In Which I Practice Blogging

See below for my report on today.

Now I am practising blogging from my phone, since that will be the method of the summer. So far so good, right?
I took some pictures along the way; let’s see if I can successfully post those!

Roy Thomson Hall bringing back good memories with Kair:

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That’s where I’m headed:

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Humber Bridge:

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I looked, but didn’t see Sheldon:

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On the way home, I pass a Dairy Cream…

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… a Dairy King…

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… and a Dairy Queen. Where I stopped for an ice cream cone! Which did not make up for the fact that I’d run out of water several kilometres before. Note to self: thirst + ice cream = thirst.
Still, a little sugar to get me the last three kilometres home, which are always the hardest.

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In Which I Practice Walking

Last night I packed up my backpack with everything I’m taking to Spain. Well, everything except my passport, which I left on purpose, and my nail clippers, which I left accidentally. I doubt that extra weight will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. (I guess you never know, though!)
This morning, after a terrible, restless sleep, I took the train downtown and started walking home. This has become my regular Saturday schedule, but today was significant because my backpack was finally at its full weight for the summer. I made it home successfully, without collapsing, without crying, without wishing for a swift and sudden death, AND without a sunburn. Yippee! I CAN do this!
30 kilometres is farther than I’ll walk in the average day on the Camino, so that makes me feel good about the summer. That helps balance out the knowledge that today’s walk was quite flat and on smooth sidewalks, as opposed to, say, up the Pyrenees. And it was just one day. Not 35 days in a row of walking. Woohoo! (Why do I take weird vacations?)

In Which I See My Reflection, and Don’t Like It

I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff lately.

 

Recently I was reading a blog written by a woman who possibly loves books as much as I do. She was discussing how her kids think that it’s normal to have bookshelves as the main decorating scheme in their house, and how people always give suggestions when they see how many books and bookshelves she has. Why don’t you get a public library card? Don’t you hate dusting all those shelves? How do you keep the books in any state of organization? She wrote that she loved dusting her shelves and organizing the books, because she felt very much like a dragon in its lair, wallowing in its treasure.

 

This statement hit far too close to home.

It was a mirror held up in which I could see myself, and I did not like what I saw.

 

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or – worse! – stolen by burglars, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19, MSG).

 

Lugging your belongings on your back up and down mountains, across a country, through the heat of the day and in the middle of summer seems like a good way to become less concerned with how much you have and more concerned with “throwing off every weight that hinders”. You’ve already read my basic packing list: something to wear, something to sleep in, something to stay clean with, and room for food and water in my backpack.

However, learning simplicity in “regular life” doesn’t seem so easy to do. I’ve always thought that I’m not really a “stuff” kind of person. I regularly go through my things, culling and re-organizing. I am not a keeper of things, not sentimental about stuff the way some people are (*ahem* like my packrat sister *ahem*).

 

Isn’t it obvious? Jesus says. The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being (v 21).

 

Well, yes, Jesus – when you put it like that, it does seem rather obvious. But what do I DO to store up treasure in heaven? When I find out my heart isn’t so unaffected by all the things that I have, what do I DO?

I think I have my first step right in front of me: take only one (small and light) backpack’s worth of belongings to another country, travelling in a way that makes me remember that less is better. That should be a good start to figuring out just how much I can do without.

 

But I don’t think that’s enough. So I will ponder this question a whole lot more while on the way.

You see, when a rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he should do to have eternal life, Jesus tells him he should keep the commandments. When the man says that he has done so, Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect (or complete, depending on your translation), that he should sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, giving him treasure in heaven instead; then he should come and follow Jesus.

That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go (Matt 19:22 MSG).

 

I’m not trying to get into a discussion about how to interpret the Bible and whether or not Jesus’ directions hold true for all of us today.

But I will say simply this:

I am holding on tightly to a lot of things, and I need to learn to let go.

 

Richard Foster has a list of suggestions for learning to live in simplicity.

I’ve adapted it for myself here (although if you cross reference, you’ll see I’ve just lifted some of his statements directly), particularly trying to make some statements more specific:

  1. Shun anything that distracts from seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matt 6:33).
  2. Reject anything that produces an addiction in me.
    1. Appreciate books for their ideas and beauty and usefulness.
    2. Stop collecting books just to have more, and to hold a sense of superiority or achievement.
    3. One in, one out: If anyone gives me a book, I will read and appreciate it as a gift. Then I will decide if it stays or goes. If it stays on my bookshelves, another book must go to make room for it. (I have totally filled up my bookshelves, so I need to get rid of books if I accept any more!)
  3. Learn to differentiate between “need” and “want”. Buy only what is needed.
  4. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
  5. Develop a habit of giving things away. Look for opportunities to bless others.
  6. Live debt free.
  7. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

 

Any other ideas? Any suggestions of how you work to free your heart from the tyranny of stuff?

