Day 105: Scars
I got the series of quick texts from Jim late this afternoon. They read:
Sneak into the auditorium
Stay out of sight
I knew why immediately. Ben was practicing for this weekend.
I quickly ended my meeting with Cole Willard and ran out my office door. I snuck into the back of auditorium and sat down in the very last row…in the shadows. Ben was onstage practicing his teaching for "big church". Everything was set up like it always is for the weekends; the auditorium was dark…the lights were all aimed on the center of the stage…and the side video screens had Ben blown up to the size of a two-story house. I have to admit…it caught me in the throat.
The current sermon series is titled: Wrestling with God. Jim and Scott have asked Ben, Jesse DeYoung and Jordan Terrell to share the message for the next 3 weekends--telling the story of a certain Biblical character and how their lives relate. Ben was given Moses. Like I told you the other night on the phone, Katie, I knew what he was going to be talking about…and I know it's going to be hard sitting in that packed auditorium this weekend…but sitting in the dark this afternoon as Ben stood at that podium and spoke about his wrestling match with God…I got a glimpse of how hard…and how moving…this weekend is going to be. I'm so, so sorry you guys can't be here for it. I know you'll listen and watch it online when you get a chance.
No one walks out of the home unscarred.
There are no perfect parents and no perfect kids. I know you've heard me say that before. Even the best of home environments will leave wounds. I wish that wasn't true (especially this weekend), but it just is. And even though I can see Romans 8:28 ( "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.") being lived out in Ben's story…it still hurts to hear it…it hurts to know the damage from his past…and it hurts because it happened on my watch…while he was growing up…and I didn't have a clue. Neither Mom nor I had any idea of the struggles he was having. And if I let it…that'll spin me to a very dark place…where I think about what else I missed…what else got past me that hurts my kids…and I'm choked by guilt and regret.
Katie, we had a long talk at the dinner table about this very thing shortly before you and Nick took to the trail in April. You opened up and shared with Mom and I about some of the damage you carry from the scars of growing up in our home. There were tears…and there were hugs…and there were apologies. I know we can't undo your past or Ben's. Still…it's hard to know the truth of the pain…and it's hard not to play "Monday Quarterback" with your lives--replaying in my head how I could have done things differently and done a better job at protecting you two.
But I can't let my past mistakes as a father destroy me either. It's not healthy and it's just plain unbiblical.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Mom and I will trust that promise in Jesus. He will make all things new…and He will take all of the past junk…our mistakes…and the scars left behind…and heal them. And He'll use them to point others to Himself…which is going to happen this weekend when Ben takes the stage at Flatirons this weekend to share his scars…and the healing that only comes through Jesus.
I wish you were going to be here in person to see it.
Day 106: No Writing
Day 107: Promised Land
I blew it again. I missed another note to you yesterday. That's two now. Sorry. No excuse. I just fell asleep in my chair last night and when Mom woke me up…I jumped up (in that way you guys all make fun of)…and hurried straight to bed. It's the first thing I thought of when I woke up. I muttered, "Crap!" and Mom startled awake asking me what was wrong. When told her, "I forgot to write Katie and Nick last night" Mom said, "I forgot too."
The text and picture that you sent this afternoon was fun! (Below)
Across the Mason-Dixon! Out of the south and into north! Keep it going! Tonight, I simply want to share with you this Bible verse from Joshua. It's found in Joshua 1:9, but it's something God tells Joshua (the leader who took over after Moses died) before he leads the Israelites across the Jordan River…and into the Promised Land. God tells Joshua:
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua had already crossed over into the Promised Land before…40 years earlier. Joshua, his buddy Caleb, and 10 other men…spies…snuck into Canaan 40 years before. The other 10 men told Moses (and the rest of Israel) that the land was terrifying and filled with giants. Only Joshua and Caleb said, "No big deal! We can take them!" And because of their fear and lack of faith…Israel spent the next 40 years traipsing around in the desert. So, God reminds Joshua that "the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
I want to do the same for you. I couldn't help but think of you two…crossing over the Mason-Dixon Line today…into northern territory. I know you've already hears the stories of what lies ahead of you, but be strong and courageous. Don't be afraid or dismayed….the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. That's a promise to focus your hearts and minds on as you make your way to your promised land.
