Day 22: A Whisper
Well, if you were able to succeed in what your text told us yesterday, you crossed over into the great state of Tennessee sometime today! It's one of my favorite states--for obvious reasons. It's one of the prettiest states in our country (the eastern part, at least)…it's home to Milligan College where I met Mom (all the way back in 1979)…and it's where most of the Great Smoky Mountains live.
I'm sitting here wondering how today went for you--wondering if you made it to Clingmans Dome or not? Katie, I don't know if you remember this or not, but Clingmans Dome is just a couple of miles away from Gatlinburg, TN where we met the Brunsmans and the Hartmans 20 years ago for vacation, And it's where Ben and I first talked about hiking the Appalachian Trail someday. Do you remember that summer? We all hiked up to the Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park…where I carried you on my shoulders most of the way! Does any of that ring a bell?
Anyway, I was also wondering how the hike went today. The Smoky Mountains are probably going to be your toughest stretch on the trail so far…and typing the word "Smoky" so much makes me wonder if the heavy fogs and mists that give those mountains their name have obscured your views. I sure hope not.
I can't help but think about this story in the Bible…the Old Testament…in 1 Kings. It's the story about Elijah the Prophet. He was one of those bold/shy/brave/cowardly/faithful/doubting men of God--my favorite type! His story is just one of the many reasons why the Bible is so trustworthy. Elijah's story is so real! Filled with great faith…and even greater inner conflict. My favorite part of his life revolves around the time--right after he performed one of the greatest feats of faith and trust--when he turned tail and ran like a coward (Please read 1 Kings 18 to get the backstory here). Elijah ran from one mountain…a mountain of victory (Mt. Carmel) to another mountain…a mountain which, at first, may have represented defeat to him (Mt. Horeb). After running for his life from Queen Jezebel, a messenger from God tells Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb--and he does. Here's what happens once he gets there:
"There he (Elijah) came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he (God) said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?' He said, 'I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.' And he (God) said, 'Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" (1 Kings 19:1-13)
As you hike through those mountains, I'd love for you two to think about this story--of Elijah on Mt. Horeb. I love the story of Elijah for many reasons, but especially for this part, where Elijah hides in the cave. He's cowering in the dark, hiding. Then, God tells him to step out..out of the cave…in the open…a very vulnerable position. Then, Elijah experiences a windstorm and it tears apart the mountain…but God wasn't in the wind. Then, an earthquake. Same thing. No God in the earthquake. After that…a fire. Still. No God. And then…a whisper…a low whisper…and there…in the quiet of that whisper…was God. God in a whisper.
There's all kinds of applications you two can dig out of this story…and you'll have plenty of time…and plenty of mountains to mull this over on. But here's my thought for you tonight from this story: Whether it's a good day of hiking for you…a victorious day…a day on "Mt. Carmel" or whether it's a tough day…a day of defeat…a day on Mt. Horeb try and remember what Elijah discovered on BOTH mountains. He found that God was there! God was in the fire on Mt. Carmel in a powerful, mighty way…but He was also on Mt. Horeb…in a low, gentle whisper. In whatever you experience on your AT Adventure…the good days and bad…listen for the whisper.
Day 23: Selfish Ambition
"We tried to avoid stopping in Gatlinburg, but the need for toilet paper and a hot meal overtook us. So we just crammed 5 hikers and a tourist couple in a Toyota Corolla from Clingmans Dome down to Gatlinburg."
Nick, I shared your text above with Steph Brooks after she stopped me in the hallway to ask how you two were doing on the trail. She's been keeping up with your journey by reading my blog posts, but when I let her read your text she said, "Crammed into a Toyota with all those people! What an amazing adventure they're having!" I couldn't agree more. She also asked if you were taking lots of pictures and writing this stuff down. You are, aren't you?
It's funny. It's been a long day. Tomorrow night kicks off men's retreat and today has been a non-stop, 100 mph dash. When I finally got home tonight, I sank into my easy chair and dozed off. A half hour later Mom stirred me. I jumped out of my chair saying, "I've got to write Katie and Nick!" Mom asked, "Can't you just skip tonight?" and I told her, "No. I made a commitment!"
