The Kindness of Bene Diction

Bene Diction is a great blogger--he's also a very kind man. And I just wanted to say thanks to him.

I've been working on a piece about the Real Live Preacher and asked Bene for a quote. He obliged, and then offered something of far greater value.

His prayers.

Some of you know that this has been a long year for our family.

Last year Kathy, my wife, had a case of severe depression. She quit her job, felt suicidal for weeks, was crumbling to bits. She got better with a lot of prayer, a great program at a local hospital, and some good meds.

We'd just bought a house a year before Kathy got sickand were counting on her working to pay the mortgage. Her illness was not in the plans.

We're still hanging on, due to a lot of freelancing and help from some friends. But Kathy's not going back to work anytime soon and I've about hit the wall. To many late nights at my computer have worn me dry.

So there I was at the wall, and two things happened. The first was that in our email exchange, I mentioned to Bene that I was feeling burned out.

He responded with a very kind note and an offer to pray for me. It was a gracious offer that lifted my soul.

Then, after a long night at work, I came home to find the living room plaster with pictures that the kids had drawn, all of which read "We Love Daddy." The kids had left me a note, telling me to come upstairs and not look at the living room. (I didn't.) The next morning they lead me downstairs, showed me their art, and smothered me with hugs and kisses. I felt like a drowning man who'd been thrown a lifeline.

So thanks Bene. Thanks Sophie, Eli, and Marel. I needed that.

Praises be to the healer of my life.


Faith Walking Part Two

Every journalist has got a story like this one; a story that they loved writing but no editor loved reading, so it got spiked. I did this six years ago in grad school--it's about three people who walked across America. (To be techically precise, it's about one person who walked across America and two people who walked around the perimeter of the US)

All three were on a journey of faith.

Christians have always walked. Jesus sent his first disciples to walk across the Judean countryside. 2000 years later, dozens of Christians have felt a call to walk across America. Here are three of their stories.
God told Rob Reynolds to take a hike. At least that's what Rob's wife Marge says.

So in January 1995, Reynolds, a 72-year-old retired bank officer, set out from Aberdeen, Washington to walk around the perimeter of the United States. After four years and 10,698 miles he's back in Washington state, with less than 700 hundred miles left to go.

Reynolds, a devout Christian, is walking to raise money for Missionary Aviation
Fellowship (MAF), a group that provides air support for missionaries working in remote areas of the world. Reynolds speaks at churches and with the local media wherever he walks. So far, Reynolds thinks he's raised about $20,000, though he's not exactly sure.

All of the money goes right to MAF," Reynolds said. "We don't see any of it." Reynolds and his wife Marge are paying for their own expenses.

Reynold's interest in MAF stems from his days in the Air Force, where he flew cargo planes. He supported the group on a local basis for several years, but wanted to do something more.

"I've always been impressed by their work," Reynolds says. "They risk their lives every day by flying in dangerous places, and don't get a lot of credit for it."

He thought he would finish the walk last summer. Then the arthritis in his knee acted up. "I'd walked 15 miles a day for about four years," Reynolds recalls. "When my knee started to give out, I dropped off to seven miles a day."

Reynolds did not give up easily. He walked 650 miles last summer until his knee gave out at the border of Idaho and Washington.

"I developed a way of dangling my leg," Reynolds says. "I'd walk a few steps, dangle my bad knee and stand on one foot for a few minutes. Then I'd walk a few more steps."

In November 1998, Reynolds had knee replacement. Two months later, he had open heart surgery.

"Before we left in 1995," Reynolds said, "My cardiologist had been monitoring my aortic valve. This winter he said we had fix it."

Reynolds had open heart surgery in January. By May, he was back out on the road,
though not exactly with his doctors' blessing. None of them tried talk him out of it, so Reynolds says they must have concurred.

He is back to walking 10 miles a day, though his doctor warned him to take it easy in his new knee.

"They told me don't wear it out all in one year," Reynolds said.

He has made a few concessions to his age. Marge follows him in their motor home, so he spends each night in the comfort of his own bed,

"None of that sleeping on the ground for me," Reynolds says.

The Reynolds sold their home outside of Seattle just before Rob started walking. They bought a motor home and have lived in it ever since. They plan to live in it after the walk is over.

Having the motor home has allowed Reynolds to follow good weather during his trip. He
walked from Aberdeen to San Diego, then drove across county to Maine. He walked from Maine to Florida, then headed west to the Gulf Coast.

Since then, Reynolds has walked in the North in the spring and summer and in the South in the fall and winter. He keeps detailed charts to mark his progress.

"At my age and state of decrepitation," Reynolds chuckled, "It allowed me to keep going."

Besides his knee, the most difficult part of the trip was walking 1300 miles across Texas. The trouble wasn't the heat or the terrain. It was the scenery.

