A Change in Direction

Just when you think you know where you are going life seems to send you a curve ball.  We had planned our pilgrimage out.  John had worked hard at getting maps and everything we thought we needed to make this a very special  spiritual expereince.  On the Camino di Assisi as on the Road of Life there are always unexpected circumstances that turn us around.  We have learned to be flexable and find the blessings in these events.

First, let me say, thank you for your prayers and for your love and friendship. We are safe, sound and enjoying our trip.  We are in Assisi but did not arrive on foot but by train.  After two eight hours days of hiking the Appinnine Mountains only to arrive at very desolute refugios, (Refugee Camps for Pilgrims and safehavens for bedbugs) we decided to skip the mountain climbing and travel by train.  We may have a heart for the Lord but we are not yet ready to be martyrs.   The Camino de Santiago had spoiled us as the Way of St Francis is not yet established enough for two little old  pilgrims to navigate themselves in a foreign land not knowing the language or climbing the mountains of Italy.  We were  smart to quit before we got hurt because we both knew we were in way over our physcial ability.  That being said the weather has been wonderful and the scenery beautiful.

Now, I would like to mention that there have been so many blessings along the way.  Each time we have become lost or without a place to stay , usually it is late at night, out of no where appears a Good Samaritan that offers us either a room, a ride or advise that leads us to where we need to go.  It has been small little miracles along the way that let us know that there are many  praying for us and SOMEONE is watching over us.

I think what I have been reminded is that happiness is being wherever you are, with the one you love and knowing that even a change of direction can be the right way  all along.

Internet access is VERY limited and I am not able to post. Know that we love you all and appreciate yoour love and prayers.

We spent two days in Siena, two days in Rome and we will be in Assisi until Saturday.  Assisi still ramains my most favorite city.  We are staying at a wondeful, extremely clean and comfortable convent guest house.  Saturday we are traveling by train to Chiqua Terra.  After that we will decide what to do next.  We are still hiking up and the the streets of Italy but limiting our mountain climbing to more manageable endeavers.

God bless you! 

Buen Camino

Traveling Light

How appropriate that yesterday’s readings spoke of traveling light.  We leave today on our pilgrimage across Italy.  Everything I need for a month is stuffed into my backpack weighing 13 lbs, or carried in my heart, or walking right beside me.

I love the idea of traveling light. It’s  actually very freeing to know that we can live, and still be very happy, with such a little amount of “stuff”.

Several years ago, John and I moved  into our little cabin in the woods of North Georgia. I have always loved St. Francis and in a way it felt like it was a “call  to simplify our lives  and serve” in our little “Hermitage”.   After retiring from ATT, John became an EMT and firefighter at age fifty. He earned $6.50 an hour. Although we had our retirement set aside, we wanted to try and live on those wages.  Every time I thought of buying something I would think of how many hours he had to work to pay for it.  I became a consignment shopper but what I really learned is that I didn’t need  a lot of things to be happy.  A few years later, John and I went to work as teachers, his parents moved in with us, and we moved to a new home and started furnishing it with “treasures”.  It’s interesting how easy it is for me to get caught up in that whole material world. I will be the first to confess that I like nice “stuff” but living at the cabin truly changed me.

A few weeks ago, after my mother passed away, I was gathering her belonging from the nursing home.  Except for her pictures, and a few bags of clothing she had no other possessions.  What she did have was her  amazing faith and her loving family, nothing else mattered. I was reminded that  “In the end only three things last, faith, hope and love and of these love is the greatest.”

As we walk the Way of St. Francis, what we will take is our faith, our friends, and our family.   Those things we will carry in our hearts and we will leave behind all our “stuff”.  Hopefully when we return home we will be changed in some way  by this new experience.

Love and prayers to you as we travel The Way of St. Francis. Please keep us in your prayers as well.

Thank you to Christine and our friends who are caring for Murphy while we are away!

Buen Camino

Homeward Bound – My Mother’s Eulogy

I had been praying for several days whether or not we should cancel our trip to Italy.  My 92 year old mother was very fragile and although I was trusting the Lord for direction it wasn’t until Sunday morning at 6 a.m. that I had a clear answer. Since 4 a.m. that morning I was preparing the last details for our 10:30 ride to the airport.  When my sister called I knew we would cancel our flight and make the fourteen hour road trip to Michigan. We arrived at midnight on Monday and I spend the night at our mother’s bedside.   She passed peacefully and gently into eternal life late Tuesday afternoon.  I was at her side singing and praying as the Spirit of the Lord was upon her and she released her soul into His care.

