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 remember to take each day as it comes, and trust God for each step in the journey.
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:
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:
The back room before demolition:
The back room yesterday:
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!
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!
The nice thing about giving a year-end recap two months after the year has ended is that you can reflect on the year with that much more clarity. Right? Well, in 2013, our family picked up some new habits, saw huge progress being made with Pilgrim House, and enjoyed some traveling. Here are some highlights from our year:
1. Dates with the kids
This year we started monthly, one-on-one dates with the kids (I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before?). Each kid went out once a month with either Nate or me, and then went out the next month with the other parent. It meant Nate and I were each going out with two kids a month. Though they weren’t always that talkative, it was great to build in special time with each of them.
2. Finding Pilgrim House
After months of searching for a suitable storefront for Pilgrim House and coming up empty, we finally found the perfect location in the last place we looked. Our deadline had been to find a place by January 31, 2013, and we found this place on…January 31 (phew!). Of course, this being Spain, it wasn’t until May 31 that the rental contract was finally ready, and it wasn’t until August that our architects were able to submit paperwork to apply for building permits:
As of today, we’re still waiting for those building permits to be approved so we can start renovating the space, but we thank God for providing the perfect space for Pilgrim House.
3. Pilgrims everywhere!
One of the best things of 2013 was being able to host and meet up with so many pilgrims from March through November. Even though Pilgrim House wasn’t open yet, and even though at times it was a juggling act between prepping for Pilgrim House and being with pilgrims, we had a stretching, life-giving, and fun high season.
We watched soccer with a group of 9 Azusa Pacific University pilgrims in our home:
We met with pilgrims as a team (and brought the kids because they were out of school for the summer):
And we even got to welcome in family this year. Nate’s cousins, Abby and Megan, walked the Camino in August and stayed with us a few nights:
And Nate’s sister, Andrea (right), and her friend Meg (left), also walked the Camino and stayed with us a few nights. Here they’re sitting in the enormous octopus in La Coruña:
To get to know more of the pilgrims we met in 2013, click here.
With a lot of these pilgrims, we were able to share our newest daily habit: loose-leaf tea. There’s a great tea shop in Santiago called Mistélanea, and through talking with the owners we discovered Rooibos and Cinnamon, Rooibos with Chocolate and Mint, Lapsang Souchong (apparently this was the tea that Sherlock Holmes drank), Rooibos Chai, White Cherry, Té Moruno (green tea with spearmint), and more. Tea was so addicting this year, especially with so many different varieties to try and so many people with whom to share it!
5. Personal retreats
If I hadn’t taken a personal retreat day this day, I would’ve never seen this gentleman walking his pet bird:
Another habit we tried to follow was getting away on personal retreats once every three months. Since both Nate and I feel closest to the Lord when we’re outdoors, our retreats usually brought us to scenic areas in our part of Spain, like the town of Sada above. We got away for a day of solitude and brought our Bibles, journals, and a book or two. We journaled through questions like:
“Is there anyone whose forgiveness I need to seek?”
“Is there anyone I need to forgive?”
“What caused me the most stress this past year? What can I do about it this year?”
“How can I be purposeful these next few months about growing spiritually?”
We found these times of extended reflection and evaluation refreshing and mature-ing, and we look forward to our days away in 2014.
6. Spanish parties
Yeah, this guy is the boss! Look at all that meat! This is what parties in Spain are like, and on several occasions we enjoyed getting together with people from our kids’ clubs and eating pig like there was no tomorrow.
7. ITeams conference in Germany
This year our bi-annual ITeams family conference was held Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany (pictured above). We enjoyed connecting with our colleagues who work throughout Europe, and we had intensive meetings with our President and other leadership from the ITeams US office. A super-talented team of teachers took care of the kids while we were in meetings, and when we came home K set up her toys like this:
Looks like she had a good time, like the rest of us!
8. Team Retreat
In September, we took a team retreat to debrief and plan for the next year. We rented this amazing 16th-century country house for a weekend, and we had meetings during the day and hung out at night. The best part of this house was that everything was furnished from Ikea. So here you had this old, rustic Spanish house from the 1500′s – and most of the furniture and all of the kitchenware was from familiar, comfortable Ikea. It was a hoot.
9. Winter in the US
This was our first winter in the US since 2006, and we felt so blessed to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s, and even Chinese New Year with family. We also saw many friends and supporters and shared with several churches.
For the kids, everything was new and wonderful. They performed the Christmas story with their cousins:
We all participated in an elaborate St. Louis scavenger hunt, designed by Aunt Andrea:
We got to see new cousin M:
And celebrate cousin E’s birthday and read with Gong Gong:
Once again, as we reflect on 2013, we’re grateful for all that we were able to see and do. Here’s to all that lies ahead in 2014, for us, and for you, too!
We’ve had quite a few funny moments since we left Spain, but two really stand out so far:
1. When we boarded the plane in Santiago, M and I started out sitting next to a blind elderly gentleman. The older boys were behind us, and Nate and K were supposed to be across the aisle from them. However, when Nate and K found their seats, a 90-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife were already sitting in them. Nate tried to tell them they were in his seats, but either they didn’t hear or they didn’t bother to try to understand. Nate couldn’t sit and stood in the aisle with K while other passengers went by.
Finally, after everyone else had sat down, Nate asked the flight attendant to come over. “We’re supposed to sit here but there are people in our seats.”
The flight attendant looked at the elderly man and woman and said, “Yeah, that couple is there….they’re not gonna move. We already tried asking them to sit in their real seats but they didn’t listen to us. They came onto the plane and just sat down where they liked…they speak Spanish and I talked to them but they just ignored me. So at this point, it would be easier to move the entire plane than to move them.”
Hahaha what? What kind of flight attendant says that about his passengers?
So guess what he did? He spotted an empty seat two rows ahead and asked the elderly blind man to move! Which meant he had to bend down and ask him to move, help him out of his chair, ask the passenger in the aisle seat in the destination row to get out of his chair, help the blind passenger into his new window seat, and get him settled. He chose to do all of that rather than talk to the uncommunicative and aloof couple again.
It did the trick, though. K ended up sitting with M and me, and Nate sat next to the boys in their row (in all the commotion we’d forgotten that there was an empty seat there). We were all sorted and after a few minutes we finally took off for Geneva, from where we would fly to the US the next day. Thankfully the trip went smoothly after that, but I will never forget that super-honest flight attendant and the angst a couple of 90-year-olds put him through.
Our younger two enjoying the view once we finally got going:
2. One evening we went to a Chinese restaurant with my parents, my brother, and our cousin-in-law visiting from Germany. It was the older boys’ first time really getting into their fortune cookies, and here’s a sampling of the fortunes they received:
“You have a quiet and unobtrusive nature.” (This one was especially funny because it was our loud and incredibly-confident second son that received it.)
“Your home is a pleasant place from which you draw happiness.”
“Serious trouble will bypass you.”
“Your heart is pure, and your mind clear, and soul devout.” (Wow.)
“You will be awarded some great honor.”
“If your desires are not extravagant, they will be granted.”
“You love sports, horses, and gambling but not to excess.”
The last two made Nate and me laugh and laugh. I think the art of fortune-cookie fortune-writing has evolved immensely – or has declined immensely. I can’t tell which. We had a great time at dinner, though. It was good to be with family again.