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.

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

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, 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