Crossing the Finish Line

It has been two years since I crossed the “finish line” of the 500 mile Camino de Santiago. June 9, 2011 began a month long journey that would forever impact my perception of life and purpose. In many ways, the Camino images our life journey towards our ultimate goal: Heaven. In another way, though, it also mirrors the many tiny caminos that make up our life. Let me explain. There is a sense at the end of the Camino of “arrival.” It is so real and tangible you can taste, feel, and breathe in the relief, joy, satisfaction, accomplishment and excitement of arriving at your destination. This is one of two potent images I have of my arrival in Santiago, the indescribable moment of “arrival”, but the second is of thousands of pilgrims scattered across the Cathedral Square (where the Camino “ends”) and the intensity of the question hanging in the air among them…”What now?” You see, while Santiago was an end, it was also a beginning. And, how many times do we find ourselves in this position throughout our lives. We walk and walk and walk in preparation for some end (marriage, consecration, a new baby, graduation from high school or college), but upon “arrival” we realize we must simply begin again. This is the beauty of the Christian life, that we are gifted with a sort of healthy unsatisfaction, so as to be driven on towards the only end which will fully, completely and truly satisfy us heart, mind, body and soul. And so in this way, I believe God calls us to walk well each tiny camino and then upon arriving at some “end,” continue to journey on, growing always in love and holiness until the day he calls us to cross the final finish line. On that day, may he say of each of us “They have fought they good fight. They have won the race. They have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

Now, I hope you enjoy this “behind the scenes” photo montage of my time on the Camino…The following journey will be written in the font of “Sarcastica,” please do not be dissuaded by my humor…I would walk the Camino again tomorrow…in fact, I would have turned around and walked it again on July 10, 2011. So laugh with me…but then, go and walk it yourself! It will forever change you for the better. I promise. Go.

Day 1…Nothing like a good 7km straight up the Pyrenees mountains to wake you up in the morning…also, please note the size of my pack…I think it lost more weight than I did on the Camino!?
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A well deserved “almost to the top” break! Also, goodbye, France…hello, Spain!
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Day Two with our new friends, Maria & Emma!
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Best Advice EVER!!!!
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End of day two…still enough energy to be funny. 🙂
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Just a typical take off your shoes stop…
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More food generously offered to me…that sadly, I could not eat…”Krista?” 🙂
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Yes! That is a WINE FOUNTAIN!!! To bad we passed it at 6am!? While I’d like to say we drank it anyway…considering we sacrificed our water bottles to the cause of bottling FREE wine FROM A WINE FOUNTAIN…but by the time we reached our destination, we had completely forgotten about it and it had baked in the sun for a good six hours before we remembered. Missed opportunity. 😦
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The Day I found a home for my walking stick…on the rare occasion I didn’t feel like using it, leaning on it, practically considering it a third leg!
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Two of my favorite things on the Camino…the Spanish sunrise and Poppies!
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Oh look, an arrow on the back of that sign! Perhaps the next one will be on some obscure rock, or on a building, on a tree, or painted directly on the street!? Where’s Waldo at its finest!
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Exploring at the end of a day’s journey. 
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Because we can! After finishing a delicious dinner of locally bottled wine, fresh cherries and dark chocolate, we decided these fine rock walls seemed the perfect place for a siesta!
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Our Awesome Life-saving Guidebook! We only found ourselves a few times wanting to bury it in the Spanish desert and leave it forever. 🙂 This being one of them.
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Just your average 5 minute break…shoes off, check. feet up, check. drink water, check. any blisters? shoes on and walk. 🙂
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And so the energy returns…
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A glass of local wine…the best way to end a day on the Camino!
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Sweet Journaling…
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You stay where you are and I’ll stay where I am…K, Thanks!
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Che Cosa e Questo???
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Sweet Arrival…Santiago de Compostela. (Note my pack’s significant weight loss!) Life becomes simple on the camino…it becomes about only what you really NEED and it becomes about putting one foot in front of the other…but then after doing so faithfully, day after day…you find that suddenly you end up somewhere unimaginably wonderful! 
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500 Miles

Only a few months ago, I returned home after walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. One learns a great many things about themselves and others when hiking day after day for a month spanning a total of 500 miles. The song “I’m Gonna Be” or “500 Miles” by The Proclaimers comes to mind, though I would not “walk 500 more”. Not right now anyway, but that is another story.

