Sunday March 30th I left Standing Bear Hikers Paradise for Hot Springs about a 34 mile walk. Standing Bear was surreal, a time warp back to the 60’s. I've never seen so many old guys with pony tails in one place. There was the ever present smell of pot smoke wafting through the resort to the beat of classic rock. I'm not sure who actually worked there and who were simply hangers on. I think the idea was to make just enough money to keep all the old hippies supplied in pot and beer. The weather was a shock to my system as I headed up the mountain. I walked from summer into winter in a matter of minutes. As I got higher in elevation my world turned white,
as rain changed to snow, a thick fog settled in and the wind picked up. I was getting pretty cold just as the trail dropped back down below the snow. I decided to make it a short day and set up camp at Deep Gap. It was either that or set up later in the day, in the snow zone as the trail went back up in elevation. It was a cold night and I was glad when it was over. My friends decided to take a zero at Standing Bear, which was probably a wise choice on their part, considering how miserable the weather was.
Monday April 1st started out cold and clear. I felt completely sucked dry of energy and any desire to hike. I plodded along up one hill after another for the whole morning. Surprisingly I made 5 miles by noon and just when I desperately needed some encouragement, I came upon a family serving chili, fruit and pop to hikers. I felt rejuvenated and just like that, the scenery became awesome as I walked up Match Patch, an opening on top of a hill that was cleared to graze cattle by early settlers. I came across a broken down tent with a air mattress still fully inflated inside. I'm guessing someone bailed out on the snow and freezing night just prior. It ended up being a great day and I walked 14.5 miles.
Tuesday April 2nd was a cool clear day and I walked 11.7 miles into Hot Springs TN. On my walk in I began thinking about what had led to my crash and burnout and suddenly I dissolved into a puddle of tears. I wept as I considered all that led to my fall. It always comes as a surprise when the dam breaks and the tears start to run. It is
always a sign that I'm getting close to the real issues. When I got into town I checked into the Imperial Inn. The Inn was open but no one was around, just a phone number taped to the door. I got no cell service in that hick town, so I ripped the paper off the door and went over to the corner store and found a customer there willing to make the call for me,.
Wednesday April 3rd. I really enjoyed my stay in Hot Springs, even without cell service and WiFi. Interestingly, I slept very poorly that first night. I had dreams about the situations I was processing on the trail. I can't say that has ever happened to me before. I purchased a new pair of hiking boots, got a needle and thread, to patch up my tent, washed my cloths in the shower and fixed up my back pack. I've lost around 13 pounds and I couldn't tighten the belt on my pack enough. It would slide over my hips and all the weight hung on my shoulders causing a lot of pain. I shoved some foam between the belt and the frame and it fit much better. I purchased five days of
supplies for the next stretch, which is 75 miles to Erwin, TN. I'll have to walk 15 miles a day to make it with the food I have. That first day out of town is always a struggle, as your pack is heavy with food and it's always a long climb back into the mountains.
Thursday April 4th turned out to be the day I had been waiting for a long time. It was sunny and warm, a wonderful summer time day. I felt energetic and strong. I met a lot of people on the trail today and for once I was passing people. My fitness is definitely improving. I caught up with Mike and Cathy an older couple, that is older than me by ten years or so. I have met them a few times and am always amazed at how far they have come. I think it's awesome! Last year they hiked the 500 mile Colorado trail. When I walked out of town I was walking with Big Baby, also an older fellow like me. Not sure how he got stuck with that name. We continue to cross paths from time to time. Today I also met Raven, a cute college age girl carrying a pack that was bigger than her. At the end of the day I was passed
by Free, a guy about my age. It truly is amazing the people you meet on the trail. I managed my best day yet of 15 miles. I have not heard from Waffle and Hawkeye for a few days. I haven’t had cell service for the last 4 days so not sure were they are. I miss them but that is the trail, people come and go.
