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Hard


Author’s Note: This is an updated repost from a older blog.  It’s a message that I’m still exploring these days.  And I STILL complain when I have to clean a toilet!  God help me.

I meet a Penguin on the Appalachian trail…

Sounds like the beginning of a stupid joke, doesn’t it.  Or maybe a novelty folk song.  But it’s all true.  I swear it!

Penguin was her trail name. I met her at the last shelter on the east side of the New Hampshire White Mountains, just a few miles from the Maine border.  We have been working consistently over the last few years of section hiking the AT to make it to that rough land border and what lay beyond… The Mahoosuc Notch, the 100-Mile Wilderness, and one day (God willing) to see the peak of Mt. Katahdin.

The trail that year had been a hard adjustment.  I won’t lie to you; that day there was a number of not-so-polite words yelled in anger at the rugged mountain path!  By day’s end, my feet were swollen, my back was aching from that 40 lb pack and my body was drenched.  It was not an easy walk in the woods for me.

However, delightful surprises often follows harsh trial. There happened to be a most beautiful waterfalls as the water source for our over-night location.  I put my bag down and set up my sleeping bag in the shelter and made my way down to sit with my feet in that cold mountain stream.

As I sat with my feet in the flowing stream, Penguin came down to the water’s edge.  She had just gotten off the trail herself and came to fill her water bottles.  We started talking, and although I never learned her real name, I did learn some of her story.  Turns out she was a retired school teacher and now was a north-bound thru-hiker.  She had started out in Georgia that previous March and now was  ready to cross her last state border in mid-August.  Her hopes were to finish atop the end of the trail on Mt. Katahdin peak’s sometime in the next three weeks.  She had Labour Day plans with her family, so time was getting short for her.

I remember driving up from Atlanta that previous March and thinking of all the thru-hikers in the mountains starting out on their long journey as I speeded past.  One of those hikers had been Penguin.  Now she was here. I asked her what it was that had motivated her to start such a large commitment.  What she said will stick with me forever.

“I turned 60, retired from my job and I decided I wanted to do something hard.”

That hurt my head.  Wasn’t the reward for forty years of teaching hundreds and hundreds of kids suppose to be years of rest and ease?  Apparently not for Penguin.

“So I told my husband I wanted to hike the AT, and miraculously he said ‘yes’ ”

“He didn’t come with you?”

“No.  This is not his thing.  But he had been my biggest support all the way through.”

I heard more of her story sitting by that stream in the middle of that wilderness, but nothing will ever stick with me quite like that one definitive statement…

“…I decided I wanted to do something hard.”

I knew what she was talking about!

For years I was always plagued with the guilt and sadness that, although I’ve always spent so much time SERVING God, I never was able to fully give myself to the time I wanted to spend simply BEING with God.  Sure, I prayed often, and read my Bible, but it always felt like a rushed moment that I would grab here or there along the way.  He is so patient with me.  Many countless hours learning and reading ABOUT Him, but never long enough being WITH Him.

“Enough is enough” I decided a few years ago.  “It’s time I jump in with both feet.  It’s time I do this, no matter how hard”.  I knew it was time not only to make it a decision, but to make it a habit.  Godly habits are something you can make through decision and repetition that can physically change our minds, effect our souls, and build our spirit.

So the decision was made… but the question still remained.  “HOW?”  I knew my schedule was always jam packed.  Between ministry, family and responsibilities, I often felt there was hardly time to breath, let alone spend more time with God.  Where would I find that kind of time.  I was already getting up at 6 am.

“So why don’t you get up at 5 am?”

“Oh man”, I answered myself, “But that would be so…”

“So what?”

“So HARD”

And it is!   Harder still was knowing that even that wasn’t giving me quite enough time.  Setting my alarm now for 4:40 am is even harder.  But I will tell you something… Sitting there in the quiet house, with only my fireplace and table lamp lighting the room, with my Bible open and my mind with my Abba Father… I can honestly say there is no better time in my entire day.

We need to stop being so afraid of “hard”.  Didn’t the man in black say, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Didn’t Jesus himself say, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”? (John 16:33).  In essence, he said, “Hey guys.  Life is hard… but chin up.  You’ve got me!”