One of my favorite aspects of the Camino is that it is incredibly raw and authentic. It is impossible to care about true “cleanliness,” as your clean clothes are merely the ones you hand washed yesterday in cold water, or maybe you were too tired to wash them at all, and your backpack, your only meaningful companion has been placed on the ground all across Spain’s farmland and desert, as you can not practically carry your backpack ceaselessly when hiking twenty miles a day. Quite simply. The Camino is very real, in the truest sense of the word. It exposes each traveler for who they really are. And yet, in the midst of all this dirt and sweat, I watched a great many relationships blossom. One might rightly ask how anyone walking the Camino would ever find anyone else attractive enough to start a relationship, nonetheless, they did. What attracted them? I promise you that the men were not pursuing the women because their hair was done beautifully and their make-up perfection. And the women were most certainly not attracted to the men because of their nice cars and gym memberships. So, what then?

The radiance of true masculinity and femininity. A man laying down his life for others, offering to carry another’s backpack even when his own was quite heavy enough or at the end of a long day’s walk making dinner for a group of pilgrims though he himself felt ill and a woman who’s love for others and their well being emanated from her very core.

Upon returning home, I must admit that I was grateful to return to a world of curling irons and mascara. However, the experience of the Camino will have forever enriched my understanding of genuine femininity and masculinity as something much more than physical beauty and outward strength, but rather as something innate, a treasure buried deep within one’s very essence.

What Next?

Some of you may know that I have just recently moved to Austin, Texas. It was a surprise turn of events that landed me here, but nonetheless I am growing to love this steaming hot city the Lord has beckoned me to.

Tonight as I sit by lamplight, in the cozy confines of my apartment, contemplating my current predicament [unemployment], I stumble upon the following excerpt from my Camino Journal:

July 1, 2011
Feast of the Sacred Heart

“Some towns on the Camino are quite invisible/hidden until just before you’re in them. You almost stumble upon them. Others you can see from a great distance and, ironically, it often seems you will never reach them. God speaks very similarly. Sometimes we are shown from a great distance what He is calling us to and the struggle is to persevere in reaching the destination. Other times, the Lord hides His call from us until the last moment when it arrives in all its splendor. In this case the struggle is to keep walking trusting that the town exists and will come at the right time.”

Utterly appropriate. Thank you God. I walk. I trust. I wait.

From Death to New Life: My Journey Across Spain

On day eight of the Camino, aggravated by the crippling pains my body was experiencing, I seethed internally at the thought of my ONCE dear friends who had suggested this insane endeavor. They had told me, quite convincingly, that they “loved” the Camino, that it was the “best” thing they had ever done, and that they were so jealous that I was going because they would “give anything to walk it again.”

As I weaved yet another needle and thread through yet another blister, always leaving the thread behind for “drainage” purposes, and as I faced the very real possibility that I may need a hip replacement at the age of 26, I could not fathom how my friends had so successfully lied to me. Slowly, though, my body did become stronger and my shoes and feet came to an agreement and signed a peace treaty.

Hundreds of kilometers later, I actually found myself forgetting the pain of earlier days. How I wondered was this possible? How had I forgotten so quickly? By the time I reached Santiago would I remember the pain at all?

The truth was that as I entered the Cathedral Square in Santiago and sat on the ancient stones making up the plaza that was, for the time being, the end of “this” journey, I contemplated my friends who had been so excited for me to walk the Camino and my own inability to conjure up the memories of the pain that was. Suddenly, I understood how they had so convincingly “deceived” me into this walk because it wasn’t deceit at all. If anyone were to ask me about the Camino, I would tell them the same as my friends had told me: it is the most wonderful thing I have done in my life to date and if they should ever get the opportunity they should undoubtedly find the time to do it themselves.

