The Road Doesn’t Really End {Book Club}

The Road Doesn't Really End

In her book Born to Wander, Michelle Van Loom said, “Pilgrimage is always a step-by-step decision to follow Him. Those steps may look like repentance as we turn toward Him from a place we’ve wandered after choosing to rebel against God. They may look like obedience, as we continue to track His steps as we face the challenge of the narrow road. They may look like fellowship, as we commune with Him on the journey. But they will always look like death.”

I have a feeling this quote would resonate with Chase Falson where we find him at the end of Chasing Francis.

Some things had to die.

He had to let go of his role as pastor at Putnum Hill, and in the process he lost a lot of relationships. He came face-to-face with his own struggles with materialism and ways he had let culture dictate his spending and generosity. His idea of what church looked like shifted because of what he learned in Italy. And I think he realized those ideas still had a long way to go.

At least, I hope he realized that. He had some great thoughts, great plans that he and Maggie developed and shared with the church. It’s awesome that he had dreams of what church could be.

But, I had to wonder, did he learn enough to help him keep walking a journey of healing and wholeness? To prevent crashing and burning again? I’ll be honest, I was fascinated by Chase’s journey in this book, but it felt like his ideas in the end had more to do with adding or changing activities. I wasn’t certain that it addressed a heart change needed. Did I miss it? Feel free to set me straight.

I know, I know, analyzing the heart of a fictional character can only go so far. What did you think about the changes and transformation Chase went through?

In this final section we learn more about St. Francis’ views of poverty and the way he embraced the poor and a life of simplicity for himself. I loved this quote from Brother Thomas (goodness, that man had a lot of wisdom): “If your heart’s crammed tight with material things and a thirst for wealth, there’s no space left for God. Francis wanted a void in his life that could only be filled with Jesus.”

Wow, that quote challenged me. I like to think that living the nomadic life of an overseas worker has freed me from a dependence on material possessions. I’m not so sure though. Sometimes the constant losses—due to many moves, limited suitcase space, flooding and pests—have created a scarcity mentality. I want to hold even tighter, make up for those sacrifices, fill in all the gaps.

I also think that Brother Thomas wasn’t just talking about possessions. We can fill in the gaps in our hearts with all sorts of things, really good things even like relationships and food and money, but those push out our need for Jesus. I’m pausing with this quote to really look at my heart and pay attention. Am I cramming so much in that I don’t have room left for God?

I’d love to know what you think! Did the book end the way you imagined it would? Have you taken away any lessons from St. Francis or the friars we met along with Chase?

I’m so glad we made this journey together through Chasing Francis!

What’s next:

We are so excited to be reading Rachel Pieh Jones’ book Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa! Grab your copy today. Here’s the reading schedule:

Feb 4 – Prologue – chapter 5

Feb 11 – chapter 6 – chapter 9

Feb 18 – chapter 10 – chapter 13

Feb 25 – chapter 14 – epilogue

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Photo by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash


  1. Sharon January 28, 2020

    I agree with you. Most of the book I loved….it drew me in and spoke deeply. But the end felt contrived as if the story needed to be wrapped up with action points. I don’t know, it left me feeling like I’d been tricked into reading a book about church planting or growth instead of personal growth. Sorry — processing out loud here and trying to put into words the disquiet of my soul about the ending.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 29, 2020

      Sharon, that’s the beauty of book club- there’s no pressure to love the book, like the ending, or agree with what the book holds. We get to share our thoughts honestly and I think we can learn from each other that way! I agree with you though, I was disappointed in the ending, personally.

  2. Sherri January 29, 2020

    I wondered how much of this book is autobiographical and how much time the author spent in Italy. I served in Italy for 16 years, and I’ve been to Assisi and Rome. I felt the author presented a romanticized and idealized version of Italy that doesn’t correspond to the reality. However, his descriptions of how wonderful the food and gelato are are spot on!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 29, 2020

      Sherri, that’s a great question, I’m not sure! It’s hard that this is a strange genre- fiction, but also somewhat auto-biography. That’s interesting to have the perspective of living in Italy and visiting Rome and Assissi! I’ve never lived there, but spent 2 months serving with cross-cultural workers in college. I kept trying to picture Rome from what he was describing compared with when I visited and couldn’t quite get there. But I agree- the gelato was other-worldly in my opinion. 🙂 As was the food. Italy did provide an interesting backdrop for the story, I guess, whether the author had actually been there or not!

    2. Michele February 2, 2020

      I’m pretty sure he’s been there- I feel like I’ve heard him mention it on his podcast. But it’s very interesting how the view of someone who lives and serves in a place is very different from that of someone who was there on holiday! I bet it would be easy for me to find blogs and other writing that romanticizes Nepal, since it’s a tourist definition and known as ‘shangrila’ and all that. But yeah, I’d probably not agree with their versions much.

