Blessings, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Hardiness, Home, joy, Lake Michigan, Life's Storms, Peace, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Seasons, Silence, wisdom

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

adventure, Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Light, Nature, Peace, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Silence, Starry Skies, sunsets, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

The Unsaid Nightly Prayer

When you are simultaneously reading books about wisdom, nature, and brokenness, your mind swirls in eddies of hope-drenched enchantment.  This despite so much evidence to the contrary; seeing our world with despair-tinged eyes, where the sights only confirm our overlord mentality in regards to creation care; studying the metrics that confirm a warming planet and melting polar icecaps; watching ‘progress’ chew up farmland and forest for pre-fab, over-mortgaged, faux-rich plywood houses.

Yet, I remain swaddled in hope.  It is a hope born in an infantile understanding of creation as beauty, of nature as God’s artistry, of the stranger’s face as an image of God.

As a physiologist by training, it is natural for me to misunderstand the “whole” of things for spending too much time in the weeds of all the contributing parts. A stunning sunset becomes a thought-train of the influence of polluting forest fires to the west creating atmospheric conditions for super-red hues; a cloudbank over the water wraps the sunset in royal robes of purple and crimson, while my mind delves into the barometer’s dive signaling an approaching storm.

Truth is, the beauty of the whole of creation is best appreciated not when you can reduce each strand to its explainable source, but when you can understand that it is a cosmic marriage of what we know (reason) with what we cannot know (holiness). That sunset? It is love, and Spirit, and unity that only my lack of understanding tries to fracture into discordant parts. Paul Griffiths calls this the “vice of curiosity.”[1]

And that gets us to the notion of understanding, something we humans almost never achieve because we are too engrossed in overstanding. By this I mean that, in our drive to subdue the earth, we take on a superior stance that towers over all creation in ruthless domination rather than a shepherding dominion. To stand under something requires a willed humility, acceptance of the role of steward, caretaker.

So, when I see a particularly lovely sunset, I must hush my instinct to overstand it, to explain it, to force its harmony into vile little shards of scientific reason. Instead,

I remind myself of the holiness of the moment, as God prepares both me and his creation for rest while the sun withdraws on tiptoe, because everything I see, in its wholeness, is painted glorious with hope for a new and better day to come. It is an unsaid nightly prayer…

, a “sally of the soul into the unfound infinite…kindl[ing] science with the fire of the holiest affections…[in which] the invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”[2]  Oh, that I could be that wise.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Paul Griffiths. The Vice of Curiosity: An Essay on Intellectual Appetite.2005.

[2]Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature. 1836.

adventure, Backpacking, Costa Rica, death, Dying to Self, Forest, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Perseverence, Rainforest, Risk Taking, River, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Over, Under, Around or Through?

It is a fact that the human being is easily dehydrated, because our physiological thirst mechanism is not very reliable. So, often, we go through a day thirsty for water without even knowing it. The brain can override the thirst signal so that we can keep on chug-chugging without stopping for water. The headache and fatigue we attribute to stress and overwork may just be the natural fallout of being dehydrated. In the longer term, it becomes downright dangerous.

When we went to Costa Rica on an Outward Bound trip (see blog post of Feb. 6, 2018), our weather was hot, humid, steamy and stifling. All of our drinking water had to be tediously filtered. One day my group hiked high along a rainforest ridge, then descended quickly to find our way blocked by a swiftly moving river. The only bridge was up and over a mountain a ways downstream. After walking up and down the riverbank looking for a place to cross, our guide taught us how to cross together. We hitched our backpacks as high onto our shoulders as possible, squaring off our appearance so that we looked like so many Sponge Bob Square Pants characters. This left our hands free, but she warned us that this also raised our center of gravity and, when in the water, buoyancy, in itself an added challenge to balance. We sent one person far downstream with the emergency rope bag to throw in the event someone lost footing and was swept away. Then we lined up, interlocked forearms, and walked-in our boots- one by one into the icy river at an angle to the current. I thought the challenge quite enjoyable until the water rose to meet my rib cage and the footing among boulders dicey. But, the tight grip on and of my nearest companions was enough to stay upright and walk across and out of that river. It was an altogether exhilarating experience to test those waters.

My husband’s group leader later reached that same spot and decided a river crossing was too dangerous. So they went up and over that high mountain, short on drinking water, on the hottest day yet of the trip. It took them a long time in unrelenting sun, and it was a desperate slog. My husband, the oldest in that group, became severely dehydrated, and, at one point simply had to lie down unable to breathe.  He recalls that he very nearly panicked. He was suffocating.  The guide plied him with fluids, and about an hour later he was able to continue.

Water. Life-giving. Life-taking.

There are always decisions we must make when faced with daunting barriers; do we go up-over-around, or just plow right on through?

Do we take the long view (and route) though ill-equipped for the endurance and time required, only to be forced flat onto our back unable to breathe, living in breathless panic? Or do we risk the shortcut, get floated off our feet, maybe even swept away?