The Camino changes you. Rather, the Lord changes you as you walk along the ancient trail paved by the steps of the many souls who have gone before you. In a very particular way, He allows us to walk in His footprints on the Camino. As our bodies, and often our minds and hearts experience the suffering of the early days, slowly one either gives up and goes home, or there comes a moment of death. Death to self, in which the pilgrim surrenders to the Way: surrenders to the pain and discomfort, surrenders to the unknown of the next day let alone the next week, and most of all surrenders their control or attempt to control anything and everything they can. Through this death, comes the glory and the joy of the new life awaiting each pilgrim in Santiago.

Santiago, however, is not the end of the Camino, for the Saint, buried below the city’s ancient walls, sends you forth with a new challenge, to live in your newness of life. For the Lord continues to unroll the Camino trail before us, guiding us with little yellow arrows, until we reach the true end of our Camino: eternal life.

No One can Walk Your Camino

On the Camino, the phrases “your camino” or “my camino” are often used to express that while we all walk together to Santiago and sometimes our paths cross long enough for us to walk side by side, at the end of the day “you” have your walk and I have mine. We can aid each other with our aches and pains, we can laugh together, we can prevent one another from making a wrong turn, but in the end I am the only one who can walk myself to Santiago.

Every aspect of the Camino is rich with imagery of life itself. Perhaps you believe in God and hold that this life is a walk towards heaven, or perhaps you believe in a grand nothingness, no matter. We must all agree that this life is a walk and not merely a walk, filled with aimless wandering, but a “walk towards” something, whether it’s a new job in this moment, or eternal rest at the end of this life, we are always walking towards. And throughout our journey we can aid one another along the way, but we can never walk “for” someone else.

May we find within ourselves the resolve and courage to persevere in walking this life joyfully all the while keeping our eyes open for those along the trail in need of a shoulder to lean on, a stranger to carry their backpack for just a few kilometers, or someone to guide their steps and provide encouragement when they’ve not seen an “arrow” in a while.

AMDG

PS. Please enjoy the photos from the Camino that I’ll be attaching to my next few posts.

Santiago

There are no words to describe our arrival to Santiago. We most literally ran down the two flights of stairs into the Cathedral plaza bursting with excitement as we turned the corner and stood in the very square where so many pilgrims have gone before us, staring at the Santiago Cathedral which in that moment held so much more meaning and beauty than its mere architecture. We had arrived at the end, and at the same time the beginning, of a journey. Silence overcame us and tears of joy flowed readily as we embraced those pilgrims who arrived with us, missed those we left behind along the way or who arrived before us, and attempted to encounter the newness of our own person we became along the way.

As we have arrived earlier than expected to Santiago, and striving to remain open to the Spirit, we have decided to forfeit our plane tickets Santiago-Madrid (late evening on the 13 July) and will be boarding an overnight train to Madrid tonight. This will give us two days to spend time with a few friends who due to time commitments finished the Camino days before us. We are also lucky enough to be traveling with one of the Hungarian brothers who became our dearest friends on the walk, as we started in St. Jean together and finished here in Santiago together with only a few separations along the way. Such a blessing!

As my reflections on my time here in Spain become more clear, I look forward to sharing them with you. For now, thank you for your prayers. I can’t wait to see many of you in just a few short days! And know that it was all worth it. I can’t wait to share with you all in person how incredibly rich this experience has been!

Many blessings!

50km from Santiago

More to come on this post, but I wanted to let you all know that we are alive and well and writing to you from Melide (only 50 km from Santiago)! We will walk 30 km tomorrow to Arca and then the remaining 20km on Sunday into Santiago for the Sunday Mass. This last week has been absolutely incredible and amazingly blessed.

As we near Santiago I can not help but question…have I walked the Camino well? Did I give it my all? Many reflections to come…write to you again from Santiago or after! Love to you all!

AMDG (All for the Glory of God!)

