A peregrina’s journey on The Camino de Santiago : The End

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. image

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.

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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.

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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.

––Fraydino

Isaiah 30:21

“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.”

A pilgrim’s prayer

Tomorrow I walk into Santiago,
by the grace of God. As I prepare to enter Santiago I remember The Way this week…

Room with a view
Room with a view

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.

Across the street
Across the street

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).

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Cruz del Fiero
Cruz del Fiero

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.

My rock
My rock

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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.

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Metaphors, Pocahontas and The Lord

On the walk to Leon
On the walk to Leon

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.

my teepee
My teepee

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.

my feet
my feet

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.

Sunrise -- Mansilla de las Mulas
Sunrise — Mansilla de las Mulas

A Dios, the meaning of life and the miracle chicken

 

Pilgrim life in an albergue in Santo Domingo de Calzada
Pilgrim life in an albergue in Santo Domingo de Calzada

NOTE: This post is from last week.  I had a few set backs with WIFI, etc… this week’s post is coming soon….

Written 8/17/15

Walking the camino for fourteen days has taken a toll on our bodies. Some have been camino-ending. Fortunately I’ve only had to deal with a bout of exhaustion and seemingly never-ending blisters. There’s a rhythm to life now. Walking between 20 to 26 km/day is typical. The longest walk was 33 km and lead to me having to back off a day and only walk 10 km. I’m learning what my body can handle. It is profound that one of the lessons of the camino is knowing your own body. Feeling every inch of it. Listening to my body’s wants and needs and praying for God’s protection and strength is the only way to Santiago. When I arrived in Burgos there was a change in my experience. People I knew and people I didn’t were ending their camino.

“The group is nice but it’s always been an individual thing.” a young man says to another.

“We’ve spent two weeks together and flew in on the same flight to St. Jean Pied de Port.”

“Stay in touch. I have to send email. I’ll help you. Maybe the people I know can help you.”

As I begin to fall asleep, on the bunk next to mine, a girl gushes to her friend about how “he” scrawled his name and number on a Euro. She cries a little hoping he will come to Munich to see her. She speaks with a friend about what is good and being strong and about the tears they cry. The lights go out in the albergue. There’s a final hug. One camino ends here, one continues. Snoring rises and falls.

And I know now, unlike I never knew before that the camino will mean so much more in its afterglow. The camino, like so many parts of my life, can be easy to take for granted. Much of it is snap shots. A special place in time where our openness meets the kindness of strangers and we become more than we were before. The pilgrim bond is strong and we have the privilege of learning from each other. People I know so well, I may never see again come tomorrow. And then there is The Way. The reason we are all here. The step-by-step discovery of ourselves and our world, today.

I’ve met a great lady who works for the UN in Jordan and she’s helped me with tips on finding work in the humanitarian field. She’s burned out after nine years of working in the Middle East. We talk about why and what lead her to the camino–a common question among pilgrims.

Soon I will be hiking across the Maseta. Tanja, a German woman, warned me that unless I had someone to hike with who could talk about God and the meaning of life the Maseta goes on forever. No water for kilometers. No shade. I begin to think how I will do when I cross it. Who I might cross it with and what I think about the meaning of life.

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After typing the last sentence, I realize how funny that must sound to people off the camino. I mean how much time does the average person really spend pondering the meaning of life? What it means to them, what they want their life to be? Who has time, right? And it sounds so incredibly serious. But it’s really a light-hearted question. One that I found the most glorious comfort in as I climbed into my bunk in my beautiful albergue in Santo Domingo de Calzada on the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary where we celebrated mass in the cathedral in town, along with some sacred hens and a rooster. The holy cage is entombed in the wall of the cathedral because of a miracle that occurred in the little village that involved unrequited love, a hanging boy who didn’t die and a chicken dinner that came back to life.


Holy hen and rooster cage in the cathedral of Santo Domingo De Calzada
Holy hen and rooster cage in the cathedral of Santo Domingo De Calzada
Amazing pastries made in the image of hens to honor the miracle of the pueblo
Amazing pastries made in the image of hens to honor the miracle of the pueblo

Legend says that if a pilgrim hears a call of the chicken or the rooster during mass that their camino will be a happy one. I heard a hen at the beautiful service. I am beginning to think that no one can put on a mass like the Spanish. This mass did not include the typical pilgrim blessing as all the other masses I attended as it was a high holy day. This might help you to understand when such things happen almost daily the meaning of life can cross my mind. But it was much later after I settled into my bunk when the real miracle happened for me. From about midnight––for an entire hour––the church bells of the cathedral rang, which was only blocks away from my albergue. They rang unlike any bells I’ve ever heard before and I doubt I will hear again. A symphony of bells so beautiful it seemed the song of the angels. And that’s when I thanked God for revealing the meaning of life in His hilarious, glorious way on The Way during my Buen Camino.

