Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Latest to Katie and Nick...

Day 143: Eternity Into The Heart 

Katie, you hopped on a plane Thursday morning and flew to Texas while Nick stayed on course and kept hiking. Friday was Ashley's wedding rehearsal and Saturday was the wedding. Nick, you continued on the trail. Then, Katie, you had the reception and then back to Sarah (Ryan) Gate's place. Now, you're back in Connecticut with Nick--who continued on hiking, but (Thanks to another Trail Angel) was able to come to the airport and pick you up.

That's a lot to squeeze into 4 days. Katie, I know you talked to Mom and Mom relayed to me that you were exhausted from the trip to Texas. She also told me you were in tears when you talked. Actually, Mom said you were sobbing. You were crying about our little Emery sleeping in her big girl bed last night. You and Ali need to talk. Ali said she's having a hard time with it too. 

Ben. Not so much. 

We had them all over for a little cookout tonight and Ben said, "I'm excited about Em sleeping in the bunk bed. It means laying in bed reading to her and telling her bedtime stories next to her." That helped me. It got me excited about that too. 

It's true, you can't do all that stuff in a crib. There's too many barriers with a crib. A crib even resembles a little jail. But the bunk bed, it's like an open invitation to make bedtime more fun. Katie, I know that your biggest concern with taking 5 months off to hike the Appalachian Trail was that Emery and Micah would grow up too much while you were gone…and hearing (and seeing) Em in that bed only made your fears a reality. But don't let it get you down. Let it be a motivator…let it drive you to hike stronger and faster…getting you both to Mt. Katahdin sooner.     

Yes. Time is passing. 

Yes. Em and Micah Man have grown, but really…that's a beautiful thing. 

Yes. I will forever miss the days when my kids were little, but I wouldn't change it! I love having grown kids now. Kids who have brought others into my life that I love. If somehow…through some miracle…I could have halted time and kept Ben and Katie frozen in time as little kids…I would never have Ali and Nick in my life…or Em and Micah. The passage of time is part of God's plan…and it's beautiful. Solomon puts it this way in Ecclesiastes 3:11...

"He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." 
That whole thing about God putting "eternity into man's heart" is a puzzler, but here's what I think it means: 

When my time passes here on earth and I die…God has already set my heart to experience and take in ALL that heaven has in store for me. It's too great for here, on earth, but we're all set for when we die. And you can feel that, can't you? Even the greatest and best things that this world has to offer are fleeting. They never "fill our tanks to full". They always leave us wanting more…and that's because God has "put eternity into man's heart".

And even all these things we love…like spouses and kids and grandkids…and all these amazing experiences we have…like hiking the AT…and all the trail magic…all of these point us back to the truth: All of this is amazing…and fleeting…and meant to be a taste for what's ahead…because of what God has done. He has…

"…put eternity into man's heart."


Day 144: Uncle Joe 

I had to make a really tough decision. It was a "long train coming", but it needed to happen. It all revolves around the fact that I have systematically loaded up my schedule to the point where I am dealing with exhaustion, burnout and overload. The guys are really worried about me, so I was "encouraged" by Scott Nickell and Jim to do something about it. Scott told me I needed to unload some stuff from my insane schedule. Jim was even more direct. He said that something needed to give…before one of my arteries or blood vessels did.

So I'm stepping off the men's team to Afghanistan.

I'm sorry I'm not going to be able to go, but deep down…I'm relieved. I already feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm also very, very grateful to work in a place where my leaders take care of me so well…who recognize (when I can't even recognize myself) when things are out of whack…and need to be re-prioritized. 

To handle this well I needed to have two conversations; one with Missions Pastor Ron Barnes and the other with good friend and co-leader Bob Tunnell. Again, I'm so grateful to have people in my life who deal with me with such grace and mercy. Both Ron and Bob were COMPLETELY understanding and encouraging of my situation. I talked with Ron at the office before I left and ended up talking with Bob through dinner. And it was a great dinner. The conversation, not necessarily the food. The food was Chipotle. It was good, but it was the conversation that was great. We ended up spending two hours on the outside patio discussing life…and burnout…and mistakes we've made…and God's goodness in the midst of all that. I've got several stories I want to share with you two from tonight, but it's late, so I'll leave you with this one:

As Bob and I were nearing the end of our time at Chipotle, he brought up the smartest person he's ever known. It's his wife Patty's Uncle Joe. Bob said that Uncle Joe died a couple of years ago. He said that Uncle Joe worked for Hughes Aircraft Company--in their Space and Communications Group. I guess Uncle Joe was the man who figured out how to use FM radio waves to communicate to the moon and back. Before Uncle Joe, the brightest minds in the world hadn't been able to figure out how to communicate with anything beyond earth's atmosphere. That's how smart Uncle Joe was. Bob said that at Uncle Bob's funeral, several of the scientists he worked with stood up and told stories of how…they always gave Uncle Joe the hardest problems to solve because…not only was he the smartest…he believed in God…and it didn't tear him up when he came across a problem he couldn't solve. Bob told me all these scientists (most of whom were atheists or agnostics) all said the same thing at the funeral; that Bob would tell them, "That's okay if I can't figure this out. God knows the answer…and maybe some day…He'll show me." Isn't that good? And from one of the greatest minds that has walked this planet. 

