Our Camino


December 9, 2020 page 1

The word Camino is Spanish for a way, a path, a journey. Our Camino de Santiago was a journey of a lifetime for my husband and I and it changed our lives in so many ways. Unknowingly, it prepared us more than we ever expected for the challenges that would lay before us. This has been especially apparent during this time of COVID lockdown. People say that the Camino de Santiago calls out to you to come walk the well worn foot paths where thousands of pilgrims have walked before. Maybe now you are also called to walk one of the many paths of the Camino de Santiago. While we wait for the COVID season to pass and for the Caminos in Spain to open up again, I ask you to follow me as I take you along the paths that Jesus and I have walked along our own Camino. I hope to reveal with stories and pictures and lessons learned how our lives have been daily impacted. Most importantly, I pray you will find hope and strength for whatever challenge you are experiencing today.

Our Camino started the day Jesus and I met and fell in love in 1981. I was a recently divorced single Mom with my 6 year old son Jody and very pregnant again from a fling with a fellow medical student who when he found out I was pregnant, recommended I get an abortion. It had only been 4 years since my baby Jesse died at 3 days of age from Group B Strep sepsis during the Christmas holidays. When Jesus Gabriel Garcia from the Texas Rio Grand Valley and I, Debra Pauline Brown from the Southeast Texas Piney Woods met, I was at the end of my third year of medical school at University of Texas Medical Branch and at the end of my rope. We were across the table from each other with a roomful of medical students and research workers at a Baptist Student Union eating our one dollar a plate spaghetti dinners. While the pastor gave us words and encouragement from the Bible, God gave Jesus and I each other. We married on July 17, 1982, a fourth year medical student, a research assistant working on monoclonal antibodies and two little boys, Jody and Jeremy. A new family had been birthed out of the ashes.

Zechariah 8:13

… So I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, let your hands be strong.

December 10,2020 page 2

After Jesus and I got married, we were off to the races. We had our daughter Elena in 1983 and Sarah in 1984. Jesus left his research job and stayed home to take care of our young family. I was busier than ever, graduating from medical school and moving on to a pediatric residency program. I read recently that despite what people think, you cannot really do two things at one time. Instead, if you think you are good at multitasking, you are actually just good at short term memory, diverting your attention from one thing to another, back and forth. I was the master of this. But what it meant was; I was only giving a small part of my attention to my family. I was so busy and focused on the treadmill of life as a young female doctor out to prove I could do just as well as my male counterparts. I was also on a mission to help others and help build a life for my family. I was going to have to be a super woman. We moved to Colorado, up high in the mountains, in 1986 after I finished my pediatric residency. There I thought, we would have our log cabin in the woods, by a stream, raising our children on a farm and I working part time and my husband home working on the farm. That was my dream. It sort of happened. There were so many fun times and hard times and poor times and adventurous times and surprise times and shock times. We had our four children Jody, Jeremy, Elena and Sarah filling up our lives and then the State of Colorado (actually it was the Lord) added our foster son Bastion. He was the oldest, though the last added.

Regrettably, I spent so much of my life away from all of them striving for this dream for my family and caught up in the ministry of helping others. It seemed one day I woke up and they were teenagers and we still did not own a home and we were more broke than when we started out. You cannot rewrite your past but you can strive to remold your future. It was 1998 and time for a drastic change. I needed advice. I needed help. I needed God.

Jeremiah 33:3

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.

December 12, 2020 page 3

Whew, that was a hard climb on our journey. Like when we walked out of St. Jean Pied du Port heading up into the Pyrenees climbing steadily straight up.

Let’s pull over to the side of the trail and rest and I want to share something with you.

Let’s grab a drink from our water bottle which will quench our thirst for awhile and lighten the load we are carrying up this mountain. Several years after Jesus and I were called to the Camino, we made a decision to go for it and set a date for our journey. I bought plane tickets and sealed the deal. We started what was our idea of training for the Camino by walking more and more and for longer and longer distances each week. We thought we were prepared for anything and everything.

