the first family

Strasburg, VA

Paul and I arrived at the McClains yesterday. I met them almost exactly six years ago, on my first walk. Here's my journal entries from that visit:


On my way out of town, I paused as I noticed a Catholic church, and immediately got invited in by an older woman arriving for daily Mass. I only spoke with her for a minute, saying I was walking from Georgia to [Holy Cross] Abbey. Then I peeked in for the readings (from the cry room--I smelled a little too 'outdoorsy' for Mass). Nothing too exciting, so I left. End of story. Except--there was this woman with two kids, late for Mass, who saw me walking down the street. She didn't think much about me, and slipping into the cry room to avoid disturbing the others. Now here's the tricky part: After Mass, the older woman comes into the cry room. "Where is he?," she asks. Then she tells the mother the little I had told her, and the mother realizes she saw me on her way to the church. Going about her errands, the mother thinks more about it. Then she sees me on her way home (I had taken a nap, so hadn't gotten far). So she takes a chance. She offers me lunch at her house, tells me about her kids (8 of them!--I met 5), and we talk for an hour or so. Then, after consulting her husband, she offers to let me stay the night! I get a shower, meet her husband, and we talk some more. Very good stuff. These are pretty aware Catholics, home-schooling their kids, spiritually alive. Their oldest daughter is on a bike trip across the country for Habitat for Humanity. I'll have full use of their Amish-built mini-cabin (kid's playhouse), which is good because I hear there's supposed to be heavy thunderstorms tonight.

Unbelievable, I know. But I realize that I needed something unbelievable like this. It's so encouraging, not just for today, but for the way I'd hoped to live after the abbey. My feet needed it, too. I'll get to the abbey maybe a half-day later, but this is an unimaginable boost for me spiritually. When God gives so much more than I could possibly ask, that can't help but renew and support my faith. Thank you, God, for the McClains. I'm in awe.


I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved,
he who keeps you will not slumber...
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps 121.1-3,7-8)

It is very easy to believe that this morning. Lots of rain last night, but I was warm and dry and comfortable. I had a great talk with Mr. McClain after dinner, about responsibility (of fatherhood) and relinquishing control of our lives to God. Really, we cannot bear the responsibility for even our own life, much less the lives of others. Love, not duty, must guide our actions. God has placed me on much firmer ground to discuss such things.

And what's perhaps the most amazing about the whole experience is that I met these people just yesterday. We didn't know each other. Yet we talked as I have talked to my family and oldest friends. A sharing of the same spirit. This is everything I'd hoped for, and more. Their children were very friendly; even the dogs were friendly. One daughter (12) told her mother, "I think this was supposed to happen." And the youngest daughter (6) gave me a hug before she went to bed. I was so overwhelmed I could barely get to sleep.

God bless this house.

6.22 (later)

Overlooking the "beautiful valley" on the 2nd, another hiker said, "This is what it's all about." Perhaps, for a hiker. But for me, yesterday was "what it's all about." Love flowing freely between people. With our gaze all on God. I had a short talk this morning with Mrs. McClain about things "coming together," in a way that only God could arrange. Then she dropped me at the highway on her way to Mass. Her last words were, "Thank you for... being here." That's what pilgrimage is all about.

Paul and I had a similar experience Sunday, with Ann and Jack McBroom, who took us to their home after church. A beautiful place, in the mountains. And hours and hours of talking. It felt like seeing old friends again, though we had just met. That comes from having the deepest, most important part of ourselves in common, already sharing the center of our lives.