Monday, September 5, 2011

A crazy, beautiful walk across Spain.

Well...I promised that I would write all about my travels over the last month. I started in Spain on a very long walk called the Camino di Santiago. The whole thing takes about a month and usually starts in a French town called Saint Jean Pied de Port, then takes you all across Spain and finishes in a city called Santiago de Compostela, where you get to the Catheral of Santiago. I started in a town called Leon and walked for 8 days. Between catching a bus here and there, in the end I calculated that I would have walked close to 200kms.  In my effort to minimise this experience down to words for you all, I could only think of one way to do so...and that is to read you parts of my journal. Here we go...

Day 1- Leòn to Hospital de Orbigo- 32 km

This morning I started walking at 5am. I got out the door, and it was still pitch black. Of course I didn't have any batteries in my torch, so I just started walking, hoping that God would somehow provide some light, as He always does...and He did, in the form of a really funny French man called Thivou. He's been walking for close to a month, he started the Camino from the beginning. He's hilarious, I've never laughed so hard that early in the morning before. We walked the whole day together- I gave Italian lessons, and he gave French (of which I absorbed nothing, ps) and we laughed until our sides and legs hurt. We talked about faith and the corruption of the church. Around lunchtime Thivou started getting a really strong pain in his leg- 'Girl, make sure you drink ze water so zat you don't get tendinitis like me.' I prayed for him, out loud, and after a couple of hours he said 'Wow, it is a miracle zat my leg, it don't hurt like before.' Well...He is God, you know. We got to Hospital de Orbigo and found a refuge. Obviously, after 6 hours of walking I was exhaused. There was a good group of us staying at the hostel, among which there was a man from Siena called Roberto- "No one does the Camino without a reason. They either have stuff to think about, or something to look for. Why are you doing it?" He asked. "I found what I was looking for. Now I'm here to tell the other people that are looking for something all about Him." I shared my testimony in the kitchen with him and two American girls, Beth and Alison. Powerful moments.
The beginning of this adventure is a little daunting, but I'm reminding myself that I've been going on faith up until this point so I shouldn't stop now. God commanded the earth to tremble, and He commanded it to flood. He provided manna for the exiles in the desert...and He is the same God today. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. How can I doubt what He can do and what He provides?

"I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears." Psalm 34:4

Day 2- Hospital de Orbigo to Villafranca- 36 km

Waved goodbye to Thivou this morning and  walked on to Rabanal del Camino. From there I hopped on a bus to Villafranca. Worried about not making it to Santiago in 8days, best to get a head-start. Walked with a lady from Bilbao, Monica. Shared my testimony again, wondering if I should get some kind of play-back service so that I can just play it to people...just kidding, how can you ever get sick of telling the world how powerful He is? Passing through Astorga, 3 ladies from Valencia that I met at the refuge last night were taking a Merlot break. Note to self: Make it through your 40's by drinking red wine at 9am..
I got to Villafranca in the afternoon. As I layed down to nap, a had a very strange flash of the name Mattias. God spoke it to me out of nowhere as He likes to do quite frequently...when I'm half asleep. Once I woke up, the hostel was full. They were even setting up matresses for people to sleep outside. I was in a huge room with about 50 people, amonst whom there were 3 Spanish girls from Barcelona. Then, I met a guy from Milan, Paolo, who was cycling the Camino. He asked about my tattoo and we started talking about Jesus, and how prayer should be a diaglouge with God, rather than set things that we need to recite (his words, not mine). Interesting guy. While we were sitting out in the courtyard, the gate flew open and in rode a crazy blonde German man, Marius. He's cycling Europe on his bike; him and Paolo had met some days before. Paolo introduced us, and he sat and started chatting and offering us beer. As the night went on, more and more people came to add themselves to our group. By the end there were about 40 of us sitting around. Italians, Spaniards, Frenchies...and 3 American guys. One of their names was Matt- I get that it's a common name, however when he introduced himself it took me back to my vision from a couple of hours before. The Americans had a guitar (that's why I loved them the most) and so we sang and played and danced and laughed...what an amazing, amazing night.
I love how God weaves himself through everything. His name is proclaimed everywhere...and whether it's because people are speaking for or against Him, I've decided that it probably doesn't matter much anyway. The important is that His name is proclaimed at all- there is strength and power in it. The word Jesus alone is the Gospel. Jesus is Immanuel, and Immanuel is God with us.

Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed...and in that I rejoice. - Phillipians 1:18

Day 3- Villafranca to O Cebreiro- 32 kms

Man, today was hard. 3rd day of over 30kms of walking...however the beauty of God's creation makes it all the worth-while. I began walking at 5am. Again, couldn't see anything, however God always provides LIGHT, and apparently always through French people, so I walked with some more Frenchies . The stars were still out when my day started; there were millions. After a couple of hours of star-gazing and mountain walking, the up-hill started. 6 hours of up-hill in the scorching heat? Distaster. I don't think I've ever pushed myself that hard physically...ever. It was so intense. I was reciting Phillipians 4:13 to myself the whole time, and reminding myself that my pain is absolutely nothing compared to what Jesus endured. What's that saying that girls with breast-implants love? Beauty is pain? I got showed that too.. the harder the climb, the better the view got. I was literally above the mountains, pausing every few minutes to soak in the utter beauty of His creativity and imagination. Mental pictures taken.
Once I got to the refuge at O Cebreiro I settled in and made some more friends. There was a Korean guy who had been at Villafranca singing with us last night, Dan. He smokes and walks...apparently something about nicotine power. I dont know what he's talking about, the last thing that I want to do is walk 30 kms a day with a cigarette in my hand. Crazy, crazy bloke.
Today was testing, not only physically, but emotionally. The weight of the physical trials is starting to take it's toll and I'm becoming a teary mess. I guess it's just a realease of built up emotion and mixed feelings- one moment you're crying for pain, the next you're crying for beauty and for how wonderfully He ordains each of your steps. Up and down, up and down. I was really reminded today that nothing is as heavy as the weight that Jesus carried for me. Not just the acutal weight of the cross, but also the weight and heaviness of the sins of the world. I dont think that I, or any other Believers, will fully understand it until we see Him face to face.

For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me... -Psalm 38:17
...we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope...and hope NEVER puts us to shame. - Romans 5:3-5

Day 4- O Cebreiro to Triacastela - 20 kms

I started walking at 6am. I've never seen so many freaking stars...and not just single stars spread out- constellations of stars. Millions and millions of burning dots in the universe. It was pitch black, but just the stars alone were enough to light up the morning. As I walked down the mountain that (almost) killed me yesterday afternoon, the sun started rising. The sunrise was probably only 10 cms high from where I could see it, however it was enough to make the light of day. Are you kidding me? That's how powerful the sun is. Even from behind a mountain it illuminates everything. God is light, God is light. I walked up a second mountain. Once I got to the top I looked behind me and there was a sea of clouds hovering in a clearing underneath me. I wish that I could somehow post the image that I have managed to carve into the retina of my eye on this page. This is His power. This is what He can do- make mountains sprout from nothing. To think that what I saw this morning is only a tiny fraction of the whole picutre that He gets. If my vision of creation is this limited, and in itself enough to take my breath away, imagine just how mind-numbingly ridiculous it is from up-there somewhere. How much more is God's glory going to completly plant me on my face once I see HIM?

He determines the number of stars; He gives to all of them their names. - Psalm 147:4

The walk today was easier. Dan walked past puffing on what was probably his 15th cigarette, reciting 'Nicotine Power, Nicotine Power' as he took another drag. I hope he's praying as he does that cos the only power I think he might get is the power to have a coronary heart-attack. I got to the refuge in Triacastela and heard 2 guys speaking Italian out the front so I introduced myself. Their names are Davide and ...... Mattia. Yep, not kidding. Once we got settled we went and grabbed a drink. They are both incredible guys. Davide is 29 and he's searching for something spiritual on the Camino. He goes to church on Sundays, however he gets bored and believes that loving God should be about celebrating His love and not reciting hail-Mary's for 2 hours every day. I think that he's absolutely right. Mattia is 22 and he thinks that it's all bullshit...I know how he we talked for a few hours. Davide said the most beautiful thing, and I havent been able to stop thinking about his words since: 'Faith is like love. You can't see it or explain it- you have to FEEL it..' ...nice. Very nice.
God's ordination is extrodinary. To think that I might have kept going another 10 kms if I wasnt in so much pain today, I wouldn't have met them. Everything happens for a reason...and His reasons are wonderful.

