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.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Keep on Walking

"Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you.  Your desire to live close to me is a delight to My heart.  I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you.  Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain.  The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak.  Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; bur for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy.  All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction.  Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend.  Stay on the path I have selected for you.  It is truly the path of Life." -Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

What an amazing thought to start the day with.  This was my morning devotional today.  As Anne and I prepared to begin our day on South Mountain, I thought about the encouragement that this devotion provided.  I have only a few days left on this amazing journey.  At times I feel run down and tired, but here is this incredible affirmation that all I need to do is take the next step and God will take care of the rest.  There have been quite a few days that this has been what has kept me going.

Last Friday was a day alone on the trail, and it was a difficult day.  Before setting out that morning, I prayed that when the going got tough, God would give me the strength to carry on.  That day was an amazing day; one where I leaned entirely on God's provision and grace.  I spent the entire day meditating on the scriptures, taking in the beauty of God's creation and singing.  Though I had no human companions that day, my best friend walked along beside me whispering encouragements and giving me the strength to keep on going.  It was one of the best days that I had had on the trail; one where I really was able to quiet my mind and just listen.

I drank in these words, shared them with Anne, and together we ascended Second Mountain.  It was overcast and threatened rain at any moment.  We had endured a couple of storms on Sunday night and were hoping that the weather would hold until we finished our ten mile journey.  We came to Chimney Rocks around mid-morning and drank in the views and awesome rock formations.  After an extended break we continued southward descending to the Old Forge picnic grounds, where we stopped for lunch before continuing on.  While we were stopped, we had a message from Scott that there were heavy storms heading our way.  It did indeed begin to rain while we were stopped, but there wasn't any indication of thunder or lightning yet.  We decided to make
haste and press on to try and finish the day before the storms got to where we were.  We walked for about 10 minutes and then the rain began in earnest.  Thunder was rumbling and we were walking on rocky ground up the mountain once more.  After about half an hour of walking in the storm, the rain continued but the sun began to shine.  We walked on in awe of how the sunlight and rain danced in the forest making the surfaces of leaves rocks and trees glisten.  It was beautiful.  One of those sparkling surprises waiting around the corner!  After a while, the rain stopped and we removed our rain gear.  We took extra care as not to slip on the now wet rocks.  As we began our final descent for the day, we began to hear thunder once more.  We were so close to our goal, we didn't bother to stop and don our rain gear this time but tried instead to outrun it.  This time we were successful.  We reached the road just as Scott was pulling up (he'd been tracking us via GPS most of the afternoon), and then the heavens opened.  Talking about timing!
As I've continued to think on the words from this devotional, I realize that often times life can seem mundane and dull.  We wonder if this is all there really is to life.  We wonder if there is any real purpose to this seemingly dull existance.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we're caught by surprise and find that we're on a mountain top.  These spiritual highs are often far and few betwen, but may be less so when we pay closer attention to the details; for God is surely in the details!

Something I've learned a lot about over this past month is how dreary the climb up to the mountaintop can be.  Often times, it seems as though you'll never make it to the top.  The hill stretched before you seems to go on forever.  You turn a corner and think "I've finally made it!" only to find that that turn just led you to another series of switchbacks that need to be traversed before you will reach the top.  Often times, I've found that in these moments when I'm most discouraged and tired, I stop and take a break just before reaching the incredible vista that God had waiting for me.  In fact, almost like clockwork, I will give in less than 200 yards before reaching that point. In realizing this, I told Anne prior to starting out today, "if I say we can't be too far from point x, y, or z but I'm ready for a break, make me walk 200 yards more!"  The final moments before reaching the mountaintop experiences are often times the most emotionally and spiritually taxing.  You're exhausted, tired of carrying the load, tired of the monatony of the task, but God asks us to just take one more step; then another; and another; allowing him to lead you by the hand.

At last, when we think we've given all we've got, and we've got nothing left, we take just one more step and find ourselves on top of a mountain, looking into a valley that we've never seen before.  It's beauty is beyond anything that we could imagine.  The weight of our load, the burden of the journey is eclipsed by the awesome beauty of God's creation.  The mundane task is forgotten and the sparkling surprise embraced.

It saddens me to think, though, how many times people, like I often do, give in just before they reach the mountain top.  Each time that it's happened along the trail, I've still taken time to observe the beauty before me; taken a second break to drink it in, but I often wonder how many times we turn back discouraged and never see the sparkling surprises that God had waiting for us just around the corner.  This is where the body of Christ is so important, because it is through the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ that we can find the strength to finish the race that has been set before us.  It is the body of Christ who can help to give us that extra shove to go that last 200 yards along the path so that we don't miss the sparkling surprise that God has in store for us.