I'll keep that one. 

There's a lot of stuff I can't figure out. Right now…it's how to balance a job (and calling) that I love…and the other things God has given me, like Mom, and my kids and grandkids, my best friends, and so on. There's also all those big questions in life…and doubts…and uncertainties. I'm going to try and put those where Uncle Joe did…where they belong: In God's Hands…and maybe some day…He'll show me.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  (Isaiah 55:8-9)


Day 145: Thirty Four More Days 

Multiple People Today: "How are Katie and Nick doing? Where are they now?"
Me: "They're doing great. I think they're still in Connecticut, but they should be close to crossing over into Massachusetts.

One of those people who asked about you today was my brother Darren…or Uncle Buzz, to you. I spoke with him on the way home tonight. He informed me that he burned his Facebook profile, so he hasn't been able to keep up on your progress. 

Buzz was just one of a handful of people who asked me today how you were doing. I missed Katie's phone call to Mom last night because I was at a meeting, but she told me Katie was a little down in the dumps. Mom said that Katie's ready to come home and wants the whole hike to be over. She also told me that…if you stay on track…you'll be done in 34 days.

I immediately pulled the calendar up on my iPad and looked. September 27th. That's 34 days from yesterday. When I looked at it on the screen…it looked SO close. 

34 days. That's all. 

I mean, you started this big adventure almost 150 days ago. 
I flew out to meet up with you two in Virginia on June 20th. That was 66 days ago…almost twice as many days as you have left. 

This reminds me of what happens when you run a race. 

I remember the first time I did a sprint triathlon. Steve Duncan and I trained and did the Tom Landry Triathlon back in…like 2003. The distance was: 400 meter swim (8 pool lengths), a 13.5 mile bike ride and a 5K run. When I started that race, I couldn't even think about what was ahead. 

The swimming part came easy. I seemed to be in and out of the pool in no time. Then came the bike portion. It seemed endless. Other racers passed me like I was standing still…and the hills on the east side of Dallas felt like the Himalayas to me. I had to go to my happy place and not think about what I was doing. 

After what seemed like an eternity…I hopped off my bike…put on my running shoes and began to run the 5K. At first, my calves felt like cinder blocks…weighted down by all the blood rushing into them. But slowly, I got into a groove. 
All I could think about was, "Three and a half miles to go.
And then it was, "Two and a half miles to go.
Then, before I knew it…I entered the half mile track at the Tom Landry Center for the last leg of the run. 

People were cheering…music was playing…my heart started racing…and I picked up my pace. All of a sudden, I had renewed energy. I felt like I was flying! I wasn't thinking about how long it had been since I started…or the agony of the bike portion…or even my heavy legs at the start of the run…all I could think about was the finish line…and completing. I knew I wasn't going to win any prizes...but starting and finishing was prize enough!

I hope and pray that that's where you are with this hike. All you have is 34 days left. 
Can you hear all of us cheering you on back here? 
Is your heart racing with excitement?
Is there triumphant music playing in your head? 
Can you sense the finish line at Mt. Katahdin coming closer and closer? 

You're SO close! Before you know it…September 27th will be here…and you two will have completed something very, very few people get to do in life…and that's a prize enough in itself!      

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."  (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Hang in there. The end is near. 


Day 146: Dalton, Massachusetts 

Here's a little trivia for you: Dalton, Massachusetts is the home of Crane & Co. -- a stationery manufacturer and the largest employer in town. Crane & Co. also happens to be the ONLY supplier of paper for the Federal Reserve Note, the United States paper money.

I looked up Dalton, MA when I got Katie's text telling us...

"I forgot to tell you guys that we are in Massachusetts! We got here the day after I got back. We are coming up on Dalton tomorrow."

I'd never heard of Dalton, so after learning it's the town that makes the paper where we get our money…I thought that was pretty cool! All those crinkled dollar bills to the crisp twenties and fifties to the even crisper hundred dollar bill. All of those "dead presidents"(and Ben Franklin too) printed on paper that gets milled in Dalton, MA.   

Money. It's hard to live with it…and really, really hard to live without it. Some people say it's evil. Lots of folks say that Jesus said, "Money is the root (source) of all evil." Jesus didn't say that. Jesus said lots and lots of stuff about money, but not that it's the root of ALL evil. The Apostle Paul wrote something close…except for the addition of one, very important word. Paul wrote to Timothy…

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."  (1 Timothy 6:10)

Not all evil, but all KINDS of evil. And that's just true. Almost every vice and sin in the world revolves around money; what people will do to get more (lie, cheat on their taxes, sell themselves) and what others will do to act like it doesn't matter (lie, covet, judge). All KINDS of evil!

So as you hike through Dalton, MA tomorrow, think about all the paper that's been made their since 1844…and all the good and bad that's been done with all that paper once the Federal Reserve prints some numbers and pictures on it. You both have experienced so much good along the AT in the form of that printed paper…and you've REALLY experienced the need for it as you've funded this big adventure. Soon, you'll be back here in Colorado and you're going to have to step back into society…you're going to have to get jobs again…and you're going to need some of that printed paper that originated in Dalton, MA. And here's one thing I can almost guarantee: you'll never handle another piece of U.S. currency without thinking about this summer and when you hiked through Dalton, MA.  
You're welcome.


