My sister-in-law Jamie and I have a tradition, especially during troubled times for our family, of making a day trip pilgrimage of some sort. Jamie and I are sisters-in-law. But we are more like sisters …since we hate each other just that little bit too. ☺ It was a good time to do something to remind us of our soul sisterhood. Sometimes troubled times draw the family together. Sometimes they put us in a bad place with one another. Jamie and I kind of needed a reconnect.
The plan was a tour of the “Painted Churches” of Texas which is a modest day trip from Bryan and Jamie had always wanted to visit them. We knew it was going to be a good trip because everything went wrong all morning, and that’s usually a good sign. Finally we got every problem solved and took off for our day’s pilgrimage, chattering and laughing like hyenas as we often do. It felt good.
When our usual chatter wound down, we put on the audio book we had planned to listen to on the road, Hind’s Feet in High Places. It was perfect. The book is a well-loved spiritual allegory about the journey to the high places by “Much-Afraid” under the guidance of the Shepherd and with her two solid companions and teachers, Sorrow and Suffering. We discussed parts of the book that stood out to us this time as we drove along listening intently.
We were starving, and we stopped at Las Fuentes in La Grange. We ate their wonderful spinach enchiladas. I had tea, and Jamie had a Bud Lite.
We continued on our way listening to the book. We were laughing about having gotten lost a little bit and how the gas light was on, and we were in the middle of nowhere when we pulled up to the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in High Hill.
We got in the church doors with our box of home made Milagros* and our cameras and my backpack. Jamie’s reaction was great. She gasped and looked around like we had stepped into heaven. It really is overwhelmingly pretty in there, and majestic even though if you think about it, it isn’t really all that big. It took a while for us to calm down and quit taking pictures.
My only complaint about extraordinarily beautiful churches is that it’s hard to pray because one keeps looking around in awe. I am convinced though that beauty is nurturing and healing for the soul and being there and taking that beauty in was a spiritual experience in itself.
I said, “Hey look, there’s The Shepherd!” It was funny because every one of those churches that day had a depiction of Jesus as The Good Shepherd. That went perfectly with the book we were listening to.
Jamie found a perfect corner for our Milagros to go. It was a little barred in spot with a gate that opened. It was a corner bright with sunlight where there was a simple, white clothed table with a crucifix and a statue of a praying Virgin Mary set on it. Someone had left a picture of a little boy and written on it asking prayers for him since he had leukemia. It looked like a good spot for our petitions too.
So we spread our Milagros there. We enjoyed setting those out very much. I let Jamie set my brother Mark’s there, and she handed me my late husband, Bob’s, Milagro with St. Joseph and a wrench. We smiled a lot and said little short prayers out loud or just the peoples’ names. They all looked so pretty. We took an inordinate number of pictures from every angle.
Later, as we knelt with our rosaries before the main alter, Jamie looked up at the crucifix and said, “My you’re looking grand today!” We laughed. It was funny because I had just been thinking how it was the same Lord we visit in all the churches, pretty or not. I said, “Yes, He is dressed up for us today.”
We prayed a decade of the rosary and read aloud a brief reflection on the mystery we were praying to go with it. We reverently lit a candle for everyone and thanked God for that gorgeous place and for our friendship, “Thank you for soul sisters,” Jamie said. We giggled thinking what the parishioners there would think of our unconventional Milagros. I think they will know what they are and leave them there as long as they can, even the mermaid one for my daughter Maire. After all it had a cross on it and her name.
We headed to Ammonsville with simple directions from the nice gas station attendant and a full tank of gas. We took a lot of pictures at St. John the Baptist church too. Again it was so, so pretty in a different, sweet way than the last one had been, but still so unbelievably pretty. The various tones of rose, the ornate, white woodwork, the magnificent light that bathed it all, and the shapes of the doorways were enchanting. We lit a candle there too.
We prayed another decade of the rosary before we fainted from the heat. We explored the old cemetery there and took some pretty cool pictures and talked about what we saw and about this and that.
Then I thought we were finished because it was almost five, and I couldn’t quite remember where the next church was. We started driving and took a wrong turn to get back to 77 and hey, presto! There was the next church on our list! This was the one in Dubina, the first Czeck settlement in Texas. We took pictures and we read up on the church’s history. The difference in Dubina is how bright the colors and design are in the church of Sts. Cyril and Menthodius. It’s beautiful, colorful and remarkably original. Jamie read that some nuns live out there. Sisters of Divine Providence I think it was.
We prayed a decade of the rosary and went on our way toward home.
We decided to stop at that Queen of the Holy Rosary church that I have always stopped at for pit stops in Hostyn, a little community outside La Grange. It isn’t a “painted church,” but its grounds are very scenic and full of memories for me, and Jamie too, of trips we made over the years. I remember my daughters running through the paths of the rose garden there when they were little, and how I revealed my birthday surprise for Jamie at the little Lourdes grotto one year, that we were going out in a boat to see dolphins in the wild that day! That must have been ten years ago.
We prayed the last two decades of the rosary in their day chapel. We renewed our consecration to Mary at the alter.
We walked around the outdoor Stations of the Cross and admired the gorgeous vista of valley and hills behind the church. We visited the Lourdes grotto and each of the old handmade stone shrines on the corners of the church landscape. We prayed for Jamie’s new life, and mine too, though I don’t really know what mine is about yet. Both of us have lost a lot and are starting over. This is the time she would be getting her classroom ready for her new students. She didn’t think she missed it. But she was scared and would rather be doing something familiar…. her mind drifted back to the school where she felt secure at least. But graduate school is her dream. I know it’s going to be great for her.
Jamie took a picture of me hula hooping in the parking lot with the hills behind me. She tried to hoop but she can’t really do it yet. I said don’t give up so fast. You will get it.
We talked about things we always talk about and told each other things we had never told anybody else as the sun set. It seems like when one goes on a pilgrimage it is symbolic of the spiritual journey and a rededication to God, paying Him a special visit. For Jamie and me, it was also a rededication to one another. Going on these little day trip pilgrimages has been important for us. We haven’t done it in years though. This was just right during this troubled time, to remind us of our solid past together. It helped us make our inevitable way back to one another. It was a God deal.
We pulled into Bryan at dusk.
At home I shooed chickens into their coop for the night, and Jamie made coffee. We sat at my old green table. Pretty soon Roise called to be picked up. Daily life began again. We talked about what a nice day it was as we drank our ritual coffee. I picked up Roise, and my nephew Stefan came over. We all had dinner and caught up on each other’s days. Our loud old Siamese, Lizzy, yowled for no particular reason. The dogs hoped we would drop some food.
It was a good day.
It was exactly right.
*Milagros are traditional Catholic votive offerings in Mexican culture. They are usually left at altars, shrines and churches as symbolic petitions or in gratitude for a prayer answered.