Day 47: On the Prowl
I'm sitting here at the computer with a lot of questions swirling around in my head. Stuff about you…stuff about me…stuff about this past weekend at The Crucible…stuff about work. I'm asking myself questions like:
Did you even make it to Damascus, VA?
And if you did...did you get your supply box with Katie's shoes?
Did you go to Trail Days?
Did you eat lots of carnival food…and did you get sick?
Did you stay in the Tent Village with 30,000 of your closest hiker friends?
These are just a few of the questions I'm asking about you.
As for the questions I'm asking about me or work? Suffice it to say, it was a rough one today. But that's just the way life is sometimes. You both know how much I love being the Men's Pastor at Flatirons…and how exciting and fulfilling it can be…but that doesn't mean there won't be bad days too, right? And today was one of those days. It was the kind of day that started out okay, but turned south in a hurry. I had a rough conversation with a young dad who came in to talk with me. He needed some guidance because over the weekend his two little elementary age daughters had their innocence threatened. I can't get into details other than to say they weren't physically harmed, but their innocence took a major hit. It made me angry…and I've been in a funk ever since.
I know I sound like an old guy, but I think it's SO much harder raising kids today than before! Technology has made the landscape of childhood so much more dangerous. I know there are amazing benefits to technology. The very fact that I'm able to write to you on this computer…and you're able to receive it and read it in the wilds of Virginia…is just one of them! But I keep hearing and experiencing the very, very dark side of technology. After days like today, it seems like the enemy is taking some major ground in the hearts and lives of kids. Every perversion imaginable is a keystroke away from innocent eyes…able to infect minds in a fraction of a second. I keep thinking about what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:8:
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
The devil is prowling like a lion and it seems like children are his favorite dish. After sitting in my office today after my meeting with that dad my mind kept bouncing back-and-forth between being grateful that my kids are grown…to being terrified about what kind of world awaits our little Em and Micah. My mind goes to a very dark place when I think of someone doing them harm. A very dark place. And even though you two are all grown up and on your own…I still worry about the reality found in 1 Peter 5:8. The adversary means to do you harm…prowling around in your world…looking for the right opportunity to take you down and devour you. I don't know what that looks like for you both right now and I can only do so much from my computer in Colorado. You're going to have to be the diligent ones…"sober-minded" and "watchful".
Be on the lookout.
Day 48: The Suitcase
Just wondering where you are.
I know it's only been 5 days since we've heard from you last, but it seems much longer than that. We still don't know how long you stayed in Damascus, VA…or if you're still there. I know that Trail Days ended on Sunday. Maybe you decided to hang out in town a little longer after the crowds left? Or maybe you left before Trail Days even ended. Maybe you caught a ride into Abington, VA or some other, more populated, place. Or maybe you made new trail friends at the festival and you're hiking with them now. This is the sort of stuff that rattles around in my head when I haven't heard from you in a while. I can't help it. My head keeps spinning with possible scenarios of where you are…what you're doing…and how you're doing. I also can't help the fact that some of those scenarios can be pretty dark…which is why I hope you call or text real soon.
I've been thinking a lot about something I shared with my friend Brad yesterday. We were talking about raising kids and the essentials of child rearing. Brad's much further behind me in the child rearing stage of life--his kids are all in elementary school. He was asking me about what I thought was the most important part of parenting. That's a hard one…a question to an answer I don't think I have…which is why I told him about The Suitcase.
It's a concept my buddy Roby Bass shared with me years ago…when Ben was still in middle school. At the time, Roby's son Ryan was a junior in high school and trying to figure out what he was going to do after graduating from high school. Roby was really struggling with the idea of Ryan leaving home. Not the leaving part, but the "Is he ready for the world?" part. From one father to another, Roby was a great sounding board when it came to raising kids; his son Ryan was ahead of Ben and I liked hearing how Roby was handling the crazy, confusing, chaotic world of corralling a teenage boy. One day, after Roby and I finished up a project at his video production house, we sat around his office and talked about Ryan's impending graduation. That was when Roby said (in his thick Texas drawl), "I look at raisin' kids this way: It's like, when they're born, they come with an empty suitcase…and it's our job to fill that suitcase with everything they're gonna need to survive in the world once they leave home." I thought that was profound, but not near as profound as what Roby said next. He looked at me…as if he was looking through me…and almost whispered, "And I don't have Ryan's suitcase ready…and I don't think I'll ever get it ready before he goes."
