Day 96: Tourists
Okay. So Mom's finally gotten me to watch "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix. She knew I was tapped out on the whole "mockumentary" format in films and TV, but she was persistent…and I gave in. I'm still tired of all the actors constantly eyeing the camera with ironic smiles, but I will admit…I'm enjoying it…especially Andy. I guess the thing that has surprised me the most is the little gems of wisdom they pepper throughout the show. Just when I think the entire show is going to be senseless farce…a character says something profound.
The other night the episode we were watching included a storyline where Amy Poehler's character, Leslie, is dating…what seems to be…the perfect guy, Justin. Leslie sits down at a party and talks with her boss Ron Swanson (who cracks me up!) about how there's something about Justin that bothers her…but she can't put her finger on it. Ron insightfully says:
"He's a tourist. He vacations in peoples' lives, takes pictures, puts them in a scrapbook, and moves on. All he's interested in are stories."
I thought that was great! And I immediately thought of you two. I love that you're NOT tourists. I love that you're making your own story…taking your own pictures…and moving through life together. I also realize that I have to be careful…that I have to make sure I'm not a tourist in your life…only interested in this amazing story you two are writing together. I have to consistently step back…tell myself, "This is their story, not yours" and hold on to it loosely. There's this great quote from Corrie Ten Boom where she said: "I've learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!"
Still, I will continue to write you both and send a note (hopefully) of encouragement to you…and your daily Bible verse. Today's has more to do with the way Mom and I feel…knowing that Katie is feeling much better…and that God continues to send trail magic your way:
"Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion..." Psalm 103:2-4
And as you continue on your trek north…I will try not to be a tourist…and hold on to you loosely…knowing that you are in the grip of perfect love.
Day 97: Those He Loves
We've been able to talk so much over the last couple of days, Katie...and Mom and I are so glad you're on the mend...eating, resting and charging up for what's ahead. Because we've spoken on the phone multiple times since Sunday...I will simply send you both this verse from Psalm 127:2. No matter what we do...and how hard we work...a life without God in the center is in vain. But when we live in relationship with Him...he gives us rest.
"In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves."
I hope you know that you are both included in those God loves...and that He's really blessed you with food and rest over the last few days...and that as you set off in the morning to continue your hike north...God will continue to grant you sleep (and rest) as you rise early, stay up late and toil on the Appalachian Trail.
Day 98: Them
I feel lame only writing these few lines, but it's been a very long day and I'm about to crash. I just want you both to know that you've been on my mind all day...and I don't want to go to sleep without writing you something...without sending you a note and a Bible verse. As you read this verse below...I want you to fill in the blank on who (or what) "them" is for you. Deuteronomy 31:6 reads:
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Only you two know who "them" is...what you're worried about...or what you're afraid of right now. But be strong. You can be sure that God is going with you...and He will NEVER leave you or forsake you.
Stay strong and courageous!
Day 99: Praise
The longest I've ever lived outdoors was 12 days.
And while those 12 days back in 2006...when Ben and I hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail...were a lot of fun, I never got used to living outside. I think I adapted pretty quickly to what life on the trail had to offer, but I never got totally comfortable with it.
And we were only out there for 12 days.
I remember sleeping in a real bed for the first time after Ben and I finished our AT hike. Uncle Doug had picked us up and taken us back to their house where Ben and I showered and cleaned up and went immediately to bed. Laying in the dark that night, the bedroom I slept in felt enormous. I guess I'd grown accustomed to that tiny, little tent we slept in for almost 2 weeks. The expanse of the bedroom that night was overwhelming.
Recalling all that makes me wonder about you two, though. What are you going to experience when you come off the trail? What's going to be weird, overwhelming and strange for you after living in the woods for 100+ days? I mean, I can't help but wonder what you'll experience when step out of the wild and back into civilization. If I think about it too much…I start asking you questions in my head. Questions like:
"Are you tired of sleeping on the ground in a 4' x 7' nylon sack?
Are your taste buds numb to the steady diet of pre-packaged breakfast bars, fruit snacks and pasta?