Either way, it is our companions in life that make the difference. They hold us tight, guide us as wisely as they can, recognize our needs, and offer assistance. They hold out their hands, to steady us or offer us a drink. This is one reason Jesus established the church, so that we’d never have to face our challenges alone.  So we’d have others who could recognize our deep thirst for love and belonging, and hand us the only water that satisfies.

Keep a tight grip on your life companions. You need each other along the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

 

Affirmation, childhood, Faithful Living, Fathers, Fishing, God, Growing Up, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Praise, Uncategorized

Fishing for Praise

I have spent the better part of the last two years cleaning out my mom’s and mother-in-law’s homes. This time last year, I came across two fishing pole carriers, and inside one of them I was delighted to find the salmon pole my dad bought me 48 years ago.

My dad and I always had an iffy relationship. He disliked my temerity, and I distrusted the deep chasm between his public and private personas.

To others, he was affable, fun, and social. Inside our family space, he was irritable, short-fused, and prone to what he thought teasing, but was, in truth, mockery wedded to scorn. He knew I distrusted him, not because he was abusive, but because his personality was so discordant and unpredictable. I learned early how to walk on eggshells around him.

I have to give him credit though, because he tried mightily to find things we might enjoy doing together, and we managed hours of good times playing gin rummy and Yahtzee, and watching pro golf and football on TV while sharing a Budweiser (I was allowed my own small juice glass of beer starting quite young-one of the things about my dad that will always bring a smile). We also endlessly tossed baseballs. And we fished.

We discovered that fishing was the one activity that could unite us- in mind, in the hunt, in the murmured debates about which lure to try and at which depth to fish, and in the relative silence that accompanies the chase. Fishing sanded off the rough edges of my dad’s anxious personality. He became a contented, calm, loving man when he had a fishing pole in his hands, and since I was the only member of our family to really “take” to fishing, the two of us spent many dark, cold, early mornings on the Frankfort pier, and out in boats. He always brought 2 large thermos bottles, one with coffee, the other with Campbell’s tomato soup, because according to him, “Nothing beats a cup of hot soup in the cold autumn dawn.”

I will never forget his pride the day 12-year old me caught my first coho salmon- he so badly wanted to reel it in for me, but he let me fight that fish on my own terms. It weighed 17 pounds, it’s beautiful silvery sheen like a candy wrapper around a hidden treasure of delicious rosy flesh. He told everybody about it over the next week, and I was so pleased to hear him publicly praise me.

It is a truth that children desperately need to hear heartfelt, sincere praise from their parents without having to fish for it.

I think it is one way we learn to praise others.And an attitude of praise should be a permeating aroma of the life of a Christian.

So, as Father’s Day approaches, I have been thinking a lot about fishing. I got a new pole and re-rigged the old one. Bought a fishing license. Got a refresher course from cousin Dave. Went fishing. Caught a northern pike, a beautiful coho, and lots of rock bass. Lost the perfect lure to a “big one that got away.” Enjoyed a deeply gratifying fish dinner. Felt all of my own agitations related to mother-care melt away. And all that time, my long-dead dad was here, praising me. This will, indeed, be a Happy Father’s Day. I think I’ll go fishing.
~J.A.P. Walton

Thanks for reading and sharing!

adventure, Camping, Close Quarters, Creation, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Prayer, Rain, River, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Golden Prescription

I went camping last weekend at a state campground along the Lake Michigan shore with 21 other women and girls from church. Group camping presents me with an immediate conflict- I seek out the wilderness for its solitude and quiet, as a salve to an agitated personality, but the building of intimate community through group experience is a critical component of faith formation and practice. Let’s just say it pushes me out of balance to be in the woods with so many people and so much chatter.

To ensure some semblance of quiet time apart, I took a solo tent so I could bookend the day with thinking and prayer, zipping myself inside a tiny cocoon of solitude while the junior high girls laughed and squealed in a tent as big as a 2-bedroom apartment.  We were each having fun in our own way.

The second night, there was a long, slow, low rumble of thunder from far out on the big lake as I zipped up for the night. While rain in camp makes for muddy messes, and complicates the packing up of tent and fly, being snug and dry inside your tent as a thunderstorm rolls in, over, then onward is a singular thrill.  The flash of lightning, the bass thrum of thunder, and the percussive rain all around is like a cleansing bath for the soul. As I lay on my back, a gentle storm all about me, I was reminded of the way the spirit of God stills us even in the grip of life’s gales. The prophet Isaiah wrote that from the heavens above, clouds rain down righteousness; they shower it down to earth so that salvation can spring up, a salvation God creates and showers upon us. (Isa 45:8, paraphrased). In truth, all restoration and flourishing come from God.

But, our life is usually too rushed to feel like it is flourishing, restorative, and life-giving.

The present often seems more like a flooding river hurtling itself downward, always rushing in multiple directions, void of any sense of calm, hungrily sucking in those unaware and unprepared, flinging everything in its path down, and under as the waters close over, drowning all light and life. We are constantly trying to catch our breath, to hear God’s voice in this wilderness, and to spend a quiet moment alone with Him, that His Presence fills our present.

Who needs to worry about the future with a present like that?

If you are tired of your to-do list a mile long, I highly recommend a solo night under the trees in a rainstorm as a golden prescription.

~J.A.P. Walton