Day 108: Proud
I literally just hung up the phone with you, Katie, so I won't write much. Really, I wanted to reiterate what Mom and I told you before we hung up: we're so proud of you two. We're glad that you've stuck to your plan and that you're hiking your hearts out! I know it's hard to keep going when you have some of your friends that want to slow down…and rest…and only hike 1 mile a day. So we're proud of you for putting some distance between you and them.
The word "proud"…that's a difficult one for me to deal with.
I've used it or heard it spoken to me a lot tonight. As Mom and I told you, Ben did an amazing job at church tonight. (Link to message below)
It was one of the best messages I've ever heard at Flatirons (and not because I'm his dad). After the 5PM and 6:45PM services, several people came up and said, "You must be proud" which I can only answer with, "Yes. Thanks." I am proud of Ben…and I'm proud of you two, but I struggle with the word "proud"…and the concept of pride. Pride is one of the biggest problems we can have in life; in a life with God...and with others. Pride is selfish and destructive and hurtful. Proverbs 16:18 reads:
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."
So, as I think about the pride I feel for my kids tonight…I'm proud. Meaning I'm thankful and grateful for the way each of my kids (Ben, Ali, Katie and Nick) is doing life right now. I'm amazed and thankful for the way Ben shared his heart tonight…and the way you two are living out your determination to finish this hike. But proud? Pride seems to indicate a sense of ownership or selfish reflection on yourself. Not for me. Tonight, at church, was all God and Ben. And you two staying focused on your goal…is all God and Katie and Nick. Nothing to do with Mom or I.
I know it's just semantics, but that's what has my brain swirling tonight. Yet I am going to sleep well tonight knowing that the God of the everything has all of my kids within His grasp…and that He's proud of you too.
Day 109: Ways of Your Heart
One of the biggest surprises of your thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail has been all the people who are genuinely interested in your journey and the folks who contact us and ask us how you're doing. It's a real testament to the adventure it stirs in people's hearts. This note was different though…it wasn't a friend or someone in the family…or an old classmate from our past. I found this email buried in the onslaught in my inbox from the weekend. Mom and I had to stop a couple of places on the way home from church…and while she was inside at one…I scrolled through my growing pile of emails. The title on this one looked so much like the many I receive in my inbox. It read: Thank You for the Connection. I opened it and found this:
"On a short hike on the AT this spring, we met a very nice young couple, then named Nick and Katie. Later, we often ran into, and occasionally hiked, with Sunshine and Breeze. I have a rule that if I hike with 3 days or camp with you 3 nights, you are part of my family. They far exceeded that rule. We enjoyed them so much and daily wonder where they are, how are they doing? Thank you for your blog as I learn a bit on their status."
I sat in the car and smiled like an idiot as I read the email…especially the part about how you two "far exceeded" the rule of trail family. It didn't surprise me in the least. From the stories you tell…and by my own witness out on the trail in Virginia…you both have made an impression on the people you've come across. Reading that email only verified a known fact.
You may never know the true impact you've had on the many hikers you've met on the AT, but know that these two…who are part of your trail family…are thinking of you and caring for you. As David wrote in his email:
"If you talk to them, tell them Old Drum and Ivanna Sherpa are doing well and preparing for our pilgrimage in Spain, El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). Tell them we have postponed our start to September 1, on the advice of Bob Peoples. I have also changed my planned hike of the entire AT in my 70's to next year.
Mom and I have heard about Old Drum and Ivanna Sherpa from the beginnings of your hike. They have made an indelible impression on you and (as you can read) you on them.
Old Drum. I love that trail name. Being old gives you perspective…it gives you an earned wisdom. It's usually us old ones who are able to look at the lives of those younger than us and encourage the enjoyment of youth….because it ends too quickly. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 11:9:
"You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see…"
I will respond to Old Drum and give him a heads up on what you're doing and where you are. I'm sure he will be as excited and encouraged by your stays as we are. In the meantime, keep hiking…be happy…and follow the ways of your heart.
