Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Week's Posts to Nick and Katie

Day 34: God's Pleasure 

So now that I think my hernia surgery has healed completely, I started back up in the gym this morning. Ugh! It sucked! I did 45 minutes of cardio between the elliptical machine and the stationary bike. I've got a bunch of books I need to get through, so I plan to read through my ever-growing pile (and hopefully take my mind off of my exercise) by reading while I workout. Anyway, I was reading a book titled "Hearing God" by Dallas Willard. He referenced the Westminster Shorter Catechism--which is this old Christian document that set out to define all the Christian beliefs. It's got 107 questions concerning faith in Jesus…and 107 answers (with Bible references). As I was reading (and sweating) this morning I came across this quote in Hearing God: "Man's chief end is to glorify God." It's in reference to the first question in the Westminster Catechism:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God (Psalm 86), and to enjoy Him forever (Psalm16:5-11). 
I love that! I remember coming across the Westminster Catechism years ago and how that first question, and answer, sum everything up. What's the most important thing in life? To glorify God…and ENJOY Him forever. The thing that struck me when I first read through the Westminster Catechism years ago was that line "enjoy him forever." I mean, the group that put this together did it back in the 1640s when (at least in my head) followers of Jesus were a bunch of fuddy-duddy sticks in the mud--who saw God as a cosmic killjoy. So to read that we are to enjoy God forever was exciting…and life-giving to me! When I read those words this morning, I got excited all over again--and excited for you two. Within Psalm 86 (which the Westminster Catechism uses as a biblical reference to our belief) is Psalm 86:12:

"I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever."

This morning I also thought about my favorite line from a great, old movie called Chariots of Fire. When I think about you two hiking your way through all 2.168.1 miles of the Appalachian Trail, I think about how you are pleasing and/or glorifying God. Here's what I mean: The movie Chariots of Fire is based on the true story about two English Olympic runners from the 1920s--one a Christian (Eric Liddell), the other a Jew (Harold Abrahams). Liddell was raised by missionary parents, raised to be a missionary himself. In the movie, when Liddell's sister confronts him about the uselessness of his running he tells her, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." 

I Feel His Pleasure      

Isn't that great? Isn't that what you're experiencing right now? At least that's what I hope you're experiencing throughout your hike. I hope and pray that you are drenched in the reality that God has made to both for a purpose, but He also gave this desire to hike…and when you hike…you feel His pleasure. What greater way can there be to glorify God than to do…and to live out…what He's created us to do. God's purpose for Liddell was to be a missionary--and he died in the mission field in China. I know you two are still trying to figure out what God's purpose is for you…but until He makes that clear…hike.

Hike and feel His pleasure. 


Day 35: Fill in the Blank

Well, yesterday Mom mailed out your next supply box. I think we got everything in there you requested. Sorry, but the iPod didn't make it on this run. I didn't get it to Ben in time. So he didn't have time to put music on it for you. I'm still a little hurt that you didn't ask me to do that. Don't you want any of my music? I told Ben that and he said, "Yeah. 'Celtic Christmas VII'…". I punched him. Let us know when you get it when you get to Erwin, Tennessee.

Erwin, Tennessee…10-12 miles from Milligan College! 

Erwin, Tennessee…right on the Nolichucky River! 

Erwin, Tennessee…landmark to the Execution of Murderous Mary the Elephant! 

How would you like it if your town's biggest historical contribution is its notoriety for hanging a circus elephant?

"Erwin earned some notoriety in 1916 when the only known public execution of an elephant in Tennessee occurred in the community. Mary, the elephant, had killed her handler, Walter Eldridge, in nearby Kingsport. As home to the region's largest railway yard, Erwin was the only community with the means to carry out the death sentence. An estimated 2,500 people turned out at the local railway yard to see Mary hoisted by a crane and hanged by a chain around her neck. The first chain snapped, but a larger one was found and the peculiar task completed - she was hanged for half an hour before being declared dead." (Wikipedia)    

Doesn't exactly help the stereotype of small southern towns, does it? Katie, as a collector of elephant knick-knacks and memorabilia, you need to get something when you stop in Erwin. A t-shirt or a souvenir glass or something! That's too good to pass up! You need something from Erwin in your collection. If you pick something up, and you're afraid to hike with it the rest of the way, mail it back here to us. We'll pack it up and put it with the rest of your stuff in the crawlspace.  

Poor Erwin, Tennessee. I feel sorry for that little town…sort of. If you do a Google search on Erwin the primary thing you find about it is Mary the Elephant. That's their notoriety, and their reputation, it seems. When Mom and I were in school at Milligan, that's all I knew about that town. That's been their reputation, I guess, since 1916. I think it's a sobering reminder of how much WHAT we do influences how people remember us. That makes me think of the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Proverbs is this great collection of practical wisdom--the bulk of it written by King Solomon to his sons. Too bad he didn't listen to a lot of his own advice. He's someone that started out great, then the wheels came off (You can read all about his messy life in 2 Samuel & 1 Kings). All that aside, in Proverbs 22:1, Solomon writes:

"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."  