But, as my our son, Bastion says, you can never really prepare for the Camino.

Now, let me tell you about a heroine in my life, my daughter Elena. Several years ago while in her ER residency program, she was thrust into an excruciatingly difficult time in her life. Jesus and I and her siblings watched and prayed for her and helplessly supported her as much as we humanly could. During this mountain climb of her life, she decided to run a marathon. She had always been my daughter who when she was at home would say “I’ll be back, I am going for a run” but she had never said ” Come watch me , I am going to run a marathon.” When the time came for her race, Jesus and I went to Las Vegas to be her cheerleaders. She signed up and got her number and then posed with her running mate friend.

She ran the entire marathon and we were blessed and privileged to be there to congratulate her. What a remarkable woman! What amazing physical, emotional and spiritual strength! And all on top of facing some of the hardest challenges in her life in Denver.

Jesus and I eventually made it to our own goal of Santiago on the Camino Frances. But the best and most memorable part was the journey itself. Trials and challenges change us forever. We can be blindsided when these appear in our lives, but we can control how they will change us. People say that the Lord never gives us more than we can handle. Well, actually, I believe that He does sometimes give us more than we can handle on our own. And during that time, He walks with us through the fire, even carrying us when we cannot go on further on our own.

Now that we have rested a bit, let’s get going again and follow that handsome guy up ahead.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

December 14, 2020 page 4

Our first day on the Camino Frances, May 27, 2018, was much more exciting and harder than I had imagined it would be. We got up just before the break of dawn to get a head start. We stopped by the church and filled up our spirits and by the fountain in front we filled up our water bottles.

We suspected it would take us longer than our son Bastion (who had come along to walk with us for the first few days and see us off on our journey) to get to our first stop at Refuge Orisson near the top of the Pyrenees trail.

You have to quickly put aside your pride while you are on the Camino or it will really get to you. Fellow pilgrims all faithfully greet you with “Buen Camino” as they pass you by on The Way. After awhile when you realize you really are the slow poke , “Buen Camino” starts sounding like “Eat my dust” or “Na, na, na, na, na”.

Well, Bastion did make it to the top much ahead of us and was already eating lunch and making friends. When we met up with him we were discussing whether to stay there at the Refuge Orisson as we had already planned and booked many months ahead or to walk on over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles where we did not have beds reserved. What prompted this rash discussion was the news from others that a big storm was coming and perhaps we should try to outrun the storm. We had just decided to keep going when poor Bastion broke his tooth on an unpitted date, and his plans were suddenly changed. He had to get a ride back down the mountain to St Jean Pied du Port and over to Pamplona to a dentist. Jesus and I got a bite to eat and started back on the trail up the mountain looking forward to the beautiful views we had read about over the Pyrenees. But after going on only a little ways a thick cold windy cloud descended over us and started drizzling on us. We never were able to see the mountainous views. We could barely make out the trail. And as we were climbing we could hear bells ringing in the distance. We later learned that the Spanish farmers put bells on their livestock including their horses so that they can be found in fog or dark. At one point, we were at a loss for where to go until 2 fellow peregrinas (female pilgrims) showed up like ghosts in the fog and pointed us in the right direction. We would stop only to refill our water bottles from ancient fountains erected during the middle ages. Fear gripped us but we held on to one another and kept going on ahead. We started to doubt the decisions we had made , having not stayed back at the warm and cozy refuge of Orisson where by now everyone was undoubtedly sharing a meal and singing songs and toasting to the dreams they had for their upcoming camino. Even in the fog and on the crazy sharp switchback climbs, bicyclists would suddenly whiz perilously close to us on our shared rocky trail, faithfully calling out “Buen Camino”. There was supposed to be a beautiful statue of the virgin Mary up at the top of the trail, but we never saw her.

