Day 179: Finish Strong
So…we haven't heard from you since early last week. By now…you should be in Maine, right? I know that this section is much more remote…with little to no phone service…but I'm still hoping you'll get this. I'm checking weather and looking over internet maps of where (I think) you should be. I will admit…I'm more anxious now than I was when you first started. It's what happens to me every time I have to deal with a day or event that I'm anticipating, like Christmas or vacation or the birth of a grandchild. I get anxious…counting down the days…trying to make the days leading up to the big day speed up. I know it's useless, but I can't help it.
All I will write tonight is that Mom and I are anxiously waiting to get an update…and praying for your safety…and quick return. Please keep yourselves safe…enjoy the few remaining days on the trail…and finish strong! We're SO proud of you!
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)
Day 180: 1,900
I loved hearing from Katie this afternoon. I know you are both tired and I know that the last couple of days hiking through Maine have been some of the hardest you've hiked, but…as I told Katie today…don't focus on the difficulty. Focus on the fact that…with every step…you're getting closer and closer to your final goal. And…if Mt. Katahdin ices over…or Baxter State Park closes before you finish…take heart; what you've done is amazing! Getting Katie's picture (Below) later today only emphasizes my point. Seeing her feet with "1,900" written in sticks says it all: over the last 5 1/2 months you have LITERALLY walked 1,900 miles.
And if a storm blew in and covered all of Baxter State Park in snow…ending your hike…you can hold your head high.
So, keep hiking. Hike until you can't hike anymore. Either because the park is closed…weather doesn't permit it…or you ascend Mt. Katahdin and fulfill your dream by ending your thru-hike of the AT. Keep hiking. Don't let fatigue, homesickness or exhaustion stop you. You're almost there. You've already hiked 1,900 miles. What's another 268.1 miles? YOU CAN DO THIS!
Once again, as I told Katie on the phone today, we all miss you too…but we'll see you soon. I know you're tired and want to come home. I know that you're homesick, but don't let any of that stand in the way of finishing this. We will be here when you finish…when you can't hike anymore. Whether that's next week…or on October 12th (The date Katie said you're now targeting). We will be here.
Until then, we're praying for you…cheering you on…and SO excited about what you've done…and what you're still to do! And remember, God will see you through everything!
"Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established." (Proverbs 16:3)
Day 181: Erased
"It's been pouring down rain all day, so we're going to bypass the next section of the trail. It's about 25 miles. We'd have to ford a river and they say that it's up to your neck right now." (Katie on the phone tonight)
Yes. Wise move.
Like I said on the phone to Katie, the water's up to everyone else's neck…and over Katie's head! The smart thing is to skip that dangerous portion. And I won't lie…hitching a ride and skipping that 25 miles of the trail puts you even closer to finishing sooner. You can always go back (like on your 20th wedding anniversary, maybe?) and re-hike that section of the AT. You can take your kids and make a memory!
Katie shared a lot of what you've been going through…and I wanted to say thanks to Nick…for keeping Katie grounded…for not getting overly excited, bummed or frustrated through this journey…and for wisely keeping everyone safe. Full disclosure here? I probably would have pressed for fording the river. I'm sure it's in my DNA…and why many of my ancestors never made it as explorers; they probably all died in senseless wagon accidents…logging incidents…and poorly planned river crossings.
So, Uncle Dave has been hooked on hunting down our ancestry. He's been online reading and researching our family tree. It's been fun to get his periodic emails telling your uncles and me his latest find. But I have to tell you…his most recent big discovery has me a bit skeptical. Uncle Dave shot an email out a couple weeks back with his latest Foote ancestry find. I guess…back about 30 generations or so…our great, great great, etc. grandfather was Robin Hood. Hmmm. My first thought was, "Sure. What's next? We're related to Alexander the Great?" Honestly. I really think ancestry.com and all those other online family tree sites probably funnel everyone who logs on to someone famous. It's similar to all the folks who buy into the reincarnation bunk. They all think they're a reincarnation of someone famous…Cleopatra or Henry the VIII. I never hear anyone say, "I am reincarnated from Steve the peasant."
The truth is; when you REALLY work the family tree back…eventually we're all related…we're all from the same line. The thing that gets me…every time I think about my long-gone relatives…is how little I know about them. I've heard it said that most of us only keep the memory of dead relatives alive for about 3 generations. That's true for me…and even though Uncle Dave is re-tracing our family roots…their stories are gone. Their thoughts, ideas, hopes and desires…none of us know. What they liked or didn't like to eat or how they met their spouse or even what they did for a living. All of that is lost to the passage of time. And the other truth is this; the same will be true for us. The stories of our lives will be lost…erased by time. Like Terry says about America in Field of Dreams, "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time." Like America…the Foote and Spharler story will be erased like a blackboard, re-written…and erased again.
