What If He Asks You To Remove Your Shoes?

Have you ever raced across hot sand? I have, and what’s more, something prickly shared its bounty with me. To remove all the thorns from my foot was a significant challenge.

Imagine strolling into work one day and then stopping dead in your tracks because your tools are totally engulfed in fire. They aren’t being burned up, mind you, just surrounded by crackling flames.

Now imagine that you hear your name being called, but you see no one. So you move closer. And then you realize it is God talking, and he starts explaining your life mission to you.

My friend, Zvek, and I sometimes discuss our life missions. We are both nearing 30, so we say we have just a few more years to complete our training and get our acts together. Jesus started his ministry at 30, and we are high achievers.

So Moses–that slave baby turned prince turned fugative–do you know about him? Well, he thought he had his act together when he reached middle age. He was still a fugative, sure, but he had a family and a job. Life was as steady and predictable as it had ever been. But one day he drove his herds near the mountain of God. That was the day it all went down.


Moses sees a bush on fire, right there at the foot of the mountain of God. Weird, right? Fire in a desert is abnormal, that’s a fact, so Moses has to take a closer look. A voice calls his name, and he recognises it as God’s voice. “Moses!” God says, “Take off your shoes. This is a holy place.”

Now, reader, please remember that Moses wasn’t standing on a wave-smoothed beach. He was in the middle of a dry, rocky, thorny, burning hot (110°) climate. Scorpions and venomous snakes live here. Would you like to walk across this terrain barefoot?

Moses wants to know what God is up to more than he wants to preserve the lifespan of his feet. He tosses his shoes, follows God’s voice, and finds out his life mission, right there by a bush that is in flames… but not a bit damaged!

That bush, reader, let’s think about that bush for a minute. It was ON FIRE, the quickest death–the worst danger a bush could know–and yet, safe. Untouched. A humble bush, used for something incredible, a living picture of the language of a world close at hand, now, but also very far away. Let’s think about this for a bit. What could it mean?

Getting back to Moses before he vanishes from sight, let’s go over the steps he’s taken today.

1. He chose to travel to the mountain of God. Proximity to holy places.

2. He saw something near the mountain of God that was unusual. It reminded him of one of God’s names: Consuming Fire, and he went towards it, thinking, “Could it be that God is on the move?” Curiosity. Eyes wide open. Understanding of God’s attributes. Action.

3. God called Moses’ name, and he said, “Here I am.” Choosing relationship over being a spectator.

4. Barefoot on burning, thorn-studded sand. A walk past the snake and the scorpion’s dens. “I’d rather be in pain and near you than whole and far away”. Speaking “I will” instead of “I need”.

A refiner’s fire NEVER consumes the gold, reader. Believe it.

Know who God is. Walk in faith.

Always be curious.


My Best Reads of 2017

To Kill a Mockingbird  and its sequel, Go Set A Watchman, by Harper Lee

Adventure, laughs, suspense, history and characters whose beliefs will walk with you the rest of your life. Read these when you need a reminder that there once were and probably still are folks with deep-rooted manners and even deeper-rooted morals.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A nail-biter, with humor and warmth. I can’t say much about this short story, because the plot is too well-crafted to risk spoiling.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A gory and thought-provoking prediction of the future, published in 1932. Deeply depressing.

Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

A timid, wounded girl fights her enemies under the teaching of two silent companions. Best listened to when night hiking through bear-infested woods.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Miracles and heartbreak; a narrative of one of the Sudan’s Lost Boys. Read this when you need incentive to re-evaluate your life values.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

A suspense story full of unforgettable quotes. Read this when you need financial inspiration.

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin

A good read when your brain feels consistently overloaded.

The Paradigm by Jonathan Cahn

A biblical scholar’s view of recent USA history. A good companion when your brain needs to get up and go for a brisk run.

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry

Case studies by a child psychiatrist. An atheistic explanation of the medical and scientific effect specific trauma cases have engraved into young lives. Read when your mind is strong enough to process and filter gritty subjects.

Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott

An entertaining and inspiring approach to etiquette–if you believe polite behavior starts in the mind and heart, then you will love the angle of this book.







5 Ways to be a Better Friend

Jo, my oldest sister, used to spit-shine my face on the way to church, back in the days when all 8 of us used to cram into our wood-paneled 7-passenger van. The spit-shining wasn’t painful but I hated the feeling when she took her fingernail to my eyelashes. At five years old, I had much to learn about proper etiquette. Such as face-washing.

A few decades later, I still have much to learn about etiquette and general self-improvement. I named 2017 ‘The Year of Realizing I Am A Horrible Person’

After that, I read a handful of self-help books and prayed to the Lord for change. Soon I realized that becoming a better person can be as easy as teaching yourself to say a few new words. Here are five habits I am grafting into my world:

Know your priorities.

Sit down in a quiet place, and write a list of things you care about more than anything else in the world. Number those things in order of importance. Look at this list often, and compare it to where your time is spent. If 60% of your time is taken by your third-most-important priority, it is time for a change of direction!

