“Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” a popular saying known to many, but few have walked the road less traveled. Having all the miracles of healing from God could be the only training that would take Bette Vidrine on a journey alone to the pinnacle of faith. Her story in three parts, reprinted by permission, concludes today with a pilgrimage only a year before her Year of Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of her born again birthday. The experience was a culmination of walking by faith.
Your life is like a book of miracles — what is next?
My uncle died on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. He had asked me to promise to attend his funeral, and I had made that promise. But, I was unable to get plane reservations in time for his funeral on the 19th. It was a good thing. That morning I woke up and couldn’t walk. I had extreme pain radiating down the front of my right leg and around my foot. Every form of movement and pressure was excruciating. The doctor diagnosed me with spondylolisthesis. He prescribed physical therapy and pain pills. I was in so much pain I actually asked God to let me die. He didn’t. After lots of physical therapy and prayer, I was able to walk with a cane and eventually drive again. While I was still walking with canes, we visited a friend who had pancreatic cancer. She wanted to go on the camino — the Way of Saint James among other names, a network of pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James — and said she couldn’t find anybody to go with her. Flippantly, I said, “I’ll go with you.” I didn’t think either one of us could possibly go. But God held me to my word. He prompted me to start walking.
Did you start training together?
Rachel died in 2017. By that time I was up to walking one mile at a time, with canes. At Rachel’s funeral, her husband gave me her favorite necklace and told me to bring it on the camino with me and leave it there for her. I knew I absolutely had to go.
At first it was a struggle to go a half mile. I figured if I could walk five miles a day, I could do the camino. It took me months to get up to one mile. The first day I got past one mile, I turned a corner and there was a statue of a pilgrim saint. I had passed this corner many times in a car, but had never seen this statue. I took it as a sign.
When did you reach your goal?
By the beginning of 2018 I could walk five miles at a time, so I knew I could go on the camino. I discovered the Portuguese Coastal Route, which is supposed to be the flattest route. I thought that was what I needed. I didn’t think I could ever cross the Pyrenees on foot. I made plane reservations. Many miracles occurred during my training walks. I knew God was with me the whole way. My doctor said that objectively speaking, my back was worse, but since I was pain free, he would erase surgery from his planning for me.
How long did it take to walk the route?
It took me 19 days to walk more or less 180 miles between Porto, Portugal, and Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I followed the advice given by a young man who had done this route five years previously. “Go into as many churches and chapels as you can. There is water every few miles, so you don’t have to carry more than you’ll need for a few miles.” This was all good advice. I may have been the slowest walker on The Way. Almost everybody passed me. Those who didn’t pass me by slowed themselves down to walk with me for a few hours or a day or two.
What challenges did you face?
The first day of walking, my good hiking sandals broke. I had to buy a new pair of shoes. They were horrible and caused me many blisters and excruciating foot pain. The excruciating pain in my feet and shins, the infected blisters, not being able to find street signs, they don’t exist in many places. Sometimes I got angry at God for the pain, sometimes I got angry at my late friend for getting me into this. At the same time, I realized God was with me. This was all part of his plan for me. Like the exercise videos used to say: no pain, no gain. Three days before Santiago, I walked a very long distance, slipped on some pebbles in the forest, and fell flat on my back. I had been walking all day with a Christian young man just out of the German army. He had been a medic in the army, and carried a huge first aid kit. He asked my permission to help me up, and to clean and bandage my wounds. I was bleeding on my elbows, knees and wrists. After I was all bandaged up, he asked if he could carry my backpack to the hostel. “Yes.” Then he said if I needed, he could carry me. I know he could have, but thank God, I could still walk. Even slower than usual, but still walking. He was what we call a “camino angel.” These are the people God puts in your path to help you along the way. I met many people from all over the world, all sharing the same goal, and the same faith.
Why did you go on the Camino?
Because God called me. Before I went, I expected God would show me a better understanding of myself. What did I really get? God gave me a better understanding of Himself. Before I got to Santiago, I really didn’t think it would be that much of a big deal. I had experienced wonderful times with the Lord along the way, in small chapels, in eucalyptus forests, along the seashore, at masses in Portugal and Spain, in conversations with fellow pilgrims and in Padrón, where I followed in St. James’ footsteps to the top of the mountain where he preached, and the Holy Spirit and St. James came to me.
Were you alone in the victory?
As I walked into the outskirts of Santiago I heard my name shouted: “Bette!” It was a friend of a friend back home who had been looking for me. Then just before I got to the Cathedral, I heard, “Bette!” It was two women from Houston I had met at a hostel. I ran into people who I had seen along the way. We hugged and prayed and went to mass together. I did the standard things of hugging St. James’ statue and visiting his tomb. At his tomb I left the small white stone my cousin had given me as her prayer stone. I went to the English mass and was asked to be a lector. I went to the main pilgrim mass and heard prayers for the American pilgrims who had arrived from Porto that day, that would include me. The man standing next to me said, “I’m Sam, I walked from Léon, and I’m from Louisiana.” I turned to him and said “Lafayette!” He said, “Lake Charles!” We decided then that God meant us to be friends always.
How were you touched spiritually?
There were 11 confessionals in the main part of the cathedral. They each had a sign saying what language the priest there spoke. I chose one who spoke English, Czechoslovakian and Italian. I knelt down to confess, and a lot of very deep things poured out of me. Yes, God was showing me some deep things in myself that I had not previously acknowledged. The penance Fr. Marcus gave me was this: go into the main church, sit there and quiet my heart. Then quiet my mind. Then he told me I had been praying for everyone I knew all along the Way (true) and that then I should pray for myself. “May I listen to the voice of God and look at life as a vocation, so I may grow in the way the Our Lord shows me.” (from the St. James Novena Day Two, published by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela) I did all these things. I still do them. I go downtown to the Cathedral and go through these steps, or, I just sit on my patio or in my room, anywhere, I do them. The last thing he told me was to go home and bring the peace I had found on the camino to everyone at home.
That’s quite an experience. What else touched you?
I had not planned to get the Compostela, because I didn’t think I needed any more certificates, and because I heard the lines were three hours long. But the morning I passed by the office, there were very few people in line, so I got in line. I didn’t think I wanted that certificate, but when I got it in my hand, I started crying with thankfulness — thankfulness that God had brought me there, that I had walked the more than 2,000-year-old roads, the 5,000-year-old towns and the newer ones, for all the people I had met along the Way, and the privilege of being with Him and having Him guide me the whole way.
There was a chapel next to the Pilgrim Office, which is all attached to a convent. I went in and knelt down to pray. God showed me a vision. I was standing in the ocean and waves were breaking over me, just like I like to do. He told me these were waves of love and mercy. They are never ending. And then He said they are not just for me, they are for everyone in the world. He is there for everyone who turns to Him.
I could only say, “Thank You, Jesus, for what You have done in my life.”