Friday April 4th. It rained all night, but stopped just in time for me to break camp. I struggled from the first step to the last today. Not sure why, just felt exhausted but I pushed myself and made 14 miles. Part of the day was spent on a narrow ridge, that ran for about a mile clambering around and over rocks and boulders, often with views for miles in every direction. The boulders were surrounded by trees that keep their droopy green leaves all year round. Thick moss covered
stones and narrow paths, between boulders with flat stones laid out as stairs, gave it all an Indiana Jones kind of feeling. Today I ran into Jazz Hands during my lunch break. She plays some pretty mean jazz guitar, of which I had a sample at Standing Bear. Later I passed Raven taking a break on the trail. That little girl can fly with her pack that's bigger than her. The people on the trail are amazing and it feels like we're one big family. I ended up camping in the clouds near the summit of Big Butt mountain at about 4500 ft. The clouds were hanging low and billowing over the mountain giving it an eerie sort of look.
Saturday April 5. Felt pretty tired this morning but had one of my better nights of sleep. Hiked about 7 miles before I took a lunch break beside a creek cascading down the hill. I lay in the sun for a while before I tackled a 6 mile climb. I felt real energetic and strong after my break. Someone had left a bag of fruit at one of the trail heads, so I grabbed an apple and it was awesome. Thank you to whoever placed it there for hikers to enjoy. I managed to hike 13 miles today. I stepped on and broke my reading glasses. I only have one glass, so I’m trying to read and write with one eye closed. I found this pair at a shelter a day after I broke another pair.
Sunday April 6th. Managed to get on the trail before 9:00 A.M. today. Still got some work to do in that department, but I’ve been working at getting up at 8:00 and being on the trail by 9:00. Mornings are better for me now, than any time in the past 5 years. I still wake
up tired but not in a complete daze and having anxiety attacks. I could feel I've been putting in more miles. My legs really burned on the climbs today. Hiked with Legacy for a while today. He's a retired accountant. Hung out with a whole group of hikers, including Dancing Shoes, Raven, Legacy and General Lee on top of Big Bald, a mountain about 4500 ft that has been cleared of trees at some point by farmers. Awesome views from up here. This afternoon I met some genuine Hill Billy's picking wild onions. They consented to a picture, as long as it didn’t end up in the paper. Managed to make 14 miles. Beautiful day, but a thunder storm rolled in just as I got in my tent.
Monday April 7th I walked 13 miles into Erwin. It was a warm muggy day and it rained off and on. I planned to stay at the Super 8 and thought I saw it in the distance as I was walking down the mountain into town. I headed out in that direction and after about a mile realized it was some fancy hotel I couldn’t afford. I saw the Super 8, it was 3 miles further. I was pretty tired by this point and I told God what I thought about my situation. A few seconds later a van pulled up, a former hiker and he gave me a ride right to the door of the Super 8. Sometimes my faith is so pathetic! How awesome a simple shower, clean clothes and a pizza ordered in are, when you have just walked 75 miles in 5 days starting in snow and ending in a warm muggy rainy day.
Every year people leave the trail because of injuries. The trail is full of opportunities to twist and ankle on a root or a rock. When the trail is wet or icy and your heading up or
down hill, a wipe out is all to common. On my second week on the trail I slipped on a patch of ice and landed flat on my backside. I only hurt my pride but it could easy of been different. Older people such as me, tend to have knee trouble, from the long down hill stretches. Others get blisters, that are so painful they can no longer handle the pain. It’s important to gradually acclimatize your body to the rigors of carrying a 30 pound pack for miles everyday. I have been fortunate in that I have not had a single blister or injury as of yet.