You will be glad for the skill of evaluating your priorities when five Very Important People ask you to do something for/with them on the same day, which also happens to be the day you blew a tire, discovered a humongous bill in the mail and accidentally deleted all of your cell phone contacts. Know your priorities and you will be prepared for days of Not-So-Present-Brain.

Don’t open a message unless you have time to immediately respond to it.

Text, email, private message and voicemail all come with the same disclaimer: ‘If you open me at a red light, telling yourself, “I will reply as soon as I get home”, you shall thereafter just narrowly escape collision with an overturned cucumber truck, slosh hot coffee down your pant and into your right boot, encounter a freak hail storm, and by the time you reach home have completely forgotten what the message said or that you received one at all.’

Teach yourself to be self-controlled enough to reach an appropriate time slot before opening messages. Even if you only have a minute to reply to a lengthy email, you can say, “Got it! I’ll share my response on such-and-such a day.”, and then write it in your schedule to send a full response on that day.

Learn to say, “I’ll think about it.”

Immediate gratification is not normal, or healthy. Similarly, expecting your brain to always configure a great decision at the drop of a hat is not to be expected. If someone asks you a question and you can’t quickly form a sure-fire answer, just admit that you need some time to think about it.

This is especially helpful when making plans. Saying, “I need to think about this before I respond.”, will give you space to evaluate your priorities before agreeing to dedicate time to something.

Show up at special events.

If you are invited to a graduation, shower, wedding, or other milestone event, make every effort to attend.

This exact event will never reoccur again, and it was an honor for you to be added to the guest list. Despite what anyone says, your friend will notice that you loved him/her enough to show up with your support. The host/hostess will be thrilled that another person showed up to eat the cheese-stuffed dates it took them three hours to make. You’ll meet people you’d have never set eyes on otherwise.

The perfect powder on the mountains will come again. Hunting season will come again. No one cares that you don’t have a perfect dress to wear.

Just go. And if you can’t, RSVP immediately. A tree died for that little RSVP card–throwing it away would be ungrateful.

Replace social media with pie.

Social media relationships require zero investment; a hand-delivered pie is a joy forever. Take a minute to send a text just because. Call someone you said you’d pray for and say, “Hey, my lunch break only lasts ten more minutes but I wanted to spend them praying for you.” Invite people to join in on things that are a part of your normal routine.

People need people. And people want to know you, even if you are five and forgot to wash your face this morning.



Have you ever written a list of your priorities? And then compared them to a list of percentages showing how you spend your time? I never have, but I’ve done so in my mind. It’s horrible.

I’m horrible, at priorities. I need to force myself to be motivated. Forcing myself to be motivated usually involves voluntarily inflicting pain on myself, and that is horrible too.

I had this great idea to redesign the American norm of comfort, once. I’d been thinking about Breakfast At Sally’s by Richard LeMieux, and about the Lost Boys of Sudan. I was thinking about this girl who had to walk three miles to gather water.

I thought, “Maybe I could try living simply all the time, not just in the wilderness. I could eat oatmeal (not very heroic, because I like oatmeal) and go without electricity and stop using technology as a mood-booster. I could start an Instagram account and show pictures about the gritty side of minimalism and inspire my generation towards change. Millennials need to stop sponging resources off their elders. They should be independent, and realize that real life is hard work and almost never fair.”

It was a very inspirational plan, in my mind.

I refused to sleep in a bed until I was 100% financially independent. That was my way of forcing myself to be motivated. I felt it was very heroic to sleep on the basement couch or in the back of the SUV instead of in my family’s guest bedrooms. “Maybe I am starting to understand what it is like to be homeless.” I told myself, after a few nights of insomnia. I became so accustomed to sleeping in the back of the SUV, without a mat, that I got a terrible backache from trying out a mattress. “How courageous I am!” I told myself, “I actually prefer the hard floor. Just like a Spartan!”

But I was never rained on while I slept, or robbed, or gnawed on by a rat, so I really wasn’t very heroic after all.

I wanted to live in a van but I couldn’t invest in one without borrowing money. So Jesus gave me a tree house and many kind souls who helped me begin to turn it into a tiny cabin. It was 8 feet square, and 12 feet high, with a loft.

Adorably perched on a hillside, and full of mice and squirrels.

“This is very ideal!” I thought. “I can evict the mice and squirrels, turn the cabin into an insulated home, and learn enough about carpentry to one day travel to devastated lands and build shelters for lost souls. I can be done in three weeks.”

It rained almost every day of the three weeks I took off work. An 8-foot-square building does not harbor space for piles of lumber and various saws and sawhorses. Even the trusty SUV could not make it up the steep, muddy track to my front door. So instead of zooming ahead, I inched.

The first project was to replace the missing studs. I was terrified of using the circular saw. I watched ten minutes of a 30-minute saw safety video and then said, “Ain’t nobody got time for this!” clamped the wood down in multiple places, grasped the saw with sweaty-palmed force, and began.

The next thing I discovered was that driving three-inch screws into hardwood located two feet above my head is nearly impossible for me.

