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32 Days – Personal Reflections on the Camino de Santiago

Following last month’s “Lunch and Stories” event where I shared some of my photos and experiences while on Sabbatical, many have asked if I had plans to also make any of these reflections available online. Well, since you asked, I decided to share my personal journal. It’s an unfiltered account of each day and how I was feeling emotionally, spiritually and physically. Whether you read a snippet or settle in for the full 32 days, I pray you find a few encouraging life parallels as I recount the highs and lows of my journey on the Camino de Santiago.

Day 1 – I left St. Jean Pied de Port in France at 7am and arrived in Roncesvalles at 3:30pm. It was one of the most physically demanding things I’ve ever done. I made the mistake of not eating anything after about 3pm the day before. A kind lady at the Pilgrim’s Office in St. Jean said, “You need to take some food with you because there’s only one place to eat about halfway.” But did I listen? No! I got to the halfway point, saw the restaurant, and kept going. I thought I was doing great. Then it started to drizzle and get cold. I was now hungry, wet, cold and hiking a steep incline that went for miles. I reached a point where I wasn’t sure if I could go on and sat down on a rock. It’s difficult to describe the defeat I was feeling. It was the first day! Another hiker came by and asked if I was alright. I had to swallow my pride and admit I was not okay. He offered me a bottle of water, an apple and a peach which gave me enough energy to make it to the next food truck where I ate a banana, egg and some bread. My legs were exhausted though. I’m staying at a nice albergue (hostel) which is housed in a large abbey. It’s crowded but clean. I got cleaned up and washed my clothes. After supper, I’ll call Laura and then sleep. I pray my legs feel better in the morning. I’m grateful for good shoes. Tomorrow is a 17-mile hike and it’s supposed to be flat. This time I’ll remember to eat breakfast. I’m enjoying the solitude and extended time to pray. I met a man from Hungary, one from Italy, another from Germany, a woman from Switzerland, some from the U.S, others from China. It’s a very diverse group of pilgrims. Thank you, Lord, for this time away.

Day 2 – I had breakfast at 7am and hit the road by 7:10. I felt really good and spent time praying, going through Scripture memorization and singing hymns and praise songs. I was thrilled to have that alone time with the Lord. And then I hit the first hill. Another long incline. I quickly went back to the “why am I here” attitude. I’m still not sure if I can last another 31 days. But I decided last night that I would take it one day at a time. I met up with a guy from Italy today and that’s been really good. We walked the last 9km together to Larrasoana. I was going to stop at Zubiri, but my guide book said if you can go an extra 7km, you should, in order to get closer to Pamplona. This is the time of year for the Festival of the Running with the Bulls. Because of that, all of the albergues and hotels in and around Pamplona will be full, so we needed to go further today in order to make it past Pamplona tomorrow and find a place to stay. My new Italian friend, Maurizio, knew of an albergue a little off the beaten path, so I went with him. It’s small, quaint and the same price as the big municipal (the type of place where I stayed last night). Plus, we arrived here at 2:30pm. Early enough to get a shower, do laundry and talk with Laura (three of my favorite things). My feet and legs have never felt this way. I’m utterly exhausted. I pray I sleep better than last night, which was only about 5 hours. And I hope my legs and feet are re-energized for tomorrow Lord. I need you—your presence, strength, wisdom, guidance, illumination. Why am I here Lord? What do you want to show me? Give me eyes to see and ears to hear. I love you.

Day 3 – Today was another 26km and I’m beat. My legs ache and I have a blister that makes walking painful. Tomorrow I’ll probably only go to Puente la Reina – 13km. I still don’t know if I’ll be able to do the entire Camino but I’m just going to take it one day at a time. I enjoyed most of the walk today. I got to see part of the festival. In fact, I got caught in a parade. It was great. Running with the Bulls happened at 7:30am so I missed that. I continued another 11km to where I’m staying tonight. I need rest. I’m sitting with Mario from Canada and Ben from Germany. Ben likes cigars, so we’re sitting, smoking and journaling. He’s a young guy, 33, and hiking with his girlfriend. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. This place is absolutely beautiful. It’s a small Spanish village with an old (maybe 12thcentury) church that looks out over the village. Laundry is done and now I’ll get supper with my new friends, and then I’ll call Laura and then I’ll sleep! What have I learned today? That you can go pretty deep with people in a short period of time. The young couple from Germany have been talking about possibly getting married, so I’ve been “counseling” them. I’ve also learned that human beings are the same from country to country. Germany, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Canada, etc.—everyone shares the same hope of love, friendship, purpose, meaning, adventure. It’s the God-given longing of the human heart. Thank you, O Lord. Guide me. Amen

