A Different Kind of Camino — An Unexpected Journey with Jesus
Exactly one year ago today I flew to Spain to begin a solo, 500-mile, six-week journey on the Camino de Santiago.
The traditional route begins in the village of Saint Jean Pied de Port, France—which sits in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees—and heads west. Although inland, the Camino roughly parallels the northern coast of Spain—up and over a few challenging mountains, through lush meadowlands and pastures, across a vast plain—officially terminating in the city of Santiago de Compostella, about a three day walk from the western coast.
Pilgrims undertake this journey on the Camino—also known as “The Way”—for any number of reasons. For some, it’s spiritual. Others are trying to find themselves—or lose themselves. For yet others, it’s merely a beautiful trekking experience or a physical challenge.
My motivation was more about relationship than accomplishment.
While I certainly hoped to be successful in my ambitious endeavor, my heart’s desire was to make it a Journey with Jesus. To share long hours alone with Him, walking dirt paths and exploring the many small villages along the route. To meet and enjoy other Pilgrims, yes, but to see them through His eyes and love them with His heart. And to depend solely on Him for my safety, for finding a bed each night—and for not getting lost!
For the first week and a half, that was my journey.
I began my adventure with two days in France, roaming the charming village of Saint Jean before taking my first step onto the Camino and tackling the steep walk up the Pyrenees. The next eight lovely days I traipsed across the first 100 miles of the centuries-old path.
Idyllic days with Him, laughter and delightful fellowship with new friends, nights in sometimes crowded, sometimes noisy, but always interesting albergues (Pilgrim hostels), and an exciting new adventure with every sunrise.
Then abruptly, that all changed.
After over 36 hours of misery and several medical clinic visits—hoping it would go away—I ended up in the hospital in Logrono diagnosed with an intestinal obstruction.
I remained there for sixteen days.
This was not the Camino I had planned. Jesus had a very different vision for our journey than I did.
— Instead of roaming the Spanish countryside with Him, I was walking hospital halls.
— Instead of feasting on delectable local food, I was sipping a liquid diet.
— Instead of the companionship of Pilgrims, I was making friends with other patients.
And my new bedroom looked very different than my previous ones.
Now, as I look back on all this—surprisingly, with a great deal of fondness—I see this unanticipated Camino unfolding in three parts.
PART ONE — Hospital time
No, it was not fun, and it was not without many physical and emotional difficulties. Pain and discomfort and nausea. A frightening number of X-rays and a CAT scan. Many rotating doctors made for many opinions, some encouraging—“We’re going to get you back out on the Camino!,” some not so much—“You will probably need surgery.”
Add to that the practical obstacles—no one spoke more than a smathering of English, and my Spanish wasn’t any better. Lack of toiletries—I had thought to grab my toothbrush, thankfully, but everything else was in my backpack at my last lodging some 40 miles away.
One word of advice: hand soap is not a good substitute for shampoo.
But through it all, He was there.
I can’t explain it, but I never experienced a moment of fear. Frustration and a bit of dread with the recurring discussion about possible surgery, but no fear. In fact, I felt… joyful. Well, most of the time.
Pretty remarkable given the circumstances.
It had to be Him. All Him.
His Presence was so real. And constant. At times my conversations with Him were non-stop. And the moment I began to feel anxious He would remind me of Himself with a Scripture, a song, a tender encouragement or a physical sense of His Presence.
My two favorite, much used and personalized Scriptures were:
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, whose thoughts are fixed on You…
Your perfect love casts out all fear.
I can’t begin to convey all the ways He lavished special care on me.
— A hospital “neighbor” who spoke very passable English.
— Two beautiful women from a local church who regularly called and visited me—and brought me shampoo!
— A travel medical assistance plan that kept in touch with me and my Spanish doctors almost daily—and flew my daughter all the way to Spain.
I could go on and on and on, but those are the biggies.
There were many, many fun and humorous moments as well, especially around language misunderstandings. Like when I got that strange look from a doctor when trying to tell him I was embarrassed—but was actually saying I was pregnant!
And there were so many lovely people there, on staff and in the halls as I did my required daily walks. Without an interpreter, we still managed to communicate.
Once, when a fellow patient found out I had been on the Camino, with excited gesturing she indicated my circular walks around our floor and said, “Este es tu Camino ahora!”—This is your Camino now!
