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!