Day 147: Seasons  

Katie and I got to talk on the phone for awhile this morning, so I'll make this note brief. 

Mom is gathering up the clothes you asked for and we'll get them shipped out ASAP. Bennington, Vermont. Wow! When Katie told me this morning that you were going to be in Vermont in a few days, I was taken aback! I told a few of the folks in the office this and it got the same reaction: Wow! 

So, in a few days you will have walked from Georgia to North Carolina to Tennessee to Virginia to West Virginia to Maryland to Pennsylvania to New Jersey to New York to Connecticut to Massachusetts to Vermont…11 states down…2 to go. As of today, when you walked into Dalton, MA, you've hiked close to 1,600 miles. It's 1,558 from Springer Mountain, GA to Dalton, MA, but when you include all the walking into all the towns you've been in and out of…that's close to 1,600 miles. You've hiked from the beginning of spring thru summer…and now…you feel fall coming on. 

This makes me happy. I'm happy because I know you'll be home by Colorado fall. 

Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. I love the crisp, cool air, the colors in the trees, and the smells that only come in the fall. And you both know how much I love Halloween! Fall always brings good things…and this year…it's bringing us you two.

We can't wait! 

"He (God) changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning."  (Daniel 2:21)


Day 148: Moby Dick   

Katie, whenever you call, we end up talking about so much stuff that it sort of wrings out all the thoughts that I normally write to you two each night. We talked this morning after you summited Mt. Greylock in the Berkshires of Massachusetts--and you learned that you only have 589 miles left to go. When I was trying to fill Mom in on all that Katie told me, I brain farted and couldn't remember the name of the mountain. So, I got on the website that I have bookmarked and looked it up. I know I wrote you about this website. It's got this very, very long table with all the stops and shelters and hostels along the Appalachian Trail. It's been great for following your progress. Anyway, when I got online and saw that it was Mt. Greylock, I also hit the hyperlink to that stop. Once again, I've got some more AT trivia! Here's what the website says about Mt. Greylock:

"It (Mt. Greylock) is so inspirational that legend has it, Mt. Greylock's long, saddle-like shape inspired Herman Melville to write 'Moby Dick'. He was known to have great fondness for the mountain, even setting up a special observation deck at his home (near Pittsfield) so he could view Greylock whenever he desired."
You summited the mountain that inspired "Moby Dick"…and I couldn't help but think about some of the similarities. I love the book Moby Dick (the story parts…I can live without all the whaling minutiae). I love the themes of; when does passion and destiny overtake you and become obsession? That was Captain Ahab's story in Moby Dick--a story that he sucked the rest of the crew of the Pequod into. I'm not saying that you two are obsessed with this whale-of-a-hike, but you ARE passionate about it…and (I believe) you feel a little destined to make this journey. I just think it's neat to hear that you hiked up the mountain that inspired Moby Dick…with similar aspects of that novel; dealing with the elements…forcing yourselves forward…not giving up when you want to turn back…and attacking each mountain like Ahab went after that great, white whale. That's where I'll stop with the parallels between you guys and Ahab. If you haven't read the book…let's just say it doesn't end well for Ol' Ahab. Moby Dick gets the best of him.

But I know this trail won't get the best of you.

"For nothing is impossible with God…"  (Luke 1:37)


Day 149: Friends   

"I guess what I'm saying is…this is what happens. Good friends just sort of drift apart…and that's okay." -- Sean Graham

We saw the Grahams tonight. Scott, Donna and Evan flew up from Texas to visit Sean, so we went out with all of them--and with Ben, Ali and the kids. I think it was sensory overload for Micah. We went to that pizzeria in Louisville, Lucky Pie…on a very nice Saturday night…with about 200 of our closest friends. It was nuts there! And remember, Lucky Pie is right next door to the ice cream parlor, Sweet Cow, so it was pandemonium. Poor Micah. He really wasn't happy until I took him off the patio and sat in the Astroturfed area in front of the restaurant--away from all the noise. As we ate dinner though, Ben, Ali, Sean and Evan sat at one end of the table while Mom and I sat and talked with Scott and Donna. It was another reminder of how much time has gone by. Five years. We haven't seen the Grahams (Scott, Donna and Evan) in the five years since we left Texas. And even though Sean lives in Denver, we don't see much of him either. 

It made me sad. Especially when I overheard him say to Ben, "I guess what I'm saying is…this is what happens. Good friends just sort of drift apart…and that's okay." 

The hard part is this: that's just true. Proximity has a lot to do with friendships. The farther you live from your friends…the harder it is to stay current and connected. I mean, Ben and Sean were inseparable back in Texas…especially the 2 years in-between the end of high school and when Ben went off to Milligan College. They went to Europe together…and Sean was in Ben and Ali's wedding! It's sort of the same for you two and Evan. For a while there, back when you were in high school…you two and Evan were always together too. 

And life took over…and we moved up here to Colorado…and you guys all got married…and our lives all went separate ways. It's good…and everyone understands…but I still felt sad when Sean said that about friends who drift apart. I love Scott and Donna Graham, but we really didn't run in the same circles with them back in Texas. They were Sean and Evan's parents…and our main connection with them was through Sean and Evan…their kids. 