Day 4 – I started the day thinking I’d only go 13km, but I was feeling so good that I walked for a total of 28km to Lorca. I’m grateful because I’m not falling behind and could still make it to Santiago by Aug. 7—maybe. We’ll see. I enjoyed most of the walk today. I wore my sandals which really helped. I spent hours praying, singing and reviewing scripture by memory. I walked solo until near the end, maybe 4km to go. The scenery was amazing. There’s still a lot of ups and downs and the path is extremely vigorous at times. The pace is grueling, but each day I actually feel a little better. And what did I learn today? I learned that God is not just going to speak to me because I ask him to. But I’m listening, and very slowly, very gradually I’m feeling more of His presence, which is giving me greater peace. I need to remember Jesus’ words in Mt. 11:28-30, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest for your souls.” Thank You, Lord, I find my rest in You.

Day 5 – Okay, I’m making it, but my feet are shutting down. It’s hot, and I’m sitting in a café that at least has a little cool. I’m convinced us Americans are wimps. The rest of the world doesn’t have A/C like we do. We’re too comfortable. All it takes is a trip like this to show me up. I sleep in bunk beds with smelly men and women. Shower in unisex, community showers. Eat in the heat. And sleep in the heat (did I mention the smell)? On top of that, as I mentioned, my feet are shutting down. I felt pretty good for maybe 12 of the 18 miles I walked today. But the last 6 were killer. Heat. Sun. Long distances in between towns. I went back to my shoes today, and it was a little better, but I definitely made the mistake of getting shoes too small just because they were on sale. With the heat, my feet are swelling and by the time I take off my shoes, my feet feel like they’re going to fall off. Okay—now that I’m done complaining, what’s interesting is that there are now two pilgrims left from the original group I was with, and I didn’t think either of them would be here. The man from Canada and one from Croatia. We’ll probably end up at the same place tomorrow as well. Speaking of tomorrow, it’s only 16 miles. I need the break. Every day, walking 7 to 8 hours is exhausting. I have a great time spiritually and emotionally which is why I came. But physically, Lord please help me (and my feet). Amen

Day 6 – I’m either a beast or a glutton for punishment. I went 25 miles today instead of the planned 16 to get me out of the loud, obnoxious, big city of Logronoa and into a more quaint, small town. But it was challenging! I finally caved in and bought new shoes and donated mine to the Camino community shoe rack. The new shoes are well worth it (and the right size). My feet are still tired and sore, but I now am hopeful I’ll be able to continue. Tomorrow I have another long walk – 23 miles – but I know now I can make it. This will get me to Santiago by Aug 6. I’m hoping for the extra couple of days at the end to rest before heading home. I found a nice, small albergue for the night. I much prefer smaller ones—quieter, no shower line and about the same price. Now I’ll call Laura and then read a little before going to bed. I really need sleep. What did I learn today? Persevere. HOLD FAST! When it gets hard, you just have to put your head down and keep walking. Thank you, Lord.

Day 7 – I made it to Santa Domingo – barely. After yesterday’s 25 miles, I thought today’s 23 would be no problem. My feet disagreed. I left at 4:10am from Navarette and arrived here about 1:30pm. I immediately checked in to an albergue, got cleaned up, did laundry and called Laura (which was wonderful). I ate, read for a few hours (Tolstoy) and now I’m ready for bed. Tomorrow I need to take it easy. If I don’t give my feet a break, there’s no making it all the way to Santiago. With all this focus on my feet, it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty of this journey. I am grateful to be here in Santa Domingo. It has a rich history going back to the 11thcentury. So what did I learn today? Two things. 1. Don’t start at 4:10am. I had a few moments of terror in the dark when I found myself way off course. I was able to eventually get back on track. 2. Just like yesterday – I have to persevere. It got so painful and challenging today (physically and mentally), but I just kept moving. And, thanks be to God I did. Today marked one week on the Camino. One day at a time, I can keep going. Guide me, O Lord.

