Day 123: Glimpses of Heaven
If I know anything, I know that you two have had countless days like this on the Appalachian Trail; those days when everything seems more alive…more vibrant and real…and tangible. Where you seem to be more aware of what's going on around you.
I was having one of those days yesterday. It was late-morning. Mom had just come back from taking Peanut on her daily walk through the neighborhood and the two of them were sitting in the shade on the front porch. I was in the middle of mowing the yard (which always makes me feel like a good neighbor) and for some reason everything seemed more intense, more vibrant: the roar of the mower…the deep, rich green of the grass…the honey bees that swarmed around me as I mowed past the lilac bushes on the side of the house. Everything. Everything seemed more alive.
Then, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a text from the brother of the young man Scott and I visited at the hospital the other day--the man who was in a coma from a motorcycle accident. The text simply informed me that his brother had passed away. I stood for a moment in the front yard reading that text…surrounded by so much life…thinking about how fast it all goes by.
"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life." (Psalm 39:4)
I know a lot of this big adventure of yours was birthed in this very idea that life is too short and that you needed to try something like this before it was too late. It's true. Life is short and we're constantly being reminded of how quickly time passes…and of how (in the blink of an eye) it's all over. The first time I remember really understanding this was in 5th grade when my Grandma Foote was killed in a car wreck. It's one of the harsh realities of life, but there's always hope in death…for those of us living in the promise of Jesus:
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
I know that the young man who died had a deep faith in Jesus…and he knew that Jesus had everything taken care of…and that death wasn't the end. And the vibrancy and intensity of this life holds no comparison to what's waiting for us. That young man is experiencing it right now…and some day…we will too.
I'm not in any hurry, but I do long for that day. Until then, I know God will continue to give us glimpses of what's ahead. Glimpses of that vibrant life on the trail…and glimpses of it for you on the trail…and for me in my front yard.
Day 124: Inspiring
Lyme disease? Really?
I won't lie. When Katie called this morning with the diagnosis from the doctor…it took the wind out of me. Lyme disease! I immediately thought of all the horror stories you see and hear on the news, but Katie sounded so upbeat…and relieved…that it helped me gain my mental footing. As the doctor said, it's great that Katie started taking the antibiotic doxycycline over a week ago…catching it in the early stages. I take back all the snide remarks I made about doctors in grocery stores ("Dr. Johnson, clean up in aisle three!"). I scoffed when you originally told us that the doc-in-the-box at the Piggly Wiggly told you it might be Lyme disease. I thought, "He doesn't know Lyme's from lemons!" I take it all back.
So now you know…you've got more antibiotics…Katie's feeling MUCH better…and by now, you're in New Jersey "The Garden State". I just want to write you both and tell you how proud I am of you. After getting the Lyme disease diagnosis, I don't think anyone would have thought less of you if you just packed it in. Instead, Katie took her meds and you two set off for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border…undeterred from your goal. That takes great strength and guts! You've watched a lot of people drop off the trail for much, much less.
You inspire me.
As I've already written (and said in person), you have no control of what's ahead of you; whether Mt. Katahdin will be open by the time you get there…what the weather holds for you as you trek into the Green and White Mountains in early September…or whether sickness or injury overtake you. All you have control of is your next step…and the step after that…and the next….and the next.
You also have control over how you're going to deal with adversity and all I can do is repeat myself; you inspire me.
"The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down." (Psalm 145:14)
Day 125: Wisdom Protection
"I just pulled another tick off. This is how tiny they are!!! That is a tick compared to an Advil." - Katie
You think I'm kidding, but I want you both to get to the store and stock up on Hartz Flea & Tick collars. You need to wear a couple on your legs, tie a couple to your backpacks and think about wearing one as a necklace! You need to protect yourselves from those little b@#%&*#s! We're grateful that you've got an early diagnosis, Katie, but you've still got 900 miles to go…part of that through Connecticut…where that miserable disease gets it's name. The first recorded cases of Lyme Disease came from some soccer moms and their kids living in Lyme, CT.
I was in a meeting tonight when my phone buzzed. It was sitting on a table and I reached over to press the button to stop the buzzing. I really couldn't answer it at the time, but I saw it was Uncle Dave. In an instant, I knew why he was calling. I knew that someone had obviously posted something on the internet about Katie's diagnosis of Lyme disease…and he was calling because he was worried. I couldn't call him back until 2 hours later, but I was right-on-the-money! He read something on Facebook about Katie being diagnosed with Lyme disease and wanted to know if it was true. I confirmed the online reports and filled him in on what I knew. As I finished up my phone conversation with Uncle Dave there was the flurry of text messages between Katie and Mom regarding the ticks…and the picture that accompanied it.