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Yellow butterflies and the key to the castillo

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I am writing tonight from my bottom bunk at the albergue as thunder and lightning from a sudden storm sweeps over the one-time Kingdom of Navarra, what I never knew this region of Spain was called until I walked the camino. At dinner tonight a Basque man named David told me “Laura” means flower in the Basque language. Tonight a man plays classical Spanish guitar, people talk and laugh in the plaza. Last night as I wrote in my journal a crowd gathered outside in the courtyard below. A sweet voice rose above the noisy crowd which silenced as she sang. Applause and shouts broke out. The girl sang again, more applause. Falling fast asleep to the beautiful spirit of the camino opens my heart.

Conversations reach a deep level quickly here. Within 8 KM an Italian friend shared that he believed The Bible teaches a good way to live but he doesn’t believe Jesus existed, citing a book that points out there is no physical evidence of his existence. We sat down so he could change into his sandals as his ten blisters made his boots painful. He observed that pain brings people together. I replied that beauty does too. His thoughts on the evidence behind the existence of Christ made me think for many kilometers about why this would be. Our God is mighty. He could have left as much physical evidence behind as he wanted to, but that’s not what belief is about. It’s about faith. And faith involves trust.

Most of the pilgrims I’ve met have come here by ourselves yet we could have never ended up this far alone. By now the constant walking over the Pyrenees and over the hills of the Spanish countryside has taken its toll on our bodies and our minds. Our friend Adolfo wrapped Lucy’s blister in a café as we headed out of Pamplona and he was there to help me later that day when the heat of the camino got to me. We are a group of Italians, Spanish, German, French and Mexican. I am the only person from the United States in our pilgrim family. We come together and lose each other and then when we meet up again. It’s an interesting combination of loosely holding each other and never knowing when we will see each other for the last time.

I have lightened my load twice now, leaving things at the Hemingway Hostel in Pamplona and then again last night in Puente de la Reina. The lesson is clear. The camino is as hard as you decide to make it. We all bring our own baggage and eliminating as much of it as possible is essential to hope to get to the finish line. How much weight we carry is our choice. I find peace in the metaphor.

I am fortunate to have minor “boo-boos” as a fellow French pilgrim calls them—bruises, blisters, swelling, pain, as yet nothing too hobbling. Some have suffered the effects of dehydration, cramps, tendonitis, ankle twists and knee problems. We all continue to walk—mas despacio (much slower).

Today instead of going all the way from Estella to Los Arcos we decide to give our bodies a rest by walking only 10 KM and staying at Alergue Hogar in Villamayor Monjardin. There’s a Roman castillo here and we heard the castle was closed, but discovered we could pick up the key to the castle at a bar. So we did. I’ve never been handed the keys to a castle before and expected it to be heavy and large and very metallic, you know castle-worthy. Instead it looked like the key to my old apartment. The next time I have a home I will put my key on a keychain marked castillo, to remember this beautiful afternoon when I was handed the keys to the castle.

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Yellow butterflies have followed me everywhere since June. Every time I spot one I feel the love of the Lord surround me. When I walked around the ruins of the castillo, a fortress that once defended the Kingdom of Navarra, swarms of yellow butterflies flew all around me reminding me that the Lord has given me the key to the castillo.

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The pretty pilgrim (la pellegrina bonita) & the fifth threshold

 

The pilgrim waiting for Le car
The pilgrim waiting for Le car

Me + TGVs + France = LOL!!!

I literally sprinted to make my train this afternoon. Not because of missed connections or anything. As a matter of fact I was feeling pretty proud of myself as I sat in the “Le car” winding my way through the streets of Paris to Gare Montparnasse. “Les cars” by Air France (lescarsairfrance.com) are the fastest/most economical way to get from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the Montparnasse train station. They have 4 bus lines (the one to Montparnasse is line 4) that shuttle passengers to places all over Paris. My fare was 17.5 Euro and it only took 1 hr and 15 min. “Les cars” picks up every 30 min. A lady at the airport info booth let me know I could pic up my “Les car” if I walk to the Starbucks in the airport and turn left out to the curb. I crack up how so many of my directions this week  have had a Starbucks reference.

