We walked a short distance today, 7:30am to 11:30. Being the 7th day on the trail, we opted for stopping early and taking a day of reflection and rest and recovery. We are currently in Logroña and will resume hiking on Sunday. I'm writing to you as I sit on the floor of a laundromat doing some much needed laundry after a week of Camino dirt.
Looking back at the past 7 days:
We crossed the Pyrenees in freezing temps and fog and drizzly rain...A 12 hour hiking day. A HUGE feat for me!
Joy always comes in the morning! No matter how tired and sore and worn out I am in the evening, no matter how much I think I can't go foward tomorrow, I wake up every day and feel great and find new strength and new joy. It's true...joy does come in the morning.
I have learned that I am still a broken vessel who needs some serious soul work. My pride has been a major source of trouble over the past few days. Watching people pass me by is tough. Comparing myself and my journey to others is trouble every time. Pride is a killer. I cannot compare my journey to the journey of others. God has me on a specific path for a specific purpose.
I have seen, over and over again, how important it is to be in community and to do this journey together. Yes, there are times when it is important to walk alone and be reflective and introspective. But there are many more times when it is important to have a companion, to have a friend to listen to or to walk with I their story, someone who will encourage you and to whom you can be an encouragement.
I have learned that mentors and guides come in many shapes and sizes. Some are older, some are younger, some are many steps ahead of you, while others are just a few feet ahead...but all are mentors and guides and helpers. It is important to learn to walk in the wise counsel of others who have gone before you and can help on the journey.
We have come 168 kilometers out of 791km. Only 623km left to go...
We left Estella at 7am under a glorious blue sky and with a cool breeze keeping the morning fresh. Not too far down the trail, we were already shedding the sleeves and putting on sunscreen for what was turning into a scorching day. Billy (the Irishman we call Little Billy - he named himself that due to his height next to Billy Drum) caught up to us as we walked. On other days, Little Billy (a man in his 60s) has had a goal and a pace and has passed us up quickly each day. But today, something was different and he said that he had already hit the wall. It wasn't even 8:30am yet and he was slowing down and low in spirit. So he walked alongside us instead of his usual pace.
For the first time, we could actually chat with him. Big Billy (my tall husband) asked the question that seems to stump many on this Camino... "Why are you walking The Camino?"
Little Billy began to slowly tell the story of his wife and her long battle with MS. So much love and compassion and pain began pouring from his heart as he recounted the story of their relationship. At times, he laughed and talked about their vacations together, about her love of writing, about her unquenchable desire to learn more and get her masters. He also told of her battles with losing her ability to walk, of her going blind, and of her loss of independence. He talked about being a caregiver and about finally being told by doctors that he couldn't do it all...He needed help. He talked for many, many kilometers. In the end, it turns out that this week is the one year anniversary of her death. He walks in honor of her and as a way to mourn and grieve.
As his tears fell, I reached out to touch his shoulder and he turned and grabbed my arm and squeezed it tight. He looked me in the eyes and said "Thank you. Thank you, Laurie. I'm going to be okay." And he kept walking alongside us.
These things go one of two ways. Either the openness and vulnerability becomes too heavy and role find a way to separate themselves and self - protect, or the vulnerability brings them closer. In this case, Little Billy pulled in closer to us. He stayed with us all day. He walked at a slower pace and talked to us for 22 km. I hung back quite a bit and let the two Billy's talk all day.
At the end of the day, even though it had been a sweltering day on the trail with little to no shade or shelter, even though my muscles were aching and I was exhausted, I thought it was a most beautiful, most incredible, most holy and divine day.
Little Billy went his way and we went ours when we got to town. And it wasn't an hour later before he called our cell phone to see if we would come to the square to share a drink with him and wind down from the day. We went to the pilgrim mass and blessing together, and then we ate dinner together.
Loving living life with others along The Camino! It's a Holy experience.
I want to tell you so much and I have a running list of things to share, but I must be honest in saying that I'm so exhausted that I can't make too many coherent sentences in a row! The Camino is going well and we are still alive at the end of each day...just barely. I seem to hit some sort of wall each day during the final 4 or 5 kilometers and every muscle begs me to give up. But, I eventually make it to the church or albergue for the night.
We took a few more breaks today and stayed pretty loose with our schedule. Really watching our hydration because the days are starting to get warm and lots of the trail these past few days has been open field and open road, no shade. Every time we stop, Billy is ever - vigilant with foot inspection and blister care. We each have a couple of hot spots, but thanks to his great care, we don't have troubles and we are able to continue.