Aren't you dying to take a long, hot shower…every night…instead of every other week or so?
Have you REALLY gotten used to pooping in the woods?
Do you ever need a break from each other?"
…and so on.
But then, I think about the flip-side…about what you're experiencing right now in the wild…and all the great stuff about living so close to nature. When I do…I'm reminded of Psalm 148…one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It's a song to God…where everything on earth gives Him praise:
"Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens." (Psalm 148:1-13)
When I read this…I see you in the midst of those words; under the sun, moon and shiny stars…amongst the mountains and hills…with the wild animals and small creatures and flying birds…traveling with the young men and women…walking north to Maine…surrounded and engulfed in the praise of God.
Day 100: One Hundred
I guess it's all relative whether the number one hundred sounds like a lot or not. Walt Disney knew that "A Hundred and One Dalmatians" is a lot of dogs, thus the title….Comedian Bob Hope, writer Herman Wouk and senator Strom Thurmond all lived to be a 100 years old…and some guy from Hawaii claims he's surfed the largest wave…at 100 feet high. All of those make the number 100 sound like a lot!
And when I look at the top of this email and see that you've been hiking now for 100 days…that not only SOUNDS like a lot…it sure feels like a lot too! Even though I got to see you both a couple of weeks back in Virginia…which helps…Mom didn't, and I think she's really starting to feel the reality of the deep-seated length of your hike.
Still, we were talking to Jim and Robin at dinner tonight and Robin was amazed at how much you've already done. I came home and Googled "How many steps in a mile?" and Google told me, "2,000 steps." The average person's stride is 2.5 feet long…making it a little over 2,000 steps per mile. That means…if I did my math right (which is always suspect)…you have walked around 1,914,000 steps….in 100 days. Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu is attributed with the quote: "A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." And boy-howdy those steps really add up!
You knew from the start of this journey how much you were going to be walking. It's just startling to read it all in black and white. In Deuteronomy 5:33 Moses is talking to the Israelites about what God has commanded from Mt. Sinai. He tells them:
"You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess."
Trust me, I'm not bending scripture to say something it's not. I know that Deuteronomy 5:33 was a command from God (through Moses) to His chosen people…a specific direction…to a specific people…at a specific time. But that doesn't mean we can't look at this and see…and maybe even pray…for the same kind of promise made to the the nation of Israel. And it doesn't mean I can't look at that sentence and pray the same for you; that you will walk in all the way as God has commanded you to along the AT...and that all may go well with you…and that you will live (deeply, full of life) in that land you are possessing…as you have for 100 days…and how many more it will take to get to Maine.
Day 101: Begin Doing
If you could name one person as your hero…who would it be?
That's the assignment a group of us in small group were given. We have to write a couple of paragraphs why this person is our hero. We were given some perimeters like, our hero can be living or dead…historical or personal…and we can't say "Jesus" because that's too easy. I'm still trying to decide between Abraham Lincoln or Walt Disney.
Whether we like it or not, Walt Disney has probably had the most profound influence on American culture to date. I was a fan of his back in my pre-teen years (long before all the rumors about Walt's anti-Semitism and racism). All I knew was that Ol' Walt grew up in the midwest…had a creative idea or two…and created a lasting dynasty of imagination and creativity. He was a man who stuck to his artistic (and business) convictions and succeeded. I recently read this quote from Walt Disney in a book Jim gave me on manhood:
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."
Simple and to the point, isn't it? And I immediately thought of you two. Lots of people talk about getting started at doing something crazy and brave and risky…but never, never follow through. They never even begin. You guys did! When you first told us about this thru-hike a year ago…I thought it was a cool idea, but wondered if you would ever follow through on it. Now…here I am…sitting at my computer typing my 100+ note to you…amazed and humbled (and a little jealous) at your bravery and tenacity. It's an inspiration to me (and others) to quit talking and begin doing!
We're trying not to worry, but Mom and I haven't heard from you in several days. We're hoping and praying you're both healthy and hiking your hearts out. I'll leave you with this verse from Isaiah 40:29 as a brief reminder of where to turn when you feel like this adventure is becoming too much or not worth it:
"He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."
p.s. It's not lost on me that I quoted Disney on Day 101…"101 Dalmatians"!
