Saturday, June 27, 2015

Playing Catch Up: Several New Appalachian Trail Posts

Day 72: Life as a Story

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can't go back to being normal; you can't go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”  Donald Miller-- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

We missed you both tonight. Emery had her 2nd birthday party tonight. Same park…same people (with the additions of Micah and Carter)…same time of the day…and same weather as her 1st birthday party last year. It all looked and felt the same…all except you. You were missing. Family stuff just doesn't feel the same without you. You were missed. 

It's hard to believe that Em is two years old already. Another year…another chapter. 

Our Stories

Steph Brooks was asking about you guys today at the office. She wanted to know how you were doing…and what was the latest news…and how far along you were. I filled her in with what I knew--that as of last Saturday--you were about 650 miles into the AT…just outside of Pearisburg, VA. I told her that you sounded great and that you had a good group of fellow hikers you had connected with. She asked if the people you were hiking with were all doing the same thing: thru-hiking all the way to Maine. After I told her they were, Steph just smiled and said, "That's really, really cool! They're going to have such great stories when they get back!" I agreed.   

When I first read Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I loved his concept…or outlook on life: That we should view our lives as a story…like a novel or a movie…and join God in the creation of a great story…or great life. That's what I think about you two right now. You're deep in the middle of writing an original, wonderful story…full of adventure…and great characters…where I can't wait to turn the next page (or more to the point…get the next call). It's exciting to think how this journey…this leap in faith…is going to effect the rest of your lives…and your outlook on life. 

And He (Jesus) said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."   Matthew 4:19

Jesus asked Peter and Andrew to follow him. They had the choice of staying put…to continue to fish…to keep things status quo. But instead, they dropped their nets and followed Jesus into history…and eternity. They took a leap of faith and let God write an amazing story with their lives. 

I'm inspired by their courage…and yours.


Sold! I've got $90 in my pocket to deliver to you in Harpers Ferry now. Some nice guy named Dustin bought your Osprey backpack, Nick. I know Craigslist can be creepy, but so far…it's worked out great for us…and Dustin! 

Day 73: Days of Your Youth

"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—before the sun and the light and the moon 
and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;

When the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;

When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint;

When people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred. Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets."   
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-5)

I remember first reading that passage from Ecclesiastes when I was in middle school--in 6th or 7th grade. The main reason I remember reading it was because I read it from this Bible called: Good News for Modern Man. They passed a bunch of them out at youth group one Sunday night…and the only reason I was even remotely interested in reading Ecclesiastes…were the illustrations. The Good News for Modern Man Bible was peppered with these funky--almost stick figure-like--illustrations (Below). 

The illustrations for Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 helped make sense of that whole section. Each of the metaphors Solomon used in this were illustrated with a drawing depicting what the metaphor was referring to: 

Keepers of the house - Legs
Grinders - Teeth
Windows - Eyes
Tree blossoms - White hair

I remember looking over those drawings as a kid in the basement of the Madison Church of Christ thinking, "Getting old is such a long, long way off!" Now it's here. Already. Needless to say, I was thinking about this part of Ecclesiastes because we're packed and ready. We're flying to Florida to see Grandma and Grandpa Hysell. It's sad, but so much of Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 applies to them now. Age can be debilitating. Alzheimer's has stolen Grandpa away...and osteoporosis (and gravity) are crushing Grandma's body like a bug. 

So…"remember your Creator in the days of your youth". This hike of yours…at the age you are…is such a blessing. I love that you are squeezing the life out of your youth…and getting all that you can out of it. 

Be strong. I'll see you in a week! Seven days and counting! 


Day 74: Plans

I immediately turned on my phone once the plane touched down in I always do when I fly somewhere. I'm not the only one, of course. I mean, the wheels barely touched down and all you could hear was text alerts and people calling others up and down the aisle. Katie, when I heard your message...where you cryptically said, "Please call me when you can. We NEED to talk." I knew already, but Mom went into hyper-worry mode asking, "How did she sound? Is everything okay? Do you think she's hurt? Is Nick hurt?

But I already knew.

So when you called tonight, Katie, it REALLY eased Mom's mind to hear you were fine. And like I said, I already knew. I just knew you were calling to tell me you weren't going to be able to make it to Harpers Ferry by this coming Saturday. I knew it was going to be a gargantuan task to get there by then. big deal. I get a rental car and come your way. Hiking the Shenandoah sounds wonderful! 