Now, I want you to know that I don't want these notes to you to become just a commitment. Something I have to fulfill or check off a list…a chore that I have trudge through. And I don't want this to become rote…and I don't want to be a legalist about it and act like I'll be committing some major sin if I skip a day or two here and there. But the truth is…this thing that I'm doing each day…sitting down at my computer and writing something to you guys…it's honestly more for me than for you. Here's what I mean: It would be so easy for me to get lost in my day-to-day busyness…thinking of you regularly, but eventually allowing your lives (out there on the Appalachian Trail) to become eclipsed by my life. I'm sorry, but that's just true. I need contact to stay connected. It's the embarrassing truth of my own selfishness. But sitting down to write you each day keeps me involved…keeps me connected…keeps me thinking of you and your amazing journey. Writing to you each day takes me out of my own stuff. It's good for me. Which is why my Bible verse for you today is from Philippians 2:3-4:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
You both know that I love you beyond measure, but the truth is, my own selfish ambition or conceit…if left unchecked…will put a stranglehold on my need and desire to stay connected with you two. It's so easy for me to put my interests ahead of everyone else's…including yours. Not that it effects my love for you in any way, but it would effect my attention and interest towards you. So, in the same way that you two aren't coming off the AT unless there's serious injury or something of the sort…I'm not figuratively coming off your trail either…I'm committed to writing to you and staying connected, barring serious injury or something of the sort too! And just like your hike to Maine will be difficult at times…I know it's going to be difficult for me to keep this up…especially this men's retreat weekend, but I'm committed. Now, my emails this weekend may be brief…stuff like, "Hope you're fine. 'Jesus wept.' John 11:35. Love, Dad"…but I'm still writing you…I'm still committed to you. Not out of obligation, but love. Hope to hear from you again soon.
Day 24: Plans
As promised from yesterday, this will be brief. Technically I missed a day because I'm just now sitting down to write this and it's 12:25AM, but I ask for grace.
I hope your day went well. I'm guessing that you hopped back on the AT after your excursion into Gatlinburg, but I don't know. I'm betting that you asked around or read something online that led you to an amazing hot meal--hamburgers again? I'm sure we will talk in the next couple of days...or at least that's what I've grown accustomed to.
Today was crazy...and busy...and wonderful! The Flatirons men's retreat kicked off tonight at 8PM. It always sneaks up on me and catches me in the throat to see all these men stream into Crooked Creek Ranch. You can see it on their faces. Some are excited...some are scared...some angry...and some hurting. But no matter what their faces say, I know that God is going to do some great things in them, and for them, up here in the next 39-40 hours. I know this because it happens every year...and at every men's retreat I've ever attended or been a part of. And no matter how much we prepare or how much we plan...God always does incredible things we never saw coming. I wish I could say I never doubt His ability to do that, but my faith still wavers., but all I can do is trust that He will show up again...because that is His plan.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
We have our plans...and God has His. As Jeremiah writes here, God's plans for us are always good. His plan for us is to benefit us...not destroy...and to bring hope. As these men walk through this weekend at men's retreat my hope and prayer is the same for them as it is for you…as you walk through Tennessee: that God's plan for becomes clearer and that hope in the future is renewed or restored. He has a plan for you today...through this summer...and long after this journey of yours is a distant memory and...it...is...good.
Day 25: Lay It Down
You two have been on my mind A LOT this weekend up here at men's retreat. Here's why. I've been walking back-and-forth...up-and-down...all over Crooked Creek Ranch. The weather has been ADD and manic depressive too; sunny and warm one minute. Drizzling rain the next, then snow! I've been lugging a canvas backpack the entire time up here and I've hardly had a chance to sit down. My legs, ankles and hips are killing me! I know. I'm a whiner, but it's kept you guys on my mind amidst everything else I have going on this weekend.
I'll tell you in detail when we talk on the phone again, but most of the weekend I had to carry a burden. All I can really say about it is that I couldn't wait to get rid of it! For the few short hours I had it, it quickly became a nuisance...but a very real reminder of what you guys are dealing with each day. I'm sure that...after 25 days into your hike...your "burden" is more than just a nuisance. Still, your burden represents life...everything you need to survive is in it.
A Burden for Life.
