Only hours after touching down in Sao Paulo, I received this little bag of hope.
See, I had no underwear.
It’s a long story, but I promised Dad, I’d keep it short (see below). On our drive into the remote mountains of Sao Paulo, my friend and I stopped at a mall for cash (no ATMS in the forest). This part of the journey felt all hazy, the way things do when you’ve flown a red-eye across the world.
We didn’t have much time because my friend wanted to take me for a hike up to the stone–part of a caminho de fe, walk of faith, by her home. Since life hadn’t given me much time for caminhos in the months before, I longed for the kind of caminho my soul and spirit needed. Desperate to walk, I wanted to hug nature and breathe the cool Brazilian mountain air.
In no time, I found a great lingerie store. I loved their fabrics and designs but had no clue when it came to speaking Portuguese, similar to Spanish which is a language I speak. The languages even share common words. Sadly, none of the Spanish words they shared were the ones I needed to ask for the right size and color of panties. My friend gave me lots of help.
No, not the butt enhancers. Brazil loves to surprise. When the sales woman handed me my bag, I thanked her for speaking English with my first Portuguese word, obrigado.
I held up the bag and said, “I have a little bag of hope.”
My friend gave me a hug and pointed at the store’s marquee. The jet lag, pain from a health issue and the general sense of rushing combined to make me a little loopy. I hadn’t noticed the name of the store. HOPE.
“It’s great energy,” my friend said. Afterwards, we laughed and caught up over an incredible Brazilian coffee then tucked my little bag of hope into my friend’s car and hit the road for our journey into the mountains.
I love how The Holy Spirit gives us signs and messages. How God works through our desires and longings.
Sometimes, He’s found in the perfect song at the perfect time. Sometimes in the words of a friend. At other times, He arrives in the form of intuition. Through whispered messages on gentle breezes.
But I’d never in all my life received a red ribboned, gilded message of HOPE in English in a Portuguese-speaking country before. Hope had nearly run out for me by the time I arrived in Brazil. God felt the need to shout this time. He got my attention.
Here’s your little bag of hope.
I’m handing it to you on a busy day. A day you aren’t feeling well and a little bit rushed. When you aren’t sure about life, maybe not feeling like yourself. A day when all that you believed and expected are in question. Here it is. Open it up. You don’t need much.
A thank you:
This is the first post Dad will not read. Last year, just before I set out to do my first mission work in Prague, right before I walked El Camino de Santiago, Dad told me that I’d have to be his eyes in the world now. Through Laurasmagicday over the last few years of Dad’s life I brought the world to him as he had done with me when I was a child.
I miss him every day and yet, it seems that he’s closer to me than ever before. The last time I spoke with Dad in the hospital, he asked what I’d written lately. I told him my job in Spain was very demanding and I’d barely had time to journal. He closed his eyes, shook his head and said, “write a short story.” This post is that short story.
Thank you for your support and encouragement. Your good wishes and prayers have been a comfort. I hope to keep Dad’s spirit of curiosity, peace, joy and excitement alive here and in all my future projects. Life is short. Make it fun.
I returned to the USA from my missionary work in Spain a week ago. I had a few detours along The Way which I never expected but God never let go of my hand. This Independence Day means more to me than any other.
I helped serve pilgrims with a team of people on El Camino de Santiago’s Camino Frances. A 1200-year old, 500-mile pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James (Santiago), one of Jesus’ disciples. As we prepared for our ministry in Spain, our advisors suggested meeting people where they are on their walk of faith. I believe this wise practice for ministry is also a great way to meet people in life. Simple in concept but difficult in practice.
One day this practice meant finding a “zapatero,” or cobbler, to fix a pilgrim’s pair of shoes. Another day we provided pilgrims with hot tea and carrot cake or hummus and vegetables. On another we helped a paralytic pilgrim find shelter in our ancient village where he was told there was no room at any inn. A few days later we shared our testimonies with a double-lung transplant recipient. Many of these conversations took place in my second language of Castellano and rarely in my very poor French– the later took place in both.
WHAT SURPRISED ME
Pilgrims and the townspeople wanted to know my story. They wanted to know what lead me to work there and why. How I came to know The Lord. So many times the other American working there and I fielded questions about American presidential politics and gun violence. Frequently during these discussions, pilgrims shared titles of books they’d read that influenced their lives––spiritual books, adventure stories, thought-provoking essays, and whatever books they had in their backpack.
Books are a real luxury item when hiking 500-miles across Spain. Pilgrims are advised to only carry 10% of their body weight. You can image how difficult it is to put that into practice. Especially when you’re like me, who packs just about everything (read: writer). If you want to check out what I took with me on my Camino last summer you can see a short video here. My “mochilla,” backpack, weighed more than the 13 lbs. it should have, way more. This made my Camino much harder than it needed to be and took a toll on my body (doctor-ordered rest for two days) and spirit. I discovered I had to get rid of things by donating them to others along The Way. Lightening my load, another wise way to live life. Another simple but difficult practice.
What does lightening my load look like for me today? Holding things up one at a time in my decidedly less cluttered storage unit to see what more I can let go of. What can you do today to lighten your load? Physically? Spiritually?
I met lots of people who had heavy spiritual loads. People at a crossroads. Trying to make peace with God. Trying to find God. Trying to answer life’s biggest questions. Trying to run away from everyone and everything, including God. Some who sought to harm me. People who had never heard the name of Jesus. And when people wanted to know Him better, one of the first questions they had concerned my church affiliation. I replied non-denominational and that I only hoped to have a real, personal relationship with Jesus.
