Monday, May 31, 1999
This morning I woke up with a deep soul hunger for coffee. I had heard from other hikers that up at the Holy Family Church that runs the hostel they brewed it fresh every morning so I got out of my bunk, slipped on my flip flops, and quietly made my way out of the hostel. Most people were still asleep in the cool morning, the quiet made me happy. I slowly walked over to the back door of the church through the wet cool dew that covered the grass and entered the Catholic Church. The very first person I met was a large bellied smiling father, he introduced himself as Father John Prinelli. He warmly greeted me while serving fruit and bagels to Shure Paw, Buck Dancer, and a cousin of his visiting from central Virginia. When he was done helping the others he poured me a large coffee and thrust it into my hands. “God gave us coffee so that we might know him better.”
Being the host, he took it as his duty to talk and tell us the history of his sister and her three children while we drank our coffee and ate our breakfasts. Father Prinelli is a colorful man, he freely shares his views on everything with brutally blunt honesty and used colorful metaphors to season the conversation. His eyes would light up when he shocked us and then he would roll out a long deep belly laugh. He was not trying to intentionally shock us but rather the words would easily flow off his tongue. A Father who can curse around a breakfast table is a secure man. He downed four steins worth of coffee while he described his sister without hesitation or thought believing we needed to know everything about her. After a good hour of laughter and listening he needed to go do some chores before 10:30 a.m. mass. He invited us to attend and it sounded very attractive to me to see how this caffeine-soaked man might lead it.
Father John Prinelli led a wonderful mass but it must have exhausted him because afterwards when he took his robes off he was sweating through his clothing like he had just completed a 5K run. Those of us that went to mass stayed afterwards to help Father John dismantle an elaborate May Day display. He’s easy and fun to spend time with, the fact that he bribed us with all the chocolate cake we could eat was only the icing on the cake. Father John started sharing with us all the projects around the church that needed attention before he arrived only a year ago and could not stop rolling his eyes and raising his hands up in dismay. “They didn’t even have a statue of Mary!” He kept clucking through the list of things he had to buy and all the education that his parishioners needed and continue to need. “How did they ever get along without me?” He is a kind man with a jovial spirit, I would laugh a lot and enjoy learning about God if he was my priest.
As I was sitting eating lunch in the warm sun, Quantum walked up me and crashed on the grass. She had taken a ride forward to rest here from physical pains and aches the trail gave her. This is a beautiful and gentle place to find rest and peace. She was at church this morning and was overwhelmed at the love given to her by the father, a few other Christians here, and myself. She felt accepted and valued. Sprawled out on the grass staring up at the sky we talked about cultural Christianity versus a relationship with Jesus that brings joy and life to a heart. She is not sure what she believes what I’m telling her but she knows that she’s on a spiritual journey and is hoping to find her answer for what is true. She’s not ruled anything out but she is also not taking any risks forward. I think God is revealing Himself to her and I’m grateful to see her willingness to listen to God’s voice.