When I arrived at Gare Montparnasse I had a whole hour before my train would depart. Considering what happened to me the last time I took a TGV in France, this was a good thing. I’d need all the time I could get. I got my e-ticket, walked around, ordered a smoothie and sauntered onto the wrong train. The right track mind you, what I didn’t know was that there was another whole train in front of it––the one I needed to be on. French people have all been so friendly. I speak a little French, but I never learned “am I on the right train?” (note to self) Something just felt off so I asked a few guys hanging outside the train to take a look at my ticket. By that time a few people had told me different things about where I should be sitting on the train. The guys pointed down the track enthusiastically, motioned to run and pointed to their hearts in a sympathetic way like I might die. 🙂  Me + light backpack + sprint = Right train. I had just boarded, slung my backpack up in the storage area over my seat when the train pulled out of the station. People around me sort of applauded. Hee-hee. Looks like my pilgrimage, starts with a sprint. There’s a beagle sitting next to me too. He’s really cute. Ahhh…the French.

Le dog
Le dog
included in the price of the room and soooo yummy
included in the price of the room and soooo yummy

At breakfast this morning at the Pure White Hotel in Praha,  I wrote in my journal with a light blue pen that says “I <3 Prague.” It has silver sparkles at the top. The sparkles remind me how Praha bewitched me at night with castle spires lit against star-filled skies, the full moon taking center stage. A city where even the buildings dance.

Gehry's dancing house
Gehry’s dancing house

The city got her name from a woman gifted with prophecy. She saw the hillside and declared a city would be built there and it would become great and gave it the name Praha, which means threshold in Czech.

It’s no accident that I visit Prague now. It’s more than the call to the mission trip for Christian Associates or the interest in exploring the city where my Great Grandfather was born and who likely attended Prague University the same time Einstein taught there.

People I've met have reminded me that it's my camino
People I’ve met have reminded me that it’s my camino

I wanted to know more about the word threshold. There’s the meaning I usually think of: “a strip of wood, or metal that forms the bottom of a doorway.” Underneath this meaning another was listed…”the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested––nothing happens until the signal passes the threshold.”

After learning the meaning of Praha, I recalled all my thresholds. I’ve been carried over four. Each brings a big smile, every threshold different, every one special. I was carried over the first as a young bride and the last one was to be my last, a place where we’d grow old together. Now I’ve been granted a fifth which will not involve a house at all and one that will take me 40 days and 500 miles to cross. In the Bible God talks about being sure of our calling. St. James keeps me company as I discern my call, as will all the other pilgrims past and present that have walked the Camino. God-willing I’ll arrive in Santiago having some incite into the threshold I’m crossing.

All I can remember from the previous ones I’ve crossed is a feeling of joy and happiness. To me that’s what thresholds represent. A promise of hope and excitement, of embracing what will be. It’s important to me to be a pretty pilgrim, so I’ve packed my tiara and painted my toes “pilgrim purple” even if they’ll all most likely fall off 🙂 I won’t be wearing much make up but I found a tinted sunscreen for my lips and that makes me happy too.

Tomorrow I’ill be a pilgrim along with thousands of others with thousands of stories. Everyone called to walk. One thing is certain…I am in divine hands.

James 1:2-8 NIV
“[2] Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, [3] because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. [4] Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [5] If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. [6] But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. [7] That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. [8] Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

So what the heck is this pilgrimage I’ve been writing about? It’s the Camino de Santiago.
A 500-mile walk that begins in France and ends on the coast of Spain. Some people walk part of the way. Some take years to complete the pilgrimage.

“Pilgrims have been walking the “Camino de Santiago” for over 1,200 years. According to
anecdotal testimony, the Disciple James (brother of John) spread the gospel to
Galicia (northwest Spain) some time after the ascension of Jesus. At some point, James returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded by Herod in 43AD. Following his martyrdom, St. James’ disciples brought his body back to this region in Spain. In 813, a shepherd was guided by a star (stella in Latin) to a field (compos in Latin) close to today’s Santiago where St. James (Sant Iago in Latin) was buried. Lore is that St. James reappeared to help banish the Islamic Moors from Spain, and the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage was born. St. James eventually became the patron saint of Spain, and “Pellegrinos” began making long pilgrimages to Santiago from all over Europe to honor the Saint and be healed of various afflictions.
There are many Pilgrim routes, but the most traveled one (and the focus of this guide) is the Camino Frances, which stretches ~800 kilometers or ~500 miles from St Jean Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.”