WHY PEOPLE ABANDON THEIR FAITH
In my conversations about faith this Spring and Summer in Spain, I discovered two things that caused people to abandon their faith––hypocrisy, and the inability to fully understand the concept of God’s grace. People told me they abandoned their faith when a hypocrite in their life caused them to suffer, sometimes within their church family. Usually this pain happened at a young age, a difficult time to try understand our fallen world. A great sermon to listen to if you struggle with this wound is here.
I often heard people saying all the world religions are the same. They talked about how every world religion speaks of loving-kindness and doing good works. But grace is uniquely Christian. It is a gift freely given. You don’t have to do any good work. The minute you put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, a perfect sacrifice that died for your sins, is the minute you are forgiven. Jesus is enough. That means that you don’t have to carry 20 lbs. in your mochilla anymore. God’s got you. You don’t have to feel the guilt, pain, doubt, or shame. You can let it all go. You are good enough.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
How do I put this proverb into practice today? I say a prayer for the Lord to watch over and guide someone I love. I trust that the words that I am inspired to write and say matter. That they’re important. I pray to have peace, patience and self-control as the Lord reveals His will for my life. How might you trust in the Lord today?
On this Independence Day, a time Americans remember what courage it took to stand up to tyranny, to fight it and then create a future as one nation, under God, it is my prayer that today you may find yourself one step closer to living and loving like Jesus in your own life. Free to meet the people in your life where they are, wherever they are, be it serving them carrot cake, asking a friend to a picnic, saying yes, speaking a difficult truth, telling a joke, sharing your testimony, learning a language, making friends in far away places, forgiving, or digging deep into your well of patience to understand, one more time, again. Lighten your mochilla. Accept grace and let your light shine no matter who or what in your life has tried to dim it. We were not created to only survive. We were created to thrive.
Happy 4th of July. May the fireworks of your life far exceed the beauty of those in tonight’s sky.
It is the beginning of the fourth week of Easter and the beginning of my fourth week in Spain. In the months leading up to my trip, a dear Camino friend from Brazil had asked me to meet her in Seville before I was due to serve pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago in Viana at a place called The Pilgrims’ Oasis, also known as The Chill Café, a sort of living room for pilgrims in need of relaxation, a beer, tea or coffee and a place of peace where they can discuss spiritual questions and things that are important to them. I said yes.
We were very excited to catch up post-Camino, hear about each other’s lives, eat lots of Pulpo and drink Rioja. In the flurry of activity that included storing all my worldly possessions and heading out into the world again, I once again (see this post) forgot about Easter.
This trip nearly didn’t happen. So much had occurred to convince me to stay in the U.S., that traveling to Spain under the circumstances was impossible––irresponsible even––this added to my lack of concern and preparation for the first leg of my time in Spain. My friend Tatianna sent me messages saying things like Semana Santa is a “big deal” in Seville. Semana Santa rung a bell somewhere, but not a very loud one. “Que paso es que la ciudad tiene un tradición muy antigua de fiesta en semana santa y por eso la ciudad está bastane llena.” Which is to say that the city has an ancient festival tradition and because of this the city was rather full of people. Sensing how ill-prepared I was for the journey, Tatianna got a room for me at her place, a school where she was studying Spanish in the center of the city. She said we could share a room if needs be. Grateful, but still clueless, I figured Seville was a big “Spring Break” town for Spaniards.
Other than Easter in Nepal, my Easter celebrations involved making big meals for family, attending church, and contemplating that Jesus died for me. My celebrations revolved around Easter eggs, picnics and seeing wildflowers in bloom. Some years it included Spring Break trips, laying on beaches and basking in the season of new life and wonder. But as El Señor (Español for God) and I have been on a year of adventure (I’m guessing it might be more like a lifetime now), He’d take me by the hand into one of the world’s largest, breathtaking ancient Easter celebrations.
Exhausted, the whole process of leaving LA was riddled with long delays. I asked El Señor what he wanted to teach me in all the waiting. Almost immediately he gave me a reply…
The day before I left, while sitting at a stop sign the black Cadillac in front of me with dark tinted windows had a black California license plate with “PSALM20,” written in gold letters. On my drive to the airport a gold sign fastened to a freeway overpass read “ASK JESUS FOR MERCY,” in black letters. I immediately did and thanked El Señor for color coding his messages and placing them front-and-center the way He had. I humbly thanked Him for the ability to make the journey. If I paid attention, El Señor was everywhere and apparently enjoyed giving me messages in black and gold, the colors of my sorority and the colors of my childrens’ high school. And, because He is equally playful and efficient, He made the most of my time in LA traffic.
Nothing is more important to me than to trust and obey El Señor. And yet I find it so difficult in practice. On good days, following His call feels exactly right and I am at peace. But on the difficult days––and there were many before I left California––His call seemed self-indulgent, irresponsible, and even flighty. These lies nearly kept me from boarding the plane. After take off I read my copy of Don Quixote, a classic story about an idealist heading out into the world. On the 400th anniversary of Cervantes death it seemed like perfect reading, even as it weighed in at 920 pages. One day I hope to read it in Spanish.
I figured I’d catch a train to Seville. No big deal. I’d been a pilgrim. I was good at last minute travel. Then I got the WhatsApp message in Frankfurt…
“Watch out” because the trains could be full. Tatianna suggested if I had time at the airport in Frankfurt that I check the available tickets from Madrid to Seville. A quick search found every train ticket to Seville sold out. The buses weren’t running. After calling a few rental agencies I reserved a car. I flew into a very cold and overcast Madrid and as I stepped into the rental car for a God-knows-how-long drive to Seville after a nearly 24-hour trip to Spain by plane, I guess I should have been daunted when Google Maps navigated the five hour trip. Instead, I couldn’t wait to drive through storied Andalucia to Seville. With no traffic at all, I passed cities I’d only seen in movies or read about––Toledo, Trujillo, Mérida on the Camino de Plata (Silver), all bathed in tangerines, pinks and purples of the setting sun. El Señor indeed had mercy on me and provided for me in amazing ways. Again. Still, on the drive down I wondered…why Seville? I had only been called there on the spur of the moment as my plans had changed at the last minute. What was there that El Señor was calling me to?
