It’s been four years now since my first trip to Scotland. The previous March, I’d retired from my full-time position as a middle school nurse and wanted to celebrate with a trip to Europe. My husband went with me on the first part of the journey to Paris, London, and then Edinburgh. He returned to the US and I continued into the second phase of the trip which was my solo journey that year. I boarded the Scottish Rail in Edinburgh and rode west to Oban. There I took the ferry, then a bus, then another ferry to the island of Iona. That was my final destination where I’d spend a week in retreat at the Abbey– the ancient pilgrimage site where the Celtic saint Columba brought Christianity to the Inner Hebrides over 1400 years ago.
We forty participants, arrived on Saturday afternoon to check in. The theme for our retreat was, “The Pilgrimage of Life.” Our group was made up of people from around the world–Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany, Canada and the US. I was both scared and excited to be stepping into that international group. We had so many conversations, so many times of study and discussion, of worship in that beautiful and drafty stone chapel.
Now I look back on that week and there are key people and moments that have stayed with me.
Back then, after doing some soul searching, I realized that I was getting in my own way, and perhaps in God’s way, of being all I could be in life. Looking back at my post that came a year after that trip, I think about the rock I threw into the bay and that moment was a turning point.
From the post “You Are Enough” written September 29, 2018:
One of my concerns had been how I would fit in. I had set an intention, like I’ve done on other pilgrimages, to be present, to absorb all that was going on around me. I knew Iona was a rich place and I wanted every benefit. One of the things we did as a group was to take a day walking the island and visiting the historic spots. At each place we stopped, our leader did a reading and then there was time for meditation. The most meaningful one for me was stopping at the shoreline of the bay and throwing in a rock that represented something we wanted to leave behind.
I tossed in a big rock that represented my pride, my fear of trying new things because I could make errors and look foolish. Flinging that rock out into the water, I vowed to just follow God’s lead and let go of my self-consciousness. Releasing that burden allowed me to relax and be myself during the week at Iona.
I did fit in, because I, like the other participants, was enough, and felt at home in that body of believers. Relaxing in the fullness of that week, I benefitted from the rich blessings of the place and people I’d felt led to. By that Tuesday, we were very much at ease with one another on our pilgrim’s walk across that tiny island.
Toward the end of that walk across the island, we hiked to the highest point where we could see the sound and the Atlantic. In the sweeping view of that remote island, I felt my breath catch as I realized God had opened up my life, the wider space that had been provided through my pilgrimage to Iona.
Over the past two years, going through divorce that I had no idea of when I was at Iona, I’ve seen God’s hand in opening up my life to a ‘wider space.’
One of the people in our group who made the biggest impression on me was a man named Aldo Olijrhook, a brawny guy with an infectious smile. He was so honest with how he struggled to find his way as a Christian–given circumstances in his life. I found it refreshing for a man to be so forthright and not ashamed of showing emotions.
This is what I wrote about him in my post “Southern Drawl” Oct. 11, 2017:
On our first night together, we mingled over cups of tea and oatcakes. I felt a nudge to talk with a man from Holland who was maybe ten years younger than me. Once we started talking, he stopped and said, “Your voice, the way you talk, it’s so weird!”
I couldn’t help my knee-jerk reaction, my face responding to his comment, my first time hearing my voice labeled weird.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” he said, concerned that he’d offended me. “It’s just I’ve never heard someone like you before. Where are you from?”
“North Carolina — in the States. I’m from the South. That’s the region where my weird voice is from.”
He chuckled then continued telling me about his life for almost an hour. More conversation followed at points during the week—when we shared our meal duties on the Seal team and walked alongside each other on our island pilgrimage.
Since our time at the Abbey, he’s become one of my Facebook friends and we’ve stayed connected by email. Aldo knew I’d written a memoir and in the past year, shared with me that he’d written a memoir. Recently, I felt honored when he mailed me a copy of that deeply personal work– his heart.
Reading it, I see how he’s grown and changed in the past four years and the Scottish landscape has figured into his life– particularly the Isle of Skye. That spectacular island, also of the Inner Hebrides, has been a place of refuge and healing for Aldo– a place he often returns to.
We parted from our week at Iona on a dark, rainy September morning, walking to the ferry dock for the first boat out. I had no idea that four years later, I’d be planning to return to Scotland, and go with a special purpose to the Isle of Skye.
Some of you have read my memoir and know that I went on a solo journey to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to follow in the footsteps of my mother. She and her cousin, Yvonne had gone there when they were nineteen to be trained to work as Civil Servants in the WWII effort. Mama and Yvonne were always close– like sisters and best friends.
In November of 2018, Yvonne’s final wish that she shared with her daughter, Kim was for her to take Yvonne’s ashes to the Isle of Skye. There, she would scatter them over the land where Kim’s maternal grandmother originated as one of the McDonald Clan.
I had no idea of their connection with Skye, and at Yvonne’s memorial service, when the bagpipes played “Amazing Grace,” I had no idea Kim would ask me to go with her to carry out her mother’s wish.
Now, Kim and I are planning to go in September of 2022– pending the status of the pandemic and international travel. I’ve written to Aldo to ask for recommendations on where to stay and what we must see while we’re at his special place.
In Aldo’s memoir, in Chapter 2 “Losing to Find Something New” he opens with a quote by Joseph Campbell. In considering all that’s happened in the past four years since my trip to Scotland, the huge changes in my life, the quote seems very fitting:
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned
in order to have the life that is waiting for us.”
Now, I look out on that wider space, that view that God has placed before me– that is still veiled in mystery but is being uncovered a step at the time.
My wish for you this day, is that you are discovering how to ‘get out of God’s way’ and allow the changes in your life that will lead you to that wider space, to becoming all you’re intended to be.