It's been three weeks since I finished hiking the Appalachian Trail. I walked 2,192 miles in 191 days, a bit over six months. That investment of life and time kept me from family and friends, so I've been driving from Georgia to Tennessee, Virginia to North Carolina reconnecting with loved ones. Yesterday I walked into Elevation Church Matthews and wasn't recognized by several friends since I'd lost 50 pounds and maybe gained some gray hairs and wrinkles. The bigger changes, however, happened in my heart.
I think I'm now more relaxed, less anxious. After my hike, I'm less prone to worry about things that troubled me before. I'm not sure how to describe or share how this happened - it is more an experience and life-change than revelation or knowledge. Living with a very simple schedule (walk, eat, sleep, repeat) definitely helped. Spending all my time in the woods helped too. Somehow that experience pulls you from the modern economic transactional mindset. I wasn't anxious about earning, saving, spending. One cannot own a beautiful sunrise or brilliant sunset, you only enjoy it. I can't purchase the experience of hiking miles in nature, but I can live it, breathe it, soak it in moment-by-moment. In the Great Smokey Mountains this past spring, I walked miles of trail surrounded by the same wildflower. It seemed the profusion of lavender-white flowers would never end. I camped beside streams that never stopped flowing, thousands of gallons of water trickling, singing every moment. I saw the lavish wastefulness of God. It seemed he was showing off, providing massive doses of nature and beauty on a daily basis. That changes you.
Psalm 23 gives some structure to my experience. The Psalm speaks of God as the good shepherd who leads us. Indeed, my journey felt like this. Even before the hike, God's presence was evident as Kosara and I walked "through the valley of the shadow of death." God was with us. After this tough experience, the trail called and I answered by showing up and walking. God met me there, leading "me beside still waters" and ultimately "restoring my soul" after months of trauma from walking with my beloved through cancer and death. I wanted to stay strong for her and for my family through the valley, but it takes a toll, you cannot help but suffer trauma. Something in me knew I needed time to heal. If you had stuck me in a chair on a beach for six months with instructions to recover and heal, I think I would have lost my mind. But walking off nervous energy every day, hiking miles in nature while meeting wonderful people and seeing how God maintains His natural world, it healed me. Some of my friends have used the term "Pilgrimage" for my hike and I would have to agree. It was a very healing, spiritual experience.
I received what I feel is one revelation from Father God about our family's ordeal which I may share in my next blog post. In the mean time, please pray for me as I navigate the waters of "What's Next." People ask me all the time what are your plans? Thankfully, I'm not anxious about the future. But I know I need to walk into the next thing. Right now, I'm taking one day at a time, reconnecting with family and friends. And if I can share my story or testimony with your group, event or church, please reach out to me - I love telling others about what God has done for me. For now, I'll just keep walking.