That was a life-changing conversation for me. After that day I became hell-bent, almost obsessive, about getting Ben and you, Katie, ready to leave home. At the time, Ben was only about ten years old…and Katie…you were five, but I was bound-and-determined to get your suitcases packed. Like I said, I was consumed with this idea…I thought about it incessantly…talked about it to whomever would listen…researched and read about it…and drove Mom a little nuts in the process. One of the key Bible verses etched in my brain was this from Proverbs 22:6:
"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he (or she) will not depart from it."
Sitting here now…20 years after that day in Dallas, Texas…I still don't know if I got your suitcases packed with everything you need. Its days like today…when I haven't heard from you in a while that make me doubt that the most. I have to intentionally make myself settle down…put my trust where it belongs…and remind myself that you're not only living from your suitcase, Katie. You have a husband…a man who has his own suitcase…and maybe…hopefully…together, you've got all you need to survive in this world.
Like the great philosopher Rocky Balboa said about Adrian, "…she's got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps."
Day 49: A Good Day for Joy
Today started out good. I got this picture in a text from Ali as I drove to the office:
I thought you both might like seeing the little munchkins. Em's such a good big sister...reading to her brother...and the look on Micah's face cracks me up!
Then, the day got better.
I know I've already written you this before, Katie, but I'm going to write it again anyway: I love hearing your voice on the phone…like this morning when you called. It was especially good to hear your voice in light of what I wrote you yesterday. After Mom read my email to you last night she said, "You're going to make them feel guilty for not writing and calling enough." My first thought was, "Good", but 34 years of marriage has pounded a little bit of wisdom into my head. Just a little bit.
Not long after I spoke with you on the phone, I was in a meeting with our team and my phone dinged. I checked the text. It was a brief message from Nick informing us that your 2nd video posted online and was ready to view. I made Amanda Brown play it on her computer for our whole team to watch. It was great! We all loved it!
Then tonight…on our way to dinner…Mom told me about your Facebook post, Katie, and I had her read it to me in the car:
"Alright, we are officially in Damascus, VA!! 3 states down, 11 more to go! Virginia will be our home for the next 537.2 miles. We were so ready to get out of Tennessee, so yesterday we did the "Damascathon" and hiked 27 miles with some of our favorite people. We arrived in Damascus around 11:00pm and set up our tents on the Creeper Trail and passed out. Nick will be posting another video on the blog today. Go to trudgecompany.com to check it out! Thanks again for all of your prayers!"
Today started with a little bit of joy…Emery reading to Micah.
Then, I got to hear your voice on the phone…filled with joy and excitement.
Then, I got to see your smiling faces on video...filled with joy and excitement…which only filled me with joy and excitement.
Proverbs 23:25 reads: "May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful!"
I don't have much to write tonight…other than to echo what King Solomon writes in Proverbs 23:25. Mom and I are rejoicing with you…and filled with joy about the progress you're making on your big adventure...and knowing that you are both happy, healthy and living life large.
My heart is full. It was a good day for joy.
Day 50: God's Approval
I can't wait until your feet are back under my table.
Tonight we had our Community Team dinner--where all the team gets together with our spouses and have dinner. It was great! There were 12 of us gathered around Michel and Claudia Hendrick's table eating amazing Argentinian BBQ and rice…sipping good wine…and laughing our heads off! Everyone brought something to be included in the meal, but the Hendricks exceeded us all with a lemon chicken on the grill and a rice dish that included spinach and mushrooms. My mouth is watering just typing this, so I apologize for how you must be reacting to this. Food aside, it was so much fun sitting around the table telling stories and teasing and laughing with each other. I kept thinking, "We have the best team at Flatirons!" and I believe it's true. I also kept thinking about this upcoming holiday weekend.
It's Memorial Day weekend…a time where we usually get together as a family. Jim and Robin are out of town. Jordan and Leah have other plans. But I think Ben, Ali, Emery and Micah are coming over for a cookout Monday. While my barbecuing skills can never match Michel Hendrick's, I know that the time around the table will mirror what we had tonight: lots of merry hearts. If everything goes off as usual, Ben will be in rare form and have us all in stitches throughout the meal. The only thing missing will be you two…but that's okay. Wherever you land on Memorial Day 2015, I know you will be where you need to be. We have plenty of Memorial Days…and Fourths of July…and Labor Days in our future. It's okay if we miss this one together. You will be where you need to be this coming Memorial Day.
"Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
So we will miss you this weekend, but enjoy it wherever you are. Eat your bread (or trail mix) with joy and drink your wine (or spring water) with a merry heart…knowing that God has approved or ordained what you do…whether you'll be crouching on the trail or sitting at a picnic table. You will be on our minds, and in our hearts, as we gather up as a family for another holiday…and soon…your feet will be off the Appalachian Trail and back under my table…which will also be a day of joy, merriment and God's approval.
Day 51: Beauty and the Beast
I really don't have much to tell you other than…it's been raining for about 2 weeks straight. We haven't seen the sun…in what seems like…forever. Everything is waterlogged and all of Northern Colorado is waiting for the sun to come out again. I almost forget what the sun looks like.
Mom and I watched Emery and Micah tonight, so I thought I'd give you a quick rundown of the evening:
- Em still loves her dresses. She met us at the door in her p.j. top and a summer dress. I think all her princess dresses were in the laundry...or Ali burned them. :)
- Micah loves to smile. He's also a noisy little thing--constantly grunting and cooing. Tonight, he was looking me deep in the eyes and…I swear…I thought he was going to talk!
- Emery still remembers you both. After snagging Mom's phone she started flipping through her pictures and videos. When Em came across the picture of you two at the airport, I asked, "Who's that?" pointing to Nick and, without hesitation, she said, "Nick!" When I asked her, "And who's that?" she smiled and said, "Kay-Kee!" So, rest easy. She hasn't forgotten you.
- Katie, you will be proud. Ben and Ali found Disney's Beauty and the Beast at a secondhand bookstore…and Emery loves it! We watched it 3 times tonight. I felt like it was 1993 and I was back in Plano, TX having to watch Belle and the Beast over and over and over again with you. There were so many similarities between tonight and 1993 in Plano. But the main ones are: both had little blond girls running around the living room singing along to the movie…and both had Mom and I loving every minute of it. I'll admit, at one moment, I got choked up. Emery and Mom were singing along with Belle and the rest of the village in the opening chorus ("Bonjour…Bonjour…Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour! There goes the baker with his tray, like always. The same old bread and rolls to sell") and it was almost exactly like it was with you, Katie, back in 1993. It was haunting. Emery played and watched the movie off and on and laughed at me a few times when I blurted out some of the lines that are etched in my memory like, "Crazy ol' Maurice…hmmm. CRAZY OL' Maurice! "
I am amazed by how much Em reminds me of you, Katie, but it's a bit of a double-edged sword for me: It's great because she stirs up memories of you as a little girl. And it hurts…because she stirs up memories of you as a little girl. You know how getting nostalgic train-wrecks me…and how I get sucker punched by watching old videos of you and Ben growing up. Tonight, I got blindsided by a beautiful little blond girl singing songs from Beauty and the Beast…who reminds me of another beautiful little blond girl singing songs from Beauty and the Beast. It makes my heart ache…and I feel like a wuss…but I couldn't be happier.
I don't want to go back to 1993 and re-live those days. I love where you are today…living out your dreams…as an adult…with the man you love. And I wouldn't miss a single day of being with Emery and Micah. Like King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 7:10:
"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions."
I love, and will forever cherish, the "old days"…but I love and cherish today too. And wherever you are tonight…somewhere in southern Virginia…I love the thought that, maybe, in some small little way…this grand trip of yours was conceived back in 1993. At least, maybe, in the spirit of it. When our beautiful little blond girl heard (and understood) the dreams of a cartoon maiden who sang:
"I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand…To have someone understand…I want so much more than they've got planned…"
(Belle from Beauty and the Beast)
Day 52: Worry
Today began with another call from Grandma.
"I need to hear from Katie and Nick. We haven't heard from them in a while." Telling Grandma that the other night was Mom's first mistake. The second…third and fourth mistake was not answering Grandma's repeated calls over the last few days. Mom wanted to, but between work…and dinner parties…and watching Emery and Micah…she really didn't have time. When Grandma called my cell phone this morning as we were heading out to grab breakfast (Mickey D's, by the way) Mom knew she needed to talk to her before she contacted the local authorities in Colorado AND Virginia!
Grandma was worried. That was the sum and the total of Mom's conversation with Grandma this morning. Basically, Grandma couldn't eat or sleep until she knew that you two were alive…and that we were too. Grandma's a worrier, but aren't we all at times? I've done my share of worrying about you two…out there in the wilds of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee…and now Virginia. Mom is able to compartmentalize her worry about you…until either Grandma or me pulls it out of the compartment and reminds her that you're out there in the woods.
