Sunday, August 21, 2016

Beginning at the Beginning

Processing this pilgrimage is frankly taking a turn for me that is more difficult than I expected. A pilgrimage isn't just about wonderful things seen and a new culture experienced. It is about seeking God, with carrying in one's heart all of the people and all their need during that process of seeking God, and about being open to whatever transformation comes from that.

But there's a really important part of pilgrimage, and that is coming home. It is also about seeking God, carrying needs, and being open to transformation, and learning to live the graces God has already given.

And it's harder than I thought.

So I'm adjusting my approach to a more systematic progression because I feel it might be more helpful.

If I go way back to the beginning of my participation in this pilgrimage, I'd remember the day in 2013 after it had been announced that it would be in Poland and Iwona had already said (probably instantaneously) that she would go. I told Iwona about a dream I had that she introduced me to her mother, and that Poland was her mother. She looked at me, walked away, and said "Do you have any idea how much can happen in three years?"

I didn't jump on the pilgrimage bandwagon early on. My son was the first one to want to go, and subsequently the one who waffled the hardest afterwards. My daughter was very keen on the idea of travel, and I knew if he would go, she would want to go, and if either of them would go, I would have to go. And it just didn't seem financially feasible, so I mostly wrote off the idea. But every time we visited with my mother-in-law, the topic resurfaced for family discussion because she had caught wind of my son's initial intention to go.

Finally after one gathering in May of 2015 where Iwona and another friend were discussing the trip, I started to think perhaps I should seriously ask the Lord what He thought. My prayer went, "Lord, if you want me to do this, it's simple: just send money."

I mentioned publicly twice, I think, that I was open to fundraising for Poland. By mid-summer, my basement was packed with books and garage sale items people had donated for me to sell and my normal side business I had had for years shot through the roof. My Vietnamese friend volunteered a huge amount of work, matched by that of many others, for an already tested out fundraiser selling eggrolls, which, this time, brought in such a huge amount in sales and donations that it matched what was then the projected cost of the trip for one person.

I took these things as the Lord's answer that He wanted the three of us to go. So many people's generosity made it possible. That's the first thing I learned about pilgrimage: there are a huge number of people involved on many levels. Each one is vital and God somehow knits us spiritually together to share in one good thing.

The immediate preparations for leaving I thought would be my death. There was an incredible amount of stress. Not only the lists and the packing and the myriad of details, and all the normal activities of my life like church music, but also the fact that I dutifully tried to shift my sleep schedule to wake earlier, which may have been a good idea, but I did not actually get to bed earlier, which was a very bad thing. On top of that was my sort of role as stress-absorber for other pilgrims, including the Majors who just happened to choose that time to also pack up their house in preparation for moving. The night before our last day in Steubenville I packed their still-lived-in kitchen. Just before going to bed for a bit of sleep before we left for the airport, the very kind grandmother of one of our pilgrims (who was staying overnight at our house) asked if I could stop by and pick up some food she had made for us. I told her at that moment I was so tired I could cry. It was maybe only then that I realized that I was in shreds.

I left my house at 5am, which is 11am Poland time, on Monday the 11th of July. After we arrived in Poland, I also dutifully resisted the desire to sleep, because I was told it would ruin me for days if I didn't stay awake until bedtime. So when at 7pm Poland time on the 12th I arrived at our "welcome picnic," I was beyond being a basket case. I had not slept except on the one hour flight from Germany to Poland. I took a few bites of food, and someone asked me if perhaps I wanted to lay down on a blanket. I collapsed on it, recognizing several minutes later that I had food in my mouth I had not chewed. It started to rain, so one of the pilgrims scooped me up and brought me inside the house, where I proceeded to lose it, to cry from the sheer stress of exhaustion, and then to hyperventilate from not being able to breath. Someone told me, "Oh, you shouldn't have come; you should have stayed with your host family." I thought: "It's a pilgrimage. Am I really going to start by saying, "Opting out. Thanks."

I lived. I slept in the next morning and then only felt tired instead of dead.

But I don't recommend to anyone that you start a pilgrimage in that severe of a stress overload.

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