Day 110: The Impossible Made Possible
I sure hope you're both able to hear the message Ben this weekend. Soon…if you haven't listened to it already. It had a lot of impact…and I think God will continue to use and use and use his words.
As I already wrote you…it was very hard to hear a lot of his story. But to hear…person after person…tell me the impact Ben's message had on them…and to read the emails coming in; God is taking Ben's struggles and doing great things (Romans 8:28).
And all of this I'm writing about…that's just Me! There's no telling how Ben's email box is blowing up after this weekend!
But as hard as it was to sit in that auditorium and listen to Ben share his pain and struggle (in all 4 services!)…that's not what I'm taking away from the weekend. I have to put Ben's struggles where they belong: in the past…and in God's hands. My biggest takeaway from the weekend is this: I had the beautiful, and amazing, experience of having my son lead me…to speak into an area of my life that I have needed to deal with for some time.
At the end of Ben's message he prayed…and he asked people if there was something they needed God to fix in their lives…something that has been hindering their relationship with Him…to make a baby step forward…a tiny, almost imperceptible step…signifying to God (and yourself) that you were "showing up". That you needed God to do a miracle in your life. Like the example Ben gave of Moses…standing on the shores of the Red Sea…with the Egyptian hordes raging at his heels…waiting for God to do the impossible…Ben urged people this weekend to make a baby step forward…asking God to show up and split their personal Red Sea. And I did. I stepped forward.
It was powerful.
In that moment Ben wasn't my son…and the husband of Ali…the father of those beautiful babies; Em and Micah. In that moment…Ben was my pastor…shepherding me to a place where God waits for me. I was convicted. I've been struggling with God for some time now…trying to place my finger on the source of my anger and frustration. It's deep. And it's been there for awhile.
So today…I emailed my core group of men…my small group. I asked them if they would meet me at 3PM on Wednesday…to join me on the shores of my Red Sea. Each of them, to a man, agreed to be there. They're going to be there where I am going to beg for God to show up and split my sea. To do what I think is impossible. And just like Ben shared this weekend…I believe this for everyone, but me. I believe this for you out there on the trail. I believe this for Mom and for Ben and Ali and Emery and Micah. I believe this for everyone that I pastor and lead.
I need to believe this is for me too now…and I'll stand on this shore waiting for Wednesday…focusing my heart and mind on one of the key verses from Ben's message:
"…'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" (Matthew 19:26)
Day 111: The Weight of it All
That's the adjective I've been using a lot over the last couple days.
Some things are just weightier…heavier…and filled with more intensity than others. Weighty is how I've been describing this past weekend, and how it felt to have Ben teaching on the main stage and sharing his story. It was weighty. I mean, it was good…and beautiful…and difficult…and inspiring…and painful. It was all of those…and more. It was weighty.
And today? It was weighty too.
It actually started last night with a difficult text from an old friend from Texas. Mom received the text via a personal note on Facebook. This friend from Texas had listened to Ben's talk online and it stirred up a lot of hurt and pain from his family's past. The text was hard to read and process. Mom responded to it and asked our friend to call me…which he did today. We talked on the phone for awhile as he unraveled an ugly mess of a story that was rooted in their past…and had (only recently) come to light. It caused great pain to his family and children. My stomach turned as he shared how this past hurt…had caused ripples of anger, depression and hopelessness in his family…Ben's talk this weekend had a profound effect on our friend. He contacted us to let us know of what they've been walking through over the last several months…and how Ben's message this weekend gave him great hope. Listening to our friend, I was a jumble of emotion; I was heartbroken and angry and sad and grateful. Grateful for what God is doing through Ben and his story.
It had been years since I talked to this old friend and today's conversation was difficult…and healing…and painful…and hopeful. It was all those things and more. It was weighty.
