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

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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

Affirmation, Birds, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Religion, Silence, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Manifold Witness

We are briefly back north at the bluff to open the house and plant the garden. It is always a “hard work” kind of week-clearing sand out of gutters, raking leaves, sweeping and dusting every horizontal surface, washing windows (a never-ending list really…when was spring cleaning ever easy?).  At the same time, it is curiously restful because we are surrounded by beauty in every direction.  The distractions are natural ones, instead of manmade. No highway or airport noise, no sirens, no teens driving by with thumping base, no door-to-door salesmen. Not even cell phone robo-calls, since the cell signal in the north woods is so weak. The Internet here is iffy too, and our monthly plan severely so limited datawise that we must, by necessity, trim the sails of online time.

Away from town, it’s easier to pay less attention to the news and its tendency to dampen the spirit. There is just something about finding yourself isolated from the noise of the world that is settling. Calming. Affirming. It layers on a balm of hours to get to work with grateful hands, despite the creaky knees and shoulders.  Here, the distractions are different- the screech owl and red-bellied woodpecker. The drumming of an amorous ruffed grouse, a deer prancing by, and the fog rolling in over the lake. Just like in town, we aren’t alone.

The manifold witness of all of nature* reminds us minute by minute of the love, creativity, faithfulness, and constancy of God, maker of heaven and earth.

The bird chorus at dawn, the pregnant bobcat, the mist heavy over the bog, and the waves pounding the foot of the bluff- these are God’s way of assuring us that he is here, ever-watchful, always waiting.

The good news is that you don’t have to go to the north woods to hear and see God’s goodness.

It is my prayer that you can find a space this week to let the beauty of creation enfold you right where you are.

There is glory in the daffodil, marvel in the work of the ant and wren, and a delight in the unfolding of tender new leaves. See if you can silence the distractions wrought by this worrying world long enough to go outside and enjoy what God gives to all so freely.

~J.A.P. Walton

* from the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness

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With a Honk and a Prayer

On our meandering way home last week, we camped near a lake in northern Kentucky.  We went on a rainy walk before supper, so glad to stretch our legs, gladder still to see geese on the water, which, like robins, I prefer to interpret as another sign of spring.

After dinner and washing up in the RV, we settled into our bunk with our books, lulled by the sound of rain on the roof. Outside was a deepening twilight. Faintly at first, then growing louder, the honking of an army of geese approached the lake for the night, answered robustly by the birds already in residence.  The honking was a roar at splashdown.

At first I thought the geese were honking to establish some kind of hierarchy, a kind of threat between resident and intruder. But my reading revealed that geese make such a racket in their dusky landings and dawn takeoffs so that other geese will know where they are.  They don’t honk in threat, or greeting, or goodbye. They honk to be “seen” in the dark, to prevent accidentally colliding with one another. Our church has become so crowded of late that I laugh to think about honking in the vestibule so that no one accidentally elbows me while drinking hot coffee! Still,

we can use our hearing as a kind of sonar, to listen for people’s stories, hopes, fears, and needs.

The other time geese routinely honk is while migrating. Bird experts think it is a form of encouragement. It reminds me of they way players on the bench, and the fans behind them cheer on their team on the court and field. My church family is truly my flock in this regard.

In returning to our home church for worship, it felt wonderful to be welcomed by our church family… the honking of landing back in our fold, of encouragement in the questions about our trip, our welfare, what we learned, how it went. And we learned what had been happening at home in our absence.

The Bible calls this being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses… people on both sides of the river, alive and dead, who greet us, enfold us, encourage us, pray with us, and then send us back out into God’s world with a honk and a prayer.

Who is in your flock to encourage you, to see you safely home? Listen for them!

 

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo credit: bestof:canada geese branta canadensis …snappygoat.com

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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.