I know that sounds like a downer, but it's not. That's why what you're doing is SO important. It's important to you…and it's important to us…and it's important to some other close family and friends. But it will eventually be forgotten. Except by us.
Who we are…and what we do…all gets to go into eternity with us. Three generations from now…no one here will know or remember the 6 months you hiked the Appalachian Trail…but you will…and we will…and then…maybe…we'll get to tell everyone else about it in heaven.
I can't wait to tell my Grandma Foote. I can already see the look on her face.
"If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come." (Job 14:14)
Day 182: Scary Close
By now you've bypassed the part of the trail with the swollen river (and the chance of risking your lives)…along with skipping a 25 mile stretch of the AT. I'm glad you decided to miss the danger…and get about finishing off the last 230 miles of your hike.
Since we talked to Katie for such a long time last night, I feel like we're all caught up. The only thing I really have to share tonight is the encouragement to read Donald's Miller's Scary Close. That's the book I referenced a couple of days ago. I finished last night. I will preface this by stating, a lot of times a book sticks or resonates with you because of stage in life…or current circumstances…or what you had for lunch that day. That may be true with Scary Close, but I keep having conversations where (what seems like) the perfect anecdote or quote is coming from this book. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just write: you need to read this book! Here are a few quotes I underlined. I'll let Donald Miller do the talking:
"…human love isn't conditional. No love is conditional. If love is conditional, it's just some sort of manipulation masquerading as love."
"Having integrity is about being the same person on the inside that we are on the outside, and if we don't have integrity, life becomes exhausting."
"The root of sin is the desire for control…the root of control is fear."
"Controlling people are the loneliest people in the world."
"…a healthy person in a relationship with an unhealthy person still makes an unhealthy relationship."
"I'm convinced honesty is the soil intimacy grows in."
And that's just a few of the lines I underlined and highlighted in Scary Close. This happened to me over and over again; I read stuff or hear messages or something jumps out at me in the Bible and I think, "You're 55 years old! Why are you JUST learning this?" Then, I reassure myself with the truth that age should never impede you from learning. I will say though, "I wish I knew then what I know now."
But don't order Scary Close on your phone or Kindle. I'll put it on the nightstand in the spare room…waiting for you…when you return to Colorado. You will have to try and ignore my highlights…or maybe use them as as advice for the road ahead.
"Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding…" (Proverbs 3:13)
(Check out Scary Close by Donald Miller at: www.scaryclose.com)
Day 183: A Table of Solitude
Back to the drawing board.
I spent the better part of the day at my drawing table working on the Christmas Story book that the Flatirons Kid's Ministry team will be giving out to all the kids over Christmas this year. I sketched away on an illustration of Mary and Joseph walking down the streets of Bethlehem. It was good to be back at my table…it was fun to work on another Kid's Ministry project…and it was SO familiar.
I've spent the better part of my life at that drawing table. Up until 2010...when I came on staff at Flatirons as Men's Pastor…I've been hunched over that drawing table. I bought my drawing table (Below) for $99.00 when I was sixteen years old. I saw it in the Waldenbooks display window at the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor, Ohio and HAD to have it! We have been close ever since. I've produced more cartoons and illustrations…and spent more hours at it…than I could ever remember or count.
The thing is, when I look at my drawing table…I don't really think about all the art I've produced at it. I think of all the time I've been lost in my head at it. The solitary nature of cartooning and illustration lends itself to thinking…and meditating…and pondering life and faith. It's my favorite part of working at my drawing table…and one of the things I miss the most. My life at Flatirons is so fun and hectic and invigorating, but it doesn't lend itself to quiet introspection. As a matter of fact, I have to REALLY get intentional and make the time and space for quiet and solitude…and I haven't done a very good job at it. The media fast I've placed on myself over the last few weeks has helped…and sitting at my drawing table today was a stark reminder of how much I need it. I need the reinvigoration that comes from the quiet places. For me, solitude is one of the greatest sources of life and energy I can find. It centers my heart and draws me closer to God.
I thought a lot about you two today.
What's it going to be like when you get off the Appalachian Trail in a couple of weeks? Are you going to have a similar "drawing table" experience when you re-insert yourselves back into the noise of life…leaving 6 months of quiet and solitude behind? We all know it's going to be a huge adjustment and you're both going to have to get very intentional to create the space and time for solitude.