I ate dinner on my stove and then decided I should have second dinner. I headed down to Subway to try and remember what it feels like to feel full. Rockfish walked with me to get off the hill and some quiet time to journal with me. I like him. Rockfish is 6’2”, thin, olive complexion, full black hair pulled back into a ponytail below his shoulders. He has strong sharp facial features and little facial hair, he’s a proud Spanish-Italian. He is one of those kinds of people that you just like when you meet them. Without knowing anything, you just sense that he is a good guy and safe, you just like him. He has a gentle spirit to him, inquisitive of mind and spiritual things, and generous with his time and possessions. He comes from Michigan and will return there when the trip is over but he definitely has grown attached to many places along the trail and hopes to have many future road trips. We sat at the Subway eating and reading when a gentleman in his 70’s sat down in a booth across from us with his coffee and just looked at us intently for several minutes before speaking. “You hikers?” “Yes,” we responded with smiles. “Seen any snakes.” We had seen a long black snake on the dirt road to Wal-Mart in the afternoon so we told him about it. “Oh that would be a black racer. They’re poisonous, he, he, he. You don’t want to mess with them.” I am not so sure that was a true statement but we did not challenge him. He continued on, “you know we used to have a church over here that would have snakes in their church. I wouldn’t go in there cause I don’t like snakes but I know the pastor and some others that did. The pastor’s wife died from snakebite. It says in the Bible that they can do that you know. I remember one time a while ago that this guy was holding the snake and it jumped from his hands and bit into his cheekbone.” He started too pull his own cheek with his hand, with big eyes looking down at us. “They got several men to pull the snake but it wouldn’t let go, it just held on and pulled the guys face out further and further, crazy thing, he, he, he, he.” He let go of his own cheek leaving a large red mark from the pinch. “They would drink poison too. I don’t know what it was but they said it could kill ya, he, he, he.” He laughed to himself. “It’s all outlawed now in Virginia, but you can go about 21 miles form here to West Virginia and find them. But I won’t go, don’t like snakes.” The three of us were quiet for a few minutes staring at each other until he broke the silence, “you know they can read your mind, they know what you’re thinking. I saw one in my lawn one day so I sat down a few feet from him and said ‘why do you and I hafta be enemies? Why can’t we be friends, no reason not to.’” He started to act like a snake weaving his head around, bulging his eyes out at us. “He did just like that; he knew what I was saying,” he said. He kept talking about his conversations with snakes and encounters he had but he always ended by saying, “but I don’t like snakes. He, he, he.” Rockfish and I just looked at each other raising our eyebrows and trying not to laugh as he continued to act out the motions of snakes.
It’s true that snake handlers pick up snakes as part of their religious service. This weird practice began around 1909 by George Went Hensley in Tennessee. It is now outlawed in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia after several fatal incidents. Its true that there is a perception of the Appalachian Christianity, that they are snake handlers, holy rollers, radio evangelists, hellfire preaching, and barefoot worshippers in log churches.
Its recorded that Hensley himself was bitten 446 times and died when he was struck his 447th time at the age of 75. He died belching up blood and writhing on the floor in pain, according to eyewitnesses. That didn’t seem to dissuade people, the movement continued and is still very much alive though largely underground due to legalities. It teaches that the faithful must prove their faith in God by having victory over snakes, fire, poison, or all three. And if they are truly faithful then they will receive a blessing from the Holy Ghost through gifts, proof that they have been rewarded for untarnished devotion to God. Until a member of the church obtains these spiritual gifts, he is damned. This sounds a bit like spiritual manipulation to me. I don’t know if the theology or the snakes cause more damage.
The town of Pearisburg, VA was named after Captain Pearis who donated the land, timber and stone to build the county buildings. Its existed as a town since 1808 with an Episcopal Church leading the way. The Methodists followed a year later to give a little competition. The first settlers fought with the Indians ending in a deaths to both people groups, burned buildings, and kidnappings. These pioneers were known and distinguished for their heroism and fierce fighting which is said to have struck fear, terror, and dismay to the Indians, making their men desirable for the revolutionary war by General George Washington. And it’s fun to honor the pioneers who carved out their log houses and farms out of wilderness, and they pushed into areas without recognizing the powers and people that existed before them. A harsh consequence was the years of raids the Indians brought, death to the young and old. But it wasn’t just the danger of warfare, there were also numerous wild animals, the panther, bear and wolves, one panther being reported as being nine feet in length. With their axes they felled the forest to build forts of protection and relied on the Bible to help protect from all other uncertainties.
The man who runs the Hostel for the church is Bill Gautier, a kind man who does a great job meeting the needs of hikers and keeping healthy boundaries. He is a blunt man with a strong voice that reaches you five minutes before he arrives. One of his jobs is to make hikers leave if they have stayed more than two nights. “If you don’t want to hike then go home, just don’t stay here,” he bellows with his military voice. He is gruff on the surface but has a tender heart and really does want to help the hikers. He takes us to the post office, laundry, store, and the trailhead with efficiency and generosity. He’s been patient with me as I wait for my mail and package.
