Take thirty-seven days. Add close to 8,000 miles. Sprinkle in one very small car, a Catholic mom and her nineteen-year-old son and you have the recipe for something pretty amazing.
In our case, all of these ingredients mixed perfectly when my youngest son Adam and I set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
We had a few specific destinations: the Catskills (for Irish Arts Week), Manhattan (to visit my son Eric, who is now a resident of NYC), Schaumburg (to attend the Catholic Marketing Network event), and Michigan City (to relax by Lake Michigan with my family).
We had a specific start date — July 7th, 2014 — and a fully fueled 2013 MINI Cooper, a load of Adam’s musical instruments, and my “mobile office” (a Macbook Pro, an iPad Mini and my Galaxy Note 3).
We packed a Garmin GPS (who was soon nicknamed “Garmina”), hard copy maps and an atlas from AAA. We stocked a cooler with Diet Pepsi (our beverage of choice) and a few road trip snacks. I placed a Rosary near the dashboard and a second in my suitcase, just in case. Hendeys pack at the last minute, so we were up late the night before our scheduled 6 am departure throwing clothes into rolling duffle bags and trying to keep our load as light as possible.
On the vigil of our departure, I slept fitfully as I often do before I travel. In this case it was both the anticipation and the leaving of my husband that had me awake. Greg is honestly the best — he gave us the green light to take off on our adventure, stayed behind to pay for it, and promised to fly to NYC and meet us at the midway point. But still, five weeks is a long time to be away from home.
I prayed that night before we left for safety along our journey and for my husband too. Some have asked me how I could be gone from home for so long — I will share that I couldn’t do it without a partner who is so wildly supportive.
Along the road, we visited some fantastic sights and stayed in well-appointed hotels. I wish I’d kept a better journal – too many moments have already been forgotten. But part of the joy of an experience like this is unplugging a bit and just experiencing it.
I’ve learned several times in my life that a road trip is truly a blessing. There is something intimate (even if you are not driving a MINI Cooper!) about packing into a car and seeing God’s beautiful creation from the highway.
My summer’s adventure with Adam takes me back to adventures I took as I child in my parent’s motorhome. My family’s 1970’s eight-track tapes were swapped for Audible and Netflix and we traded “Tab” for Lifewater and Diet Pepsi. But there were so many similarities: impromptu opportunity for prayer, endless conversations, “new church” wishes, and so many remarkable vistas to explore and experience.
Along the road, I learned to have a new perspective on the word “pilgrimage”.
Wikipedia defines the term as a “journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.” In the past, I believed that a true pilgrimage needed to include a visit to a shrine or a massive cathedral to truly count.
My experience this summer taught me that I could be a pilgrim standing in a field in the Catskill Mountains or alongside the lake as I watched my Daddy play with my young nephews.
I could search for God’s presence in the busyness of Manhattan or along quiet stretches of a Nebraska two lane highway.
I could anticipate (for 200 miles!) sitting in the tiny Chapel at South Dakota’s Wall Drugs and spending a quiet moment in prayer. Or I could kneel in the splendor of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, listen to the organ play my favorite hymn, and count my blessings with tears rushing down my face.
My summer pilgrimage took me to remarkable religious sites, both well known and hidden. I visited the Martyr’s Shrine in Fultonville, New York, built to house thousands for Mass. That very same day, I bathed in St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s childhood spring in nearby Fonda and collected sticks in her forest to fashion into crosses as she’d done in her childhood. I worshipped in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in a tiny parish in Luverne, Minnesota. I prayed for miracles at Saint Joseph’s Oratory and looking at the mountains in Boulder, Colorado.
Along the way, I learned that my pilgrimage was not solely those five weeks on the road with Adam.
Rather, I desire for my entire life to be a pilgrimage – a continual searching for and grateful recognition of God’s presence and blessings in the world around me. Every day, even those spent within the four walls of my own home, can be a pilgrimage if I remember to stop and prayerfully enjoy the Creator’s infinite genius.
Have you been on a pilgrimage lately? If your answer is “no”, I ask you to take time for this amazing opportunity to better know and love God. You don’t need to go far – your spiritual journey might simply take you to a new parish in your community for a midweek Mass, or even to your own backyard. It’s the attitude you’ll take with you that matters and that turns you into a “pilgrim”. Take a bit of time soon to venture into the world with new eyes – searching eyes that beckon the new, the undisovered. Pause to offer your petitions and to give thanks, but also just to simply and silently be in the presence of the One. You’ll be amazed at what you encounter along the road!