Day 84: Strong
It was a whirlwind, but I'm back home. I will admit…it was equally great to see you…and hard.
I have missed your faces. Seeing you as I pulled up to the Middle Creek Camp Ground Saturday in my rental car was wonderful. Katie, you never looked so beautiful…even on your wedding day. The last 3 months have been the longest we've been apart, so see ing you smiling face (freshly scrubbed) face was like nothing I've ever experienced before. Even when Ben was in college, I think the longest we were separated was 2 1/2 months. I just sorry Mom wasn't there to join me.
Hiking with you was great…and exhausting. As I told you, I've "let myself go" so that…when I start this Crossfit thing…I can get a real sense of going from zero to…whatever. To see if this exercise routine REALLY transforms your body. But…it was a killer hiking that mountain with you. Forget the fact that it was "Hike Naked Day"…and we passed a naked guy (twice) in his birthday suit…it would have been difficult anyway.
I loved being able to spend time with you. And I enjoyed meeting some of your "Trail Family", but in the end…I will stick to my guns. It's great having friends out there on the AT, but don't let them hijack your dreams. You two worked…and planned…and prepared to FINISH this trail. All of it. From Georgia to Maine. Everyone back here…back home…is rooting for you…hoping for you…praying for you…to finish. As I told before I left you in that valley on Monday…stay true to YOUR goals and dreams. Your trail family doesn't have the same goals. It was obvious to me…most of them are on the trail to enjoy life and have a fling. Finishing the Appalachian Trail is inconsequential to that.
"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man." Proverbs 24:33-24
I remember reading this section of Proverbs when I was a lazy, unmotivated middle schooler--who couldn't see the value of hard work and a job well done. I walked through some tough stuff after getting my first couple of jobs in the 8th and 9th grade. I even got fired from a job as a janitor at a little factory for doing the job poorly. It was hard, but I quickly learned that hard work…and sticking it out turning the times you want to give up…are worth it! I sneezed…in some of your Trail Family…"a little slumber, a little folding of hands to rest"…and, in the end, a thief will rob them of finishing the AT.
Don't let it rob you.
It's great to have people to lean on…and rely on…when times get hard, but if they have different goals than you…in the end…you will regret EVER relying on them. The great thing is this: you have each other. You have the same dreams, desires and goals. Use each other to spur the other along…use YOUR strength to encourage each other…and not let the weakness of others to rob you of your dreams. We did the math together around the campfire Sunday night: An average of 15 miles a day. You can do this! 15 miles a day is all that stands between success and failure. It all depends on what you're going to rely on…the strength in you…or the weakness of others.
I KNOW you've strong enough. I pray that you'll KNOW this too.
Day 85: Strength
I can't quit thinking about you two out there on the AT, now that I'm back. Our brief meet up and hike has me concerned and hopeful and conflicted. I know we had some tough talks and discussion about your progress on the trail…and my concern that you're falling behind on your goal to finish. Sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight back to Denver from Washington, DC, it was so good to get Katie's text. I read it…and re-read it…and got all self-conscience as I fought back the tears sitting amongst all those other travelers waiting for their planes. Since I've been back home, I've continued to re-read these words from her text:
"We did our 15 miles today! Today was by far the hardest day I've had on the trail mentally. I was using you as my motivation though. Thank you for always being so honest and giving me tough love. It was hard to have you look me in the eye and tell me we weren't going to finish this thing if we keep doing what we are doing. But it was exactly what I needed to hear."
As I hiked back to the rental car after leaving you two this past Monday morning, I was worrying that I was too hard on you both…that I was sticking my nose where it didn't belong…and that I was trying to place MY expectations on you two. I did a lot of praying for you both as I hiked those miles back to the car alone…and I will continue to pray for you. I want you to "Hike Your Own Hike"…but I also want to encourage you to finish what you set out to do: Thru-hike the ENTIRE Appalachian Trail. I know it's hard right now…and it's only going to get harder, but please try and think on these words from Paul found in Philippians 4:12-13:
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
You're going to have days of need…and days of plenty for the duration of your hike, so listen to what Paul writes here; YOU CAN DO ANYTHING through him (Jesus) who will give you the strength. Lean into each other for help and support, but never forget where the strength to do ANYTHING comes from…and ask Jesus for the help you'll need to finish this thing off!
I love you both.
