Here are my latest posts to my daughter Katie and son-in-law Nick as they make their way along the Appalachian Trail. So far they are happy, healthy and loving their journey. Below is the picture we received yesterday of them enjoying burgers and beers at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina.
Day 14: Mean Eyes
I don't know about you two, but today sucked for me. It was one of those days that just started out bad and ended up tainting the entire day. I won't bore you with the details. Let's just say I had my "mean eyes on" a lot of the morning. Katie, you're the one who coined that phrase: mean eyes on. I still remember sitting at the dinner table back in Plano, TX over 20 years ago when (for the life of me, I can't remember what was going on) you said, "You're mad at me." I told you I wasn't mad, but you quickly replied, "Yes you are. You have your mean eyes on!" That phrase has stuck. This morning my anger flared due to something that happened at an impromptu Community Team meeting. Later, Karen Berge said to me, "Wow! That's as angry as I've seen you with our group. You really had your mean eyes on!"
Nick, I know you've experienced my mean eyes too, but no doubt…Katie Bug has experienced them the most. There was a period in our life when I felt like all Katie saw was my mean eyes. I've never been able to hide what I'm feeling. During those dark years when you were both in high school…it felt like a curse. I've often said that I always knew Katie loved me during those years…almost as much as I knew she didn't like me. I know a lot of that sentiment revolved around my attitude towards the tall, dark-haired kid that started coming around when you were in middle school. It was obvious this kid was smitten with you, Katie. I was cautious and overly protective and didn't trust a thing about this teenage boy. The main reason why: I USED TO BE A TEENAGE BOY! I knew what teenaged boys liked about teenaged girls, so I questioned this boy's every word and motive…cynically convinced that he was always "Eddie Haskell-ing" me. Katie, I know that hurt you…and hurt our relationship for quite some time, but then, we moved…and the mountains of the Front Range were a Godsend.
After we moved to Colorado (5 years ago) Friday became our hiking day, right Katie? You had Friday's off. I had Friday's off…and the Front Range was always calling us. It was a healing time for both of us, wasn't it? We'd take the better part of the morning and traipse around the mountains…and we'd talk…and talk…and talk. Before long, a lot of those talks went deep--discussing family and faith and love…and the tall, dark-haired young man back in Texas. I think one of the greatest healing aspects of those hikes was the fact that I was always leading out in front, and when you said something that shocked, scared or angered me…you couldn't see my mean eyes. Not seeing my mean eyes allowed you to open up and be vulnerable with me. It also didn't hurt that I was usually huffing and puffing and out of breath most of the time, either.
I will always cherish our first couple years up here and our Friday morning hikes.
But it wasn't long before I got replaced on those Friday mornings…after that tall, dark-haired Texan named Nick moved up here too. Then, Nick was the one who was accompanying you on your hikes. By then, most of my worries and concerns were gone--left in a heap on the mountainsides in-and-around Boulder. Again, it didn't hurt that Nick was living in our basement and you were 10 miles away in an apartment in Longmont! Even still, I grew to love Nick…and to see him for who he truly is…and it all happened through your eyes--your big, beautiful blue eyes. In the end, I had to relinquish the idea that I had to constantly keep my eye on you and on Nick. Job 34:21 reads:
"For his (God's) eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps."
Even though I knew this was true…I had a hard time living it out in my relationship with you two. That was until Nick moved up here…and when you two were married a year or so later. Now, sitting here at my computer in Colorado…wondering how you're doing and where you are in North Carolina…I have to press this truth into my heart once again; God's eyes are on your ways…and He's watching your every step. And the great thing about God…He never Has mean eyes on.
Day 15: Wonderful Examples
Sorry Nick. Today's note is directed mostly to Katie. I'm sure there are days ahead where I'll be writing mostly to you…but today is probably not that day. Katie, your text came through this afternoon while I was meeting with Bart Lillie about men's retreat. He understood that I wasn't going to be able to focus on anything until I read it, so I read it out loud to him:
"We are 127 miles in. I'm not going to lie, today has been awful. It's been a nonstop downpour. Everything is soaked and cold. The trail is just slippery mud. Slippery mud that I fell down in :/ we only went 6 miles today because you have to go so slow in the mud. So we are done for the day, praying tomorrow will be a little better. We love you guys so much. I have been super homesick today. I made the mistake of watching videos of Emery on my phone this morning. Later on I couldn't stop crying thinking about her. I miss you all so much."
