The Unfinished Journey
The story behind this journey we are undertaking together began one winter evening when I received an email from a woman who had recently lost her husband. He had died suddenly, but he had wanted to write a book about not waiting too long to do the important things in life. He’d been inspired by reading my first book, Hiking Through. His wife wanted very much to see the book he had only dreamed of actually be written. She wasn’t sure she could do it alone and wondered if I could help.
We had long telephone discussions and finally decided to meet. We fell in love, a wonderful, beautiful love that I called a “spiritual romance.” We both believed this gift of love was a gift from God. For two years, we delighted in the gift. We did so many wonderful things together and made so many beautiful memories—but her husband’s book was never written.
Then, suddenly, the relationship ended. For me, it was a brutal, devastating ending. My trust in her was shattered. Any dreams we both had of the future were demolished. I felt deceived. And I soon descended into a pit of feeling rejected, worthless, unwanted, and very much alone.
From the depths of that pit, I spent a summer and part of the fall crying out to God. In the mornings, I’d take my Bible and books out to the glider on my back porch—the old, rusty glider that had once held a place on Mom and Dad’s porch—and I would spend time reading and talking with God. I walked and ran on our local rails-to-trails path, and I felt a strong sense of God’s presence, clarity of His Spirit’s leading, and comfort from the Scriptures as I tried to work through my grieving.
Out of that brokenness and seeking God came a book, Don’t Wait Too Long. It may be the book the deceased husband wanted to write; I do not know that for certain. I only know how that message applied to my own life and the circumstances I was in, and that’s how I wrote it.
If you read DWTL, you may have noticed that I did not reach the point of forgiveness. I wanted to forgive the lady. I thought I was “working on it.” But as I ended the book, I wasn’t quite there.
Finally, in the fall, I determined that I was ready to completely, finally, ultimately, wholeheartedly forgive. I sent her a letter to tell her I’d forgiven her (even though she had never asked for my forgiveness) because I knew I needed to forgive.
And I thought, that was that.
Then came the winter, and I wandered off into the wilderness—although I didn’t realize where I was headed.
No more mornings in the sun sitting on Mom and Dad’s rusty old glider reading the Scriptures, asking for healing. No more walks on the trail, looking for the Spirit’s guidance.
I was off, going down some blue-blazed trails.
Now, blue-blazed trails aren’t necessarily wrong trails. They aren’t necessarily evil. They might even lead to joy and beautiful vistas. But if you are headed to Katahdin, you think twice before you follow the blue blazes.
Before I confuse you further, allow me to explain. If you hike the Appalachian Trail, you begin in Georgia and your destination is a mountaintop in Maine. The official AT is marked with white stripes painted on trees, rocks, railroad ties, and various other markers. You’ll follow those white blazes through 14 states, over 300 mountains, through forests and bogs and valleys and farms and towns. You’ll walk nearly 2,200 miles—some refer to it as “5 million steps.” The journey will take months; and on many days, the challenge will look impossible. But as long as you get up every morning and keep taking steps following the white blazes, you will eventually get to the goal: a sign on the top of the great mountain in Maine called Katahdin.
Along the way, you’ll see other trails that are marked with a blue blaze. They lead away from the official AT. They might lead to wonderful views and interesting things to see and do, and they often offer an easier terrain. Sometimes, they do join up with the official AT later in your journey.
But blue blazes will sidetrack you. They’ll delay your arrival at the goal. If you want to be a purist and hike the official AT, you’ll follow the white blazes to your destination.
In January, I went to Florida, thinking I’d spend my days writing this sequel to Don’t Wait Too Long. (By the way, this book you’re now holding turned out to be vastly different than what I thought I was going to write.) But once I had landed in Florida’s sunshine, my days were consumed with book signings and meeting people. Then a friend bought a house. It was a wonderful house in a good location—but nothing had been done to maintain it for the last twenty years. My cousin Marv and I were going to do the renovation work so the house could be put back on the market.
During my Florida sojourn, it turned out, I took my eyes off the white blazes and went down a blue-blazed trail. During the previous summer and fall, I had been on the path to healing; but the months in Florida, although pleasant and productive in many ways, set me back in my journey to restoration.
We spent two months doing the work on the house. We worked hard at tearing out, patching, replacing, recreating—but as I worked, I was still wondering, still hurting, still trying to figure out why the relationship had gone awry. Every day, my thoughts swirled round and round, dwelling in the land of broken trust and rejection. I needed restoration as much as the house needed it.
And I realized I was far from the end of the journey that I had begun the previous summer. I wasn’t anywhere near truly forgiving my former love. The busyness of my days in Florida sent me off on trails other than the one that led to restoration of joy, peace, and being able to enjoy life. I was consumed by pain and sadness.
I was, as I had read in the book of Jeremiah during my morning times on the glider, deep in the muck at the bottom of a pit. You can read the story in Jeremiah chapter 38. It took 31 men to get him out of that pit. I was trapped in mud just as deep and sticky. And I saw no way out. Escape from the constant pain, questions, and turmoil seemed impossible—as impossible as walking 5 million steps over mountains and through deep valleys.
When the house renovation was finished, I came home—but home only felt barren, hopeless, and joyless.
One spring morning, I heard this clear directive from God: “Move, Paul. Step into your future. Step into it!”
I knew that’s what I had to do. I had to. I wanted to. But I could not. Wandering in a wilderness of grief and desolation, I found no escape.
Have you ever felt you were stuck in a pit or wandering homeless in a wilderness? Have your hopes and dreams been shattered? Have you been wounded and rejected? Have you felt worthless and oh, so lonely? Have you been hopeless and helpless? Maybe you’re there right now. Then you understand where I was.
Restoration after devastation—that’s what I longed for, but it seemed I had no power to find it or achieve it. My journey to restoration was far from over.
Chapter 2 of The Miracle Journey
The book can be purchased here!