A ton has been going on in the past couple of weeks! My Wheaton grad school finals finished up last week, my mom came up to Chicago and helped me pack up plus drive 14 hours home, and this week I frantically unpacked my stuff in Texas only to run around North Dallas getting ready for my Wheaton in the Holy Lands trip. I’m currently at the Philadelphia airport on an 8 hour layover between DFW and Tel Aviv (so excited!). I’m spending the next 6 weeks with Wheaton in the Holy Lands (WIHL from here on out, cause I’m lazy…): 3 weeks in Israel, then 3 weeks combined in Turkey, Greece, and Rome studying the land of Paul and the early church.
I’m exhausted from the year in grad school and trying to finish up all of my pre-course reading and assignments for WIHL, but I’m so excited about this trip! I never studied abroad in undergrad because I was busy with volleyball and a ministry I helped get going, and in the summers I worked at Kanakuk. So, consider this my “study abroad” experience…even though I’m the only grad student going with around 40 undergrads… So basically, I’m the big sister on this trip. The study part ends in Rome, and my mom is flying over to meet me there. From Rome, we’re planning to get in as much of Europe as we can in two weeks. I plan to come home in 8 weeks, thoroughly exhausted but hopefully having seen some amazing things!
I was writing a paper last week during finals, and I realized something I wanted to share, something I think is relevant on the eve of my trip to the Holy Lands and looking back on my year being back at Wheaton. I had to read a book called Thirsty for God for one of my classes, and on the last page of the book, the author advises,
“Go on a pilgrimage! Choose a place that will be meaningful to you, near or far. Perhaps it is as close as the place that God spoke to you at an earlier age. Perhaps it is the grave of someone you love. Perhaps it is the locale of a great spiritual writer who is introduced in this book. I have found it very moving myself to visit the sites of the spiritual mentors who have gone ahead.”
I’ve heard a lot about the idea of “pilgrimages” this year, and most of the time I’ve rolled my eyes, thinking we keep coming up with new trendy Christian practices or buzzwords (yes, I’m the WORST, I know). However, when I read the author’s encouragement, I gave a second thought to the idea of a pilgrimage.
I initially connected with the idea of pilgrimage specifically when the author talked about visiting someone’s grave, which I might do when I get back home to Texas in July, at my grandmother’s grave. She was the first person who told me I needed to write a book on my experience with cancer, and she sadly passed away from cancer in October (you may have seen that I dedicated my book to Mema, who passed away the day my book was published).
Next, I thought about the idea of a pilgrimage to the place of a “spiritual mentor” as I am planning on visiting Corrie ten Boom’s house in The Netherlands at the conclusion of WIHL when I stay in Europe. However, hours after doing this reading, as I drove past Dr. Santi’s office in Wheaton in which I first heard of the possibility of cancer, the first reason the author lists for going on a pilgrimage struck me: the place that God spoke to you at an earlier age.
I realized in reflecting back on my year at Wheaton that this year has largely been that very type of pilgrimage.
About a month ago, I sat in Edman Chapel at All-School Communion in the seat I was assigned during the fall of my senior year at Wheaton. That was the seat I was in when Chaplain Kellough announced my diagnosis of lymphoma to the entire school as a prayer request, a very surreal and out-of-body type of thing to hear. That was the seat in which, a month earlier, I had heard about Kirsten, another student about to finish chemotherapy, so I wrote her name down, not knowing I would later call her when I found out I had the exact same type and stage of cancer or that I would end up using her oncologist. That was the seat in which, two weeks earlier, I heard Dr. P.J. Hill speak about his family’s trials, encouraging students with his message of “Hope in the Struggle.” He later passed out cards containing Bible verses that had helped him through his challenges, and the one I received from Isaiah 43:1 was incredibly poignant amidst a barrage of doctors’ appointments: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” This verse is followed with words that make up a favorite worship song of mine, reminding believers that when we pass through the fire, we will not be consumed and when we pass through the waters, God will be with us.
Sitting at All-School Communion a month ago, I tearfully thanked God for the special space that Edman Chapel is and has been in my life and specifically for the truths God communicated through chapel speakers, Chaplain Kellough’s announcement, and prayer requests that had happened in that space all to fortify and prepare me in the weeks preceding my diagnosis for the unthinkable news that was to come.
Since that night, I have thought many times about my return to Wheaton last August. Wednesday, May 14th, marked 5 years from my final chemotherapy treatment, and I thought about battling cancer at Wheaton amidst a community of grace and blessing. That author’s encouragement crystallized what I had been thinking but could not define.
Though I have obviously reflected about my experience with cancer (you know, in case you didn’t know, I wrote a book), returning to the place where that formative event occurred has been cathartic and full of new insights. Wheaton is truly a place where God spoke to me at an earlier age in great ways, and Edman Chapel is a representative space of the incredible ways in which God has worked in my life–unbeknownst to me, preparing me so faithfully for the crazy journey through cancer that was to come.
So, pilgrimages. Reading that advice about them has helped make sense of what this year has been in many ways. And, it’s made me really excited to go on an intentional “pilgrimage” to where others have walked–from Corrie ten Boom to Paul and the apostles, and especially to where Jesus Himself walked. Pretty cool!
If you, too, tend to roll your eyes at the apparent “trendiness” of pilgrimages and other Christian jargon-filled practices, maybe “don’t knock it ’til you try it” is a valid piece of advice. I’ll get back to you and let you know…
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,