The exhilaration of driving through Seville’s ancient city walls with Siri guiding me through crowds of impeccably dressed faithful contracting its already narrow, cobblestone streets. After pulling into the perfect parking spot, I met Tatianna on foot at the front door of my home for the holiday, Enforex housing for students studying the Spanish language (enforex.com). My hosts let me bunk with them for free when they found out I’d be serving pilgrims on El Camino––another of El Señor’s great provisions. It was no coincidence that I drove into ground zero for the Easter celebration and even less of a coincidence that after lots of catching up over pulpo & Rioja, Tatianna and I met one of Sevilla’s ancient processions on the most mundane of errands––getting my suitcase out of my car.
I couldn’t help but think how I would never see this type of pageantry to celebrate the life of Christ in America. Where I’ve had to be careful wishing people Merry Christmas, and often times default to a “Happy Holiday” greeting so as not to offend. In the country where “In God We Trust” is written on every coin and every dollar bill. There is much work to be done for El Señor in Spain, that is certain. But this beautiful moment of worship gave me perspective on the things I’ve settled for in my faith and where I hope to take it. Will you join me?
1May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
I can’t believe this is my first post in 2016. I began this year making a dream come true by living in Malibu for three months. As I get ready to say goodbye to Malibu, I’m spending a little time honoring and celebrating the dream. Was it full of surprises? Absolutely.
I shot this video before a storm was due to hit. We’ve just come off the worst drought in 500 years. The Spanish kept amazing records. As I begin to pack for my trip back to Spain, I want to take a barefoot walk down Zuma beach with you.
Along the shore I stopped here and there to collect sea glass, something new I enjoy doing at Zuma. I collected brilliant and colorful pieces of sea glass wondering why I hadn’t noticed these gems when my kids were young. In all the years we’d practically lived on this very beach––body surfing and boogie boarding, building sand castles and catching crabs––I’d only noticed the sea glass that afternoon. When my kids were small there was precious little time for winter strolls. I’d never taken the kind of winter stroll I had that afternoon. Something new. What a joy it is to enjoy new experiences.
I’d scooped up a piece of cobalt blue sea glass when a pelican calmly landed and surfed the waves in the stormy sea right beside me. It is so rare to see the large primordial birds close up the way I did there on the beach in the afternoon sun. Her beauty gave me pause. She tucked her massive beak under her wing. At ease and comfortable, lifted and lowered by the waves. Some intense, others not. The second I reached for my camera, she flew away.
I scurried in the wet sand, following her flight down the beach. She landed in the waves again. A lone surfer in the churned up sea. Her adventure captivated me. Out loud I wondered what the Lord wanted to teach me in this moment. This beautiful moment between God, me, the pelican and the sea.
With faith there is peace in our stormy seas. I thank God for the peace He helped me find and celebrate the peace I’ve discovered in Malibu. I thank God for the stormy seas I landed in because without them I would have never found true peace in the Lord.
Sometimes we can’t control the storms. Sometimes we create our storms. The seas that rage can be our own limiting beliefs, the costs of love, doubt about the importance of our journey, doubts about our insights and usefulness in this world. We can sometimes second guess God and have bad attitudes. These are stormy seas of our own making can be calmed by the most powerful weapon in our arsenal––choice.
With God all things are possible, not just some things. His is an invitation to live in joy, not fear. To speak and not stay silent. And yet I’ve been silent here for months.
My friend Jill was the one who showed me what has now become my favorite hike here in Zuma. While on the hike she suggested that I keep track of the animals that show up in my life. She said they all hold special messages. The pelican is an ancient symbol of Christ.
I dreamed of falling in love in your arms, among your rues and cafés.
In your cotton-candy sunsets the sky above The Seine blazed. A violet-blue blanket descended and your famous lights filled my soul––the flickering Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge’s flirty reds and the sacred aura of Sacre Coeur. But your lesser-known twinkles captivated me most.
Smiles of café owners and complete strangers who helped me find my way home very late one night. The kind words of Jacqué, the patisserie owner, who taught me new words in French every day––names of his delicacies. Electric blue eyes of Elisabeth, the sculptress, who encouraged my art and the idea of “why not,” bringing to life the trickiest form of sculpture––a woman, walking. And the soft surprise in a lady’s eyes when I took the time to ask her name. “Wisdom,” she said, before letting me know with a smile that it would be impossible to have my laundry done before the following week on Tuesday. I’d never met a woman named Wisdom before and instantly wondered why. Wisdom is always referred to as a woman in the Bible.
Up until living in the 18th Arrondissement, I had always imagined life among your great backdrop. I will never forget the day of your magnetic, electric, mysterious call. You had something to say. Something to show me. A point of view to share.
I came with a thirst to absorb your great art. I thought I’d understood you to say that you’d wanted me to write about it. But like all great loves you wished so much more for me than I could possibly understand. I began to open up to you completely.
I was vulnerable to being at home with you. And so you gave me one, then arranged for family and friends to visit. You showed me things I’d never seen before. You had patience with me, because you love me.
“I am lying on the sofa after a simple dinner––some honey and oranges and wine and this feels incredible.”
This little piece I knew of you was the closest I’d had to home in a long time. I brought you flowers and put them in the window box. Instead of tossing the mostly dead geranium, I plucked her dead leaves and fed her water from my Finsterra shot glass. This made me incredibly happy.
