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.”

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…

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 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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A world begins….freedom in The Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultimate Dream Dinner — Phuket, Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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On the menu:

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup)

Kaeng Kiew Wan Kai (Green Curry with Chicken)

Phad Thai (Thai Fried Noodles with Prawns)

Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Khao Niew Mamuang (Mango with Sticky Rice)

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

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

Going Big : 90 days around the world

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For me, Going Big is the joy of feeling totally alive and terrified. My mom named the thrill “horrible-wonderful.” While very real, horrible drops away pretty quick when I’m wonderfully following my heart.

On Gili Air and in the silence of Nyepi, I decided to return to Java and write the screenplay. I flew from one kingdom to another, from Bali to Yogyakarta. It’s difficult to describe how freeing and scary this choice was for me. For nearly thirty years I’d made every big decision together with my husband. Going Big alone was new to me. Since the trip to Indonesia had met with so much resistance in my past life, the fact that I had actually taken the trip was huge. Extending my trip meant Going Big for myself, my art and my faith. Going Big became my new mantra.

I’d begun to write the screenplay in LA before I left, but something was missing. I hadn’t been to Indonesia and the script was the poorer for it. I touched down on Java painfully aware that the last time my dad had been on Javanese soil was as a prisoner of the Japanese. I would spend the next two weeks writing the screenplay about how dad fought for his life, while I was fighting for mine. Java’s perilous past fascinated me as I faced a seemingly perilous future. Was there some kind of message here about how I might survive?

As catastrophic as the end days were for Dad and our family on Java, the Indonesian way of life gave him constant joy. I’d find him in our Chicago basement hacking a coconut with an axe to extract its fresh milk, frying krepuk (shrimp crackers) on our back porch, filling the house with the scent of coconut curry chicken, topping jasmine rice with serundang (toasted coconut). Dad never said a bad word about the Japanese. He’d even encouraged me to buy a Honda when I’d saved enough of my waitressing tips to buy half of my first car—my parents treated me to the other half. Over the years, Mom and Dad would travel to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nikko, Tokyo and entertain Japanese engineers at our home in Chicago. No one ever knew about his experience, not even Mom. I certainly didn’t. Not until Dad turned eighty. We spent the next ten years talking. Sometimes we corresponded by letters, but most of the time we’d sit in his room in Florida and we’d chat for a few hours at a time.

The final draft of the screenplay is nearly completed.

4/1/14

I just arrived at the d’Omah hotel. The perfect place to write. They even offer an amazing Rijsttafel here on Sundays (Rijsttafel is a Dutch word which means “rice table” and is an elaborate meal the Dutch had during the colonial days when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies). Omah means “home” in Indonesian. I’m on a quest to find a home in the world. This truly feels like one. 

As I settle in I hear buzzing, lots and lots of buzzing in the background. I walk down the road past the rice fields to the main street where parades of motorcycles, very loud motorcycles, wave large red flags. Villagers at the roadside watch the spectacle. Indonesian elections come with throngs of motorcycle-riding, flag-flying, noise-making party people. I’m hooked. I’ve never seen anything like their intensity. Some wear face masks. I’m standing here watching the scene among the masks and the revving. This is definitely Going Big.  I film what I see. As election day approaches, I can’t wait to start writing.

Bali’s Nyepi & the power of silence : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

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I first learned about Nyepi while touring around Ubud last year. As I motored though village after village, I spotted boys and teenagers constructing huge demons that rivaled any Hollywood creation. I began to film what captivated me.

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Each village funded the construction of demons, called Oguh-oguh monsters. I mean, is there anything better to most boys than making larger-than-life demons? It was like they took the doodles off their school papers and gave them life. The Oguh-oguh monsters represent Bhuta Kala, malicious spirits that inhabit Bali on Nyepi to turn people toward evil. In days gone by, night was considered the time for supernatural beings. Malignant spirits, bhuta kala, and witches filled the darkness of the night. Older Balinese see the night as a dangerous time for traveling outside the house compound, though gamelan is held in the evening but it never lasts until late at night on Bali like it does on Java. Even to this day, my Balinese friends told me that I will not see a Balinese family out with their young children at twilight. They see twilight as the time when evil spirits can take control over people’s lives.

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The designs of the Oguh-oguh spoke to their creators’ incredible imaginations and their craftsmanship spoke to how seriously villagers take their monsters. Most were big-breasted ghouls with fangs, some with blue skin, some with very long hair and nails. It was surreal motoring the streets of Ubud, passing demon after demon after demon in varying states of construction. Seeing their creative process was as fascinating to me as seeing the finished creatures parade down the streets of Ubud on Nyepi. The actual day of Nyepi is determined by when the “Tilem Kesanga” falls, the darkest moon.

I had taken a trip to Gili Air to go remote for the weekend right before Nyepi. I just couldn’t wait for the silence, I guess. Gili Air gave a great respite from the frenzy of Java and bustle of Bali as there are no mobiles or motors there. I traveled by horse-drawn carriage when I wasn’t walking. In fact, I could walk around the tiny island in under an hour. When I returned to Bali to celebrate Nyepi, all the tourists were crowded on the docks of Bali ready to party on the Gilis instead of getting “trapped in the silence” of Nyepi. I happily sailed the nearly empty boat back to Bali. I wanted silence. I needed silence. On the eve of Nyepi, Bali was anything but.

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Gamelan and clanging filled the air. The Oguh-oguh monsters, great ghouls, paraded down the streets of Ubud while hundreds lined the streets watching the fan fare. All along the parade route, beautiful sarong-wrapped girls carrying torches kept a vigil with pieces of tape placed over their mouths. Some of the passing demons had dozens of boys animating them, holding large bamboo platforms. They raised the Oguh-Oguh up and down battling other demons in the parade. Since it’s believed village crossroads are where evil spirits linger, the boys spin the Oguh-Oguh monsters counter-clockwise to confuse the evil spirits. People bang pots and pans, cans, and honk horns to force the evil spirits to leave. Later the effigies are burnt in cemeteries as a symbol of purification. Cock fighting is permitted on the eve of Nyepi, because the spilling of blood is necessary for purification.

And then, Bali went dark and quiet. The moment otherworldly.

3/31/2014 – Pondock Pundi Village Inn

I’m not supposed to be outside, but I have to look at the stars. While I stare at the kind of darkened sky most people will never see in this light-filled world, the silence bathes me. It’s more than a moment of “unplugging,” it’s freeing. Nothing needs to be done or thought about or planned for in the next twenty-four hours. Outside my door meat and alcohol offerings are left in the streets for the evil spirits to feed on in the hopes that they will pass deserted Bali by. 

When I reached The Pondock Pundi Village Inn earlier this afternoon—only a few inns were open for tourists as most left Bali for Nyepi—I was asked for my meal preferences for the entire next day. It was explained to me that I was to return to the Inn before midnight and afterwards I was not to go outside. I was not to use the electricity. The staff would bring my meals to me. I was to observe the four abstinences:

“amati geni” no lighting fires or using lights

“amati karya” refraining from working

“amati lelanguan” refraining from indulging in leisure activities

“amati lelungan” refraining from traveling outside the house

Bali hopes that in the silence all the evil spirits will fly over their island. As they sit inside, they reflect on how to purify their minds and their bodies with yoga and meditation. My experience of Neypi is life-changing. Never have I spent a twenty-four hour period in silence. Those that know me would be laughing right about now. It’s the perfect time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed.