Peace, Religion, Uncategorized, War


Last week, while visiting our daughter who lives in Paris, we took a three day side trip to Bonn, Germany. If we had done that in our college days, we’d have had to say ‘West’ Germany.  So much has changed in our lifetime!

Riding the train through northeast France and northwest Germany, we saw endless fields of early crops like alfalfa and potatoes, and many more still lying fallow waiting to be plowed and planted. It didn’t take much imagination to visualize the same fields dug in with the muddy trenches of the “Great” War, and to wonder what it would have been like for French Jews to be training eastwards toward Auschwitz.  This land, and these peoples have lived in peace for over 70 years now, having been demoralized and exhausted by the wars of the 20th century. Walls have fallen. Governments and ideologies have changed.  Churches, especially have emptied; northern Europe is godless.

We went to Bonn to meet the young man who was Mark’s brother Hugh’s bone marrow donor in 2005.  He is Bonn born, a software developer married to a woman from Siberia. Imagine a west German man married to a woman from the far reaches of Russia! That couldn’t have happened 35 short years ago! M and N are in their late 30’s, childless professionals most worried about caring for their aging parents. We shared a wonderful meal of sauerbraten and schnitzel while getting to know the history of M’s decision to be a bone marrow donor.

M’s neighbor and good friend was diagnosed with leukemia in their middle school years.  As M watched his friend’s struggle to get (and stay) well, he was determined to become a bone marrow donor as soon as he turned 18.  Hugh was diagnosed with leukemia in 1995, and a bone marrow search yielded zero matches.  M was added to the bone marrow donor registry three years later. Hugh underwent nine years of experimental treatments, which, finally failed. The marrow search was reopened, and there waiting was M.

We learned that marrow donation wasn’t much fun, requiring a month of self-injection with drugs to force the immune system to ratchet up its white blood cell count. That makes the donor feels flu-ish for the 4 weeks leading up to the 4-hour donation in a faraway city. M gladly went through all that for an American man he never met. We are so grateful, because

Hugh is alive and well today thanks to M’s selflessness.  When we told him so, he humbly smiled and said, “But of course.”

Of course he would do anything to help stop all that his friend went through. Of course he was glad to help an American. Of course he would do it again. Of course, his respect and love for life is rooted deeply in the carnage of his country’s wars.  How interesting that God would orchestrate new life in this way- that all of our recent ancestors fought each other so fiercely only to result in a generous life-giving gesture in the ensuing peace.  Although M is not a religious man, God used him mightily. But of course.

~J.A.P. Walton

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Costa Rica, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Prayer, Sacrifice, Serving Others, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom


Do you have questions that can’t be answered?

Does it bother you that mercy is so difficult to understand?” *

I sat staring at the creek through the snowflakes yesterday, thinking about the nearness of Easter. Just then, Trout Creek’s resident red tail hawk dove to the wooded floor, wings awkwardly fanning the brown leaves, hopping and clawing, before launching to a sturdy branch for a fresh snack of field mouse. It only took a minute to rip and tear and gulp that mouse down. It reminded me of a day several years back when I was admiring a male cardinal at the feeder. Without a sound, a sharp shinned hawk dropped out of the Norway spruce, snatching that cardinal with swift surprise. The only evidence was a tiny cloud of red and pink wing fluff floating down onto the deck.

On our Costa Rica Outward Bound adventure, we were required to catch a chicken, kill it, and eat it. The catching was comical, but using a machete to behead it was gruesome, blood spurting in all directions while firmly holding the still nerve-wracked body in its violent and nauseating death shake. All so we could have some protein.  

Our sanitized grocery store wrappings of chicken and ground beef have made us naïve. Time out in the wilderness quickly teaches not of the gentleness of nature, but of its brutishness. Is life so cruel? Out in the wilds, we can’t whitewash the truth that all this teeming life around us will, and must be stilled. The heron will gulp the minnow. The salmon feeds the bear. The vole grows the fledging owlet. The cougar will bring down the freckled fawn, and the speckled trout will become our dinner. For one to live, another must die. That’s the immutable law of nature and nourishment, that one’s weakness becomes another’s lifeblood. And, that is the sum of it; life depends on death by design.

The same can be said for Good Friday and the Easter resurrection and what the mercy of God in Jesus did for each of us. Jesus died our own death and bore the just punishment we deserve, his flesh torn, his blood spilled out. If you think about it, it isn’t really about cruelty, but the mercy of sacrifice. For our own life to go on, we must kill and eat. (before you vegetarians get too high-minded, even the plants must die to feed us).

So I think it is good to ponder, “what or who would I die for?” at this time of year. Perhaps we’d die for our loved ones, or a brother or sister in the faith. Some might answer country, or liberty. I know people who give up things for Lent, like chocolate or screen time.  But that misses the entire point. Christ calls us to die to self first, to willingly give up our rights and our comforts by gladly and sacrificially taking up the hard work of our faith.

It is so clearly laid out for us in the Beatitudes. You are blessed when you recognize and mourn your selfishness and sin. And on up the ladder it climbs: life-giving blessing flows out of a meekness that denies self, hungers after God and a rightly pure heart, and shows mercy to others. Friends, isn’t it time to let Christ snatch you out of this world?

~J.A.P. Walton

Please share with your friends!

* Mary Oliver. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY. 2017. p. 239.



Cancer, Cancer treatments, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Prayer, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Bad News Comes Calling

We were just getting ready for bed when my brother-in-law Hugh called. He was in graduate school at the time, and I assumed he was calling Mark with an idea for their next wilderness canoeing adventure. Mark gasped and motioned to me to pick up the other phone. Hugh was shaky and emotional as he related to us that his visit to student health services that afternoon for flu-like symptoms ended up instead with the diagnosis of leukemia. Out of nowhere.