Tuesday, June 1, 1999
I’ve been off the trial too long already, I’m losing my motivation to hike, I think one more day and I’ll be ready. I didn’t sleep much the last two nights, my mind circled the issue of loneliness. Though there are many people around, I feel lonely around them. I don’t always feel like I fit. I’m a fork on a table of soup bowls and spoons. The people I meet on the trail, relationships I build with other hikers are fluid. I may hike around them for a week or so, but then because of differing speeds and injuries, we may not see each other again. The only constant relationships I have right now are those who write me from home. And many of them have already stopped writing me. I’m just sad.
I had a great talk with Buckdancer this afternoon. (A buckdancer is a person who solo dances traditional Appalachians dancing. Its sort of like clog dancing) He wanted to know how I reconciled my Christian faith with evolution and the exclusivity of my faith. Wow. I wasn’t sure where to go with those questions. So I started by asking him some questions. He was raised in a Christian family but has long since walked away from that faith. He didn’t like the smug answers that were slapped on every issue even if the answers were square pegs in a round hole. He has come to believe that there is nothing after death but a recycling of molecules and energy to create more life. Then he asked me again, “how do you reconciled you Christian faith with evolution and the exclusivity of the Christina faith?” I began to share my heart, my own questions, my doubts and my hopes. The more I talked the more his eyes grew larger. “I’ve never heard a Christian talk and believe like you. Are you sure you’re a Christian?” That’s an interesting question. I’m not really trying to be a Christian. Maybe I’m not, that’s become a word that has a bad taste in my mouth. I decided to pour out my heart and get raw with Buckdancer, sharing with him about my need and deep dependence on God, “I know exactly who I would be if God didn’t save me from myself,” and about my hunger to know God in my heart far more than my mind. My mind has been easy to fill, the real work is listening to the voice of God, taking the time, and then noticing how I respond when I hear God’s voice. Do I run, ignore, or pay attention? This has been my journey, and I’m trying to love God, to be like Jesus. And I fail quite a lot.
Wednesday, June 2, 1999
I really tried to leave Pearisburg this morning after having extended my stay now to 3 nights in the hostel. None of them have been good nights of sleep but its been so good on my feet to heal from the blisters and bruises. Father Prinelli called over to the hostel phone and invited any and all hikers over for coffee. “Oh yes!” So off I went. The Father is a man full of stories. If he has one he has a thousand that will hold your interest, teach you things, and also keep you laughing. He is never at a lack for words and he’s great at involving everyone in conversation. I was going to leave at 8:30 to head to the trail but the truck was full of other hikers, I decided to wait for the 10 o’clock shuttle. I was about to jump on that one but the Father asked me to stay for mass and talk with him afterwards. How could I refuse such an invitation? Mass was good but my time with the father was wonderful. He had no agenda, he just wanted someone to talk to that was interested in him. Usually people dump their problems on him and he has to listen, it felt good to be interesting to someone else. I totally get it. During the Vietnam War Father Prinelli was a soldier and was even in the spy business living in secrecy. During the war he also began working with orphans and helped raise funds to help build several orphanages. After his military service he sought admission to candidacy for priesthood in the NHA Trang Diocese (The Roman Catholic Diocese in Vietnam) and was accepted. He was the first and only American to be incardinated into that Diocese. In 1974 he began his seminary career in Rome and was ordained in 1978. Many times when he was in Vietnam as a priest he was escorted around for his safety and he would think to himself, “I have been trained to kill men nine different ways with just my bare hands.” He said he would roll his eyes, if there was ever an issue, he figured he would be the one to save the guys sent to protect him.
We talked for several hours enjoying the time passing. He offered me his spare room any time I would ever want it. I felt so honored. I really like him. He told me that I interest him greatly, I’m not sure why and he didn’t explain anymore. Mostly what I did was just quietly soak in his stories and wisdom. I will miss him. I’m deeply grateful for his investment in me and his encouragement. He told me to jump in his car and then he took me to the trailhead. With a warm farewell, I turned and headed into the trees, and I was finally back under the canopy of the forest and sky by early afternoon.