But let me digress for a little, because I may be only good at a few things, but one of those things is whining.  I’m sorry, but I love whining.  Sometimes I just like whining to myself.  Oh, and feeling sorry for myself.  I’m good at that too.  And I was doing just that driving home from work late last night.  It’s busy at work these days.  It’s always busy at work.  Probably unwisely, but definitely necessarily, I’ve been working evening, and days off, and all the time (apart from family time which I guard vigorously!!!) to work on what the latest thing I’m working on for the kingdom of God.  It’s an honor.  It’s my heart. It’s also exhausting and hard.  At the end of a long week, at the end of a long work day that started before 7 am and it was now 9 pm, I was finally getting ready for the commute home when I realized that I had never fit in the cleaning of the kids wing I had planned to do that day.  Sunday was coming and those kids toilets hadn’t been scrubbed yet.  There’s no getting around it.  No parent or teacher, including me, wants to send their kids into a yucky bathroom.  That’s not inviting.  That’s not acceptable.  But the toilets weren’t going to clean themselves that week!

Now, there are amazing people in the kids ministry that do an amazing job keeping that place spotless.  They do it for the glory of God.  They don’t do it because it’s fun for them.  They do it because it’s hard.  But they weren’t there that week.  Only I was.  And I was tired.  So I drove home.

The whole way home I was complaining to God.  It’s not fair.  I’ve already worked myself to the bone.  I don’t want to go in on my family time to clean a toilet.  I don’t want to get up before the crack of dawn to clean those toilets on Sunday morning.  I ….JUST….DON’T….WANT….TO!!!!!

Those are the kind of moments God loves talking to me.

“You too good to clean toilets, Kevin?”

“No, God.  You know that!   I’ve cleaned HUNDREDS of toilets over the years.”

“So, what’s the problem?  Whats with a few more?”

“I’m tired!  I don’t wanna!  This is just so…”

“So what?”

“So HARD!”

“Indeed it is.  But Kevin, what would you do simply to have the chance to share with the kids about how they can have a relationship with Me?”

“Anything, Lord.  I would do anything!”

He had me.

He had me, and I loved it.

I began to think of the famous story from Church Mission’s history about the two Moravian brethren that had a call to be missionaries to the African slaves in the Caribbean.  However, back in the 1700, it was not easy for two white Germans to just decide to board a ship and move to the islands.  They knew the calling however.  They knew they had to find a way.  Only one way seemed possible for them.

…so they sold themselves into slavery.

As the ship left the dock, bringing the two missionary slaves into their obscure future, it is said that they waved goodbye to those who would never see them again, and all the while yelling at the top of their lungs,

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!   May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

“Dang, get me a toilet brush!!!!!”

And still, hard is hard.  Let’s be honest about that.  Sure, it’s not “selling ourselves voluntarily into slavery so we can be missionaries” hard, but it is none the less.  It doesn’t serve us well to pretend it’s anything differently.  However, it also doesn’t serve us well trying to run from it.

Hard is hard.  Hard is scary.  But even in the hardest, scariest times, we have our Abba Father.

I love the movie “Ragamuffin”, which tells the story of one of my heroes, Rich Mullins.  It opens and closes with the last days of this far-from-perfect man’s life as he was working towards an album that he would never record in a studio.  He was using an empty country church with a stand alone recorder to work on a number of new songs.  We will never have that polished albums, but we do have some of those rough recorded acoustic songs.

One of them that I can’t help but listen to over and over again is called “Hard to Get”.  I’ll attach a link at the bottom.  It’s one of the most brutally honest and heart wrenching songs I’ve ever heard.  Rich was a tremendous man of faith, as well as a man honest about his struggles and questions.  And here he was baring his soul to his Abba Father, and letting us listen in.

“Did You ever know loneliness” he sings,

“Did you ever know need?

Do you remember just how long a night can get?

When you are barely holding on

And your friends fall asleep.

They don’t see the blood that’s running in your sweat”

“I know I’m only lashing out at the one who love me most…”

“…I’m reeling from these voices 

That keep screaming in my ears

All these words of shame and doubt,

Blame and regret.

I can’t see how Your leading me

Unless You’ve lead me here

Where I’m lost enough to let myself be lead.

I see you’ve been here all along, I guess…”

For me, this song is heartbreaking.

For me, losing Rich was heartbreaking.

It is all so hard.

But I don’t want to be afraid any longer of hard.  Penguin faced it.  The Moravian missionaries faced it.  Rich faced it.

Jesus faced it.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Hmm… I guess He HAS been here all along.

Hard may be hard.  But God is still God. And no matter how hard, at the end of a long day, week, year, lifetime may my life reflect those very words screamed out from the deck of that boat,

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!

Amen and amen.

Rich Mullins  “Hard to Get”  – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2STr5qPlIM

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