I know you know what I'm writing about. It's how I would describe my visit to you guys last month in Virginia. It was wonderful…and emotional…and difficult…and pointed…and beautiful. It was weighty. I don't think I can take it if everyday's going to be weighty. I need some "light-y" days too. I need days when there is air and space between the moments…when joy and rest shadow the waking hours…and sleep is sound and healing. It's hard to take the weight of it all when the world is heavy and the burdens of life make my legs buckle. One of the little tricks I do…when the weight of it all starts to overtake me…is think of you two…out on the trail…sharing the experience of a lifetime.
When I do that…things just seem lighter. Thank you.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26
Day 112: Good
Today was good day. Still weighty, but good.
Katie, your phone call this morning started the day off in a good way.
Hearing you…listening to your voice…the renewed energy and determination to stay on task made it good.
Knowing that Nick has a new spreadsheet made with all the miles you need to hike each day to guarantee you end on September 25th made it good.
Nick, the two new videos you posted of weeks 5 & 6 and 7-9 made it good. (Links to videos below)
Seeing your smiling faces…and the beautiful landscapes…and your friends...and the cute little ponies made it good.
Finding a new song to download (the one in the Week 5 & 6) made today good too.
It was a good day.
And it stayed good…even as I stood in a room with a bunch of strong men and dealt with my struggle; the distance I've been feeling with God. Talk about weighty! It was frustrating at first…and difficult…and, then, by the end…it was freeing. All I can say is that the Bible verse I left you with yesterday has even deeper meaning for me tonight than it did last night, so I'll send it again:
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26
There's probably lots of reasons why…some I've been able to put my finger on…but over the last few months I've become aware that my heart had grown like stone toward God. I recognized that I had some deeply buried anger and resentment towards God. For some time now. Some since childhood…and a lot from the struggles we endured in our 20+ years in Texas. All the personal…the professional…and the financial struggles…things that God allowed to happen…that He let pass through HIs hands and into our life…things that I've been angry about and holding against Him. I've been doing this even after all the amazing blessings He's dumped in our lap up here in Colorado. I don't know why I did that…all I know now is that I've learned the hard lesson that you can't…and shouldn't…hide your feelings from God. You've got to deal with them…all of them…including the anger and (what felt like) betrayal. So I did what Ben said I needed to do this weekend…I showed up at the seashore and asked the God to split the ocean between us. I can't explain what happened today, other than to say, I went into a room with a group of strong men…feeling nothing…doubting that my Red Sea was going to part…and I walked out feeling like I have a new heart…and a new spirit.
It took less than 2 hours…and it was good.
Day 113: Coincidences
There are no coincidences in God's world.
If I know…and have experienced anything in life…there are no coincidences in God's world. Nothing random. There's always order and direction…even when it doesn't look like it at first. I'm not saying that every little thing…all the minutia of life…is all linked together…or maybe I am. Anyway, this is on my mind because of our visit to the hospital today.
Mom had to have a procedure this afternoon. Let's just say in rhymes with rolonoscopy. Due to the fact that the doctor was going to put Mom into twilight sleep, I needed to stay and wait until after the procedure and she was awake. Mom and I walked into the waiting room together and…as we tried to find a seat…I recognized a familiar face. It was Michelle from church. She looked up at us and I could see concern written in her eyes. We said hello and learned that Michelle's husband, Steve, was having the same procedure. As we were standing in the waiting room talking, a nurse opened the door and called out, "Amy". Mom followed her…the door closed behind her….and I turned to Michelle and asked, "Can I wait with you?"
Now, I see Michelle every week. You both know her. She's a dynamo! She leads the Guest Services at Flatirons. But sitting with her today…it was different. We were just two friends sitting in the waiting room of the hospital while our spouses got "rolonoscopies". As Michelle and I talked, her concern and love for Steve bubbled up and filled her eyes with tears. So, as we sat there…we prayed…and asked God for good answers to tests…and healing…and peace….His peace that passes all understanding:
"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)
And it was no coincidence. No coincidence that Steve and Michelle and Mom and I were at the hospital at the same time…and that Michelle was in need of a friend…someone to sit with her and remind her that no matter what happens in the future…it's in God's hands.