I won't pull any punches…we're worried about your health…both of you. Please do whatever it takes to ward off those little vermin and let us know how we can help. I loved hearing the vibrancy and energy in Katie's voice yesterday. Especially considering that it was right after she got the Lyme disease diagnosis. I love that you are both reignited with passion to continue on and finish off this journey. We just want you to be careful…make thorough tick checks each day…AND BUY SOME FLEA COLLARS! It's the wise thing to do!
"Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." (Proverbs 4:6-7)
Day 126: 7 Down...7 To Go
"Also, here's a picture of us leaving Pennsylvania!" - Katie
Seven down…seven more to go. You're halfway through the states on the Appalachian Trail.
Georgia…North Carolina…Tennessee…Virginia (Ugh!)…West Virginia…Maryland and Pennsylvania.
That's great! We're SO proud of you…SO glad you're feeling better, Katie…and SO glad you're one step closer to coming home. We're really missing you both. Nick looks like a freakin' mountain man with that beard! I know you're talking about shaving his hair and beard for tick prevention…and I know I sound like I'm contradicting myself from my note last night…but that beard is EPIC…and worth keeping!
I think Mom already told you that we're heading up into the mountains with Jim and Robin until Saturday, so we'll be out-of-pocket until then. I'll shoot you my daily notes as soon as I get service again, but please know that you're both constantly in our thoughts and prayers and that we're going to need to FaceTime soon! We need to talk and see your real-live faces...hopefully bearded!
I know that you're now hiking through some flat terrain, so enjoy…and I'll leave you with this promise:
"'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you." (Isaiah 54:10)
I'll be emailing you in three days. See you this weekend?
Days 127 - 130
Here we go…as promised; an email dump from the last few days since we were up in the mountains and out-of-pocket:
"Katie and Nick are going to love camping up here when they get back…uh…wait. Probably not. They'll probably never want to go camping again when they get back!" -- Jim
Mom and I were really looking forward to getting away.
It felt good to load all our gear into the car and make our way up to Allenspark…ready to spend the next few days camping in the majestic "Tent Mahal"…with no running water or electric (and more importantly) no cell phone service!
Peanut was VERY antsy the entire 1 1/2 hrs up to Jim and Robin's property…panting and grumbling…jumping between Mom's lap and mine. I had to stiff arm her as we snaked and winded our way up Highway 7 out of Lyons. Mom and I knew it was going to be a crapshoot with Peanut. This was her first time camping and we had no idea what to expect.
We got in an hour or so before Jim and Robin and set up the Tent Mahal (Below).
I kept thinking to myself, "This has been Katie and Nick's life for the last four and half months?" Granted, you're not setting up and tearing down a 4 room tent each day, but you are pitching a tent, cooking, sleeping and packing everything back up every day. I kind of got exhausted thinking about it. Peanut nosed her way around the perimeter of our campsite until Jim, Robin and Gertie showed up (Below).
Yes…we cooked outside too. Just like you! I don't want to rub it in, but we had elk spaghetti, garlic bread and wine. Sorry. As we sat around the campfire after dinner, that's when Jim said, "Katie and Nick are going to love camping up here…" We all agreed that you both might need a little break from camping when you finally get home. Still, it's beautiful…and quiet…and VERY remote on the Burgen's property.
I'm sure you'll love camping up there too.
Day 128: Friday
"Crap. I'm in so much trouble when we get back." -- Thoughts in my head
Shortly after breakfast Jim asked if I wanted to hike with him up to the back edge of their property. He told me it was probably half a mile away…uphill. Uphill or not, I love traipsing through the woods, so of course I said, "Yes!" We loaded up our daypacks with some water and headed out with the dogs.
Now, I know you both remember that the last time Jim and I set off on a hike in the woods with Gertie and Peanut…we ended up getting lost for over 5 hours…and hiking about 12-14 miles…most of it in the rain. I kept trying to convince myself that nothing was going to go wrong.
Jim and I trekked up the mountainside with Gertie and Peanut leading the way. I love how Gertie and Peanut are buddies. Gertie's the only dog that Peanut can stand, and the two of them sniffed and snorted through the brush and leaves…slipping under downed trees and hopping over others. I noticed (about 15 minutes into the hike) that Peanut was getting braver and braver…venturing further away from us when Jim and I stopped to catch our breath…which was often! I kept yelling for Peanut to come back, which she always did.
