“I’ve always been a writer. Ever since I was a child, I would write about significant things in my life,” shares Iowa Conference Bishop Laurie Haller, recalling her early chronicle of a two-week trip out west with her family. Her father, who worked in a commercial printing factory, even put her writings about the trip together into a little book for her.
Now, some years later, Bishop Laurie is seeing the chronicle of her July 2018 trip, an arduous trek in Nepal with her daughter Talitha, published in the new book Wandering Into Grace: A Journey of Discovery and Hope. Not only does the book recount aspects of the journey, but it also goes into some larger leadership and life lessons that she gleaned from the experience.
An Unexpected Journey
The trip almost didn’t happen. Just over a week beforehand, the bishop broke her wrist after she took a tumble during a walk. But though it was painful, she saw a lesson to be learned. “The wrist was a symbol of my own brokenness. I needed time to step back,” she explains. ”I was learning lessons about carrying my burden, and letting my daughter take care of me.”
Determined to forge ahead, she and her daughter had another setback when weather-issues meant they had to choose a different trek than originally planned. They ended up choosing the Manaslu Circuit, which meant walking 150 miles during Nepal’s rainy season. “This was not going to be easy for me because everything was slippery. It was all rocks and mud, and I couldn’t put any weight on my left wrist.”
They had two companions, a guide named Rajiv, and a porter named Bishal. “Every day was filled with adventure, unexpected twists and turns that we never would have thought possible,” Bishop Laurie remembers, noting how much she and her daughter depended on the wisdom, help, and hard work of their guide and porter. “We had some tense moments, but we were able to honor and respect one another. For me, it was a life-changing experience.”
Wandering by Design
Her book’s title was carefully chosen. Bishop Laurie calls herself a wanderer, or a “peregrina” (to use a Latin term she likes), to emphasize the value of wandering outside one’s homeland without a specific goal. Religious folk tend to be associated with the more goal-oriented pilgrims, but it is also important to wander at times.
“When you’re wandering, you’re just being open to God the whole time, and you never know exactly where you’re going to end up. That’s precisely what happened in my trip to Nepal. It was a completely different trek and different experience than my daughter and I had anticipated,” she says.
“Wherever I go, I like to find places that are off the beaten path. I’m also a peregrina in the sense that I have always traveled and gone where the church has called me,” the bishop points out. “God sent me to Iowa.”
Time for Renewal
Bishop Laurie considers herself fortunate to be a part of a denomination that understands the need for dedicated renewal time for ministry leaders. “The times away are absolutely critical, so I always encourage clergy to take renewal time. It’s a ministry of self-care. It’s a ministry of regaining perspective, regaining a deeper relationship with Christ.”
She believes that everyone has to find a way to rest from their labors. “It’s what prompted me to go to Nepal in the first place. I wasn’t resting my body by any stretch of the imagination,” she clarifies. “But in many other ways, it was a holy rest, because I had a chance to focus completely on the presence of God on this trek.”
This time to wander, travel, and rest makes her a better spiritual leader. “Each time I have been able to enter the renewal leave highly stressed, I later come back into active ministry and try to bring what I have learned into my daily activities so I am able to live a balanced life.”
Seeing the Divine in Each Other
The word namaste became very important to the bishop during her trip in Nepal. Meaning ‘I bow to the divine in you,’ she encountered it everywhere. “Even the smallest of children, the very smallest children, would hold their hands up to their hearts and say ‘Namaste’. Every time.” This made her think about how, in her own life, she passes so many people every day without acknowledging or thinking about them.
“How many times do we put our own interests above the interests of others? Do we even know our neighbors? Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself since I returned. If we could recover that here in the United States, if we weren’t so busy and preoccupied, we could make a bigger difference than we do now,” she asserts.
Learning to Wander
“It’s a book that encourages us to consider the importance of wandering,” Bishop Laurie says of Wandering Into Grace. The book is organized into six chapters so that it can be easily used for a small group study or a study during Lent, and each chapter ends with questions for the readers to consider.
“My hope is that we will all learn how to be wanderers, how to be peregrinas or peregrinos, who are always walking the face of the earth to discover God in others and to be able to deepen our own spiritual lives so that we can respond to God’s call,” she explains.
“Wandering into grace is a life that we choose, and when we stretch beyond our limits, it’s always grace that leads us home.”