Okay. Now I'M not going to lie. That was hard to read. I know you're soaking, muddy wet, and hurting, and homesick…and my heart aches for you, but I'm not the least bit conflicted about this excursion of yours. I'm sure there are dads out there who would read a text like that from their daughter and either say, "Stop and come home" or who would actually drive out to North Carolina and go get them. You know that's not me, Katie. That's why I'm your "Insurance Call" if you reach the breaking point and you want to quit. You know I won't let you off the hook…that I'll hold your feet to the fire. Just for clarification, you and I both know that your text today was a far cry from "I give up", but I feel the need to prepare you (and probably more importantly me) for the tougher times that lie ahead.
I'm not going to re-hash what we talked about over and over before you left. You already know my thoughts on how I want/need you to do this thing…and finish it. Remember how I told you at the dinner table a couple of weeks before you left that you two needed to finish this hike for people like me--who have always wanted to thru-hike the AT, but will never get the chance? Well, a line from your text today really made something else clear to me. It was this line:
"I made the mistake of watching videos of Emery on my phone this morning. Later on I couldn't stop crying thinking about her."
I know you miss our little munchkin. She's very much worth missing, but you know what? You need to stay tough and finish this hike for Em too! Because WHEN (not if) you finish the Appalachian Trail…all 2,168 rugged/muddy/steep/flat/beautiful/boring miles of it…you're going to be an amazing example of what a woman can do! You will be (and will forever be) Aunt Katie Who Thru-Hiked the Appalachian Trail…Aunt Katie Who Roughed It in the Woods for 5 Months…Aunt Katie Who Mastered Peeing with a 25 lb. Pack (Sorry. I lifted that one from your Facebook update today). You're already a wonderful, loving aunt to Emery, but when you're done with this hike…your "cool factor" will be through the roof! I love the thoughts of what kind of an effect this will have on Em; giving her the gift of endless possibilities…being an example that she can do anything she wants, if she only puts her mind to it. There's no telling what Emery will do with your achievement. The Apostle Paul wrote this to early followers of Jesus:
"Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us." (Philippians 3:17)
Even though Paul was encouraging new believers to look to him as an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus, I think you can see how it works here too. One of life's realities is this: younger people look up to those who exhibit traits they want to see in themselves. Katie, Emery adores you already…and she will continue to love and adore you…even if you were to end this journey tonight. But as you sit huddled up in your soggy tent in a cold, muddy mess somewhere in North Carolina…think about the stories you will be able to tell Em when you finish…and think about how she's going to hear these stories for years to come…then think about what she might end up doing with her life…because Aunt Katie Who Toughed Out All 2,168 Miles of the AT gave her a wonderful example of what a woman can do if she puts her mind to it!
p.s. Oh, and Uncle Nick…I guess all of the above holds true for you and our little Micah, too!
Day 16: Good Medicine
It's been a very long day. I'm sure that sounds trivial to you two…knowing that I spent most of the day warm and inside…sitting in meetings or sitting at my desk all day. Still. It's been a very long day. I started this morning by reading a devotion from Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost for His Highest". He was a teacher and writer from back in the early 1900s. He taught in England--mostly to young missionaries who were getting ready for the mission field. Anyway, Chambers wrote a lot about emotional and spiritual mountaintops. He constantly cautioned his students about trying to live on the mountaintop. He wrote a lot about our need to trudge back into the valley, if we were to be of any use.
I can't help it…I love the mountaintop…and the mountaintop experience. I wish I could live on a perpetual mountaintop…with no low points…and no one to bring me down. But that's just not reality, is it? A section from today's devotion by Chambers was a big slap in the face for me. It read:
"Pick yourself up by the back of the neck and shake off your fleshly laziness. Laziness can always be seen in our cravings for a mountaintop experience; all we talk about is our planning for our time on the mountain. We must learn to live in the ordinary “gray” day according to what we saw on the mountain."