Tonight, Scott Nickell's message at church was all about worry. As we continue to go through the Sermon on the Mount, I knew we'd eventually land on what Jesus says about worry. Tonight was the night. In Matthew 6, we can read all about what Jesus says about worry, like…don't worry about what you're going to eat or drink or wear or worry about where you'll live because God will take care of you. He takes care of the birds and the flowers, so certainly God will take care of us, right? I can't help but think of the old Rich Mullins song "Hard" when I read through Matthew 6:
Well His eye's on the sparrow
And the lilies of the field I've heard
And He will watch over you and He will watch over me
So we can dress like flowers and eat like birds
I used to think that Matthew 6:33 was the "Key to Life"--the answer to God's care: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (Everything that Jesus said not to worry about) will be added to you." I used to think, "There you have it! All I have to do is seek God first…and He'll take care of everything!" For a long time I took Matthew 6:33 to heart…I took it literally…and I took it legalistically. I got up every morning, and before I did ANYTHING, I'd read 5 chapters out of the Bible. After that, I'd pray and meditate on what I'd just read.
I didn't miss a day. And in the deep, dark recesses of my heart and mind I thought, "If I do this every day, God HAS to take care of me…my family…and all I care about." And in an even deeper and darker place I still worried, thinking, "If I don't do this every day…God will punish me…and take something or someone away from me." So I continued…and I became prideful…and judgmental…and in the deep, dark place…an even bigger worrier. Then, God did something…something that (at first) hurt, but in the end, was healing. He shed His light on that deep, dark place in my heart and mind.
It came slowly at first.
A few years after the tragedy of 9-11, my freelance business started to slack off a bit. Mom and I were used to the ups and downs of freelance, so we didn't worry. Besides, I had the "Key to Life"—Matthew 6:33. I was "seeking God first" everyday! Then, things got worse. I lost 3 of my biggest clients…so I got up all the earlier and read my Bible more and prayed more…thinking I was forcing God's hand to fix things. He didn't. Things spiraled and spiraled out of control…and in the end…all of my Bible reading and praying didn't stop our financial crash. It was devastating. The bankruptcy left us with a roof over our heads…each other…and a gaping hole in that deep, dark place…where God shone His light and truth. God showed me that He wouldn't, and couldn't, be manipulated. That He wasn't my heavenly vending machine…where I could put in the right amount of time and prayer…and get what I wanted. God showed me that He is good…despite what the world around me looks like. God showed me that His sovereignty is just that…sovereign. Everything in my life…the good AND the bad…pass through HIs hands first. And sitting in the wreckage of our financial world…I finally felt peace…and my worry was relieved.
Katie, you lived through that with us. We tried to hide as much as we could from you, but you were right there in the thick of it. It was easier to shield Ben. He was 1,000 miles away at school. I can't lie to you and tell you both that I never worry. You know I do, but I feel like it's a much "healthier" kind of worry…a worry where God lives in sovereignty. So, as the days tick by…and we don't hear from you…I will put my worry about you two…and my faith…where it belongs: In the sovereign hands where everything passes through first.
And another lesson learned: We won't tell Grandma when we haven't heard from you in days…
Day 53: Going Too Far?
"I was there to push people beyond what's expected of them. I believe that's an absolute necessity." (Terence Fletcher from "Whiplash")
Mom and I finally got around to watching the movie "Whiplash" last night. It was great! I can't remember if you guys saw it before you took off or not. I know Ben and Ali did. We watched Emery the night that they went to to see it. When they got home that night, they both raved about it. All I knew about the movie was that it was about a music school instructor and his student…and it starred the Farmers' Insurance guy. At first, I kept humming the jingle, "We are Farmers'! Dut ditty dut dut…dut, dut dut!" It didn't take long to forget that, though…maybe by the 4th or 5th F-Bomb out of the Farmers' Guy's mouth! Anyway, it wasn't pandering or maudlin or cliche, but was gritty and disturbing and inspiring! We rented it on iTunes last night…and still had 10 hours left on our rental today, so we watched it again. Just as good the second time around in less than 24 hrs! I told Mom this afternoon as we were walking Peanut, "I love unpredictable, inspiring movies"…and that's exactly what "Whiplash" was for me: unpredictable and inspiring!