Below is the eulogy I shared at her funeral Mass  at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Erie, Pa.

Elizabeth Ann McLaughlin ~ January 23, 1921 ~ October 1, 2013

To God Be the Glory

 In speaking for my brother, Dan and my sister, Carol, I would like to thank the Lord for His faithfulness in making provisions for our every need.  Thank you Fr. Richey, Monsignor Smith, Jean and the music ministry for a beautiful Liturgy and celebration of our mother’s life.  We want to thank the Lord for providing a way for our brother, Dan and Becky to be with us.  This is nothing short of a miracle as Danny has been in the hospital and rehabilitation for the past three months.  Danny and our parents were very close and it was important for them to be here. As a matter of fact, John and I arrived in MI on Monday evening at midnight after driving fourteen hours from Ga. Carol and I spent the night with our mother. About 3 a.m. Carol was in the restroom and when she came out I told her that our mother had opened her eyes and spoke to me.  I told her that our mother said to tell her, that it was true about what we both had always thought: “Danny was her favorite.”  We both laughed and Carol relayed a text message to him in the morning.  We are so grateful that Dan and Becky could be here.  I also want to thank Carol and Tim for the past five years of their loving caring for our mother.  They did an amazing job and I pray that the Lord will bless them. Finally we want to thank all of you for being here today and for the efforts that all the grandchildren made in traveling to Erie. We truly appreciate your love.

Our mother’s life verse was: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This was the verse unknowingly both Carol and I had encouraged her to use for the last twelve years of her life as she struggled to meet her physical challenges.

As we arrived in Erie on Friday from MI, I asked John to drop me off at the library so I could write a few thoughts to give to Fr. Richey to help him understand why we had chosen the scriptures for our mother’s funeral.  Both Carol and Fr. Richey thought that I should share them with you.

Romans 15: 13  “Now the God of Hope fills us with JOY and peace in believing that we may abound in hope through the Holy Spirit. Today we are filled with JOY, peace and hope, because we know without a shadow of a doubt that our mother, Elizabeth McLaughlin, is with her Lord and Savior, and her beloved husband, Paul Francis. She loved the Lord with all her heart and mind and with all her soul and she loved others as herself.

Proverbs 31 speaks of the Godly woman and that was our mother. She was humble in her own estimation but in the eyes of the Lord, she was a true gift to our father, Paul, and her children and grandchildren. Before my father passed away he told her she was more beautiful than the day he met her and sixty-six years later he loved her even more than he did the day they married. Mother was the love of his life and they were truly soul mates. Their commitment in good times and in difficult times in sickness and in health was an inspiration to everyone who knew them.

As a mother, she loved and nurtured her children and her grandchildren. She never tired of showing them love in all the special things she did to make our house a home. As small children she would sing Irish songs and hold us and stroke our brow when we were sick. She did all those thousands of little things that make special memories for all of us.  The ways in which she welcomed all of Dan’s friends around the kitchen table and taught them table manners and help them get ready for the prom. She also made care packages for him when he was in the service. She made sure there was always well balanced meal on the table each evening. She would spend hours sewing my sister and my Easter and First Communion dresses. She even made my uniform for Villa and my prom and graduation dresses. Holidays were made memorable by the care and preparation of decorating our home and special meals. If being a mother wasn’t enough, she truly excelled and loved being a grandmother. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren were her delight in the later years.  I’ve heard it said that God gives grandchildren as a reward for not killing your own kids. Most importantly our mother was a PRAYER. She covered our every need in prayer. Day and night she prayed and one specific prayer was that each of us would marry just the right spouse. God was faithful in hearing and answering her prayers.  Just like our parents, each one of us has a wonderful spouse and we are happily married for many years.

