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

Affirmation, beauty, Blessings, Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Storms, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, wind, wisdom

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

adventure, Affirmation, August, Autumn, beauty, Birds, Creation, Faithful Living, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pilgrimage, Praise, River, Seasons, Sounds, Uncategorized, wisdom, worry

To Everything There is a Season

August is drawing to a close. Here at the bluff, life is slowing down; the need to cram as many summer activities as one soul can bear is over.

It’s time to think about slowing down.

I adore all that August brings, starting with the garden. Luscious ripe tomatoes and scores of green beans, and afternoons of canning and freezing put me in step with the squirrel storing up for winter. There’s a returned hush outside-the Queen Anne’s lace nodding and napping in the afternoon lull, while the goldenrod and dune grasses sway to an onshore breeze. The tourists have gone home, there’s food on the grocery store shelves once again, and the locals are letting out a long, collective sigh of literal relief.

Salmon are running up the river mouths, and fisherman line the riverbanks like people at a parade.  Still, August brings an unhurried feel, an almost welcome lonesomeness, marked most starkly by the early departure of the migrant birds. The grosbeaks and buntings are already gone, while the hummingbirds stuff themselves in readiness.

Sumac has lit its fiery torches as the sun has finally wearied of its northward travels.

Evening comes earlier, dishing up a delightful coolness that sends me rummaging for socks and sweatshirt. It’s nearly time for bowls of chili and fresh apple pie.

When I was teaching, the beauty and delight of August was always overshadowed by a gnawing, almost unholy anxiety. “Days are short, gotta get ready.”  Hurry, scurry, worry. It was sometimes a circus, unsettling, nerve-fraying. Stressful.  What a shame that we lose the slow glow of August in slavery to an academic calendar.

But now, looking to nature, I can appreciate that the seasons bring a calming rhythm to life we’d do well to mimic. To everything there is a season. A time to vacation, and a time to work. A time to sit with friends and share a sunset, and a time to pray alone. A time to bathe in creation, and a time to create. A time to get ready, and a time to fly. A time to renew, and a time to rise up refreshed.

August never lasts, and the September calendar fills up fast. Take a moment to thank God for the last days of summer.

Even the earth will rest. See if you can’t too.

Thanks for reading along.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, beauty, canoeing, childhood, Creation, Faithful Living, God, John Muir, Kindred Spirits, Lessons from the Wilderness, Marriage, Nature, River, Silence, Uncategorized, Water, White Water Paddling, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

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!

 

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.