Day 5- Triacastela to Barbadelo- 25 kms

I walked all day with Davide and Mattia. Aside from the fact that I could hardly walk, and that I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry about it, we had a great time. The scenery was incredible, and it got better by the hour. I'm a little discouraged that rather than things getting easier, they are getting harder, however I know that  just as life comes from Him, so does healing and strength. From Him, and through Him and to Him are ALL things...thankyou for reminding me, Romans 11:36.
I met another Frenchie, Sylvan, at the refuge (sensing pattern of French-encounters). We talked about God and how He is in everything (again, thankyou Romans) and how He connects people. Sylvan described it as a 'frequency' that works within us and connects us to certain people depending on the outcome of certain circumstances. I know that what he acutally meant was Spirit...just gotta give people time to get there. Sylvan is searching for peace; he's doing the Camino alone because he needs time to find peace in his heart. He is in my prayers, and I hope that by the end of his journey he will have found the ACTUAL peace that only comes from loving Jesus and being happy and content in His prescence. He talked about not finding happiness in material things, but that it's important to live simply and free. "When we live simple we are closer to God"...umm.. YES!! Man, it amazes me that people can believe such Spirit-filled things and yet not fully believe in the power of Christ. To me, that demonstrates that everyone has the inclination to search for God; to long for something bigger than themselves. I can't wait for Sylvan to find it.
There has been a re-occuring theme on this trip- light. From the book of Genesis we know that the first thing that God commanded on the earth was light. Then, John 1:2 says that 'He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him was not any thing that was made.' Jesus was there from the beginning; he was there when God commanded light. When God commanded light, obviously life life. We cannot live without light...and we cannot live, and not only in the wordly sense, without Jesus. For-

In Him was life, and life was the light of men.- John 1:4

That's the coolest thing I've ever heard.

