My kids are still trekking north along the Appalachian Trail. I've committed to writing them something each day. Here are my latest notes.
Day 18: Birds of the Air. Flowers of the Field
So tonight at church, for the bulk of his message, Jim recited the entire Sermon on the Mount from memory. I knew he was going to do this. He's been practicing for weeks. He even practiced it when we drove up to the property a couple of weeks ago. He made it all the way from Matthew 5:1 to chapter 6. But tonight, he did the whole thing--Matthew 5:1-7:29. He didn't miss a thing. More importantly though, he didn't just stand up there on the stage and recite it like a lot of us would by staring at the ceiling…as if trying to wish the words to drop into our heads from the sky. And he didn't "act it out" either…all emotive and overblown with dramatic pauses. No, he gave it like Jim Burgen gives every message at Flatirons with real honesty and grit and humor. I don't know how many times I've read the Sermon on the Mount, but tonight it was different. Jesus' words felt more real and alive than I'd ever heard them before. As Jim was rolling along through Matthew 6, he came across all those verses about how…if God cares and feeds the birds…why do we doubt that He'll take care of us too?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?" Matthew 6:25-30
The birds of the air. The flowers of the field.
The images of these were as real tonight and as tangible as ever before…in the here-and-now. In just the same way as Jim was making Jesus' words as real and as tangible as ever before…in the here-and-now. I easily thought of you two hiking through the wilds of North Carolina…taking in all that those woods have to offer: birds of the air and flowers of the field. I also thought of Emery and I walking hand-in-hand to the park this afternoon in the brisk wind…with her picking dandelions along the way…and the robin redbreast hovering over the playground…fighting the stiff breeze: birds of the air and flowers of the field.
The title of Jim's message this weekend is "What is Real?" He began by talking about the real things in life that we lean on and are important to us (i.e., family, money, sex, others' opinions, etc.). Then, he launched into his Sermon on the Mount recitation. Mom was home sick, so as I sat in the auditorium by myself tonight I thought the thing that I want to be "real"…more than anything…are those words of Jesus, and the promise that God will care for you two…for Emery and Micah…for Ben and Ali…more than He cares for…
...the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.
Day 19: The Blessing of Rain
I don't always love it, but over the last couple of weeks, I will admit…I love technology! I've been amazed at the cell service you've had along the trail, and how often you've been able to text us. So, it wasn't a huge surprise to get home from going out to eat (We thought of you both as we sipped our margaritas at Hacienda Jalisco!) and get your call. But FaceTime! That was a welcome surprise! Choppy and brief as it was, it was good to see your smiles and hear your voices. After we hung up, I looked at the AT mileage chart I have bookmarked on the computer. Fontana Dam is 162.6 miles into the Appalachian Trail. That's great! Oh, and thanks for sending pictures of the room at the hostel you're staying at tonight! (Below) Warm bed…warm shower…and a toilet! Yippee!
While Mom and I sat at the restaurant eating chips and salsa, waiting for our food, I did a quick weather scan of the Fontana Dam area (not knowing you had actually made it there at that point). I saw that it's been cloudy with a chance of rain most of the week throughout that portion of North Carolina. You guys merely confirmed what we already thought…you've basically seen nothing but rain and mud for days now. I did see that you're supposed to get a bit of a break in the rain early this week. So, dry out tonight. Enjoy the warm, man-made rain from the shower. No telling where your next break further up the trail might be.
Jim's message this weekend--where he recited the Sermon on the Mount--has my head in that part of the Bible, I guess. I've mainly been consumed by thoughts of rain; worrying about you two being waterlogged (at the least) or swept away by floods (at the worst). I've kept those dark thoughts from Mom…until she reads this. I've also been thinking about men's retreat coming up this weekend…and worrying about the spring rains ruining all that we have planned outside. I hate this, but I've been looking at rain like it's a real negative. The truth is, for most of the world (and especially in the Bible) rain is a blessing! It's rare…it's a treasured commodity…and it's welcomed by most of the planet. In Matthew 5:44-46 Jesus says:
"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?"