Yep, still on the journey! And still with Him.
Finally, I was well enough to fly home with a medical escort.
PART TWO — Back home and the four-month journey with food (or lack thereof!)
I have a confession to make here.
Once I was home again, keeping my focus on God was more difficult. Probably because I felt less dependent back in familiar surroundings and the security that comes with that. And being with friends again. But He was persistent. Maybe that’s why two of my three days in the hospital at home were so difficult—I had to continue to rely on Him.
More X-rays. An MRE—a bit different than an MRI, but I still had to drink yucky stuff—and it showed there was a narrowing in my intestine. Oh, yeah. And a terrible experience with an NG—nasogastric intubation. More discussion about surgery. Or not.
At this point I hadn’t eaten any “real” food, or had any… how do I say this delicately… “elimination activity” for over 20 days. On day three I was sent home.
Being home was the beginning of a long, arduous and disheartening roller coaster ride. Beginning with a liquid diet, I painstakingly tried new foods, adding one bird-like portion of something new every two days.
We’re talking hummingbirds here, not vultures.
But each time I reached a certain point, my poor little body rebelled. And by this time my body was little—to the point of being frail and emaciated, and I was still losing weight. I won’t provide any detail about the bodily rebellion, but you can Google “intestinal disorder symptoms” and get my drift. Then it was back to a liquid diet again.
This continued for four months.
PART THREE — The seven-month journey to recovery
I had become my own health and medical advocate, doing extensive online research. Bone broth was my new go-to brew. Soft, bland foods were my staples. Probiotics re-entered my regimen.
Making a VERY long story short, at about the four month mark, my body began to tolerate the foods I was eating. Little by little I increased variety and volume.
God remained faithful—no big surprise—reminding me of His sovereignty with my life and my body. I reached a point of peace again, knowing that regardless of the outcome—good, bad or somewhere in the middle—I was in His hands. I continued to pray for healing and recovery, of course, but got better at truly trusting Him for whatever lay ahead.
At some point I began to feel human again. Finally, I was avoiding only a few types of food, but was doing well with everything else. As time went on my doctors, convinced I had Crohn’s Disease or something else of that ilk, seemed stymied that I wasn’t having any symptoms. At all. I was was simply overjoyed!
Somewhere in the middle of PART THREE something curious happened.
I was doing nothing in particular one afternoon when I felt a strange warmth in the right side of my abdomen. Pretty much where I guessed the intestinal stricture, or narrowing, was located.
My immediate thought led me to ask out loud: “Lord, did You just heal me?”
This was a new experience and I pondered it. For a long time. It was profound enough that I later shared it with several close friends. Had I been healed? I believed so, but how could I know?
MEANWHILE, BACK IN RECOVERY…
I continued to do well with all sorts of food. I was getting stronger, feeling great, and was putting on weight. I was out walking and doing short hikes. Went kayaking with my family. Life was becoming more normal again.
In fact, I felt so good that when the opportunity presented itself to go to New Zealand a few months ago to visit friends, I jumped at the chance. I will admit, however, that the nagging thought of, “What if this happens again…?“ reared its ugly head a number of times. I got my same great travel medical insurance ? and I went.
I didn’t take anything for granted. When my system continued to work the way it should, I thanked God. Every time I indulged in more adventurous foods without repercussions, I thanked God. In light of all that had taken place, and my ongoing recovery, gratitude was becoming more commonplace. I had an incredible time and had no problems whatsoever.
I was due for a follow up MRE shortly after I got back from my trip, so three weeks ago I got it done. More yucky stuff to drink. The clunk-clunk-clunking of the claustrophobic machine. And then the wait.
I prayed, still wondering if He had healed me several months ago. Still working at trusting Him for whatever the results would show.,
I got the results back in an email from my doctor a few days later.
EVERYTHING was ABSOLUTELY NORMAL. There was NO evidence of the stricture. It was gone!
I bounced out of my chair with joy, thanking God profusely! I made calls and wrote emails, thanking friends and family for their prayers and support during this very long journey.
And then I thanked God some more. I’m convinced He touched me that day and healed me.
Yes, it’s true: my journey didn’t go as expected.
God didn’t give me the Camino I desired,
but He did give me the desires of my heart!