“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that One died for all, therefore, all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” II Corinthians 5:14-15
Having hiked more than 10,000 miles in the past nine years, one might have cause to assume that we would have learned a thing or two by now. In doing so however, one might be assuming too much.
This was the weekend that culminated from a promise last Spring in Georgia when we knew then that a thru-hike would not be in the offing this year. “Roughing it” in the woods at Tray Gap one evening with hot pizza, courtesy of Lone Wolf, the discussion came up about “next year.” Then and there we made a promise to both Wolf and Ox, the latter who claimed we had just taken him on a “death march,” that “next year,” when we weren’t thru-hiking, we would spend some time “blue blazing” with them, wherever they might decide to take us. Ox immediately seized upon the opening, informing us that we would finally get to experience the real Smokies the AT hikers miss. In Ox’s estimation, the Appalachian Trail does not traverse the prettiest part of the National Park. Stretching some 70 miles from Fontana Dam, NC to Davenport Gap, TN, it primarily runs along the ridgeline, bypassing impressive waterfalls, lush valleys replete with more species of flora and fauna than all of Europe combined, as well as places like the beautiful and historic Cades Cove. Ox has hiked every step of the more than 900 miles of trail in the Smokies and “next year” we would experience these awesome monuments of the East the way they were intended to be enjoyed.
“Next year” arrived the weekend before last. Sherlock and I drove north from Franklin, NC to Ox’s home in Knoxville, TN, arriving in time to enjoy a tour of downtown and a fabulous meal at Calhoun’s Restaurant along the Tennessee River. As we ate, each of us did our best to avoid the subject no one really wanted to discuss. The forecast for the majority of the weekend did not look promising.
Anyone who has endured a hike through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in early April knows from hardened experience that “sunny and warm” is, by and large, a pipe dream, reserved for those yet dreaming of hiking all the way from Georgia to Maine as they sit in front of a cozy fireplace peering out their window at the falling January snow. The Smokies, which are surpassed in annual moisture only by the notorious Pacific Northwest, are most prone to less than ideal conditions during the month that is famous for Spring “showers.” Of course, April showers everyplace else bring promise of May flowers. In the Smokies, you are only promised misery!
Sherlock and I already knew this of course. We knew that if the forecast called for occasional showers anywhere else, it meant an all-day soaking in the Smokies and that likely for several days on end. The forecast called for soaking rain in Knoxville!
In spite of all this, we loaded up Friday morning and headed east to the mountains. The weather initially cooperated, remaining dry and pleasant during a three-hour visit to the Standing Bear Farm and Hiker Hostel. We began to have silent hopes of defying the odds as we drove to the Ranger Station and registered. Only as we took our first steps on the Big Creek Trail did the skies, as if on cue, open up.
We hiked 5.2 miles that first day, just long enough to become totally drenched by the time we arrived at camp for the night. As I lay in the tent Friday evening, snuggled in my warm but damp sleeping bag, I couldn’t help but think that only our love for Ox could have gotten us into the woods on this miserable weekend, especially these woods! Sherlock muttered only a few hours earlier as we were setting up camp in the downpour, “I’m not doing this again!” He knew however, even as he said it, that we both would, even if it means April in the Smokies, if it means hiking with Ox.
Sherlock and I have often been asked the question, “Why the AT?” With so many trails available to us, why do we return to the same one year after year after year? The short answer is the one used by any who discover that “Springer Fever” is a recurring malady. “It’s the people!” comes the quick response. For us however, it’s more than just “the people.” It’s God’s love for these people that compels us with a longing that they too might know what we’ve become convinced of.
For the love of Christ, the sort of love that compelled Him, who, although He existed in the form of God, . . . to empty Himself, to take on the form of a bondservant, and be made in the likeness of men . . . and to humble Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8 That love . . . controls us, having concluded this, that this One who died for all, because all having died already . . . in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) needed someone to die for them so that they who live because of Him might no longer live for themselves, which is, when all is said and done, really no life at all, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
How does one begin to put that sort of motivation into words? For the love of Christ transcends even the coldest and wettest of Springs in the Smokies. The love of Christ is all the reason we need for doing what we do! We pray it always will.