Sometime in August or September, you will both "cast off your burdens" and say goodbye to living on the trail. But a lot of what I thought about over the last day and a half is how I live each day with some burdens...how I've allowed bad habits and past sins to weigh me down...like that burden I carried all weekend. Here's what Jesus promises:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
I try to give my burdens over to Jesus, but honestly...I usually end up picking them back up and weighing myself down again. The process you two go through each day of picking up your "burden", then laying it down each night...only to pick it back up again is a reminder of what I do in life...and how I need to stop and finally turn these burdens over to Jesus--like the last day of a 2,200 mile long hike--laying it down for good. It will feel so good to finally do that.
I just need to lay it all down.
Day 26: Whole Heart
Hope you are both well. The last we heard from you was the text we received from you on Thursday…almost 4 days ago. No problem. I'm sure you are happy and healthy and ticking away the miles on the trail. Mom and I are anxiously waiting to hear the newest stories from your grand adventure. Life here is good. I know I wrote you about the men's retreat last night. We wrapped it up this morning about 11:30AM. All I can say is that the entire weekend was amazing! Watching this group of men grasp the idea that "sovereign God has entrusted me with a portion of His kingdom" (and what that means) was amazing…and humbling. Jesus said in Luke 10:27:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Heart. Soul. Strength. Mind…King. Lover. Warrior. Magi.
I don't want to write too much about this weekend, Nick, because I really hope you're back in Colorado by the 2nd round of the ROYAL men's retreat in September to attend. Still, this model that Jesus gives us of loving God with a whole heart…with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is a powerful place to stand. The archetypes of king (heart), lover (soul), warrior (strength) and magi (mind) were driven home by Jim this weekend in a very effective way. All of us men up there at the retreat were pushed, and encouraged, to look at our need (and God-given call) to lead out and love with a whole heart. Even amidst all the work and running around I was doing, I mulled this concept over and over in my heart and mind: Heart. Soul. Strength. Mind…King. Lover. Warrior. Magi.
Then, I came home.
I was trying to stay connected with my "whole heart", but I will admit…it was mostly soul/lover this afternoon…and tonight. Katie, I know you've been dealing with a little homesickness--and I don't want to make it worse--but I came down the mountain this afternoon and drove straight to Ben and Ali's because Mom was going to watch the kids tonight. When I walked in the door, Micah was in his little swing, starting to fuss. As I picked him up, Ben yelled from upstairs, "Call Emery!" I did, then all I could hear was the rumbling of her little footsteps, and then her little butt thump, thump, thumping down the stairs in a mad dash to see me. It made my week! After Mom got there, Ben and Ali headed off to a wedding. We needed to eat, so I went and grabbed something. In the ever-present race to be "Worst Grandparents of the Year", I brought back McDonald's and Chinese. Em ate the strawberry Go-gurt from her Happy Meal, but that was it. Then, she came over and looked at my broccoli and beef (with the side of chicken lo mein) and said, "More!" She proceeded to eat most of the chicken in my chicken lo mein…and half the beef in my beef and broccoli…all while standing on my leg as I was seated on the floor. Now, you both know that Emery has me wrapped around her little finger, but the grip grew even tighter tonight when I discovered a kindred spirit in our love for Chinese food! But later, when Em was flipping through the photos and videos on Mom's iPhone, she played a video of Katie from last year's Thanksgiving--where you were wearing a turkey hat, Katie. I asked Emery who that was in the video and she said (without hesitation) "Kay-Kay!". I just wanted to let you know, Katie, that you are still loved and remembered by our little "Frozen" gown-wearing, Chinese food-loving, little princess.
As I drove home tonight, I was meditating on what it means to love God (and the kingdom He's entrusted me) with a whole heart. I guess I know that it is very fluid--based on what part of my whole heart is in need of at the time. There are times when I need to be strong, and be a warrior. But I can never let that warrior bully or browbeat the heart/king, soul/lover, mind/magi in me. The same holds true for each part of my whole heart. Tonight, I was all soul and lover. I was so happy to be back home and be with Mom and Emery and Micah. I felt like my heart was going to explode…especially when Mom asked Emery, "Do you love your Grampa?" and she leaned back into my chest and patted my leg (See Below).
Tonight, my heart was whole…and my heart was full…but it still longs to hear your voices. Please call when you get a chance.