Monday, August 19, 2013

Whose Camino is it anyway?

Levi and I with the cross/sword of St. James
I know it's late, but I just bathed and my hair is sopping wet so I can't quite go to sleep yet. I figured, what better way to spend a little time than writing one last blog update on the Camino? I've actually
been meaning to do this for a few days, and I thought it might help me put my thoughts in order as I prepare for another semester of missionary life. And yes, for all you holy rollers out there, praying or doing holy reading could probably be a better way to spend this time... please forgive me.

The title of this post perfectly sums up one of the biggest graces I received while hiking the Camino de Santiago. The grace came very gradually, our Lord is the perfect gentleman, you know, but it came exactly as He would so have it. So let me now tell you, and for those of you who have been in conversation with me, this might be a bit repetitive. However, I'm convinced that the Lord does not just give a person a singular grace so that that particular person might grow; I think He works in our lives so that we might share it and He might work through that to change other hearts. So if this is the second, third or fifth time you've heard this story, then sit back, be patient and maybe open your heart just a little bit more. I know that I learn something new, or at least am reminded in a very real way each time I tell it.

Enough already Kelsey, on with it...

One of the graces that I received was a pretty drastic emptying. "That's a grace?!" you might be wondering to yourself. Yes, I tell you, and soon you shall see why. There are a lot of small things in my life, let me call them vanities, which keep me obsessed with things in this life that don't really matter. A friend of mine once told me that "vanities are when we give eternal import to that which is passing" or something like that. That's what I heard anyway--essentially, far too often I place too much value on things that just don't matter, plain and simple. Spending too much time in front of the mirror, examining what I will wear, how I'll do my make-up, how I'll curl my hair just so. And not only with appearance do vanities sneak in, but also with items that I have, wanting everything to be just perfect, always wanting people to see me in a certain way...vanities I tell you, all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2 actually became a theme for our trip very early on, and it's no surprise why.)

I came to realize that going on the Camino became, in itself, a vanity for me. Early on in the trip I noticed a possessiveness to the whole trip. People constantly asking you, "How is your Camino? What do you hope to get from your Camino?" On top of that, I had spent so much time individually praying and preparing for this Camino that it definitely came to the point where I was ready to just get to Spain and walk my Camino exactly how I wanted it.

That, my friends, is where I went wrong.

Before going I know that being a missionary and a leader on the trip will be different, but I have no idea how difficult. When people ask me how the trip was, I first say, "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and not necessarily physically." The hard part came in sharing and being always ready to share everything with the students, the other missionaries, and even random strangers that God put in our paths each day. Tangentially, I remember one specific moment when we were surrounded by fellow pilgrims in a random place that escapes my memory and I had the thought, "Wow, we were all meant to be here, in this place, for a specific reason, right now. Cool!!" Basically, nothing on this trip is my own, and I have to be fully prepared to give things up at a moment's notice.
Trying to be awake post-hike in Sarria, but giving up slowly...

The first night in the hostel in León we get there, put our backpacks down and the lady insists that we put our backpacks on these tables at the front of the room, even though there are other people in the room. I think, "yeah, okay, but I'm putting mine by my bed," because I'm so afraid of stuff getting stolen, not understanding full well how the albergues (hostels) worked. I make a little bit of a fuss and Anna turns to me and just says two words, "Kelsey, trust!!" Those words shoot me straight through the heart and I realize how attached I am to my things in that moment. My backpack with all the things that I brought with were all that I have, and I can't bring myself to being without. She says that and I immediately ask the Lord for forgiveness, hoping I haven't placed too much value on simple passing things...ahem...vanities. From that moment forward the rest of the graces begin to unfold on the trip, especially realizing that God gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. And he did. Every time. For every person...even me.

Back to the big part of the grace, I guess I didn't realize how many different pieces were in this puzzle. At that very first moment I start learning a little bit of detachment on the Camino, but that is only the beginning. Being one of the only missionaries fluent in Spanish, many students seek me out with questions about anything and everything (even things I had no idea about!) and I have to be prepared to give them some sort of answer, even if it is, "just hold on one second." Nothing on this Camino was even remotely mine, not even the time.

I begin to get frustrated because the graces I want are not flooding in and the spiritual consolations aren't exactly in high supply either. It's kind of ironic too, because each of the missionaries will give a talk at one point or another during the trip, and originally mine was supposed to be about the importance of sharing testimonies and a brief how-to, but when the day came to share I feel absolutely no call to talk on that topic whatsoever. I do some soul-searching and beg for the right words from the Holy Spirit, and end up giving a talk about entitlement, and how we are not entitled to anything, but that God gives us the graces that He desires to give. Little do I know that I probably should have listened to that talk because the Holy Spirit would use that later. So basically, my sentiments toward the Camino both pre- and during the trip, was a bit of entitlement--I wanted what I wanted, period. But God wanted something else. And He always wins, period.