An animal had died in the loft, and I couldn’t bleach the smell out of the wood. I tore down the loft, and sorted through Pop’s scrap pile for wood to rebuild it. A very difficult challenge it was, to drive the new wood in place while holding it steady with my not-so-spare hand. I felt like a rookie, and my muscles started picketing for rest. I’m guessing the drill I used was partially built with lead.

I was building the cabin out of trash, because that was environmentally inspiring. It was also what I could afford, and what someone from Breakfast At Sally’s would do. The only artsy, free thing I could think of with which to finish the interior walls was pallet wood. My friend brought her truck and we humbled ourselves at the hardware store,  asking for free pallets. The saber saw had a problem, so I had to hold the battery in with my knee while cutting apart 28 pallets. Then 10 more. The blisters made us feel heroic.

My brother in law loaned me a planer, and I honed the nights away and breathed in lots of dust. “The pallet work alone will take 10 solid days.” Pops warned me. “But think how much I will enjoy how it looks when I’m done! It will be so beautiful!” He agreed, but hesitantly.

I spent 5 hours taking a pick axe to the hillside, and then my sister came and directed the construction of my outhouse. The space where we built was level when we began, but it started to slope after a few days. I added more rocks and encouraged the hickory sapling below the outhouse with a rousing speech. “Grow! You alone can keep this outhouse from rolling down the mountainside!”

After the studs and the loft were replaced and the walls were insulated, it was time to install OSB. Nearly four months had raced by so far, and until this time the gables had been open. It’d been tricky, running a drill by the light of a headlamp while being dive-bombed by moths. Moths aim for the eyes, I now know. They have decent aim, too.

Pops, Steve, Arthur and Ben closed the gables and built a little roof over my front door. Pops installed the first sheet of OSB in the interior. He took over a dozen measurements to do this. Then their time was up.

My cabin, remember, began as a tree house. It was not planning to adopt a veneer of OSB. It rejected my efforts as best it could. Measuring weather-warped studs and angles and gaps and smoothing them all over with perfectly aligned OSB swaths was impossible for a rookie like me to achieve. I did the best I could, but it took many after-work nights and several dozen swings of my favorite tool, the Persuasion Device. The summer was nearly over when I was finally ready for the first piece of pallet wood.

The pallet wood took a month. Not an actual month, you know, but a build-on-evenings-and-weekends-after-getting-home-from-work month. I used all the planed pieces on the interior, and the cracked or nail-studded pieces were used as siding on the outhouse. Pops loaned me his nail gun, an upgrade I’m sure the Spartans did not have.

This all sounds very chronological and orderly on paper, but it was not this way in real life. Many projects were progressing at any given time, but I hopped between them as dictated by weather, supplies or lack of knowledge.

The shingles went up in three stints, as determined by my ability to buy more nails and more shingles. That was a six-week time span.

10 months after I began the project, I was finally moved in. All that was needed was a heating system, and I had just enough cash for a tiny coal stove and enough fuel to drive to NJ and back.

It was a foggy, rainy night which should not have been confronted without first replacing my windshield wipers and headlights. As a consequence, I  careened Pops and myself onto and back off of a wide cement median at 65 mph, but the angels gave us a softer landing than I deserved. We made it home alive with the stove.

It is still sitting in my cabin, cold as a stone. The land is being sold. My (indoor!) cat ran away. Maybe that is a sign it’s time for me to move on too.

Sometimes things that begin heroically and ideally do not end that way. It’s just life.

But priorities, if founded in the Rock (meaning God, not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), are unchangeable. God is a God of upgrades and that is unchangeable. 

He has given me a simple lifestyle in the civilised world. I do live without technology at my fingertips. I am financially independent and not in debt. And the minor devastation of spending over 500 hours of labor on my project without receiving over 500 hours of enjoyment in return is… Real life.

It is only a crumb of the devastation Richard LeMieux, the Lost Boys of Sudan, and the girl who carried water three miles felt all day, every day.

Real life. I did not plan for my goal of redefined comfort to feel like this, but it does, and it is my priorities fulfilled and rewarded. Upgrades that look like compassion and empathy instead of a cozy cabin and glowing embers in my tiny stove.


Would you like to buy a piece of land with a pallet-sided outhouse and a tiny, not-quite-completed cabin?


Preparing for War

“What would you like me to teach you?” 4 sleepy, innocent faces stared at the table. 2 sets of eyes blinked back at me. It was 10 am on a Sunday morning, but the brains in the 4th grade class were functioning at the slowest possible speed. “It’s ok.” I said, “We’ll talk about this again. For now, I’ll just teach what I think you need to know.”

I love teaching people what I think they need to know.

I asked the class what they worry about, and they listed fire, drowning, being at war. Floods. We talked about Master Chef Jr., and Little League, and how kids prepare to be kid-champions. How they train & become strong. When it’s go-time, these kids are ready for action.

How can prayer get us ready for hard times?” I asked. Either the class didn’t know, or they were afraid to speak their ideas. “Let me draw a picture.”

“Here is a girl, because that’s easier to draw.”


“When we have a fear or worry on our mind, it takes all of our energy. This is how it would look if our worries were visible.”


“That’s a big backpack!”