The flowers in the window box reminded me of the great works of art I’d seen at Museé de Orsay, works of Renoir and Jan Van Huysum. In the strokes of their petals I learned that every great artist has had doubts but great tenacity, vision, and ceaseless work always overcame them. Their passion-fueled spirt has given me courage.
Your spirit whispered to me that my readers want to discover and follow their dreams. You’ve embraced my failings and filled me with the desire to inspire and bring joy and hope to a world in pain. You encouraged me to learn to sculpt words and paint stories.
You wrapped me in the love of my daughter. We filled the city with laughter. She called my journey ‘a great adventure.’ Your gentle reminder of what life is. My love, how many times will it take for me to truly believe? Forgive me.
“I lay in the home you made for me–so incredibly tired and overwhelmed. Tears roll. Doubts scream and all the while you tender-heartedly let them come and whisper, ‘onward, upward.’ I tell you I want to go home and you gently say I already am. There suddenly is an urgency to all that I want to create.”
Thank you for the holy dinner my daughter and I shared and our visit to crepe alley. For the sweet embrace you gave us both as we grieved together. Just when the overwhelm is too great you remind me to go big.
On a Tuesday afternoon going big means walking into Elizabeth’s studio and saying “oui” when she asked if I’d like to start sculpting that day.
Trusting that I knew what to create in the clay, you opened a world I’d never known before. Showed me I could do with my hands what I hoped to do with my words. In Elisabeth’s studio, to the songs on French Radio we became lost in the pleasure of the clay––its coolness and smoothness. Knowing and not knowing what would materialize or how to massage emotion into the clay. Molding, forming and stretching, we transformed.
Did I ask too much of you, my love?
Some loves are magic. Their face lights up and their voice wraps a big bow around me and I am more in the world than I was before knowing them. You wrapped a bow around me. A cordon rouge. Thank you for teaching me what love is and what it should never be.
When they visited from Begium, my host daughter’s boyfriend said he needed to descend the stairs of The Arc de Triumph ahead of us. Christophe wanted to break our fall if needs be.
My love, thank you for breaking my fall.
For showing me that in my favorite drink, Champagne, joy overcame pain. Champagne’s soil has absorbed countless bodies of slain warriors. Its geography required its people to battle every hoarding brood. Yet a solitary monk named Dom Perignon rose to create the most celebratory drink in the world. How is it that a region that has known so much pain is known all over the world for the joy it brings?
I learn the heartbreaking history of Champagne in Reims, the home of the church of the smiling angel. Why are sculpted smiling angels so rare?
My love you connected me to myself and to a world that didn’t end. A world I had to find for myself. Where I learned to love in another language. You have taken the time to see me. Perhaps the only one in the world who really has. And for that I have fallen for you. My love, your pain is my pain and your joy is my joy.
Adjusting to Paris was one thing, life without flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) was another. I missed them. The way they appeared just when I thought I’d taken a wrong turn on El Camino. Their bright, even urgent call on the darkest foggy morning. Their playfulness. How they’d wink, sometimes yell the way. The lessons they’d taught and secrets we shared. How would I know which way to go without them?
One of the last verses El Señor left me on El Camino comforted me.
Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)
I continued my yoga stretches in bed every morning even though there were no more mountains to climb, no great distances to cross. Movement had become a way of life for me. This lovely new daily habit found me giving gratitude to my body for the privilege of discovering new vistas and creating lasting friendships.
I’d have to leave quickly to avoid the coming storm. The 40-minute walk to The Louvre a perfect way to get to know La Ville Luminére (The City of Light). El Señor called me to Paris and I had faith in time I’d discover why. Perhaps the trip was simply a beautiful gift, like fathers love to give their children. I looked forward to what He’d say to me through the great works of art He’d inspired. El Señor took my hand and we hit the streets.
I longed for the outdoors in a way I never did before, embracing my pace, harder to maintain as Parisians and tourists rushed by. I no longer felt any need to rush.
A light raincoat didn’t hold up to the downpour so I sought refuge at the opera house, The Palais Garnier, in one of its grand entrances where an older couple from Argentina stood watching the scene on Avenue de l’Opéra. How lovely to speak Spanish in the rain in Paris, a warm blanket around my culture-shocked heart. Roberto and his wife huddled with me over my map. He pointed out the nearest metro station. Together we figured out the metro line I’d take. When they asked where I was from I found it easier to tell them where I’d been. Roberto’s wife asked if I’d made it to Finsterra. I pulled out my phone and clicked on photos of the sea and the faro (lighthouse). “At one time people thought Finsterra was the end of the world,” I said.
The line at The Louvre was biblical. I stood with everyone else who enjoyed the idea of spending a rainy day walking the halls of what became my new school. I breathed into the overwhelm. I had time. Lots of time. To discover, to wander, to explore. El Señor made sure of it.
I’d seen her twice before and had no memorable reaction. But that day, standing in the crowded stairwell, the glorious sculpture of a split-second in time, set in stone took my breath away.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace depicts the exact moment an angel landed on the prow of a victorious boat. Scholars place the victory in either the 1st or 2nd century. What beauty lay in the disciplined and passionate hands of the ancients. The angel’s breasts jolt upon landing. A ghostly wind ripples translucent robes across her headless body. The artistry a type of time machine. The experience ethereal, whole-hearted.
After visiting the great masterpieces I’d seen before, I ventured into the unknown. A statue of Psyche and Cupid brought me to tears and inspired me to sculpt my stories, always with attention to the split-second in time I depict. I’d write with the same sense of urgency about moments. Write like the disciplined and passionate hands of ancient sculptors.
Over a glass of wine and crème brulee at a café at The Louvre I wrote in my journal.