Day 6- Barbadelo to Ferreiros- 10 kms

So much pain today. I have made it to the non-walking stage. It took me 5 hours to limp 10 kms, and had to stop because I was actually walking and crying. For those of you who don't know me too well, my pain threshold is usually pretty high, so I was even shocking myself. I got to the first town, Ferreiros, with Davide and Mattia. The thought of walking any more made me nauseaous. Our guides were telling us that the next refuge wasn't for another 10 kms. We stopped for a coffee and I was so, so happy to find out that there acutally was a small refuge right next to the coffee shop. It was a completely answered prayer, I was praising Him so much for not making me walk anymore!... Yes! He provided more than I expected. Dont you love that?...and it gets better: In the midst of my tears, both of pain and joy, along came Julian.
I remember seeing Julian at a bus station a couple of days before. I remembered him from the very distinct long white feather that he has on his hat. He and a Slovenian guy, Joseph, introduced themselves while we were sitting out the front of the refuge waiting for it to open. As we started talking, I was pressed to pray for grace- Julian was the living, walking definition of French Wanker. After only 4 minutes of conversation, he was already going on about how France have all these islands everywhere and that's why they're so rich, blah, blah, blah...whatever. He told me that the night before he had sleept at a monestary and had met a group of Americans who were not doing the Camino, they were just there evangelising. They invited him to their service. He told me about the girl who stood up and shared her testimony and that it was so cheesy cos she was blonde and pretty and she was crying and thanking Jesus for saving her...and she was American, and "Americanz, zey are bullshit". He went on to say that although he didnt enjoy the dramatic 'Jesus Loves Me' show, he did have fun singing with a band instead of falling asleep to an old woman singing hymns with a piano. He was immediately critical of the fact that "Americanz, zey try to convince ze world to love Jesus," however, happy at the end to have been a part of a Bible study they conducted after the service.
We checked into the refuge, and about an hour later while I was sitting at the coffee shop Julian sat down beside me with a beer. Obviously I had my Bible on the table, and once he realised what it was he picked it up. He went straight to the book of Matthew, telling me that he's read it. Then, he flipped to 1 John, and I felt inclined to point him to the 'God is love' passage. As he began to read it, he expressed that it's difficult to read if it's not in your native language...but he kept going anyway. He commented: "Ah, Italian girl, it is coincidence that you show me this passage. Yesterday I walk with a priest and he tells me for 4 hours that God is love. Strange, no?" "Julian, it's not's God." We proceeded to talk about many spiritual things, including how God revealed Himself throughout my life. This Julian, the 'Wanker' I had labelled him as, turned out to be one of the smartest 18-year-old's I've ever met. Only a couple of times in my walk have I come across someone so severely pursued by God. Just the things that he was talking about, and the reasoning coming out of his mouth was all pointing to God stirring in his heart. He literally quoted scripture at one point: "Some people, zey, ah, zink that God live only in churches...but I zink God iz everywhe-ah.." (Acts 17:24, one of my favourite passages..) He told me some crazy stories about his Camino experience: his first day he saw this written on a wall: 'Oser la confiance.'- 'Dare to trust'. 2 days later, a guy invited him to sleep in his house and fed him when he was about to sleep out in the field. He took the quote that he saw as a sign to accept the man's invitation, when he would have otherwise been too scared to go into a strangers house. Coincidence? Nope, it's God, you bloody Frenchie. Suddenly all the pain and discouragement of the morning payed off...because of my meeting with Julian. What a blessing it was to be able to share faith and life and God with such a precious and intelligent guy. At the very end of the conversation, just when I thought that maybe after all the God talk he may have come out a little humbled he said: "You know, I'm not smart...I'm French."
Well...some things take time.

Day 7- Ferreiros to Palas de Rei- 33 kms

Thivou, the Frenchie from Day 1, ended up showing up at Ferreiros yesterday afternoon. Turns out that him and Julain are like I got to spend the night giggling with 2 French men (considering that about 2-thirds of the time I had no idea what they were on about...and they were still funny). Anyway, as I was drifting off to sleep, Julian came in. He and Thivou had been talking after I left for bed. He said, " You know, Italian girl, I tell Thivou about all ze funny coincidences zat happen to me on ze Camino. For egzample, I remember too, one day when I am walking and i zink of a song...and zen ze hostel I go to has a small radio and I turn it on and ze song is playing. Funny coincidence, no? I dunno, maybe God is saying, 'Julian! Wake up!'" I said- "Julian, you're a funny coincidence." "Ha, ha, Italian girl, you are funny...somezing about you is very different zan ze other people on ze Camino. I like you...and now, I brush my teeth because ze French are not pigs."
How I love the radiance of the spirit, and how I love falling asleep laughing. After meeting Julian and Thivou, my new French mates, I had to rethink my prejudice towards French men and embrace their arrogance...this lead me to the (convicting) thought of the day-

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.- 1 John 4:7

...even the French Wankers.

Day 8- Palas de Rei- Santiago- LAST DAY!

This Scripture really touched me this morning:

God is in the midst of her;
She will not be moved,
God will help her when morning comes - Psalm 46:5