–– I’m quoting for the Camino Guide APP I have on my phone. (I recommend it for all pilgrims dreaming of or embarking on the Camino. It definitely helped me prepare, now I’ll find out how it will be on the walk.)

here’s to a buen camino, your pretty pilgrim…

Hermits, dandelions, ladybugs…and a prayer

“If the path is beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.” –– Anatole France

In my last post I mentioned that The Spirit has revealed Himself to me a handful of times in my life. In the week after I typed those words, during my mission work here in Prague at the Christian Associates VBS (Vacation Bible School) at their Summit Conference, it’s become apparent that the Spirit is with me all the time.

In the of making dandelion chains….

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In the joy of a little girl treasuring a ladybug….

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In a little boy’s invitation to play….

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Incidents of serendipity filled the months before I left LA and all during my move. It appeared in the moving guys’ certainty they could get my car and remaining possessions into a storage unit that appeared to my unbelieving eyes as much too small. The guys taught me about the power of belief…especially as three of them had to direct me how to park my car into the unit––which could be a short story in and of itself about trust and faith.

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(After the guys placed the piano in the back of the darkened storage unit, I sat at the piano and played it for the last time. I’d been practicing some pieces over the last few years and finally flawlessly played Solfeggietto in C Minor by CPE Bach.)

To a friend in need who happily took furniture that would have cost me a lot of money to store…

To my neighbor, Desi, a woman of beautiful faith, who’s helping me as my assistant with mail and things…

To my dear friend Jeanne, who called and asked if I needed a ride to the airport, which led to a gorgeous send-off filled with stories and laughing our whole ride to LAX….

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To hearing my name at the gate at LAX––a friend of a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We flew the same flight to Moscow…. be sure to watch Jonathan’s show The Road Less Traveled on The Outside Network.

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To arriving in Prague, running into shuttle problems then finding exactly who I needed to help me figure out how to ride two buses and take a few metro lines which took me to within a few blocks of my hotel….
These are all the works of The Spirit helping me along an unknown path, but one that it’s clear I take. Every time I get overwhelmed, I believe The Spirit visits and gives me just what I need to help me along the way.

And this leads me to a prayer that I pray almost every day. Ever since I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. A lady I hadn’t met that night felt the need to introduce herself at the end of the evening and shake my hand. She said she had hoped to speak with me, but since we hadn’t she at least wanted to share a simple prayer she prays every day. Yet again, The Spirit found me. At the end of a friend’s birthday party. I mean how many times do you meet people that share a powerful prayer with you? Um…never. With a big smile she shared her prayer:

“Lord, please bring me the people I need; and, please bring me to the people who need me.”

She told me to pray that prayer every day. Ever since, I’ve been praying her prayer for myself and those I love. And  here for missionaries at the conference. I was invited to talk about leadership at one of the round tables and when asked to share a prayer, I prayed the lady’s prayer over them too.

Tomorrow I’m off to see a beautiful castle here in the Prague countryside as we get a day rest between conferences. In a week I’ll begin my pilgrimage on The El Camino de Santiago. I can’t believe it’s nearly here. I am preparing myself for the journey and open to whatever adventure the Spirit calls me to.

“In 814, a strange shower of shooting starts over Mount Libredón (now Compostela) attracted the attention of the hermit Paio. As he approached, he saw (hidden) tomb of Santiago (St James). This event turned Compostela a focal point for the Christian faith.”

I’m all over pilgrimages that come about because of things that grab the attention of hermits:)

“God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” ––Hebrews 2:4 NIV

A world begins….freedom in The Spirit

My girls look to the west together...
My girls look to the west together…

There are a handful of moments in my life when God’s revealed Himself to me. One of them was when I delivered my daughter Candice. I’d been given too much morphine too quickly and found it hard to breathe on the operating table. The Spirit spoke to me through the voice of my ex-husband. He said, “Laura, breathe in and out.” He held my hand and repeated these words the length of the surgery. His voice calmed me. I smile at the memory on this, Candy’s birthday.

