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The Kind of Bucket Worth Filling: A Divine Recalibration

In my youth I had a long list of the things I wanted to “do” someday: build a log home in Alaska, climb China’s Great Wall, explore the Roman Coliseum, watch Wimbledon from center court eating strawberries and cream, and complete a host of nature-conquering escapades. I most especially wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, hike in New Zealand and Scotland and the Pacific Northwest, kayak the wild rivers of Wales, visit every US National Park, trace the ghost of John Muir in the Sierras and recreate the sailing adventures of the Swallows and Amazons in northern England. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallows_and_Amazons

Today we would call this a bucket list-making plans to “do” things before we die (as in kicking the bucket). Creating such dreams takes little energy, and I think we each have a natural longing to “do” and “see” as much as possible in our short lives, particularly now that global travel is so easily accomplished.

There’s an inbred alter ego that lifts us out of everyday humdrum life with fir-scented visions of creation’s beautiful, seductive allure.

Some people so over-romanticize their bucket list that the end (checking it off the list) is more fulfilling than the process (actually doing the activity). I have seen people race up to the sign outside a national park, snap a picture next to it, then turn around and drive away without even entering the park. Taking pride in having the deepest bucket but the shallowest mind is an ugly thing.

Lately, I have been doing a great deal of thinking about the folly of the bucket list.

True, in retirement we have visited several national parks and seen things we’d always hoped to see. But life has also narrowed for us, as naturally happens with aging. The parameters of the list have been newly dictated by life’s interruptions: our only child moved to France, our aging parents sorely needed us, the family home required maintenance and stewardship, and visits to the doctor became more frequent.

I do not resent the smaller bucket.

Moreover, I am thinking of remaking the bucket list altogether. It is a divine recalibration of sorts. I am no less adventurous (though Covid did do a gut-check on me), but my goals seem to be changing. Now it is less about the glory of doing and seeing, and more about the humble delight of being. Sunrises are stunning. Noontime is energizing. But the

sunset of life calls me to a quieter, more contemplative mindset, with a silent nod to the deep need to be present and prayerful.

In the Bible Peter encourages us to make every effort to add a 7-fold list of character qualities to our living, each built upon its predecessor like a great crescendo (2Pet1:5-8). He tells us that to possess these qualities in increasing measure will keep us from being unproductive in a life of faith. Goodness-right living and thinking; add to that knowledge-stay informed, and develop a deeper knowledge of who God is; add to that self-control-expunge petty selfishness and self-glorification; add to that perseverance-the patience of waiting on God’s timing for everything; add to that godliness-wise and moral thinking, speaking and devotion; add to that mutual affection-truly loving without judgment and fostering a kind and benevolent outlook; add to that love-the deep delight of living out the two greatest commandments to love the Lord God and to love your neighbor. I wrote earlier about the later years being an ascent toward heaven. https://jpraywalton.com/2022/10/25/the-advent-of-aging/

Practice this music of Peter’s teaching, and your life will awaken to the very kind of bucket that is worth filling.

Thank you for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Hope, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Silence, Sounds, The sounds of nature, The still small voice of God, When God speaks, Winter Water Sports

A Rare and Precious Nothing

It is unusually still at the bluff this morning, as if the trees and waves are playing Red Light-Green Light, stuck in a frozen, statuesque posture. We had a similar day last week after a powdery snow. Walking up the wooded section of dune through the stilled maple , oak and hemlock, we stopped to listen. And other than the blood pulsing past my ears, there was complete silence. No cars on the distant highway. Not a whisper of breeze in the tree boughs. No timid chips from a bird. No jet skis ripping up the day on the water below. 

A rare and precious nothing.

Our regular lives are noisy. So many things clamor and clang for our attention that we thrust our earbuds in deep in a futile attempt to choose our own noise. We are so accustomed to the noise that real silence is often uncomfortable. And yet, Scripture tells us that God often speaks into silence. If you can believe that, then a life without silence might be one that thrusts God aside, forgoing his presence and wisdom.