“Before the couple and I said hasta luego this morning, they invited me to visit Argentina and see the end of the world there. I’d wanted to go to Patagonia for years and accepted, jokingly calling it my end-of-the-world tour. What they didn’t know was that I thought mine had ended not-so-long ago. But here and now a whole new world has opened up to me.”
Apparently this new world included new clothes and shoes too. I wanted and intended to experience day 2 at The Louvre but the weather stopped me. I had to get warm. El Señor and I went shopping. His great sense of humor and playfulness surprised me. But it shouldn’t have, He invented them.
I heard a wonderful phrase while shopping at a great store called Spree http://spree.fr/en/ (if you’re ever freezing in Monmartre and looking like you just hiked into Paris from the Maseta––the great desert of Spain––they are the perfect people to hook you up). The women there helped me put outfits together. Every time I raised an eyebrow and asked if the patterns went together the clerk always said, ‘well…why not?’
Ok, Lord. I got you. ‘Why not?’
After shopping until we dropped El Señor and I sat at a café for wine and cheese and charcuterie––enjoying the great blessing of warmth.
Outside a man parked his van diagonally across the middle of the intersection of a tiny cobblestone street. He got out, put a foot on the fender and lit a cigarette. A heavy woman wearing lots of makeup, dressed in a short skirt stood at the corner with her small poodle, staring. The man and the woman both had perfected the Parisian stare, searching but not searching, caring and not caring. Too deep to notice casual things and not alert enough to do anything about them. The art of being.
School kids, their mothers and occasional tourists walked by. Off and on cars stopped. Confused drivers drove around the unfazed, smoking man. I couldn’t figure out what on earth he was doing. No one in America would tolerate blocked traffic for a cigarette break.
The woman with the small poodle crossed from one corner to another, and struck a pose. As she lit a cigarette, the man left his van, walked into the cafe and ordered an espresso. He took his time drinking it.
A lady walked up to the front door of the apartment building at the corner and the smoking, expresso-drinking driver left the café to pull a large bag of ice out of his van. He and the lady disappeared into the apartment building. There seemed to be something more to their story. I loved it all.
I loved being not-quite a tourist in Paris. Everything was so much more fun when I put the words “in Paris” after them. Even buying toilet paper or watching the plumber fix the sink or making a shopping list or finding the circuit breaker.
Each morning the city screamed to explore her. One particular night I ‘d stayed out very late and my phone had died. Thinking I knew that part of the city, I confidently walked home and got horribly lost. Luckily one French word didn’t elude me, m’aidez (help me). I asked every monsieur at each outdoor market on my way if I was close to Rue Lamark. Some knew the street, some mistook it for another. As I wandered, a yellow arrow winked at me, painted on a street corner. I turned right and walked home.
“And mind my dear fellow, Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be here and if it became worse and harder even––the fresh air clears up the brain and does one good––a world of good.” – Letter from Vincent Van Gough to Horace Mann Livens, Paris 1886
I soared above Santiago. Over The Bay of Biscay I spotted the Camino del Norte.
My heart began to understand what it meant to have walked across the entire fiesta-filled, rioja-swilling, bagpipe-playing, country of my literary idols where ancient wars had been won and lost, and a biblical amount of Syrian and African refugees sought safety to cries of Catalonian independence.
I said a silent prayer for peace, for the welfare of the refugees and pelegrinas below and gave thanks to El Señor for the last metaphor of The Camino and the privilege of completing my pilgrimage.
A bittersweet adíos to the country that had been my home for over a month. I’d sold almost everything and stored the rest before traveling the world with El Señor in July. Home is and will continue to be where my heart and mochilla (backpack) are.
The early morning cab ride from Fisterra to the Santiago Airport found my body restless, wondering with every twitch why it wasn’t walking.
I’d ride in a taxi, plane, train and three metro lines before the short walk to my apartment in Monmartre. My body hardly knew what happened.
Paris was cold. Very cold. Tan and sporting a hiking skirt, I walked onto my train at Charles De Gaulle and rode to Garre del Nord to take the metro to Garre Leon. My feet bruised and bandaged, not for the likes of Parisian eyes–wild “lion” hair, no makeup, a mochilla and walking sticks completed my look. Rain pelted the windows of the train. Lightning strikes across a darkened Parisian skyline tracked the train.
I was very tired with a big plan––to visit the Louvre for thirty days and write about it. Great art of the world would be my classroom.
El Señor had something to teach me. I had no idea what but was open and ready to learn. I totally surrendered to Him. To prepare for this part of my walk with The Lord I studied French with a tutor in Los Angeles. Problem was, by the time I’d arrived in Paris I’d been thinking, speaking and dreaming in Spanish for over a month. The best I could do was to think in French and speak in Spanish. A beautiful young lady that hardly spoke English gave me the keys to my apartment and helped me with where I might find stores to buy warm clothes and which metro lines to take.
There were a few things I needed to figure out right away.
How to make the shower work. How to turn the sofa into a bed. I would need so much help with this that the owner of the apartment sent me a youtube video. Valerie, a nice young man–go figure, I expected a woman too…ah, Paris–who lived upstairs, checked in on me to make sure I wouldn’t have to sleep on the sofa again for another night due to my serious lack of sofa conversion skills. I needed to sit in a café and drink champagne and write in my journal. Buy some warm clothes. Stop speaking Spanish to Parisians. And, I needed to figure out the best way to The Louvre. I needed to rest. A lot. More than a lot. Spanish took over the language of my dreams.
The following day I woke up at 10 AM, bone-tired. Much too late for a peregrina. My sofa bed a magnet.