We wandered over that mountain for over 12 hours before we arrived at the Albergue de Peregrinos de Orreaga in Roncesvalles. I have to admit, several times along the trail I told Jesus that I wanted to just stop walking and lie down on the side of the trail and he could leave me there. Being surely the last pilgrims to arrive at the large monastery turned hostel, I was so concerned they would not have a bed for us, but they did! They took our poles and we were told to take our shoes off which we obediently did. I was too tired to wonder whether we would see our expensive REI trekking gear again. We were given our tickets to redeem for a pilgrim meal just in time before they quit serving. There was a Spanish gentleman in his 70’s who was at our table and told us stories how he had been walking the Camino every year for at least 20 years. He started walking it when he was first diagnosed with cancer and he told of how the Camino had changed his life. He listened to our moanings and groanings of our very first hard day. He listened with compassion but then warned us that the trail was going to get harder and then we toasted the Camino with our glasses of Spanish wine. We snuck back into our massive albergue dorm room where you could already hear the snoring from our fellow exhausted pilgrims. Snoring sounds the same, no matter what country you come from. After setting up our beds, washing our dirty socks and showering, we had no trouble falling asleep ourselves.

In 1998, Jesus and I and our children had been living in the high Rocky Mountains for years, running a very busy pediatric practice. This often times felt like that hard climb uphill in the Pyrenees on our first day of the Camino. We kept going and going, doing our best but much discouraged by what seemed to be an impossible climb in our lives. We had endless discussions of how could we get off the hamster wheel we had unwillingly stepped on to but had willingly stayed on. It is hard to know when to stop doing something that you thought all along was the right thing to do. It is scary and it takes a lot of guts to stop. It takes faith to go on. We were walking in a fog and had realized we had lost our way. Thank God for our parents and close friends who encouraged us and pointed us in the right direction. We thank God for walking with us and sustaining us through this difficult time in our marriage and not just leaving us in the dust. We closed the clinic we had worked so hard to build; we left behind our church and the ministries we had started; we left behind the dear friends and patients and their families and with tears we moved down from the high Rocky mountains to Colorado Springs. We arrived physically, emotionally and spiritually worn out. Our friends Barbara and Rod showed us the Black Forest area and we found a home to rent for our family. We still had a hard road of finding new jobs, enrolling the kids in school, finding a church and winding up the details of the clinic we had closed. But we were on our way.

Matthew 19:21

Jesus said to him “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow me”

December 17, 2020 page 5

You don’t sleep in late at an albergue. Jesus and I woke before dawn on May 28, 2018 in a bustling dorm of whispering pilgrims with as many languages heard as at the Tower of Babel getting ready to set out on the Camino for the day. After brushing my teeth and washing my face in the communal bathroom with my new Camino sisters, I gathered my 8 pounds of gear plus backpack. We had weighed and reweighed and cut off tags of clothes and cut every corner we could to get our bare minimum of 12 pounds to carry on our back for the next month day in and day out. I owed my success to keeping my carry weight in line by passing off the last minute things that I thought I needed to my husband to put in his pack. His pack weighed more. More like 20 pounds. We walked down the stairs in our socks and gratefully found our shoes and hiking poles and off we went like a herd of turtles in our super stylish light weight rain skirts I ordered off the internet.

We always started out early to make up for our slowness of walk. Later as we got stronger and faster, we started out early just to be slower to take in all the beauty and magic of the Camino. Breakfast was stopping at a supermercado for snacks. This supermercado was probably only 300 square feet in size but we were grateful for the bread, cheese and fruit that we put in to my husband’s backpack. Remember I have to watch my weight.

We walked in the drizzle and cold towards our destination, meeting new friends with whose paths we would crisscross throughout the next month. You see, we walk at different speeds but we usually wind up at the same destination and start out again together the next day.

We walked down the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. The cows would stop and look at us and not knowing how aggressive they may or may not be, we just waited for them to pass. I am sure they thought we were a sight to see.