      1. Michele February 2, 2020

        *tourist destination!

      2. Sarah Hilkemann February 5, 2020

        I felt that way about people who talked all about the adventure of visiting Cambodia, but only saw the fun things and only had to deal with the “adventurous” things for a short time. 🙂 It is totally different to live in a place!

        1. Abigail February 8, 2020

          I agree that it’s very different to live in a place than just visit it! 🙂

  3. Grace L January 29, 2020

    I have been rereading the book after my first run-through which was quick. I have only reread chapter 10 right now because I have been spending so much time reading about the Wuhan Coronavirus because we live here in central China. FYI, we are fine and are doing a self-imposed quarantine in our house.

    When I first started chapter 10 on my first read-through, I was alarmed to learn that Chase would be returning to the US so quickly. Inwardly I was shouting, “No, no! Don’t go back. Stay and spend more time among the Assisi friars and keep letting God really speak into your life!” But in reading through the rest of the chapter and seeing how impacted Chase and Maggie were by participating in the Food Bank and later at the home for the dying Aids patients, I could see how much God was still working in their lives. But still, a part of me was wondering why they might not want to stay and be a part of all this.

    Later to see how Chase and Maggie stayed up all Saturday night to write up a plan for the church back in Connecticut was a little unreal. We see that Maggie is a new Christian and has only spent a few days it seems among the Assisi friars. I find it surprising that she could be so involved with writing up a plan for the church.

    But I loved it when the friars took them to church on the way to the airport. Perhaps Chase’s reaction to taking communion is really the culmination of the impact of his time in Italy among the Assisi brothers. Let me share it here if you didn’t notice as you read through.

    “What happened next is difficult to explain and perhaps, as with all mysteries, it is unwise to try. All I know is that in the moment of reception I was visited by God. Perhaps it was the goodness of the priest and his graciousness that silently opened a portal through which I momentarily made contact with the divine life. Or maybe it was the Eucharist itself – the host mingling with my brokenness, dissolving in saliva, coming to rest in the shallows of my heart’s confusion. Kneeling at the altar, I was overwhelmed by the sense that my fragmented and discontinuous life might actually make sense.

    “In the blink of an eye, I loved from multi-verse to universe. The out-of-tune instruments that had played so cacophonously in my soul for so many years spontaneously came together and played one unmistakable chord with thundering clarity. Every grief, every joy, every loss, every hope. every disappointment – all the disparate pieces of my past, my present, and even my uncharted future – were instantly joined together, and I saw it all for what it really was. Gift. The gratitude I felt was nearly unbearable. I began to weep quietly, sobbing back with release, rocking gently back and forth, holding the Communion rail to steady myself. I whispered over and over the only prayer that really matters in this life: ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'”

    Personally I have experienced, more than once, going to the communion rail and taking communion (in either an Episcopal church or an Anglican church) and finding myself strongly touched by God. If I had been holding something in, I have often been unable to keep it in and I find myself weeping. Or I may have just been touched by God’s presence. I can very much relate to Chase’s experience at the altar rail and I am so glad that the author included this here.

    Isn’t that what Chase came to Italy for? To find and really experience God? Not to rebuild a church back in the US. Tomorrow I will read chapters 11 and 12 again and the Epilogue. I do want to take time to go over some of the study guide questions. I may check in again with more comments.

    1. T January 29, 2020

      Me, too about the altar rail and communion. Definitely a sacred space for me that I have missed for 20 years!

    2. Michele February 2, 2020

      While not at the altar rail of an Episcopal or Anglican church, I have definitely had experiences of encountering God and feeling things suddenly come together, or wounds suddenly receiving the healing that was available in Jesus all along. While most of our life with Him is a process, moments like these are real and bring real and lasting change. I also related to that part of the story and found myself in tears, even, as I read it just because it reminded me of those moments. I agree that seems to be the culmination of his pilgrimage in Italy.

    3. Sarah Hilkemann February 5, 2020

      I love hearing your thoughts, Grace! I am really glad the author included that part about Chase’s experience at the altar rail too. He went to Italy to find healing and to experience God in a new and fresh way, and the communion experience felt like the culmination of all of that. There is something so sacred and special about experiencing God’s presence there.

  4. Michele February 2, 2020

    I’m a little late to the comments because I ended a month in my first host country to return to my current one a couple of days ago, but I’ve spend a chunk of my Sabbath today going over my highlights from this book. I really loved it. I didn’t love the ending, but I can’t say I was disappointed, particularly, I think because I was reading more for the bits of wisdom- the whole idea of learning from Francis as we live in a time period so similar to his, according to the early chapters. As a novel it was pretty predictable and, yes, wound up a little too neatly at the end. I guess it would have had to be a lot longer to be more realistic, and the author just needed to finish and get the lessons across, which he makes clear is the goal of the book more than an entertaining story. There was at least some realism in the church voting Chase out. While in real life I would be concerned about anyone starting a new church so quickly after that whole experience (or maybe there was a written in gap, that I missed?)– I am just idealistic enough to love the idea of starting one based on the principles listed and could forgive the tidiness of the ending.