Friendship is fragile. It needs to be nurtured. I have a lot of friends that I think about, but that I've drifted from. But then, I immediately think of Tom Brunsman. I've known Tom longer than any friend I have. And even though we live 1,200 miles apart…and don't talk on the phone as often as we used to…I take comfort in knowing that he's always there. He's one friend where proximity doesn't matter. We were buddies in church…and all the way through grade school and into college. I went to Milligan because Tom Brunsman went there first. We stood with each other at our weddings…and I know that when the time comes…he'll be at my funeral…or vice versa. 

I need to call him tomorrow. 

As you two hike your way into Vermont, I'm also comforted by the fact that you both were great friends…long before you fell in love. You have the special blessing of having known each other since middle school…and grown up together…and are growing together through this experience. What are friends for?

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command."  (John 15:12-14)

Day 150:    

"We got into Vermont yesterday and we saw a moose!!!!!!! I cried! It was so amazing. One of my favorite 'God is awesome' moments."  -- Katie

I won't lie. I'm jealous.

When Katie sent the text and the picture of the moose you saw in Vermont...I had a small dose of envy. It also immediately reminded me of a conversation I had this morning in the lobby at church with Patrick--our veterinarian. 

I don't know if you remember, but Patrick grew up in Uganda and he's the one who almost lost a hand trying to work on Peanut's teeth. Peanut's SUCH a lousy patient. Anyway, Patrick came up to me in the lobby and asked me how you two were doing out there on the AT. He's been following your journey on my men's blog. As I told him where you were, and how you were doing, he smiled broadly and said, "That is such a blessing; what they are doing. They are doing something few get to experience." 

How true that is. And then, an hour later...your text and picture about the moose came through saying, "One of my favorite 'God is awesome' moments." Such a blessing. I know this is really hard to do, but try and really remember this. Try to etch this in your heart and mind because you know there are days (and weeks...and maybe years) ahead where you just won't feel that anymore...and where you'll long to have that day again; the day God gave you the moose. Enjoy this feeling because God never promises that He'll make us happy...and all warm inside...all the time. God never promises to make us FEEL happy. An author I like, Larry Crabb, puts it this way: 

The problem sincere Christians have with God often comes down to a wrong understanding of what this life is meant to provide.” 

Life is never meant to provide happiness. Only God can do that. As a matter of fact, all life can do is frustrate us (I think). Life here is only a glimpse...a taste...of what is to come. Not that it can't be good...not that it can't be inspiring. It can, but only for a brief moment...leaving us wanting more. And God uses all kinds of stuff to do that...and some of us (the blessed ones) get a moose wading in a bog in Vermont.

Cherish this blessing.

"May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed."  (Psalm 20:4)

p.s. I shipped your package out yesterday, so you've got warm clothes when you land in Manchester Center in a couple of days. 

Day 151: First Rule of Camping   

“We had to take off half a year of working, and not a lot of people can do that,” Karl Berger, a 24-year-old Maine resident known on the trail as GQ, said from a camp site in Baxter, where he was resting with his father behind finishing the hike up Katahdin. “I don’t think a lot of hikers acknowledge that it’s a privilege to be out here.” (Appalachian Trail Partying Angers Longtime Hikers - Time Magazine, August 2015)

Mom showed me the article from Time Magazine about the problems people are having out there on the AT this year with the partiers on the trail, but the paragraph above is what stood out to me the most. You both are in the same boat as Karl Berger, who gave the quote. Not a lot of people can take off half a year and do what you're doing….and it IS a privilege! 

I know you both know what a privilege this adventure is, but it's good to know that there are others out there who know this too. Not everyone is a selfish, entitled snot who thinks they're the center of the universe. From what you've shared with us, it sounds like you've experienced just about all that the AT has to offer; the dedicated and the lazy…the kind and gentle and the brazen bullies…the partiers and the sober-minded…the trail angels and the demons…the wise and the foolish. They're all out there, but for some reason, this year most agree that the "good" is out-weighing the "bad". 

I don't want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but I think the Appalachian Trail this year is probably indicative of American society as a whole. We live in a very self-absorbed time. The "ask not what your country can do for you" mindset seems to have been erased by a much more selfish approach…littered with selfies and tweets…where technology allows us to take that broken part of us…the part that lusts for attention…and lets us inflate our egos and self-importance to dangerous levels. And then we wonder why people are rude in traffic or selfishly destructive on the AT. I don't know, if all that we do every day is pamper and promote ourselves…what else can we expect.  

Okay. I'm done…for the time being. The truth is…as you both have experienced over and over and over again…not everyone is a d-bag out there on the trail…nor in every town and city across the country. There has been…and always will be (until Jesus fixes everything) a battle between good and bad. Paul put it this way in Ephesians 6:12:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
Jim put it this way in one of his recent messages. He said something like, "This is something we can agree on; no matter what you believe…things are broken…and they're getting worse." The thing is…if we all just took the First Rule of Camping…it would go a long way in fixing some of the mess. I learned this when I had my brief swim through Boy Scouts in 6th grade. The first rule of camping is: Leave the campsite better than you found it. And that works in every situation, doesn't it? Leave the workplace better than you found it…Leave your friendships better…Leave your neighborhood…and your family…and on and on. It goes without saying…when we look to others first…and when we're careful what we leave in our wake…the world just gets better.   