We plodded our way up and up…higher up the mountainside…the whole time searching for the markers marking the national forest line and the cairn for Jim's property line. When we crested the top of the mountain Jim and I were scouring the area looking for markers--and not finding a one! We had been searching for about 5 minutes when I realized that Peanut was no where to be found. I asked Jim if she was with him…about 50 yards from me. No. I called for her. Nothing.
Then, I quit looking for property markers and started looking for Peanut. Five minutes stretched in to ten and still no Peanut. In my head I started to work the scenarios; I knew I was going to be in trouble. I lost Peanut in some of the most secluded terrain in Colorado. Mom would be upset. That was a given. But really…I was trying to figure out how I was going to tell you two…or even IF I was going to tell you. I wasn't panicked. I really wasn't. This is that weird part of me that kicks in when things get bad or someone gets hurt. I get super-calm. I was already (in my head) moving into the "new norm": life without Peanut. Jim and I kept searching for her, but I looked at him and said, "This is bad." He just nodded.
And just as I was fully prepared for the repercussions of losing your/our dog…Peanut came bounding over some rocks and ran straight to me. She was panting and looking a little frantic, but happy to be found.
I dodged a bullet…and I'm SO HAPPY I don't have to give you THAT news while you're out there on the trail.
Day 129: Saturday
Saturday was a blur. Getting away in the mountains went WAY too fast. We loaded everything back up, and again, all I could think about was you two; the routine you both have tearing down camp each morning, packing all your belongings up, and getting back to the trail. I was thinking to myself, If we did this enough (camp) we would get a good routine down too…and we'd be so much more organized and able to set up and tear down much faster…just like you guys.
We came down the mountain much like we went up…except Peanut was much more subdued coming down. She took turns snuggling in Mom's lap or on the pillows behind me in the back seat (Below).
She only got excited when we passed through a herd of horses on the dirt road that leads to and from the Burgen's land. Mom and I cracked up, wondering what Peanut must be thinking. She's never seen horses before, so we figured she thought they were really, really big dogs…and yapped her head off.
Saturday night at church was sign up for this fall's men's and women's retreat…and we sold out about halfway through the first service. I had a lot of conversations with folks about the retreats, but I also had people coming up to me about two things:
(1) Friends and people following you asking how Katie was feeling. How bad your Lyme disease is…and whether you're still hiking.
(2) People talking to me about Ben's message a couple of weeks ago. I've moved into a new phase in life; I'm now known to a large group of people as "Ben's Dad."
Both of those make me happy.
Day 130: Sunday
"When Katie and Nick get home, we're going to have to take them out for a big, fancy dinner!" --Jim
We were all really missing you tonight.
The morning started out with Katie's phone call before church. Mom and I were both thankful…and grateful…and happy to hear how cheerful she sounded. And hearing the story about the New Jersey couple waiting with water and snacks at the shelter…then taking you out for dinner and beers…is just another…in a long list of…Trail Angels. Mom was even able to shoot them a note via Facebook because they tagged you two in their posting. Still, talking on the phone only wards off so much homesickness and missing you.
Ali texted us shortly after the 11AM service this morning and asked if we wanted to join everyone at Red Robin for dinner. It was going to be Ben and Ali and the kids, Jordan and Leah and the boys, and Jim and Robin. Of course we said yes!
It was a hoot! It's like a military invasion when we all go to a restaurant anymore--so much noise and activity! It's great! Red Robin is the perfect place to take all those kids. It's noisy and filled with other kids and no one looks twice when something gets spilled or someone cries.
Again, the only thing missing tonight was you two. I've written (and said) this before, but I'm going to do it again: we miss you SO much, but don't let that deter you…don't let that mess with your head. Keep on task. You're both amazing…and you're going to do this! There are plenty of big family dinners ahead for you…lots of time with family…but this thing you're doing is one shot. You've got so many family gatherings in the future, but only one shot at thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I know you miss us too, but we'll all be together soon…before you know it. And before you know it…all the hiking and sweating and living out of your packs will be a memory too…a great memory…and one that we can all revel in around a big dinner table soon.
"Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
We're longing for that day.
Day 131: Mystery
"Hiking. Hiking was healing for Katie and me. Something about me walking in front her…her behind…the endorphin rush from the altitude…trudging uphill…and the fact that she couldn't see my face. She couldn't see my reaction if she said something upsetting. It helped. Whenever she said something that scared me or shocked me or made me mad…she never saw my face.
