A Pilgrimage Walk of Remembrance

(I wrote this blog over a month ago as I was finishing a course on pilgrimage. Intentional journeys have helped me grow.)  I heard birds singing, accompanied by the light panting of my canine companion as we walked our familiar trail during the noontide heat of the day. I listened carefully to the rhythm of my footsteps on the gravel, steady and predictable. But life isn’t predictable. Today’s walk was an intentional pilgrimage of sorts. An intentional journey for grieving, as sometimes grief feels trapped inside my bones and needs to be released. But it can also get stuck. I miss my husband, my best friend. A Walk Alongside Grief As I rounded the corner, I found the bench by the boat launch and imagined him launching “Papa’s Punkin” and the joy he would find here. I could join him on the river, without the swell of the waves making me seasick. But, he would probably take the boat down to the sea to find more fish. There is so much I have wanted to tell him. He never witnessed so many of the changes in the world, the church, and in my life over the past four years. And how he would have loved watching all the kids do their sports. He never even knew Brady left the Pats or that the world spent two years in a Pandemic. He wasn’t there for Emma’s or my graduation or with me through the journey of my doctorate. He missed the challenges of my last few years of work. He didn’t get to read my newest three books, though he inspired them all. He didn’t travel with me. He didn’t go to my retirement party or see my new home in my new state. He didn’t ride in my new car, though had hoped I would get one. He didn’t know I got a place in Waterville that helped me heal or that I became a landlord after buying and renovating the deserted house next door. He doesn’t know I am a Christian life coach. He didn’t get to attend his sister’s funeral or his Aunt Emma’s or his brother in law’s, though he was with me. as I carry his memory. Still, it isn’t the same as his physical presence. He knew I lost my dear friend, Gloria, but he didn’t know about Sheila. The tears are coming now. Why do I often need to write to find my emotions? I like to think he does know all these things. Though I am okay, as I told him I would be, it doesn’t make loss feel less. I only journeyed an hour this time, and I am not sure if I felt the pilgrimage was as successful as I hoped, as many emotions I hoped to meet seem stuck today. They always find their way out, though. The sounds of my footsteps were the loudest voices from my time today. They proceeded in  predictable rhythm and consistent movement. One foot in front of the other. On this river path, I know where I am going. On my life pilgrimage, I am not quite sure where it will take me. I borrow words from Eugene Peterson. I came across a poem by Denise Levertov in which she uses the phrase ‘every step an arrival.’ She was giving an account of her development as a poet. I recognized in her phrase a metaphor for my own formation as a pastor: every step along the way—becoming the pastor I didn’t know I was becoming and the person I now am, an essential component that was silently and slowly being integrated into a coherent life and vocation—an arrival.” – Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (2011), p. 4. The Next Day – My Walk Through Graduate School How fitting that my last doctoral course was on pilgrimage. As I walked today, I dedicated the walk to my past five year academic journey. It is coming to an end, and I wanted to savor the ways God brought me to this point, including providing the exact amount of money needed from a sale of my grandfather’s century-old business. I never got to meet my grandfathers, but I thanked him for this gift. I have forgotten many details from my classes, but one thing I will never forget is the nights doing homework from 9 pm until 2 am, sitting beside my husband’s hospital bed. Wyndham would watch sports or “Blue Bloods,” or something on FRNDLY TV while I would study. I would read him my papers and he would smile, so proud of my pursuit. This means a lot to me. I came back inside, continuing my pilgrimage by reading through a summary of my old classes and a few of my papers. I feel like I have been drinking from a fire hydrant, and I need even more time to process things I have learned. Mostly, I have learned to think. I have built new relationships and re-evaluated some presuppositions and understandings, which is healthy. I have read some thought-provoking, outstanding books and engaged in much Bible study. How I love learning. I remembered traveling to Kansas City to begin at NTS. What a beautiful journey with a cohort I have come to love. The Next Day of Walking – My walk toward Father’s Day Knowing that grief is lurking in my shadows, I felt the need to engage it more fully, so this day’s pilgrimage walk was devoted to a grief-and-gratitude-filled walk with the earthly fathers in my life in anticipation of the upcoming celebration known as Father’s Day, Though not an easy day, I enjoyed recounting memories of my dad—his faith, his wisdom, his courage, his care, his big personality, and his love for his God and his family. I felt close to him, though relationships between parents and children were often more authoritative and less relational in their generation, I remembered several things fondly: Dad teaching me to ride the waves at the beach when we would go visit my grandmother My frustration as he helped me with math and never gave me answers, only kept guiding me toward them. He helped me open a bank account that I was to balance every month, to the penny. Any time I would earn any money and deposit it in this savings account, he would match whatever I deposited to be put toward college. (Not a big worry for him, as I made very little.) His consistent morning devotional Noticing him faithfully doing his 15-minute Air Force calisthenics exercises He made me a turfboard (skateboard) from wood and roller skates when I wanted to be a turfboarder. He took me to Florida Gator games and explained football to me, making me a football fan. His knowledge and teaching of Scripture inspired me. He took us out to eat many Sunday after church. Careful of money, we usually went to the College Inn or to the hospital cafeteria. Later, he would invite some of my friends to join us, always treating them. He told me that I (and his other daughters) were his hundredfold or (10,000%) blessings He taught me to play tennis, only after he had me spend hours each hot summer day hitting tennis balls against the university handball courts until I could actually hit the balls back to him. He walked me down the aisle and was so happy for me. He always gave me huge hugs when we would come visit. I feel blessed to have grown up with my dad.  