adventure, Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outfitting, Peace, Prayer, Serving Others, Uncategorized

Do You Have a Purple Notebook?

If you had an hour to think about where you are headed, and why, what would you write down on your “outfitting” list?

We’ve begun a slow transition from the bluff back to Trout Creek, and the tall grasses and migrating birds are telltale signs that summer is nearly over. Normally at this time of year, the Walton brothers are busily outfitting for their annual fall paddle in the northern latitudes, when the hallowed and dog-eared purple notebook comes out with its years of collective wisdom- list upon list of gear, menus, and groceries that must be gathered before departure.

The brothers deeply enjoy the process of getting everything ready. As I write this, I have just put Hugh on a plane for Arizona to join 3 of his brothers for their paddle trip down the Colorado River.  He was lamenting that taking a trip with professional outfitters takes away much of the pleasure that the “doing for yourself” brings.  He was missing his purple notebook.

It is interesting to study the word outfit as a verb.  In wilderness jargon, it means to assemble the gear and necessities for an extended time away from civilization: water purification, camp stove, food, first aid kit, compass, tent, emergency distress signaling device, and the like. But it has made me think about whether or how we outfit for our everyday life. I tend to be a list maker, so it’s not a stretch to see how my adopted processes for daily tasks help me stay on course; a decades-old two-month menu cycle informs grocery shopping, and a bill-tracking database helps quickly settle accounts. Going to church every Sunday morning gives each week an anchor, adding stability and sanity into this busy life. Still, what do I DO on a regular basis to see to the proper “outfitting” of my life?  If I kept a small purple notebook of the necessities, what would it contain, and how would it keep me on a wise path? Do I enjoy the process of “getting ready” and what am I getting ready for?

When we were younger, this was easier to answer. We were saving money for a house down payment, for kids’ college, for retirement, and developing skills and talents that made us valuable in the workforce. We were learning our way through parenting, and, more recently, caring for our parents. We were studying Scripture and developing a deeper relationship with God and each other.

But what do I “outfit” for now, in retirement?  I am making new lists. They are less about preparing for the future as they are about understanding that the future is already here in the present. My own lament is in wondering how much “present” I missed all those years that were so focused on preparing for someday.  So, I find that the lists are evolving, much less focused on action and more focused on virtue.  Virtue? Yes. Character infused with godliness. It’s a high calling, and worth the study.

I believe in eternal life with God, which gives me a secure future that I didn’t fully appreciate in my younger years. A secured future gives us the freedom to take better care in and of the present.

My new set of lists is energized by prayer that God outfits me with grace, wisdom, contentment in any circumstance, and a truly benevolent heart for others.

Other things in my notebook (mine is blue) include to:

  • refrain from divisive speech
  • be the best listener in the room
  • honor my husband
  • cherish and dignify my mother’s final days
  • to appreciate creation in all its beauty and mystery
  • and to jump more readily with Isaiah’s enthusiastic response to God’s lament, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And, Isaiah swiftly replied, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8)

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hate, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Praise, Prayer, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

The H’s of Learning & Unlearning

I taught thousands of college students over the years.  The biggest challenge was not helping students learn; it was first getting them to unlearn the things wrongly buried in their psyche: that rote memorization rarely creates understanding; cramming is foolish; being in class is a critical necessity; classmates are not just co-learners, they are also your teachers; the internet is not always the best source of information; talking to people face to face is an important skill… believe me, there’s more!  But, the point is that

we have all learned things that we need the guts and determination to root out and unlearn before our growth as a whole, helpful, and happy person can develop and mature.

When we take the time (that in itself is an important learning skill) to seek out the grandeur and solitude of the wilderness, we become students of nature- wild and human. There is so much we can learn if we are also willing to unlearn the things that make us small, harried, worried, unhappy, and vexed (oh how my grandmother the writer loved that word!)

I believe that all of learning is rooted in love.

And what does the wilderness teach us out of love about love?  That this world was created by design, with an Artist’s eye and a passionate Hand. What we find in the wilderness is that the world, as created, is infused with a holiness that transcends all the things humans can do to ruin it.  The wilderness teaches us humility, and to affirm the good that we see and can be to others. It teaches us to love the Creator.

If love is the root from which all learning blossoms, then it follows that the things we’ve learned wrongly do not shoot forth from love. When I take the time to seek out the solitude and teaching that creation offers, I ask myself what I need to unlearn first-those things the world pushes me to think, say, or do that are not things to be proud of. First, I must unlearn haste. It’s one thing to hurry to get dinner on the table for a hungry tribe; it’s another to live each day as if God did not create enough time. The wilderness teaches me that I must slow down.

