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

It´s the Journey Not the Destination

Many years ago, John and I  began a journey of faith and love at St. James Catholic Church in Erie, Pennsylvania.  It has been an adventure and a journey.  Just two years ago, on June 5, 2010, we took our first step onto the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage and exactly two years to the  day, June 5, 2012, we walked five hundred miles into the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago, Spain. In the last two years we have walked 675 miles on the Camino de Santiago. This time around, we walked an average of  fourteen miles a day  for thirty-six days.

In the end, only three things mattered, our faith in God, our love for each other and our hope that we would be able to complete our journey together.  These have been the same three things that have carried us through the last forty-one years.

I must say it has been the most amazing experience to know that we have accomplished this goal. It has been spiritual, physical and emotional but the emotion I feel mostly is gratitude. I am grateful for our commitment to each other and that our bodies and spirits  allowed us to meet the challenges each day. I am also grateful for our daughter, Christine, and our friends who cared for Murphy while we were away.

We hiked the last day ¨singing in the rain¨.  Although it was cold our spirits were soaring . We arrived in time to attend the Pilgrims´ Mass which is a high point of  celebration at the end of the Camino.  The next several hours seemed unreal as we reconnected with almost all the other pilgrims that became such close friends along the way.  It just didn´t feel possible that this was all happening and that we had actually finished our Camino.

After several hours of settling into our hotel and getting some lunch, we went back to the Cathedral. I really  wanted to sit before the Blessed Sacrament and give thanks. Later,  we received our Compostela, documents stating that we had indeed completed the Camino.

On Wednesday, a friend offered us a ride to Finisterre. At one time in history,  this was considered the end of the earth.  We had hope to hike the additional 60 miles but it was very cold and raining.  The additional three-day hike seemed unrealistic to us at this point so we gladly accepted her offer.  It was a wise decision once we saw how difficult the hike would have been for us.  We returned to Santiago by bus on Thursday and decided to change our travel arrangement to fly back to Atlanta this weekend.  We are ready to get home to our family and Murphy.

The journey is not over although we have reached our Camino destination.  Today I was reading one of my favorite Scriptures,  ¨Eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for those that love Him¨.

Sunday is the Feast of Corpus Christi – ¨The Body of Christ¨. I had hoped that we would be in Santiago to celebrate this special day.  In the Catholic Tradition ¨The Body of Christ¨ speaks of both of  the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Body of  Believers who are His followers.  On my Camino I kept hearing that small quiet voice that speaks in the stillness of our hearts, ¨BE WHAT YOU RECEIVE¨.   I hope that I might be what I have received on this Camino, loved by Christ and loved by  others.

Have I been changed by this experience?  If I can be all that I have received by loving more deeply and sharing Christ´s love more fully  than I believe I have been changed.

Thank you for sharing in our Camino. You have been in our thoughts and prayers each step of the way and I am grateful that you kept us in your prayers as well.

Home Sweet Home – We´re on our way!

Buen Camino

Don´t Judge – Lessons Learned on the Camino

Day 32, June 2nd, 16 plus miles and 3 days till we reach Santiago.

Even on a spiritual journey it is difficult not to judge. Why is that so hard for all  of us?

As we approach the last few days of the Camino you might think that we might somehow have become more of who we truly want to be……NOT!!!!!

After all these miles and prayers we still struggle with our humanness.  As we approach the last few days of our journey, we encounter what you might call Day Trippers, people without backpacks who  are walking the last 100 km to get to Santiago and receive a Compostela, a document saying they walked the Camino.  These folks fly by us with ease and while we are still lugging our heavy backpacks, they  seem to be having the time of their lives. The Camino has literally exploded with Day Trippers overnight. It is no longer a quiet spiritual walk it´s an expressway of folks getting to the next town to get a room.

BUT WAIT, who am I to judge????? Was that not a  woman leading her blind husband this morning that I met along the walk?  Had   I  not talked  to a young mother  whose  son died recently of cancer? I have friends at home who would love to be able to walk any part of the Camino but they can´t physically because of a disablity or pain.

I talked with  two woman who walked from their home in Holland. They have been walking for three months already. Should they judge us as less because we have been walking only thirty two days?  I guess the message for me is that I do not  want to carry any one else´s backpack or cross.  Each person here has been called here for a reason. They each have their own story which they carry within their heart.   God loves each of us and shows no partiality.

