"Stand up during supper and walk outdoors, and keep on walking." — Rilke

Have you gone on the journey up the Pacific Crest Trail with Cheryl Strayed? Wild is quite the epic: divorce and heroin and bears, oh my!

I’m tempted to Wild this one: to craft a dramatic story of self-loathing, followed by self-destruction, followed by self-discovery in a beautiful setting. But that isn’t my story. You won’t find drug use or infidelity around these parts, but I hope you’ll find something even more inspiring. I’ll share an essay each month about how I’ve found I can live life with the posture of a pilgrim after returning from El Camino de Santiago.

I departed on a 400-mile walk at a time in my life when everything was fine. My husband and I had just bought our first home together and we were tossing around the idea of trying to start a family. I had an exhausting, yet fulfilling job teaching 5th-grade at a Title 1 elementary school serving diverse students, many of whom struggled through trauma and poverty. Life was moving along. Things were good.

When I returned from the long walk, many of those things stayed the same. I still adore my husband. We still love our little 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house in our quiet, Oregon neighborhood. We brought home a beautiful baby boy the following Spring. I worked at the same school for two more years, and then transitioned to a role at a middle school. Things are still good.

Before I left, people asked me why I was taking this walk. 

“Bucket list,” I said. 

“Something I want to do before I have kids,” I joked. “Can’t run off for a summer when you have little ones at home.”

When I was being really honest, I’d mention I was looking to figure out my faith—to find some answers for things that I wasn’t sure I believed anymore. 

To myself—I wasn’t sure why the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), an ancient spiritual pilgrimage across Spain was calling to me, but I couldn’t ignore the call. Spain has a rich Catholic history, which isn’t my tradition, but I can appreciate as sacred. I anticipated resting (mentally–not as much physically) and enjoying some silence after my first year of teaching (5th graders are loud!). 

Over the centuries we put God in cathedrals and boxes with our little ideas and our little names, but when you're walking in the mountains you might find that The Divine actually feels closest in the wind and speaks through the butterflies.

I was a pastor's wife for five years. Over the course of those five years I found I believed less and less of what “the church” was telling me I was supposed to think. As a last ditch effort to find some semblance of faith, I walked almost 729 kilometers across a country that Jesus never visited.

I put the essentials in my backpack, grabbed my mom, and said, “Let’s go.” I found closer friendships in a month than I had managed to cultivate in five years. Walking the camino wasn’t a life-changing experience, but it was an experience that helped me become more Kelly. I hope to share what I learned and am still learning.

Life is all about embracing the metaphors you find yourself in. This pilgrimage wasn’t an escape from real life, instead it was a metaphor for what life could be. It was a microcosm of the human experience. It was a cacophony of possibility distilled in a few weeks on the road.

My stories aren’t Wild. While I adore Cheryl Strayed and her creativity, she isn’t me. I didn’t leave my husband or dramatically quit my life.

During five weeks of the summer of 2017, I went on a journey. I’d like you to go on this journey with me. Pack up your metaphorical backpack and lace up your hiking shoes. If you’d like, invite a friend or your mom to join us by sending them a link to subscribe.

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As we travel this journey together, I hope we are both better for it. I hope you become more of who you really are and more alive than ever before. I hope your perspective is widened and your compassion is deepened. Let’s learn to walk through our lives with a newfound love of the journey and insight into the way things could be. Buen camino, pilgrim.

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