Out in the silent snowy forest, I began to think about the times nature is silent. The noise is there, but it is tiny, inaudible to us. I think of mama mouse in her cozy nest of mewing pups. Of the mole busily tunneling beneath my feet. The turtle suspended in the pond with just its nostrils showing. The pinecone and milkweed pod splitting open to disperse seed. The stars making their way across the night sky. The blink of eyes watching silently for a meal; the bobcat and the sharp shinned hawk, the owl and the snake-each patiently, moodily, warily silent.

All of nature speaks without words in a lyrical, melodic fashion with an unuttered language our plodding words cannot describe or comprehend. The rose, for example, nods silently; its sound is beauty and fragrance and silkiness. We know that the trees communicate, yet we hear nothing.

It’s said silence is golden. So why is it so hard for us to be silent? Why must our own thoughts and endless chatter fill the void? In my teaching I was fond of throwing out questions that required thought, massage, analysis, and synthesis. It took a while for students to learn that those would end up being the same questions on an exam. Students were so busy sounding out answers, waving their hands in the air to put voice to the answer, that they never thought to write down the question in their notes. And I refrained from rewarding the “bunny rabbit” responders, because they wanted to answer without the harder work of deep thought in silent rumination. I would ask them to think a little longer. To sit in the quiet with a quieted mind. To marinate on the question. That was where the learning would take place.

We can all learn from the quiet. The questions are where to find it and how to patiently sit in it? How to still the voices in our heads? How grasp the truth that God speaks into the silence?

My prayer for you today is to find a quiet spot where you can stop talking long enough to listen to the silence, blanketed in the comfort of a rare and precious nothing, for that is where you will learn the most about yourself, your world, and God.

Thanks you so very much for reading. My goal is to be hospitable to my readers, giving them ideas and words that delight and challenge. If you want, you can click on the blue FOLLOW button to receive blog posts in your email. Feel free to drop me a note at the email below.

~J.A.P. Walton, PhD

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

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Picking up the Pen

Dear Readers,

The desk is cleared. I am ready to write again. My prayer is that you will be willing to read along once more after this very long span of silence.

What do you do with silence?

There is so little quiet in our easily-agitated lives. And though my writing voice has been silent, my life most assuredly has not, so I relish the thought of sitting quietly at this desk. 

Why have I not been writing? That would take a long answer over a deep cup of tea, extra sugar. A short version would be a chronological list: 

  1. Mom died (late 2019)
  2. I settled her estate
  3. We inherited the family home on the Lake Michigan bluff in northwest lower Michigan
  4. Covid and its severe restrictions in Michigan created a literal standstill
  5. We sold our Trout Creek home, and moved ourselves to the Bluff in a pandemic 
  6. A one-time bluff cave-in of 20-25 feet, brought the bluff house to within 55 feet of the edge in a high-water climate
  7. Prayer-lots and lots and LOTS despite the physical separation from our church of over 25 years 
  8. We decided to keep the property and initiate moving the entire house back 110’ to the rear of the lot
  9. Built a barn to hold house contents during move 
  10. Remodeled the kitchen 
  11. First Christmas at the Bluff 
  12. Removed and stored everything from ground floor then demolished the entire lower level of the house ourselves (friends and family helped) 
  13. Removed 50 trees (a very tearful day to lose our little forest)
  14. Found somewhere to live for 8 months (thanks family and RV!); moved out (homeless)
  15. Moved the house (see photo) 
  16. Daughter Molly, our only child, was diagnosed in France with a blood clot in her brain (let’s talk sometime about how you can be calm and in a panic simultaneously); (clot still there, but she is better)
  17. Re-built the ground floor walkout side before winter
  18. Moved back in (spring ’22)
  19. Remediated the entire lot with new native planting and 24 trees (in a drought)
  20. Rebuilt the lakeside deck
  21. Celebrated with a spur-of-the-moment Happy Hour on the new deck with 40 friends, family
  22. Settled in (this has been nothing short of lovely over the summer)
  23. Molly and Stéphane visited in August and were engaged to be married
  24. Today: the house is nearly finished. At 82, our contractor moves slowly, so the back deck off the kitchen may have to wait until 2023. We also await EGLE ‘s (Michigan DEQ) sign-off on our permit. 
  25. God and Mark have gently nudged me to start writing again. So, I have joined Redbud Writers Guild, a diverse group of women who write about faith in community and culture (link) I am hoping it will help me be accountable to regular postings!
  26. SO! Time to write!