Day 8 – Today was good. I only walked 14.2 miles. My feet are still hurting. I need to put them up. I slept well last night and struck out around 6:45am. I arrived here in Belorado at 12:20pm. I bumped up my lodgings to a nice hostel for a few extra euros for better rest. There’s a café across the street which is where I am right now. Tomorrow I’ll try a longer distance (17.2 miles) to get to Ages. If I leave at 7am, I should get there by 3pm. This café is getting crowded and very loud. I’m going to head back to the hotel where it’s quiet. What did I learn today? I memorized Psalm 40:1-3, which is very fitting for this pilgrimage. It was an encouragement today. “I waited patiently for the Lord. He turned to me, and he heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” Amen.

Day 9 – Today’s hike started out great! I didn’t have too much pain in my feet and the weather was beautiful. The countryside and little villages I passed were gorgeous. And then 3 hours in, my feet began to hurt, and I felt like I strained my left calf and hamstring. Much of the path today was uphill, but I pressed on and completed just over 17 miles. Ages is a beautiful little village. The weather has been perfect all day – low 70’s without a cloud in the sky. I’m going to get laundry done. I had a really great talk with Laura and then Will. Will told me all about his and Michaela’s new assignment for OMF. I am so proud of them. If all their training and support raising goes well, they will leave for Singapore in July 2020 for more training and then on to Cambodia for 4 years. We’ll have to make plans to visit once a year. Those visits combined with Facetime will see us through. O, Lord, my heart is so full of praise and gratitude for my family. What a joy they are. Blessed beyond measure. What did I learn today? I learned that I need to learn Spanish. I tried talking to a woman from Spain while we walked. Liz is her name. She pronounced it “Luth.” She spoke little English, but we managed for an hour. So, learn Spanish, and continue to persevere with a heart of gratitude. Follow a daily rhythm of walking and rest. Amen.

Day 10 – Today was a shorter hike – 14 miles – which was good because I had time to walk the streets of Burgos and tour the impressive cathedral. The opulence, expense and wealth the Catholic Church has been absolutely mind-boggling. Government, military and the Church were so intertwined for centuries that the Church has reaped tremendous benefit financially. I don’t see even a hint of much cultural transformation or even personal conviction throughout my travel in Spain, but the Church is definitely a cultural icon. This cathedral is on the level of St. Stephens in Vienna although Vienna is a much more cultural center than Burgos. My feet are still killing me, and tomorrow is almost a 20-mile hike. I pray for strength. I’m staying in a nice hostel. It’s almost like an actual hotel. I have a room to myself with my own bathroom. They even have towels! Oh, the things we Americans take for granted. Thank you, Lord, for this extra time to rest!

Day 11 – I got up and left at 5:15 this morning. I was glad to get Burgos behind me. The cities are like most large European cities—lots to see with incredible history. But they are crowded, and it tends to take away from the Camino pilgrimage. Today was much better. My feet still hurt, but I made it okay. Today’s walk was filled with beautiful landscape and quaint towns. I had a good time pf prayer, worship and Scripture memorization. I’m up to Mt. 5:26 in memorizing the Sermon on the Mount. About 6 miles out, I finally broke out some music on my iPhone and that helped a lot. I was able to worship and take my mind off the pain of walking. I hope my feet get better in the next couple of days. Hontanas is another quaint little town. I’m staying in a clean albergue for only 6€. It’s small, so it won’t get too noisy or smelly. What am I learning? I’m learning that life is a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash. And it’s filled with beauty and pain. Thank you, Lord, for all the things you are teaching me on this journey. Amen.

Day 12 – This was my best day yet. I had a lite breakfast at 6am and hit the road at 6:15. I got to talk with some people from Canada, and last night I met Remi from Paris and Javier from Spain. I also went to mass last night which was interesting. I walked pretty fast today because my feet weren’t hurting too badly. I need to get some good rest though the rest of the day. There’s a pool at this albergue and I plan to soak my feet. Last night and today have been the first time since about Day 2 where I’ve felt like I connected with others. This Remi from Paris showed me ways to take the impact off my feet when I walk—more gliding than stomping. He wants to become a monk in a Benedictine monastery in the SW of France. He’s the first person I’ve met on the Camino who is walking as a true pilgrimage to seek more of God in his life. What did I learn today? The walk is much more enjoyable when you’re not in constant pain. This was the first day where I enjoyed more than the first few hours. I remain grateful to be here, Lord. Amen.

