees beauty in creation and is wowed by the God who made it. Not fright but reverence. *

It seems to me we prepare for our trip through the wilderness of this world- on this side of the river- much better than we prepare to face a holy God, misplacing our sense of security by trusting in things, jobs, money, ‘safe’ cars, our own thinking. When my husband was in the ER a few years ago with multiple and deadly pulmonary emboli in both lungs, we did trust that the surgeon would do his best to keep death at bay. Still, our ability to remain calm and hopeful (it was surreal to be honest) came from a stronger, deeper, surer Source. From God himself, whom we love, fear, and deeply trust to make the path through the wilderness straight.

I hope you can spend a little down time this winter working out in what, or whom you place your trust. Life is fragile at best, and downright slippery at its worst.

~J.A.P. Walton

* for more on the wisdom of Proverbs, see God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Tim and Kathy Keller. 2017.