Are you facing hardships and difficulties in your life? Many are. Are there difficult choices you could make that could alter the trajectory of your life? What’s holding you back? Most people are stopped from making difficult choices by one powerful thing: Fear.

I’m told an adult makes about 35,000 choices a day. Assuming we’re awake 16 hours a day, that means we’re faced with 35 to 40 decisions every minute we’re awake. Most of those choices require no thought whatsoever. Others, like what to eat or what to wear or what item on your schedule has highest priority, might necessitate a bit more rumination.

Then there are those choices we make that are life altering. Marriage, having children, where to live, what college to attend, and where we decide to work are choices that will absolutely determine a direction in life.

Our paths in life are also affected by many events or circumstances that are not of our choosing. Then, the power of choice lies in how we decide to deal with what has come our way.

I did not choose to lose my wife—and all of life as I had known it—to cancer. That sent me into a maelstrom of questioning and losing direction. Finally, at age 57, I could not continue. I was compelled to make a decision that changed my life.

This was not an easy decision. I argued with myself and God. Then I also pleaded with God to show me clearly which path I should take. I prayed and pleaded and procrastinated until, finally, God made it very clear to me, and I made the decision to leave a restaurant-management career that I loved. It was a good job, and I’m sure there were folks in Holmes County who considered me foolish to walk away—because the path I chose to take was a walk in the wilderness.

The money I was making no longer satisfied. More urgently, I needed answers to questions that troubled me. Two specific questions bounced around what remained of my brain cells after many years of restaurant management: Where were you, God, when my wife died of cancer? Also, what does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus?

I had previously done hikes in Zion Canyon and the Grand Canyon, and the natural grandeur through which I walked had brought a measure of peace and refuge from my stressful life. As I remembered those times, my thoughts focused on the Appalachian Trail, a trail of 2,176 miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Could an extended hike on that trail become a journey of healing?

As I said, to others this idea probably seemed irresponsible on my part. I was at the stage of life where my earning potential was at its peak and could have remained so for a number of years. But as I contemplated and prayed about making such a drastic move, I had a sense of assurance from God that He would protect me and give me answers to the questions that troubled me. I did make that hard choice, and I asked God to be my hiking partner.

Ten years ago, on March 31, 2008, I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail. Over the next five months, as I hiked through valleys and over 300 mountaintops, climbed over rocks and forded rivers, a miracle occurred. I found peace.

On August 13, 2008, I finished my thru-hike and stood atop Mt. Katahdin. I knelt by the sign that marks the finish to the Appalachian Trail and thanked God for safety and for the new-found peace. I was also feeling an urgency to get back home to write about this peace I found and to include what I believed God was revealing to me.

I wrote the book Hiking Through about my adventures on that hike. I believed it might appeal to hikers and adventurers like myself. Apparently, it did appeal to that group, but it also became a book of hope for folks who have lost loved ones. I still marvel and am humbled by having received over 3,000 letters and emails from folks across America who have read and were moved by my words.

I may have written the words, but God gets all the credit for any good that comes from my books. I’m a restaurant manager who just happened to make a choice that God presented to me.

In 2010, I pedaled my bicycle across America on a 5,000-mile, diagonal trip from the two farthest corners of the contiguous United States. The unique folks I met and the sights I saw are in a book entitled Biking Across America.

I have made other choices and written other books. Some of my choices have not been the best choices. One such choice was an attempt to paddle my kayak down the Mississippi River. I became stuck in the weeds of the upper swamps of that river. The book Stuck in the Weeds chronicles that misadventure.

That same book also includes a better choice, a hike across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. The Camino, also known as the Way of Saint James, is a spiritual journey for many. Most folks start in southern France and end up at a cathedral in Santiago, Spain, where the bones of the disciple James are believed to be interred. Along the Camino are numerous cathedrals and churches, most of which have services in the evening for the pilgrims on their journey across Spain.

In the fall of 2016, a friend and I backpacked and hitchhiked through Israel. We hiked a trail known as “The Jesus Trail,” which starts in Nazareth and ends at the Sea of Galilee. Walking in proximity to where Jesus walked made me more aware of the humanity of Jesus. What I experienced in Israel is chronicled in my most recent book The 13th Disciple.

As a Christian, I’ve desired to know what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As I reflect on the adventures of the past ten years, I realize that in every journey I undertook, God has shown me more and more of the answer.

I have also written a series of three Amish novels known as The Wanderers series. I was raised in the Amish tradition that believes everything bad that happens to us is in God’s will. I am now of the opinion that whenever “bad” does happen in our lives, God can bring good out of it. I see that as I look back at my life since that difficult decision ten years ago.

Most importantly, I see that God has been hiking with me all along, not just on the Appalachian Trail, but in every journey, even the ordinary day-to-day paths of life between the big adventures. My choices haven’t always been the best. I’ve done some things on my own, without listening closely to God first. But the best way is still to go to Him with my questions about choices, asking Him for direction and blessing. He does know the best way, and as I look back and reflect on the trails I’ve followed in the last ten years, knowing that He has always been there with me makes choices about the future much less fearsome.

This summer, I’m planning to explore a new trail—a 7,000-mile bike trip circling the five Great Lakes.

What difficult choice are you facing? Yes, your choice will probably change your life in a drastic way. I encourage you to pray first, listen to what God wants to say to you, and then stand strong in spite of fear and make that choice.

Paul

 

*****

Just a reminder that I’ll be in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the Music Hall Loft, on Saturday, April 14, for two speaking events.

Click here to see my previous post with more details on the event.

And click here to buy tickets in advance.

I’m looking forward to meeting many of you there.

 

 

 

 

  • Suzanne Roebuck

    May the Lord bless and protect you every mile you travel, we anticipate the stories and lessons you will continue to share, Joyous Easter to you!

  • elaine

    I’m currently reading your book,Biking Across America.I have already read Hiking Through and Stuck In the Weeds.I enjoy reading”true life stories”.Best wishes on your next adventure!