When I think about all the people you're meeting on your hike I know one thing: they WILL remember you. I'm sure they'll remember, "Katie and Nick…Summer and Breeze…the young married couple from Colorado…" The rest of that sentence is fill-in-the-blank, isn't it? The thing is though…we don't get to fill in our own blank. We don't get to pick how people remember us or choose what kind of reputation we have. All we can do is influence it--by our actions and how we treat others. I know most of your encounters on this hike will be fleeting, but you'll also make some connections that will last your lifetimes. 

Help them all fill in that blank well.   


Day 36: Covered Over 

Scott Nickell came into my office this afternoon to chat. It was our monthly check-in to see how things are going in the Community Ministry. I love talking with Scott. We eventually get around to talking work stuff, but the majority of our discussions usually end up being about the more important things in life: kids, sports, food, movies, etc. Scott asked me how my family was doing and immediately asked about you two…where you were…how you were weathering the trip…and so on. I told him your latest and then told him what I tell everyone, "I can't believe how much we've been able to stay in contact!" I shared with him how Katie texted Mom on Sunday…but how we were able to FaceTime on Thursday. Then it hit me…that was almost a week ago now! Mom got a text. I didn't. It'll be a week tomorrow since I've heard anything from you. Did you get that? Have I dropped enough hints yet? :)

While Scott and I were meeting today I told him about my struggle with sleep lately. I wanted to say, "I don't know why I can't sleep…", but that would be a lie. I know why. I do all the things you're not supposed to do when you get into bed. I read…I check my email and calendar for the next day…I do a crossword puzzle... and I watch Netflix on my iPad. All the things that will ramp up your brain when you're supposed to be getting it to wind down. Scott said that reading helps him fall asleep, but he'll only read "fluff"--books about sports figures and sports history. Nothing deep to spin his brain into gear. 

Then, we got to talking about books and how (when it comes to faith-related books) you can read stuff, but you don't have to agree with everything in it. Scott said he got an email from someone who took offense with him for quoting a Christian author they didn't agree with. Scott said, "I quote all kinds of people that I may not agree with on everything! Like C.S. Lewis. I quote him all the time, but I don't agree at all with his views on heaven and hell!" As we talked more I got to thinking of authors I like, but don't agree with everything they believe. It got me thinking about one of my favorite poems from poet Khalil Gibran. Nick quoted him in his "30 Things…" blog the other day. Gibran's religious views are SO far off from mine. His were sort of a Molotov cocktail of Christianity, Islam, Bahai Faith and a little bit of mysticism thrown in for good measure. But that didn't mean he couldn't speak some truth too--especially in his poem titled "On Children":

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.          

Isn't that poem filled with a lot of truth? Whenever I read it, I usually have to re-read it, then something catches me in the throat. I mean, I came across that poem before you were both born…and now…with that part of our life over…and our house empty…it rests in a different place than it did when Ben and Katie were still at home. Mom and I are on the other side of the truth found in those words. And the mistakes we made (i.e., trying to make you more like us, striving to make our thoughts your thoughts, etc.) haunt me in hindsight now…instead of the in the present. When I think of the damage I've done and the scars I've made…I pray that what Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:8 is truer than anything I could ever hope:

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."
You know I love you both deeply. I pray it's enough to cover over the multitude of my sins and mistakes…and that you both will continue to go swift and far. 

Like, 2,168.1 miles by mid-August. 


Day 37: Miracle

"I believe in miracle, but not too much miracle, for too much miracle would weaken us, make us dependent on miracle instead of our obedience to natural law. Just enough miracle to let us know He (God) is there, but not too much, lest we depend on it when we should depend on our own initiative and on His orderly processes for our development." E. Stanley Jones 
I read this quote the other day reading that Dallas Willard book "Hearing God" I wrote you about. I highlighted the quote on my iPad (Which I didn't know you could do!). Then, talking with you tonight, Katie, I thought of it again while we were talking about the bears. Mom is SO happy that you haven't come across any bears, but I'm excited for your first sighting! When Ben and I came across that black bear when we hiked the AT in Georgia back in 2006…I thought it was a miracle. I'm even more convinced it was a miracle after what you shared tonight on the phone; the fact that there was only ONE black bear rambling around Georgia back in 2006! It was neat to learn that Old Drum thru-hiked the AT back in 2006…and that we may have seen the same bear that year…and knowing that the ATC claims there was only one bear that summer almost guarantees that fact. Still, Mom hopes you don't come across any bears on your hike. Me…I'll pray for a miracle.