Again, Jesus spoke these words in a place and time where water was rare, drought was common, and rain was welcomed (and seen as a blessing from God). But Jesus uses rain as a teaching tool here. He's talking about how we're supposed to love everyone--specifically our enemies. Due to the fact that we all need water to survive, Jesus points out that God--although He could--causes rain, life-giving, much-needed rain to fall on the good/righteous and the bad/unrighteous or…in other words…God's friends AND His enemies! Jesus hammers home the point that, if God is willing to basically save the lives of His enemies…how hard can it be for us to "turn the other cheek" to ours…or simply be kind to those who don't like us? I know. It's much easier to write those words, than to actually live them out. You have both been witness to my many failures.
The blessing of rain...
I seriously hope that you two will get a much needed break from all the rain, but if not, try to see it for the blessing that it is. Rain hydrates all that beautiful landscape you're walking through and fills up the reservoirs there too. Let the rain also be a reminder of Jesus' words…and within those words…the promise that (as His children) God is always raining down HIs love on you…a shower of blessing.
Day 20: Hope and Renewal
So, I hope you were able to retrieve the packages we mailed you at the post office this morning--before leaving Fontana Dam. Nick you should have your other hiking shoes…and you should both have enough Pop Tarts, rice and ramen noodles to last you until Green Corner Rd. (the next place I see on my AT mileage chart where you can get re-stocked--70 + miles up the trail from you). Let us know when you want your next box shipped, where to ship it, and what you want in it.
I spoke with Uncle Dave tonight on the way home from the office. He recently posted a nice, little Facebook note to his friends informing them of your AT hike. We got to talking again about trying to connect with you two in Harpers Ferry, WV--the halfway point of your journey. Uncle Dave said he wants to visit the Civil War battle venues there, then try to connect with you and take you out to eat or something. When he first mentioned this a couple of months ago, I told him that I'd love to fly out there and join him. I think it would be great to hang out with Uncle Dave at some of the Civil War historic sites, let him take ALL of us out to eat (Ha ha!), and then join you two for a small section of the trail. I sat down tonight to try and figure out your ETA in West Virginia. Averaging out your distance and time on your trip so far, I have you landing in Harpers Ferry sometime in late June-early July…but you know my math skills… :) Either way, I got excited about it and looked over my summer calendar to see if it would even work…and if those dates are right…it could be a magic window for me! Those dates are sandwiched between a couple of the weddings I'm doing this summer, but I think I can make it work! Remind me to talk about this when you get cell service and we talk again.
I hope I can make that happen this summer.
Hope. It's such an integral part of our relationship with Jesus…and at times…one of the most difficult parts for me. Here's what I mean: I have all kinds of hope in Jesus. Here's where my hope (and faith) lie: My hope is in the words Jesus said...and the promises He made. I have hope that when this life is over…I'm going to stay with Him in heaven (whatever that looks like or whatever that experience will be like). I have hope that heaven will be beyond anything I could ever dream or imagine. And I have hope that when I die I'm going to get to see and hang out with friends and family who are already there--living out this eternity experience with Jesus. I also have hope that my other family members that I leave behind here on earth will eventually join me there someday too.
Still, I have all this hope and most days…it's easy to claim. Other days…not so much. I have days where my hope feels faint and the mundane parts of this life chip away at it. My hope gets battered and beaten and (at times) feels like there's almost nothing left to it but a nub…like the end of an old stubby pencil. But even so…my hope is never destroyed…never gone. It's constantly being renewed. I wish I could manufacture this renewal, but again…that's not the way Jesus works. The Apostle Paul wrote about our hope in Romans 8:24-25 and said:
"For in this hope (the hope of life eternal) we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
There it is. Hope isn't something tangible…something I can touch or something I can see. It's something wholly different…yet just as real!