Stopped in a couple of different churches along the Camino today...churches that have been around since 1030, 1100 and 1200! The history! Countless pilgrims have prayed in those sanctuaries. Humbling to be counted among them now.
A few photos to end today's post. ..
Have you ever experienced when you are driving down the road and someone says :"Look at that!"? Often we focus on the horizon when what they want to show us is three feet in front of us. That happened to me over the past two days. I was looking for people to talk with, share with, and help. I was looking at the horizon not in front of me. I was looking for the person in need that l had not yet met.
Laurie has been keeping up with the blog on this trip. Whatever she writes she makes me wait to read later just like you guys. I have to wait until it is posted. I was surprised to learn that I had helped her at all since I was focused on the horizon. She had been the person in need. She was three feet away.
I remember a few years ago when a friend shared where Jesus was talking about serving "The least of these." His point was that oftentimes the least of these is in our house. Our spouse, our children, etc. It also makes me think about the commandment to make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. When we have moved to different places in the world our Jerusalem has changed. It is where I we are. The people we are to serve are three feet from us. Our family, friends, and neighbors. I must continue to change my focus. I need to look where God is pointing out someone right in front of me, but I also must be open to change my focus if he is pointing out someone on the horizon.
Day Two held its own special offerings, different from Day One but special nonetheless. Apart from very little sleep and aching muscles, we were up and packing our packs at 6am for a 7am departure. Then we heard it...The rain on the roof of the church that we had stayed in the night before. Ouch. This would mean starting our day in a downpour.
Wearing packs and being covered in raingear is special all by itself. We looked like we were auditioning for the part of the Hunchback of Note Dame, with rain panchos that coveted our bodies and our packs. At first, we were freezing. Then, we were burning up as we started hiking and sweating under the raingear.
So our day went something like this... Freezing. Take off pack and put on more layers. Hoist pack and hike. Rain begins again. Stop and put on panchos and cover all your gear. Hike. Sweat and feel like a furnace has been ignited under your pancho. Stop. Rearrange layers to try to stay cool, yet also warm and dry. Hoist pack. Hike. Rain stops and sun comes out. Take off rain gear. Hike. Rain starts again.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Over and over again all day long.
There were some great people to talk to along the way. Four friends from New Zealand are walking together and they are a lot of fun. There is a deeper story that hasn't come out yet...The reason they are walking is hanging in the air and it's heavy, but no one's talking yet. We met a woman who turned 65 last week and says she's walking the Camino "because now I'm old and I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life". Her story was amazing of what she has already done with her life! Kind of sad to me that she has such an amazing story and she feels like this birthday somehow signals the end of all that and a resignation to being "old".
I won't lie. ..my muscles hate me right now. I feel muscles that I didn't even know existed. Is it possible for rest to be painful? It was painful today. I officially have the first blister of the journey, with a couple of blister-wannabes following closely behind.
I'm now in bed, trying to write this post before I pass out. I'm kind of a prisoner in the bed anyway...I'm on the top bunk and I can't get down. In full disclosure, I must admit the fact that earlier when I tried to set up my bed and take a rest, my legs finally said "we're done for today" and they just quit working. Yes, I fell out of bed...out of the top bunk. because my legs refused to respond when my brain said "climb down".
Yes, I feel like a 5 year old again...not in a good way.
Time to sleep and start all over again tomorrow. But I will need help getting out of bed in the morning. ..
We left this morning with an aire of excitement and expectations. I had prepared, trained, and waited for the big day. finally, it was here.
The first day of the Camino was a lot like my first childbirth. I was excited and anxious. I was prepared and ready. And then labor began! Pain. Confusion. Wanting relief.
"What do you mean I'm only at 2!?! I have to get to 10 before I can be finished?! Oh no...This is not going to be pretty. Call the doctor. Get me some painkillers. I'll never make it to 10!"
It didn't quite work out like that, in the end. The doctor was in no big hurry to give me relief. Billy stayed by my side, helping me focus and breathe and push through the pain.
Fast forward to today. At 2 hours in to today's trek, my calves were screaming. In 2 hours we had only gone 4 kilometers, completely uphill. I knew it would be tough. I knew it was an entire day of uphill, from 500ft to 4600ft altitude. But having head knowledge and actually being there are two entirely different things.
"What do you an were only at 4?! We have to go to 25 km today? Uphill? We've only been walking for 2 hours and we've only covered 4km. My calves feel like they are full of fire rocks. I have to stop every 20 yards to stretch and rub and beg for mercy. I can't do this..."