Years later He’d speak to me again. Last March I had cancer surgery. The last time I’d been operated on was when I delivered Margaux. As I lay on the operating table a flood of happy memories couldn’t stem the fear rising inside of me. The Lord, in his very playful way, would comfort me yet again. It was just another day at the office for my plastic surgeon and as he cut and stitched he began to sing along with the songs that played over the speakers in the operating room, “Lean On Me” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”  To me, my surgeon’s serenade was a heavenly one. I smiled at the thought of Los Angeles as the home of singing plastic surgeon angels.

In the days afterward as I recuperated, the Lord put it on my heart to journey to Prague to take care of missionary children while their parents attend a conference. A trip that would take place in July. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I managed to go to a meeting for the trip but had to excuse myself early because of the pain and how fragile I felt. I told the Lord that I didn’t think I could do what He was asking. The idea of taking care of children in Prague seemed too much for me to handle. Too big an experience for me to wrap my head around.

By Palm Sunday I’d signed up and committed to the trip.

Something larger has been at work in me since that day. I’ve felt the need to sell or give away most of my possessions, store what’s left and go where The Spirit is calling me. I have no idea exactly where the Lord and I are headed.

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. – Matthew 14:29

This verse sounds so calm and soothing, but Peter stepped out of the boat in stormy seas. He must have been frightened. I believe doubt rather than fear caused Peter to sink into the water. This morning on a hike I breathed in the damp scent of sage and rosemary, filling my lungs with the freedom that is mine in The Spirit.

I leave this Friday for Prague and will be walking the Camino de Santiago afterwards, a 500-mile pilgrimage that begins in France and continues across Northern Spain to the tomb of St. James. I plan on taking 40 days to walk the Camino and have been advised to only carry 10% of my body weight. I’ll be walking into the world with 13 pounds on my back.

13 pounds? Hilarious 🙂 I can’t wait to see what He has planned. I’ll be posting about the journey here. I hope you can join us.

I’d like to share a wonderful book that’s inspired my journey Beautiful Outlaw :  Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus by John Eldredge.

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Ultimate Dream Dinner — Phuket, Thailand

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The most important ingredient in my ultimate dining experience? Dreams.

The kind people at smartling.com asked if I could have or make dinner anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would I eat?

My dream dinner abroad finds me cooking in an open-air kitchen on the shores of the Andaman Sea in Phuket, Thailand.

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For me, dreams and dinners-of-a-lifetime are made up of exotic surprises. It was a surprise to meet my younger daughter in Phuket. Since we only had a few days together we met between Vietnam–where she’d traveled for work–and Nepal–where I’d volunteered for dental relief. An early Mother’s Day present, our day of cooking at The Phuket Thai Cookery School started at the local market with a charming guide who showed us how they make the freshest coconut milk and how to pick ingredients for our dinner.

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Back at the school, after a few demos by the hilarious staff, we were let loose in their open-air kitchens to recreate the traditional Thai recipes they’d demonstrated. Our cooking areas had a view of the sea with all of our ingredients measured out for us–a cook’s dream. The best cooking tip I received there has become a tradition in my own cooking ever since. When squeezing the juice out of a lime (or lemon) squeeze it around the blade of a knife and the juice flows down the blade beautifully.

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On the menu:

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup)

Kaeng Kiew Wan Kai (Green Curry with Chicken)

Phad Thai (Thai Fried Noodles with Prawns)

Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Khao Niew Mamuang (Mango with Sticky Rice)

The food seemed to flavor our passions and had all the best ingredients: Thailand, a reunion with my daughter and the intoxicating aromas found only among mixtures of kaffir limes, lemongrass, curries, the freshest of seafood, and mangoes. Cooking in the open air kitchen and eating the five-course meal seaside in conversation with new friends blessed me with fulfilling a dream.

Once upon a time, cooking was a big part of my life. We’d have the family over for Easter. I’d cook a rack of lamb for a few dozen people. Housewarmings featured Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table)–a family tradition. But when life as I knew it took a turn I didn’t expect, I lost the joy of cooking which left me unable to even enter a grocery store. My daughter knew this. Wise beyond her years, she sent me back into the kitchen. Lovingly. For Mother’s Day. In Thailand. My daughter and I set a few of our dreams in motion over Tom Kha Kai, our favorite course. I raised my chopsticks full of Phad Thai and looked to the Andaman sea, giving thanks for this time together, an exotic, delicious surprise.