We stopped to rest and have our second breakfast in a little town at our first Bar. Bars in Spain are welcome places to get coffee, breakfast, snacks and use the toilet in a more civilized way. Later in the evening, they become places to watch soccer games, get a cheap pilgrim meal, laugh with friends and get something to drink. It was amazing to see Veteran pilgrims to the Camino Frances recognize one another and yell out each others names in glee and hug and reminence. I thought if we make it through this trial, would we some day run into fellow travelers in joy like them someday?

We walked through the town and came to a water crossing. Jesus took the ancient way of walking across the water over stones. I insisted to take his picture and then crossed to the other side over the modern bridge. I did not trust my footing yet. But soon I would.

Let’s stop for a second at this little bench built here hundreds of years ago for us pilgrims to rest and drink some water. Resting is underrated.

By now I hope you have been able to tell the difference between the 2 loves of my life: my husband Jesus and my Saviour Jesus. I know it can be confusing. They both are walking with me with love and patience. How did I ever deserve such blessings? We don’t know it yet but it is about to get harder. They will be with me. Let’s get back to walking.

Our son Bastion called and said his tooth was fixed in Pamplona and he was returning to meet up with us on The Way. We met up with him as we were coming down the mountain towards Zubiri.

Bastion patiently walked with us as we limped along the trail to our destination. He did not know it yet but he was starting to get the call to walk the Camino, not to just see us off on our Camino. It will make sense later. This is the last picture of the day as the rest of the walk was a blurr for me.

By the time we got to our albergue for the night it was 8 PM. I was so tired, more than I have ever been in my life. Jesus and Bastion helped me up the stairs to the communal bunk room where we would be sleeping for the night. My left hip and thighs were burning and I felt I could not walk another step. As we had arrived at the albergue after the pilgrim meal had been already been served for the night, Bastion and Jesus walked down the road and into the little village further to get food and wine. I sat on the bottom of my assigned bunk bed and just stared. A kind man named Roland from Austria was rummaging through his backpack when he looked over at me and must have took pity on me. He brought me some tea and gave me some of the Muesli cake that his wife back home had packed for his walk. I will never forget his kindness. By the time my hubby and son returned I was already showered, changed into my night clothes and tucked into my sleeping bag with Ibuprofen on board. The man we had met at our meal the night before was right, it was getting harder. I thought it was all downhill from the Pyrenees. It was hard, but it was good.

The Lord does not promise us that our path will be easy. But He does promise that He will be with us and never leave us. He promises to sustain us through hardships we face. He promises to lighten our load as we take on His yoke. There are times when it is best to stop and pause and wait on the Lord. He promises that He will renew our strength.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

December 23, 2020

Did I tell you how glad I am to have you walking along with me on this camino? Well, I am and I thank God you are here with me today. It is so much better to walk a challenging road with someone you care about.

On 5/29/18 we woke up at 7 AM in our bunkbeds to find that most everyone else in our shared room had left. Our son, Bastion also left early to walk with the Peregrinos (this is what the pilgrims who walk the Camino are called) that he had met along the way. Jesus shared with me that the owner of the albergue where we had slept that night told him that we must be careful and not walk so long and hard or we would get hurt and have to abandon the Camino. This was wise advice and what helped us ultimately to make it to Santiago. We grabbed some breakfast along the way at a Bar where a cat came and perched on my hubby’s lap and rested.

So we rested there for awhile too drinking our cafe con leches and petting the cat. We then started walking toward Pamplona where we planned to meet up with our son Bastion and his new friends. Along the way we saw a church up on a hill in a distance that was a little off the main path. We decided to walk to see it. Now the Camino is marked well with arrows, and shells to keep you going in the right direction. You have to be careful when you come to a fork in the road to take the right road. Like so much in life, right?

We climbed up the hill to the church and set our backpacks and poles beside the entrance as the nuns instructed. We took turns with other peregrinos climbing up the winding very narrow staircase of the church to the bell tower. Up there the view was exhilarating and the priest allowed us to ring the bell, an honor only given to pilgrims.