Day 13 – Another great day! I left at 6am and arrived in Carrion de Los Condes at noon—6 hours to walk 16 miles. I love walking before it gets hot and then having the rest of the day to rest, read and visit with new friends. I’m also enjoying the moments of solitude. This albergue is nice and at 5:30pm, they have a time of singing and sharing the story of their history. After that, I’ll go to the Pilgrim mass followed by supper at 8pm. Tomorrow is a longer walk (16.5 miles) which begins with a 17km stretch between towns, and hence, no place to get water. It will be challenging. What did I learn today? I learned that I need to keep pressing into the Father. “Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.” That’s my prayer. I desire to draw near to You, O Lord. Please draw near to me. Come to me with a divine appointment. I want to meet with You. Guide me to Your presence. Amen.

Day 14 – My feet were REALLY killing me again today, but I arrived early in Terradillos de Los Templario (11:00am). Hopefully, I can prop my feet up, read and rest. I might even get a foot massage. Today I had a long stretch of almost 11 miles without a stop. But once I got through that, the last 5 miles weren’t too bad. I’m cleaned up, and in a place where I have a regular bed, not a bunk. Last night was so hot and I didn’t sleep well. I just laid there sweating. I maybe got 2 hours sleep and was up at 4:30am. I want to read and take a nap if I can find a cool spot in the shade. Tomorrow I have about the same distance (16 miles) so I should be okay. I focused on prayer, Scripture memorization and worship this morning, but it’s still hard to walk with my feet hurting so much. What am I learning? Seems like God is revealing the same message day in and day out…one step at a time, one day at a time. Give me the strength to persevere, O Lord.

Day 15 – Today was long – 18 miles. I did get a foot massage yesterday which was wonderful. My feet are sore, but the pain is tolerable. I’m in El Burgo Ranero. I plan to prop up my feet, read and relax. Tomorrow will be shorter to Puente Villarente (about 15 miles). That will give me a very short walk the next day to Leon. I wanted to have the opportunity to tour Leon because it has many historical sites. I’m staying with the same group I’ve been with the past 4 days. It’s amazing how you meet people, get acquainted and then perhaps never see them again. Or, you run into them in another town and it’s like your best friends. I’m really enjoying my conversations with other pilgrims. What am I learning? The constant theme here is perseverance. This journey is long (and painful), but you can’t give up by the grace of God. And, it’s good to have others to share the path. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.

Day 16 – I’m in Puente Villarente and I’m hurting. I walked 16 miles today, but it felt like 30. It’s HOT! I walked 2 hours in the cool morning and then the sun really started to beat down. I found another albergue that has a pool. I won’t swim but I’ll definitely soak my feet. I’m thankful for a short day tomorrow – 7 miles to Leon. I met some new people today and they are staying at the same albergue. One guy, Jose (the Chief) has been with me for 6 days. I plan to get cleaned up and call Laura. I wish I knew where I could go to catch a breeze and get away from the flies. What did I learn today? Different day, same lesson. Keep going! Persevere! Hold fast! Thank God for His goodness.

Day 17 – Today was fantastic! I only walked 7.7 miles and I got to the beautiful city of Leon at 9:30am. I checked in to an albergue, got cleaned up and am now doing laundry. When that’s done, I’ll go find a place to eat and get a haircut and shave. Yes, today’s the day to lose the beard. Afterward, I’ll tour the famous Leon Cathedral and museum and then find a quiet place to read, call Laura and maybe Will. I’m grateful for a little break from walking so far. Tomorrow is 12 miles – still not bad. I keep running into Jose (the Chief) and Andrew from S. Korea. We are staying at the same albergue again tonight. I met a young guy yesterday from Scotland, a student at Cambridge and a devout Christian. It was wonderful talking to him. What am I learning? God’s grace is sustaining me. The days are flying by (more than halfway). On day 1, I wasn’t sure if I could make it, now I’m not wanting it to end. Guide me, Lord Jesus. Amen

Day 18 – Today I did 12 miles. I felt like I could have gone a few more miles, but I decided to stop and rest. Tomorrow I’ve got 17 miles to cover and I want to be ready. I had a great time yesterday in Leon. The Cathedral is absolutely beautiful, and the old city reminded me of the old part of Vienna. I also got to hang out with Jose (the Chief), Phil, Daniel, and Andrew. I slept well, even though it was extremely hot in the room. I plan to finish Erwin McManas’ book ‘The Last Snow’ and start a new book. I also finished memorizing Matthew 6 while I walked. I discovered today that the lesson I’ve been learning—faithful steady plodding—is actually the Camino Way, and should be the way of life. You see beauty, you stop to smell the roses, but then you got to keep going. It’s often painful and difficult, but you can make significant progress over time. Thank you, O Lord.