Life is a wilderness of unexpected challenges, of things that burrow in and deposit a twisting terror deep in our marrow. None of us could know all that lay ahead for Hugh…dropping out of school and moving home, not one but two body-slamming bone marrow transplants, the agonizingly unfruitful search for a donor, the enrollment in clinical trials for new drugs, the knowledge that nothing again would ever be the same. And it all hit him, and us, out of nowhere.

Death is often referred to as passing. We liken it not to an ending but a transition from here to somewhere else. Not many people like to talk about the process of dying, but the notion that it is like a water crossing is a biblical one. Israel crossed the Red Sea into freedom, and again the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in a killer storm. * All relate to the idea of passage from an old life into a new one, from chaos into calm, and from death of the old self into a new, better one.

When you stand along any river, whether the water is sluggish or swift, your mind automatically looks both across and downstream. What’s over there? What delights are just around the bend? What threats are hidden under the surface? The waterman learns to read the currents and the shoreline, but the only real way to find out what’s across the water is to go there. For Hugh, the far shore of the river was closing in, and it felt like he was being swept away. For us it became a 10-year exercise in the power of prayer. Hugh’s positivity was amazing, and he never did cross that water and leave us. Instead, he turned into the downriver swifts, and ran the rapids of experimental cancer treatments for 9 long years until he reached the calm waters of a cure. He has been in remission for 14 years.

Hanging on for dear life is not easy. Your physical self is decimated, your finances often ruined, and the loss of all control intensely frustrating. The drugs make you crazy, and the loneliness cuts deep. But God is in that despair with us. Jesus crossed the water before us, for us. Even if the cancer grows unabated, Jesus stays with us, and promises no more tears, no more suffering. And if the treatments are successful, we are reborn into a changed life. Because you cannot be unchanged by cancer.

Bad news will come calling out of nowhere. That’s just how life works; suffering is as much a part of life as is joy. We must be brave and prayer-full, and accept a lot of help. What’s more, God is always here in the boat with us no matter the destination. He does not come out of nowhere. So when bad news calls, get ready to ride.

* I highly recommend Leslie Leyland Fields’ book, Crossing the Waters, Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?, and Kara Tippets’ & Jill Buteyn’s book Just Show Up: the Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together.


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canoeing, Creation, death, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outdoor Adventures, Uncategorized, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, wisdom

The Tired Barn

“When God established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.” Job 28: 25-28

Wilderness paddlers never underestimate how much time and effort it takes to get afloat on a wild river untouched by man. That is because everywhere people go, there is ample evidence of repeated assaults on the natural environment. It is part of our conquering DNA I suppose, of a deep, inner impulse to remake, refashion, and call it “mine”. Although this drive to create is God-given, we often do so with egotistical abandon, unwisely usurping the title and glory of the Creator. Just visit ruins though-the great pyramids, the Acropolis, Petra, Stonehenge-all manmade things built in a race to command and control, intimidate and dominate. Even these are only temporary. The re-engineered rivers, the cement kingdoms we call home, and the miles of coastline we’ve tamed will, all too soon, crack, decay and return to the earth as surely as we do, victims of fire, flood, neglect, and time.

Not far from the Mississippi River there is a barn on a hill in western Illinois that has, at least in our lifetime, stood proud, defiant in the face of stinging northwest winds, its bones leached by decades of relentless summer sun. Sixty years ago it was a robust symbol of the agricultural subjugation of the vast prairies. We drove by it last week, and found instead a tired, sagging structure with sun streaming through multiple holes in the roof-only one generation left until it returns to dust.

Take a good, long look across the River of this life. We too are simply time-warped dust while God stands outside of time, unchanging, and all wise. We paddlers are apt to seek out the remotest rivers to escape into unsullied nature, and the beauty of what we encounter always hushes our hearts and makes our spirits soar. But, we are mistaken if we worship nature instead of the Creator who made it all. Everything but God is a tired, old barn. Wisdom alone knows what counts.

~J.A.P. Walton

Please leave your comments and suggestions.  I am happy to dialogue and debate with you!  Thank you for reading.


Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Light, Uncategorized, Winter

The Light Across the Creek

Last week, after a full and happy Christmas Day with her family, my mother-in-law went to bed and fell asleep forever. We were not surprised-her light had been dimming over time, and, in these last days, it was as translucent as the papery skin on the back of her hands. After all, life is bounded by breath, pulse, and light. Without these, we are gray and cold and lifeless. And I think that, on this side of the river, the God who breathes life into us, who drums a thrumming pulse into our veins, and who IS the light of our living, also snuffs out our light in His good timing.

Here, at Trout Creek, the woods and running waters meld into the cold and dark of our short winter days. And even though we live just outside the city, without a clear sky and a near-full moon it is deeply dark here, a playground for the owl and deer, but a mask of drear, even dread for the rest of us. But, high up on the hill across the creek, the neighboring house leaves a back porch light on all night long. It is a beacon of hope for me, that this moldering darkness can be split apart, that there is a Light that welcomes us from across the wilderness of this life. Mom’s earthly light went out last week. But the light upon the hill shining through the dark from the other side of the creek reminds me that mom is not really gone, but joined to the great Light that is our Father.

To celebrate mom’s life, we made a pilgrimage to her home up north, and built a giant bonfire on the beach on New Year’s Eve. Hot cocoa, open-fire grilled kabobs, and happy memories of her faithful and cheerful life warmed us in the 10-degree evening full of the light of millions of stars. What a warm comfort it is to know that her light will live on in all of us.

~J.A.P. Walton

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