“Sure is! Do you think this girl could compete on Master Chef Jr, or be in Little League, with this big load? No? You’re right. So if we want to be champions, we have to learn how to keep our minds strong. We can’t be champions if our minds are weak and worn down. Can you finish the verse that starts, ‘Cast all your…’ ”

“Cast all your worries on Him, because He cares about you.”

“This is how that looks!”


“God wants to carry our worries for us! We still think about them, but we don’t have to carry them around with us. God carries them because it is His job to be the Protector. Sometimes He invites us to help solve the problem, but it is always something small enough to carry around while still competing.”


“Does this make sense to you? Isn’t it cool that God sometimes invites us to help Him solve the problems we are worried about?”

I was preaching at myself, really. I found myself repeating, “Jesus, you are the prioritizer. You are the protector. I choose to let those jobs in your hands.”

It’s so simple, but similar to Naaman, who despised the idea of a muddy swim as a cure for leprosy, we despise the idea of doing something in which we have no power to control the outcome. We prefer to run, stress, work and worry. Instead of, in 4th-grade lingo, “Sending our worries up to heaven.”

Cast those worries away, heaven-champion! Buckle up that belt of truth, grasp that sword of faith and wait for battle orders! You will never be in control, no matter how hard you try.

War is here, but more war is coming. Our minds have got to be free so they can be strong. 




No Looking Back


“I’m ready for my scolding.” I draped my arm out the SUV window, desperately hoping my half-hearted smile would be enough to melt the ridge-runner’s stiff jaw line.

It wasn’t.

“Was that your trail magic?” He gestured towards the now-vacant trail-head. “I have to tell you, the food you left here was a very poor choice towards preserving our state forest lands. When I arrived there was trash scattered everywhere. An open invitation to bears….” His KTA hat was tilted at a stern angle, nodding its agreement to every parently jerk of his head.

I sighed silently and felt prickles of embarrassment creep up my neck. You deserve this. Just grin and bear it. 

“When I hiked the trail, I loved coming across trail magic. But you’ve got to stay with your coolers. I know it takes a chunk out of your day, but the hikers love meeting you. Then you won’t create a scenario for animals to become accustomed to being fed. I know–” he lifted his hand, “I saw the buckets and your notes about securing trash inside them, but a bucket lid won’t hold up to a raccoon or a bear.”

I started in on my I-Camp-in-Bear-Country-Regularly-and-They’ve-Never-Plundered-My-Food-Buckets speech, and then cut it off. “I know leaving food unattended was a poor life decision, and I am genuinely sorry.” He could tell I felt ashamed. I saw his face soften.

“I never properly introduced myself. I’m Tinker.”

“Nike. Nice to meet you.” I said, and fist-bumped him. “I’d like to see the carnage. Could you send me a picture of it?” I didn’t have to ask if he had taken photographs of the mess. He was a millennial, and that is what millennials do. I tapped my number into his filthy i-phone.

“I’m glad you came along when you did. I was about to post the photos on our page.”

Super! Local dis-fame for my wilderness guide reputation. 

“–But you’ll be happy to know I didn’t remove your coolers immediately. I let the hikers enjoy them. There was a forest fire here. The fire teams wouldn’t let me back in. I had to wait to come again until they had the flames under control….”

I lost track of what Tinker was saying. I wasn’t interested in fire stories. My coolers were nowhere to be seen. I’d combed the area looking for them. There wasn’t so much as a snippet of Coke bottle wrapper. “Could you tell me where to find my things?”

Tinker’s head jerked to attention, and immediately swiveled towards the road. “I had your chairs and coolers stacked right beside that tree. I thought you loaded them up already!”

If I’d have loaded them up already, I’d be GONE right now, brother!

“Go ahead so this guy can drive through, and I’ll see if he saw anything.”

Tinker talked to the forest service man, and I sat on the dashboard and stared at my shriveled-up self on the damp, dirty SUV seat. It was unusual for me to see myself so humiliated. Awkward, always. But shamed, rarely. I wanted to churn the gravel and disappear into the fog, but the thought of replacing $120 worth of camping gear held me back. Tinker darted towards me through the raindrops.

“He hasn’t seen anything. I have your number, and I’ll let you know what the police say after I report this. There have been other petty thefts in the area.”

Police?  No thank you! “I’m not from here…” I started a desperate attempt to remove myself from the scenario.

Sternly. “I will update you. It was your things that were stolen.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it!” I said mechanically. This time I did let my tires eat the gravel. I pulled slowly onto the mountain road. The neatly-stacked pizza in the take-out dish beside me smelled nauseating.

How could I have been so stupid? I KNOW better than to leave food unattended in the wilderness. I’ve given Leave No Trace speeches to my trainees at least a dozen times.

I scowled at the pizza, as if it was to blame. I’d shivered in an air-conditioned pizza shop 30 minutes for it under the slim chance that I’d cross paths with a rain-soaked hiker while collecting my coolers. The pretty little waitress had understood what I wanted when I said it was for a hiker. She’d separated each stacked piece with a square of waxed paper and wrapped the take-out dish in aluminum foil. Tinker had left my things unattended for only 30 minutes. That’s what he had said.