Day 102: Roller Coaster
"Hello! I have had decent service today. We are about to hit 1,000 miles!!! We are doing the Roller Coaster today. 13.5 miles of about 10 different 700 ft. Mountains back to back :( and then we are doing 20 miles into Harper's Ferry tomorrow!!! Finally getting the eff out of Virginia!"
Mom and I went to bed last night wondering; wondering (Katie) if you were still sick…wondering if you two were still on a good pace to regain some of the miles you lost through southern VA…and wondering if you were kidnapped (or worse) in the backwoods. Sorry. It's just true. That's just what happens when we go for days without hearing anything.
So, thanks for sending that text today! Perfect timing!
You would think I'd be used to this rhythm on our correspondence after 102 days, but I'm not. We talk or text and get our bearings…knowing where you both are and how you're doing…then we go for days of silence wondering...how you are and what you're doing. After more than 4-5 days…the questions and doubts seep in…sending me to dark places…and just when it almost overtakes me…a text or phone call from you... and all is good again.
Would I be doing this if you guys had just moved to the east coast? Maybe. I don't know. All I know is that it's a roller coaster of emotion--filled with worry and joy and fear and hope. Up one day…and down after 4 or 5 days. When I read your text about the Roller Coaster that you were going to hike today….all I could think about was a different roller coaster…the one Mom and I have been on since you started in April. Please! Don't even think twice about us. We're fine. I think it's just part of being a parent…even when your kids are grown…out of the house…living their own lives…and doing phenomenal things like thru-hiking the AT…you will still worry. There's this little verse in Psalms that reads:
"When I am afraid, I will trust in you." Psalm 56:3
I try to do that. I really do. But I guess my faith is on a roller coaster too. There are days when I think, "No matter what happens, God's in control and will do what is best." The top of the roller coaster. Then, the days come when fear and doubt seep in…and I begin to think God isn't going to take care of things like He should…and I'm plunged, headlong, down a hill of questions…asking myself if God can REALLY be trusted with the people I love…and then the coaster of my heart begins the clickety-clack journey back uphill…where faith and trust seem so clear.
I really DO trust God. I trust that He will always see us through any storm that comes our way. But I also know that sometimes…He allows some really, really hard stuff to pass into our lives…sending us on the roller coaster.
Day 103: Halfway
"Believe you can and you're halfway there." Theodore Roosevelt
I knew it was good the moment you spoke on the phone tonight, Katie. I could hear it in your voice. And before I could turn my phone to speaker mode (for Mom's benefit) you said, "We're finally out of Virginia!" Yes! Halfway there!
As Mom and I listened to your stories, the joy and pride of accomplishment were evident in your every word. I know that tomorrow you'll pick back up and begin the task of taking on the second half, but I hope you'll bathe a little in this victory. Getting your halfway picture (Below) taken at the Appalachian Trail Headquarters in the morning should help. That should be a lot of fun…and maybe prepare you for the hard part of tomorrow: Saying good bye to Savage.
It's sad to think that you'll be parting ways with Savage. He's been with you for 2 months and now…he has to head home because the chasm between his dream of finishing off the AT…and the reality of his life and finances...was too wide to bridge. I know it's going to be hard tomorrow…and I can almost guarantee…Savage is going to tell you, in his thick Tennessee accent, "Finish this off…for me." Then, like so many other hikers that you began this journey with in April…he'll hop on that train for Washington, DC and head for home…forever wishing he'd been able to stick with it.
It's hard to hike that trail. You know this better than I could ever understand. You've been reading all those shelter journals…filled with entries from hikers who were quitting or had to quit. Some quit for physical reasons…some for personal…and some just couldn't take it any longer. Maybe it was the boredom induced by the 550.3 miles of trail in Virginia alone…or maybe they really, really missed home…or maybe (and I know this is easy for me to say and write)…maybe they just didn't have the inner strength, determination and chutzpah to finish it off.