Again, Billy was there. Encouraging. Telling me to focus. Telling me to breathe. Telling me to push through the pain.
I admit to a fair share of complaining and begging for relief. But, like every good coach, he kept up the gentle but firm pushing me forward and showing confidence that I could do it. Even when I was pretty sure that I couldn't.
Today was many things. Muddy, wet, cold, windy, foggy, difficult, painful. But it was also beautiful and wonderful and I learned a lot about myself. And I got to do it all with a great coach and my best friend by my side...encouraging me and challenging me and instilling in me the confidence that I could do it.
Well... one great thing that came out of being too busy and overscheduled and overcommitted these past couple of weeks is that I haven't had a lot of time to sit still or think. Because once I start thinking, I start worrying and questioning. Not good. So, in this case, too much on my plate has served me well.
We have had several house guests over the course of the last two weeks. We hosted two Christian puppeteers who came to do a workshop in Spain. We hosted the workshop at our church. We welcomed my mom as she arrived here to help us with Sarah while we walk the Camino. She hit the ground running with Granny Training Boot Camp... how to drive in Spain, how to grocery shop, how to get Sarah to and from all of her school and extracurricular activities, how to care for the house and animals, who's who and who can help in emergencies... Mom speaks ZERO Spanish! So, she's a pretty brave woman to show up a week before our departure and take on this huge task. We have had overnight guests, dinner guests, coffee guests, guests who wanted to pray for us, guests who wanted to say goodbye, guests who wanted to meet Mom... yes, we have been busy! And we kept up with the normal ministry routine, too.
But now we are down to the wire. Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow at 8 a.m., we hoist packs on to our backs for the first of 36 days on The Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow we say goodbyes to Sarah and Granny and we kiss cheeks. Tomorrow we board the train for Pamplona, Spain, then we catch the bus to St. Jean Pied du Port, France where we will begin the ancient pilgrimage of The Way of St. James.
The forecast for the first days isn't pretty. Hail and winds devestated crops in the area yesterday. Highs to reach 52F and lows at 40F. Rain, rain, and more rain for the first few days. Day One is a 7-9 hour trek over the Pyrennes from France to Roncevalles, Spain climbing from 600 feet to 4600 ft in altitude.
Do I have the right gear? Do I have enough gear? Do I have too much gear?
Will I stay dry? Will I be warm enough? Do I still have my Peruvian Andes lung capacity, or have I reverted to a coastal plains girl? Will the internal scars from my bouts of pneumonia cause me trouble on this first day? Amidst all of the physical questions, will I have the emotional and mental whereabouts to stay in the game, to listen well, to reach out to others, and to minister along the way?
Maybe I need to get busy with the rest of my list so I don't have time to think before tomorrow!
Get up, hoist the pack, walk... repeat... Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four... until the end of June. It all begins tomorrow.
It has been almost a year since Billy began his walk on the Camino de Santiago in 2014. A year ago, we were double checking to make sure that all was in order. He would be walking the 791 kilometers from France to Santiago de Compostelo, Spain while I would be staying behind and caring for our home and daughter. It would be 5+ weeks apart. Five weeks when I would be taking care of bills and home repairs, health issues and economics, ministry and school, and everything in between. Billy would spend his days counseling and trekking the ancient pilgrimage alongside many, many different people.
Now, a year later, we are again double checking everything to make sure all is in order. Only this time, we will be walking and ministering together on the Camino. We leave my mother behind to take on the caregiver role this time. She speaks no Spanish. She has a one week window to learn our schedule and routes and the basic necessities before we leave her in charge of the house and Sarah and all the daily tasks. Yes, I’m a little stressed about making sure that all is in order and that she will have everything she needs!
This year, it’s me who will be the new kid on the Camino. I’m the one with the butterflies in my stomach. I’m the one who is worried about whether or not I have what it takes to walk all day every day. To not only walk, but to also minister to those I walk alongside. To do it with grace and to listen with love. Do I have what it takes?
At the same time, I’m afraid I have too much. Too much in my backpack. Too much weight on my shoulders (maybe both physically and mentally). Too many extra pounds on my backside and hips. Too many expectations. Too much stress. Too many worries…
And maybe that is what God wants to work on in me during this time. Maybe the one thing that I’m walking for – to minister to others who are burdened – maybe that is the one thing God wants me to deal with in myself… the burdens I carry.
The journey begins next Friday, May 22.