And so does the Appalachian Trail. 


Day 152: Media Fast    

"If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom."  (Job 13:5)

So there's a group of us at the office that have agreed to do a media fast. No media for a week. That means no newspapers, magazines, TV, movies, radio, CDs, MP3s, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter…and so on. We started this morning. 

I already blew it. 

I got in my truck after a meeting and immediately turned the radio on. I was half a minute into some classic rock song (I think it was "Come Sail Away" by Styx) when I thought to myself, "I hate that song. Why am I listening to it?" And as I reached to change the station I jumped in shock and said, "WHY AM I LISTENING TO THIS?!" I clicked the radio off and drove to my meeting in shame. I didn't even last 8 hours on this fast! I've done well the rest of the evening, but I'll admit: it's been difficult. 

I'm already amazed at how conditioned I am to fill the silence around me with noise--whether it's the radio or TV. It's almost like a reflex…and not a good one. As a matter of fact, I normally have music playing on my computer when I write you two each evening…and it feels weirdly quiet as I type--the only sounds I can hear being the dryer downstairs, Mom in the bathroom and the clickety-click of the keyboard. I'm ashamed to say that the silence makes me uncomfortable. 

And then I think of you two…out there on the trail since April 2nd…hiking through the solitude of the woods for exactly 5 months tomorrow. I know that you each have your phones with music downloaded on them…and that you listen to it regularly as you hike, but you're WAY beyond the cold turkey I'm experiencing right now. I really wonder how strange it's going to be for you guys when you re-insert yourselves back into society…and all the noise that accompanies it. I know it's going to be strange at first because I've experienced it multitudes of times. I remember coming off the 2 week hike Ben and I did back in 2006, feeling almost violated by the bombardment of media in Uncle Doug's house when we got back to Atlanta…and all they had on was the TV. There's beauty in silence. I know that silence (while uncomfortable at first) becomes healing and restorative after a time…if I can only stick with it.

The biggest blessing about silence…which you both know all too well…is that it's SO MUCH easier to hear God in it. I know I've already written this to you, but I'll write it again (as much for me as for you): God tends to speak the loudest in our silence. And that's what I'm really longing for…I want to hear God more…I NEED to hear God more, yet most of time…I litter the fertile ground of silence with the garbage of media. I know this, but why do I keep doing it? One of the things I'm most envious of you two as you hike from Georgia to Maine is the solitude and silence you've been experiencing…for months on end! 

I say I want that…but do I really?  

I've got a week to find out.


Day 153: Stars Hollow    

"I'm in love with Vermont. We are in Manchester Center and it looks like Stars Hollow."  -- Katie

Sorry. It's been a crazy, busy day and I'm getting home late…and just sitting down to write you both. I got Katie's text and picture from Vermont this afternoon and didn't get a chance to text back. All I will say is, "Nick. I'm sorry. I knew this was going to happen. I knew that when Katie eventually made it to New England…all she would talk about was Gilmore Girls and Stars Hollow. I hope you were prepared. Did she have you walking through town looking for Lorelei, Sookie and Luke? I feel for you, man.   

All I really need to know is: Did you get your package of clothes we shipped to Manchester Center? I hope you did. I'm guessing it's getting very cold up there by now. And if you did…then this Bible verse from James puts Mom and me in the right:

"Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"  (James2:15-16)
If you didn't get your clothes…sorry. They're on their way. Maybe someone in Stars Hollow has some hot chocolate and an extra jacket or two you can borrow.  :)


Day 154: No Writing

Day 155: Being a Man     

"We climbed up a ski slope this Morning! Also, 2 days ago we climbed Stratton Mountain which is the mountain that inspired Benton Mackaye to create the AT! It was amazing."  -- Katie

I missed another email last night, no excuses, other than it was a very late night. We had the entire Community Team (and spouses) over to our house for a cookout. It was a blast! We have a great team…and our team's spouses our equally great! Still, by the time the last couple was out the door, and Mom and I cleaned up, I crashed into bed without writing. But it wasn't like I wasn't thinking about you. After getting Katie's text and picture of Nick on top of the ski mountain, I couldn't quit thinking about you…and thinking about Nick's beard! Massive! You need to know…after seeing Nick's beard from your New York City pictures…I was inspired to quit trimming my beard…and let it grow! And by the time you get home…Nick and I will be bookends: Young Big Beard and Old Big Beard. 

It's funny…I always wanted a beard. Growing up I thought beards were great…even in elementary school. I remember Papa went on a fishing trip and came home with a week's worth of facial growth…and immediately shaved it off. I was bummed. I couldn't wait to grow up…and be a man…and grow a beard. As I rolled into 8th grade…I had SERIOUS doubts--doubts about growing ANY kind of hair on my body. I was a late-bloomer, to say the least. But puberty took hold and the first time I tried growing facial hair was my senior year of high school. I grew out my sideburns. They looked like blond moss (that's being generous) growing on the side of my face. Some fuzz beside my ears…a little more fuzz on my chin…and nothing under my lip. Still as smooth as a baby's butt. My next try at being a man was my freshman year at Milligan College. By then, the sideburns had filled in…the chin hair was a little more coarse…and I even had some fuzz under my lip. In between…the Gobi Desert. Nothing. 