I scowled at the box again.

You know, it’s amazing how much effort a person can spend to escape the fact they were wrong about something.

I heard a faint voice in my head. It came from Zvek, my adventure buddy, and the words had been spoken several months ago. “Do you really believe that? Or are you just saying that to make yourself feel better?”

Ah, Zvek, you hit the nail on the head even without being here. I like to feel good–yep, I do say things that I don’t really believe in order to make myself feel better.


I grabbed my mind by its invisible bootstraps and repeated: “I made a mistake, but I am not stupid. The hikers should have properly disposed their trash, but this is not their fault. There might be bears here. I really don’t know. No one is to blame here but me, and it’s ok. I am not irresponsible. I made a mistake, but I still have a good heart.”

Isn’t it crazy how much time and energy I spend to convince myself and others that I AM OK?

Why try to prove that there is such a thing as wind? Realities do not change. 

No self-blame allowed, Jesus-kiddo. No shifting blame either. Just save time and sift out the truth. Throw away the lies and place the truth on the table. Then move on.

The Lord does not need our help to prove what is true. 

And who knows, maybe the purpose of it all is for you to make friends with a wiry ridge-runner from Florida.

Life’s What You Make It

After letting over 100 arrows fly into the lake, tonight I landed a carp. Sports are not my forte, so it was a big deal to score this first success at bow fishing. I’m so thankful for the ones who patiently instructed me.

Success is empowering.

I believe in going after success in what I care about. My dad has one line he always says when we have a career-related question: “If you do what you love, you will get energy from doing it.” I’m a fan of synergy, so I’ve tried to follow this sage advice.

I have very few assets and my life is far from “in order”,  but can you guess what people say to me every week? “You have such a great life.” “I wish I had your life.” I did absolutely nothing to win this life. I just followed my interests and left the rest up to Jesus.

Leaving the rest up to Jesus is a fantastic way to de-stress, did you know that? There’s a place in the Bible where He says, “Don’t worry about what you will say when you are called onto the witness stand. I will give you my words to say.” I think that goes for living your life as well. If the Creator of the world is really the creator of the world, He does not need earthly help to accomplish his plans.

I’ve been transforming my life recently. My culture has a strong flavor of affluence, technology, social norms and workaholism but I’ve decided this is not normal. If it was normal, it would leave us feeling at rest. But we are not at rest.

So I am identifying stress in my life and weeding it out.

First to go? Anything I have not used in 3 years. I have too much stuff! I don’t need it. I don’t use it. “Goodbye to you….”

Also, it isn’t normal to communicate on 7 different platforms. This is something that has been birthed in the last three decades. How has something so young become more normal than the face-to-face communication that worked so well for the past several millenniums? It stresses me out to check multiple places for messages about weekend plans! For me it enough to have three mainstream options: phone, text and email. I don’t have social media messaging on my phone. It feels good to be uninterrupted by notification signals. I’m not apologetic, because you know, my front door is always open!

Next, over-commitment. It is not normal to race from place to place. It destroys focus. I cannot have a meaningful conversation if I’m worried I’ll be late for the next meeting. I am practicing saying “I would love to, but no.” I’ve set aside one day of the week as “family day.” It feels good to have no question about what I will do on that specific day.

Simplicity is a good way to fight stress.


So what about doing what I love? It’s a challenging goal, but I’m trying. I’m self-employed in multiple  fields, which suits my personality. I’m growing ever closer to my goal of moving into a tiny space. I’m making an effort to carve regular space for myself to create art.  There’s one thing money can never buy, and that’s time.

In order to make the most of time, I need energy. And in order to get energy… you guessed it, I’m choosing to do what I love. I’m choosing to identify social norms that are not normal, and weed them out.

I’m choosing to celebrate the good people in this nation who are making a difference by doing what they love. Success is empowering.

Joy is contagious.

And the catfish from our fishing expedition has finally stopped flopping in the sink, so I’m gonna go filet it and bread it with  Cheez-It Grooves crumbs and fry it in a big round pan. Don’t worry, I watched a YouTube video about how to use a filet knife, so it will be perfectly safe.

In the meantime, you could check out this article about a handful of men who opened a restaurant which employs ex-cons. They believe in change.   

Hollywood Restaurant Giving Ex-Cons A Chance At Redemption

Strength in Strange Places (plus me embarrassing myself yet again)

Do you ever think about how hard it is to be kind to yourself? I do.

Considering how selfish human beings are thought to be, it shouldn’t really be a problem for us to be kind to ourselves. But it is. It’s hard for us to believe there is something good on its way. Maybe for someone else, we think, but not for me.

It was like that one grey April day in Tennessee. My hiking buddies and I had been gradually increasing our daily mileage as our Appalachian Trail thru-hike progressed–8 miles per day for a week, then 12 miles per day for two weeks, then 16 miles per day for two weeks. Now we were at 18 miles per day, and I was mentally kicking myself for coming up with this ridiculous schedule.

