Written in October 2022. Published in 2023

I just completed the Three Hearts Pilgrimage in Hulbert, Oklahoma. It was truly amazing and a blessing. It’s hard to believe I would say that now as I recover from the toll it took on my unprepared body but I needed the mortification and this was exactly what I was called to do.

I had heard about the Three Hearts Pilgrimage a few years ago from a parish bulletin. I found it very interesting because it occurs in Oklahoma. Nothing happens there. Oklahoma is considered very boring. I can say this, as an Oklahoman. I didn’t put much thought into it. I’m not in good shape and I had young kids at home but as the years passed on, I longed to go regardless.

We had had some friends over for dinner one night and this came up as a topic of conversation. I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to go to the pilgrimage this year. I’m not sure he thought I was serious. Neither of us spend much time walking on a regular basis and we were very busy with life. As the weeks passed on and October arrived, I knew we wouldn’t be going. It’s too late to plan such a trip.

On October 3rd, my husband had come home from work and shared that we needed to talk. He said, “we have some planning to do. I signed us up for something.” As I began to sigh in discomfort (because we were already volunteered for things and stretched thin), he looked at me and said, ” I signed us up for the Three Hearts Pilgrimage.”

I was in shock!

I immediately began to smile and I couldn’t stop. The pilgrimage was in two weeks and there would be no time to physically prepare with all we had on our plates but I was very excited. We didn’t even know how we would accomplish having our children cared for while we were gone but I knew God would provide. Yes, we could have taken our children but not knowing what to expect, we wanted to do this together first. In addition, I had been longing for this kind of intimacy with my husband. We would be forced to pray together and suffer together. Yes, we have suffered together and should have prayed but this was much different.

I remained excited and looking forward to the trip until about one week before. I knew the Devil would try to get me to back out. This pilgrimage was very important to me because I needed to suffer for the temporal punishment due to me for my sinful life. To suffer on earth means I would reduce my time in purgatory and potentially help others be released from their suffering in purgatory. Yes, purgatory is biblical but it is also part of Catholic Dogma and has been believed by the early church fathers and has been passed down through Tradition.

I had this strange peace about all I was going to endure. It is very hard to explain but I have started to feel this peace instead of anxiety when I am being driven by God. I am usually a very anxious person and knowing I would experience pain would certainly bring on anxiety as well as not knowing what to expect and having to place my trust in everyone around me. But I had no anxiety, just peace.

Yet, the Devil still tempted me to back out through messages from friends about how awful it would be or thoughts that my husband and I would die along the way in a car accident and leave our children orphans. I prayed much to get these feelings under control.

My husband and I prepared for three days, trying out different tents, finding the right equipment, and picking out food we would eat. We had several lists and checked the pilgrim packet which had lists and information about what we would experience. The kids would go to grandma’s and our oldest would stay home and care for the dog and house.

I kept waiting for something to get in the way that would prevent us from going but nothing did. So we left on a Wednesday morning and headed to my sisters in Oklahoma. Had my parents still lived there, we would have brought the kids with us but they had just moved to Texas a few months before.

We arrived late that evening but we went out for dinner. The conversation at the table wasn’t really about the pilgrimage. We didn’t know what to expect at all so we just enjoyed time without the kids and with my sister and her husband. We Facetimed with the kids before bed, knowing it was unlikely we would have service to talk with them for the next 2.5 days.

The next morning we went to a nice breakfast, again, enjoying each other’s company and preparing the last few things before we threw all our stuff in the car to head to the first site. I wanted some bungee cords to try to keep our stuff together. I was worried we would lose some of our gear. Luckily, we found some in the garage. Nearly anything could have gotten in our way and stopped us from going but things seemed to be progressing. Our nerves were as well.

As we left my sisters, I could sense something was awry in my husband. I asked him, “What’s wrong?” He shared he was having some concerns and I almost lost it. I said, “remember when I was pregnant with Timmy and I was having preterm labor? I told you that no matter how freaked out you were, you could not look freaked out because that would freak me out. Please, don’t look freaked out.” He laughed.

We kept driving.

It was about an hour from my sisters home and was in a part of Oklahoma I never spent any time in. There were some very beautiful spots and some not so beautiful spots but it was a blessing to be out with my husband, alone, with no other responsibilities or people to care for other than ourselves. This part of Oklahoma is very hilly instead of flat. I didn’t think much of it until I was on the walk.

We found the campsite easily enough. They had very good signage and I think that helped my husband be more at ease. I was still nervous! We were going to sleep in a tent tonight! It’s been over a decade since we tent camped and I would be without amenities I enjoy. That was the purpose of this but I knew this would bring on bickering and fighting so I was waiting for the ball to drop at any moment.

The people checking us in were very nice. It was great to be around people who had the same goal, were focused on God, dressed modestly and were filled with excitement about the pilgrimage. I could tell they were filled with a love for serving others.

I was not looking forward to the first night because it was supposed to be very cold (for Oklahoma). The low was in the 40’s. This isn’t tent camping weather. The campgrounds were pretty full already and we had arrived much earlier than many. Our parish group was coming down on a bus and they weren’t expected to arrive until after 6pm! We couldn’t save any area for them either.

My worry is that we wouldn’t find any of our parish group amongst all these pilgrims so I mentioned to Jason that as soon as we set down our gear, we need to find people. I won’t be at rest until we do.

By dinner time, we were able to see the enormity of this pilgrimage. There were over 1500 people there!

We found a spot on the lawn so we could listen to the speaker that evening. who was Joseph Meaney with the National Catholic Bioethics Center. I was quite surprised by this speaker choice; after all, what would he have to share? While I saved a spot, Jason went to grab us some soup. Unfortunately, by the time he got through the line, there was no bread left. Offer it up!

Our chapter had just arrived as well so I ran to meet the group and find my friend Jesse who was coming. Our chapter was scattered all over so I brought her to our tent so she could set up. I shared with her where to grab some soup. She managed to set up her tent before sundown.

I was pleasantly surprised with Dr. Meaney’s talk. He talked about pilgrimages in general and one particular statement came in handy for the rest of our pilgrimage, “There is no room for anger on a pilgrimage.” Tomorrow, I would be tested in this area.

After his talk, several semi-private Masses were taking place by different chapters. Our chapter’s chaplain though was the main priest for the pilgrimage, so the Mass for our chapter would have to wait. It was time for the St. John Bosco Knighting ceremony and bonfire!

It was an amazing display on the river. There were two bonfires going and it was starting to get very cold. I don’t do well with the cold so at this point, we decided to retreat to the tent so I could try to keep warm. We brought a tent heater and that was the life saver for that evening.

It wasn’t long before it was time for the camp to rest and quiet began to filter through. Moms were trying to quiet their children and my mind began to wander. With no idea what to expect, I said some prayers and we tried to go to sleep. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before nature was calling. It was freezing out but I had to make the trip to the bathroom.

Jason went with me. There were still some lights left on around the campgrounds and a few people had the same issue. The humidity was seeping through our clothes and the cold easily attacked my bones. I could see my breath as I stood in the line for the restroom!

We made our way back to our tent as the lights around the campgrounds were shut off. It was a clear night. The man in the tent next to us snored like a logger and a small child in another tent screamed. Through the hushes of his mother, the cows on the local farm land were mooing. They echoed through the cold, crisp evening. This would be a long night.

Check out Part 2.

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