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Come and See"

There's something special about being invited to something, isn't there? I mean, I don't know about you but when I receive an invitation in the mail - particularly - there's a sense of excitement that comes over me. Now, that could be largely due to the fact that hey, snail mail is going the way of the dodo, buffalo, and various other sadly extinct creatures. It's exciting not just to get a letter, but to be invited to be part of something.

It's not just letters, though. In the middle of summer, I get excited also by invitations to come and see the latest blockbuster. Weeks after the movie, if you came and asked me not about the plot of the movie and what I thought about it, but about the last movie I had seen in theaters, I would probably say I saw _________________ with ____________.

Seeing the movie becomes memorable because  of who I saw it with. The movie could have totally stunk, but I'll remember that I saw it with my friends, family, or wife.

And what I think this shows us is that, to a large degree, there's a communal element to inviting. At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus went around calling each of His disciples, who in turn - according to the Gospel of John - encouraged one another to "come and see" the Christ, the Messiah. And one by one, as they encountered Jesus, they began to seek to understand what He was all about. But that wouldn't have happened if they weren't willing to drop their nets and whatever they were doing, and follow Jesus.

to come and see.

In those few words, one can understand that there is a communal element to inviting - to becoming a part of something and doing something greater as a result. It means doing or going somewhere different from where one is now (the word 'come') and accomplishing something ("see"). That can even be something as small as seeing a movie together.

This past week, I was privileged enough to get a chance to "go and see" what my sister, Amy, has been up to these past weeks as she begins to conclude her trek along the Pennsylvania stretch of the Appalachian trail to raise funds and awareness for Progeria research. Amy had hoped that this would be something others would get a taste for - to come and see - so she might pass the baton or share the flame (which-ever metaphor you like) of this cause. As it's nearing the end of her time, it's been a real privilege to see how many people have come out in support of Nathan and Bennett, this cause, and  Amy's Hike.

Amy's hope in a sense is both an invitation, and a challenge:
Specifically, Will we give wings of hope to these two boys? To all the children diagnosed with this disease?

What would we put down our nets for, or cross mountains for?

Will we invite others along the journey, even if it were to become rocky or dangerous?

Will we carry the torch, even when there are no more mountains to cross?

As Amy's hike comes to a close, what a privilege it was to be able to go and see what she is doing on a daily basis and to be a part of her calling. But what a greater privilege to each of us to have an open invitation on the table: to follow our Lord's call and to do something greater even after her miles have reached their end.

Feel free to check out video from the day hike here:

Hike4Hope: A Day Hike from Kevin Ruhf on Vimeo.

Please note, if you're using some kind of mobile device (i.e., phone/tablet, etc.) and are having trouble viewing the above video on this site, click or tap the link "Hike4Hope: a day hike" which should take you directly to the video on Vimeo. There's been a few folks saying they weren't able to watch on their phones, but the link appears to be working on the computer. :)

-Kevin J. Ruhf
(Amy's Brother...and don't worry, I got permission to write!)

Friday, July 4, 2014

A War-zone in St. Anthony's Wilderness

So far I have encountered many surprises along my journey, but nothing has surprised me more than the war-zone that Fal and I entered on Wednesday afternoon.  We began our ascent of Second Mountain by crossing a lovely stream, and a colorful meadow.  We met some hikers from New Hampshire as we climbed Second Mountain.  Clearly they had not done much backpacking before.  They looked as if they were carrying everything but the kitchen sink in their packs (the teakettle was really a surprise to see).  We overlapped a couple of times as we climbed the rocky mountain in the hot and humid conditions, exchanged stories, and left them with a postcard of Nathan and Bennett before wishing them luck on the rest of their journey.  They in turn gave us a donation for Hike4Hope!