I was not so fortunate in life and I fell hard and I simply could not get up from it. I have often pondered what caused me to burn out so badly and so completely. I have wondered what I could have done differently to have avoided this. I have been asked by people in my church, if there is anything they could do differently to help pastors avoid this in the future. As I was walking the 11 miles into Hot Springs TN, I began again to ponder how this had all come about. I
reflected on my early years as a youth pastor. I had such a passion and vision for youth ministry and I poured all my energy into my work. I was often out 5 evenings a week. I worked hard at creating exciting activities and nothing was too much work. I loved it and I was surrounded by a core group of volunteers, who believed in me and loved me as a person. They were committed to the work and showed it, by taking days off work for Youth activities and going along with all my, sometimes crazy, ideas. Into my fourth year of youth ministry, I began to struggle with restless leg syndrome. I do believe that this was a result of my pushing too hard at work. It is a torturous experience that I would not wish on anyone. It caused me to lose a lot of sleep, I regularly worked on 4 hours of restless sleep
a night. Many mornings I drove to work in a sleepy stupor, but what kept me going besides copious amounts of coffee, was my passion and vision for the work, along with my core group of volunteers, who believed in me. It was my vision that kept me going when the tank was completely empty and my faith in God’s calling.
After 7 years of youth ministry I resigned and spent a year in Seminary. During that year I was called as senior pastor to the same church. I entered the pastorate with energy and the same passion and vision I had for youth ministry. I will never forget the grilling I got at membership as part of my election process. I also remember making it very clear, that if this church would call me I would take that as their faith in my leadership. I promised that I would lead the church and not simply be a yes man to the ministerial. I was elected and my calling affirmed by the congregation. My sleeping issues had greatly improved, although they were far from perfect. My restless leg syndrome had moved into the background but it had been replaced by adrenal issues. I tended to work on adrenal highs and when I went to bed at night my body could not shut down. Just when I was about to fall asleep, I would be hit with a surge of energy, that would have me planning and visioning late into the night. It was not healthy but I could deal with it because I had a vision, a sense of calling, a faith that God was using me and guiding me in my work. I also felt strongly supported and loved by the ministerial especially the
deacons, who led the church at the time. They were Godly couples who loved Jesus and were willing to sacrifice a lot for the church. They took there calling seriously and gave all they could to the ministry. I felt loved and appreciated by them and sensed they trusted and believed in my leadership.
Somewhere in my fourth year, I began to lead a visionary process to revamp the whole way the church leadership structure worked. I already had this vision in mind when I was a youth pastor but I was waiting for the right moment to begin this process. There was a little upheaval in the church towards deacons role in the church. The conversation came out that they are gifted and called to care giving, not to be running the church. I used this as an opportunity to gather the ministerial (lay ministers and deacons) to take a closer look at the church leadership structure and to present an alternative model. This model would free the deacons up, to focus on care giving and bring the main players, from all the different ministries, to the table. So that when we had ideas or a vision, the people who would need to work it out in practice, had actually been part of the conversation. I was amazed during this process, as we had many meetings with the congregation how supportive they were. The church worked hard on this process and the people were positive and agreeable to change. However it was in these meetings, as I met with the leadership committee that had been elected, to work out this process that the issue of who would lead this Ministry Council, as we had
chosen to call it was decided. It had never occurred to me that it would be anyone other than the senior pastor. As senior pastor, I had led the ministerial until that point and wrongly I thought that leadership would continue on the ministry council. However, the church leaders at the council level, decided this was not to be and that a lay person would be asked to take on this position. On the day that was decided, I went home knowing that my days as Senior pastor were numbered. I simply did not know how to lead from the side. I was called, as I said in the beginning, to lead the church. In my mind, at the time, I saw this as rejection of my leadership abilities and leadership style. We tend to interpret current events, by experiences from our past. Our past, colors how we see things in the present and at times we may have a very wrong interpretation of an event. On that day, my vision for the church began to die. My next move in my visionary process, was going to be to ask the church to hire an associate pastor, who would be strong and gifted in the places that I was weak. One of the things that was burning me out, was not being able to be all things to all people. I really struggled with the unmet needs I saw around me and the fact that I wasn’t able to meet them all. I did suggest this idea to a few leadership people, but there was no vision in their part for it. In any case, I strongly felt that there was an element, at the leadership table who saw the roll of senior pastor, in a different light than I did and I knew my time was up. I was honestly heart broken by this, as my vision and passion was to
continue as pastor in my church for years to come. I loved the church! Interestingly enough a pastoral evaluation at the time asking what they would like from their senior pastor, in my mind listed the very strengths that I always thought I had; visionary leadership and preaching.
