Monday, March 24, 2014


Over the past couple of months I've read in more than one book or article that many thru hikers have nicknamed the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian trail Rocksylvania.  Having never before been on the trail, I envisioned large boulders in the woods and small to moderate rocks dispersed at random on the trail.  Yesterday I finally was able to get out on the trail for my first training hike.  I packed my pack with most of my gear and weighed it in at about 35 pounds.  My friends Kim and Ricky joined me as they plan to accompany me on a portion of the trek and they too being inexperienced hikers want to train for the summer.  We parked at a trailhead in Wind Gap.  I had planned to hike southward but we were unable to easily locate the trailhead and decided instead to head north towards Fox Gap because the trailhead to go north from where we parked was easily found and accessible (I later consulted the guidebook and maps and determined that we just hadn't gone far enough down the road to pick up the southbound trailhead).

We looked at the northbound trailhead and saw a steep incline of steps.  From the ground it looked to be about a 150ft climb, but we shortly found that the trail zigzagged up the mountain and in fact was a 500ft climb over a distance of about one mile.  For our first experience it was quite difficult... especially with my 35 pound pack weighing me down.  As we climbed I couldn't help but think of a quote from the 2001 film "A Knight's Tale"  in which the character Geoffrey Chaucer says, "To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on."

Okay, perhaps it wasn't quite that extreme, but the task was daunting and discouraging for three people who were (or so they thought) in decent physical condition.  Kim, Ricky and I made an important realization that hiking and backpacking is a completely different animal from our typical training and running activities.

Once we reached the top, the trail leveled out in terms of elevation, but we quickly learned what the authors of those articles and books I had read meant by Rocksylvania.  The trail, when we looked ahead, seemed to be an endless footpath of jagged, ankle twisting rocks and boulders.  One misplaced step or wearing inadequate footwear and you could be in serious trouble...We continued north for an additional 1.25 miles learning how to follow the white blazes, and occasionally slipping on some ice and snow that had not yet melted from the trail.

Though we had to pay close attention to where we stepped, we were thoroughly enjoying one another's company.  There's something about being outside in the crisp air of the woods that rejuvenates the soul.  Perhaps it's the respite from the busyness of the world and the awareness of the vastness of God's creation that is so appealing.

We reached a dirt service road to a power company, and as it was getting to be late in the afternoon, we decided it would be best to turn around and begin our 2 mile walk back to the car.  We did not want to have to descend the mountain in poor light conditions.  When we began our descent, we each turned to one-another and said, "We climbed up that this afternoon?"  It looked quite different to us from the top!  We carefully descended the mountain and arrived back at the car, thrilled that our first excursion into the woods had gone so well.  We were hardly off the trail before we began talking about our next training hike.  The discouraging climb that began our hike, while not forgotten, had been conquered.  We knew that we could do it and we are confident that the more we train and prepare, the easier it will become to ascend and descend the mountains.

As I've been writing tonight, I've been listening to a recording of the handbell piece that I played this past Sunday, called Appassionata--meaning deeply emotional or impassioned.  As I've allowed the music to carry me like waves carrying a ship on the sea, I'm reminded of the passion that is the driving force behind this hike... the passion that God has given me to reach out on behalf of two beautiful little boys, their family, and the 250 children in the world, who like them, are fighting for their futures. As I train, I am reminded that my passion is not my own but comes from God, who has called me.  When I become discouraged, I need only look to Him for perseverance and strength to carry on.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

100 Days

First, I'd like to wish PRF a happy birthday!  This month marks 15 years of groundbreaking research towards finding a cure for Progeria!  

Today marks 100 days until I embark on the Hike4Hope journey down the Appalachian Trail in honor of Nathan, Bennett and the 250 other children worldwide who have Progeria!!  Over the next 100 days there is much planning to be done in addition to training.  I am very excited for what lies ahead, but being a novice to hiking and backpacking, I'd be lying if I said that there's a part of me that wasn't extremely nervous as well. I've found though, that I have a sense of peace even amid the anxiety, because I know that God, who placed this calling on my heart, has gone before me, walks beside me and guards behind me.  

I've been reading a book for my small group called The Hole in our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision US, and would like to share some of my thoughts from what I've read.  A prayer that I've adapted for this Lenten season from the book is this:

I am often blind to the injustice and sins of omission that I commit.  Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, to see the world as you see it.  Let my heart be broken by the things that break Your heart.  Give me the ability to see through our culture and to lead your people with your vision, instead of with the world's.

"Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God"

What a sobering thought, to have our hearts broken by things that break God's own heart.  As I think about what sorts of things break the heart of God, I'm drawn to the thought of children who will never grow up.  At first my thoughts linger on those children living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East who die every day of preventable diseases.  I think about the AIDS orphans that Richard writes about- children who are forced to raise their younger siblings because their parents have died.  But then, I am drawn to think about another group entirely... What about those children like Nathan and Bennett who have Progeria? Would such a disease that claims the lives of children so young not also break the heart of God, the way that it breaks my own?  What if there was a way to bring about a change?  A way to bring hope to the hopeless, to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring justice to the oppressed... to the "least of these" in our world?  On a global scale, it is unlikely that an individual person could ever take on such issues and make a measurable impact.  But what if instead of looking at the problems on a global scale, we could look at just one or two people at a time, see their potential in the midst of their plight and allow ourselves to be used by God to impact their lives?  Imagine the change that could happen on a global scale if we each opened ourselves to the people whom God has called us to serve.  Each of us has been endowed with certain gifts and abilities for the purpose of bringing about God's Kingdom here on earth.  Imagine what would happen if we used those gifts and abilities the way that God wants us to use them: to love "the least of these." We could change the world in very real and practical ways.

The question for me and for all of us is will we?

John Ortberg writes, "they'll never be able to catch our love until we are close enough to catch their hurt." To allow God to use us, often removes us from our comfortable states. It means asking for our hearts to be broken by the things that break God's heart and a willingness to step outside of our comfort zones at the Spirit's call.  It means embracing the hardships of the ones that we walk with and serve. We have the means to be the difference that this world needs all we lack is the will and the way.

In the 100 days ahead may we all pray for our hearts to be broken by the things that break the heart of God, and may we allow ourselves to be used by Him to expand His Kingdom here on earth.