Afterwards Jesus and I walked back down to the main church and out the door to find our packs undisturbed and waiting for us. Refreshed we headed back down the hill to rejoin the main trail. We met many wonderful people along the trail that day including a family from Italy walking the Camino with their 2 young children. The Mom and the Dad each pushed large bicycle type strollers with all their food and gear in one and the kids in the other. They would have to take alternate paths along the main roads when the trails proved too rough for their carts. But we were all on the same journey, a 500 mile trek to a Spanish city called Santiago where the bones of St. James lay.

We also met a woman who was walking the Camino with her son and daughter. The kids were having such a great time. I vowed in my heart to bring Solomon and Gryphon, two of our grandsons on this same walk someday.

We walked a much shorter but much richer 6 hour walk that day. We stopped and encouraged each other more.

We saw huge slugs on the path. We saw small spotted horses that were friendly.

We paid more attention to the signs around us.

We continued talking and walking until we reached Trinidad de Arres where we came to an ancient medieval bridge. I met up with my friend from Finland who I first met on the climb up the Pyrenees from St Jean. I had not seen her since that day. We exchanged hugs and stories from the past couple of days. Everyone walks the Camino the same but differently. There is a personal lesson for each one of us peregrinos. She was going to go on to make it to Pamplona for the night.

Across the bridge was a old pilgrim hospital and that became our stop. Places to stay and recover for pilgrims hundreds of years ago were called “Hospitals” and they are still called that to this day along the Camino Frances.

When we entered the Hospital , the keeper of the inn cheerfully welcomed us and insisted on carrying both of our backpacks. He led us into the sanctuary and through a inconspicuous looking door off to the left which surprisingly to us, opened up into a large secluded courtyard.

He showed us where we would be staying and told us to help ourselves to the food in the kitchen.

Our plan was we would check in and then take a bus in to Pamplona to meet up with Bastion and his new friends. However when we saw that we were going to have the whole albergue to ourselves and plenty of wine and bread and ham and cheese and olives that had been left in the refrigerator from Peregrinos the night before, we decided to stay put. We washed our clothes, took long wonderful warm showers, ate and drank to our hearts content and went to bed at 6 PM. We got a wonderful rest that night in this stone albergue sanctuary with the rains coming down outside. If only the walls could have told us of the stories of the thousands of peregrinos who had stayed there before us. I was initially so discouraged that we had not made it as far as Pamplona that day but I knew that we were indeed where we were supposed to be. Jesus says that we were the patients at that little hospital and the Lord and the Camino revived and healed us.

In 1998 when our family moved from the mountains down to Colorado Springs, we were looking for a place to rest and regroup. Bastion and Jody were at college and on their own. Leaving Glenwood had taken every bit of our emotional strength and our now family of 5 was looking for a new home. We rented a house in the Black Forest near our friends Barbara and Rod and enrolled the kids in school. Jesus started working on his certification as a substance abuse counselor and I worked part time at the ER in Aurora. Life was so different for us. We had to sell or give away all of our farm animals when we left the mountains except for our quarter horse Glory and a couple of cats. We found a place to board Glory near us on Old Ranch Road where there used to be a ranch before it turned into suburbia as it is now. We promised her someday we would be back together on a farm. Our family slowly started making new friends. We were picking up the pieces and putting them back together in new puzzle pattern.

Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

March 18, 2021

I guess I took quite a detour, right? Life over the past few months at our Albergue Garcia Farm has had a lot of ups and downs. More on that in my blog. But, let’s get back on to the Camino de Santiago. Let’s see what we can learn today. I miss the Camino so much. My husband and I had planned to walk the Camino Portuguese when I retired but Covid but a lid on that this past year. I am so glad that we walked the Camino Frances when we did. The Lord really did open up that opportunity in a miraculous way. I am still humbled by the Lord’s calling us to walk the Camino with Him. So often I think of the Lord as a busy Supreme God with many more important things to do than to hang out with me. I am trying to get to know Him more, to pray more and to listen more. More than ever, we need to feel the Lord’s presence with us and follow the Lord’s direction in our lives. Otherwise we can find ourselves on the wrong path, lost and without purpose.