Maybe we can help each other in the pursuit. I'm already working on it. My HDTV antennae came in the mail yesterday. Good bye cable! No more inane temptations to litter our worlds with 500 stations of nothing.
Let's all go back to the drawing board together!
“Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
Day 184: Salt
Emery's reading her Bible. When she got to the picture of Jesus putting mud on the blind man's eyes, she laughed and said, "You're funny, Jesus." -- Text from Ben
Mom and I got that text from Ben as we drove to church tonight. We cracked up! That's Em's favorite saying right now. She tells Mom, "You're funny, Mimi" or tells me, "You're funny, Gampa."
That was our first little surprise tonight.
I noticed the police car as we turned on to Public Road, about 1/2 mile from church. I knew I didn't do anything wrong, but I still get antsy when a cop car is following me. He stayed with me as I turned right on to Waneka Drive, and then right again into the church parking lot. It wasn't until I parked that he hit his lights and announced…in bright blue and red…to everyone streaming into church…I must be a criminal. In the end, it was mistaken identity. The police dispatcher gave the officer the wrong information. She had the wrong state's license plate number. The dispatcher told him I was possibly a felon from Nevada. We laughed and he apologized for making us late to church.
That was our second little surprise tonight.
The third was in my mail box in the church offices. It was an envelope from "Salt". Salt asked that I only share his trail name with you. I had coffee with him Thursday. Salt has been part of my world for almost 5 years now. I had the privilege of baptizing him 4 or 5 years ago and we meet on a regular basis. Salt's on a journey. We spoke about it the other morning at the East Simpson Coffee Shop (my new favorite). He's been on a rather rough patch of trail in his walk with Jesus lately. We talked about straying off course in your faith walk and whether you can lose your salvation. I assured him that, other than blaspheming the Holy Spirit, his issues weren't salvation-losing (Truth is, if you're asking whether you've blasphemed the Holy Spirt…you haven't).
Salt and I ended up talking about the new Flatirons Core Value: #3- Intentional Apprenticeship or Discipleship. We're going to REALLY focus, as a church, on what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus…to REALLY follow Him…to REALLY try and be like Him. Salt has a deep love for Jesus. I think he just needs to shore up a few things…like a lot of us…including me. Later that day, Salt texted me and tried calling me. He wanted to set up a time Friday to drop something off. We couldn't make our schedules work, so he left a message telling me he was dropping it off at the church front desk.
It was in my mail box when Mom and I walked in the rear entrance to church tonight. I opened the envelope. Inside was a note. It was brief, but the middle paragraph read:
"More than once I've been moved by your blog + feel for Katie + Nick.
Having just completed the CO Trail, I know the value of trail 'magic'
and the occasional trail 'angel'.
Please find enclosed a little trail 'magic' for Katie and Nick."
Inside were 10 twenty dollar bills. Another $200 to add to the "Bring the Hikers Home Fund".
(Salt's Hand Written Note)
I don't know why his trail name is Salt. I'm sure he'll tell me the next time we get together. All I know is that he's a man on a journey. He's looking for the right path…the true path…the only path that really matters. Salt was worried that he had gone too far off the path, and that maybe Jesus wouldn't have anything to do with him anymore. That's just not true. Jesus makes it clear…that's the furthest thing from the truth:
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
I'd love for you two…Sunshine and Breeze…to eventually meet Salt. I'd love for you all to share what you've learned on your separate journeys.
I'd love for all of your paths to cross someday.
"Jesus answered, “I am the way (path) and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
Day 185: No Writing
Spoke with Katie on the phone. They reached the 2,000 mile marker. Only 1 more re-supply before summiting Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine.
Day 186: It's All Relative
By now you've re-stocked your packs in Stratton, ME and hopped back on the trail. That was your second-to-the-last re-supply before you climb to the top of Katahdin. Hard to believe. It's now October 5th…six months and 3 days since you started walking from Springer Mountain, Georgia. Over 2,000 miles. Only 178 miles until you reach your final goal. It's crazy to think about, but if you told me tomorrow that I had to hike 178 miles in the next 10 to 12 days…I'd say you were nuts! But when I think, "Katie and Nick ONLY have to hike 178 miles in the next 10-12 days"…it feels like a cinch…a walk in the park!
I guess it's all relative. Like most things in life; it all depends on your perspective.