"But is there a line? You know, maybe you go too far…"
I have to tell you, I'm still chewing on the message(s) from "Whiplash". That (to me) is the sign of a good movie. I've been mulling over stuff like, when does our love for something become eclipsed and become an obsession? Or when does people-pleasing become unhealthy…or is there anything about people-pleasing that's healthy to begin with? And…where is the line between pushing people beyond what's expected of them…and destroying their spirits? Good stuff to think about.
I always wondered about the whole "pushing too much" thing as a father. I used to question whether I was pushing you, Katie, and Ben, too much. And in my desire to push you and make you stronger…did I go too far and did I destroy something in you? I've often wondered the same thing about God though. I know He's perfect and sovereign, but there have been times where I've questioned God's motives…and doubted His goodness. I've struggled with my perception of God; seeing Him as either cold (at best) or malevolent (at worst)…and that's affected my relationship with Him (just re-read yesterday's note). People like to say that God will never give you more than you can handle, and they reference 1 Corinthians 10:13:
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."
Now, I'm not so sure this verse is dealing with the struggles and storms of life--the things that beat us down and push us beyond our limits. Maybe it is…and maybe not. The Greek word used here for "temptation" and "tempted" can also mean "testing" and "tested". Either way, however we are tested or tempted…the truth here is this: God will provide a way for us to endure it…whatever that looks like.
Right now, I know you two are testing yourselves…you're pushing yourselves beyond anything you've ever done before, but you've chosen this literal and figurative path, right? You have planned and prepared for this hike…and now you are dealing with the reality of it--the rough conditions…the exhaustion…the boredom…and everything else that encapsulates hiking 400+ miles. My hope and prayer for you is that God continues to provide for you on this journey…and that He'll strengthen you both beyond measure…and temper you, like steel…so that you will never be tempted or tested beyond what you can bear.
"But is there a line? You know, maybe you go too far, and you discourage the next Charlie Parker from ever becoming Charlie Parker?"
"No, man, no. Because the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged."
Andrew Neyman Terence Fletcher from "Whiplash"
Day 54: Good
This was Ben's comment before they left tonight: "They look good. They look, so...I don't know…healthy! I thought they'd look…like…all (hunching over and sucking in his cheeks) tired and, 'We barely made it here, we're so tired'…"
Thanks for FaceTiming tonight. It was SO good to see your smiling faces again…and to know you are happy, healthy and well. I'll make this short because we got to talk on the phone this morning and FaceTime tonight. Mom and I enjoyed tending to Emery and Micah while you got to do a face-to-virtual face with Ben and Ali. We also eavesdropped while you talked with them. Here are the highlights we heard…and correct me if I got something wrong:
- You're over 500+ miles into your hike…and over the next 2 days…you'll cross the Quarter of the Way Through mark. Everyone is impressed!
- Nick's shoes are falling apart and we'll need to mail his other shoes. Please let us know when and where and we'll get a box ready.
- Ambush (trail name) is one of your off-and-on companions on the AT and he's a former youth pastor.
- You are both sharing a ratty motel room tonight with 4 other hikers.
- Katie lost her pinky toenail. AT=1. Katie= 512 miles.
- Katie (and some of the other female hikers) had a Spa Day: a splurge through the Walmart $1 section of soaps, razors, nail polish, etc. Then, took turns in the ratty motel room shower and refreshed yourselves.
- Nick's "Trail Appetite" is becoming legendary. Dinner the other night: Bacon double cheeseburger, onion rings, strawberry milkshake…then, 2 chili cheese dogs, another onion ring…and another milkshake.
- More and more "Trail Magic", like Easy Rock (trail name) meeting everyone with brats and beer as you pushed through a 20+ mile hike the other day.
- You love Virginia. It's your favorite state to hike, thus far.
- You don't miss as many of the things you thought you would, like: TV, warm beds, and some of the other finer things in civilization.
- Katie, you said the dirtiness of hiking and living in the woods isn't near as bad as you thought it would be.
- There's "Trail Drama" amongst some of the hikers you're criss-crossing paths with.
- Nick, you're a "squatter" and Katie, you're a "Roman Chair"…when it comes to #2.
- And…you love the wild ponies.
Tonight was good.
It was good having Ben, Ali, Emery and Micah in the home.
It was good cooking out…eating well…and catching up.
It was good seeing you on my iPad.
It was good hearing all your stories, but most of all…hearing you are well…and hearing it in your voices. A part of Isaiah 52:7 reads:
"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings..."
That's exactly what you both gave us tonight; good news…peace…and good tidings. And after the picture you sent us this afternoon…"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news"…minus the pinky toenail.