I couldn’t wrap my head around walking or taking the metro to The Louvre. It was all I could do to shower in a space so small I barely had room to turn around. No longer sleeping among an army of people in bunk beds, I found the solitude welcome but strange. I stumbled to the velvet curtains and opened the french windows. Peering out of the window into the courtyard and up seven stories, a sunny sky surprised. A nearly-dead geranium sat in the iron grillwork of the window box. I cradled the plant and watered it using my Finsterra shot glass.
In one plane ride life had changed from hand-washing clothes and sleeping in hammocks to daily metro rides, friends, family, coded locks, losing myself among Renoir’s streets and cafes, and the taste of rose marshmallows–a new pleasure.
Showering led to walking which led to finding the perfect store to buy coffee for the next morning which led to strolling by a sculpting studio.
Beautiful female bodies frozen in rapture, others seated and stared into the unknown. They captivated me. Red coffee pots in a storefront reminded me of Lucy who I met the first day of The Camino and is now a life-long friend, mi hermana. I instantly wanted to buy a coffee grinder. Soon I walked the streets by Sacre Coeur. Men asked permission to draw my portrait as accordions and clarinets played.
I ordered champagne and onion soup in a small café and picked up my pen.
“I can’t help but wonder how The Camino will shape my life. A greater sense of peace and confidence has been among The Lord’s great gifts. I am exhausted and my body needs to be still now, even as it glorified in the joy of walking. Moving forward. Ultreia (“Onward,” an ancient Latin pilgrim greeting). A joy I’ve always had and will God-willing never lose. I know the Lord has brought me to Paris for a reason and begin to feel He is preparing me for something big. I am open to all of it.” How wonderful walk in Montmartre, drink champagne and write in my journal.
A young Russian woman with red hair and raincoat to match shared that her husband was meeting her for a weekend in the city of love.
The young couple next to me ordered a half bottle of rosé and sealed their first drink with a kiss. Young love so beautiful. Babies pass by in strollers. Sweet memories of my family. Touring Paris eleven years ago.
I meandered the streets that lead to Sacre Coeur and pass small snail sculptures. Inside a charming store I bought the perfect snail in Camino yellow and two coffee mugs. I want my own mugs for my daughter’s visit. The snail honored something very special my dear friend and fellow pilgrim Tatianna and I discovered, our own pace.
“I’m still on The Way, following the signs. Before I had the challenge of crossing a country with its mountains and valleys. I now have the challenge of knowing an historic city with all of its people and rich artistic heritage. It occurs to me that the mountains and valleys of a city are perhaps more difficult to navigate. Sitting here in this café getting perhaps a little drunk this afternoon is a good introduction to Paris. A day of splurging. Splurging and sunshine and getting to know the terrain. Different than the mountains of Spain but similar too. It’s the beginning of another great adventure and I thank God for it.”
Banners draped over the front of Sacre Coeur read—“For over 125 years HERE NIGHT AND DAY someone is praying to the Lord.” Over a century of 24/7 continual prayer. I stare deeply into the eyes of my favorite statue of Mary. Of course my journey in Paris would begin here.
The newness of Sacre Coeur spoke to the comfort of the ancient ways I’d been wearing.
And it unsettled me. I enjoyed pilgrim life and had a hard time saying goodbye. Standing at the veranda below Sacre Coeur I looked out over Paris and wondered where this next adventure would lead.
Last Friday, September 11, I walked into Santiago and completed my pilgrimage on El Camino Frances.
The same day the remains of the murdered American pelegrina had been discovered. I’ve hesitated to write about the end of my pilgrimage because, in a sense, The Way will never end. Forever kept alive in the wisdom granted by conquering doubt and fear, and in the joy of sharing stories and laughter with new life-long friends. Each step I took closer to Santiago became a privilege and a type of invitation.
I bought my copy of The Pilgrimage by Paul Coelho at the Cathedral of Santiago shortly after arriving there, happy to find an English edition. I’d wanted to read the book before my camino but a friend suggested I wait until after my experience.
In The Pilgrimage, Mr. Coelho’s guide Petrus discusses the three forms of love: Eros, Philia and Agape.
One of the great gifts of my camino is philia. Friendships formed while walking 500 miles, step-by-step from St. Jean Pied De Port, over the Pyrenees and across Spain. Navigating alternate routes which landed us in tiny pueblos where we were among only a handful of pilgrims. Another great gift was a kind of philia of myself. My most precious steps were taken during great stretches of solitude where I walked closely with the Lord and learned to tolerate my pain and weakness and master my fears so they didn’t hijack the great thrill and beauty of my camino.
My favorite time of day was always the silent, surprising even dramatic early morning hours.
On my final steps into Santiago I felt everything all at once.
Great joy upon completing the journey––one so difficult, it had me questioning both why I was walking The Way and my physical ability to finish. And great sadness at leaving pilgrim life behind. Having to say goodbye to noticing how a German mother and her adult daughter whispered and giggled while they rubbed each other’s legs with soothing lotion in the bunk next to me, and the way an older man on another bunk stared at me. The sounds and delicious aromas coming from the kitchen of a small albergue. How the lights on automatic timers would occasionally plunge me into total darkness during my shower. The different wars in the albergue dorms between fresh air at night or not, pulling the blinds or not. Squeaky mattresses. A stuffy night on the top bunk forcing me to sleep on a couch in the kitchen instead. Euphoria in the movement of my muscles during my morning stretches. Meeting and knowing every inch of my body. Having to. The buzzing of mosquitos in my ear. Not rushing. Finding my own pace. How much time that took. Worshipping The Lord on my walk every day. Complete and total exhaustion at the end of the day’s walk yet having to find a place to sleep and wash my clothes that afternoon. Writing postcards and the joy they brought. Looking at my maps to make sure to pick the short or long route. Walking in a rainstorm. Thunder and lightning. Scanning the horizon, looking for a good shelter. Not needing one. The rainbow. Answered prayers.