Besides the gifts of faith and love, one of our mother’s greatest gifts was GIVING. She was the original re-gifter. We always knew whatever we gave our mother she would give it to someone else as a gift. If she saw a need she wanted to help. Whether a friend, relative our complete stranger, she was the first to organize an outreach for someone in need. We didn’t have a lot of extra money or material possessions growing up but there was enough to go around and to share with others. Mother was always collecting for the Carmelite Sisters. That was her favorite part of any holiday.  Our parents were involved in St. James Church and the Carmelite Monastery for over fifty years. They were also involved in the Cursillo Movement and volunteered at both Villa and Prep. In their later years they volunteered with the Benedictine Convent and at Benetwood Apts. where they lived. Our parents’ lives revolved around their faith and their family. This remains a tremendous witness for all of us.

Finally:

Our mother’s final legacy is truly found in today’s gospel reading: John 14: 1-7. Jesus told his apostles that He had to go to His Father’s house and prepare a place for them. Those were the last words that our dad spoke to our mother before he died.  More importantly, when Thomas didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to say, he asked Jesus, “How can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER BUT BY ME. IF YOU KNOW ME YOU WILL KNOW MY FATHER AND YOU WILL SEE HIM.”

Our mother KNEW JESUS! She loved him and she knew that HE is the WAY! I was with our mother when she passed away. I saw the beauty of the Lord upon her. She was radiant! As I softly sang the Our Father, she ever so peacefully passed into eternal life. She knew where she was going and she knew the WAY!  She was going HOME to be with her Lord and Savior and her beloved, Paul Francis.

Our mother would not want us to put the spot light on her but on Jesus. She would say, as did Jesus’ Mother, Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of our Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for HE is mighty and has done great things for me and holy is HIS NAME. His mercy is on those who fear the Lord from generation to generation.”

To God be the glory for the things He has done!

Joy in the Journey

“There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind
To all who’ve been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin
Forget not the hope that’s before you
And never stop counting the cost.”
by Michael Card

“Eye has not seen ears have not heard what God has prepared for those who love Him.”    1 Corinthians 2:9

Today we were to depart for our thirty three day pilgrimage hiking across Italy walking in the footsteps of St. Francis from Florence to Assisi and on to Rome.

For several days I have been agonizing over our decision about whether or not to cancel our trip because of my 92 year old mother’s failing health. This morning I was awake at 4 a.m. still praying for the answer to the question, “To go or  not  to go?”  I knew instantly what we needed to do when a call from my sister in Michigan came at 6 a.m.    My mother is on her own journey.   She is transitioning from her frail dying body to a new life.

Instead of traveling to Italy we will be leaving in the morning for Michigan to see her while she is still with us and then on to Erie to celebrate her life and her journey home.  Less than a month ago we were with my mother praying with her and telling her we loved her but this will be different. This will be our farewell  for now at least.  Yes, I am sad but I am rejoicing and giving thanks for a wonderful mother. She has fought the good fight and finished the course. Now she will receive the reward that awaits her for all eternity. Soon she will cross the bridge that will lead her to meet both her Lord and Savior and the love of her life, our father, Paul. I know that they both have been waiting for this moment for five years.

A curve in the road is not the end of the journey.

We are walking by faith and not by sight.

Thank you to our dear friends and family for walking with us.

Buen Camino

To Go or Not To Go? – That’s The Question

When the disciples were asked to follow the Lord, they went, no questions asked. That’s simply amazing.  When I hear that quiet little voice call, “Follow Me”, I wonder if these are my own thoughts or is the Lord truly calling me. Then when an obstacle comes I start to question, “What am I to do?”

As we prepare to leave on Sunday for our pilgrimage, walking The Way of St. Francis, I have been praying to discern the voice of God.  Some people might think that it is craziness to even believe that God speaks to us personally but I am certain beyond any doubt that He does.

With my mother being so fragile and at the doorstep of heaven I am ever more vigilant in prayer both asking and listening to the voice of God and trying to obey His Will.  What I hear is “Trust Me”.

Do I trust the Lord?  Yes, because He is faithful!  He has always been there for me.  Does it mean that I can be one hundred percent sure that if we go we won’t need to come home?  No!  We can cancel at any moment before we leave and we are only a phone call away from returning home in case of an emergency.