I caught up with Rockfish at the Rice Field shelter., The Artist and Rosey from the Family (The Family was just that, five children ranging in ages from 10-22 and their mother who thru-hiked successfully last summer). The Artist, 19, and Rosey, 23, are just section hiking for a few days before starting a two-week volunteer trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail. They are from Missouri where they live on a farm but they have ties to the area which brings them back. They made me a hemp bracelet and flirted with me, that always feels great. These two girls are planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail next summer and are trying to persuade all the hikers at the shelter to go with them. They may have captured the interest of Rockfish. Maybe it’s because they flirted with him too. As the day closed, more hikers pulled in, KC, Amazon, Fireman, Llama, Hobbit, Sam-I-Am, Sidewinder, and Ponderosa to name a few. The Aussie Possie (three guys from Australia who never took off their Australian outback hats) passed through but continued onward on their grueling schedule.
This shelter is one of the better ones for watching the sunset over an open expansive pasture. The shelter also has the single most exposed privy. A wooden platform with a sheet of plywood attached on the back so the people near the shelter can’t watch you but you are exposed to the world. And there is always a risk as people wander around, set up tents nearby, go brush their teeth…it makes you move fast.
Thursday, June 3, 1999
This was the night we stole Cotton’s fire at the Bailey Gap shelter. Six of us sat around the camp table watching Rockfish trying to start a fire in the stone pit. He set it up like a boy scout to perfection but he just couldn’t get the wood to catch for him. He was getting so frustrated and embarrassed because just twenty feet away Cotton had built himself a beautiful blazing fire near his tent. He finally got up and left. We had watched Cotton leave about 15 minutes previous. He had taken his water bottles and purifier down by the water to fill up for the night. An eyebrow raises from Sidewinder, “we could move Cotton’s fire down to help Rockfish.” Without any conversation or even head nods, we all stood to our feet, walked over to Cotton’s fire, picked up every flaming stick and coal and carried them to the stone pit that Rockfish had just abandoned and was now conveniently gone using the bathroom. The fire quickly rebuilt itself to a large roaring fire. Then we all sat back down to our meals and conversation waiting for the return of both men. As Cotton walked up he commented at our nice blazing fire then walked up to his tent and froze. He scratched his head for a second, turned and looked at Rockfishes fire, back to his. Then burst out laughing as he figured out what happened. He came over to the table and was about to say something when we silently put our fingers to out lips to ask him to be silent, then we made a seat for him. He was puzzled but he sat down. Then as Rockfish returned he understood. Rockfish came around the corner and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the fire. He just stood staring at it. Nobody said a word and Cotton walked back to his tent laughing. We all left the table and helped Cotton build a new fire. He played along perfectly. We never did tell Rockfish.
KC seemed very focused at the shelter. She spent an hour building a stone pentagram on the ground facing north near the shelter. She is a born-again pagan who worships the female deities and draws from them power to carry her through each day. She says that she is a true pagan because she does not believe in Satan or God. She has practiced different forms of witchcraft but has not gone the road of Wicca because she believes that Wicca is too similarly structured to the Catholic faith. She’s aware that she ran from Christianity because of the hypocrisy that she witnessed, but though that is not a valid reason and she knows it now as an adult with perspective, she believes it did lead her the correct faith that she now follows and would have it no other way. We have a great time talking because our banter is without tense emotion or of critical judgment, giving each of us the freedom to not feel defensive but to listen and learn of the others decisions. She really does have a sharp mind, she’s very articulate and educated and doesn’t seem to hold any anger in her. As we were talking so commented to her partner Amazon about committing a sin. I asked, “What is the basis of sin, what are the guidelines for measurement or of even knowing when you have sinned?” She leaned back, smiled, and then let out a laugh, “Your right, I have no idea why I use that word. And I’ve never thought of the implications of that.” When the two of us get going, others like to move in close to listen to us dialogue. We have opposing views, both raised in Christianity, and we can still laugh, learn, and hug when it’s all over. I heard the comment, “I didn’t know people could talk about God without shoving it in people’s faces or yelling threats.” That makes me wonder what they have seen, what they grew up in. It feels like more people have been damaged by the church than helped. I doubt its true but I sometimes get that feeling.
