adventure, Aging, beauty, Blessings, childhood, Costa Rica, Creator, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Growing Up, Heaven, hiking, Home, Hope, joy, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Mountains, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Perseverence, Petoskey Stone, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Rainforest, Religion, River, Trails, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, Wales, wilderness, wind, wisdom

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

Accomodation, Advent, Affirmation, Aging, Autumn, beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Praise, Prayer, Seasons, Trees, vigil, Winter, wisdom

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

beauty, Creator, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, joy, Life's Storms, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Uncategorized, vigil, wisdom

In the Sunset of Our Lives

I have been away from the blogging keyboard for the past month, dealing with the sudden decline, then death of my mother. Thanks for waiting for me.  Mom was in decline from Parkinson’s Disease for the past 5 years, the last year and a half in full-time skilled nursing. I started this blog two years ago so that I could write (in small chunks), yet still be readily available to my mom. We knew this day was approaching last July when she just could not summon the energy to be interested in anything– food, news, a new pair of PJ’s, a wiggly grandchild… not even chocolate could elicit an emotional response or sense of thankfulness.  And yet, we knew she was still “in there.”  I could make a joke and get her unforgettable “heh-heh.”  The last thing she ever said to me was, clear-as-a-bell, “Now, you take care.”  Then she went silent, took to her bed, became feverish and semi-comatose, and God, in his great mercy, called her home. In the Old Testament, biblical heroes were said to pull up their feet, breathe their last, and be gathered to their people. And so it went for my mom, my heroine, strong and true to the end.

In her last days, I held her paper-skin hand, kissed her, and told her over and over again how much I loved her, how much God loved her, how eagerly Jesus was waiting for her, and that it was OK to go. We read her Scripture and prayed. I knitted. We listened to hymns. Keeping watch is a time-honored, and somewhat lonely biblical and human action.

The Book of Common Prayer’s nighttime prayers include praying what I’ve come to call the Three W’s: prayer for those who are working all night, those who are not sleeping but weeping, and those who are watching through the night with a dying loved one.

Oh, how I embraced the knowledge that people I don’t even know were praying us through the watching…and now, the weeping! Time rolls on, our elders now all gone. My husband remarked it was a strange mix of a childlike bemusement of feeling orphaned while simultaneously taking on the mantle of “eldest” in the family.

In the evening of my life I will look to the sunset,

At a moment in my life when the night is due.

And the question I shall ask only I can answer,

Did I keep Faith – strong and true?

Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?[1]

So, it is a bitter, yet sweet time of loss, memories, and knowing that we must now make our move. Literally. We will leave our small, cozy home at Trout Creek and move to the bluff permanently next year. We will leave our church family of 25 years. My mom’s leaving is a springboard to more leaving. It’s ironically sad and liberating, both.  Three days ago,

the late afternoon at the bluff was dark, cold, impersonal. I was thinking of mom when the sun broke beneath the cloud bank and lit up the waters like a cosmic smile. Mom’s words went right through me: “Everything is all right. It is just right. Now, YOU TAKE CARE!

Because there’s so much death and life “stuff” to sift out, sort, and settle, I will take a long hiatus from this blog. This time next year, I hope to really have the personal space to get working on my book projects. I am grateful that you have read along faithfully with my little musings. Thank you for reading. And, as always, remember that standing on this side of the river, there’s a home waiting for you on the other side with God in Jesus Christ.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1] Fill the World With Love lyrics, Petula Clark, as amended by JAPW; camp song, Cheley Colorado Camps

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