Day 86: Peace
Tonight I married off Brandon Joy and Natalie Laband. I also talked a lot about you two. Lots of folks at the wedding were asking about you. Of course, you've been on my mind all day, but sharing parts of your experience...and watching people's reaction...is fun. But deep in my heart today...this is what I've been feeling the most:
"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7
I pray that the peace of God will overwhelm you...that it envelopes you and consumes you beyond anything that you can understand...and that His peace will protect your hearts from any negative thoughts...and give you the mindset that you can do anything!
Day 87: Leap for Joy
My ringer was turned off, so I missed the first call this morning.
I will be honest with you…when I noticed the buzzing of my phone on the immediate second call...and saw that it was Katie calling…I said a quick prayer. I quickly asked God that the call from Katie would be good news…and that the two of you had been making great headway on the trail…and that you were re-ignited with the drive to tackle your trek to Maine with new vigor.
Mom and I knew immediately…by the sound of Katie's voice…my bullet prayer was answered. It was SO encouraging to hear that you are both rejuvenated and excited to hike again…and that you have strung a series of 18+ mile hikes in a row since I left you on the the trail this past Monday. As I told you on the phone, Katie…I've been in a funk since leaving you…wondering if you were both going to buckle down and commit to finishing off your goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Hearing the excitement and joy in your voice gave Mom and I so much peace and joy ourselves.
"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him." Psalm 28:7
Our hearts were "leaping for joy" this morning as Katie told of the strength and determination that has consumed you over this last week…and how you have been hiking with new energy and focus! Keep it up!
Mom and I will continue to trust that God has you in His hands…as your "strength and shield"…and our hearts will "leap for joy" knowing that He is helping you on your journey.
Please call or text again soon. Your package is on its way to Harpers Ferry.
Day 88: Water
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4
The equation is pretty simple and works a couple of different ways:
1) Water = Life
2) Water = Death
3) Water = Life & Death
This weekend was a weekend where water was definitely the emphasis.
After hearing from Katie how you both have been pushing yourselves on the trail the last few days….and (maybe) not getting enough food and water…it set my mind on this track. I know we already talked about this when we were together last week, but you need to keep yourselves hydrated because:Water = Life.
Tonight, we had our annual staff and families pool party at the Broomfield Bay Water Park. Mom and I went and got to help Ali with Emery and Micah because Ben is down in Durango with the high schoolers at a CIY conference. It's great! Em's a little water bug and near-fearless in the pool. Grampa got to watch over her all of tonight and it brought back memories of playing at the Plano Municipal Pool back in Texas with Katie and Ben when they were little. But at one point tonight, Em didn't want to hold my hand as she waddled across the kiddie pool. The water was up to her belly and right after she let go of my hand…she tipped over face-first into the water. I jumped, quickly snatched her up, and held her as she coughed and spit water all over me. It struck me again how quickly a fun time in the water can turn dangerous and how this can be true: Water = Death.
Then, at church all weekend, we held an impromptu baptism weekend. Jim wanted to point people to some solid "next steps" after his message, so we set up one of the inflatable baptism tubs right outside the north doors--just to the right of the steps. I'm always humbled (and blessed) to be part of baptism weekends; looking people in the eye…listening to their confession of faith…speaking back words of truth to them (similar words that have been spoken for centuries). Then, taking them…forcing them back and into the water and under for a moment (a perfect picture of a life surrendered, buried with Christ)…and then, lifting them back up…raising them out of the water…the completed picture of a new life resurrected through Jesus because sometimes: Water = Life & Death.
Whenever we do baptisms at Flatirons…in those inflatable hot tubs…I will always remember that Sunday…4 years ago…when I got the privilege of baptizing you, Nick.
One of the best days of my life…marked by death and life and water.
Day 89: There Is a Season
Katie, one of the last things that we did together before you and Nick took off for Georgia in April was drive down to American Furniture and get the leather sofa for our newly re-vamped upstairs landing. I was going to wait, but you really wanted to see what it would look like before you left. That was 3 days before I dropped you at the airport for your big adventure. It still looks great up there…and it's great to sit in...and think in…and lose yourself in.
The landing's a great place to read and pray and meditate, too. That's what I was doing this morning; sitting in that leather sofa…reading and praying. I really don't know why, but I've been feeling led to read through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes again…and as I was reading today…I came across this familiar passage in Chapter 3 and thought about you two:
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot...
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build...
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance...
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing...
A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away...