No Clocks, Night with Jesus, Prayers Answered

Post Astorga:
July 1 Astorga-Foncebadon
July 2 Foncebadon-Ponferrada
July 3 Ponferrada-Villafranca

Recent Revelations:
Americans on the Camino have the hardest time relinquishing their need to know what time it is. In the morning, Krista is watching the clock to see that we “get out on time” (what´s  “on time” when you have nowhere to be) and in the evenings, I´m watching the clock to make sure we go to bed “on time” (but again, what´s “on time” when you have no commitments except to wake up in the morning and walk). It´s amazing how much time and clocks dictate our lives, especially as Americans. So, no more clocks for us as of two days ago! Loving it!

Foncebadon was both a lovely surprise as well as an opportunity for God to answer our prayers very specifically. As we arrived in this tiny hamlet with a population of 5 people (not kidding or exaggerating), we had a great time in our tiny little albergue with a communal meal of about 30 pilgrims, from all different countries, all around one table and our sleeping quarters being none other than the local Church…mattress on the floor next to Jesus anyone? Following a not so great night´s sleep, as I fought off a fever (thanks to a lovely case of altitude induced dehydration), we woke up in the morning to walk 25 km. In our opening prayer for the day, Krista prayed that God would allow us to arrive “healthily” as I was still unwell. Apparently we should have prayed more specifically that we could arrive “healthily while walking” because half way to the town a man, with no prompting from us, offered us a ride to the next village (our end destination for the day). God is good…and funny. That night we enjoyed a medieval festival in the beautiful town of Ponferrada.

Lastly, we´ve decided to walk these last nine days as a novena. Setting them aside in a special way for prayer and listening to the Lord. In order to do so, we´ve decided to walk the first half of each day in silence and to pray all 15 mysteries of the Rosary together. Our novena started today. It is hard to believe that, God-willing, we will be in Santiago in only 8 more days of walking. Know that as we walk, we continue to pray for you! Please continue to pray for us. Will write soon.

Astorga

Today, Krista and I have decided to take the day off in Astorga. This is by far my favorite city in Spain so far. It is absolutely stunning! Forgive me that it has taken me so long to update this again, but our last few days have been packed with logistical necessities that have prevented my writing prior to now.

Ultimately, we wanted to be sure that we were able to experience ALL things on the camino…Several days ago we were visited by “bed bugs” or in Spain “chinches”, to which I had an insane allergic reaction including, but not limited to, one of my eyes swelling half closed. Thank goodness that Farmacias (pharmacies) are like Starbucks in Spain and on every corner! Krista and I are both healing quite quickly from this unexpected epidemic.

We also had our first experience of running out of money on the Camino. Up to two days ago, we had no problems finding a bank…however, in the small town of Mazarife we found ourselves with only 3 euro between us, no bank within 16 km, and no albergues costing less than 7 euro per person. Thankfully a kind Swedish man we had met earlier in the day stepped in and saved the day by paying for our albergue, allowing us to save our measly 3 euro for a much needed coffee in the morning! Both of our bodies are gaining strength and the pain at the end of the day seems to be transforming into a mere soreness (it´s hard to explain, but this is a vast improvement).

God is good. He is speaking…in the most incredible ways. And ultimately, though this is insanely difficult, I am loving it! There is something about the Camino that is mysteriously loveable and impossible to explain. I love you all. I will write again as soon as I can!

The Meseta

Following a much needed day off in Burgos, Krista and I have spent the last three days traveling to our current destination: Carrion (20 km past Fromista). 70 km of the last 90km (Burgos-Carrion) were spent in the Meseta (aka: the Spanish desert). Usually this walk would take four days, but we are currently walking with two Hungarian brothers who are overly ambitious and convinced us that there was in fact no need to prolong the Meseta. Gratefully, my body has taken this in stride and seems to be healing quite well. We have added a great deal of stretching to our nightly routine and are consuming far more water than I think any human being on the face of the planet should ever have to consume. Thank you for all of your prayers. Tomorrow we hike to Teradillos (the official half-way point between St. Jean Pied-de-Port and Santiago)! Write to you again as soon as I can!