Every day my well-trained hiking buddy, Shooting Star, arrived at campsite two hours before Kaio and I. She was an inspiration. I forced myself to stick with the plan. I was broke, first of all, having set out on this adventure with only $400 in all the world. Secondly, if we changed our mileage, it would disturb our mail drop schedule. I knew pain was a typical part of life on the trail, so I pushed myself onwards.

As I lay in my hammock that night, listening to raindrops splat against the tarp 8 inches from my head, I worried. My right knee and both legs still ached and throbbed by turns after today’s workout. I knew Kaios knee pain often turned her sleep into fitful tossing. If we couldn’t even get comfortable when resting, how were we going to manage another big day with the added challenge of cold, driving rain?

Jesus, it’s up to You from here! I prayed, and typed a text message to my friends.

“April 6, 2016. Hey prayer warriors! I feel your support so much, thanks a million! We’ve been transitioning to 18 mile days this week and I’m asking for extra prayer tomorrow and Friday as we push ourselves mentally and physically to the limit to make it to the next resupply in Irwin, Tennessee. We’ve been doing well and have plenty of food to make it but our bodies are complaining and we want to thrive in the presence of Jesus, not just survive! There’s a cold snap afoot and winds have been high which saps energy pretty quick! Thanks so much for your care!”

When I groggily awoke at 5 am the next morning, the rain had stopped. Kaio and I set out before the dawn, determined to make the day’s miles. Wind whipped clouds across the unfriendly sky, and every hour or two a patch of happy blue sky appeared. There was a rumor circulating that tonight’s rain would turn to snow. I didn’t doubt it. It was cold, and growing colder.

Kaio dropped behind me as we climbed yet another painstakingly gradual hill, and when she didn’t appear around the bend for awhile after I summited, I began to worry. Had her knees totally given out? Had she accidentally turned the wrong way on the trail? Was she lying in the woods in some kind of distorted configuration, having fallen victim to a blood-thirsty Tennessee creature no one had warned us to avoid?

After what felt like thirty minutes, I saw her small figure advancing around the bend and I let out a great sigh of relief. I felt like a Mt. Everest explorer as we plodded onwards up the next ridge. The wind in our faces was like a thousand tiny darts-usually bringing energizing life but today a messenger of numbing gloom. The wind soon mixed with cold drizzle, which did nothing to quench the fire shooting up both of my legs with every downward step. My knee injury was never diagnosed, but some called it tendonitis. Basically, fire stabbing upwards from both knees with every downward step, increasing in intensity until bending the knee was impossible.

We were nearing Sam’s Gap, 8 miles from tonight’s shelter, but I could not force my leg to go faster. Jesus, I’m mighty curious how you’re gonna get me out of THIS fix. I thought. Then I had an idea.

Why not get a shuttle into town and wait out the storm like our friends often did? That would give both Kaio and I time to rest our injuries.

No. We can’t leave Shooting Star to face the snow-covered mountain alone.

But what good will we be to her anyway? We’re collapsing!

But you don’t have $60 to squander on a shuttle and lodging, Nike! That’s 1/6 of all the money you own and you haven’t even completed 1/6 of the trail!

But Jesus didn’t send me out here to kill myself. He sent me out here to thrive.

This conversation went on in my head for awhile, but the same voice spoke louder and louder over the din. “BELIEVE THAT I WILL GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED.”

So I called ahead to Kaio, and told her I was going to call for a shuttle from the gap. We are both embarrassingly stubborn, so it was a bigger deal than you can imagine for us to consider this. For us, this was almost like hiring a Sherpa.

Kaio decided to come with me, so we sat in the gap and tried to figure out what to do. We were both broke. I had no cash for a shuttle. “I’ll try to get us a ride.” I said, “But if I can’t could I borrow the $30 shuttle cash from you? I’ll pay you back.” Kaio agreed, so I asked an unrighteously clean group of day hikers if they were headed towards Erwin. “We have no idea where that is,” they said, “We’re not from this area. But we’ll look it up on her phone.”

I could almost hear the group sigh with relief when their directions told them to head the opposite direction of Erwin. “Sorry.” they said and we said, “No problem.”

It would have been an organizational feat to stuff ourselves and our packs into their tiny car anyways. We sat on the damp curb and called Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. Uncle Johnny said Jeff would be there in 45 minutes. “Don’t go anywhere!” he said. Where were we to go? No cars had passed us in the last 20 minutes, and the rain clouds were creeping ever closer. No more day hikers would be setting out from this parking lot today, we were pretty sure.

Raindrops started to splatter, and Jeff pulled up just as Kaio and I retreated to the underpass to escape them. Jeff offered to stop by the burger shack on the way back, but we said no thanks. Broke people can’t afford meat, we were thinking, but we didn’t tell him that. Uncle Johnny gave us towels and directed us to the showers and tenting area. The hostel’s advertisement of endless hot water was true! As temperatures dropped into the low 30s, that hot water sure felt amazing!

We sat on the picnic table bench as the sun set, watching the changing colors of the sky through the branches of a blooming apple tree.


How did we go from struggling uphill, foot by painful foot, to being warm and cared for with no looming stress of pushing ourselves to the limit again tomorrow? It felt like Jesus sure had given us two hard-skulled hikers a miracle.