I will be setting down to write some of the pent-up things that have been swirling in my heart and mind, and

I invite you to come alongside and share with friends.

Some will be written here at the beautiful and flourishing bluff space-to which you are all invited for respite. Some from an RV trip to the southwest in search of sun. Some from writer’s retreats. Some from trips to France. No matter what, I hope to present you with heart-and-mind-filled pieces that bring God close, that describe his revelation in and to our world, that provide words of both comfort and challenge, and help create in you a refreshed desire to look for him in your daily life and relationships. 

May it be a blessing to you as you stand on this side of the river.

~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Feel free to email me directly at my email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Find me on Instagram: jpraywalton_writing

Find me on Facebook: I will create an author page on my regular Facebook page under Julie Pray Walton

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What Are You Listening To?

It is not a quiet morning here on the bluff.

Last night’s storm blew the haze and humidity away, bringing a stiff north wind and choppy whitecaps on the big lake.

I haven’t been awake long, but already two sailboats have bounced past, sails full, hulls thumping the wave crests. A cardinal has hopped close with a chip-chip to peek in the screen. The hummingbird has been buzzing at the feeder. And two bald eagles have skimmed south on the breezy uplifts like stealth bombers.

It is easy to write about what we can see, but trying to convey the sounds is a distinct challenge. The leaves in the maple dervish in ecstasy to the gusts, their bodies swishing like so many petticoats. The waves themselves thrum in the ancient rhythm that pushes them ever coastward, and crashes them ashore with a distinct split-second of surprised gasp before sucking back out and under the next swell.  The crows and jays jabber and scold as the eagle approaches, while the breeze tells them to hush their hyperbole.

I asked my husband the other day if the wind would sing aloud in the absence of obstacles.  The trees stand before it to give it voice and treble. But, what if it were blowing in the middle of a vast desert? He said

even the grains of sand would joyfully lift to the wind’s call to give it speech.

Creation is rarely silent.

Even in the stillest of nights, the owls hunts, its prey screams. The mole’s paws scratch the dirt, and the deer snorts.  In August, the cicada sings, and the cricket plays its dusky violin.

I think it is good to listen. Here is the still, small voice of God, lifted on the breeze of his creation, burrowed in the rabbit hole, slithered in dry leaves as the snake creeps. But, we rarely pay it much attention, going around with our ear buds, always blotting out the beauty of the music already all around us. Oh, what the music of heaven must be like!

What have you heard lately?

~J.A.P. Walton

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Where Words are Unnecessary

I must confess that I covet the times my husband and I paddle a river alone together. Being surrounded by boats, family, friends, and visitors, we are more often than not on the water in big groups.

He is a much stronger, abler paddler than I. He can read the currents and the wind in ways that let him slither downriver like a water snake-completely at home and at one with the boat. It is a marvel to watch him, when the edges of man, boat, and river blur into lovely moments of being in nature, rather than standing over it.

We met 57 years ago as children.  Now, the canoe and the wild river are symbols of our relationship. Stable and still in deep quiet water, swift and determined in the face of life’s challenges and submerged snags. We seek out the wilderness for our own restoration as individuals and as man and wife. We travel the rivers and lakes because this is how man has traveled the deep, dark forests for centuries, taking us where no road can go, no cell phone can reach. We go quietly. Reverently. Following the world’s first paddlers past rocks and pines, scrub oaks and scarred outcroppings, shallow sandbars and towering eagles’ roosts.

Out here, life hangs on; a tree’s roots cling with enduring hope, it’s branches reaching for God. Every breeze lifts a melody. The deer snuffs and stamps. The kingfisher scolds. The milkweed suckles the Monarch.

And all the while, the waters flow down, the land bowing to its power and majesty. John Muir said, “The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”

My husband and I need to be where words are unnecessary that we too might glide, and where creation does all the talking and singing for us. Where there is healing at every bend.

Where the earth’s broad sighs, and the sun’s nightly farewell give the soul hue and heft, and space and weft. Like candy at a parade, the wilderness tosses us joy with remarkable abandon, and we unwrap each treat with childish wonder that our hearts, together, could know such timelessness and beauty.

It is breath. It is gift. It is life. It is marriage. And it is ours.

~J.A.P.Walton

Thanks for reading!