The exotic journey of the heart

These first golden weeks of the new year always uplift my spirit. I hope they’ve done the same for you. There’s nothing quite like the promise of a new year to tune into dreams and passions.

It’s been over a year and a half since I sold most of my stuff, stored the rest and went out into the world to discover the Lord’s will for my life. And I have a decision to make. End my walk in the world, or keep going?

This is one of the most unique and intimate moments in all of my travels.

It happened early one morning in September on the day I was going to return to São Paulo. So there was a specialness about it. A knowing. This was my last time to feel the energy of the cataratas (waterfalls). Oddly, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be my last visit.

When I stepped out for my early morning walk to the cataratas, I had no idea I’d be the only one on the path.

The park wouldn’t be open to the public for another hour. I was fortunate enough to be staying at a hotel within the park, just across the street from the waterfalls. This granted hotel guests special access. Access I didn’t take advantage of until the last day. Still, there was no other hotel guest around in this moment and that surprised me.

 

Dad went home to be with the Lord a few months before, and since that time I’d felt God with me more closely than ever. This was one of those moments. The hotel would be one of the first places I’d work remotely in order to conduct and write an interview for a new online magazine. Iguaçu Falls blessed me in so many ways.

I walked deep into the gorge and took a minute to survey the stunning view of the largest waterfall system in the world––so large it spans the watery borders of Brazil and Argentina. A happy accident led me there––my friend planned the trip. A total surprise.

When I arrived at Iguaçu, I recognized the falls from a photo Dad had taken and mounted on his study wall most of my life. I hadn’t planed to see this wonder. God did.

I remembered the eulogy I gave at Dad’s memorial service about how Dad chased waterfalls all over the world as a hydroelectric engineer. Harnessing their power. Speaking the international language of energy.

And in this, the last moments of saying goodbye to the waterfall, a massive rainbow arched over the entire sight. 

“Hi, Dad,” I said, hitting my knees after snapping the photo, in the shadow of such beauty.

The Lord whispered, “This is just the beginning.”

In the hundreds of people whose lives I’ve been blessed to be a part of this year, I have noticed the need for people to have courage, including myself. But what does that look like? It’s a little bit different for each of us. Sometime courage looks like––

the bravery to forgive, 

to not believe lies society or other people are wanting us to believe, 

overcoming a bully, 

or heartache, 

to find the power to forgive ourselves, 

to walk in grace,

to believe that God is good even in the midst of tragedy, 

to heal, 

to make that decision, 

to show others how to treat you, 

to fight for justice, 

to hand your heart to a friend to hold to because your heart is too heavy to remember your hopes and dreams,

to laugh 

All along the way, it has been no coincidence that my obstacles have been dis-couragement. It begins with little or big disappointments that can turn into discouragement if I am not careful, mindful. Please be careful with disappointment. Don’t let it derail you or your dreams.

Please.

The journey of the heart is perhaps the most exotic. It says in the Bible to guard our hearts. This, I believe is one of our most important tasks.

I have made so many mistakes along the way. Learning much about how I fall short and how not to let fear rule the day.

When discouragement knocks I remember the rainbow over Iguaçu. I remember what the Lord whispered.

And I believe. 

Most of what I’ve learned this year has to do with the brevity of life. Too brief to be discouraged.

Each day is a new day. My prayer for you is that you wake up each day and face it honestly, with an open, courageous heart.

I hope you enjoy this story I wrote about my friend and I at Iguaçu Falls, Brazil called Brazillian Bikinis and Mango Shrimp 

Your little bag of hope

The first of many surprises in Brazil
The first of many surprises in Brazil

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.

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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.

Defender of hope
Defender of hope

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.

One Nation. Under God.

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American flag on display in a museum in Belgium. A battle-scarred Tiger tank sits outside in ruins.

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.

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From my final Camino in Spain this summer

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?

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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?

COURAGE

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.

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“Lo fácil ya lo hice,

lo difícil lo estoy haciendo…

y lo imposible me tardaré,

pero lo lograré,

con la ayuda de Dios.”

“The easy I have done,

the difficult I am doing,

the impossible takes a while,

but I will succeed,

with the help of God.”

El Señor & Seville, Spain–learning to trust and obey

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.

Pulpo (Octopus) one of the foods that helped me walk across Spain
Pulpo (Octopus) one of the foods that helped me walk across Spain

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.

Tatianna and me sharing Rioja & Pulpo
Tatianna and me sharing Rioja & Pulpo

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.

The chocolate Easter bunny I received on my Lufthansa to Frankfurt.
The chocolate Easter bunny I received on my Lufthansa flight from LA to Frankfurt.

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…

What answered prayer looked like
What answered prayer looks like

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.

"I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose." - Don Quixote
“I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.” – Don Quixote

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…

On my layover in Frankfort...
On my layover in Frankfort…

“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?

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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?

PSALM 20:

1May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;

may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

2May he send you help from the sanctuary

and grant you support from Zion.

3May he remember all your sacrifices

and accept your burnt offerings.

4May he give you the desire of your heart

and make all your plans succeed.

5May we shout for joy over your victory

and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

6Now this I know:

The Lord gives victory to his anointed.

He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary

with the victorious power of his right hand.

7Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

8They are brought to their knees and fall,

but we rise up and stand firm.

9Lord, give victory to the king!

Answer us when we call!

God, me, the pelican and the sea

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.

Packing up...
Packing up…

My Love Letter To Paris | Une lettre d’amour à Paris

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Dear Paris,

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

I will always be here for you.

A pilgrim in Paris – Flechas amarillas (yellow arrows)


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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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

A pilgrim in Paris (una peregrina en Paris)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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“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.

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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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