As I have been talking with many people about Jesus over the last week, many thoughts have been gathering in my head. As I grew up I was taught to preserve my orthodoxy by closing my mind to other religions and options so I’m no negatively influenced by them. I was told that I must always be faithful to the Scriptures of the Bible. While I was at seminary I had to have my ears filled with arguments over the attributes of God while I just sat content that God existed. Then I began to read the Bible and saw that it told me a story of how God wants to love me, connect to me and that the Bible is not just a tool to develop “correct theology.” The process of hearing the voice of God and how that shapes me began to develop in my and its more important than having every trivial answer be correct. I then was given the gift of learning that I am able to theologize, that I have an understanding of God and that is theology. And in my theologizing I can learn to understand how God wants to live connected with me throughout each and every day, not just come for ultimate answers of life and death. A holistic faith is beginning to develop that relates to all of my life. People ask, “Will my sick baby live?” “Why did my business fail?” “How do I help my broken marriage?” “Will my travel be safe?” “Will God win?” These are middle issues, and I was raised in a culture of high spiritual religion that stresses salvation, spiritual growth, security in the afterlife, and loving others as ourselves. But in issues such as childbirth, fertility, health care, job security (future job for me), and other similar issues are matters that are not considered religious unless a problem develops on a large measure or if fear emerges. And we continue on by looking to science and natural laws believing we have gained control in those areas and don’t need God, we end up pushing God out.
What is it that can address these middle issues that are being asked by friends all around me? They are looking for guidance, peace and security for daily living. As I follow Jesus, how is God among us in every way? How do I understand and connect to God through the entire creation? I’m not certain I’m always following my own thoughts, so God, help me to process this and to bring a clear picture of who you are and why you are so great for daily living to my friends around me.
Friday, June 4, 1999
“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” Carl Jung
My feet and I are at odds with one another. They didn’t want to hike but I made them go 18 miles. They are not speaking to me tonight. We walked through deep woods and rocky terrain making walking difficult. I rolled my ankle a few times and blisters continue to bleed in my boots. Is this what boots are supposed to do? I want to know what they are doing for me because it’s easy to see how they like to nibble my toes up one at a time.
“Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience.” W.R. Inge
Saturday, June 5, 1999
Today is a beautiful day and my feet still aren’t speaking to me. In the morning I was walking along with Llama, Hobbit and Fireman. Fireman is a big hiker from Chicago with a wild rugged beard. When he gets into a shelter at night the first thing he does, even if it’s in the middle of the afternoon, he builds a fire. He will grab lots of green leaves and needles and throw them on the fire to create a smoke haze, he hates the flies that swarm around his face. As we hiked he was telling me stories of his life and sharing some jokes when we saw some huge rolled hay bales. We jumped up on them and tried to ride one down the hill. I think they are flat because though they are round, they just seemed to enjoy sitting still. The small group of us hiked by the largest white oak tree in the southern Appalachians, called the Keffer Oak. It was huge and over 300 years old! Its named for a previous landowner.
When I got to the mountain ridge I thought I had left the others behind me and that I was alone. I was startled to find I wasn’t. Shapes to the left of me jumped up startled by my sudden approach. I thought they were the wild dogs (I had heard about wild dogs so I stiffened up with fear). They came at me fast, four hungry beasts bred in the mountains, and they began to lick me – goats. They pawed me and tried to lick all the salt off my skin and tried to eat my clothing so I had to shove and push my way through the barrage of tongues and teeth, it was a battle to reach my escape. I though about tying a leash around one of those mountain goats and turning him into my personal Sherpa. If I get thirsty, squeeze out a glass of fresh milk. Have goat, will travel. Instead I pressed on.
During lunch with Fireman, Llama, and Hobbit, it came out that I’m a sculptor and a seminary graduate. They thought that I should make little clay Jesus bobble heads to put on car dashboards (I’m certain someone already has). Then they thought I should make a bobblehead Satan that you put in the back window of the car and is always calling out to you in a tiny voice, “Look baaaack. Look back here. Yesss. Don’t look to the straight and narrow, looook where you came from. Yesss.” Satan always is looking over your shoulder. They thought I could make more money off of that than the Jesus bobblehead. Then they wanted me to make a line of Christian boardgames like Christopoly, “You gave your heart to Jesus at camp, collect $200. Heavens Gate, “lose a turn while you wait for Peter.” Build your mansion on the streets of gold. “You’ve sinned, go to the alter unless you have a ‘get out of purgatory’ card.” Pulling out the game pieces would bring a fight like 5 year old’s, “I don’t want to have the cross again. That’s not fair, I had to carry my cross last time. I want the grail.” “nooooo, you had the grail last time and I had the crown of thorns.”