It helped me have a view of a loving God. Next, I recalled special memories of Wyndham, who absolutely loved being a dad and a Papa. I remembered our dreams and talks of our children. I thought through every birth, adoption, baptism, graduation, and milestone for each child and how proud he was of them. I remembered him joining his heart with mine in the desire to adopt and his loving care for Jacob, through the good and hard times. He never gave up and always showed love. His unconditional love was an upward call. I recalled his joy in captaining the boat as the kids enjoyed being pulled on rafts or skis. I recalled our family devotionals and his individual “dates” with each child. I remember him reading Proverbs with Jacob before school each morning. I am forever grateful for the joy and tradition of family vacations where we made important memories. I love how he had the kids wait at the top of the stairs Christmas mornings to make sure Santa had come. I love remembering his joy and pride walking his girls down the aisle, and then conducting the marriages for the girls and Sam. His demanding job was second, always, to the needs of his kids. Love for God and for me were the only things that took precedence over the kids. How he loved his grandkids. I will never forget the Friday nights as he stay still on the sofa while Emma was asleep on his shoulder, and then helped carry them to the Miller’s car upon their return. He would stop by the Gonets and wake baby Micah to accompany him somewhere. How special the relationship was, and how he loved all the kids. He was so amused and endeared by the tenacity and talent of the Shaw girls…remarking to Sam, “Who needs boys?” I feel such gratitude for him as dad to our kids but feel pain as tears now find their way….sad that he cannot be here to continue the boat rides, the vacations, the birthdays, the ball games, and future graduations and weddings. I ask, can you see us from where you live? I don’t know how that works, but we all hold you in our hearts and always will. You are truly the victor, but we must wait…and remember… and be thankful for the beautiful memories.  And I turn to you God, my Abba. You are my dad, husband, mom, best friend, creator….You have to be enough. You are enough. But even so, memories bring both joy and sadness Purposeful Pilgrimage As I recount ways God has spoken into my heart while on these pilgrimages, I notice a theme that surprised me. It has to do with endings. The end of the life I knew, the end of my graduate school journey, the end of having a dad and a husband. I have grieved as I journeyed, but I also felt God’s ministering presence.  Today, I walked and intentionally thought about endings. I had just turned in my first draft of my dissertation to my second reader the previous day, and I was surprised that instead of excitement I felt sad. Sad that this journey is ending, as the process has been invigorating. Endings bring new transitions, reminding me of the title of my last book, What Now, God? Finding God in Transitions, which I think I need to reread since I continue walking into unknowns. As I came back from this walk, I pulled a book out of my mailbox that I had ordered several weeks ago. On the back cover was this paragraph. “My contention is that you are right where you are supposed to be. This may look like barren sand to you, but nothing could be further from the truth. I say to you that as you lay your head down tonight, you are sleeping on fertile ground. Think, learn, pray, plan, dream. For soon…you will become.” (back cover of The Noticer by Andy Andrews) That seemed a fitting ending to this pilgrimage as I closed the mailbox flap and headed inside. I am not sure where all the path leads, but I know who leads me. Tomorrow, I launch my Christian Coaching website, another step that surprises me as much as beginning my doctorate. I don’t even know why I decided to get this certification, except for the Spirit’s nudge. It has been encouraging, though time-consuming and a bit scary. (Update: It’s over a month in, and I am loving this.) During my days of pilgrimage, I found solitude and peace. The first walk was an intentional journey of grief. Wyndham’s sister came to visit me during that week, and it brought joy along with sadness of memories. On my second day of pilgrimage, I chose the same path, because it is familiar and beautiful. Same path, different intentions. My next day of pilgrimage was the week before Father’s Day, so I called my pilgrimage time “A walk toward Father’s Day.” Knowing that grief was lurking in my shadows, I felt the need to engage it more fully. This pilgrimage walk was devoted to a grief-and-gratitude-filled walk with the earthly fathers in my life, ending with a deeper appreciation and desperation for my heavenly Abba, Father. My pilgrimages have focused on endings that are taking me to places yet unknown. New beginnings. Everywhere I go, I find the Spirit’s guidance often surprises me. This journey requires that I go to the edge of all the light I see— and take one more step.  

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  1. Carolyn Harrell

    Special for so many reasons, Jeanie. I always learn (even about family), smile, and tear up a bit. You wrote Jacob’s Journey and now are writing Jeanie’s Journey and I love it.

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About Jeanie Shaw

After retiring from forty-five years in full-time ministry, Jeanie Shaw went back to school to earn her master’s and doctorate in spiritual formation and discipleship. She also serves as a certified Christian life coach who loves helping people discover the joy, peace, and purpose that come from finding and following God’s plan for their lives. She has taught classes and workshops all over the world and has written numerous books. She has four grown children, eight grandchildren, and a golden retriever who thinks he is human. When she is not reading, writing, coaching, teaching, or enjoying her family she might be found walking along rivers, learning new lessons about life.

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