Day 19 – The place I stayed last night was quite a challenge. First, the rooms were extremely hot (and have I mentioned smelly?). On top of that, the little town I was in had a festival and a huge stage directly across from the albergue I was staying in. Bands started playing LOUDLY at dusk and were still going strong when I left this morning at 4:30am. The good news was I got an early start and arrived in Astorga by 10:30am. This has given me extra time to shower, do laundry and write. Later, I’m going to head over to the Cathedral. Plus, I’m going to have a podiatrist look at my feet around 4, and then get a massage at 5—ALL FREE! These are services of the pilgrim’s albergue. I’ve also run back into some friends from days ago. It’s great to see them again. Guide me, dear Lord.

Day 20 – Today was a hard hike – 16 miles, mostly uphill. It was also cold the higher I got and the more the wind picked up. I started out by getting lost in the dark (terrifying). I got so far off track, I finally had to turn on my phone to get my GPS location and find my way back to the Camino. But I finally made it to Foncebadon which is a quaint little village up high in this region of about 4,500 ft. I’m concerned about tomorrow morning because it’s supposed to rain and be cold (about 48°) and all I have is a light jacket and poncho. Last night was really good. I walked through a Celts vs. Roman re-enactment from the period around the 10thcentury. I was also able to spend time with my Camino friends. This morning (after I found my way back – almost 1km off), I ran into some familiar faces and had a good talk with them. What did I learn today? Don’t get lost! Always follow the GPS and guides. A good lesson for life! Thank you, Lord.

Day 21 – Today was fantastic! I started at 7am to have daylight in order to see the Iron Cross and lay my rock down on the mound of rocks at the foot of the cross. Pilgrims pick up a rock along their journey on the Camino (or bring one from home) which represents a burden they carry. The laying down of the rock symbolizes leaving that burden behind. This was quite an emotional experience for me. Even though it was rainy, my gear was keeping me dry and warm, and my feet did not hurt as bad. I’m grateful! After a few hours, I ran into my friends again. Instead of keeping my own pace, I decided to slow down and walk with them. I had the opportunity to share my testimony. We had some great conversations and the walk was much easier with company (and it was downhill). We arrived in Ponferrada around 2:30. After getting cleaned up, I walked to the Castle of the Knights Templar and took the tour. Fascinating! Now, I’m eating a burger at a café (I’ve been craving a burger for days). Soon I’ll head back to read and rest. What did I learn today? The balance between solitude and community is extremely important. If I’m alone too much, I begin to withdraw into myself, but if I’m always with others, I don’t have time to think and pray. Thank you for the balance, dear Lord.

Day 22 – I made it to Villafranca and found a wonderful hostel for 10€. At this point, I’m the only one in my room, and I have my own bathroom—and it has paper towels! By the end of the day, it will probably be full, but that’s okay. The walk was good. It’s a beautiful day. I left early (5:40am). I passed rolling hills, incredible vineyards, pretty villages and all under sunny skies. The guidebook says this town I’m staying in is one of the most beautiful on the Camino. And I only walked 15.33 miles today. Tomorrow is even shorter at 14.4, but there is a steep incline. I’m so grateful that I had some solitude today. It was wonderful to have more time praying, singing and meditating on Scripture. Tomorrow I’ll probably run back into the “group” which will be good, too. Like I wrote yesterday, the balance between solitude and community is very important. So, for the rest of the day, I’m going to email the elders and call Laura. I got cleaned up, did laundry, and bought food, which I’m eating now. I’m up to Mt. 7 in memorizing The Sermon on the Mount. I should be able to recite it in full by the end of the week. What did I learn today? I’m learning how to discover joy in the moment and not always be looking ahead to the next “thing”—agenda item, activity, strategy, sermon prep, etc. I’m grateful to just “be.” Guide me, O Lord, and bless Laura, Will, Michaela, Anna, and Luke.