Happy Trails to all,
“How blessed are the people that know the joyful sound! Oh Lord, they walk in the light of your countenance.” Psalm 89:15
Towards the completion of an hour-long phone conversation late Saturday night with Jacque Ward, Heartbeat’s wonderful new secretary, I felt the strong sense of accomplishment that has eluded me for quite some time. The website, which had been inactive since succumbing to a virus last summer, is finally updated and now in Jacque’s capable hands. Other “office work” that had been piled high since Christmas has at last been addressed. We enjoyed an excellent first week back with the Trail community. Although the weather refuses to cooperate, our hearts know: Winter is over. It’s time for yet another Spring and Summer along this magical Trail.
I was just about to thank Jacque for all of her diligence and hang up with the thought that maybe now we could relax a bit, at least for a day or two, when she inquired, “Okay, now that the website is updated, when are you going to write your next blog?”
What to write about? There is plenty I could report on, to be sure, but there was really nothing that moment tugging at my heart, burning in my fingertips causing an irresistible urge to put pen to paper. I decided to think and pray about it as I looked for that “something” others just need to hear. I didn’t need to wait for long.
Sunday morning at First Baptist Church in Franklin, NC was “Special Friends Day.” I knew little of what that was all about as I availed myself to the hearty hiker breakfast prepared for us by the church folks. After trading stories for quite some time with Daniel and Amy, Chair, Radar (who thru-hiked last year) and one of our hostesses, Dale West, I, along with Sherlock, Clay and Branch, who serve on staff at the church, made our way to the sanctuary for the morning service.
I was soon to be amazed at the incredible ministry this congregation has to more than 40 mentally and physically challenged “special friends.” More so however, my heart was soon to be moved by, not the church’s ministry to these folks, but the ministry of these precious people to us.
Moments after we sat down, a gentleman by the name of Howard, who was able to make his way to the platform with assistance from two ushers, peered out at the congregation and said bluntly, “Let’s pray.” He then proceeded to talk with God in the sort of intimate way only the dearest of friends could ever know. What he said was not nearly as important as how he said it, for he wasn’t conversing with us. He knew he had been given open access to the very throne room of the Almighty. What moved me most was how this man who outwardly possessed nothing of what our world would consider desirable, begged and petitioned God on behalf of everyone but himself, people who would never regard him as he so passionately regarded them. We didn’t merely hear a prayer that morning, but rather witnessed a conversation between one who treasures his Savior and is treasured by Him. When he uttered his “amen” several minutes later, I felt as if we could have gone home then and there. No sermon was going to top that!
Yet the morning had only begun. One by one, members of this “community” made their way to the front to publicly worship. An elderly lady, just over 4 feet tall, began to sing to the best of her limited ability “Jesus Loves Me this I Know.” I later learned that she actually had a brother who sang with Elvis, but I don’t believe God ever heard Elvis sound better! The middle-aged woman who sang “God is so Good,” with words intelligible to her heart and God’s alone, somehow knew more about God’s goodness than most who have every good thing this world can offer.
I couldn’t help but think that morning what some might say as they would observe what would be to them “a sad spectacle.” Maybe some might consider this sort of heartfelt emotion little more than “mind manipulation.” Yet these would be those considered by most not to possess much of a mind to begin with. Yet look what they do with their minds, hearts and strength; the very thing we won’t do with ours!
I found myself asking the question that gripped my own heart. In God’s eyes, who is the one handicapped? The one, who with all his faculties halfheartedly serves God and at times even reasons Him away, or the one who, having less than what this world deems “normal,” simply believes all that he has come to understand about God? Oh that those of us who “have it all” would worship the One who gave His all for us like that. For therein lies the prayer that moves God’s heart.
“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Mark 10:15
Happy Trails to All,