There was a lot of healing that happened up there on the Flatirons." -- Me
Tonight I had a premarital meeting with Marcus and Holly. I'm marrying them this weekend. They're a sweet, young couple your age…madly in love…and wisely trying to seek advice and wisdom on what marriage looks like. We sat in my office looking over a premarital assessment I'd given them--and going over the results. As we wrapped up I asked them if they had any questions. Marcus asked me, "What's been the hardest part about marriage for you and your wife?" I answered him honestly. I told him that Mom and I have had our share of struggles, but the most difficult thing we've walked through was trying to stay on the same page when it came to raising kids. I told them the biggest struggles we've had were between our differing approaches to parenting: how Mom is hardwired to love and care and protect her kids from anything that looks like a threat or appears remotely harmful…and how I'm hardwired to test and push and try to make my kids stronger. I told Marcus and Holly how discipline was always a minefield for us. Katie, you know firsthand how Mom and I differed on this issue…and how during your middle school and high school years…there were serious differences that really hampered us as a family. Marcus then asked me, "How did you work through all that?" I told him I didn't have a nice, neat little answer to that question other than this:
We moved to Colorado.
It's true, Katie. Those Fridays…where we hiked together along all those different paths on the Flatirons…I think they saved us. They were healing. I told Marcus and Holly about the talks we had; good talks…hard talks…sad talks. We talked about stuff we couldn't talk about back in Texas. Stuff we were both too close to...to see clearly...with perspective. How we talked about fights we'd had…and missed opportunities…and unmet expectations…and how...it all seemed safer somehow…because we were hiking.
Why were those hikes so healing to our relationship? I still can't put my finger on it. Maybe I'm not supposed to. Maybe that's part of the mystery of God…that elusive part of Him that we experience in His creation. Maybe it's simply God's healing nature…something that happens organically, like osmosis or mitosis or some other kind of "osis". All I really know is that I will forever be grateful for our hikes in Colorado…and how they healed us…and how they gave you back to me.
Now, 4-5 years later…I get excited to think about what mystery God is doing in your lives out there on the Appalachian Trail. You've been out there for 4 months…hiking from Georgia…and now you're in New York. He's got to be doing amazing things in your hearts and lives. My prayer is that God is bringing you new life and healing…and giving you back something you never knew was missing…and gifting you with more mystery.
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us…" (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Day 132: Dwelling
I started reading the the Book of Psalms again. I don't know how many times I've read through it, but every time I do it seems like there are different sections that speak to me differently than before. I know I'm supposed to give the "churchy" answer and say it's the Holy Spirit. That's true. I'm not discounting the Holy Spirit's ability to bring new insights from old verses…I just need to speak to another truth too. The other truth is that circumstances of the present tend to give new insight too. I experienced that yesterday. Mom and I went to bed on Sunday night knowing that you were both happy…and rested…and waiting to cross over into New York--leaving New Jersey behind. And when I woke up yesterday and started reading through Psalms…you were both still on my mind…and then I came across Psalm 4:8. It's one sentence…17 words…with two commas and one period. Still, wrapped in those 17 words is exactly the thought and sentiment Mom and I pray for you at night. It simply says,
"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety."
So, until you come home to Colorado…and sleep in your own bed…where I know you'll be sheltered and safe…we will pray that as you lie down and sleep, the Lord will make you dwell in safety.
One last note…we need to FaceTime. I'm really missing your faces and I need to see them soon. Tomorrow?
Day 133: Day and Shadows
No matter how you slice it…it's long.
118 and a half days.
That's one third.
178 days is half.
Half a year, that is.
And as I type this, I'm writing on day 133.
When I look at that…that's WAY too close to being half a year. Half a year hiking. Half a year away from home. Half a year with very, very little communication; most of it being me sitting here at my computer each evening trying to write something to spur you on…to keep you encouraged…and to keep me connected to you both while you're gone.
But half a year?! That sounds MUCH longer than we first expected…but I know it's not. When I drove you to the airport on April 1st…your target end-date was the second week in August…giving you time to return home and for Katie to get to Texas for Ashley's wedding.
We haven't heard, but I know Katie was supposed to call Ashley and tell her the harsh reality that getting to San Angelo, TX for the wedding was an impossibility. I know that had to be hard…just as hard as trying to plan out half a year of hiking when you've never done it before. I trust that Ashley understood…that she was disappointed, but understood. Best friends are in the business of understanding and I know that Ashley is one of the best.