Day 23 - Today’s walk was great! I’m in La Faba. I walked alone for about an hour, then ran into a guy from Texas who is a student at Notre Dame. We walked for a while and then I went on ahead and continued with my routine of prayer, Scripture memorization and worship. Later I ran into some other friends I know, and we walked for a few miles together. One shared his nihilistic worldview where global warming and capitalism are going to destroy the world. So, what college degree is this young man going for in Ireland? Film Animation. Go figure. I found a wonderful albergue with only 9 beds. It’s quaint, clean, has its own little restaurant and is run by volunteers who are very nice. I spent time talking with one of them—Paul from Ireland. He fell in love with the Camino 5 years ago and moved to Spain. He works part of the year and then volunteers here. What did I learn today? Friendship is important. God created us to be with others. I love the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I love the opportunity to have silence and solitude. The nuns along the Camino say that this experience is how God intended for us to live—simply, relying on the grace of strangers and multi-cultural. Thank you, Lord. Only 6 more days before I arrive in Santiago!

Day 24 – Today was a really good day. I left La Faba at 6am and arrived in Triacastela (3 castles – which don’t exist anymore) at 11:45am. I checked into a nice albergue whose owners speak NO English. So that’s fun. After I got cleaned up, I found a restaurant and had lunch. I should be able to finish the book I’m reading about two guys from England who traveled across the U.S. in a beat-up van. It’s been a fun read—a good book to follow Augustine’s Confessions. The first few miles today were uphill, but then it was a pleasant walk the rest of the way. I spent time walking with the student from Notre Dame. He’s a strong Catholic. So it’s been good to talk with someone of faith. I also ran into Paulo from Brazil again. It’s been a week since I saw him last. I also ran into my big group of friends and we decided we would stay together the rest of the way because they have reservations at the albergues. At this stage of the Camino, it gets really crowded and it gets harder to find a place to sleep. One of my friends is an atheist. We are now Facebook friends. It will be interesting to see what he thinks of my posts. I’m praying for him. Lessons learned today? The beauty of God’s creation (coming over the mountains today really was breathtaking), and gratitude. I love this time to walk, read, pray, rest and repeat. Guide me, Lord. Thank You for this opportunity.

Day 25 – Made it to Barbadelo. It was an incredible day to walk—sunny and cool. I left later than usual (6:45am), but I walked fast and made excellent time. It’s 12:45pm now and I came about 17 miles in just over 5 hours. I had a great conversation with Spencer (the Notre Dame student from Texas). We talked about Catholicism and the decline of Christianity in North America and Europe. I like walking with others at times, but I really like silence and solitude. The group I’m hanging with picked a beautiful place to stay. It has a pool but it’s way too cold to swim. It’s hard to believe I only have 4 days left. I’m ready to be done though. I’ve learned that the nomadic life is not for me. I’m looking forward to going back to work. I’m learning peace and the beauty of slowing down (even though I like to go fast). Guide me, O Lord. Amen.

Day 26 – I made it 18 miles today to Hospital de la Cruz and it was tough! I’ve pulled or strained a muscle that connects my shin to my ankle, and it makes it painful to walk. It’s not horrible, but I pray it doesn’t get any worse. I’m staying at a nice, but cheap (6€) pilgrim’s albergue, and so far, I’m the only one here. I love staying in places that are more rural because they attract fewer pilgrims. The downside is that fewer people speak any English. I went one town ahead of my group and will meet up with them again tomorrow. I had a good time with all of them yesterday. We ate supper together and talked for a few hours. Tomorrow and the next day are long walks. I pray my leg will feel better. One day a time Lord. Guide me. Amen.