Coziness, snoring, a warm blanket, a new bar of soap. Taking care of my feet, wearing a headlamp to read at night and to get ready in the morning. Late-night writing sessions.
Endless bottles of wine, boccadillos and tortillas that are nothing like the tortillas in America. The photos we take and share, the realizations we make. Hugs after not seeing each other for days. Random friends agreeing about how life is surprise. How some surprises appear at just the right moment when you think you’ve chosen the wrong way on the path. Playing Scrabble in four different languages.
sLOVEania –– a friend points out her country is the only one with the word ‘love’ in it. Metaphors. The lost sheep.
The hardest good byes of all? My fellow pilgrims. It’s a wondrous thing to visit a pueblo or city I’ve never been to before and run into dear friends who greet me with warm smiles and hugs. Sharing stories over a pilgrim meal. Asking each other about our feet, backs, legs. Our journeys. Agape.
At Fisterra, an early Sunday morning found me combing the beach. My bruised toenails deep in the wet sand and the sun on my back, I discovered a Santiago shell on the shore.
On my walk to the Faro (lighthouse), where I’d end my camino at the 0.00 KM marker, I’m greeted with more hugs and smiles. My friends and I sought shelter from a sudden storm over a few glasses of wine, glad to be out of the weather and toast to the realization we’d not have to live in the rain any more. A local I met on my walk back from the Faro gives me a Santiago shell he found on the beach, a larger one than the one I found. Beautiful. A gift, he says. It seems too precious to give to a stranger, but he insists. He gives me an abalone shell too, called it an oreja (ear.) We lie in the late afternoon sun for a time. On my walk to my hotel, I soaked my tired feet in the Atlantic, remembering the ancient pilgrims. How they thought Fisterra was the end of the world. I looked out over the ocean imagining the New World.
Pilgrim’s Prayer (from The Santuario Santa Maria A Real do Cebreiro)
Although I may have traveled all the roads,
Crossed mountains and valleys from East to West,
If I have not discovered the freedom to be myself,
I have arrived nowhere.
Although I may have shared all of my possessions
With people of other languages and cultures;
Made friends with Pilgrims of a thousand paths,
Or shared albergue with saints and princes,
If I am not capable of forgiving my neighbor tomorrow,
I have arrived nowhere.
Although I may have carried my pack from beginning to end
And waited for every Pilgrim in need of encouragement,
Or given my bed to one who arrived later than I,
Given my bottle of water in exchange for nothing;
If upon returning to my home and work,
I am not able to create brotherhood
Or to make happiness, peace and unity,
I have arrived nowhere.
Although I may have had food and water each day,
And enjoyed a roof and shower every night;
Or may have had my injuries well attended,
If I have not discovered in all that the love of God,
I have arrived nowhere.
Although I may have seen all the monuments
And contemplated the best sunsets;
Although I may have learned a greeting in every language
Or tasted the clean water from every fountain;
If I have not discovered who is the author
Of so much free beauty and so much peace,
I have arrived nowhere.
If from today I do not continue walking on your path,
Searching and living according to what I have learned;
If from today I do not see in every person, friend or foe
A companion on the Camino;
If from today I cannot recognize God,
The God of Jesus of Nazareth
As the one God of my life,
I have arrived nowhere.
“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.”
Tomorrow I walk into Santiago,
by the grace of God. As I prepare to enter Santiago I remember The Way this week…
It’s only 7ish and I’m lying in my bottom bunk of the albergue bed, exhausted. Ever since I’ve been lying down I’ve noticed the way the chickens sound in the chicken coop outside my window–an ugly, oddly comforting view. The chicken calls a kind of melancholy. A combination of shriek, cry and song. I’ve never noticed the sound chickens make before. My attention has gone to the rooster’s crows at dawn. But here and now I am able to pay attention to the seemingly painful cries of the chickens. I wonder if they’ll shriek their cry-song all night. A young couple a few beds over pushes bunk beds together. They lie in the pushed together bottom bunk, whispering to each other in Italian. So beautiful. The rooster crows. I’ve never heard a rooster crow at night before and wonder about his sense of timing. Another rooster crows in the distance. I think about the holy hen cage and all that I’ve seen and felt along The Way.
I’m not quite sure how to feel about the young Italians’ sweet whispers. I hope their whispers never turn into painful cries.
I go downstairs to bring my laundry in off the line, it’s late and I hope my socks will be dry. I put the still-wet socks and hoodie in a spot of sun that still feels strong even as it approaches 8 pm. As I place the clothes on the line, a man across the street carries a big stick and yells “Toma, toma,” at a runaway cow. I don’t know what he’s saying in Gallego, the language of this part of Spain. Not quite Spanish. The man runs to head the cow off. At the sight of the man the cow thinks better of escape and instead walks through the open door of the barn. Other cows follow. I sit in the sun and watch as the man corrals the cows with his stick and more “Toma, toma” calls.
The cows are great animals. So large to see so close to me. Right in the street in front of me. Walking up to a café to the trough just beside the patio where people eat and drink. Cows drinking. People drinking and singing Happy Birthday, first in Italian then in Spanish then in English. And I think how we all sing the same song in different ways.
The man walks behind the café across the street and soon shepherds the last straggling cows. When the last cow walks in, he closes the door behind him as he steps inside. This gives me an odd kind of comfort. I wondered if he would just simply close the door on the animals or go inside with them. The barn is cinder block with a corrugated steel roof. I think about the steel buildings my ex father-in-law built when he was alive.
