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.”

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : The Zen of the dark

Everyone needs their own torch…

Where I was when I decided to ditch the plan and got it alone...
Here, while snorkeling in Pulau Menjangan, I decided to ditch the plan and go it alone…

Late on my last night in Joga I realized I’d forgotten to pack a flashlight. When my friend Rinto found out, he insisted he take me to a store close by so I’d have one for the next morning’s pre-dawn climb to the summit of Bromo, I’d need one for the climb of Batur too. I figured I could get by without buying one. I had so many friends, I could just walk with them. But Rinto looked me in the eye and said I needed my own torch. That’s what he called it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied on that torch. How often I silently thank him for insisting. I’ll never call a flashlight a flashlight again. A torch is truly what I needed in my life at that time. Something a bit more primal than a flashlight, with a name that spoke to survival.

Everyone needs their own torch when the darkness overwhelms. A person can’t rely on another’s torch to help. This awareness was one of the best gifts Rinto had given me. He understood me better than anyone I’d met on the trip so far. Orphaned at eleven, he knew the pain of losing the people he loved. He knew what it was like to begin again. I was just learning.

That night we motored through the streets of JoJa, which at times felt like a life-and-death experience. There were swarms of motors (mortorbikes) and few mobiles (cars) winding around even more crowded streets than usual because of a concert at the Sultan’s palace. We picked out a small torch and he made me promise to never go without it. To always keep it near. In the countless times I’ve needed it, especially in unexpected times, I smile. He helped me see me in a new way. This was the beginning of discovering my light within.

In the rebuilding of my life, I never seem to be satisfied with the little bit of the path that the torch lights up. I always want to see more, more than a torch can show me. I become impatient and a bit unsatisfied with what I can see with just my torch at times. What I would learn as the trip continued is the real blessing of the peace that comes when I trust the light will take me where I need to go. To surrender to it. To trust it. This was seemingly impossible for me as the ability to trust was something I had lost. I would have to learn to trust myself.

After the ride and the torch and the concert, Rinto and I said goodbye. I left the next morning.

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The first act of faith of going it alone would be handing a payment and my passport over to the visa extension office in Ubud and trusting them.

“Come back next Friday at 5 PM,” the visa extension business owner said matter-of-factly.

Uh, ok.

This was one of those times where instead of a torch I wanted to light a bonfire and see if what I’d just done was the best decision of my life, or the worst. Most are somewhere in between.

Because of the time it took for the visa extension to process–they had to send all the extensions through Jakarta–I found myself in Ubud for a week. A beautiful place to be “stuck.” There was a reason I was there, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’d never travelled like this before—alone, with no plan. I was just getting used to being alone in my own life after having someone beside me for nearly thirty years. I needed to trust that I was right where I needed to be. This would take courage and become the adventure of my life.

The first part of that adventure would be to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ubud because nothing says St. Patrick’s Day like a green Bintang at the Laughing Buddha Bar.