I received a brief text this morning at 6:30 AM from my daughter Katie telling me she and her husband Nick would be crossing over into North Carolina later today as they make their way along the Appalachian Trail. I made a commitment to email them a Bible verse and a note of encouragement each day on their journey. Here are my most recent messages.
Day 7: “Your Kingdom Come…”
Thought a lot about you two as I sat around the campfire yesterday with the Burgens. Jim and Robin asked Mom and I to join them for the afternoon up at the property, but Mom couldn’t swing it—but I could! I felt bad about that until I got home and Mom told me she got to talk to you, Katie. What the heck?! Can’t you call your dad too? She told me you were going to do a short hike today (3 miles?) and then try and catch a ride into town to stay at a hostel for the night. I would say, “Thanks for listening to your ol’ Dad!”, but Mom said you haven’t been able to download the last couple of emails I've sent. Oh well. Hope you both rest well tonight.
So, here’s what’s on my mind. I had a breakfast meeting this morning with a guy from church who’s been struggling lately. He told me he’s been struggling to the point that he doubts his salvation. I asked him why he’s doubting and he said, “I know what God wants me to do in life…and there’s stuff that I’m doing that doesn't line up with that. I’m basically telling Him, ‘Butt out.’” I asked him another question. I asked him what he believes about God. Then, with tears in his eyes, he told me, “I believe in one, holy, loving God who’s created everything…a God who loves me so much that He came, in the flesh, to show me His perfect love—by sending His one-and-only son Jesus…who took my sins…who BECAME my sin, then died and was resurrected to life…the only hope I have in this world.” Then I asked him…if he believed this to be true…then why was he doubting all that he just told me? He choked up and said, “Because I’m not following what He’s asked me to do. There’s stuff in my life that I know is wrong.”
So I reminded him of what Paul writes in Romans 8:17:
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”
Here in Romans, Paul tells us that because of what Jesus has done, we are God’s kids—and heirs to His kingdom. So this morning at IHOP I told this guy, “You are a child of God…an heir to His kingdom. Sovereign God has entrusted you with part of His kingdom.” Then, I asked him, “You DO believe that, right?” He nodded. I followed that up with, “Then why don’t you act like it? God is still on His throne…in His kingdom…with Jesus at His side. Why are you standing outside the walls? God hasn't moved…you've moved…and all He wants you to do His repent…to turn back to Him…and come back inside the castle walls.”
I really don’t know why, but I felt convicted to share that story with you…I guess to remind you too.
You are both God’s kids. And even though (for the next few months) the portion of God’s kingdom that He’s entrusted you with is basically each other…and the rustic trail you’re hiking…keep yourselves open to what God wants to show you about this kingdom on this journey.
And remember, God never forgets His kids.
Day 8: Trail Magic
Katie (or should I now call you "Sunshine"), it was so good to hear your voice again last night. Next time you get cell service I need to hear Nick's voice too. Mom and I were so happy and (a little more) at ease to know that you two were able to catch the shuttle into Hiawassee yesterday. And I guess you can rest assured that you're still on your hiking adventure while staying at the Budget Inn. Forty dollars a night will only get you so many amenities. Chalk having to sleep in your sleeping bags at a motel as just another AT memory. Too funny!
I wondered how long it was going to take before someone gave you trail names. Katie, "Sunshine" is very fitting. I agree with those other anonymous hikers you met. It's not because of the yellow of your pack, but because of your sunny disposition. Now Nick, I wonder how long it's going to be before you get a trail name. Let's hope it's soon and not something like, New Jersey or New Hampshire Nomad. You need a trail name WAY before you get up to the Northeast!
Mom and I also loved hearing about all the "Trail Magic" you've experienced already. I can only imagine how good that pizza and beer must have tasted at dinner last night. I wish I had a way of contacting "Tin Man"…to thank him for buying you dinner...and for taking such good care of my kids.
What a wonderful concept; helping others out on the trail. It sounds sort of like paying it forward…hiking-style. When I told Rachel Davis at the office this morning about Tin Man and Baltimore Jack she gushed, "I am SO jealous right now!" When I told Ben about Baltimore Jack he cracked up and said, "Baltimore Jack sounds like a character right out of a book or something!" It sure does! I hope you are both diligently journaling and getting this all down on paper. You are going to run across so, so many more people on your journey…and so much more Trail Magic that you're not going to be able to keep things straight.
So I had a crazy day at the office today. I was scrambling from one meeting to the next…feeling stressed and overwhelmed…but all I kept thinking about was Trail Magic...and this Bible verse from James 1:17:
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
When I hear about all your Trail Magic so far, it sounds good…and perfect. And even though it's coming to you two through the hands of strangers with names like Tin Man and Baltimore Jack…I know you really know where it's coming from. It’s coming from the Father of the heavenly lights.
I hope and pray that tonight, as you set up camp on the AT once again, you take a moment and you look up at all those heavenly lights…and thank God for His Trail Magic.
I know I will.
Day 9: Where Are You?
Did you make it to North Carolina yet? I've been wondering that all day. Knowing that you were hopping back on the AT at Unicoi Gap yesterday morning…and that Bly Gap was within spitting distance--just across the Georgia/North Carolina border…I kept thinking, "They must be in North Carolina by now. One state down, thirteen more to go." When Mom and I got home tonight, I got online and looked (and re-looked) at multiple maps and websites trying to figure out how many miles you needed to walk from Unicoi Gap to the GA/NC border. I got on Google and zoomed in on the satellite map of that entire section of the trail.
Looking at the stretch between Dick's Creek Gap, GA and Bly Gap, NC on Google Maps, all I could see was a blanket of trees. No trail. Just trees. The image looks like it was taken in early Fall because peppered amongst all the varying shades of green there's a smattering of light browns, dim yellows, and muted orange. I couldn't help but let my mind race ahead to Maine…early this Fall…when you two will be finishing up your journey…and when the woods of Maine will be colored very much like the satellite view of Georgia that I scanned over and over again tonight. I don't really know why, but staring at those trees on Google Maps made me miss you both more now than ever before. I guess maybe because I know you're out there somewhere amongst all those trees…but I don't know exactly where.
I don't like not knowing where you are…which is why today's Bible verse is probably more for me than for you two. It's from Psalm 139:1-8:
"You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there."
I trust that all this is true…that God isn't just looking down on you from some heavenly Google Map. No…He's right there with you…when you sit…when you rise…and when you make your bed in the depths of the woods along the Appalachian Trail. He's there. And while (as you make your way to Maine) I will continue to wonder where you are each day, I will try to remind myself what King David says about God in Psalm 139: His hand is upon you…and His hand is upon me.
I take comfort knowing that in this 5 month separation…God's hand will keep us connected.