 

(Just a PS to my packrat sister: I didn’t name you, so don’t hate me. And you know how much I love you!)

In Which I Make a Difficult Decision Regarding Hair Gel

Somehow, when deciding to walk the Camino this summer, it never occurred to me that I would be backpacking.

Please understand: I am pretty much the least outdoorsy person I know. My small group drags me camping most years, and I do begrudgingly enjoy it, but it is never something I would choose to do for fun if I were the one choosing the activity. Hiking and backpacking are something I NEVER would have imagined doing. But the dream of the Camino drew me in, and I had bought my airline tickets already before I realized that I would essentially be backpacking across a country.

What followed was a huge learning curve about all things outdoorsy.

Now I am all outfitted with my outdoorsy belongings: hiking boots, backpack, water pack, hat, trekking poles, good quality clothing… it’s a new experience.

I began training – walking to work and back each day was not nearly enough mileage, so long walks on weekends have become a staple. 25 kilometres on a Saturday is now a new normal. On a Saturday when I only walked 12 kilometres, I marvelled at how short that seemed, AND at how I have become a person who says things like, “I ONLY walked TWELVE kilometres yesterday.”

Amidst the training, I quickly learned how weight in a backpack is relative: the longer you walk, the heavier it gets. Walking with a backpack weighted at 25 pounds is a good way to realize that I only need to take the absolute necessities and nothing else. For the most part, this is easy to discern – one change of clothes, my hat, sunscreen, the barest of toiletries (seriously: comb, nail clippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, hair elastics), flip-flops, and headlamp.

 

And then there is this tiny bottle of gel that keeps making it into the box where I’ve been gathering my supplies.

Hair gel.

My hair is a little uncontrollable if I don’t do something with it. This is what I tell myself when I put the bottle in.

Then I remind myself that this trip is definitely not about what I look like, and every bit of extra weight is dumb. I take it back out.

A few hours or days later, I think about how nice it would be to feel like I look presentable after a long day. The bottle goes back in.

Again, after a while I tell myself how ridiculous it is. I will wear my hair clipped up or in a ponytail. It’s a pilgrimage, for goodness’ sake.

 

This is such a dumb story, right? A bottle of hair gel – it’s almost inconsequential. And yet even though I know how inconsequential it is to have with me, I can’t help but keep trying to pack it, against all logic. This has made me wonder how much of my life and my decisions are controlled by, essentially, vanity. In the Case of the Hair Gel, vanity over my appearance. But in life in general, vanity of all sorts – how I appear to others. I want to appear like I’ve got all aspects of my life together, to look perfect to any outsider.

I can’t help but remember God’s words to Samuel: “For people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

 

May I continue to learn to be unconcerned about how I appear to others, and learn to be right before God!

 

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down… (Hebrews 12:1)

In Which I Learn How to Walk

I need to learn to walk.

 

That sounds ridiculous, right? I’ve been able to walk for decades.  How hard can it be, after all?! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other!

The problem is, though, I have all these bad habits I’ve picked up over those decades of walking.  I have suffered through a knee injury and the resulting arthritis, and back issues.

As a result, I hyperextend my knees, hunch my upper back, and carry tension in my pelvis.  None of these things are too noticeable on a short walk.  I can make it through regular life without my knees or back giving me too much trouble on a regular basis.

That all changes on a long walk.  I’ve been walking 25-30 kilometre walks as part of my training the last few Saturdays.  Those long walks have been the diagnostic of what’s wrong in my gait. On a long walk, there’s no way not to notice the knee pain from constant hyperextension.  And that very naturally leads to a desire to solve the problem! (This, by the way, has led to a fascinating foray into the field of biomechanics to investigate and try to solve what’s wrong!)

 

I’ve been thinking of the parallels to spiritual life.  Over time, habits and ideas creep in, and I don’t notice them in my daily life.  They’re doing damage, but I just don’t see how in the short term.  I need a spiritual diagnostic to show me what needs correction.  A pilgrimage seems like a great way to do this – a lot of thinking time while walking, to reflect on my life, my decisions, my habits, my thinking.

 

Psalm 139 ends with these words (from The Message):

Investigate my life, O God,

find out everything about me;

Cross-examine and test me,

get a clear picture of what I’m about;

See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong –

then guide me on the road to eternal life.

 

 

What are some of the ways that you do spiritual diagnostics in your life?

 

 

One last by the way: Teen Missions friends, I think that serving on a TMI team is another fantastic spiritual diagnostic!