"Some spots were not very interesting," Reynolds conceded. "The same scenery, the same road, the same wind blowing. It just kept going and going and going."

On most days, Marge walks along with Rob for the first few miles. Then she heads back to the couple's motor home, and picks up the car they tow behind the trailer home. Marge acts as advance scout and PR person for Rob. She sets up his speaking engagements and makes contact with the local media.She meets up with Rob later in the day for lunch and breaks. Sometimes catching up with him is an adventure.

"I've made plenty of u-tums on the highway to get to where Rob is," Marge says. "I've
also learned to squeeze the Honda into some small places, especially when Rob walked through Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and Los Angeles."

Several other family members have joined the Reynolds along the way. Their
grandchildren, Briana and Andrew, walked with them for eight days in the Upper
Peninsula of Michigan. Their daughter Amilia has joined them on several occasions.

The Reynolds, who celebrated their 41st anniversary last year, have no plans to settle down after the walk is over.

"We've enjoyed following the sun over the last four years." says Reynolds. "And we'd
like to go back and see some of the place we've been through, and do some touristy
Rudy Chaparro is staying in San Diego these days. His walk, which started in Delaware in 1995, is on hold for the summer.

He set out from San Diego about 3 weeks ago, headed east. He made it to Yuma,
Arizona, 172 miles away. Walking across the desert in the summer proved to be a little too much.

Chaparro, 37, is walking around the perimeter of the United States.

"I started walking North from Delaware in 1995." Chaparro says. "I made the big left turn in Maine and headed west."

This summer is the third time he's had to halt for weather. The first time was in the winter of 1995. He knew it was time to stop when his hair started to freeze.

"I was staying outside in a tent," Chaparro recalls. "I got up, washed my hair and it froze solid. "

Chaparro spent that winter staying with a family in Coldwater, Michigan. He did chores around their home, helped the family take care of their five kids, and waited for spring. He spent the winter of 1996 in South Dakota.

Chaparro's walk is different for a number of reason. He had no support vehicle like Rob Reynolds. He also has no steady source of income.

He calls it a prayer walk.

"The walk is for the church," says Chaparro. "I'm praying that we'd be about God's

He started walking when his pickup truck broke down just as he started a trip to Chicago.

He was heading to see a friend from his college days at Moody Bible Institute.

Chaparro had dropped out of school in 1992. He was studying to be a missionary, but then he entered what he called his dark period.

"I'm not sure what it was," Chaparro. " I just felt distant from God."

When Chaparro left Moody in back in 1992, he headed home to southern California to
find some answers. When he didn't find them there, he headed across country in his car. He stopped in Sioux City, Iowa to visit some friends from school. He liked it so much that he ended up settling down there.

He worked for three and a half years on the graveyard shift at Gateway 2000, just across the border in South Dakota. When his truck broke down, he started walking to work, six miles each way.

During that time, he felt that God started to speak to him.

"It was like this," Chaparro explains. "When you're in a room, and there's no sound for a long time, your cars become hypersensitive. I'd been so busy that I hadn't taken anytime to listen to God. After three and a half years, I was ready to listen."

Chaparro didn't hear an audible voice. He heard something inside of him telling him he should walk around the perimeter of the United States.

As part of his preparation, Chaparro started carrying his loaded backpack on his 12 mile walk back and forth to work. He sold off all his belongings, then caught a flight to Philadelphia.

After a short bus ride to Delaware, Rudy started walking.

Since he has no support vehicle, Chaparro carries all of supplies in his backpack. When he first started, it weighed just over 100 pounds. It's down to about 85 pounds now. He calls it "Packzilla."

He camps out on most nights, though he does stay in a hotel about once a week.
"Sometimes I just smell to bad," says Chaparro. "And I need to get a nice hot shower in."

A couple times a week, he gets invited to stay at someone's home. Otherwise he camps
out in a local park, church, or in someone's backyard. For the most part, the people he has met have welcomed him.

Except in Southern Connecticut.

"I was walking through a very wealthy suburb," Chaparro recalls. "I went up to the door of a large Episcopal church and asked if I could camp out their lawn. The rector looked at me, and said, 'I can't let you do that. The police won't allow it. So I picked up my pack and just kept walking."

Judy Howard came home to Chicago on May 25, 1999. . She'd been gone since May 7, 1998, when she flew to Portland, Oregon to begin her walk across America.
Howard, 29, a student at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, started her walk at the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles Aberdeen, Washington. On April 25, 1999 she'd made her way to the Atlantic Ocean. She finished her 4000 mile walk three weeks later, in Key Biscayne, Florida.

The idea for the walk came to Judy while she was studying Greek with a fellow
seminarian. "I need time just to be," she told her friend. "I'm going to walk across America." Judy

approached the seminary faculty about using a walk across America as her internship.
She would speak at churches, pray with people she met and talk with them about Jesus.
At first the faculty was skeptical, but after Judy persisted, they agreed.