And that's why you need to celebrate a little tomorrow…before strapping your packs back on and getting back to business. Celebrate this great accomplishment. You've hiked the AT halfway! Celebrate the strength and determination you both have that got you from Springer Mountain, GA to Harpers Ferry, WV! Celebrate what's ahead…the good days, the bad, the tough days, the easy ones. Celebrate it all, then get back on the trail…one foot in front of the other…each step closer and closer to your final goal: Maine!
And don't forget to celebrate the One who has carried you this far…and the only One able to carry you to the end.
"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2
But celebrate with a humble heart…knowing there are others who never had the chance to experience the joy you're feeling…and the hope you have of an ultimate celebration on Mt. Katahdin. And one of them begins a lonely journey back home tomorrow. Please give my best to Savage. I will be praying for him.
Day 104: Bearing Burdens
I know you had to say good bye to your hiking buddy Savage today. I'm sure it was hard. Good byes are never fun. You were on my mind all day…you, your hiking buddy…and my first hiking buddy.
His name is Tim and he's was the only reason I ever made it through my first real hike. I was in 5th or 6th grade and I had joined the Boy Scouts…only because Uncle Dave did. I really didn't know anyone in the scout troop other than Uncle Dave and Tim--and they were 2 and 4 years older than me, respectively. Most of that scout troop was older than me. I always felt out of place in our meetings, so I was so glad that Uncle Dave was going on the weekend hiking trip our troop was making in the Allegheny Mountains. Uncle Dave was there in the weeks prior as we prepped and readied ourselves for the big hike. He was there on our last meeting before the big weekend where we sat in an old gymnasium and made gorp--a mix of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms. Yeah, Uncle Dave was there…right up until the night before…when he snagged a Saturday job that paid. Then, it was just me…or so I thought.
Nana and Papa dropped me off at the school where the scout troop loaded up and headed off for Pennsylvania. My stomach was in knots. I didn't have the right hiking boots (I wore a pair of those felt-lined snow boots)…my pack was too big…and I didn't have Uncle Dave with me. I was alone.
And in stepped Tim. Tim was our minister's son. I had known Tim since he and his family moved to town when I was going into first grade. His sister was the little girl I wrote about earlier on your trip…the one who I witnessed crying on the first day of school and how it wrecked me. Tim was always friendly with me, but he was so much older and had his own buddies in our troop. As we started that hike I was immediately bringing up the rear…slipping in and out of those snow boots…struggling with my Boy Scout backpack…and regretting ever joining the scouts. And just when I wanted to give up…Tim came to the back of the trail and joined me and asked, "Hey Danny Boy. You okay?" I didn't care that he called me Danny (which I hated). Tim's ruddy cheeks and wide smile were such a welcome sight. He helped me re-cinch my pack…and didn't leave my side for the rest of the weekend. That night Tim introduced me to Kraft Mac & Cheese Al Dente around the campfire…and took (what was sure to be) the hike from Hell…and made it one of my favorite childhood memories.
Tim didn't have to do that. He could have stayed at the front of the pack…hanging with his friends. Instead, he did what Jesus would do; he eased someone's struggle. I will never forget that. It's one of the first, real examples of what "Jesus in the flesh" looks like.
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2
That weekend Tim came alongside me, eased my struggle and bore my burden…encouraging me…prodding me…and at times, literally pushing me up those Allegheny hills. He fulfilled the law of Christ by loving his neighbor (chubby, little me…unprepared for the Boy Scout Hike) as himself.
I will never forget Tim Hanze. I know there are many, many more like me who feel the same way. I know his family knows the impact Tim's had on so many lives…people from his childhood (like me) to the thousands he's pastored in Ohio and Tennessee. It's especially important for them to know this now. I got a quick text this afternoon from Uncle Dave informing me that Tim's battle with cancer is almost over. His family has been called to his side to say their last good byes. Tim's about to meet…face-to-face…the One he represented so well…the One who is sure to say,
"Well done, good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:21)
(Tim Hanze passed away the next day--July 15, 2015. He was a true example of what Jesus in the flesh is like.)