In the Bible, the laborer at the end of the day gets the same wages as the one that has been working all day.  When I get to heaven, I know I will be grateful to meet the man or woman who turned to Christ even if  it were the last thing they ever did on earth.  I know they  will be there in heaven cheering for me as I cross the final finish line.

As we come to the end of our Camino, I know that each person is walking their own personal journey, whether in Spain or any other place on this planet.  God  has a plan for each of our lives and I just hope that the lessons I´m learning along the way I´ll remember once I reach Santiago.

Not everyone has the ability either physical or financial to make the entire  500 mile pilgrimage  but their  desire to come and to walk at all is amazing. There are others at home who are walking with us through their encouragement and prayers for these we are also grateful.They too are walking their own Camino.

Each person is a gift…..As I meet them I just smile and say Buen Camino. I hope they are enjoying their journey as much as I am enjoying mine. I hope that they as well are being changed in some good way that makes their lives more joy filled.

Buen Camino

Seeing Through Different Lenses

There is so much to write and so little time to write it. We don´t always have access to the internet to blog so when I do get a chance it´s hard to write all that I am thinking and feeling.

We are now at day 31 of the Camino and less than 70 miles to go until we reach Santiago and hopefully we will  go 60 more to the Atlantic Ocean. Each day is wonderful and yet challenging at the same time.  I dont´want you to think that we jump out of bed ready and eager to start the 16 or so mile hike. Usually it´s something like….¨Ït´s time to get up.¨….¨Ok, in a few minutes¨….and so on for about a half hour. The morning is easiest once we are on the path but in the afternoon it gets hot and more difficult especially climbing the mountain ridges.  We are always ready to stop for the day ususally a private pensions which are small private casa rurals or hostels.

Today we spoke with a  woman from New York who started a week before us.  The people who began a week earlier hit a dangerous snow storm in the mountains. Two people died. It is hard to believe, much like the movie The Way. We have had very good weather, the best possible weather. It is cool in the morning and we have had no rain.

Now to the topic ¨Seeing the Camino through Different Lenses¨.  John and I both wear one contact lens  each. His is for being near- sighted and I am far-sighted. We put them in at the same time each day and take them out before we go to bed.  It´s kind of funny actually. We use the same case for cleaning.  It is  like that in our walk on the Camino. John is a history buff. He knows everything about each town that we visit and we talk about the history of the people and culture along the way.  I´m a ponderer. I am always thinking about what is the meaning of things. I am always wanting to be open to whatever God has to offer and afraid that I will miss the message unless I  searching for or open to it.  I am always praying as we go.

The other day we were talking about how our Camino is almost coming to an end and how we have been changed by it. John said that he was already thinking about our next 60 mile walk to the Atlantic Ocean.  I am still looking for the deeper meaning, the message I´m supposed to take away from this experience and will I be changed in some way and John is planning the next step.

Years ago, (maybe just a few years ago) I always wanted John to think and feel everything that I did and especially when it came to spiritual things. However, today I appreciate that we see things through different lenses. John brings a totally different gift to our walk and our lives. I bring something all together different as well. Together we are complete. We complement each other.   Maybe,  I am changed after-all.

I know that when I take a picture with my camera, my lens needs to be open to get a great shot. The same  goes with my camino. The lenses of my heart  and not only my eyes, needs to be open in order to see things with my heart and not just with my eyes. Everyone is on their own journey. God is working in everyone´s life in a unique way. He loves them as much as He love me, no more or no less. My responsiblity is to appreciate the gift that each person is in my life and see them through the eyes of Christ.  Then my lenses will be fully open and I will see 20/20.

Buen Camino



Pentecost Sunday – Memorial Weekend

There is so much on my mind that it´s hard to put it all online.  First, it was exactly a year ago yesterday that we moved into The Village of  Deaton Creek. This year has gone quickly and the best part is the wonderful  friends that we have met in our new community.