Pray for Nepal – 90 days around the world

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This time last year I trekked the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal.

There are no words for what’s happened to Nepalis the past few days. Not only have they lost homes, a way of life, and their livelihoods––their culture and history have been leveled too. The loss, too big to process, will take time. It will be up to each one of us to find beauty in this devastation. Unearthing it will take “small steps,” like my guide Kalyan would tell me on the trail. “Slowly and slowly,” he’d remind me when I lost my breath. When I got tired he would say to walk ten steps and breathe ten times.

Slowly and slowly. Step by step. Forward. Sure. One foot in front of the other. With gratitude that my friends in Nepal are all alive, I dedicate this post to them. The mountain to climb now is very different. You can’t climb a mountain in one day. It takes time. It’s important to know what trail to take. To listen to your body. To go slow, and to eat. Rest when it all gets to be too much. Celebrate the twists and turns and have faith. Trust and believe that we will always have enough. Just enough. Enough light to get to the next day. Enough strength to make the next decision. The wisdom to know when it’s time to rest. This is my prayer.

This time last year the largest disaster on Everest to date occurred. An avalanche took the lives of sixteen sherpas. We witnessed the grief of the sherpas and their families as Kaylan’s life-long friend was among the missing.

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Kaylan

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Today when I walked on the suspension bridge for the first time. I felt like I was flying. My heart is light and the experience felt so beautiful that I thanked God for His creation, even as the avalanche brought about so many needless deaths. The eyes of the stupa remind me to awaken. To let the old ways go. The ways that no longer serve me. The key will be love, light and liberation.

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Helicopters evacuate climbers

4/26/14

We found out today that the Nepali government decided this year would be a black year. For the first time in history no climber will be allowed to summit Everest this season. There is a steady stream of helicopters airlifting the climbers from Base Camp to Loukla. We’ve been constantly flown over by helicopters shuttling climbers out, and there is a consistent parade of Yaks carrying supplies in one direction, down the mountain—back to Loukla. Once hopeful climbers now taking flights back to Kathmandu.

In the center of Kathmandu there is a statue of the first female sherpa who summited Everest only a few years ago. On the descent she died. When she got into trouble on the mountain the weather got bad and nobody could get to her for nineteen days. She died of exposure.

I’m trying to put the pieces together of such things. Great victories coupled with great sorrow. The answer to the riddle lies in the balance of nature, the balance of life. Life’s duality. It seems as though the Nepali people I meet believe they brought on the avalanche somehow. A people who won’t kill chickens in the shadow of their holy mountain. A mountain no one is allowed to climb because it is believed that a god lives under it and to walk on the mountain would be like walking on his head and this would anger the god and visit bad luck upon them. Prayer wheels here invite you to spin them in order to purify your soul. And I ask myself what a purified soul would look like. Is it ever really free of the evils in the Buddhist Wheel of Life — ignorance, anger and lust. Does Buddhist purification mean to know in one’s soul that even the gods are transient and that is why the Wheel of Life is held in the claws of the god of death?

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As I put one foot in front of the other on the Everest Base Camp trail I am meeting myself. A self who now knows that magic originates and blossoms inside of myself and that home is wherever my heart is. No longer any particular place. I am, it seems, at home in the world. The very top of the world.

LOVE

-Namche Bazzar 4/27/2014

Love is the wind

It might fade,

But always blows

There’s no containing it

No stopping it

And it can choose to

Blow in different

Directions.

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Meeting the grieving widow of one of the sherpas and her children and their grandmother was overwhelming. Now, with her husband dead, they have no way to make a living. After the Puja, a prayer ritual, they will take her husband’s ashes––the cremation has already happened high in the Himalayas––and fashion sacred Buddha statues out of them. We briefly helped keep a vigil with the widow in her home, in a room alight with candles. So many candles. The candles are lit to purify her husband’s spirit so that he might find peace in heaven. This is true love. A home filled with happy memories. The death of such a love overwhelms me.

As I hugged her, in that moment when I briefly shared her pain, giving what I could to help ease it, a strange sense of peace washed over me. True love never dies. Life is beautiful and joyous and I prayed for the day when she can smile again. I pray for them to get through the next few days and ask for God’s help to help them survive.

Pray for Nepal.

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