It was an "ordinary gray day" here today. Mom and I actually woke up to sleet and snow this morning and by noon we probably had about 3 inches of snow at the church offices. I felt my "fleshy laziness" craving a jolt, an emotional and spiritual kick in the pants. It was also an "ordinary gray day" inside my heart and soul. I was in a funk most of the day. I really don't know why, but when I got your text late in the afternoon--telling us you were hunkered down in your tent playing cards in the rain--it lifted my spirits. I could easily envision both of you laughing and enjoying each other's company as the North Carolina Spring drenched you…your tent…and everything around you. In my head I could easily hear both of you laughing joyfully…like you do so often together. Proverbs 17:22 reads:
"A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
Thinking of you both laughing and playing War or 21 with a deck of cards in the middle of the North Carolina woods brought joy to my heart. And when I read in your text that you plan to hike to the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a "delicious hot breakfast" tomorrow…I was filled with even more joy. Life is SO simple for you at this moment in time. Dry clothes…a warm bed…a hot meal…a game of cards. These simple pleasures carry so much more weight and significance for you both right now…and it's a great reminder for me; a reminder to not let the mundane things of this life get in the way of my joy.
"A joyful heart is good medicine." Thanks for the recommended daily dose today.
Day 17: On Guard
Okay. This is probably going to be short because we got to talk for awhile on the phone this afternoon, Katie. I was able to fill in some of the details as to why the last couple of weeks have been so hard. Then, right before I went home…a little after 6PM…things got worse. As I type this, I still don't know how this is going to play out. I think I mistakenly erased the document I'd been working on all day. Ugh!
We put together a program for the men's retreat each year. It's usually about a 15-20 page booklet with all the information about the weekend (i.e., schedules, devotions, etc.) in it. I finished all of the copy, and my recommendations for Jordo and the graphics team, around 6PM. All I needed to do was upload the file into Jordo's folder on our mainframe. I was in a hurry…I thought I copied the file over from my folder on the mainframe into Jordo's. It's too hazy and too frustrating for me to detail the rest, but suffice it to say…I accidentally erased it. It's gone. All that work from today dumped out into the ether somewhere. Our techie guru Darrin Graham is going to see if he can find it (or at least a portion of it) on what he's calling a "Shadow Drive" on the mainframe. If he does, I might kiss him on the mouth! :)
I told Mom tonight that I feel like I'm under attack…even though the computer snafu was definitely "user error"…I still feel like I'm being attacked. Talk about the devil and his minions has always bugged me a little. In the back of my mind I can't help but think it sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus; cartoon demons with pitchforks. And sometimes it feels like it's just yo-yos attributing the common pitfalls of life to unseen entities. I feel that way sometimes…until I'm under attack. Then, it's all too real and I quickly turn to God in prayer. I Peter 5:8 reads:
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
I felt the adversary today…like I've felt him over the last couple of weeks. I don't know why. Is it because men's retreat is next weekend and it's been a powerful change-agent in men's lives over the last few years? Is it because the enemy wants to chip away at my faith because I'm consistently thinking (and worrying) about you two? Or is is simply because that's the way life always is…and normally I'm just not being watchful? In my job at Flatirons I see (and hear) a lot about the destruction the adversary causes. I hear it multiple times each day--stories of lives ripped apart by that evil devourer. And without exception, when I hear men tell me of their painful mistakes…I think to myself, "Please God, keep me from making that mistake!"
It's pretty easy to see how to avoid being devoured: Be sober-minded (or alert) and stay on guard. I know I told you to be watchful and stay on guard for people who mean to do you harm on the trail (Which is why I bought you each a survival knife!), but I also want to urge you both to be watchful and on guard for the enemy too. He's prowling…like a lion…and he wants to rip you two apart on this journey. He wants to create division…to stir up petty arguments and feelings and make you resent each other. So keep your eyes peeled and ask God to keep them ever open to the enemy's attacks.
And I will do the same…and pray that Darriin is able to do the miraculous…kiss or not.