A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak…
A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
When I was a kid…before I knew this was in the Bible…I thought it was just a hippy song by The Byrds ("There is a season turn, turn, turn…"). There's a lot in those few sentences…and in light of all the stuff going on around us today…it's good to be reminded that life has seasons. Everything has a season: life and death…laughing and crying…keeping stuff and throwing stuff away.
There's a time for everything. For you two…it's a time for walking…a time for separation…a time for growing closer…a time for living out dreams. It's a great time! I hope you're able to really realize it in the here-and-now.
This is your time! Use it for all it's worth!
Day 90: Mist
I read Henry David Thoreau's Walden years and years ago…when I was still young and trying to understand what it meant to live life deliberately. I read the quote below in some other book or article and it stirred an interest in reading Thoreau's Walden:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
And while I may not have lived my life with the same "deliberateness" as Thoreau did…I feel like I've been pretty deliberate…or at least I think I have. I wouldn't change a thing about my life. Okay…maybe a couple of things, but nothing wholesale. Now days, most (if not all) of my direction comes from faith-related resources…and today's Bible verse (James 4:14) is no different:
"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."
That's a good reminder. Life is short. We are all but mist that appear for a few years…then we vanish.
I think part of your desire to thru-hike the AT comes from this realization...and the desire to live life deliberately, right? To do something crazy and grand before it's too late…because we are all mist…and gone too soon.
Still, when I really, really think and meditate on this reality…I see that being a mist isn't such a bad thing. All mists are brief and fleeting, but some mists are nourishing. I mean, it's mist and dew that waters most everything on earth. Things would die without mist.
Mists give life.
I pray that God presses this into your hearts. And that, while you ARE mist…you can also be life-giving mist…and you can make a difference in others' lives on this journey…before you vanish from the trail.
Day 91: Wanted
I'm calling it "The Grumpy Old Men Tour".
Bob Tunnell and I have put together another team of men from Flatirons to go over to Afghanistan in the fall. The average age of the 11 men on the team is 56 years old. That puts me under the median! Our youngest is 38 years old and the oldest is 66. Bob said we need to teach the guys how to say, "Get off my lawn!" in Dari.
We had our initial team meeting tonight. It's always interesting to put the team all in one room for the first time--to see them interact and feel each other out. It's a good team and I'm looking forward to experiencing that part of the world with them. It's interesting. Bob and I chose each of them for the team. We chose them knowing we're going to be stressed and stretched together on this trip. We chose them only after interviewing them and asking a bunch of tough questions--in an effort to gauge their responses…and see if we wanted to spend 12 long days with them. We chose them.
And I'm thinking about you two. I mean, I know you chose each other (For better…for worse…for richer…for poorer…"), but not every married couple chooses each other with the thoughts of doing what you're both doing right now. I know a lot of couples who…if you asked them if they wanted to spend 5-6 months hiking in the woods together…never leaving each other's side…they'd shoot themselves! I love that you chose to do this together. I love that…when we were together on the trail a couple weeks ago…I could see that you were both as madly in love with each other then as you were when you left in April. That says something! I heard this quote from Rich Mullins in a recording shortly after he died in a car wreck back in 1997:
"God can use anybody. God used Nebuchadnezzar. God used Judas Iscariot. Its not a big deal to be used by God and the shocking thing in the book of Mark, and the reason why it is so shocking is because Mark is the briefest of all the gospels but he has these terrific little details and one of the little details is that it says, 'and Jesus called to Him those that He wanted.' (Mark 3:13) And you realize that out of the twelve people that He wanted, only one was essential to His goal in coming to earth. The other eleven people were useless to Christ but they were wanted by Christ. And I kind of go, I would much rather have God want me than have God use me." -Rich Mullins
I love that! And while Bob and I have chosen 9 other men we want to go to Afghanistan with us…and I pray that he'll use us…I'd much rather have God want us than have God use us.
Which is the same thing I'll be praying for you too.
Day 92: Six Years
Tomorrow is July 3rd. You know what that means, right? Six years ago tomorrow we were all gathered in Johnson City, TN for Ben and Ali's wedding.
A lot can happen in six years.
Six years ago both of you…and Mom…and I were living in Allen, TX without even a thought of Colorado.
Six years ago we (The Burgen-Foote Clan) merged together in Tennessee for a wonderful week of pre-wedding arranging and eating and laughing and getting to know each other.