The world has taught us to hate. We distrust anyone who is not like us. We spill our hatred over onto social media.

We grind our axes and our teeth. Hate is the rot at the core of our discontent, and it cannot possibly grow out of a heart steeped in love.

If you find yourself impatiently fuming at (fill in the blank), you are not acting out of love.

We have also learned to hoard from this consuming and consumptive world. We make and we take and we guard it closely with our tightly balled up fists- our time, our money, our very selves.

The wilderness teaches us all this: that our haste, and our hate, and our hoarding are ugly and shameful, and utterly pathetic in the face of the humility and holiness we encounter in creation.

I don’t know about you but I have much to unlearn in order to learn rightly.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Backpacking, Costa Rica, death, Dying to Self, Forest, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Perseverence, Rainforest, Risk Taking, River, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Over, Under, Around or Through?

It is a fact that the human being is easily dehydrated, because our physiological thirst mechanism is not very reliable. So, often, we go through a day thirsty for water without even knowing it. The brain can override the thirst signal so that we can keep on chug-chugging without stopping for water. The headache and fatigue we attribute to stress and overwork may just be the natural fallout of being dehydrated. In the longer term, it becomes downright dangerous.

When we went to Costa Rica on an Outward Bound trip (see blog post of Feb. 6, 2018), our weather was hot, humid, steamy and stifling. All of our drinking water had to be tediously filtered. One day my group hiked high along a rainforest ridge, then descended quickly to find our way blocked by a swiftly moving river. The only bridge was up and over a mountain a ways downstream. After walking up and down the riverbank looking for a place to cross, our guide taught us how to cross together. We hitched our backpacks as high onto our shoulders as possible, squaring off our appearance so that we looked like so many Sponge Bob Square Pants characters. This left our hands free, but she warned us that this also raised our center of gravity and, when in the water, buoyancy, in itself an added challenge to balance. We sent one person far downstream with the emergency rope bag to throw in the event someone lost footing and was swept away. Then we lined up, interlocked forearms, and walked-in our boots- one by one into the icy river at an angle to the current. I thought the challenge quite enjoyable until the water rose to meet my rib cage and the footing among boulders dicey. But, the tight grip on and of my nearest companions was enough to stay upright and walk across and out of that river. It was an altogether exhilarating experience to test those waters.

My husband’s group leader later reached that same spot and decided a river crossing was too dangerous. So they went up and over that high mountain, short on drinking water, on the hottest day yet of the trip. It took them a long time in unrelenting sun, and it was a desperate slog. My husband, the oldest in that group, became severely dehydrated, and, at one point simply had to lie down unable to breathe.  He recalls that he very nearly panicked. He was suffocating.  The guide plied him with fluids, and about an hour later he was able to continue.

Water. Life-giving. Life-taking.

There are always decisions we must make when faced with daunting barriers; do we go up-over-around, or just plow right on through?

Do we take the long view (and route) though ill-equipped for the endurance and time required, only to be forced flat onto our back unable to breathe, living in breathless panic? Or do we risk the shortcut, get floated off our feet, maybe even swept away?

Either way, it is our companions in life that make the difference. They hold us tight, guide us as wisely as they can, recognize our needs, and offer assistance. They hold out their hands, to steady us or offer us a drink. This is one reason Jesus established the church, so that we’d never have to face our challenges alone.  So we’d have others who could recognize our deep thirst for love and belonging, and hand us the only water that satisfies.

Keep a tight grip on your life companions. You need each other along the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

 

Affirmation, Blessings, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wisdom

Count On It

I am known in my family for my quirky penchant for counting things-the number of kayak strokes I take to my husband’s single dip of a canoe paddle (about 8), the mileage on a bike ride, the number of geese flying in V formation, how many feet of fishing line I let out when trolling, the number of steps in any flight of stairs, and a daily report of the number of cargo and cruise ships that pass by on the big lake.

During June at the bluff, the fervent counting begins. See the doe with two fawns, and raise your eyebrows in disbelief when the neighbor shows you a picture of the bobcat with five kits under her deck.  The robins are on their second brood already, and the dying ash trees that have summoned the voracious pileated woodpeckers means there are bugs galore just for the hammering. Today I saw a monarch butterfly, the first of the summer’s four generations that it will take to produce heirs with the will and stamina to fly to Mexico in September (one day two Septembers ago, I counted 75 monarchs/hour heading south along the bluff line). Each night, two baby screech owls silently glide in at dusk to hunt the plentiful moles and voles at the forest’s edge. And who could even begin to count the mayflies at hatch time?

