// Step One: Brave
“We’re living a good story,” I told her as we tossed clothes and shoes into the open suitcase. “Donald Miller would be proud of us.”
It was 8:30 on Friday night, and the toddlers were already pajama’d and sleeping. On any other weekend, we’d be watching Netflix – the Office or West Wing, probably. We’d be talking about how we really should start packing boxes, but procrastinating because we still have a few months until we move.
But on this weekend in early August, even though we’d been out there to visit only a month before, the end of the year felt too far away, too long to wait, and Netflix can’t fill that open hole throbbing lonely in our hearts.
We were ready to be in our new home, in that beautiful city on the East Coast, in the church that unexplicably feels like family. And so, on a whim, we were tossing our clothes into suitcases so that we could be there if only for a day or two. We were living a good story, unafraid.
It’s a story that started in the spring, when a whisper became an ache we couldn’t ignore. To sell our house (the one we just bought two years ago), to quit my job (the one where I’m doing what I love), to move across the country. It”s a story that began when comfortable wasn’t enough anymore, and we were ready to trade it in for brave.
// Step Two: Surrounded
“Come to Charlotte this weekend”
Paul meant it as a joke, I’m sure. I was just wasting time on Twitter, complaining about how boring and lonely the weekend would be, and we both knew that a roadtrip that long was irresponsible on a whim. He meant it as joke, but the next afternoon I was on his front porch ringing his doorbell.
It was on Twitter that I first found the preacher who became our pastor before we ever met him in person. It was on Twitter that I first told him we were coming to be part of their community, and it was on Twitter that they all welcomed us with open arms before we ever saw their faces.
As Sarah and teetered there Friday night trying to decide if we were going to be logical instead of impulsive, it was our friends on Twitter who cheered us on in our distinctly irresponsible plan to drive almost two thousand miles to be at a church service. And it is our friends on Twitter who prayed us all the way home.
We are surrounded.
// Step Three: Sacraments
“But can’t you listen to the sermons online?” my brother texted me as we drove toward North Carolina.
Admittedly, that would have been a lot easier.
But you can’t podcast sacraments. You can’t stream the bread and wine – His body and blood given for us. You can’t download the electricity in the room when a few hundred believers stand together to share in the Apostles Creed.
It’s been a while since we were regulars in a pew. Most Sunday mornings find us on the couch drinking coffee and . But it’s not good to be alone. Sometimes, you need a sacred pilgrimage.
// Step Four: Tired
“It’s evolved into a sacred pilgrimage. Mere adventurers would have turned back at the Mississippi River.” I tweeted it at dawn on Saturday morning.
I had realized it several hours into the trip, sometime between midnight and sunrise, stumbling bleary into a truck stop looking for black coffee and salted peanuts. I felt it rise in my heart like a Song of Ascent:
I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord.
This wasn’t just a good story – somewhere in the middle of the night between Arkansas and Tennesee it had become something sacred.
We met the sunrise in Nashville, but we were still only half-way there. Too far to turn back, but not nearly arrived. That’s when the tired sunk in deep.
I stopped thinking about how many miles still lay ahead and just drove. Deep breath, and drive a mile. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Just one mile at a time.
That was almost two months ago now. Two months since we drove there and back again for one weekend. And still we find ourselves in the middle of a pilgrimage. Not just for a church service, but for home. To unpack and send down roots.
But we’re not there yet, and we’re tired. This part doesn’t feel exciting. The mile markers are few and far apart. And though we’re more than halfway there, many miles still lie ahead. When I think about them my brain hurts, and my heart. So we just take a deep breath, and drive a mile. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Don’t think about the weeks ahead. Just one breath. One day.
The hardest part is pausing to remember the Song of Ascent.
// Step Five: Home
“Come, because it is the Lord who invites you. It is His will that those who want Him should meet Him here. So come.”
As we said the communion liturgy together that Sunday morning, I realized it hadn’t been our idea at all. The urge to go east on Friday night was an invitation from the Almighty. He had wanted to meet us there. It was He who had whispered, “Come.”
We”re back in the middle now, but we still hear it strong from the East – “Come. It is My will that you should meet Me here.”
So we continue. Remembering what lies ahead. Remembering that this all is part of the pilgrimage.
Not only the days when we feel brave and adventurous, but on the days spent wondering if anyone will buy this house. On the evenings spent watching Netflix just to pass the waiting. On the weekends spent cleaning and packing.
All of this is a pilgrimage. And it is sacred.