Then they went to “Heaven or Hell?” (instead of Chutes and Ladders). That was just the beginning, then they started to really warm up. And none of them are followers of Jesus so I was loving hearing their thoughts and ideas about Christian faith and what would be humorous to them. And I thought it was all funny.
Sunday, June 6th 1999
Today sucked the life out of me and I loved it. It was a hot day with no wind, the heat pounded down on me causing me to sweat profusely. I was certain I could have slid down the trail. I have two pairs of hiking shorts so I can swap them out when one pair gets soaked through. I then take it and tie it onto the back of my backpack to air and sun dry. But I was sweating faster than I could dry. I was glistening head to toe. And the reason this is a problem, it can cause chaffing on the skin and create blisters and chaffing. Water sources are scarce in this section so I’m carrying extra water because I’m trying to keep up with the sweating. But even after that, the day was beautiful and the pounding of the trail was a fun challenge as I climbed all afternoon up Dragon’s Tooth.
I discovered that there was more than one tooth to the dragon and it has horrible plaque buildup.
Very few hikers crashed at the shelter near Catawba. Most went to Catawba because there is a restaurant family restaurant that serves home cooked meals in enormous portions. I stayed in the shelter, took my boots off, hydrated, and hid in the campfire smoke to keep the flies off.
Monday, June 7, 1999
I slept in, lazily sat up and read for a while. My feet didn’t want to be in boots yet. My boots are black like I imagine its soul would be if it had one. I made my oatmeal and stared at the scenery. With reluctance I get ready, packed up, loaded my burden onto my back and headed down the trail. I made it to small town of Catawba where I found hikers gathered outside a general store. Just behind the store there is an empty grass lot that the grocery store owners let hikers camp on and get water from a spigot from a well. I walked behind the store and there was a little village of hikers, tents up, hikers working on their tan, some playing frisbee, and people playing cards or just talking. They were all waiting for the Home Place Family Restaurant across the way to open up for lunch. All-you-can-eat! I walked over with a bunch of hikers expecting great things. They have three seating sections – smokers, non-smokers and hikers. Awesome. We really do smell I’m told, but I don’t believe it. I’m certain others do, but not me. We ate family style with large portions of fried chicken and fresh buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes and country gravy. It was the best meal I’ve had in weeks. And we ate until we got sick and then we ate twice the same before rolling back to the empty lot to smile and digest.
Chico Man got a rare case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and is off the trail. It’s a bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick. Ace pulled off the trail to try and repair a broken marriage. He had enough. The longer I am on the trail the more I can understand people leaving. Hiking can be very tedious, day in and day out. The desire to find a new adventure grows in all of us. I was offered a ride to the Florida Keys next week if I wanted to do something different. It was a strong temptation – the idea of going down for a week and then hitch back up. VP and two others hitched about 450 miles to Virginia Beach Friday and made it back Sunday. And I feel like I can’t leave, I feel bound to the trail, it’s my challenge and what I feel like I’m supposed to do. I feel like if I left or quit, I would not only let myself down, I would be missing out on something changing and being shaped inside me. I don’t know that this is true of anyone else and I’m great with others doing whatever they want. I just don’t feel like I can stop.
I’ve noticed that with the increase in heat there is also an increase of bugs. They fly around my face as I hike and bite me when I stop. I feel like Pigpen but instead of a cloud of dust around him there is a cloud of flies. When I sleep at night or in my midday nap, they buzz my ears and keep me awake. When I eat they fly into my food and get stuck. I pick them out but they just fly back in so now I just eat them. If I know they are there it doesn’t bother me that much anymore. And it does bother me that I’m not as bothered by them. It is amazing the levels I have been reduced to. Many other hikers are adapting similarly. Buzzard said a moth flew into her rice and beans so she just ate around it while it flapped and tried to escape. She eventually pulled it out but legs were left behind. Protein!