I bring my dry clothes upstairs and as I lay out my outfit for the next morning I glance at the young Italian couple asleep, entwined in each other’s arms. Beautiful. I say a prayer for them.
I go downstairs to write a few postcards. This feels like an ending. I will miss the pilgrim life but its wisdom and insights are forever a part of me and so truly The Way never ends.
Maripaz, our very gracious albergue owner stamped my Peligrino passport when I arrived
and asked me if I like the Camino. “te gustas?” We spoke in Spanish. I believe the Spanish language, speaking reading and listening to it over this last month, has had a way of deepening my perceptions. It is a gorgeous language. I told her “me encanta mucho” (I love it so much) and that The Camino is important for life. I told her that a doctor in Carrion de las Condes and I talked about God and life and within the conversation he mentioned that being a pilgrim on The Camino and walking from St. Jean to Santiago is like getting a PhD in life. She smiled a knowing smile and said, “Claro.” (of course). She said I was “muy valiente,” (very brave) which made me feel like I’d already earned my mythical degree because of the look in her eyes. I told her I’d be walking into Santiago on Friday and mentioned it was the only PhD I’d have a shot at earning because I like life much more than school. We both laughed, she said “yo tambien,” (me too).
Today I picked out a rock to leave at La Cruz de Fierro, a place to drop your burdens. I picked out a rock that looks like a heart, one that’s been marred by the forces of nature. I will place the weathered heart among all the other troubles taken to the mountain by all the other pilgrims and I will leave it. I will not forget it but I will no longer carry its weight. I will pray to St. Bartholomew to work another miracle he is known for as he is credited for many miracles having to do with the weight of objects—I ask God if there is any object heavier than that of a weathered human heart. The metaphors of The Way continue. There is only one way to walk – forward. There is great beauty in the steps we take.
I love the sound of the bells on the sheep and watching the shepherds tend their flocks. And on The Way today I shot a video of the sheep. Just after I shot the footage I notice a lamb walking up the path. She was very sweet. And I thought about The Lord, how He’ll always search for the one that’s lost. I think of the beautiful picture I admired in the house I rented in Nashville with Jesus hugging His lost lamb and the incredible joy and love of the picture and how the little lost lamb came walking up the path right up to me.
I’ve walked 600 KM across France and Spain and have only 200 KM left to Santiago. One thing is certain, everything I experience on the path is a metaphor for life. I jokingly told my friend, “No metaphors before breakfast.” As Santiago approaches, every step I take gets closer and further away from The Camino. I don’t pretend to know what the Camino means or what it will mean for me in the future but one of its great gifts is that I realize people in life come and go, the only constant is my relationship with The Lord.
Peligrinos, mostly men, are concerned with me walking alone. In one pueblo an elderly woman asks me to rush to join the group of pilgrims further up the road so “no estas sola” (so I am not alone). I give her a sonrisa (smile) and point to “el cielo” (the heavens) and tell her “Yo nunca estoy sola” (I am never alone). Her calm smile, beautiful sparkling eyes and greeting, “Buen Camino” is one of many beautiful moments of my pilgrimage because the fear left her eyes when I spoke with her. The Camino isn’t about rushing or safety. “Buen Camino” is a common greeting on The Way given by fellow peligrinos to each other and by the Spanish people who are our gracious hosts. A “Buen Camino.” A good walk. I believe I’ll continue to silently wish this to the people who cross my path after the Camino. A silent prayer.
An English lady I met in Burgos told me that there are three Caminos. The physical from St. Jean to Burgos, the mental from Burgos to Leon and The Camino I’m currently walking––the spiritual, between Leon and Santiago. For me the spiritual camino began before I arrived in St. Jean. I wanted to walk The Way to get closer to The Lord and His will for my life. I’ve enjoyed and have been thrilled by his playful, fun-loving, exciting and adventurous companionship.
That same night the English lady told me about the three Caminos, I decided to sleep in a teepee. I’ve always wanted to sleep in a teepee. There was a storm coming, but I didn’t care. I had the whole teepee to myself. I’ve never had a better nights sleep. Inside the dark teepee on the chilly night, I lit a candle and prayed. I stared at the millions of stars above me and thanked God for the moment. Later that night the rain came and I was warm and dry in my teepee. I could have said no to sleeping there but as a few people would point out that night, “How many times do you get to sleep in a teepee?” Um, never. It was one of The Lord’s magical, fun-loving moments on The Way. My Camino name changed from The Pretty Pilgrim to Pocohontas when the roosters awakened me the next morning.
I walked with a Hungarian man who shared his remedies for blisters. It turns out he walked with a “crazy” woman who walked fast but was also very beautiful. So he kept walking with her and developed ten blisters. Blister prevention and treatment is a common conversation among fellow pilgrims. At this point we are all walking in some sort of pain. The metaphor for life is powerful. We all walk in pain. Our ultimate happiness is determined by how we deal with our own pain and how much compassion and grace we have for those in pain and on the walk with us.
Of course, not all pain is physical. I met a man from Costa Rica whose wife of sixteen years died suddenly and tragically three years ago. He is angry with God. And then there is the first missing poster I saw in a tienda yesterday in Foncebadon for Denise, an Arizona woman who went missing on The Camino on the same stretch of road I walked a few days ago from Astorga through Gonso. That she is still missing after five months is on my mind as I pass the beautiful views she would never see. I pray that The Lord will bless her family with a miracle that will solve the mystery of Denise’s disappearance and reunite them soon.
The metaphors abound. Sometimes there aren’t any answers. Even when we are desperate for them. Beauty can sometimes blind us. What agony the loss of love can cause. Through it all, I must let God be God in the ambiguity. The beautiful ambiguity of the unknown. I will get closer to the beauty of the unknown and His grace on the walk. The Way. Ever forward.