The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

the pilgrimage: Henri Nouwen and my own topsy-turvy little heart

Day 17: Old Starbucks.

Henri, Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom: 

When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.

Sometimes little things build up and make you lose ground for a moment. Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone’s inability to hear you, someone’s innocent forgetfulness, which feels like rejection – when all these things come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back to where you started. But try to think about it instead as being pulled off the road for a while. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.

It is important not to dwell on the small moments when you feel pulled away from your progress. Try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately. Otherwise, these moments start connecting with similar moments, and together they become powerful enough to pull you far away from the road. Try to remain alert to seemingly inocuous distractions. It is easier to return to the road when you are on the shoulder than when you are pulled all the way into a nearby swamp.

In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey. Keep returning to the road to freedom.


I first read this chapter a couple months ago when I felt like I was right in the middle of that swamp. Part of me couldn’t believe I let myself get dragged this far away… And another part of me was rejoicing at the possibility of finding the road again.

I read Henri’s chapter again, sitting in an old Starbucks I used to visit when I lived on this side of town. It reminds me of a different season of life, when it I felt like I had it all figured out, but had no idea – and my ‘real life’ hadn’t quite manifested itself yet.

Five years ago, six of us from Fresno Pacific spent three weeks in South Africa on a mission trip, working with a Congolese church in Durban. Returning to California after such an impactful trip – shaping my identity, challenging my assumptions, pushing my comfort zone to its edges – was difficult. Very difficult. It was my first experience outside the States for so many days, my first experiment in mission, my first encounter with God on literally the other side of the globe.

I knew I could not go back to the life I knew right away. Arriving in the Fresno Airport in the early hours of the morning after the longest flight I had experienced yet, I wanted sleep. But I knew that there was too much going on inside of me to sleep. I wandered to this nearby Starbucks, for a 6 am visit to just sit, in solitude with South Africa on my mind, for just an hour more before it would start to slip away.

This little shop, now decorated for Christmas and generous with their gingerbread lattes, always reminds me of South Africa.

South Africa was the high point of “young Jessica Mast the cage-rattler infatuated with post-modernity.” I loved Christianity, but was so wrapped up in my dad’s seminary education and the tidbits of paradigm shift that he brought home, I had skipped over my own crucial spiritual development, enmeshed myself in the world of  and assumed that whatever my dad loved I should love to. Which is because he’s a great guy. : )

But South Africa was a turning point for me. I got to know myself for my own self, read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and caught the New Monastic / community development fire, learned to love cross-cultural experiences, found the value in enriching one another with very different perspectives, and realized that my infatuation with ‘the postmodern shift’ was helpful in how I saw the world – but didn’t go nearly far enough to be a compelling, fulfilling, lasting faith I could fall in love with.

All this to say, dear patient and long-suffering readers, is that Shane and South Africa and that team of six wonderful people launched me on a journey into who I have become. These last five years have been spent seeking this compelling, fulfilling, lasting faith to fall in love with. The beauty is that it is ever-changing, and moves with me where I wander, and there is still time to find it fully.

Sometimes, lately, when I feel I have wandered far off the road – I fear that I will revert back to my 18-year-old self, naive and limited with no clue how to live open to the spirit. And when I feel I have wandered far off this smaller road of healing, my blunders can appear so grand that they overshadow the goodness of who I have become. Thank God he is grander than them yet.

I come here to this Starbucks to remind myself how far I have come; on this larger road to freedom, from faith in a box to faith that excites me to pursue,  and on this smaller road to freedom, from shame and hurt and confusion to at least giving voice to it all and learning to move through it.

The journey for either road is not over, and freedom looks a long way off – but we’ll get there. God has done too much in me since South Africa, and this old Starbucks with a girl just discovering the world, to abandon it now.


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3 thoughts on “Day 17: Old Starbucks.

  1. Elaine Clymer on said:

    I didn’t know you had been to Africa. I’m glad Starbucks brought you to a good place today in helping you remember that time and what it did for you.

  2. Jessica Thank You for coming today to Lydia’s House. I read your post and see you have a searching heart and mind. Your experience in south africa must have been very meaninful for you today. I read some of your previous posts and love seeing a view from your mind and eyes

  3. I do believe the tables have been turned… while I may not have “enmeshed myself in the world of and assumed that whatever my [daughter] loved I should love to”, I have certainly found myself following you along the journey on occasion, reclaiming some of the beauty of Christianity’s deep heritage you’ve highlighted and that sometimes gets lost in the ‘postmodern’ shuffle. Thank you.

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