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, Burnout, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Heaven, Henry David Thoreau, Home, John Muir, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saint Augustine, Travel, Uncategorized

Are Your Feet on the Right Road?

As a publishing company launch team reviewer, I have been reading a colleague’s forthcoming book about Saint Augustine . [1]  It has been the most important read of my life so far, and I hope you will read it!  Why? Because it returns me, yet again, to the wisdom of Augustine, a 4thcentury bishop, whose young life was stained with aggressive ambition, relentless restlessness, and sordid living. All he wanted from life was the freedom to be, to go, to escape. Repeat.

We leave in a few days for Lake Superior. The brothers will canoe while I keep camp (in the RV). I have too great a respect for the Ojibwes’ gichi-gami to contemplate 2 weeks on its unpredictably stormy deeps. But, with Augustine ringing in my ears, it puts me in the mindset of trying to understand human restlessness.

Lately, an outdoor sporting goods company called Backcountry has been running Instagram ads about burnout, beseeching people to get outside every day, to take long weekends in Nature,

to answer chronic workplace stress with big seasonal doses of “outervention.”  [2]

Even Augustine wrote about burnout, about the vanity of the chase (so did Solomon for that matter in Ecclesiastes). And you will find all kinds of advice to get out and “GO” in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Abbey, Leopold, Dillard, and other nature writers.

Their collective point? Humans are restless, and Nature is the balm.  But, none of this deals with the fact that escapism only delays the inevitable.  That our love of the road, of its freedoms, and that the destination is usually vague and indefinable.  Think of the way people dream about throwing off the shackles of work to take to the open road:  retiring young enough to travel; taking a year off to see the world; developing a bucket list.  Always, the focus is on escaping one’s present circumstances, and none of us is immune. And almost always, the goal is to master and revere creation rather than to revere the master Creator.

Augustine would argue most vehemently against our propensity to flee, particularly when the destination is not well-understood. 

The truth that is buried in our subconscious is that this earth is not our home. That nature is not our mother- it neither cares for us nor nurtures us in tender protection-it simply is. That death is the final outpost.

So, where is our real home? Augustine would encourage you to think long and deep about this;

that all the roads we desire on earth will lead to nowhere; that the only true road is the one that leads us home to God.

Christians believe this road is the way of Christ’s gospel, and it’s not a vacation, but a vocation-a lifelong endeavor to be about God’s work.

Feeling the burn of your workaday world? Dreaming of the beaches in Jamaica, the Grand Canyon’s wide-open arms, or sightseeing in Europe?  All wonderful things, to be sure.  But none of them set your feet on the right road.

As you prepare to enter winter through the colorful gates of autumn, I pray you can find some time to sort out why you feel so restless, and Who it is that can lead you to the road of peace. And, paddle on, even when it’s into the wind in rough waters.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Smith. James K.A.  On the Road with Saint Augustine. Brazos Press. Available October 1, 2019.  #OTRWithAugustine.  More info available at See more about Jamie’s book here:

[2  Backcountry Info

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

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.

Affirmation, Cancer, Cancer treatments, Creator, Darkness, death, Desert, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Mary Oliver, Pilgrimage, Uncategorized

Pilgrim

Another brother has cancer.

We are not stunned like we were with Hugh. All the same, it’s another round of watching and waiting and praying it through.  It is true: our body ages and decays in this broken world. I have never stopped wondering at the marvel: that we are created body, soul, and spirit together. An amalgamation of identity and being. It isn’t an integration where one is a receptacle for the other, like lock and key, but blended, so tangled up together that they cannot be distinctly teased out.

It is a ONENESS that defies full description, almost impossible to appreciate or embrace but for a blind faith in God who is himself three yet one.

So, when our body gives way to time, disease, unlucky genes, and the random tragedies of this earthly life, we spend most of our resources on trying to eradicate the physical dis-ease with drugs and surgery, while often ignoring the impact this all has on our whole self.

It’s easy to forget that the wilderness, which we seek out for its inherent beauty, quietness, and solitude is also constrained by the world’s brokenness. We tend to think, wrongly, that the wilderness is eternal, unchangeable. But, even its fullness is stained by decay, predation, random fire or flood; dangers lurk in its untamed, and indifferent beauty.

Upon hearing her own cancer diagnosis, poet Mary Oliver wrote,

Why should I have been surprised?  

           Hunters walk the forest without a sound. 

           The hunter, strapped to his rifle,

            the fox on his feet of silk,

            the serpent on his empire of muscles-

            all move in stillness,

            hungry, careful, intent.

            Just as the cancer entered the forest of my body,

            without a sound.*

The same goes with us. Though God promises us eternal life –conditional on our recognition and acknowledgement that we cannot save ourselves- we walk as pilgrims through (rarely around) life’s wilderness and dangers. And, for each of us, there is an appointed day in which the shroud of our whole self is forever torn by death, our body returned to the dust from which it came. What was once whole is now separated, that our soul and spirit can rise unburdened to God. Who can explain it?

And so we go forward, hand in hand in the hope of healing for our brother, the one who’s “got next”. If God is for us, who -or what- can be against us? We call the treatment of cancer a battle, and its eradication a victory. A curious thing, that it is couched in war language. But, it’s not just our physical self that is saved is it? All through the wilderness of living is the battle, often unseen, for our soul and spirit too. God wants, he demands that we yield all of what and who we are, cancer or no. On this side of the river, you just can’t be whole without it.

~J.A.P. Walton

* Mary Oliver. “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” in Blue Horses.2014