Before leaving I asked family, friends, mission partners and anyone that wanted to send prayer intentions to the tomb of St. James, to send them my way. I wrote them all in the last few pages of my journal and then split up each day to pray for particular intentions. I'm not going to go out and personally say what they were, but from some people I received really heavy prayer requests. I'm talking, big things. Intentions that I'm still praying for very intently today, knowing that these people and situations need many prayers. Many of these came from people that I know very well but they have never told me these things. At first I wasn't sure if I was supposed to read them but just dutifully take them and dispose of them at Santiago's tomb...but I couldn't do that. I had to pray for them and I'm so glad I did.

Back to mid-trip entitlement. It starts to build and I'm not sure why. The Lord continues revealing slowly the ways in which He wants to remove vanities from my life and my heart continues opening wider and wider. We eventually get to Santiago and I already dream about entering this magnificent city and marvelous cathedral. And, well, that's not exactly how it happened for me. For one, I have no idea the city is so enormous and that it will take at least an hour or more to get from the outskirts of the city to where we need to be. Second, the only other example I have of getting to the Cathedral (which was what I most looked forward to) is the movie The Way. It's a pretty emotional and individually unique event for each of the characters, and let's just say it wasn't like that for me. I had
Look closely, you can see the handprint!
dreams of getting down on my knees to enter the cathedral, placing my hand in the statue that millions of pilgrims have touched before me and has since then worn down in the shape of five fingerprints, and simply being able to take in the entire Cathedral in silent awe and wonderment.

Sounds magical, doesn't it?

Well, that isn't what God had in store for me all along, and I'm starting to finally realize that now, after being back for three weeks. We arrive to the Cathedral just in time for a packed pilgrim's mass at noon, are ushered in through a side door and have to find room up next to some giant pillars because all the pews are full. Not only that, but we can't see a thing and Mass is in Spanish. Bonus. It isn't until the next day that I actually have a chance to really look at the Cathedral from the front doors and see the beautiful gold sanctuary--I was completely blown away. Also, one other thing that I really really want to see, is the botafumeiro, or rather, world's largest thurible (the incensor that the priest uses at Mass on special Holy Days) really get smoking and be swung back and forth by multiple men with ropes, flooding our senses with the sweet smell of incense (that's not sarcasm, I love the smell of church incense). Of all the Masses we attend (I even stick around for a few extra), the botafumeiro is never in action while I'm present, and that itself becomes a gift to me.

Sanctuary at Cathedral. Botafumeiro front and center.
Back to all these prayer requests I was telling you about. It really dawned on me when I actually got to visit St. James' tomb and pray for them just how big of a deal this Camino was. It was as if Jesus spoke directly to me and told me how important it was for me to walk this Camino, simply so that I could pray for these intentions in such a special way (remember, some of the requests were big!) and so powerfully. I actually needed to give by going so that they could go by giving. That's usually a tacky tagline we use for MPD and in raising our support, but it really led to a profound grace: I needed to walk this Camino because these people couldn't, and these intentions needed serious prayer! This Camino wasn't ever mine to begin with, it was theirs. This Camino was for all of those who wanted to go but were not able. Sure, it was also for me, but it was for me a complete emptying of me. It's no surprise that the Lord brought up the verse John 3:30 right the beginning of the trip, "He must increase, I must decrease." It's no wonder because what he wanted to give me on the trip was actually less of me. And not only less of me, but a desire to be less so that He can be more. So that He can be everything. Now that totally rocks my world, and answers the question posed in this post's title.

That's all I have on the Camino for now, folks. We have our first team offsite tomorrow and the team is headed up nort' to Canada! Please pray for us as we have our student missionary retreat this week as well, and freshman move-in on Saturday! A busy couple of weeks lined up, but so much fun.

Here are a few more pictures, in the meantime.
Cool bridge in Ospital de Orbigo.

Kelly, Anna, Kelsey. Three dear friends enjoying Sangria!

Typical morning walk.

Passing through and this priest offers us a Camino stamp and a prayer. Good man.
Levi, Kelsey, Anna, Joe. Missionaries represent!
Beautiful cloistered convent where we celebrated Mass.

Our view from the dinner table one night.
My favorite morning walk. A beautiful nature quilt.
20 mile hike, check.
Reppin' the homeland!
The whole group on St. James' feast day, at his Cathedral!


  1. Thank you for praying so intently for our intentions. Every Camino is different and the Lord knows exactly what each heart needs. Welcome home and thanks for being our missionary!!!