Saturday, August 16, 2014

Homecoming


One month ago today, I received the best greeting in the world; two big hugs from two amazing little guys!  Anne and I had just finished what for me, was a very emotional final descent.  We were walking through a beautiful section of pine forest, and it just hit me... this was it... the hike was over.  The mix of emotion was overwhelming.  In the same instant I was both overjoyed about all that Hike4Hope accomplished, and sad that the hike was over.  In the hike's ending I knew that I would be returning to a world of hustle and bustle, a world of egocentricity, a world of complexity.  Spending so much time living simply and walking with God in his creation changes you.  Yet as I was battling the mix of emotion that I was feeling, words from the morning's devotional struck me, and to be honest, they stung a bit as well.  "Self-pity is a slimy, bottomless pit.  Once you fall in, you tend to go deeper and deeper into the mire.  As you slide down those slippery walls, you are well on your way to depression, and the darkness is profound.  Your only hope is to look up and see the light of my presence shining down on you, reach up and grasp my hand."  Those words helped me to change my focus.  Yes, the amazing journey that I've been on for the better part of a year was coming to a close, but the experiences that I've had and the lessons that I've learned are there for me to share with others.  Further, this journey is over, but it is only the beginning of a much larger one.  There is still more to do if a cure is to be found for Nathan and Bennett, so a much better use of my energy would be to allow the momentum generated by Hike4Hope to be the catalyst for the next step.  The trail will always be there, and I do intend to return to it frequently.  For now, it is time for me to return to the rest of the world, to share the good news of God's glory and grace as I experienced it while on this journey.  As this time of retreat ends, I must now look to use what I've learned and experienced to continue God's kingdom work in the world.

As we reached route 30, Scott called us to tell us that they were starting out to meet us.  We reached Caledonia State Park, crossed a bridge and walked a couple hundred yards along the stream.  We came around a bend and saw Nathan and Bennett leading a group out to greet us.  Once they saw us, they took off and ran to meet us.
It was the most amazing welcome!  If there was any hint of self-pity remaining in my mind, it was quickly thwarted when I saw their two smiling faces.  Their joy was so contageous, the whole group was aglow with it.  Anne and I greeted my family and friends who had come out to meet me, and then Nathan and Bennett led all of us into the park where a picnic lunch was waiting.  
That last half mile was like walking on air.  There was so much love, so much joy, so much energy, that all feelings of tiredness and sadness had no foothold.  It was so wonderful to see so many people whom I love, there to support me and walk with me as I completed the final steps of the journey.

It is hard to believe that I have been home for a month.  It feels like yesterday that I was out on the trail.  In the time that has passed since the completion of the hike, I have had some difficulty readjusting to "normal" life.  There is definitely an element of culture shock associated with returning from trail life.  The first couple of weeks back, I woke each morning and took a long walk.  After a month of getting up and walking, it just didn't seem right not to.  I've also found that it's been a bit difficult for me to be surrounded by large groups of people.  I'd gone from seeing about 12 people in a day to seeing more than that in one hour.
I have found myself missing the simplicity and serenity of being on the trail, but also have learned how to find the same kind of peace being back home.  I have continued to seek out those quiet moments with my heavenly father, to continue to grow in relationship with him, and I am learning to accept each day just as it comes to me, not wasting time and energy wishing for different circumstances.  God is surely at work here and now, just as he was at work while I was walking with him on the trail.  I cherish the quiet moments that I spend listening for his still small voice.  In those low moments when I find myself overwhelmed I think back on the words from that last morning's devotion and remind myself that all I need to do is to reach up and grasp Christ's outstretched hand and he will lift me from the mire that I find myself in.

I am still astounded by how amazingly God blessed the hike.  9 months ago, I never would have imagined that so many people could be reached in raising awareness about Progeria.  The amount of funds raised for research, completely blows my mind. I am aware, perhaps more now than ever, how amazing things can happen when we step back and allow God to do his work.  The most amazing piece is that He desires to use us in the process when we allow him to do so.  I think that is the type of relationship that he originally intended for us to have with him.  One where we commune with him and participate in his work as stewards of the earth.  We have a huge freedom to respond to God and to be held accountable for that response.  I think the very nature of our relationship with God is expressed in how we respond to his call.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Surprises in Harrisburg

