Back Room Photos: the Steady Constants

Apr 23, 2014

Back in November, I posted about the back room of Pilgrim House, and how the photos there were a reminder of our storefront’s history as a photography studio:


During the daily bustle of the first six weeks of renovations, this collection of photos was still a reference point, a constant during all the changes happening in the back room:

Renovations Back Room

History was on one side of the room, and new walls and windows were on the other. It was a cool mishmash of past and present, with hints of the future:


Finally, the other day we took down the photos so they wouldn’t get damaged during the rest of renovations. We’ve been looking at those pictures for over a year now – ever since we first visited the storefront to see if we wanted to rent it – so it was a touching moment for us. It was like we were officially closing a chapter and moving on.

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The blank white wall seems strange now:

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At some point we may put some of the pictures back up so we can show pilgrims the world the old photographer used to inhabit. They’ll also help us remember that Pilgrim House will always be just one part of the centuries-old history of this building. Up on the wall they’ll linger again, steady, watching our space take on new vision, new purpose, and new memories.


Resurrection Morning: Peter and John

Apr 20, 2014


This painting by Eugène Burnand hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It’s titled Les disciples Jean et Pierre accourant au sépulcre le matin de la résurrection (The disciples John and Peter running to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection). Ever since we saw it in person 18 years ago, we’ve thought of it every year at Easter.

What I find so moving is the emotion captured in the painting: Peter and John are so anxious, not daring to believe the news they’d just heard about Jesus. In previous days, they’d gone through Gethsemane and Jesus’ arrest, Peter had denied him three times during the night, and they’d watched Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. For them, it was over, and we can’t even imagine how disappointed, lost, and alone they felt without their leader.

Then that Resurrection morning they heard the news – Jesus was alive! Jesus was alive?! What?! You can see the unease and agitation in their faces. The things they’d heard him saying while he was with them – about being buried and then rising again after three days – finally started to sink in and bloom as hope as they ran to the tomb. And it was true – He was alive! What exhilaration and excitement! What a relief to know that He in whom they’d placed their trust was actually worthy of everything they’d given Him! What a swing from hopelessness and despair to joy and confidence!

So this Easter, we come back to this painting, and imagine that moment again, when Peter and John had just heard the best news ever. Happy Easter! He is risen!


A Pilgrim’s Walk: Camino April 2014

Apr 13, 2014

They say the Camino has a way of summoning you, and for the past few months I’ve felt the pull to get out on the trail once more. Last Thursday, I traveled from Santiago to León, Spain, and started walking back toward home. I looked forward to getting some alone time, feeling the satisfaction of putting a lot of miles under my feet, and meeting new pilgrim friends. It turns out I wasn’t disappointed.

León is 318 km from Santiago, and normally those who start in León take about 14 days to walk to Santiago. Since I only had a limited time for this Camino, I walked to Ponferrada over five days, a journey of about 100km or 62 miles.

It was a beautiful afternoon when I arrived in León and the centerpiece of the city, the Cathedral, was lit up brilliantly:


The paths out of León were mostly made of red clay. It was pretty, but so muddy I had to stop every few paces to scrape three inches of mud off my shoes:


There were special tributes to the Camino along the way, meant to encourage pilgrims to keep going:


I had set some “thinking goals” for things to think and pray about while I was on the trail. The first day, I was surprised because so many other thoughts wanted to come to the surface, it was really hard to clamp them down and focus on something focused! So for the first couple days I let my mind work through all the clutter that was there, and after that it was easier to pray purposefully. I’ve heard the Camino can be a “mind-clearing” journey, and it was certainly the case for me in the beginning.

I saw some beautiful sights over five days of walking, from the famous and historic Puente (bridge) de Órbigo by the town Hospital de Órbigo…


…to Gaudí’s Bishop’s Palace in Astorga. Wow!


There were also many charming towns, such as the aforementioned Astorga…


…and tiny, sleepy villages such as Santa Catalina de Somoza:


On the third day, the Camino took us into the mountains, and we literally had to pick our way around mountain streams as we walked. They slowed us down a bit, but made for lovely scenery:



There were several important, sacred moments during this Camino. This path on the way to the town Rabanal del Camino was like hallowed ground. It was a kilometer or two of wooded trail, lined by a fence in which other pilgrims through the years had inserted twig crosses. It was so quiet and secluded, and walking along, surrounded by hundreds of these crosses, I could sense the presence of the Lord and the footfalls of so many pilgrims who’d gone before:


Another sacred moment, and one that I’d been looking forward to for a while, was seeing the Cruz de Ferro. In recent times, pilgrims have brought stones from home to leave at the foot of the cross. The stones represent burdens, prayers, people, or thanks. For me, my stone represented the years and years of paperwork we’ve gone through to open up Pilgrim House.

When we arrived at the Cruz, we saw pilgrims taking turns, walking up to the cross, carefully placing down their stones, and taking a moment:


Some pilgrims were really emotional; others were joyful. I was in this latter camp, as I left all that paperwork there at the cross, and I felt cleansed – from bureaucracy (for now)! Woo hoo!