Five years ago I was attending a church with my best friend and entered into an experience that was beyond my understanding. The church was hosting a prophetic conference to which I raised my eyebrows at and my best friend instantly rejected and attacked out of a holy offense. I went in saying, “God if you are in this then help me to see you and understand what I don’t understand.” Though I was a little scared by the events I saw, I could not say it was not of God. I came to believe that this was a Spirit-filled church, empowered by God though far out of my comfort zone. My friend never went back again but nitpicked every detail of the church and grumbled and moaned. I didn’t like that either. I felt compelled to check it out again, and then again and again. I ended up making that church my home for the next year as I grew to know God in new ways, different from how I was raised and at times I felt like I was drowning. Fear would rise up inside me almost weekly but I would just keep asking God, “Are you in this church? Are you moving? Are you growing me to know you more? Is this true?” And I always felt like God was encouraging me to continue and walking with me patiently as I did.
At the prophetic conference the next year, just before I moved to Kentucky to attend seminary, God rocked me. I was sitting in the back of the church, having arrived late. It was a full sanctuary, well over 500 people in attendance. At the end of the sermon the speaker pointed out a few people and gave them a prophecy from God. That was interesting to watch. He then looked to the back of the church, looked straight at me and asked, “the gentleman with the blue shirt on, would you please stand up.” I looked around to see who it was that he was talking to “…wait, is it me? What do I do?” Nervously I stood to see what he would do or say. 500 people waited quietly and watched. “I have a picture of you in my mind. I see you in great shape physically, you may be a spiritual super-giant but I can’t see that, but I see you in great shape and you need to be for all the places God wants to take you. I see you walking through forests splitting them open, and everywhere you set your foot, like Joshua will be claimed for the Kingdom of God. You will be a bright light in the darkness that will attract others to you. And you will go because you will say, ‘take me Lord; I will go anywhere,’ and the Lord loves that about you.” He shared more and then I sat stunned. What is my response? What do I do with that? What does it mean? I figured that there was nothing for me to do with that information at that point. If God said it would happen then I don’t need to do anything to try and get there, because knowing me I would only screw it up. And I really had no idea what it would look like fleshed out in my living. I think it was just meant to be an encouragement, and it was. I’m no forgotten. I’m not insignificant. I’m not overlooked. And most of my life I have felt like I am. So I set the prophecy on the back shelf of my brain and turned my head to the living in front of me. I hadn’t thought of that prophecy much over the last 5 years but last night as I hiked in, the memory of that prophecy jumped in front of my eyes like a shout. Is this what it talked about? In part? This may not be the complete fulfillment of the prophecy but just the beginning. And regardless of the prophecy, I felt encouraged by God again, that I am loved, that God enjoys me, that God will use me, and that I’m of worth and value. I will continue to seek the face of God and walk where I am told.
There was a guy named Fish hanging out with the hikers who seemed very friendly and a bit wild. He had hiked the previous year and missed the trail and the friendships so much he drove his van up from Florida to help hikers out who needed it. He grabbed a bunch of people who were wanting a rest day and took them to the movies in a nearby town. I was about to go with the group but then thought about what I really wanted. I didn’t want to go see a movie or to just sit around and rest. I wanted to head back into the mountains. So I loaded up on water from the spigot behind the general store and with a grin on my face walked forward alone. Most nights on the trail I have gotten to my campsite or shelter before dark and then spent time with the people I know and meeting new people. Tonight is different. All those I have hiked closely around are behind me and have told me they will be taking some big rest time. So I probably won’t see some of them again on this trip. I have felt lonely a lot on this trip but the aloneness I am experiencing now feels strong and peaceful. I am sitting on Tinker Cliffs watching the sun set and I still have a few miles to lay down tonight. There is a sense of peace on me, to sit and enjoy the world before me and not hurry to catch up with others, to not be making decisions based on others. To listen to God through the birds and to watch the cloud turn soft orange. I don’t know when I’ve been more content.