I had pretty much given up on the whole beard thing until after Ben was born…around 1986. I was 26 years old then and my co-worker Bill Rigo told me one fall day, "We're going to grow beards!" I agreed…thinking, "This is going to be a waste of time." But it wasn't! After a handful of weeks…I had a real beard! A full beard! A Jeremiah Johnson kind-of-beard! A beard like Nick's! 

I realize that being able to grow a beard doesn't make you a man. It doesn't make you a man any more than being able to bench press more than anyone else in the room. But…the truth be told…not every man can grow one. And if they were all to be completely honest…they wish they could. They wish they had the DNA and genetic makeup to grow a full-on, bushy, beard too. And while I wish my beard wasn't as white as Santa's…and even though I know I'll be tired of it by the middle of January…I still love it! I love having a beard!

I'm guessing Nick might be tired of his beard too by now, but it's like part of your hike…like the backpack and hiking poles you use each day. It's a character in your journey…every bit as important as Old Drum, Yvonna Sherpa and Maybelline…and I'll bet that you'll always think of the Appalachian Trail whenever (or maybe, if ever) Nick grows his out like it is today. To me, Nick's beard has been a way to chart your trip every bit as much as the mileage chart I look up online. His beard's grown and gotten thicker the same way your leg muscles have grown and gotten toned along the way. And even though I will understand that Nick will want to trim off the beard when you return…I'm going to miss it…and wish for its return. 

I know. I'm making too big a deal out of beards…and I know that facial hair doesn't make a man, but here's what does make a man: Walking from Georgia to Vermont…side-by-side with your wife…loving and protecting her all along the way…seeing to her needs and making sure sure she's safe and cared for. That's what makes a man…and also makes his father-in-law very proud.

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love."  (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)      

Day 156: Angels Unaware      

"We're staying at a hiker hostel run by a Christian cult!"  -- (Katie, on the phone last night)

So, you made me break my media fast last night. I had to. I had to find out about this 12 Tribes group that runs the hostel you stayed at last night. I need to find out as much as I could…in case you two went "dark" and I needed to hunt you down. I had visions of both of you…heads shaved…wearing togas…passing out flowers at the airport. 

I'll admit…the 12 Tribes group is "out there", but I didn't see anything that made me fear for your lives. Mom and I still need to see the picture of the dress the group let her borrow to wear to dinner. Katie's stories of hymns and an after-dinner sermon in Hebrew synched right up with what I found online. It seems the 12 Tribes formed in Tennessee in the early 70s and morphed and changed to where they are today. I goes they're a group of Jesus followers who adhere to all the Judaic (or Jewish) rites and laws; no pork, meeting on the Sabbath, etc.. It sounds like they treated you well, though. They let you wash yourselves (and your clothes) for free…fed you dinner AND breakfast…sans bacon, I'm assuming…and you got to dance with the tambourine players. What more could you ask for, right? The writer of Hebrews (fitting for the 12 Tribes folks) put it this way: 

"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)

That verse is referring to Genesis 18 where Abraham and Sarah take in three men and feed them…not knowing they were messengers from God…or angels. It's funny how the term everyone uses on the AT is "trail angels"--for people who show hikers any form of kindness. I think about you two at the 12 Tribes Hiker Hostel last night with them taking care of you so well. I wonder if they do it to show the love of Jesus…or do they do it…hoping, wishing and praying for "angels unaware". I can't say I've ever run across an angel. Whenever someone comes across an angel in the Bible…the reaction is all the same: fear. I wonder why. Is it the way they look? Do they REALLY have wings? Or is it because the glory of God just exudes from them? Who knows…and should we care? 

All we're called to do is show hospitality…and that's what those wacky, Jesus-loving, Jewish Law following folks did for you…and maybe you were their angels. 


Day 157: 500 Miles Left       

"Passed this early this morning!! Woohoo!" -- Katie

I'm sure you both did the math too. 2,168 minus 500 equals 1,668. When Katie's text and picture came through yesterday morning I immediately figured the mileage out. As you passed that plaque yesterday…noting that Mt. Katahdin is 500 miles away…that means the two of you have walked 1,668 miles since you left Springer Mountain, Georgia on April 2nd, give or take. When you include the couple of detours and all the miles walking to and from the towns, hostels and hotels along the way…there's no telling how many miles you've actually walked. Either way, it's a lot! 

It's funny though, I was talking with Tim Griffin in the church lobby this morning. Tim's on staff in Guest Services. I was so grateful when he was hired last year. When he started…HE became the oldest man on the Flatirons staff! Anyway, Tim's one of the many folks who ask me regularly how you two are doing on the hike. I shared with him your progress, and when I told Tim about the the text and the plaque telling you guys that you were 500 miles from Mt. Katahdin, Tim gasped, "Man!" And I fully expected him to say something like, "They've still got A LONG way to go!

But he didn't. 