I highlighted that E. Stanley Jones quote…and want to try and remember it…because I need to be reminded of its truth. I need to remind myself that I lean too much, and desire too strongly, the miraculous. I think that if I consistently experience the miraculous side of life…I'll feel closer to God. Mr. Jones, there, cautions me not to seek that…but to seek God first. And that leads me to today's Bible verse:

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."(Matthew 6:33)  
I need to seek God first…not HIs miraculous hand. I need to seek Him in the commonplace…in the drudgery of everyday life and not in miracles. The truth is, when I focus on what Jones calls "His orderly processes for our development" I see the miraculous in the mundane. I see God in the plain, everyday ordinary things in life. If all I'm looking for is amazing, awe-inspiring events in life…I will miss God in the finer details

Honestly, when Ben and I had that bear walk into our camp 6 days into our hike…I thought it was a miracle! Up to that point, all we had seen was a few squirrels, a chipmunk or two, and a box turtle. Then, the bear. And I will tell you now, from the bottom of my heart, I believe God gifted us with that bear. Ben and I were only going to be hiking for two weeks, then he was heading off to school. We were hoping to see all kinds of wildlife, and just when it felt like we weren't going to see a thing…the ONLY bear in Georgia waltzed into our camp! Ben and I both agreed that we could've gone home that day…completely satisfied…because of Han Solo Bear. A miracle.

So whatever God places in your path each day, please try to look for Him in the ordinary, everyday parts of your hike…in the rhythmic crunch of your footsteps…in the intricacy of His creation…in the music you listen to…and in the silence of the night. I think you'll find your dependence on this kind of miracle will far exceed anything else once this grand adventure is over. I think you'll find that, just as your muscles have strengthened over the last 37 days…your muscles for seeing the miraculous in mundane will have strengthened too. 

Let me hope and pray for your bear.


Day 38: East Tennessee

Don't make fun. I was in a mood for Dan Fogelberg tonight. Knowing that you guys are hiking through East Tennessee and all around Milligan College got me all nostalgic. 

For Mom and me--Milligan and Dan Fogelberg go hand-in-hand. We fell in love at that college and to his music. The albums Phoenix, Souvenirs, Netherlands, Twin Sons of Different Mothers and Home Free all send me back to our days at Milligan. Dan Fogelberg was the soundtrack to our early years: Meeting each other at Milligan…falling in love…getting married…and our first few years as newlyweds. And if Dan Fogelberg was the soundtrack to our early days, then those mountains you're hiking in-and-around (Buffalo and Roan Mountains) were the backdrop. There are several songs that, when I hear them, take me right back to those days. It's 1979 all over again. I'm on my own for the first time…in a strange, new place called Tennessee…hemmed in by those mountains and trying to figure out who I was. As Mom and I listened to the album Twin Sons of Different Mothers tonight the song Hurtwood Alley started to play. I told Mom, "It seriously feels like yesterday I first heard this!" I closed my eyes and I was immediately a freshman in Derthick Hall again. I could almost smell the mustiness of that old building…with Buffalo Mountain looming in the distance. 

I love East Tennessee for all sorts of reasons--not just because it's where Mom and I met. It's where I met some friends for life. It's where I first really hiked and camped in the wild. But most of all, East Tennessee is where I truly set off on my own, away from family…where I questioned everything from my upbringing…and started finding answers. It was brief…only 2 years…but they are 2 years that were more intense, and more shaping, than probably any of the other 53 years of my life. I know this is sappy, but that doesn't mean it isn't true: I found a major piece to who I am in those mountains and at Milligan College…and I left a part of me there too. There's a part of me that will always stay in East Tennessee. 

So it makes me happy knowing that you are both seeing the same mountains…hiking through the same trees…past the same streams…and smelling the same rhododendrons we did over 30 years ago. And even though you're just passing through on your way north for Virginia, I hope there's something about that section of East Tennessee that calls out after you too. It was in that area that I began to try and figure out who God was (and is). It's where--even though I didn't recognize it at the time--I began to hear God. You know what I mean when I say that. Maybe it will happen one day, but up until now, I have never heard the audible voice of God (I think I might poop my pants if I did anyway). I have, however, experienced the gentle nudge or tug on my heart that I have come to know as God's way of speaking to me. It almost always happen reading the Bible…when I read something I've read maybe hundreds of times before…and I see it differently or more profoundly than ever. That's how I hear Him…that's how I recognize His voice…and it first started all those years ago in East Tennessee. 

And listening is one thing. The hard part is obeying. Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  (Luke 11:28)

I hear all sorts of noise. I also hear the word of God, but do I obey? I have my good days and bad. I pray, that as you two tread that familiar ground, your ears are tuned into what God is saying and that you hear His word…and that not only will you listen…you will obey. It's in our obedience that God does some of His greatest work and forges the greatest change, but it's a journey.
Joy at the start, fear in the journey
Joy in the coming home
A part of the heart gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road
                         Along the Road by Dan Fogelberg


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