The best laid plans...

I knew it was going to be hard to target an exact time and place to meet up, so I was already set for flexibility. Planning ahead has never been my strong suit...and I never wanted you two to feel any pressure to hit a specific mark at a specific time. At the heart of it...this little section from James 4:13-15 says it all:

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'"

It really is up to God's will, isn't it? Whether it's Shenandoah this coming weekend...or even waking up tomorrow. So, let me just say...I plan to fly to DC on Saturday, June 20th, a car...and then drive the 2-3 hrs to the Shenandoah National up with you two...and hike...

If it's the Lord's will.


Day 75: Last Supper

When they walked through the door I recognized that little red leather box immediately--about 8"long by 4" wide by 2" deep. They smiled and introduced themselves: Jay and Mike. Jay looked like he was mid-to-late 60s and wore a Harley t-shirt and jorts (jean shorts). Mike was suited up in standard-issue dressy Florida wear: Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and mandals (man sandals). And he was the one carrying the little red leather box. 

They were both genuinely glad to see Grandpa and Grandma, but Jay was the warm one, with a folksy, teasing nature to him. He joked with Grandpa (the way old men like to do), "Hey there Jackson! You keeping yerself outta' trouble?" Grandpa smiled and said, "Nah...never do." I was amazed. Grandpa didn't skip a beat. His quick, yet quiet, gentle sense of humor hasn't been erased by this miserable disease. 

As Jay made small talk with Grandma, Mom and I (with an occasional side comment to Grandpa), Mike sat down at the kitchen table and opened the leather box. He took the lid off a tiny gold cylindrical container and took out a purple plastic bottle, then he removed a stack of little plastic cups...and counted out four of them...returning the rest to the little red leather box. After sprinkling out four tiny wafers from the gold container into the lid--which doubled as a tiny gold plate--Mike squirted grape juice into the four plastic cups. "Well, why don't we get started," Mike said very officially. 

Then, we took communion.

Shortly after we got to Grandpa and Grandma's trailer this morning, Mom whispered to me that a couple of guys from their church were coming to serve Grandpa and Grandma communion--because they missed church on Sunday. I knew instantly what it would be like...or so I thought. I've seen this done (and done it myself) more times than I can count. A man (or men) from church come to serve communion to the "shut ins"--that's what we always called the elderly people who couldn't make it to church. 

Only today was different. Today the shut ins were people I deeply love...people I knew and loved way before age robbed their bodies and minds. Today I watched two people take part in a ritual that they've participated in hundreds and hundreds of times the point where I cynically thought it was meaningless...but it wasn't. It was beautiful. Today we took communion with Grandpa and Grandma...maybe for the last time...and it reminded me of this from Matthew 26:26-29:

"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.'

Most everyone calls this part of the Gospels The Last Supper
Evangelicals call this rite or remembrance communion.
Catholics call it Eucharist and refer to the bread as the "Body of Christ". 

Today was all of those to me. 

It was communion...and it was our last supper...and it was the Body of Christ...the church...caring for others. And they included our "shut ins" this morning, but someday...because Jesus promises...we'll get to do this all over together...anew. Everyone together. No twisted and broken bodies...and no Alzheimer's.

And today only made me miss you more than ever. Five more days.


Day 76: Old Dogs

You can't help but love an old dog, can you? 

There's something sweet and sad and majestic about a big, old dog living out his last days. The way he squints and looks off into the if trying to remember...and re-live...the old days...times of great rabbit chases gone by and long ago hikes and campfires long past. When you look at an old dog...especially your can still see...buried under all that white hair on his can still see the young dog, like a watermark...a hint of who he used to be. 

That's where my mind has gone the entire time here in Florida with Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa's like a sweet old dog...sitting on the couch or under their trailer breezeway...staring off in the distance...lost in days past. It's sad, but so wonderful too. Throughout our time here, Mom and I have seen glimpses of the old Jack. His wry smile and quick wit are still there. He may not know who he's teasing, but he still teases. 

We ran Grandpa through the wringer today: To the lawyer, then the bank...for extended meetings at both. The lawyer and the bank manager HAD to ask him questions. It's their duty. They had to see if Alzheimer's had really incapacitated him, so they had to look him in the face and ask the simplest of questions, "Jack, do you know who this is?" (Pointing to Mom). He smiled and said, "Well...I think it's my daughter" unable to remember Mom's name. It needed to be done, but it seemed cruel, like chucking a ball to an old dog saying, "Fetch!"...knowing they can't run. When I shifted in my chair under the awkwardness...I accidentally kicked Grandpa in the leg. I told I was sorry and patted his knee and he smiled at me and said, "That's okay. You woke me back up." See? He's still in there, somewhere!

"Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—"  Ephesians 6:2

I'm so proud of Mom because that's what she did these last couple of days--she honored her father and mother by coming here...listening to her mother...following her wishes...and, in the end, gave her peace. And even though Grandpa didn't remember her name...I know, if I know anything...he knew what she was doing...and he felt loved for...cared for...and honored. 

What more can an old dog ask for?


p.s. Loved the picture of you all (Below) on McAfee Knob! Could you feel my jealousy as you stood on that iconic cliff? Again, I couldn't be happier to see (and hear) the joy on your faces and in your voices. Four days and counting!

Day 77: Run 

The first alarm (Mom's) went off at 3:30AM (Eastern Time) this morning. 

The second alarm (mine) went off at 3:50AM. 

We were out the door of the Ramada Inn by 4:00AM. Our rental car needed to be returned by 6:00AM in Tampa (an hour and a half away) and we had to make sure we caught the shuttle to the airport for the7:00AM flight. Shortly after the plane touched down in Denver today, I told Mom, "I'll be doing this all again in three days." She asked me, "Are you dreading it?" "No," I told her. "I can't wait!"

Three days…and counting.

I know our plans got rearranged, but it's all good. After I land in Washington, DC on Saturday…I'll quickly grab my rental car and head your way…which (I hope) is the Shenandoah National Park. It's still Shenandoah, right? Let's try and touch base tomorrow for an update. Either way, I'll start trying to connect with you after I land so that we can synch up our meeting place and time. Please let me know what to bring you. Now's your chance to really milk me! 

I feel like it's Christmas time; that excitement you get…deep in your stomach…anticipating the joy of Christmas morning. That's the way I feel about Saturday. I can't wait! Trust me, I'm REALLY not calling you prodigals, but the only Bible verse I'm thinking of right now is from Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son. As Jesus tells the story, a man's son asks for his inheritance (before his dad has even died), takes it, and blows it all on wild living. When the money's gone…and a famine overtakes the land…the son decides to go back home…tail between his legs, broken and repentant…hoping against hope his dad will show a little mercy and let him work as a slave. And then Jesus tells us in Luke 15:20…

“But while he (the son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."  
Like I said, I'm not saying you're prodigals. All I'm saying it that I'm going to embarrass myself (and probably you too). 

In Jesus' day and time, it was a great shame for a man (especially an elder or father) to run in public. It was seen as a disgrace and made you unworthy of respect. And that's Jesus' point. Jesus made it abundantly clear that God's love for us has no bounds…no matter what we've done…He's waiting for us to give in…to turn from the messes we've made…and come back home to Him. And when we do…He runs! The God who created everything in the universe…runs to us. He's so happy to see us return that it's embarrassing. 

I love that…and can't wait to embarrass myself Saturday. 


Day 78: Rest

Sorry. I guess I'm still reeling from our LONG day yesterday…and it was another long one today. Bob Tunnell and I spent the day interviewing men to take on our next trip to Afghanistan in October…and my brain is fried. I know you two are dealing with A LOT more fatigue than me, so I will simply share this verse tonight:

"Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you."

I will (try to) return my soul to rest tonight. After tomorrow, I'll will be with you two in Virginia…proof that the Lord has been good to me. Can't wait!

Two more days!


Day 79: Continually

This will be my shortest email to you yet. I will see you guys in less than 16 hrs. at Jennings Creek. I am SO looking forward to this…and nervous because I'm in anything but hiking shape. No matter what…we'll be together in a few short hours. Mom's jealous, but is excited for us too. 

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
I AM rejoicing because I'm joyful about our next few days together…and I AM giving thanks in this circumstance in particular. 

I've always struggled with "praying continually". How DO you pray ALL the time? If it means that you need to be thinking about your life, your struggles and everyday issues…and continually think about how God is in all of them…then, I think I'm good. I really don't think it means stopping, shutting down and sitting in a corner--deep in prayer. I don't know how you do that. 

So, I will be praying…and thinking about life…and our next few days together in Virginia…and I will rejoice. 



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