First of all, Tim's a great encourager, but really…he simply spoke the truth. He said, "Man! They're almost there! They're going to be home before you know it!" It made my heart jump a little; hearing someone else say what Mom and I have been saying for weeks, "You're almost done!

Mom and I were talking yesterday as we drove to Ben and Ali's to watch the kids so that they could celebrate Ben's upcoming birthday. We were talking about what kind of effect this adventure is going to have (and has already had) on you both…how it's re-shaped you…and how you'll look at life differently when you're through. Mom was saying how she can already sense the change in Katie. She was talking about how…before you set off on your hike…Katie NEVER would have gone to something like the 12 Tribes Hiking Hostel…worn one of their gunny sack dresses…and danced the Horah to tambourines. Mom was amazed at Katie's courage and adventuresome spirit. 

To me it's just evidence pointing to what (I hope and pray) you both are coming home with. I pray that you both return from the Appalachian Trail with a deep, deep understanding that you can do ANYTHING you put your minds to. Anything! I really do. I pray that this truth has gotten planted deep in your hearts with each plodding step you've taken…up and down every mountain and valley…and across every single one of the 14 states you've walked through. I pray that your hearts cling to this truth and understanding that nothing can stand in your way of achieving your dreams. 

By now, the 500 miles left has already eroded away to close to 450 miles…and soon: double digits. In the words of Tim Griffin, "Man! They're almost there!"

"Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!"  (Psalm 31:24)

Day 158: Hearing God       

So I can break my media fast tomorrow morning. It's been almost a week and here's what I've learned through it:

1) I am COMPLETELY saturated with noise. I do it automatically…and I've done it since I was a kid. As soon as I get in my truck, I turn on the radio and fill the cab with news, music or talk. If something bores me…I flip to another station, then another, then another. I have radio presets on 2 FM settings with 6 stations on each AND I have 3 AM stations I flip to. When I cook in the kitchen, I turn iTunes on and listen to music--either my CDs or one of the many iTunes Radio stations. The bottom line: I fill whatever silence I find myself in with some sort of noise. That just isn't good.

2) I sleep much better without all the cacophony I litter my world with. As you know, I've gotten into the VERY bad habit of watching Netflix on my iPad to fall asleep. I knew it was wrong…I knew it was bad for me (I'd show you the harmful effects of watching a computer screen to fall asleep to, but I'm still media fasting and can't Google it)…and I still kept doing it. It was like a security blanket or something. Like I couldn't go to sleep unless I drifted off to "NCIS" and Mark Harmon stumbling through that RIDICULOUS dialogue! 

3) Silence makes it so that I hear God better. I knew this happened in the wild. I've already written you about this multiple times, but He doesn't just whisper in the mountains or the quiet of some nameless stream in an Appalachian valley. He's been whispering at the breakfast table as I quietly eat my eggs and bacon…with Peanut salivating in the chair next to me. God's been whispering to and from the office (and around town during the day) from the rattling silence of Lil' Red. I shouldn't be, but I'm amazed how much more peaceful and connected to God I've felt in my truck over the past week. Again, I should have known better, but…

Now, I know that I know that I know…this sounds trite to you. You've spent the last 5 months with days-on-end in silence…over 12 different states. You're pros at this silence thing…and I can't wait to hear all the insights you've gotten along the way. But the truth is, you're days away from finishing this trek…and soon…you'll be back home…here in Colorado…and tempted by the same noise as the rest of us. So, here's what I'd like to do…here are some steps I plan to take to prolong the good I've experienced (and I'm throwing this over your fence to keep in mind when you return:

1) No more radio in my truck. I REALLY want to do this. I'm even willing to unhook the wires so that my temptation won't overtake me. Normally, I find myself getting frustrated and angry by the STUPIDITY of drivers..and the drone of the same 25 classic rock tunes blaring in the background doesn't help. What I HAVE found is that the silence of Lil' Red's truck cab ushers in a peace I rarely experience on the road. Over the last week, I've not only experienced peace…I've heard God whisper to me again…and I want to hear more of that.

2) I'm pulling the plug…or more to the point…the cable. Like the old saying goes, "650 stations and nothing on." We're getting rid of cable TV. Anything I might want to watch is on Netflix…and anything that isn't…isn't. I'll have to figure something out about  football, but I'm not going to let that get in the way of eliminating the noise from our TV set…the mindless nuisance that is cable TV. 

3) No more iPad. I WILL NOT watch the iPad anymore before bedtime…and hopefully…the growing stack of books in my office and beside my bed will begin to dwindle. Right now, I'm reading "Flesh" by Hugh Halter. It's about "incarnational ministry". I know. Huh? But it's good…and convicting…and provocative. I just wrote Bob Tunnel and asked him to set up a meeting with Hugh Halter…and I told Bob, "I don't know whether to punch Hugh or hug him." Maybe I'll know by the time I finish…and BEFORE I meet him.

I know these are baby steps…steps that probably seem trite to you two, but they're steps nonetheless…steps forward…toward a better place…a place where I hear God's whisper more frequently…and hopefully…soon…it will grow from a whisper to a conversation…and then, who knows. 

I'd love to hear God scream.      

"Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”   (John 8:47)


Day 159: Can't Stop Time        

Burpees. I hate them. Here is the online definition of the burpee:

"The burpee is a full body exercise used in strength training and as an aerobic exercise. Here are the basic steps:
  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground.
  3. Kick your feet back, while keeping your arms extended.
  4. Immediately return your feet to the squat position.
  5. Jump up from the squat position."

So, I started doing this Crossfit thing. I'm still new at it…and it's really, really hard right now. Mom was worried because I came home to discover that I popped an eye blood vessel during tonight's workout. I want to blame the burpees, but I'm sure it was the 5 rounds of 30 second hand stands against a wall. I'm sure that's what did it. Still, while it's really hard…Brian Bender and the folks at Cut Throat Crossfit have been great. They're very encouraging and helpful and motivating…in that masochisticly positive way. I know, if I stick with it, it's going to be a real benefit…if I don't pop a blood vessel in my brain first! Scott Nickell and Michael Koehn have also been very encouraging in this new exercise endeavor. Jim…not so much. He usually asks me if I've been given "feminine products" after each of my workouts, but deep down…I know he's happy I'm doing this too. I need to get prepared for what lies ahead. At 55 years old, I want to be as healthy as I can until everything just gives way and falls apart. It's going to happen. You can't stop time from marching forward.

And that's what's been on my mind today. As you both know, today is Mom's birthday…which means…tomorrow is Ben's birthday. I remember sitting in the maternity room in Painseville, Ohio on September 8, 1985. Mom was deep in labor for Ben and it was her birthday. The nursing staff had turned the lights off and told Mom to try and get some rest. That was impossible. As we both sat in the dark in that maternity room I told Mom, "Well, sorry. You know what this means? Your birthday will be forever lost after the baby's born." And I pretty much had it on the button. Ben was born on September 9, 1985 and from that day on…with back-to-back birthdays…Mom gladly took backseat to Ben. 

Fast forward to today. Like always, I wished Mom a Happy Birthday before we left for work and told her to be thinking of where she wanted to go out to eat. She was leaning towards Old Chicago and the deep dish Chicago 7. Then, I saw Ben at the office. We were in a meeting together first thing this morning and he was very quiet throughout. After it ended I asked him if he was okay and he told me he was in a funk. I pressed him for a reason and in the midst of some other stuff…he said, "And…I turn 30 tomorrow." And I thought I was having a problem with him turning 30! Like I already said, you can't stop time from marching forward. 

And as I sweated and gassed my way through tonight's workout…doing all those burpees and handstands…I kept thinking, "You may have a 30 year old son…but your daughter and son-in-law are pushing themselves much harder than this across the mountains of New England. You can do a few more burpees." And it helped. You were both as much as an encouragement as Brian Bender at Cut Throat was tonight. Thanks!

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” (Jeremiah 31:25)   
p.s. I know we are a family that's poor at celebrating, but if you can…try to wish Ben a Happy Birthday tomorrow.

Day 160: Grateful        

"2nd to the last state!!!!!!! Woohooooo! 442 miles to go!"  -- Katie

Katie, it was so good to hear your voice this afternoon. Sorry I had to run…and was never able to get back to you, but the text and the picture REALLY lifted me! 

You guys have crossed over the Vermont-New Hampshire line and into Hanover, NH. Did you hike past Dartmouth College? Dartmouth: Home to Daniel Webster, Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mr. Rogers ("It's a lovely day in the neighborhood, hikers."). If I remember right, you're in Bill Bryson's old neighborhood…when he got the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail…which spawned the hilarious book, "A Walk in the Woods" (BTW…Andy Winemen's review of the movie: "Meh…"). I love knowing you only have two states to go…442 more miles…and in a couple of days…in the 300s. So close.

We're staring down the barrel of men's retreat this weekend, but today I took Ben out to lunch, to celebrate his 30th birthday. It was Buffalo Wild Wings. A lot has changed since we first smeared cake in his face back in Ohio for his 1st birthday. No cake today. Just buffalo wings and beer. I will admit…while the joy and excitement was different on his first birthday…the meal was much better today. As we sat and talked about life, ministry, and getting older I was consumed with gratefulness…grateful to God for the way He orchestrates life…grateful that I get to work with my son and that I can eat wings and drink beer and enjoy conversation with him…and that he WANTS to do that with me. Then, after getting back to the office, I get a phone call from Katie…and another wave of gratefulness overtakes me. Why has God been so good? 

It makes me feel guilty. 

I can't help it. So many of the stories I hear and experience as Men's Pastor at Flatirons are in direct opposition of the way my life looks. The pain…the rejection…the hurt, the shame, the regret…the broken families and fractured relationships…I can't help but feel guilty. But I'll forever be grateful…for however long this season lasts…I'll be grateful that my kids want to eat wings and drink beer with me…and that they want to talk with me when phone service is SO spotty…and that I get to stare into the beautiful faces of my grand babies, in person, on a very regular basis. 

I'm guilty, but grateful. And I never would have guessed I could be any happier than I was 30 years ago when Benjamin David Foote was laid on Mom's belly and we saw each other face-to-face for the first time. I didn't think I could be any happier than September 9, 1985…but I am.

And I'm so grateful.        

Hike fast. I need to see your faces soon.


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