Last night we met with a group of men to discuss a new ministry group we're going to partner up with, a group called Fathers in the Field. It's a ministry outreach to single moms and their fatherless boys--ages 7 to 17 years old. The program's set up to teach and encourage boys to become men in homes without an active father…where hunting, fishing, camping and hiking are used as elements to nurture young boys' broken hearts and build them into men. We're very, very excited about Fathers in the Field and the potential it holds for some of the lost and broken at Flatirons. In the meeting last night someone asked, "What constitutes fatherlessness and/or a deadbeat dad?" Again, it's all relative. Mike (the regional director for Fathers in the Field) said, "Any boy without a dad or a dad who has little to no influence…because he's gone or refuses to take part in the boy's upbringing." That breaks my heart.
I don't get that. I'm sorry. But I can't overlook that that two of the happiest days in my life was when Ben was born in Ohio and Katie was born in Texas. I was SO excited and scared and hopeful to be a dad. The thoughts of turning my back on either of them was unspeakable. I just don't get it…and neither did any of those 19 men in that room last night (2 of whom DON'T even HAVE kids!). I've already written, but I'll write it again: the last 6 months separation from you two has been hard enough…and we can't wait to get you home! What gets into a man's heart…or more to the point…what has to DIE in a man's heart to walk away from his child?
This is something that CAN'T just be relative. It's not relative, it's evil.
And that's why, in the next few weeks, a bunch of men from Flatirons…men with a heart for widows and orphans (James 1:27)…are going to step up…and take a young boy under their wings…and try to right a wrong. It's not going to be easy…it's going to be messy…and there will be a lot of frustration and second-guessing and doubt…just like real fatherhood. None of us dads have this down pat, do we? But in the end…the best we can hope for is…if we show up…and do our best to love and protect…and realize that kids spell love= T-I-M-E…maybe things will work out. Maybe our kids (our blood sons and daughters…and our "field buddies" from Fathers in the Field) might turn their hearts back home. And what does that look like?
I guess that's all relative.
"He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…". (Malachi 4:6)
Day 187: Believe
I just got home from my evening men's group. I know I've written you about how we begin each group by "checking in"--a process where each man checks in with the group with how they're feeling…using these 6 major emotions: sad, angry, scared, happy, excited and tender. Tonight I checked in sad, scared, happy, excited and tender. I really won't get into why I'm sad, scared and tender. Suffice it to say, there's stuff at the office and at church that has a hold of my heart in those areas.
I WILL tell you why I'm excited and happy.
Take a wild guess? I am SO excited and happy to know that you're coming home. I'm like, "Christmas Excited, Happy!" It's October 6th and you guys are hoping to be finished by October 14th…at the latest! 8 days! As of tomorrow…7 days…that's a week…168 hours! I can't wait!
So, I'm going to bed now. The sooner I fall asleep…the sooner it will be tomorrow…and a week away from your finale. It's hard to believe this big adventure is finally coming to an end, but it's hard to believe you've been gone for 6 months…and hard to believe that you've walked over 2,000 miles…over 14 different states.
It's hard to believe…but I know it's true…and I know you want to come home as much as we need you here.
“…Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
Day 189: Footsteps in the Grass
"So, we drove up to where the trail is and I said, 'This is where they had to cross.' Mom looked up the hill…it was filled with grass, like a meadow and said, 'If I had to hike up that…I'd just stop right here!' What they've (Katie and Nick) done is something else! Bless their hearts." -- Papa Foote at one of the AT crossings in Vermont
Nana and Papa are making their annual trek through New England and Maine. I spoke to them on the phone tonight. It seems they spent the day in a New Hampshire clinic trying to get medicine for Papa. He has a kidney infection. That'll put a damper on your vacation! We talked on the phone as Nana drove them both to Camden, Maine--their destination for the next couple of days. Papa told me how…as they drove through Vermont yesterday…they saw a sign for the Appalachian Trail. They scooted up the 3 miles or so and came to where the AT crossed the road outside of some little town I can't remember now. Papa told me that they just needed to see a portion of the trail where you two hiked through.
Something about that stuck with me.
As Papa told me about he and Nana…stopped on the road…staring at where the trail crossed…and the long path up the grassy hill…it made me sad. I don't know why. Papa kept talking, but all I could think about was that empty trail…and where you two passed through it. I wondered what it was like the morning…or day…or night you crossed that road and hiked up that meadow. Was that a good day…when you were filled with energy and excitement? Or was that one of those days when you just wanted this all to end…when you were tired and bored and wished you were home? In my head, I had this image of you two…this ghostly, phantom-like image of you…slogging up that hill…like the thousands of hills you've hiked before it…and then, you just sort of disappear, like a vapor…the only thing left; the imprint of your footsteps in the grass…and then, a breeze, then nothing.