I don't know what you two have been dealing with over the last few days, but I'm sure you are seeing the same thing you've seen since you started; chance meetings…unforeseen trail magic…acts of kindness and encouragement…just when you need it. You know that's no coincidence. That's just the way God works in the moment…almost imperceptibly…until the moment is gone…when you're able to see His hand on everything!
Always remember…His hand is on you…and that's no coincidence.
Day 114: Angels Everywhere
"I'm sorry. I know you don't want to hear this right now, but..."
That's what Mom said as we got in the car to leave the Flatirons On Tap re-launch we hosted tonight. It was a very long day and I was completely spent. I asked Mom what was the problem and she said, "Katie's sick again." Mom quickly filled me in and told me you (Katie) were sick and dealing with the same stuff you were struggling with a few weeks ago; headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. My heart sank. Then Mom said, "They're at a hostel and the lady that owns it just had cervical cancer surgery today. But she left the keys to her van so that Nick could drive Katie into town to the doctor tomorrow."
I don't know what to say or write other than…God is good. I am continually amazed at the way you have been cared for out there on the trail. Your trail magic is awe-inspiring.
So, please get to the doctor…get the care you need…get better…get back on the trail…and never forget the kindnesses you've been shown on your big adventure.
There are angels everywhere.
"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)
Day 115: God Working in Us
I know. It's easy to make Mom cry. I mean, she's cries at TV commercials involving puppies and old people. But when she called me today as I drove home from our Afghanistan Mission Team workday…I got choked up too.
I will admit…it's been a little difficult believing in the goodness of humankind lately. The most recent hit was the shooter in Lafayette, LA who gunned down a bunch of people at a movie theater--something that has become almost commonplace. It seems like we're in a spiral as a society…devolving to the point of hopelessness. And then…there are your stories from the trail….uplifting stories of acts of kindness and the inherit good that God plants into the hearts of each of us.
So, Mary (the owner of the hostel) had to stay another day in the hospital and couldn't get you the keys to her van, right? Mom filled me in on the details as I drove home from Lakewood this afternoon, but let me see if I got this right: Mary the Hostel Owner was kept in the hospital…as she battles cervical cancer…and wasn't able to get you her van keys. And because you couldn't use her van to drive to the Doc-In-The-Box…you went to the laundromat to get your laundry done. Mom told me you met a nice couple who is step-hiking the AT. I guess the four of you really hit it off. He's a pastor of some sort? Right? Anyway, Mom said that they were finished with this leg of their step-hike and were heading home…but before they left…the wife hugged Katie…then shook her hand and said, "This is to help with your medical expense" and left you holding a $100 dollar bill.
That's makes me get choked up.
As Mom bubble red that story to me on the phone…it started a brief conversation…or observation, really. Mom said, "See? There's still people like that out there." I agreed and ranted for a bit about the pervasive glut of TV news…the need to fill 24 hrs of endless news…and the possibility of all that perpetuating more and more psychos trying to make a name for themselves. Then…after releasing that…like a pressure valve...I said, "Yeah…there's still lots a people out there like that…you just don't hear about it." And it's true. Good news makes for lousy ratings. Then I told Mom, "The bottom line is this…it's all about Jesus. Only Jesus makes the difference in the world…and we're able to see this more and more." I told Mom I think this is a wake up call. The church has gotten it wrong for some time now…for years…and we were part of it; the belief that every human has it in them to "do right"…the deep-down goodness to be good. The truth is…only Jesus make us good…and left to our own…we shoot each other in theaters and sleep around like alley cats and selfishly pursue any (and every) lustful desire. Only Jesus helps us act like we're called to act:
"…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13)
And with Jesus working in us…good things happen…and we treat others like we want to be treated…and when we see a need…we act and try to fulfill that need…and sometimes that includes slipping a $100 dollar bill into a sick young lady's hand…because you want her to remember that Jesus is alive and well in the hearts of His followers.
Don't forget that.