I know that you two have professed this hope. One of the greatest joys and blessings of my life was getting to hear each of your confessions of faith, and then baptizing you. I'm choking up just remembering each of those separate occasions and writing this down. Yet, I know that (like me) this hope thing can be a struggle for you too. I just want you to remember that on this journey…you'll never be able to see it, but that doesn't mean it's gone. Like Paul writes…have patience. Wait for it. Wait and see how God is going to open your hearts and minds to this hope in ways you've never experienced before. Then, wait and see how it grows and is renewed each day on this hike.
That's my hope for you.
Day 21: Love Language
I sat down at my desk at work to try and write my note to you. It was after 6PM and Mom was on her way to meet me. We planned to go grab a bite to eat, then sneak into the back of the auditorium at REV and listen to Ben give the message tonight. When Mom made it to the church offices, I was still sitting at my computer…struggling. I was still trying to figure out what to write to you both…what I could say that might help or encourage you in some way. I was drawing a blank. I don't know why. Maybe it was because it's been a mad, all-out dash to get things done before the men's retreat this weekend and I'm burned out…maybe it was all the mental Post-It note reminders I have floating around in my head…and maybe it was because I had no clue where you were, how you were doing or what you've experienced over the last few days. So I did what I normally do in situations like this…I procrastinated some more and went out to eat with Mom. We went all out! It was Goodtimes! Chicken tenders for Mom and a mushroom cheeseburger for me (I knew that would probably make you jealous!). To cap things off, Mom made me drive through Wendy's to get her a chocolate Frosty. But while we were in Goodtimes both our phones chimed, "Ding. Ding." Mom and I both said at the same time, "Text from Katie!" It was great to read the following:
"Hello! Service is kind of spotty, but I'm hoping a text will go through. We got the packages! Thank you so much. We are now in the Smokey Mountains! We are 182.7 miles in. Tomorrow we will be in Tennessee for a bit! We are finally feeling stronger and feeling like we can go longer. Today we did 17 miles. Today was absolutely beautiful. The weather was perfect. At one point we were literally walking through fields of flowers. We didn't want to stop walking. We love you guys so much and we miss you!"
182.7 miles! You're SO close to reaching the 10% mark of 220 miles! I hope that you guys are as proud of yourselves as we are of you! Whatever I was even remotely thinking of writing to you earlier is gone! If I have any real words of encouragement for you it's this, "Great job! One step at a time you are getting closer and closer to fulfilling your dream." And the Bible verse that's in my head right now is from Hebrews 10:24:
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…"
The only way I am able to encourage…or spur you both on right now is through words of encouragement or affirmation--by writing or talking on the phone. I'm sure you both remember that we give out a book at church for our ONE: Premarital Workshop titled "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. You each got a copy when you went through the workshop a couple of years ago. It's a good book, and if you remember, the 5 Love Languages are: (1) gifts (2) quality time (3) words of affirmation (4) acts of service and (5) physical touch. It's a great model for married folks. Mom and I…are on opposite ends of the spectrum. She's all: physical touch…and I'm: words of affirmation. I don't remember what each of you are either, but here's the thing; this trip…the next 5 months…from Georgia to Maine…you're going to experience them all! I mean, quality time! You're going to get quality, quantity and everything in-between! Acts of service? That's about all you're going to be doing for each other to get you through the journey! And I know there will be LOTS of words of affirmation because along with acts of service, how else are you going to be able to finish this? Physical touch? Everything from pushing each other uphill, lifting the other off the ground from a rest, and the tight quarters of your tent…physical touch is obviously a major part of this trip! You are going to be walking (hiking), talking, living examples of the 5 Love Languages! I know you will always have your primary love language, but this trip is destined to draw you two closer to each other and deepen all the languages in your life.
And no, I didn't forget one. Gifts. This is the one that I admire the most about you two. The gift you've given each other in this hike. Whether gifts are your primary love language or not, the gift that you've given each other of time and place along the Appalachian Trail is probably the greatest gift you will give each other in your lifetimes…aside from children (one day) but, maybe that's just Grampa talking!
This hike is a beautiful gift and one you will treasure for your entire lives. Thanks for speaking love so well.