In Which a Destination Girl Learns to Enjoy the Journey

Walking is life at a different pace.

 

So much of my life has been spent rushing from one task to the next, one giant to-do list that is never completed.  Walking has changed that.

At the end of last summer, I bid adieu to my car, and began walking as my main mode of transportation.  Not having a car means no more excuses. I actually have to walk if I’m going to get to work. I have to walk to church.  I walk to most things I do – at least in part.  Even if I hop on a bus to run errands, at least some of the trip is done by walking.

When I walk, I am not in a rush.  It doesn’t matter how quickly I want to get somewhere, it still takes time to walk.

Walking has changed my mindset. I have begun noticing things that I never noticed in the three years of commuting from my present home to work. I can actually see things I’m passing.  Birds chirp around me.  Snow falls on me.  I get wet when it rains. People pass and greet me. I participate in the moments unfolding around me, instead of being wrapped up in road rage or contemplating the next tasks on my never-ending to-do list.

I discover a Canada goose up on top of an industrial building I pass. I actually notice it because its honk sounds like a dog barking, but I can’t see a dog around. The goose is clearly proud of itself up there, and I laugh out loud.  It is like a private joke God has made, and placed at just the time and place for me to notice and delight in his sense of humour.  Two days later, I see another goose up on top of a statue along the lakeshore. Again, I delight and laugh.

There is a place in the sidewalk where bird footprints were imprinted when the concrete was still wet.  I wonder about this – how was that bird heavy enough to leave its imprint? What happened? Why was the bird so curious about a new sidewalk? Did it survive the experience?

I meet many people as I walk.  Sometimes this is no more than eye contact and a smile as we pass.  Sometimes it is several friendly words.  Sometimes it becomes a conversation. Again – it has changed me from observer to participant in the world unfolding around me.

 

I had been pondering these thoughts for a while, and they were particularly coalescing yesterday over my long (25 kilometre) walk.  Then I ran into my newest friend Agnes on my walk home from church. Agnes lives a street over from me. I first met her about ten days ago while walking home from work.  She was bringing her groceries inside from her trunk, and I offered her a helping hand. She is a friend I would not have made while driving from place to place.

Agnes is turning 84 this summer.  As we chatted today, she said to me, “I have worked too hard all my life, and now I am too tired to enjoy what’s left of living.”

Her words stopped me short.  I am in danger of this very thing.  I am task oriented, celebrating my accomplishments and looking for meaning in success. I desperately need the reminder that life is more about the journey than the destination.

 

Maybe that is another reason why I am looking forward to this summer so much.  I need to relearn how to walk – to enjoy the journey instead of already looking to the next task on my to-do list. I will keep my mind on the destination, but I will participate in and enjoy the journey.

In Which a Girl Timidly Plans a Pilgrimage

I feel like there should be some really wise words that I have to share on this first blog post.  I don’t really have any that feel particularly eloquent.  And all my “wise” thoughts that I have while walking seem to disappear when I try to put them into words on paper.

So let me jump right in to the point!

 

This summer I will walk the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James.  It is an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain.  Each day will consist of lots of walking.  Besides that, I’m hoping for lots of good conversation time with God, and good conversations with the other pilgrims I meet. And that’s pretty much it.

 

There are generally two reactions that I get from people when I tell them what I’m doing.  One is approval – anything ranging from jealousy from people who want to go themselves, to excitement on my behalf from others.

 

The second one is more like shock.  “You’re doing what?!” isn’t uncommon to hear.  I realize that this vacation is a little unorthodox.  In fact, I would suppose that my own emotions run to excitement 90% of the time, while the other 10% is what on earth am I thinking?  I’m not really an outdoorsy sort of person.  Camping is my idea of one of the worst kinds of vacations a person can take.  And now I find myself researching backpacks and hiking boots from MEC, and taking really long walks to train.

 

Not to mention, I’m going alone.  I won’t have anyone else to drag me along, pull me out of bed, talk me into walking just five more kilometres.  I don’t have guaranteed companionship and conversation.  A small part of me is tempted to be plagued with self-doubt. What if I don’t make any friends? What if I get injured? What if I hate it… and keep hating it all summer long? What if I feel like my relationship with God is stagnating, instead of being deep and rich and meaningful? What if….

 

Today in The Banner I read, “Above all, Jesus is called ‘The Way’, which denotes walking with, a relationship. Experiencing changed circumstances is an invitation to get to know him better. He says, ‘I stand at the door and knock.’ The image is of our opening the door of our hearts to him so that he can spend time with us, as one does with a friend over a meal.”

 

That, above all, is what I hope for this summer.  To walk with Jesus, getting to know him better.

 

2 Corinthians 5:7 – For we walk by faith, not by sight.