Six years ago was an almost magical week that culminated in one (of two) of the sweetest weddings I'd ever experienced. (Below) The other one was your wedding on June 8, 2012...in Colorado.
Six years ago we watched Ben and Ali drive off into the dark for their honeymoon and we parted ways with the Burgens. Then, about 9-10 months later…Jim called me and asked if I would interview for the job as Men's Pastor at Flatirons. Two months after that…we packed everything up and moved to Colorado.
A lot can happen in six years.
Now, six years later, we're all up here…you two are married…we've got Emery and Micah…and life looks SO much different than it did back in 2009 (Below). Six years isn't that long, yet look at all the changes. Not only does our life look different…the entire world looks different. It's always hard for me to see change while it's happening. I only seem to recognize it in the rearview mirror…which makes me wonder how different life is going to look in six more years.
Mom and I are going to celebrate Ali and Ben's anniversary by watching Em and Micah while they go out for dinner--and while I thought, and tried to imagine, what being a grandpa was going to be like--I never imagined I was going to love it like I do. The truth is…no matter how hard I try to imagine what the future is going to be like…it never seems to turn out like I thought. It always looks different…and somehow better. I guess because it's real.
As you two hike your way through the woods of Virginia…I sit here trying to imagine what your life will look like in six years…and no matter what I conjure up…I know (in the end) it will look different…and it will somehow be better…because it will be real.
I'm looking forward to what the world holds in store for you two in six more years, but right now…it's hard enough just waiting for September 25th…when you finish this amazing journey…and come back home.
"Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is." Psalm 39:4
Day 93: Peanut
"I believe that it (America's independence--the 4th of July) will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..." John Adams
Obviously, John Adams didn't have a dog.
Poor little Peanut is a nervous wreck from all the fireworks going on in the area. I think she has PTSD. She's cowering around the house with her tail between her legs shaking like she's trying to poop peach pits. I thought Jack Russells were supposed to be tough little dogs.
I know you've had Bailey the black lab on the trail to help you both get your dog fix, but she's no Peanut, is she? I know Peanut's too old to ever do something like a thru-hike, yet in her day…6-8 years ago…she could have done it in a heartbeat! It's too bad. She would have been a great companion for you guys on your journey.
Ecclesiastes 9-12 isn't about dogs, but sometimes…when I read it…I think about how it could be. King Solomon writes:
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
So much of that could easily pertain to a dog, couldn't it? Especially Peanut. Last week at Brandon Joy and Natalie Laband's wedding, Natalie's sister-in-law brought her daughter over to meet me. The little girl was about 4 years old. Her name was Ellie. She was one of the flower girls. Ellie's mom said, "This is Mr. Dan. He's the man who drew all the pictures in your Easter Book." At first, Ellie's shyness kept her from looking at me, but when she learned I drew the Easter Book the church passed out to the kids…her eyes got all big and she whispered something in her mom's ear. Ellie's mom nodded and said, "Yes! He drew Peanut too!" which afforded me a big smile from Ellie. Peanut's a celebrity in Flatirons Kid's Ministry.
I know you miss her. Just know, that when you get home…Peanut will be more than ready to defend you and keep you warm…but not protect you from fireworks. You're on your own when it comes to those.
Day 94: The Dream of Tomorrow
We met her on "Hike Naked Day". June 21st, remember? Thank goodness we weren't naked. And, oh my gosh! Thank goodness she wasn't naked! She was a member of the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club--one of the trail maintenance groups. I have a hard time gauging people's age anymore, but she was easily north of 70 years old. She asked for your trail names, but she never gave us hers. Seemed odd. Maybe the trail maintenance crew isn't supposed to give out their names or maybe she was just a little skittish about divulging personal information to strangers. As I told you that day hiking, she reminded me so much of Mrs. Baker, Nana and Papa's neighbor and friend for almost 50 years.
The trail maintenance lady's soft, heavily accented, voice betrayed her Virginia heritage. I was impressed by her stamina--to be ascending Fork Mountain from the north as we were ascending from the south. She wasn't even out of breath when she asked, "Where ya'll from?" Chatting with her at the crest of that mountain was enlightening--to say the least. After asking each of us our names, where we were from and where we were heading, Nick told her about how you two were thru-hiking north to Maine. "Oh my!" she gushed. "That's something I'd dreamed of doing since I was sixteen years old…and as you can see…that was a long, long time ago. I will forever regret not doing that when I was younger."
