Looking back over the last few years and celebrating the milestone of opening up Pilgrim House, we think about this quote:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Laozi)
Beautiful, right? You’ve all probably been there, where you’ve had a huge task to accomplish, a long hike to cover, or a business/ website/ ministry to start, and you’ve had to just take the first step. The quote is so motivational and inspiring! Just do it!
The problem is, of course, that you still have to take those other 1,999,999 steps! Blaaggh!
A few days before Pilgrim House opened, our sweet Wheaton College interns asked us how how it felt to be finally at that point. In answering them, we realized we actually weren’t surprised we were about to open. Our team had been intimately acquainted with every single step we’d taken to get there, and while we were definitely excited, we were also exhausted and thinking, “It’s about time!” In fact, we wished we could have opened sooner. Sometimes I still thought, “Lord, why did it take so long?”
Recently, the words of Treebeard* have been encouraging: “But there, my friends, songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.”
The last part of his quote hopefully doesn’t apply to us so we’ll focus on the first part. I’m encouraged because looking back, I see that the Pilgrim House song has been sung this entire time. In other words, if we were to sing a song about Pilgrim House, it would go all the way back to the beginning, not just the first day Pilgrim House actually opened. Some of the fruit came when we opened, but I’ve realized that the journey has made the song. The song has come from the journey.
Maybe it’s always like that – you don’t just talk about a couple the day they get married, but you talk about their whole relationship and story. Or you don’t just talk about when a church had its first public service, but you talk about the very first small group of people that met together.
The story for Nate and me started 19 years ago, when Nate took his first backpacking trip to Europe with Wheaton College. A year later, he went again, and I was on his team that year. Our teammates will have different stories of how God, over time, planted things in their lives that eventually brought them here to Spain. Our team is a convergence point of different journeys, yet in this moment we get to work together on Pilgrim House.
Our friends, Jim and Sharon P., finished the Camino in June and gave our Wheaton interns an impromptu orientation session before the Wheaties headed out on the Camino. One thing they said was that when they crested a hill, they always looked back to see how far they’d come. It was a moment to celebrate their accomplishment, instead of continuing to trudge along, head down, ready to drop.
So in this moment we look back and remember how the Lord brought things together to allow us to open up. If He hadn’t done it in the ways that He had, Pilgrim House wouldn’t be as strong as we believe it is now: from how the team formed, to how we got our location, to plowing through all of the paperwork, to the waiting, to planning all of the details, God has done some miraculous things (and I don’t say that lightly). It’s been deeply faith-building to watch this song get sung. One wonderful thing is that even the hard times of waiting will be only a verse or two in the entire Pilgrim House song, and even opening up will just be a small part. There’s still so much of the song to come as, God willing, Pilgrim House keeps going and bears more fruit in its time.
* Treebeard is an Ent, a talking tree-like character in The Lord of the Rings. His motto is, “Do not be hasty.”
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, Boromir said it best in the first movie: “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” The closer we got to opening Pilgrim House, the punchier our team got from the stress of an enormous to-do list, and we made up our own quote: “One does not simply walk into Santiago and start Pilgrim House.”
Today is our seventh anniversary of our arrival to Spain! Craziness.
Here’s what Nate and the boys looked like the morning after we flew in:
We were trashed!
A lot has happened over the past years, and I’ll write more about that later. Suffice it to say we’re so grateful to have spent this time here, learning the language, watching our kids build a life, and starting Pilgrim House with the team. God has been good.
Last weekend we were able to get away for a short, 3-night family vacation. We explored a part of Galicia we hadn’t seen much of yet, the northern coast, and stayed in a beach town called Covas. The weather for the first couple days was beautiful, and the views were as well.
On the way to Covas, we stopped at Chao do Monte, a popular scenic overlook. This was Galicia at its best – ocean, rocks, mountains leading into the water, and tiny little towns in the valleys:
From there we headed to another scenic overlook called O Cruceiro:
The best view came from the foot of the cross, looking out toward the Atlantic Ocean:
The lighthouse at Cabo Ortegal was the next stop, but on the way we stopped to take photos when we saw this. We felt like we were in a sci-fi movie:
It was a wind farm with probably a hundred wind turbines:
And livestock. Lots of livestock. It’s not often we get to see heavy-duty turbines next to idle, free-roaming cattle:
After a short drive we made it to Cabo Ortegal. Nate took this photo. Spectacular!
The view from the lighthouse:
Little M chasing his brothers around and around:
This is one of my favorite photos from this day – the older boys love M so much they’ll take the time and effort to hide so they can scare him. Can’t you feel their anticipation?
The four together:
Our next couple of days in Covas were mostly spent at the beach. It was our first time swimming all summer and the kids loved it:
The beach at Covas is on the Cantabrian Sea:
These three rocks together are known as Os Castelos (the castles). Next to them is a monument (not shown in this photo) dedicated to the 500 victims of two Spanish warships that wrecked in a storm in 1810.
One morning we visited Viveiro and the church of San Roque:
Viveiro below, and the beach of Covas on the right:
B found some blackberry bushes:
Capela de San Roque:
The raised structure on the left is called a hórreo. You can see hórreos all over Galicia, and people store their grain in these to keep out the rodents and the rain.
Also typical in this area are stone picnic tables and round stone buildings (this one is a bathroom!):
The San Roque church complex has a nice modern playground. If you’re ever in Viveiro, we definitely recommend stopping here – it’s a very family-friendly scenic spot.
On our last day, we drove to another lighthouse, the one at Estaca de Bares. The weather had turned foggy…
But the coast didn’t lose its charm:
As with the end of every vacation, we arrived back home tired but full of good memories. Here’s to the next family vacation, whenever it is!