    I don’t know if it’s because I was in the city where I experienced my own most life-changing encounter with God and where I found the grace to die to myself, but I found myself in tears a lot through this last section. I loved his description of pushing out of his comfort zone with the aids patient: “I’d passed through a border into the depths and found I could still breathe there… My terror and embarrassment was replaced by peace, edging toward sublime joy.” It stirred memories from my first years in Asia and made me long for the grace to push myself out through those kind of “borders” again.

    I really enjoyed this book in spite of the flaws in the story. It made me consider more deeply how to bring change to the Church and the world around us by simply choosing to live as much like Jesus as possible.

    1. Grace L February 2, 2020

      Hi Michele. Yes, it was a very thought provoking book and I loved it in spite of the ending being a bit too pat. I was challenged by the encounters Chase had at the AIDS center and in visiting the poor in Rome. Challenged, but inspired.

      I do want to point out a section that I highlighted in one of the last chapters. Chase is speaking to the church:
      “If someone insists on labeling me in the future, I’d like to be known as a ‘come and see’ Christian. If someone asks me what kind of church I belong to, I want to say, ‘a come and see church.’ Come and see how we love the poor; come and see how we give dignity back to those who’ve lost it or given it away; come and see how we encounter God through every practice at our disposal; come and see how we love one another in community; come and see how we stand for peace and justice; come and see how we’ve been freed from consumerism and have become radically generous; come and see our passion for beauty; come and see how we defend the earth; come and see how we preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words. Come and see – and perhaps after a while, you’ll decide to join us in the story we’re living in.”

      Living in a remote part of China where our church is a very small group in our living room and we cannot mix with the locals, my experience of church is very different from what I read about in churches in the US. Within 2 years we will be retiring and relocating back to the states (to New England), and I wonder what kind of a church we will want to be a part of. Perhaps it will be a ‘come and see’ kind of church. And yes, we can choose to want to live as much like Jesus as possible.

    2. Sarah Hilkemann February 5, 2020

      Michele, I’m so glad this book was meaningful, and what a sweet gift to be finishing it up in such a special place!!

      I think as I’ve been back in my passport country and first home for a little over a year now, I am noticing the ways I’ve gotten pretty comfortable. I know that can happen anywhere, but conveniences and familiarity can make it easier. Your comment about pushing out of comfortable borders has made me think about ways I need to do that in my life currently. Thanks. 🙂

  5. Grace L February 2, 2020

    Just getting to the Study Guide where the 1st topic is making me wonder what it means to be a post-evangelical. Being a US citizen living outside of my passport country for 13 years, I find myself quite disturbed by what I see the “evangelicals” are standing for there. I no longer want to be labeled as an evangelical, and I am not sure what the other options are. My husband also just finished reading this book and we are planning to do some of the study guide questions together. I think the study guide may be as provocative and stimulating as the book was. To say that I have been greatly impacted by this book is to put it mildly. I have enjoyed reading this and will miss our discussions as the book club goes on to its next book. Thanks, everyone.

    1. Michele February 2, 2020

      Grace, I don’t envy you having to make your way into American church life, honestly. Having lived in Asia for the past 22 years, I would also find it difficult to move back under the label of ‘evangelical’. BUT- I am excited for you and your husband to work through what that is going to look like for you together. There are lot of ways the church in America seems to me to be off-track, yet the more I know Jesus and understand His love for the Church and His promises over her, the more I have to love the Church as well, and I feel sick and sad when I hear bitter, critical comments about her. It’s a real tension- super-challenging and yet exciting and hopeful when we trust His Word. I had a look at the study guide and hope to go back to it at some point as well. I’d like to do it in community, so just praying about whether there are people in my life that would be interested in reading the book and discussing these topics too. Blessings on your continued discussions at home and your upcoming transition!

    2. Sarah Hilkemann February 5, 2020

      Grace, I’m so glad the book and discussion has been so meaningful to you- and what a gift to have your husband read it and be able to discuss it together.

      I moved back to the US (my passport country) at the end of 2018 after 5 years living in southeast Asia. I’ve learned there are a lot of labels that don’t fit me anymore, and that is a strange and sometimes painful part of re-entry, and can also be very lonely. But I agree with what Michele said, there’s a tension and balance between our love and honor for the bride of Christ, and also calling her out when we have the opportunity to do so with respect. Having lived in multiple worlds, we have such a unique perspective and that can be a gift. I’ve also found I need to be a learner and watch and listen a lot.

  6. Abigail February 8, 2020

    Things have gotten busier here in my husband’s home country, so your comments motivate me to keep reading in the book. 🙂 Thank you.

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