I know that hit you even harder than it hit me. That's just the way life is. There are some things we can choose to do or not to do our entire lives…but there are some things (like thru-hiking the AT) that only pass through once-in-a-lifetime. Trail Maintenance Lady is proof. We never got her whole story, but one thing we know for sure: She dreamed of thru-hiking the AT and something happened that closed that window. Given her age…and the culture of her day…she probably met a man, got married, had kids…and watched her dream pass her by. Like Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham says in "Field of Dreams":
"It was like coming this close to your dreams... and then watch them brush past you like strangers in a crowd."
That's the way some dreams are; fleeting moments, that when passed on…are gone forever. I know you two recognize the significance of this moment in time…this window of opportunity to fulfill your dream…I just don't want you to lose it. Maybe I'm living a little too much through your journey…maybe I've vicariously implanted myself into your dream. I don't know. All I know for sure is that…whatever tomorrow holds…this summer will never come around again…this open opportunity to take 6 months and hike 2,168.1 miles may NEVER come around again. You could hear it in the Trail Maintenance Lady's voice…and I know you can read it in my words: Carpe Diem! Seize the day!
All you have is today. And today is where your dream lives. Never, never bank on tomorrow.
"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." Proverbs 27:1
Day 95: A Pile of Goodness
All hell broke loose starting last night when our air conditioning went out. Mom noticed the house wasn't cooling off about the time the sun starts to set and scorches the front porch for about 2 1/2 hours. We turned off the AC and I replaced the air filter (I need to remember to just put "Replace Air Filter" every other month on my calendar!) and hoped for the best. Last night was bad; all the windows upstairs were open as we tried to stay cool. There was residual firework bursts going off periodically all through the night in the neighborhood…making Peanut a nervous wreck. She was already a mess from the Frederick/Firestone Fireworks Celebration and the neighborhood show only had her shaking and quivering through the night.
I got up this morning and turned the AC back on. It kicked on and seemed to be cooling. Hopefully it was just a dirty filter and frozen coils that needed to thaw. Then, we got your text:
Hello. I am very sick right now. I woke up with a pounding headache yesterday morning and I had a fever. Then I started puking last night. We are in Shenandoah at Skyland Resort at a super nice cabin because we had no other choice. I had to be in a bathroom last night. Feeling a little better this morning. Still have a fever. I have no idea what it is. It's possibly Noro. Please be praying. Yesterday was the first time I wanted to quit. It is no fun being sick in the woods.
Knowing you had service, Katie, I called. It was really hard hearing about the physical issues you've been dealing with…and your worries about possible Lyme's Disease. We feel so helpless. All we can do is urge you to go to an Urgent Care or Doc-in-a-Box and have someone look you over. After we hung up with you, Mom and I talked and tried NOT to put each other in a deeper funk. We started getting ready for church and I went downstairs to make a little breakfast and went to make coffee. I opened the fridge to grab the eggs and everything was warm. Poop! Was everything that cooled at the house going to break down?!! We shuttled everything we could salvage to the garage fridge…and threw out the rest. Then, we ended up missing church as I researched a bunch of refrigerator troubleshooting websites and worked on the fridge.
Sometimes life sucks, doesn't it? Things break. You get sick…and it seems like everything is going against you. But then…it's never permanent, is it? As I type this, the house is still cooling. About an hour ago Mom even said, "I'm kind of cold." To which I gave her a nasty look. So, the AC is working again. I'm monitoring the fridge, but it seems to be cooling again…although it's empty. And then late this afternoon you shot us this text, Katie:
I'm feeling a lot better. Fever is gone and I haven't thrown up all day. I still just feel very weak and tired. Savage's mom heard that I wasn't feeling well, so she bought us a room at a Best Western so that I can rest today. We are in Luray near the doctor in case I feel bad again and need to go.
We're still going to worry, but at least we know you're feeling better and you're out of the elements for the night. Please tell Savage to pass along our thanks and gratitude to his mother. Trail magic never ceases to amaze me! Lots of people call it Paying It Forward these days, but I think Jesus said it best in Luke 6:38:
"Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
The measure you give will be given back to you…a heaping pile of goodness dumped into your lap. We'll probably never know, but I will pray that sometime soon…someone will give back to Savage's mom…a huge pile of goodness that completely blows her away…the way Mom and I were blown away by her goodness towards you.