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An Invitation to Pilgrimage

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5

"Wow! I saw on social media that you took a vacation to England!" my friends comment.

And, I guess I did.

I certainly took a trip to England.

But, it felt a little different than how I typically think of vacations.

It felt significantly more meaningful and a lot more sacred.

When I first begin to sense God beckoning me to travel with him to England, it felt like a very blurry invitation.

The timing didn't seem right financially as I was about to finish my salaried job to begin a new ministry where I would need to raise donations.

It didn't seem practical as I felt the need to begin working on the mission and vision of Restoration Ministries and finding partners to help me.

It didn't seem at all like it fit with my personality since I like stability and security...I'm not the type to pursue an adventure on my own.

But, there seemed to be a quiet persistence and insistence in my heart. As I shared with prayer partners and mentors they encouraged me to listen to the unusual stirring within me.

I'm glad I did.

A couple of weeks before going to England, I listened to a podcast that discussed the ancient practice of going on a pilgrimage. Even though I was not going on a specific pilgrimage, it resonated with me. I felt it gave me language for my trip to England...this would be a pilgrimage of discovery and adventure as I walked with God along unknown paths.

Imagine my surprise while I was at a retreat at Lee Abbey when the speaker (Vicar Andy Humm) begin his opening session with Psalm 84 and said he would be sharing about pilgrimage throughout the weekend. He explained that he had recently been on a pilgrimage to St. Cuthbert's Way and that he would be sharing his thoughts about how we can set our hearts on pilgrimage.

Here are a few reflections on the messages that I heard that weekend:

Difficulties Along the Way:

Every pilgrimage and journey will have difficulties along the way.

This seems so obvious.

Yet, I continue to be surprised by the hardships I encounter on my journey in life. Many times I feel like I have been blindsided and knocked down by something totally unexpected. When this happens, I feel like I am laying on the floor bleeding out and I don't know if I can ever get up again.

Andy reminded us that just as we have seen God walk with us in the hard things in the past, we can be assured that He will be with us through every painful thing in the future.

Recently, I re-read the book (Healing, One Brushstroke at a Time) that I wrote and published last year.

I needed to remind myself of the ways God has been present with me.

I needed to remind myself that He has tenderly ministered to my wounds and brought healing to my heart.

I needed to remember that He has given me the energy and courage to get back up again and again after being knocked down.

Andy mentioned that perhaps the thirty-one miles we have traveled is leading up to and preparing us for mile thirty-two.

This brings me hope.

Following Psalm 84:5 comes this verse:

As they pass through the Valley of Baka,

they make it a place of springs;

the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

The Valley of Baka is a physical valley that embodies fear, desolation, and tears.

How comforting to think that the very places in our hearts that have carried the most grief can become places of life-giving water.

The Practice of Stopping

Andy shared from his own experience as he walked St. Cuthbert's Way that he discovered the importance of taking time to stop and to be present with God. After realizing that there were more people along the path and more conversations than he had anticipated, he came up with a practice of stopping every hour to read a chapter of the Bible. This gave him time to pause and to be alone with God.

He encouraged us to take pit-stops on our journey. To find Sabbath rest. To take time to be still in God's presence.

I'm grateful my trip to England did give me time to pause and reflect.

The entire trip was like a pit-stop where God was refueling me.

My days in Crawley were specifically set aside for me to debrief and spend time with God. I met with a mentor (a friend of a friend) who helped me as I processed pain from the last few years of my life. She kindly led me through scripture passages and exercises that helped me to name emotions, fears, losses, grief and hopes.

I shed a lot of tears.

I released some expectations.

I recognized some lies the Enemy had been whispering to me.

I buried some dreams.

I celebrated the ways God has been at work in my life.

It was a time of closure and a time of embracing new beginnings.

Restoration and Coming Home:

Andy talked about the joy of coming home after a pilgrimage.

About how our hearts long for the familiar and the sense of belonging that comes from the safety of home.

About how good it is to put our feet up and to sleep in our own beds.

My heart does long for the welcome I will receive when I am face-to-face with my Maker.

When every tear is wiped from my eyes.

When there is no more heartbreak.

When I am fully in His presence and still fully known and fully loved.

When the warmth and light swallows up the cold and darkness of this present world.

I loved that Andy also shared that the feeling of restoration and belonging doesn't just happen when we arrive home, but can happen all along the way. As Andy shared the importance of allowing God to restore us along the journey, I appreciated the song You Restore My Soul that he shared with us. Psalm 23 is a wonderful picture of restoration.

Part of my trip to England consisted of reunions with friends from different times and places throughout my life. These reunions also brought restoration along the journey.

Each time, I was embraced and welcomed. During each reunion, I was given glimpses of God's heart...whether it was through someone praying for me, the hospitality of feeling at home in someone else's home, a heartfelt conversation, taking a walk together, partaking in a delicious meal, worshipping or laughing together.

I also met strangers along the way who gave me glimpses of God's love.

I love the way God uses the people He has created, in all of our diversity and our wide range of personalities, to help us restore and encourage each other along the way.

I also love the way that God uses the beauty of His creation to restore us. Throughout my three weeks in England, I was captivated by beauty again and again.

I loved the way that England has made green spaces a priority. It's obvious that they have made a connection between mental health and the need to be in nature.

I loved everything from the traditional roses and gardens to the wildness of the cliffs and the sea. There seemed to be arches and gates and doors everywhere beckoning me to discover additional beauty.

In the last month since I have been home, I have discovered that I now get to put the things I learned during my pilgrimage in England to my real life. As Andy said, once we arrive home the rubber meets the road.

I thought it was encouraging that he pointed out that when Peter wrote 1st & 2nd Peter, it was many years into his journey with Jesus. Yet, the difficulties of the pilgrimage had not hindered his commitment. I loved that he pointed out this words that Peter penned:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

May I also continue to follow in His steps on this pilgrimage of life.


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