I think I count things because it helps me be present and aware of my surroundings. Counting gives the world I see and hear a sense of order and rhythm, helping me apprehend patterns and hear Nature’s music.  Mostly I just love all things numbers.  Of course, much of the counting we do in life could be considered just so much idle wool-gathering; we tally our financial assets, count down the number of days until Christmas, check the number of likes on a social media post, and keep a running score in our head of who’s let us down.

But what should we be counting?  What (and who) can we count on? When Job tried to argue his feeble case, God let go with a thundering,

Who are you to lecture me? Where were you when I filled the storehouses with snow and hail? Do you even know how I measured out the dimensions of the universe? Can you count the lightning bolts?”

In other words, there are lots of things only God can count, like all the stars in all the universes, every fish in the sea, and the grains of sand on the coast. This is the same God who tenderly tells us that He knows the number of hairs on our head, and the very sum of the days of our life.

We can count on God to be our strength, hope, and peace when we feel like our own strength is gone. And, of course, when we live a life that has died to self, we can count on each other.

I love to watch the world go by while I keep count, and I am beginning to appreciate how to count it all joy when God gives me work to do, and the strength to do it. That’s what it really means to count your blessings.

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo Credit: ML Walton, Lake Charlevoix, June 2018.

Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends.

adventure, Affirmation, childhood, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Growing Up, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Religion, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

“It’s OK, I’ll Catch You”

Wilderness conjures up a sense of wildness, of things untamed. We typically think of wide swaths of forest, desert, or sea that have remained relatively untouched by people, and left in their natural state. Going into the wilderness is something we tend to do by choice, being well-prepared for survival of the physical challenges of weather, and the lack of shelter, clean water, and walk-in urgent care centers. It can be risky to enter into a wilderness adventure, but we control that risk with the right equipment, training, clothing and companions.

Still, taking such a calculated risk is beyond most people. There are certain characteristics associated with people who won’t take risks. They are not comfortable with any degree of discomfort, physical,emotional,or spiritual. They tend to only undertake activities that they can control. They are too easily afraid of the unknown…fearless would never describe their nature. And lastly, they are often too self-obsessed to intentionally step into that scary unknown.

Now, in the physical wilderness of outdoor adventure, common sense should dictate our behaviors. It would be foolish to paddle storm-tossed Lake Superior when you could hunker down safely in camp for the day, or to leave food and dirty dishes around camp in bear country.  But what can be said about our ability to navigate the emotional and spiritual side of the wilderness of life?

I was a timid child-so much so that my father often expressed mild disgust in wondering if something was seriously wrong with me. People frightened me.  So did the dark. And the Bambi movie, carnival rides, crowds, tornado warnings (my assigned spot was under a big desk in the basement), fireworks, nuclear attack drills, people shouting, and swimming in deep water. It was, frankly, a very big, and extremely scary world. In my middle years, I gained confidence by learning the ropes of sailing, paddling, climbing, backpacking, tennis, archery, and mathematics. As you might infer, I gravitated toward the solitary and quiet pursuits. These taught me a lot about myself- that I should focus on moving forward, not on failure, on problem solving, and developing a tougher skin more impervious to judgment. It slowly dawned that I could, and should-on purpose– be willing to try new things that made me uncomfortable, because being fearless is not the same as being reckless. As an adult, while my temerity can still arise at inopportune times, I am much better adapted to being open-minded to others’ opinions, and more willing to do the hard work of self-assessment- that uncomfortable dissection of one’s beliefs and attitudes and assumptions that need serious and studious attention.

I think the key words are LEARNING and WILLINGNESS. This is how we avoid always doing and saying what we have always done and said. It is how we cultivate a new, and godlier mindset.

As people in step with God already know, He seems fond of directing us to take big steps into very dark territory, into situations we cannot control, cannot predict, and for which we have few skills to offer. My guess is that God works this way to teach us dependence on Him. We have much to LEARN, and it is our WILLINGNESS to leap obediently into a new wilderness that, in the face of our common, culturally-dictated sense of things, makes no sense at all; to us it seems foolishly reckless. To God it makes all the sense in the world.  Fearlessness comes from complete trust, and a willingness to relinquish control and comfort and fear of failure to the One who makes all of life a wilderness. What has been holding you back? It’s time to drop your self-obsession and push through to a higher plain. The wilderness of life may be scary, but it is also indescribably beautiful. Make the leap. God will catch you.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

~J.A.P. Walton