“You are valuable.” He said. “You are meant to be protected and safe.”

But I’m sure you must be wondering, did Shooting Star survive? Did we ever make up 30 miles we missed? Yes, and yes. Shooting Star covered the 18 snow-covered miles to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in record time. We thought she was a hero.

I returned to Tennessee two months after summiting Katahdin. I didn’t do any planning, I just chose a weekend that was open, grabbed some gear and Zvek, my hometown hiking buddy, and left.

We drove all day and hit the trail in the dark, hiking two miles in the warm night air until we reached a grassy field. As we neared it, I saw two close-set eyes glowing in the darkness. As some of you may know, I have a raccoon problem, so I immediately apprehended this unknown, unnamed creature.

“Reveal yourself!” I demanded, “Are you an animal, vegetable or mineral?”

A second form stirred, and I sheepishly realized the eyes belonged to a small dog, curled up in a hammock at the feet of its master. I apologized and scurried past the remaining hiker tents, laughing softly. Is this what two months in the front country has done to me? I wondered, I’m already acting like a front country person. It’s nearly 10 pm! I should have known hikers would be camped here and I should have known they’d be fast asleep.

Zvek and I cowboy camped under the Milky Way. The air was summerlike, warm, and I woke up overheated  under my down sleeping bag. The sun rose pinkly over auburn mountains, and I sat on my therm-a-rest, eating granola and pudding and just being amazed.


Surely, this could not be the same wilderness.


I said it again and again as we hiked that day. I couldn’t help myself.


The grey, barren wilderness had become a fiery painting of fall splendor, with new hues around every bend! The air was warm. I was strong and 100% pain free.


Surely this couldn’t be the same Nike, zooming along through red-tinted leaves at top speed, leaving the day hikers in the dust.

But I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Taking the I-Should-Have-Done-Better and trading it in for a Free, Mind-Blowing Gift is what my Jesus does best.


Zvek and I traveled the day’s 17 miles in short order and arrived at the shelter early, in time to make a roaring fire. As we drifted towards sleep, still staring at the dancing flames, two night hikers sped by. “People had Neuro in that shelter last night. Just thought you should know.”

I laughed out loud.

Fear is obviously as alive and well in these mountains as it was in the spring. But I’m not falling for it. Not after all the miracles I’ve seen.

Miracles surround us. But we have to choose to step into them. We have to choose to be kind to ourselves. Choose the good. Choose to celebrate. Choose to believe truth. Choose to believe we are worth it. Choose to believe that there is help on the way.

“For I will create a masterpiece in your lifetime that you cannot imagine, even if someone described it to you.”

This masterpiece is just beginning. And it starts with believing that I am worth taking care of. I am meant for something good.





If my hike had a soundtrack…

The air was the perfect flavor of pine and clean wind as I sauntered along the smooth, shaded path past Lake Hebron that warm-but-not-too-warm day. The loons cried their short-lived daytime conversation and a bandana’d youth sat contemplatively underneath a fir tree, watching the reflection of clouds sweep across the slightly rippled water.

His iPod played a soulful tune and I thought it was a perfect soundtrack for the moment.


I often thought I should have a soundtrack for this hike.

Not only a soundtrack, but an entire video recording of it that I could look back on if I ever forgot how incredibly, miraculously blessed I’d been to experience this.

In case I forgot the Me I Used To Be.

If I had a soundtrack for this hike, it would have begun low, building slowly in tight-stringed suspense. There would be lots of creepy segments in this first soundtrack, that would make you want to look over your shoulder or stand with your back against a wall. There would be tense notes–lots of them in fast succession. There would be a happy, frolicking piece. And then a mournful, low bar, full of pain.

As the soundtrack for my hike went on, the suspenseful notes would lessen and the smooth notes would gain the upper hand. There would be not so many creepy segments. Not so many tense pieces. But the mournful bars would continue, transfusing pain into the listener.

There would be short bursts of heavy metal. A few screams.

Lots of upbeat parts.

The final segment would start hauntingly beautiful, maybe just a solitary oboe or maybe a windy flute. There would be pattering and low, persistent whining notes and maybe a few screeches of nail on a chalkboard. Then there would be a clash of cymbals and the soundtrack would take on a folk song vibe. Another clash, and then a long piece on the piano, building momentum. Then a loud, long clash, with drums. And then my soundtrack would be one continuous dance party, ending with the Hallelujah chorus.

Well, I don’t have a soundtrack for my hike, but it would be a lot more concise to explain if I did. I could just pop in the CD and everyone would experience the same feelings with me. Instead, I’ll have to use words to share the story, which is what I know.

It will do the same thing, just take longer.

I jumped out of my reverie when my feet hit a paved road. This was Pleasant Street, and it would take me to Shaw’s Lodging in just 1.6 miles.

I hadn’t gone far before Poet, the owner of Shaw’s, zipped towards me in a trendy SUV. There were already three hikers inside, but my pack just fit under the dusty hatch, and I slid my boney self into the back seat.

It was stinky inside that car–sweat, mostly.