So Judy bought a backpack, some hiking shoes, and started making plans for her walk.
She walked about 50 miles a week during the six months before she left.
"It wasn't enough," Howard said. "Nothing could have prepared me for walking 20 miles a day."

After the first thirty miles, she wondered if she could make it to the next town, never mind across the country. As she left a gas station where she had stopped to get a coke, a van pulled up and started honking.

As they left a gas station where they had stopped to get a coke, a van pulled up and
started honking. A women hopped out of the van and introduced herself.

"I'm Cindy," she said. "I'm the secretary at the church you're going to speak at. I just came out to see if I could take your packs the last few miles to the church."

Cindy loaded the backpacks into her van and drove off while Howard walked the last fewmiles to the church.

This gave Howard an idea. She starting arranging rides for her backpack, while she
walked. Other times, she left it and found a ride back to pick up at the end of the day.

Cindy wasn't the only person to help out. Some people bought her a meal or gave her a
few dollars to help with expenses. Others invited her into their homes.
"I left with $400," Howard said. "And a list of twenty names of possible people stay with, but only two were confirmed," Howard said. "Of the 400 nights I walked, I camped out four times. And all four were my choice."

She gave back as well. In Worthington, MN, she helped a young woman named Trista and her baby escape from an abusive boyfriend. Howard introduced Trista to a couple she had stayed with a few weeks earlier. The couple took her in.

In Indianapolis, she saw a sign in the window of a house that read, "Need Help." Inside was a 70-year-old man named Jerry, who needed help shoveling his driveway. Howard shoveled the driveway, with help from the family she was staying with.

In Atlanta, Howard struck up a conversation with a waitress named Veronica. She felt that God wanted her to give Veronica the last $100 she had in her backpack. So she did.

Howard has a soft spot for waitresses. She worked her way through seminary as waitress at the Fireside restaurant in Chicago. She found it good training for her walk and for her future career as a minister.

"We make $2.05 an hour." Howard said. "Unless you can connect on a personal level with people, then you don't get paid. As far as preparation for my walk, it was better than all of my seminary training."

Some of the customers at the Fireside thought so. Many of them expressed their support when she left for her walk. One of the regulars at the bar paid for some of her equipment.

Howard hasn't spent much time at home since finishing her walk. She is back out on the road - this time as a speaker. In June, she'll be speaking at a national church conference, a high school in Minnesota, and at church in her hometown of Burnsville, Minnesota.. She has requests to speak from across the country over the next year.

"My mom told me I need to get a Daytimer," Howard said. Most of her audiences want to hear about how many pairs of New Balance shoes she wore out on the trip (11) or how far she walked (over 4000 miles). She also shares some of the lessons
she learned on the road, like getting off the expressway of life, and getting on to the back roads.

Finishing the walk has been a bittersweet experience for Howard. While Howard says that her feet are glad she's finished walking, and that she's glad to have the chance to reconnect with family and friends, she has experienced a sense of loss.

"I miss spending 12 hours a day in prayer," Howard said. "I was just telling my mom,
when you miss a person or place, you can go back to see them. But when you miss walking across America., you can't go back."


Faith Walking

On February 2, 2002, Don Vermilyea hopped off a bus in Tuscon, picked up his backback and started walking.

12,379 later, he's still going.

Vermilyea, a Church of the Brethren volunteer, is walking across America, visiting churches and talking about Jesus. His message, according to his website, is a simple one:
—that the church "must continue the work of Jesus: Peacefully, Simply, Together."

Apparently, Vermilyea is persistent but not very task-oriented, as he's been walking
for 2 years and not crossed the Mississippi yet.

Peter Jenkins made a name for himself with his walk across America, in the 1970s, and since then, dozens of people have made the same trip. Some are on pilgrimage, some raising funds or political awareness, some, like Jenkins, are in search of themselves.

There are variations of the walk. Mike McIntyre hitchhicked across the US without a penny is his pocket in 1996. His book on his trip is worth the read, as is this 1996 Salon story on the trip:

Again and again McIntyre found himself picked up by "damaged souls," people who nevertheless had "a great amount of hope, a stubborn capacity to help other people." He was taken in by giant Midwestern families crammed into tiny trailers, their multi-generational disasters and tragedies proudly displayed as they stuffed him with pancakes, fried chicken and biscuits before sending him packing with prayers and sandwiches for the road. One remote farming family in South Dakota had so little water that they had to share bath water, but still made sure McIntyre had a hot shower. For good measure they took him to church and showed him how to shear a lamb. "A lot of the time I felt like I was walking through a collection of Raymond Carver stories, of people living on the margins, finding reason to get up in the morning, finding value in their wretched lives," McIntyre now recalls. And one of the great things about "The Kindness of Strangers" is how McIntyre captures the complex and varied lives of the fantastically "normal" people who helped him on his journey.


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