We continued on our way and came to the ruins of Rausch gap.  We ate lunch on a steel bridge that crossed over a creek in St. Anthony's Wilderness.  While we were eating, we thought we heard some distant thunder, but decided that either the storm wasn't coming near us, or that we were just hearing things.  After eating, and changing our socks, we continued about half a mile to the Rausch gap shelter where we signed-in in the log book.  We were in a total dead zone.  There was no signal to be found and even the GPS tracker was having some issues.  At the shelter, we met "Overturn"  a section hiker about to finish up Pennsylvania.  We inquired about places to camp in the next 3-5 miles, and he told us of a nice grassy spot near the ruins of Yellow Springs, a coal mine that closed in 1859.  We thanked him and were on our way, tired from the heat and the morning climb, but grateful for the relatively flat trail that we had to walk on now.  As we walked, we began to hear what sounded like thunder, but it was too regular to be thunder... too rhythmic.  Still, what else could it be?  Sometimes when thunder echoes off of the mountains, it can sound different than what we're used to hearing back home... that must be it... As we walked, it grew louder and more frequent.  It was also sunny.  Fal and I said to each other, there's no way that that's thunder.  Then, I remembered that the Fort Indiantown Gap military base was at the base of the mountain.  It turns out that they were doing shelling exercises.

The peaceful atmosphere of St. Anthony's wilderness turned into what sounded like a war-zone!  It was a little unnerving to say the least.  We're not all that accustomed to hearing shells explode and then echo off the mountains.  It certainly made me pause to think about how blessed we are to live in a country where we live in relative peace.  I could not imagine listening to that day after day, night after night, constantly wondering if your home will be hit next; never feeling safe.  And yet, that is how far too many people live every day.  As I think about Independance day being today, I think about the sacrifices of so many so that I can live in a place where I can have an opinion, express my beliefs, work where I want to work, receive a quality education, walk a trail in the middle of nowhere... for fun... the list could go on and on; but none of it came free.  It was all bought a price.

The shelling stopped around 6pm, just after we reached the place that "Overturn" had told us about.  Two other young women were pitching their tents when we arrived.  We asked if it would be alright if we joined them.  We set up camp and then cooked our dinners.  We tried in vain to make a call or two or at least send a text to our loved ones, but it was no use.  The GPS unit, however was working, so we used it to send a message off to Dave and to my folks, that all was well.  The ladies we were camping with said that they had seen a couple of bear cubs about 2 miles from where we were camping, so all of us made sure to take extra precautions when hanging our bear bags that night.  We settled in and not long after we had gotten in our tents it began to rain.  Soon, thunder and lightning accompanied.  We were below the ridgeline and surrounded by younger trees, so all in all it was not a bad place to be camped in a storm.

We weathered the storm fine and stayed completely dry.  In the morning, we gathered our bear bags, began packing up camp, made breakfast, and then headed out.  We had about 7 or 8 miles to do, having made it further than anticipated on the 2nd.  We started out early and strong.  The footpath was still pretty even and so far there hadn't been too much change in elevation, so even with our 40lb packs, we were able to cruise along at a decent clip.  We reached the site of the old fire tower around 11 and then we began hearing the fighter jets.  After Wednesday's shelling, I guess we shouldn't have been surprised that there would be more exercises, and for whatever reason, the planes didn't seem to bother me as much as the shells.  We walked on, not able to talk much for lack of being able to hear over the planes.  The descent to Clarks Valley seemed to take forever!  Some of the trail had switchbacks built in, but much of it was steep and rocky.

We reached Fal's car around 1:30.  I decided to come off the trail for the night.  My feet were becoming more painful again and I had run out of dry socks.  Further, severe storms were going to be pummeling the ridgline where I was due to be camping.  Fal and I headed into Harrisburg for a late lunch and then drove back to Ambler together.  It's my hope that in taking 12 hours off from hiking and allowing my feet  to air out will enable me to continue on without having to come off again.

As I think about the war-zone type noise that disturbed the peaceful hike through St. Anthony's Wilderness, I think not only about our troops who fight to protect our freedoms, but also about the noise that we so often allow to eclipse the sounds that God has placed in the world for our enjoyment.  When was the last time you stopped to notice the chirping of a cricket, or a bird or a katydid?  When was the last time you listened to the rustling of the trees as they blow in the breeze, or the chipmunks and squirrels playing on the forest floor?  All of these things, things that we don't necessarily need to go far away to hear, are things that we tend to block out.  In the hustle and bustle of day to day life not only do we fail to hear these wonderful creations, but we don't miss them either.  How is it that the care-takers (stewards) of the earth, have become so out of touch with it?   I can't help but wonder, if it is so easy to tune out the sounds of God's creations, how easy is it for us to tune out God's voice?  One thing I've really been appreciating while on this journey is that I'm able to witness creation and recreation almost every moment of every day.  It's incredible to think of how intricately God has knit every creation together, and to be able to observe that creation as it happens is amazing!  Oh that we could shut out some of the noise that inhibits our being able to hear the sounds and see the sights of God's glory!