Unfortunately, at the same time there was a group of young men in the church who I had been grooming to become lay ministers and future leaders. I had spent a lot of time with a few of these men from my first days as a Youth Pastor and was looking forward to seeing them working in the church. These young men had a special place in my heart. These men who met together in Bible studies in their pursuit for God came to me suggesting that I was not preaching the
full Gospel. They had gone Calvinist in their leanings and were suggesting my teaching did not meet their standard. I loved these men, but Calvinism is an anathema to me. I could never preach a Gospel were Jesus did not die for all sinners but only the elect and did not desire for all to be saved, but only those who had been chosen before the foundation of the world. I imagined a Calvinist alter call; All of you chosen before the foundation of the world please come forward to be saved, the rest of you can go to hell! Their decision to leave the church broke my heart again! Another thing at this time was a number of families leaving for that “other” church in the community. I simply was not equipped to deal with this. I took it personally, as a vote on my leadership and no one encouraged me to
see it differently. My vision for the church was in tatters. I felt like I had failed and I was too tired to work my way through it.
Not only was my vision for the church in tatters my vision for my family was also crushed at the same time. My children, two of whom I had baptized and who were passionately involved in the church also became disillusioned with God and the church. Difficult circumstances in their lives brought about doubts and they did not have the years of experiencing God that I did to fall back on. It felt like my life was falling apart around me. I was tormented by thoughts of what I had done wrong. My vision for who we would be as a family was shattered.
During that time I sat with my father on his death bed and he passed away on the day my mother was in Winnipeg for surgery. My mother came back lost and confused. She attended my dad’s funeral but had little idea of what happened. She completely lost her mind and was convinced I was trying to kill her. The next two years she went through hell, as dementia claimed her brain. Already feeling so low, I was crushed and at times bitter, that someones life had to end in hell like this.
At this point I gave up. I lost all my passion for life and every vision I had was gone like smoke in the wind and there was no way possible to get it back. I was completely lost. Everything that I had envisioned, as my future, was gone just like that. I could no longer pull myself up
out of my exhaustion with my passion and vision for life. Exhaustion over whelmed me and it was soon followed by depression and anxiety attacks. I really wanted to live but I barely had the strength to hang on and little reason to care. I had failed as a pastor. I had failed as a father. My wife would better off without me. Interestingly, I read an article I can not find at this point, written by a business man about burn out. He stated that no matter how busy you are and how hard you work, as long as you have a vision for the future, you will not burn out. I’m not certain what came first, my loss of vision or my burnout. They are so closely entwined it is difficult to separate.
My saving grace was my two youngest sons. They still needed a dad. I hung on to life because those two boys needed me. I did the best I could to be a father to them, with the little energy I had. The boys love me so I must have been able to do enough.
Six years I have been battling exhaustion and depression. Nothing
has alleviated it’s attack on my life. As I was walking down the mountain into Hot Springs TN and as I saw that idyllic town, quietly sitting in the valley surrounded by hills, and a rushing river flowing through the center of town, I realized what I needed. I need a new vision for life. I also realized just like my family, I had become disillusioned, about the love and goodness of God. For this I asked forgiveness. I need a new hope for life. Until my vision and hope is restored, I will forever be lost in the depths of despair. God is the only one who can give me this hope and renewed vision for life. No other vision is worthwhile following. I do feel the beginnings of a renewed faith coming alive in me. As I walk through His creation, my faith that God is good is coming back to life, just like the spring flowers I see poking their heads above the dead leaves and debris of last fall. I also have no hard feelings towards anyone involved in my past. I seek to forgive and move on and I am convinced that no one ever intentionally tried to hurt me. We are imperfect people, in an
imperfect world, all in need of grace and love from each other and God.
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