The Reason for the Journey

Life in our household was rolling merrily along. My wife, Mary, and I had been married 32 years, we had three wonderful children, and I enjoyed my job. Sure, I had house payments, kids to put through college, and the usual job-related stresses, but that’s just part of life, right?

My world was suddenly turned upside down when Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although we did everything possible to fight the disease and believed God could heal her, on September 7, 2006, she took her last breath and passed away. Either God had not heard our desperate cry for healing, or He had other plans for our lives.

I wanted to know why God put our family through this heartbreaking time, and my questioning led to a radical decision. For years I had dreamed about hiking the Appalachian Trail; and a little more than a year after Mary’s death, I decided to quit my job, shoulder a backpack, and hike close to 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. My plan was to carry a message to men I met on the trail—Don’t take your spouses and families for granted—and also to write a book about my adventure.

As I hiked north, I began talking with God as if He were my hiking partner. Repeatedly, I asked Him why He took my wife from me. On Sunday morning, July 6, 2008, I had an encounter with God that left me face down, weeping on the trail.

That encounter changed my life completely and set me on a path of healing. It also changed the book I had planned to write; and so my first book, Hiking Through, is both the adventure of my Appalachian Trail hike and also the story of grief, healing, and life.

My life now revolves around speaking and writing about adventure and faith, grief and healing. I want to point folks in the direction of hope—hope that can bring peace, even in the most troubled times.

Paul Stutzman