So, Good Morning! Let’s wash up, brush our teeth and eat some of the leftover bread and cheese and fruit from last night. There is even some orange juice in the refrigerator we can finish off. Let’s repack our backpacks making sure we have not forgotten anything behind. Let’s put on our rain gear and put the rain cover over our backpacks because it looks like it is going to rain today. Now comes the most important part of getting ready to go: we put our sock liners on first and then over those our Darn Tough padded wool socks and then tie up our shoes. Backpacks on, hats on, grab our hiking poles and off we go!

Feeling so much more encouraged this morning at 6:30 AM on the Camino and much less sore after the great rest we got at the medieval pilgrim hospital albergue where we stayed last night and had the whole place to ourselves. Pamplona is a short walk from Trinidad de Arres and such a beautiful city with old cobblestone roadways.

I can just imagine if we had walked through at the time of the running of the bulls. The way I felt the night before they would have easily caught up with me and trampled me! So many old buildings with beautiful architecture and always old bridges that watch us silently and knowingly as we walk through their city.

Soon we were out of the city and walking along the ancient camino pathway through green fields with red poppies galore.

To me the red poppies represented the pilgrims who had walked before us throughout the centuries and they were encouraging us to continue on our path.

Bastion our son was still way ahead of us and had made it already to Puente la Reina. I still was fighting discouragement thinking my husband and I were walking way to slow. My husband had injured his ankle and he was walking even slower. My patience was wearing thin. He was taking the time to get to know fellow peregrinos along the way. He was so much more aware of what this was all about than I was at that time.

We listened to John Denver songs as we walked along passing the time away. Sometimes a flower along the path would call out to me “Slow down, look at how pretty the Lord made me, take my picture.” Like this beautiful little purple flower. Lord, you know purple is my favorite color!

It would not be until later on the camino that we would better learn of the sweet joy in the journey of life, not just the joy of arriving at a goal. I had a lot to learn about life on this walk through Spain with my husband and the Lord was more than willing to allow me to go through trials to learn His personal lessons He had orchestrated for me. After walking for 8 hours that day, we stopped at an albergue in Zariquigui.

We learned early in the journey that many of the small villages in Spain are built on hilltops and after a long day’s walk it was a challenge to climb that last hill, those last few steps to where we could find rest for the night. Meanwhile our son was taking a taxi backwards on the Camino to meet up with us that evening. He needed to get back to Pamplona as he was going to fly from there back to Colorado to return back to work. He told us how he was so sad to leave the Camino as he had a wonderful time walking and meeting friends . He said he planned to arrange his busy schedule to return to the Camino as soon as he was able. After our goodbyes, my hubby and I washed our clothes and hung them on the albergue clothesline to dry by morning. We found a place to have a pilgrim dinner and the Lord joined us with signs on the walls above our table as if speaking straight to my heart.

Yes, Lord, I am trying to take it all in. I want to learn. After a delicious meal we returned to our albergue and dutifully took off our shoes as good pilgrims are expected to and added them with the other muddy shoes like ours at the doorway.

We changed in to our night clothes which were what we were going to walk in the next day. We climbed in to our silk sleeping sacks and covered up with our ultralightweight but warm comforters. I was getting better at climbing on to the top of the bunk bed. There was no scrolling on the phone and lying awake trying to fall asleep. There was instead sound deep sleep as soon as our heads hit our makeshift tiny pillows from our clothes in our backpacks. Tomorrow is going to be a great day! We will be climbing the Altodel Perdon. I am in need of some pardon for my poor attitude and bullheadedness for sure. Here I thought I had invited the Lord to walk this journey with me but He had invited me to walk with Him.

Here is the first verse of an old hymn “Have Thine Own Way” that Jim Reeves (my Mom’s favorite country western singer) sung. If you have never heard it before find it on YouTube and listen to the melody and words.

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.

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