Today, Anne and I ventured into Harrisburg for our hike.  We looked at the weather reports last night, and with having no way off the trail if we ran into trouble, we decided to take the safer route and complete our mileage in Harrisburg.  We dropped Scott off at work, and headed for Front Street.  There is a very nice walking path there.  We began walking, and not long after, we realized that we both needed to use a restroom.  Unfortunately, we were no longer in the woods, but instead were in a residential area of the city.  Talk about an unexpected problem.
For the past month, all I've had to do when I needed to relieve myself was to dig a hole and make sure there was no poison ivy around.  As we looked around, we discovered a YMCA about half a block away and thought that might be our best shot.  Upon entering, we met a young woman named Savannah Faith.  After telling her about our mission to raise funds and awareness on behalf on Nathan and Bennett, and telling her our current plight, she allowed us to use the facilities of the Y and even gave us a brief tour, though both were against policy. We thanked her emphatically and returned to Front Street.  We walked about a mile and then decided to cross the Susquahanna on the pedestrian bridge and walk around City Island for a little while.  We then crossed back over into Harrisburg and continued on the path, which we learned was called the Greenbelt.  We soon discovered that the path encircled the city for a total distance of 20 miles, so rather than walking back and forth across the portion on Front Street, we decided to take the Greenbelt approximately half way, which meant that when we returned to our car, we would complete 15 miles that day.

The greenbelt was a very pleasant surprise indeed.  I never would have guessed that I could find such a peaceful atmosphere within Harrisburg, and as it was mid-week, we practically had it to ourselves.  We walked along the river for several miles, and then took a turn to the east, where we walked along a pleasant stream called Spring Creek that wound its way along the path for several miles.  We stopped on a bench for a bit of a break around 12:30, and found that we'd gone just over 6 miles in the two hours that we'd been walking.  Having light day packs and a level footpath certainly makes a big difference!  About an hour later, we came to this spectacular garden called the Five Senses Garden.  It was an oasis within the hustle and bustle of the city.  When we entered, we found ourselves surrounded by the beauty of God's creation.
There were six different areas of the garden, 5 engaging one of the senses, and in the center, a Labyrinth.

 Earlier that morning, Anne and I had talked briefly about how nice it would be to get away with our sisters in Christ sometime, where there was no agenda, no itinerary to follow; just time to be with one another in fellowship and worship.  I think that sometimes, we have a tendency to get so locked into programs, that we can lose sight of what is really important; the time we spend in relationship with God and one another as He had originally intended before the fall. Having a program, schedule, or itinerary in itself is not a bad thing, in fact those things are often necessary when planning any kind of event to keep things organized.  I wonder though, how often we stubbornly refuse to get out of the way when God has other things in mind.
Do we cling so tightly to the plans and schedules that we've made, that we miss opportunities to grow closer to God and each other?  Sadly, I know that I've done it many times.  I get so wrapped up in the details that I miss an opportunity that God had planned.  Being in the backcountry, I am learning to pay much closer attention.  Interactions matter. relationships matter. Slowing down and taking time to listen to what God is telling us matters! In fact, I would say that they are so essential to life, that when ignored, we are left with a gaping hole in our lives.  We try to fill the hole with other things, but it is the broken relationship that needs repairing, and only when it is repaired, even if not fully repaired, will the hole that was created begin to fill in.

Just yesterday, Anne shared with me her favorite quote from Gandhi.  He says, "I know the path.  It is straight and narrow.  It is like the edge of a sword.  I rejoice to walk on it.  I weep when I slip.  God's word is: 'He who strives never perishes.' I have implicit faith in that promise.  Though, therefore, from my weakness I fail a thousand times, I will not lose faith, but hope that I shall see the light when the flesh has been brought under perfect subjection, as some day it must."
As I stood on the edge of the Labyrinth, I thought about all the paths that we travel in this life.  I thought about the path that I've been traveling for the past month and the lessons that I've learned along that path.  I thought about all of the blessings that I've experienced while on it and all of the hardships that I've endured.  I thought about the places where I've slipped and the places where I've soared.  At the center of it all, stands the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  As Augustine observed, we are made for God, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him.  He waits for us with open arms, and longs for us to enter into deeper relationship with him.  That is our path, and no matter how many times we fall off of it, he will always welcome us back.

Just before we left the garden, Anne and I came across a placard that faced a clearing.  Through the clearing we could see atop a hill, the Dauphin County prison.  the placard read, "When we have done all the work we were sent to earth to do, we are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our soul like a cocoon encloses the future butterfly.  And when the time is right, we can let go of it and we will be free of pain,
 free of fears and worries - free as a very beautiful butterfly, returning home to God."  Both of us were brought to tears as we thought of the many things that can imprison us; addiction, mental & physical illness, wealth, pride, fear, poverty, grief.  It grieves me to think of all of the people who live as prisoners, living in darkness, unable to turn on the light bulb that hangs just above their heads.  To shine a light in a dark place; that's what we strive to do when we share the love of Christ with those around us.   Christ's light has the power to bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free, but his light can't permeate the darkness until someone flips the switch.  May we strive to be that light to all whom we encounter, that they may be freed from the prisons that bind them through the power of our risen Lord.  May we seek to build relationships with God and one another that capture God's original intent, and to not allow the effects of sin to drive us apart from one-another or from God.