We can finally, finally say the words we’ve been waiting so long to say: Pilgrim House is OPEN!! We opened up for the first time yesterday:
Even our message wall announced it:
Our Opening Day team consisted of Anne (far left) and Gale (far right); our four Wheaton College volunteers: Brooke, Luke, Alley, and Nico; and Nate and me. We spent about 20 minutes taking Opening Day photos, laughing and cheering, before we opened the doors. Missing were Jeremiah and Danielle who are home in the US for the summer.
The debut of our living room:
Reflection room and patio:
Opening Day celebratory treats, compliments of my parents:
The Wheaton College contingent:
Min and Jana were the very first pilgrims who came into Pilgrim House yesterday:
We thought it was neat they were our first pilgrims: a week before we opened, our American friend Phil came to visit us. He had just finished the Camino, and along the way he and his son had met Jana. Phil brought Jana into Pilgrim House so we could meet her, and then the next day Jana left for Finisterre (an additional 3-day pilgrimage to the ocean) and Phil and his son flew back to the US.
Jana met Min on the way to Finisterre, and when they returned to Santiago yesterday, they both came into Pilgrim House to see us. It was a cool full-circle story – Phil already knew us so he had felt comfortable bringing Jana into Pilgrim House, and then Jana had already met us so she was comfortable bringing in Min.
Min and Jana hung out for hours yesterday and talked, read, journaled, and ate – and it was great to see them use the space exactly as we had envisioned.
So…we’re finally open! We’re so proud of how hard the team worked to get the final pieces of Pilgrim House ready the past few weeks. Thank you, too, to all of our friends, churches, family, ITeams colleagues, and new pilgrim friends who encouraged and supported the team and the entire project along the way. Most of all we’re grateful for the Lord’s incredible provision – looking back over the last few years, sometimes the only thing we can say is, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
So after all this time the opening of Pilgrim House is just around the corner. I’ve felt overwhelmed thinking that when we open we’ll be actually caring for the pilgrims that come to Pilgrim House. This has been the goal all along, of course, but these days the burden of caring for other people – hearing their stories, re-living their moments of loss, seeing some of the impossible situations they face back home – feels really real, and really heavy.
It’s funny – Nate feels overwhelmed now, by all that has to be done before Pilgrim House opens. All the tasks and to-do’s weigh on him, and the caring-for-people part doesn’t. Inversely and maybe perversely, I think this part is easy. This part is just a huge long to-do list that we pound out and get done! Yeah! Taking care of all the people that come through when we’re open, though – now that feels overwhelming to me, but not to him.
I was half asleep one morning and started to pray. There was a lot on my mind. I felt like God gave me an image: he had a blanket, and I was just dropping anxieties into it – burdens like opening up Pilgrim House, all of our tasks, unexpected renovations that have had to be negotiated through, critically ill children of friends, and so on. Anything I was worried about, I dumped in there. Afterward, he wrapped up the blanket like a bindle, tied it to a stick, rested the stick on his shoulder, and we started walking off. All the burdens were in this bindle, and it didn’t sag or weigh him down at all. He was strong enough to carry them – and he was actually joyful as we walked off, him with all my burdens, me with none. Like I said, they didn’t weigh him down at all.
Sometimes when Nate and I travel, Nate carries some things for me. I often feel bad for him, that my things make his load heavier. He always says the same thing: “It’s fine! Don’t worry about it.” That’s how God is, and yet without limit – my worries will always be fine for him, and they will always feel light to him. And yet sometimes we think, “We don’t want to bother God with our problems; he has enough to deal with.” I’m realizing that attitude doesn’t trust in the strength – literal strength – of God. He is The Strong One. He is strong enough to carry our anxieties and cares, and he’s powerful enough to actually do something about them according to his will.
This is one of the most important lessons I’ve been learning recently, especially in the face of all the delays we’ve gone through to get Pilgrim House open – I need to stop striving and scrambling, careening from anxiety to anxiety. So often I let my anxiety drive my reactions, emotions, decisions, and even conversations.
Instead, God is teaching me to go to him first, give him my burdens, and then turn around and face whatever from a place of peace and rest. He wants me to actually operate – always! – from a place of stillness and rest. Not because what I’m going through isn’t a big deal – sometimes it really is – but because he’s strong enough to carry it. I still have to deal – I have to have the hard conversations, do the 10,000 pieces of paperwork, go to the doctor and go through treatment, and seek wisdom in solving problems. However, I can do all that from a place of peace, not from a place of high anxiety.
The older I get, the more I see that God’s goodness is not in always removing the hard times, but rather in walking closely with us through them. He’ll always be the stronger one, and he can carry the emotional stress, frustration, desperation, and worry so we don’t have to be weighed down by them. At this very moment, we’re waiting on two critical flooring pieces to come in so we can install them and finally finish renovations, and open. We ordered them a month ago, and they’re still not here – so you can imagine that we’ve all had a lot of angst over these two small pieces! Yet with this lesson of giving our burdens to the Lord and being still, we’re trying to turn over that angst to the Lord and accept with peace whatever timing he gives us for opening up Pilgrim House.
A friend brought to mind Psalm 138:3 recently: “When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.” It fit perfectly with all of this: what would it be like to go through life boldly, without any fear or anxiety because The Strong One is always with us? I hope the more we all go, the more we can all find out.
And, as we look to open Pilgrim House, our prayer is that we’ll all operate from a place of stillness and rest as we spend time with pilgrims, allowing God to make Pilgrim House a true oasis of peace and hope – because we lean on Him.