Day 27 – My day started out great around 5:45am. My leg wasn’t hurting at all. I had a wonderful morning of prayer, worship and Scripture memorization, but as the miles increased, so did the pain in my leg. By the time I was about 3 miles out, it was hurting enough that I had to slow down and was walking with a limp. I’m pretty sure it’s tendinitis because I have the exact same symptoms that Jose (the Chief from Spain) and Paulo from Brazil have. I hope to rest and elevate it a lot this afternoon and tonight. Just two more days. I need to make it for two more days! I hobbled into the albergue where I’m staying the night and I was blown away by how nice it is. Each guest gets his own sheets, towel and a little piece of chocolate. The laundry is affordable, and they have a great kitchen/lounge area. They even have a jacuzzi (but it cost 4€) and I didn’t bring a swimsuit. Tomorrow will be tough with my leg. It’s a 20.5-mile hike. I’m praying my feet and leg will hold up. O Lord, bless Laura, the kids, and E91. Guide me on my two final days of walking. Amen

Day 28 – Wow! What a tough day. Last night was great and the albergue where I stayed was remarkable. Best one yet. I got up around 4:15am because my leg was throbbing. So, I got up and got everything ready to go and then put ice on my leg. Everyone else got up around 5:30 and I left with the group at 6:15. I didn’t want to walk alone today because I was fearful I could get stuck and not be able to go on. But one of my friends let me borrow his walking sticks and another let me use some muscle cream which is supposed to help with inflammation and pain. Both helped. I was slow, but I made it. The place we’re staying is not as nice as last night, but good. I got cleaned up, and now I can rest, call Laura, read and hang out with the group one last night until Santiago. Tomorrow is only 12 miles. I’m ready to get there! Guide me, O Lord.

Day 29 – I MADE IT! HALLELUJAH! After fighting through a lot of pain in my right ankle and shin, I arrived with our little band of pilgrims at noon. It’s surreal. I thought I would be more emotional than I was when we entered the plaza and stood in front of the Santiago Cathedral. I think I wasn’t because I was too hot, in too much pain and it was too crowded. After we arrived, we immediately went to the Pilgrim’s Office to get our Compostelas—the Certificate of Completion. Then I walked to the albergue, did laundry, called Laura and took a brief nap. We all met back up and others joined us that we hadn’t seen for several days. It really felt like a big family reunion. Several of us went to mass (boring) and then we all went to a restaurant for supper. Wow. Now I have three full days to rest and explore Santiago. Thank you, Lord,

Day 30 – I’m sitting downstairs in the albergue having breakfast. I was happy to sleep in but the people in the room where I slept were extremely noisy when they got up. It was amazing that it’s the end of the Camino and they haven’t learned the simple courtesy of having everything in your backpack so when you wake up, all you have to do is grab your pack and slip out of the room without waking everyone else up. Stop complaining. Focus on all the incredible things I’ve learned on this journey. I’m beginning to process the last 30 days. Here are some reflections. 1). “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” If I hadn’t connected with the little band of brothers/sisters, I don’t know if I would have finished. Well, I probably would have made it, but I would have been in far worse shape than I am now, and I would have been miserable. Once I developed the tendinitis, I went from being a fast walker to hobbling along. But the group really helped me. I loved how walking with the group didn’t mean everyone was engaged in conversation every minute. We would go miles spread out on the trail where we each kept to our own thoughts. I loved it because I was still able to keep to my routine of prayer, worship, and Scripture, and then move in and out of conversations with the others. But there was real camaraderie and friendship that grew among us as we would stop for coffee or lunch. I resisted this quite a bit the first few weeks because I wanted to have more time for silence and reflection. But God really made me realize how much we need each other and walking the journey of life alone means we miss out on the depth and beauty of friendship. 2). Persevere. When I started, I seriously doubted that I would make it. I talked with Laura about renting a bicycle. I thought about stopping in one of the cities and try to rent a motorcycle and just have fun riding to Santiago. All I did, though, was get up each day and say, “I think I can walk today. Tomorrow, I don’t know. But I’ll walk today.” And then I’d make it through the day and do the same all over again the next day. And the next. And the next. 3). Routine. It was important that I got into a consistent routine because that helped keep my mind off the negatives, the drudgery, and the pain. We all need a steady rhythm in our lives for optimal emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. 4). Technique. I had to learn simple techniques that made the walk a little less painful and little more doable. I learned that your body can only give so much. It’s important to take breaks and be sure you have the water and fuel your body needs to make it to the next town. Walking sticks would have been helpful (I thought they were for wimps). Techniques like adjusting your pack to take the weight off your back and taking steps where your feet glide more than stomp. And don’t run because you will pay the price later. And boy did I pay because I thought I knew everything I needed to know. Well, enough reflecting, for now, I’m going to go get my haircut and beard trimmed. While I mentioned I was going to shave my beard a week or so ago, there was a language barrier and I ended up with a trim. I think I’ll keep it for now. We’ve grown attached. Tonight my little band of friends will have supper together one last time before we all go our separate ways. Guide us all, O Lord, your pilgrims on this Camino of life.