Of course, one of the best parts of the Camino is getting to know other pilgrims. Being part of a community of pilgrims is always so interesting. You can spend an hour talking about blisters and showing each other your feet, and it’s normal. Or you can talk about snoring, showers, and bedbugs, and it’s still normal! Below, these three pilgrim friends are showing their bedbug bites for the camera. Our little group talked about bedbugs a lot, because that’s what was happening on the trail (to them! Luckily I didn’t get bit – but I hadn’t been walking near as many days as they had).


At other times we told stories of the past, talked about why we were walking the Camino, and heard each other’s dreams and aspirations. It was so funny how we could talk about extremely basic stuff one moment and then the next moment be sharing so much of our stories. But that’s the Camino, bringing life down to the basics of survival, yet creating space to talk about the deeper things in life. It was so cool and again, sacred, to share these moments with my fellow pilgrims during the few days in life our paths would cross.

Here we are sharing dinner. These dear people come from Holland, Spain, South Africa, and the USA:


During the days, we stopped at the same times to take coffee breaks:


It was also neat to be part of the larger community of pilgrims. The last three days, everywhere I looked there were pilgrims around. The Camino was buzzing with energy and life:


Eventually, though, I had to stop walking and say goodbye. This past Tuesday I finally reached the town of Ponferrada:


Part of me wished I could keep going and experience the entire rest of the walk into Santiago. Overall, though, I was content:


They say the Camino has a way of bringing life down to the basics – where am I going today? Where will I sleep tonight? What will I eat and will there be enough water when I need it?

Before I left for the Camino, I was anxious about this getting-down-to-basics thing. I like having things comfortable and in control, and getting back out on the Camino meant I was leaving these very essential things up to the every day. I had to get my daily bread daily, so to speak. It was a bit nerve-wracking to anticipate, but so freeing to actually live out, even if it was only for five days. I found that the Camino (and the Lord) really do provide food, water, beds, and friends. As fellow pilgrim Julian kept saying – even as he put cream on his 15 bedbug bites – “It’s a privilege to walk the Camino! Today is the best day ever!”

As we enter our busiest time – opening up Pilgrim House in just a few weeks – I hope I can keep remembering to take each day as it comes, and trust God for each step in the journey still to come.



The Fast Demolition

Mar 6, 2014

Great news! After 6.5 months of waiting, we finally received word on February 20 that city hall had approved the Pilgrim House renovation project and had issued building permits. Hurray! Our team celebrated with a Spanglish mix of empanadas, angel food cake, strawberries, and aerosol whipped cream (how can anyone not like that stuff?).

Santiago’s city hall – building permits come from here:

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On February 26, Jeremy and I met with our builder. He had given us a remodeling estimate months ago, and we’d been waiting for the permits to come through before we could sign a contract with him. Well, at this meeting – the meeting where we thought we might sign the contract – he shocked us with the news that he was going to retire on February 28, just 2 days away. To say we were a bit flummoxed would be an understatement.

The good news was he’d already lined up another builder, and the new builder came over within the hour to meet with us. His name was Jesús Pascual, literally translated as Jesus Easter, which seemed fitting. Pascual was actually slated to work on another project but that project was also waiting for building permits, so he was free to direct our renovations in the meantime. It was amazing timing all around – that we were able to meet with the first builder before he retired, and that we were able to get Jesús Pascual in his downtime. Jeremy signed the contract with Pascual last Friday, February 28, and this Monday his team of builders started demolition. Wow! Between February 20 and March 3 we received our building permits, signed a building contract, and witnessed the start of demolition. I don’t think we’ve ever been part of such a fast-moving process in all our years in Spain.

The front room when we first found Pilgrim House:


The front room today:

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The back room before demolition:

Pilgrim House The Back Room

The back room yesterday:

Renovations Back Room

We remain grateful for all the milestones we’ve seen on this long journey, and I’ll try to post more photos of the renovations as they happen. Thanks for the encouragement you all have given to our team, both on FB and over email – we cherish it all!


A Place on the Counter

Feb 28, 2014

While we were home in the US this winter, we stayed in 10 different homes. We realized that when we entered a new home, we usually plopped our water bottles, snacks, Pop-Tarts(!), and cereals on our hosts’ counters, where they would all stay for the duration of our time there. It looked like what you see below, the kitchen counter of Nate’s brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Carrie. Almost all that stuff is ours. What a mess!


Carrie was so gracious, though. She even said, “Before you came, I cleaned off our counter so you could put your things on it. So I’m glad you’re using it!” Like Carrie, all of our hosts were so hospitable, and never minded that their counters were cluttered up with our odds and ends.

It made me think about when we have people over to stay. A lot of them bring their own tea, water bottles, medicine, and snacks and leave them in our kitchen because they have nowhere else to put them. Our guests are totally at our mercy whether we resent the presence of their stuff or if we welcome it, and, in a sense, making room on the counter is a sign of making room for guests in our hearts. It’s a proactive way to show people that we want them to feel at home. And the fact that their things are there, mingled with ours, is a cool symbol of what’s going on in the rest of the house – we’re all reading stories to the kids, watching Chuck or playing games, and staying up late and talking. For a brief and sacred moment in time, we get to experience the daily rhythms of life together.


So we say a big thank you to all the friends who hosted us and made room for our family this winter. We loved living life with you for a few days, and we’re grateful that our stuff found a cozy place on your counter. Now visit soon so we can return the favor!


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