Like I wrote, it made me sad. And now, I'm sitting here at my computer wondering where you are. I tried calling you today, but got the instant automatic message on your phone. You're obviously out of a service area. I know you're out there somewhere, but I can't see you or speak to you…and I can't shake that phantom image of you two…drifting along the trail…without leaving a mark…passing through miles and miles and miles of rugged path and never leaving a trace. I know you're out there somewhere, but it's been too long. I know I'm not, but I feel like I'm losing you…and that shadowy image in my head of you two disappearing over that grassy hill in Vermont won't leave me.
Please call when you can.
"You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be." (Psalm 39:5-6)
Day 190: As You Wish
"That day, she (Buttercup) was amazed to discover that when he was saying 'As you wish', what he (Wesley) meant was, 'I love you'…" -- Grandpa from The Princess Bride
This isn't my last message to you, but it's most likely the last you'll be able to read before you finish.
Tomorrow you'll re-supply for the last time in Monson, Maine before embarking on the 100 Mile Wilderness. I'm guessing that phone and internet service will be limited in an area with "wilderness" in its name. Still, I will continue to write you…and continue to try and encourage you…even though you may never read my messages until you're done. As I wrote to you earlier, this writing thing is as much (if not more) for me than for you. The notes I've been writing you…over the last 6 months…have really helped me stay connected (heart wise) with you. They've kept you at the forefront of my mind, and in turn, at the forefront of my prayers.
"…For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you…" (Colosians 1:9)
And now you'll "go dark" again. Tomorrow you'll begin that 100 mile stretch of (what is considered) the wildest, and most challenging, piece of the Appalachian Trail. All I've heard and read is that it's thick with some of the densest forest in North America. Bill Bryson makes it sound like some Grimm Brothers nightmare. But I will cling to what Old Drum told Katie over 1,500 miles ago--it's not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Old Drum told Katie, "I've got a little secret for you. The 100 Mile Wilderness isn't as hard as people say it is." So, instead of thinking about Buttercup and Wesley…lost in the swamp from The Princess Bride…I'll think about what Old Drum said.
That's the way it is with most things. People usually want to make their experiences sound bigger and scarier and more profound than they probably ever were. I think it's just part of the storyteller in all of us. So, I will rest…for the next 5-6 days…in the hope that the 100 Mile Wilderness is more like a Disney forest than the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride. And when you come out…safe-and-sound…on the other side, and after you two ascend Mt. Katahdin…give me a call to bring you home.
And I will gladly say, "As you wish."
Day 191: Linus and Lucy
Katie, you've always loved Peanuts by Charles Schulz, so I know you'll appreciate this:
He looks like Charlie Brown and she looks more like Charlie's sister Sally, but Em and Micah are definitely more Linus and Lucy then Charlie and Sally. This is probably the longest extended period of time that I've gotten to spend with Micah. Having them all day, then getting them for a sleep over has been great! Micah's still unsure of Grampa's growing beard, but I think he's getting used to it. After Mom laid him down for his nap this afternoon he kept crying and crying.
I went into our spare room and pulled him out of the pack-n-play and started to rock him in the rocking chair. He continued to sniffle and cry…all the while looking around that strange room. What must have he been thinking?! It's the first time he's taken a nap at Grampa and Mimi's and it was probably more than he's ever experienced. Remember? That room's filled with an array of statues and figures; a huge Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket…a full set of Bible Bobbleheads (Moses, Noah, Samson and the rest)…more stuffed animals than he's ever seen before (a green giraffe, a pink lion and a hot pink hippo)…and all the strange furniture. It was his first time in that spare room. It had to be terrifying for the little guy.
Micah/Linus snuggled close to me and clutched his blankie to his face--sucking on his thumb. His eyes were as wide as golf balls..darting around the room…trying to take in all strangeness. He had cried himself to the point that his diaphragm was sputtering. He would sporadically suck in air and then let out little bursts…as if he was trying to expel the fear. I watched his face…especially his eyes. I'm sure every grandparent thinks their grandkids are the smartest and most special (at least they'd better!), but the look on Micah's face…it was filled with inquisitive wonder. As he sucked away on his thumb…with his blankie pressed against his cheek…he fell asleep.
"When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs3:24)
Tonight, Micah went down without a peep. I think the strangeness of the spare room wore off. For now, Micah will need his trusty blankie and thumb to get him through the hard days and nights. And like Linus, he's got a big sister who is strong and protective and just a little bit bossy, but not too much. Having the two of them together for the day was more entertaining than a year's worth of Peanuts comic strips.
And just think, Katie…in another week and a half…you'll get both of them 2 days a week!