Day 31 – Wow. Yesterday was a day of celebration intermingled with sad goodbyes. It felt so weird to get up in the morning and not walk. I was breaking with my daily routine of the last 29 days. I bought some ibuprofen for my leg, checked into a hotel and went touring the city. I visited the Cathedral Museum, which was good, but 90% of it is being renovated so there wasn’t much to see. One of my favorite things to do is sit in a café and people watch. I met up with my friends for supper. After supper, we sat in a park for about an hour, and then I gave everyone a hug and said my “goodbyes.” We all got a little teary-eyed. There’s a special bond among pilgrims who go through the pain and struggles together. Goodbye, dear friends. I will never forget you. More reflections? The Camino was not just about getting to Santiago, it was about the people you meet and build friendships with along the way. It was great arriving in Santiago, but it was even better to see people you met along the journey and celebrate together. Lord, thank you again for this amazing opportunity. Guide me this day for Your glory. Amen.

Day 32 – Yesterday was another great day. I slept in, had breakfast, got my haircut and beard trimmed. My friends said I went from looking like Santa Claus to a French teacher. I visited the Pilgrim Museum, had lunch, talked with Laura, read, rested, shopped, had supper with friends and hung out at a free concert with good music. I was going to take a bus today to Finisterre, but it was raining, and I wouldn’t have been able to see anything. So I’ve got the day wide open. I’m going to do devotions and reflect. I’m feeling a little sad that my Sabbatical is coming to an end, but I’m excited to get back home to Laura, Anna, and Luke. There’s no place like home. The more I continue to process the Camino experience, the deeper appreciation I have for being able to take this extended time to rest and be renewed. I’m ready to get back to my routine at home and church. I’m grateful for the gift of grace I’ve been given to experience such a journey. To God be the glory forever. Amen.

Exhale the Stress and Inhale the Rest

I need a little niksenin my life, and I bet you do, too.  And, no, that’s not a misspelling of “Nixon,” thank you very much.

Niksen is a Dutch word for doing nothing.  It’s when you take a conscious stand against busyness and let your brain rest and recover. According to Olga Mecking in “The Case for Doing Nothing,” niksen “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, and better at coming up with creative ideas” (The New York Times, April 29, 2019).

It’s hard to do nothing, because our brains and bodies are always doing something, even when we sleep. Psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee likens niksen to a car whose engine is running, but it isn’t going anywhere (idem).  You set aside time where you have no plan other than to be.  With burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases on the rise, intentional idleness might not be such a bad idea.

Sometimes we need to sit idly so we can think actively . . . and pray.  But the idol of busyness keeps our thinking and praying at a minimum. We believe our busyness is a symbol of our status: the busier I am, the more important I must be.  We want to prove our self-worth by the measurement of activity. 

Nonsense.  The busier I am may only prove I lack discipline and time management. 

When I gave our church elders my sabbatical proposal, they responded with one critique: “Your proposal is too busy.  We don’t want you coming back from your sabbatical more tired than before you left.  You need to cut it back and build in times to rest.”  Basically, they told me I needed to include niksen.  I did, and they approved my sabbatical.  And I am forever grateful for that gift of grace and that nudge for niksen.

Now, I’m trying to live that on a weekly basis.  I’m trying to set aside one day every week for a sabbath.  Shabbat, the Hebrew word for sabbath, means to cease, rest, desist.  Or, as the Dutch would say, shabbat means niksen.  I’m also trying to do a better job of implementing niksen on a daily basis, where I build into my schedule regular breaks.  Studies have actually shown that regular breaks increase work performance and productivity (https://www.nature.com/articles/nn864).

I hope you will give yourself permission to take time each day to let your brain rest and recover, and a day each week to exhale the stress and inhale the rest.  Put down your smart phone, close your laptop, turn off the TV, and idly sit so that you can actively pray. 

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads and I will give you rest” (Jesus, Matthew 11:28, EXB).

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

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