Resurrection 6Posted: November 4, 2016
This is a chapter of the book I am writing for NaNoWriMo. If you want to read it from the start, click here for the chapter index.
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is 2,200 or so miles long, stretching from Georgia to Maine. It goes through many remote areas along its stretch, winding through the beauty of the mountains. It is also where J.W. Reeves took an annual, spiritual trek every spring.
J.W. was not a typical Methodist minister. In fact, there was little about him typical. Growing up in Silerville had shaped much of his view of the world as well as spirituality. He truly believed his role was to bring people closer to God and had little he would not sacrifice to do so.
Pastors of small, rural churches are typically viewed more as a “chaplain” than a spiritual leader. Sure, they preached, visited the sick, represented the church in the community, but few see them as St. Paul or Billy Graham. They had a function: Provide for an orderly and satisfying ritual on Sundays, do the weddings and the funerals. They weren’t to mess with the day to day of people’s lives.
J.W. played that part well, as did Suzanna, but he also did more. He maintained his own spirituality with sincerity, striving to know and serve God and help others to do the same. His annual Appalachian hike was a time of prayer and self-examination.
This morning J.W. woke in his Marmot Maverick bag before the sun came up. It was cold, about 35 degrees, but the bag kept him snug. He had been fortunate last night to find a spot in one of the couple hundred “lean tos” scattered along the trail. He pulled his arms out from the bag, stretched and yawned.
“You finally gettin’ up?” Sam asked. He was huddled over a pyramid of sticks, starting a fire.
“Oh, yeah.” J.W. wearily replied. It took him a minute to focus and remember where he was and who Sam was. They had arrived last evening at the lean to within a few minutes of one another, coming opposite directions.
Sam was using the Trail as a cathartic cleansing, leaving an old life and moving on to the new. Most hikers did just a short bit of the Trail, maybe 50 miles over a week. Sam was one of the few people who planned to hike the entire 2000 miles.
“I’ll have hot water here ‘rectly” said Sam.
J.W. stood, stretched again. “Good. Thanks.”
“Preacher, why ya out here?” Sam said in his thick Georgia accent.
“Good question,” said J.W., “right now I wish I had a warm, soft bed.”
“Ah, youins be fine once you start walkin’.” Sam counseled, squatting next to the fire.
“I try to come out here every spring, pray, think about life.” J.W. replied while rolling his sleeping bag, gathering his gear.
“Yeah, well it’s a good place for ponderin’, that’s for sure. I don’t pray much myself. Never had much of the urge. Not the kind people want in church.”
“Tell me, Sam, why are you out here?” J.W.’s question was sincere.
“Well, I guess I needed to go somewheres, and here is a good place as any, I reckon.” Sam looked into the fire. “The world don’t have much cause for people like me.”
“Well, never did care much for shoolin’, and, I don’t know, never did good with books an’ all. Lived with my mamma, then she died. Too many people where I come from. Here it’s quiet. Nobody to bother ya.” Sam added bigger sticks to the fire.
Soon water was boiling. Sam and J.W. shared a breakfast of powdered eggs and trail mix. Protein and carbs they both needed to give them energy for the miles to come.
They were from J.W.’s supply but he didn’t mind. Seems as if Sam’s supplies and gear were sadly lacking and Sam still had 1,500 miles to go. J.W. would be heading home in three more days.
After breakfast they packed up the last of their gear, put the heavy bags on their backs and said their goodbyes.
“Well preacher, nice talkin’ to ya. Some people you meet on the trail ain’t real nice. But you’re alright. Be careful, some people on this trail ain’t what they seem.”
“Nice talking to you as well, Sam. Be safe.” With that, they parted in separate directions.
As J.W. hiked, he began to pray. This is always how his hikes began every morning. He prayed aloud but under his breath. He often thought if someone saw him murmuring as he walked, they’d probably think he was crazy.
Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for this beautiful morning and the dry weather.
Lord, I want to pray for Sam. He seems like he needs something, but you know what he needs better than even he does. Please give Sam peace and safety. Give him your love and guidance as he walks through this period of his life.
He chuckled at the accidental pun he had just made.
Father, I want to thank you for Suzanna. She’s such a wonderful wife and mother. Please help her be patient this week-I know it must be tough without me there to help-but give her unexpected help this week.
Thank you also for Claire. For giving us a beautiful, healthy little girl. Help her to sleep well each night. Give her the nourishment she needs and keep her safe.
By the second mile, J.W. could feel the weakness in his knee. Slight pain, not much, but he could see the swelling in the ligament. The hills were tough enough without a bum knee.
“Well, shoot. I guess I’ll just do five miles today and give it a rest.”
J.W. thought about his life and his future as he hiked. Hiking gave him just the right level of distraction to allow him to pray and meditate.
He loved Suzanna. That was certain to both of them. But the stress of the pregnancy, then a new baby had strained their relationship. Being a pastor meant J.W. was working many nights and being a pastor of a small church meant he was “on call” 24/7. Rarely a day off.
He also knew Suzanna wasn’t happy with this retreat. While he had taken one every year since ordination, she registered her protest to this trip, just weeks after Claire, more than once.
Had he made the right decision?
Lord, I want you to always come first in my life, but I don’t always know how to balance ministry and family. Please show me.
He felt the urge to call her, to tell her how much he loved her, how much he loved Claire. As he topped the next ridge, he grabbed his phone and turned it on, hoping for a signal.
“Shoot,” he said, seeing the “No Service” message. He made a mental note to keep checking and make sure to call her as soon as he could. He shut off the phone again-he had to save battery life and using his solar charger meant stopping in a clearing and setting it up while it charged.
J.W. moved on, following the trail down the side of the ridge. This part of the trail seemed particularly remote and he hadn’t seen another hiker since Sam. Usually he saw one every hour or two.
By the end of five miles, his knee reminded him he was done for the day. He began looking for a clearing to make camp. Finding a creek where he could get some much needed water, he picked a clearing nearby.
As he filled up his spare bottle and LifeStraw, he heard four shots.