Today was one of the hottest days of summer, but it's coming to an end. Fall will be upon us and no doubt, you two will experience long before we do. You started this hike at the very beginnings of spring…hiked through summer…and now you're staring at fall coming down the pipe. One of the tricks I use to keep me encouraged is to remind myself how quickly time passes. I can't believe the summer is almost over…that Mom goes back to school next week…and that all that stuff that seemed so far away (men's retreat in September and my trip to Afghanistan in October) are right around the corner…and so is your return. We can't wait.
In light of all this, today was Mom's last day watching Em and Micah for the summer. She got choked up talking about it as we got dinner ready. It went by too fast. She's really going to miss watching over them each week.
"…for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow." (Job 8:9)
Our days are but shadows. Time always goes by too fast and I regret its passing…except when it comes to you two this year. I want time to speed up. I want the days to fly past. I want you to hurry up and ascend Mt. Katahdin…and I want you to be back here in our home again. Why is it that time seems to fly right past us most of the time, but then…always slows down or stalls with our expectations. Ahhh…I feel like I'm rambling. All I really want to say is…
…hurry up and come home. We miss you.
Day 134: Tomorrow Will Worry About Itself
Katie, I know you're in a funk.
Today was hard.
The terrain was hard.
Your hiking shoes are shot.
Your feet are killing you.
You miss home.
And now you've got a whole new set of circumstances to deal with. You've got some friends who are making sure you get to Texas for Ashley's wedding...taking you off the trail for 4 days as you fly to San Angelo.
I know you feel like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders…along with an already heavy pack.
I know you're worrying about next week.
Worrying about getting to the airport Thursday…and the wedding Saturday…and back to the airport Sunday.
All I can do is write and say don't. Stop. Quit worrying. But better yet, I'll let Jesus say it for me…
"…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34)
Please don't worry about next Thursday…or next Sunday…or tomorrow, for that matter. Don't worry about the 4 days you'll have to make up from your trip. As Jesus says, there's enough trouble in each day without adding your trouble (worry) to it. You can't do anything about either of them, so relax. Try to lose that heavy feeling…and let your spirit be lifted by good friends.
Good friends who will move heaven and earth to see you.
Good friends who will band together to guarantee that you get to the wedding on time.
Good friends who truly love you.
So, as you think about all your worrying...remember that you never have to worry about never having good friends.
Day 135: Life Lived Well
"Holy crap! Really?! That sounds so long!"
Katie, that was your response yesterday when I told you Mom and I will be celebrating 34 years of marriage this weekend. And you know what? It DOES sound like a long time, and yet, it seems like only yesterday we gathered up our family and friends in the Norton Church of Christ and exchanged vows.
I think it's probably a lot like your hiking miles. When I tell people you have hiked almost 1,400 miles…they have a similar response to Katie's at our 34th wedding anniversary. "Holy crap!" Even though I know 34 years of marriage is a feat by today's standards, it really doesn't seem that long to Mom and me. We talked about that tonight as we celebrated. Tomorrow's our real anniversary, but tomorrow's loaded up with too many things to celebrate, so we did it tonight. We went to The Melting Pot--that fondue restaurant in Louisville. They seated us in a booth with curtains and fed us cheese fondue and salad and several different kinds of meats (steak, chicken and shrimp), then topped it off with chocolate fondu. Yes. I'm writing all this to make you envious. To rub more salt into an open wound…it was abundant…and decadent…and delicious. I promise to take you there when you return . Anyway, I did what I always do on landmark occasions: I asked questions…questions that help encapsulate or describe whatever event we're celebrating. So…I asked Mom these questions…and here are her answers:
Me: "Does it seem like 34 years has really gone by?"
Mom: "No. It's gone by too fast."
Me: "What would you say has been the happiest part of our marriage?"
Mom: "I know it sounds like the easy answer, but having our babies. I loved having and raising them."
Me: "Hardest part?"
Mom: "Katie. Those few tough years with Katie."
Now…the only reason I share that is because of what followed. I told Mom, "Yeah. There were some couple of tough years with Katie, but I'm so happy with where we are now." And it's true. Every relationship has struggles, but in the end…it all depends on where you land, right? And we've landed in a great place. I went on to tell Mom that I love where you and Nick and I are now and I'm so grateful for our relationship now. It makes me happy and chokes me up.
I guess I just wanted to tell you both that Mom and I are so grateful for 34 years of marriage…for the love that continues to deepen…for our kids and their spouses and our grandkids. If you had told me 34 years ago that I would be this happy and grateful…I wouldn't have believed you. But that's the beauty of a life lived well together…and the blessings that accompany it.