...and He did. I caught the bus majority of the way, and walked the last glorious 10 kms into the beautiful town of Santiago. The Cathedral was huge and packed...and overwhelming. I don't know if it's because I live near the Vatican and I have seen riches beyond my immagination in there, but I got the exact same feeling walking into that place as I do each time I walk into St Peters: With all this money, we could probably stop world hunger. Stuff like that makes me wonder why people question God when they think of the big issues in the world, such as, hunger. Why is it up to God to fix something when we have the resources to fix it ourselves? Think of how many overly expensive possesions we even have personally. If each one of us gave something up, we could feed a family, and proabably for an extended period of time. So why do we 'blame' God for things that we are perfectly capable of ending? We sure are selfish, fellow humans... and we are very quick to point fingers and justify our own wrong-doing for fear of taking the responsibility...but too slow to miss the things that acutally need our attention.
Sorry..momentary lapse of frustration. Needless to say, Santiago really is a beautiful city, and it was such a relief to finally get there. The last couple of days of the Camino seemed like a race; it kinda lost it's essence. At the beginning everyone was so chilled out, and taking their time walking and getting to know people...but by the end, everyday was a fight to get to your destination before a certain hour to make sure that you got a spot at a refuge before they all filled up. The last stretch was draining, I just wanted to finish. However, at the end of the Camino de Santiago (also the Spanish word for James), I really did 'count it all joy' in all the trails that I encoutered. Physical trials and emotional trials- all of it was worth it when I think about how much He worked, not only through me, but also in me. I know that the testing of my faith produces steadfastness, and that steadfastness will have it's full that I may be perfect and complete; lacking in nothing. (James 1: 2-4).

I sat at Santiago train station, waiting for my bus back to Madrid. A lot still lied ahead- Amsterdam was the next stop. I knew it wasn't going to be easy to go back to the place where I spent a very dark period of my life this time 2 years ago... but I also knew that He is in the midst of me, and that I cannot be moved. I tried to sleep, however I was very disturbed and distracted by the fact that someone had flicked a cigarette butt at me. Nope...not even joking. I didn't know whether to laugh because they must've thought that  I was acutally homeless, or cry because I looked homeless enough for them to not notice me. Imagine what happens to the people that live on that station floor? I wonder about that...many people often say- 'If they're homeless, they must be homeless for a reason. Maybe they shouldn't have blown all their money on drugs or alcohol...or gambling..' (because of course, if you're homeless, you must fall into one or all of those categories..) My question is, how does the homeless addict differ from the addict in rehab? We don't think twice to feel compassion when someone we know gets admitted into a centre to fix their problems, yet we look down upon the rugged, dirty man who's sleeping on the street with a can of beer in his hand... are they not both equally as broken and lost? Let me tell you about Francesco. Francesco was the drunk middle-aged man that was sleeping next to me. We had been talking for about 40 minutes, however after rolling and smoking his giant joint, he passed out. If there was ever a time that I wanted to have a drag of a joint, that was it, let me tell you. It would have been an instant fix to relax the weird muscles that I didn't even know I had and take away all my physical aches. However, after having told Francesco that I live for Jesus and not for marijuana anymore, I respecatbly declined his offer...but I still stayed there, right beside him and hummed him to sleep. I would rather Francesco remember me as the sober Christian girl who was talking about her love for Jesus when she slept next to him at a train station, than the crippled girl who told him about the importance of living for 'some guy named Jesus' while puffing on his doobie, because that is what I'm called to be. Each time I come across someone like Francesco, it hits me even harder and the confirmation is stronger. I love his brokeness because I know what he feels. I know the emptyness and despair and the mind-numbing frustration of living a life with no purpose...and I know how to fix it. People like Francesco are the reason that I got saved...because they need to be saved too, and they need people that aren't afraid to tell them that. Meeting Francesco was a perfect end to my adventure. He slept for the next few hours, and I lied awake praying next to him. I left him with some scripture and a couple of bux in his front pocket and as my bus pulled out...I waved goodbye to him and Santiago.

This month I have re-learnt and been reminded that God lives and moves in me, and His Spirit projects out of me; it leaks out of my pores and into the universe like a stream of marvelous light. He splatters off of me, all over the earth, and each splatter of His truth always achieves the purpose for which He sends it out. God is Provider, He is Creator, He is Healer...and He is Peace. He ordained each one of my steps on this Camino, and His will was done in all circumstances. How good it feels to know that He is with me, and that there are now more of His seeds along this walk than there were before. God is the wind and the stars. He is the trees and the flowers; He is sea and the earth.  God is love, God is life. He is all things crazy; He is all things beautiful.

... just a little music to remind us all :

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