Poet had the air conditioning on and didn’t seem to notice. But I took the time to consider that it was us three feminine hikers in the back seat who were making it reek. Somehow that just didn’t seem right.

Poet dropped the two girls off at the post office, then gave me and Turbo, the third hiker, a tour of his hostel. It was colorful and clean inside, with tablecloths on the tables, plenty of towels in the bathrooms and bedspreads on the bunks.


“This is a really nice hostel, Poet.” I said, and he thanked me.

After hanging my hammock outside in the tree line, rustling through my food box, and making a quick tour of the small, friendly town, the sun had almost fully dropped below the horizon. I carried my box of coconut caramel ice cream into the dining room and ate it while uploading YouTube videos.

AJ and Poet bantered in the kitchen, and the hikers had settled into their typical 8-o’clock calm. A few sat playing scrabble at a table adjacent to mine and drinking Maine craft beer. They congratulated me on my voracious ice cream consumption and after awhile decided to stroll to the quick-stop for pizza. I had the dining room to myself.

I stared out the window at the luminescent glow of headlamps inside the tents scattered across the yard, and thought about how far my heart had come.

I remembered my first hostel visit. It was at Top of Georgia.


Even though Renaissance greeted us with his famous flair and gave us a highly entertaining tour I had been too shy to really relax and join in the community there–too scared to hang out in the bunkhouse with the other hikers.

I’d sat on the porch in the damp, biting air instead, listening to the upbeat chatter coming from inside and eating spam and ramen. I could still taste the feeling I’d had then–that numbing, unshakeable belief that I was young, weak and clueless, and would never make it to Katahdin. I’d felt like a giraffe in a pet shop that March day.

Now it was August, and I couldn’t begin to list all the miracles I’d experienced in that six month span.

All I knew was that this place of dreadlocks and backpacks and new faces felt cozy and comfortable. Like home. How big my muscles were, how light my pack was or how much knowledge my brain contained didn’t matter anymore. I was equally comfortable alone on a wind-swept mountaintop or in another strange town in a sea of new faces.

It’s still hard for me to explain it. If I could play you my soul’s soundtrack you’d understand. But that’s impossible.

I guess I’d better get started on my book.

But in the meantime, you might be interested to know that there IS an actual Appalachian Trail soundtrack coming to an orchestra near (or far away from) you!

I met this composer after I collapsed onto a bench in Madison Hut after a 14 hour race across the presidential range one Sunday last month, and he shared his incredible vision with me over a lukewarm pile of homemade dinner leftovers from the hut kitchen. You can find out more about his Appalachian Trail Symphony here: http://keanesouthard.instantencore.com/web/home.aspx



Jesus Did It

It was about 5 pm at Silers Bald Shelter in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and the clouds which had sprinkled us with chilling rain for the past two days were just beginning to dissolve–just a bit.

Just enough to allow the air temperature to sink even lower than it had been last night.

It was a selfish time of day.

It was a time of day when each man was absorbed in making the speediest possible bedtime preparations. I and the remaining pack of Appalachian Trail through-hikers were scurrying about in our pre-bedtime rush, doing our best to cook dinner, insulate anything that might freeze overnight, and scurry into our down sleeping bags before the true night chill set in. It was at this moment that two children walked into camp.

Children are an usual sight on the Appalachian Trail, so the sight of the two–a boy and a girl– was enough to instantly snatch our attention. They greeted us with the relaxed air of people assured that they are in the right place at the right time.

“Our parents are behind us. They’re slow.” said the girl.

Sure enough, the parents did indeed drag into camp some minutes later, backs bent under lumpy Osprey packs, faces tight with stress. The father ducked into the shelter immediately, and raised a small ruckus as he fought to gain inside sleeping space for his group of four. He set up, cooked dinner, made plans.

He was the first one to shiver out of his sleeping bag the next day and face the frost-rimmed morning.

That was the first encounter I’ve had with fathers on the trail, but I’ve had many since. It’s always the same story.


They are always hiking at the back of their group, muscles straining under behemoth packs, beads of sweat glistening on their foreheads… a striking contrast to their children frolicking down the path ahead of them like young antelopes.


This picture expresses my hike with Jesus perfectly.

I never had to be the protector… that was my Dad’s job.

I never had to make perfect travel plans…. my Father had them written out already.

I never had to worry about the weather… the Creator of the Universe always shielded me from the worst of the storms.

Can’t you see how, just like the littles in this snapshot, I really was given full liberty to scamper down the trail in utmost lighthearted freedom? The only difference between these cherubs and myself was that MY Father was unseen, and He never subtly complained about the weight of His load to other adults.

I’m a bona fide AT through-hiker now, having over 2,000 miles under my now-muscular feet. I just arrived in my hometown three days ago and I’m already overwhelmed by the congratulations that have been poured over me.


Why is everyone congratulating me on a job well done? I appreciate it, very much. I won’t deny that I worked hard.

But we all know who carried the heaviest load.

All I really had to do was scamper along beside Him and bask in His strength, wisdom and beauty. One step at a time, and then He’d announce the next plans.

What a good, good Father!