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.”

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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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