If I second guess the call to “Follow Me” than I believe I am not trusting.  I will be living in fear of the unknown, fear of the “What ifs”.  There are no guarantees in life.  When we walk by faith and not by sight it is important for me to keep my eyes on Jesus, surrender control and trust Him.  I constantly need this reminder. I’m still learning. Maybe that’s why I keep getting into situations where I need to practice “Letting Go and Letting God”.  On the other hand I need to continue to pray and be quiet long enough to hear an answer.  If you have a moment add our names to your prayers, whether to go or to stay.  What we want is to be in His perfect will.

Buen Camino

“Solemates” Hiking the Camino de Assisi, Italy 2013

 September, 2013

Several weeks ago while browsing the new book section at the library my eye caught a new release entitled, Chasing Francis, A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron.  While reading the cover page, I heard the quiet inner voice calling me back to Assisi.  By the time I had finished the book I knew that I would someday begin a quest to find a way to hike the Pilgrimage of St. Francis from Florence into Assisi and on to Rome.

Pretty much all of my life I have loved the unconventional St. Francis. Maybe in a way my father, Paul Francis McLaughlin, born October 4th, the feast of St. Francis, and named in honor of the saint from Assisi, contributed to my strong connection to this humble and joyful Franciscan Friar.

When Francis heard the “call” to follow Christ, he gave up wealth and possessions and single heartedly worked and prayed to live and share the gospel.  He was passionately committed to bringing others to Christ and to care for the poor.

In 2007, a lifelong dream of mine came to pass as John and I had the opportunity to take a trip to Italy.  Unlike most of Italy, Assisi is a very humble place much like the saint that lived and preached there.  In all of our  travels this remains by far my favorite spot,  not so much about its quiet beauty but by the stirring of my heart by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  I knew that I would someday return to this spot to walk the path of St. Francis.

After telling John about the book he began a quest to get us there. He has been busy planning, studying the language, mapping out trails and making arrangements for us to leave at the end of September and actually beginning our walk on October 4th the Feast Day of St. Francis.  He gave me this trip as an anniversary present, now you know why I say he is  my “Sole-Sole Mate”.

For me personally it will be a continuation of our Camino, a time to celebrate life and to surrender to God’s will.  It has been five years since my dad was diagnosed with cancer and passed away, five years since John had five bypasses, and five years since the death of two of  my dearest friends.  I know that life is short and this time is a gift that we have been given.  I am walking by FAITH and trusting that the Lord who has called us will provide  safety  for us and for ALL those we love while we are on this sacred walk.

We will carry each of you in our hearts and prayers and ask that you would do the same for us.

Buen Camino

Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Seems Like a Dream to Me Now!

Sunday, June 10

We’re in a surreal state of mind. Waking up in our own bed after two days of traveling home by bus and then plane.  I think it’s the combination of trying to process it as well as  well as jet lag. I keep thinking of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I know that there have been many analogies made between the Wizard of Oz and the Camino experience and I can understand why that would happen.  First, your life is turned upside down, then you are following the yellow arrow to the Cathedral of Santiago, along the way you meet many interesting people with their own stories of why they are walking, and finally you arrive and there at the end is this huge statue of St. James. Just like the movie you know that it’s not the real reason you walked five hundred miles. The statue, the Cathedral is only a symbol for something greater than ourselves. We may not even know it but there is a “call” within us that draws us to our Creator. I think that’s how He made us…so we long for Him.   God has created each one of us individually for a purpose. That purpose is to know, love and serve Him. I learned that when I was a very little girl. Sometimes we wander from the path but He is  always there right next to us to help us find our way.  I truly believe that in the end it’s about finding our way home to Him. Sometimes it takes us a lifetime.  He is always with us and just like a loving parent, He loves us unconditionally.  Every one of us on earth is on their own journey, their own path, their own story, their own Camino.  The path may be different but in the end it is God who we meet. Someday we will see  Him face to face “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” but for now  we will walk with each other and encourage each other along the way.

“Seems like a dream to us  now.”  We know it will take a long time to reflect on all that has happened and all the wonderful people we met and  the experiences we shared.  Our walking the Camino doesn’t make us anything special.  We didn’t do anything heroic. Those are the men and women who serve in the military that we met on our  flight home or the thirty-eight blind bicyclists,  who rode tandem with their “angels guides” from Pamplona to Santiago.  We are just like everyone else, two individuals, lucky enough to be sole/soul mates along this journey of life.

Thank you for sharing in our dream and our experience along the way.

Buen Camino