Community is also a large part of the Camino.  I have said it before but I can´t say it enough that we have met and loved so many of the people who have hiked these miles with us. Yesterday, two students from Virginia Tech got turned around and lost their way. It was a frightening few hours for all of us who were praying that they would be reunited with their group. Fortunately, it had a happy ending and was a good learning experience for everyone. Sometimes we can lose our way when we get distracted,  don´t pay attention to what is going on around us,  or take our eyes off  ¨The Way¨ but there are always those who are praying for us and who are there to help us get back on track. I´m grateful for those persons who have been there for me or for my family over the years.

We hiked to the Iron Cross as well yesterday.  It is the highest point on the Camino and a very steep hike up and an extremely long,  steep, rocky decline. I found it to be an emotional day as I had been praying for family and friends and carrying ¨rocks¨ and some other special remembrances to place at the foot of the cross.

Memorial Weekend – As I did two years ago, I had a ¨dog tag¨ that was given to me by my friend, Lucy Harris, who´s son, Noah was killed in action in Iraq.  This medal had the name of  Wolfpack Co. which was Noah´s men.  In memory of  all those brave men and women who have given their lives for our freedom I left the medal at the foot of the cross. Meeting people from all over the world makes me ever more grateful of the freedom and prosperity that we have as Americans. On this Memorial weekend, I want to say, ¨Thank you¨to our service men and women and their families. You are our heroes.I have thought of you and prayed for you along this walk.

Finally,  it´s Pentecost Sunday.   May the Spirit of the Lord be with you and bring you ever closer to an awareness that you are loved unconditionally by your  Heavenly Father, saved by Jesus Christ,  and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We are now at day 27 and about 145 miles to get to Santiago and another 60 miles more if we hike to the Atlanta Ocean.  Every day we are aware that this adventure will soon we over.  We wonder how we will be changed by it.  One thing for sure, Murphy´s going to have a heck of a thank you party for his new BFFs who have lovingly kept him company over the long haul.

Buen Camino

La Cruz de Ferror – The Iron Cross

It is hard to believe that tomorrow we will hike to the highest point on the Camino, La Cruz de Ferror or the Iron Cross.  We will be at day 26 and we will have walked 345 miles. The Iron Cross is the place where for over a thousand years pilgrims have left stone and other objects as  they offer prayers for the  intentions for which they have walked the Camino.

Just thinking about all those we love and have prayed for along our journey not only is humbling but emotional. I know I will cry as I place each rock at the foot of the cross.

Each of you have walked with us on our Camino both in life and on this special journey. We have carried you with us in our hearts each step of the way and prayed for you and we have felt your prayers as well. You have been there with us throughout our lives to celebrate our joys and share in our sorrows as we have also done with you. We truly love you and we thank God for the blessing that you are to both of us.

At the cross tomorrow we brought a rock from Lake Erie, my home town. On one side of it we have written the names of all my family and on the other side, John´s family. We have a rock with the names of our friends and a special rock  for each of our five grandchildren. There´s a prayer card from the memorial service of my nephew, John Carney, (RIP). We have a dog tag from Wolfpack Co. to honor Noah Harris and all those servicemen and women who have given their lives for our freedom. We brought a rock for Stephen (RIP) for our friends, my brother Dan, my sister Carol, Andy, David F., Jim & Shelia, Carol and Bob, Bud & Nancy, Linda & Greg and for Frank and Kathy´s Matt and Katherine. I also have a prayer card from the Carmelite Nuns in Erie who have prayed for us for over fifty years.  I have a little rosary to leave for our parents who have instilled in us so much faith and love over the years. There will be one rock for all our family and friends for their own intentions.

Tomorrow my pack will be lighter but my heart will be even fuller for all of the love that we share for all of you. May you feel something special as we carry your intentions to the foot of the cross and ask the Lord to bless you as only He can do.

Buen camino

Muchos Gracias from the Camino

Thank you to all our wonderful friends and Christine who are loving watching over Murphy so we can make this trip.  Without you we could not have the peace of mind to leave home. Today I offered my walk for all of you and your intentions.

Today we walked from Leon,  fourteen miles and we will walk another 18 miles tomorrow.  We are taking one day, one step at a time. All is well. Praying that all is well with all of you.

I received this quote at one of the places we stayed, ¨The pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that lead him beyond the farthest horizon, to an aim which is already present within him, through yet hidden from his sight.¨

The quiet voice that calls we forward is the Spirit of the Lord.

Thank you again.

Buen Camino