Dropping Cheez-it Cracker Crumbs

IMG_1332“Your heart will guide you,” friends at the border told me before I left El Paso as I shared that I was uncertain of the way forward. I knew they were right. My heart is what got me there in the first place.

As I’ve listened, I’ve been feeling pulled to work with the Hispanic children. All those disturbing stories of the children from Central America journeying through Mexico to cross the border have stayed in my heart. I’ve since applied for a longer term position of service in Texas working with women and children. And I’ve continued to ask Spirit for guidance as to where and how to use what I’ve learned.

The other day I received an appeal from Catholic Volunteer Network to help those “on the fringes of society.” When I opened the envelope, the beautiful, smiling face of an Hispanic child looked up at me, the words “Celebrate New Life” posted below. That picture, along with a box of Cheez-it crackers, turned into a powerful metaphor for me. Hang in, and I’ll explain.

Before I left El Paso, I wrote this little fable. It was as much to reassure the young child inside of me who had been so anxious and doubtful about venturing into the unknown as it was to remind me of the powerful things that can happen when one listens to one’s heart. I read this to Liz, my wise friend and spiritual director:

“Once upon a time we were afraid. We thought we had lost our way and we wandered into the Texas desert, not bringing very much with us and uncertain of what we would encounter. We were doubtful and insecure for a while, thought we had to put up a wall to protect ourselves, but this loving Presence kept showing up, dropping crumbs of delectable nourishment along the way: gifts of encouragement and wisdom from unexpected visitors, vivid dreams and insights, love painted on a heart-shaped stone and woven into a Mexican prayer shawl, lyrics to songs presented especially to us, warmth and love from strangers who took us into their hearts. Little by little we began to recognize Love’s Presence, until the journey culminated in one glorious expression of love and affirmation that left no doubt that all along the journey we have been held and guided and safe and treasured.”

Liz is smiling as she listens. Then she poses this great question. “What if,” she asks, her voice trailing off into introspection. “What if all we are to do is drop these delectable crumbs of God’s love?”

I pause, struck by what she has just asked. Yeah. This is it, isn’t it? It’s not about how much we succeed or fail. It’s not about trying to figure out the next step. It’s realizing that there really is nothing more we need do than simply drop these crumbs of love along the way.

But only two days later before I begin my meditation, I again pray for guidance to be shown how to use my gifts and what I have learned. Because something in me wants to see—needs to see—the next step. Living with uncertainty can be so challenging.

Somewhere in the middle of my meditation this vision drops in of Cheez-it cracker crumbs falling to the ground. Liz’s words about “crumbs of God’s love” surface. So does a deeper awareness. My son Davis loves Cheez-it crackers. Has since he was a little kid. I still buy them when he comes home from college. A small expression of my desire for him to feel loved.

It’s easy for me to connect the dots here. The association of the crackers with my child and my love for him, and my love for the children who are in pain. Drop crumbs of love for the children. That’s what I am to do.

A friend recently recommended I read Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle. Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has been serving for more than two decades in one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles. He started a gang-intervention program called Homeboy Industries, and in this book he shares beautifully inspiring stories of what the presence of unconditional love can do in the midst of such poverty and challenging lives.

“In the end,” Fr. Boyle writes, “I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea.”

Living on the margins. Dropping crumbs of love. Serving the Ground of all Being. Somehow they are interchangeable. And one’s life is forever enriched by the experience.

heart-shaped rock with special message I found in the desert
heart-shaped rock with special message I found in the desert

Missing the Bus


Two weeks back from my sojourn to El Paso and I’m missing, of all things, the bus rides.

Whenever the sisters couldn’t get me to where I needed to go, I hopped on a city bus. During these hour-long-plus bus rides (involving some transfer along the way), I encountered many people. Usually I was the only white-faced rider. The sole gringo. I didn’t mind that at all. In fact, I felt surprisingly alive amidst the mostly Hispanic passengers.
Latina bus

The bus teemed with the juiciness of life. Young moms grasping the hands of wobbly toddlers, community college students plugged into their iPads and Smart phones, old women toting canes and shopping bags, tired men wearing dark green work clothes or the occasional business suit. I often caught my Hispanic travelers—from young men, to middle-aged women, to the elderly—in what was for me a particularly enamoring practice: just as the bus would take off, they’d make the sign of the cross and then kiss their thumb and forefinger as a prayer for safety and a sign of reverence for their God.

At times people would lug their groceries onboard. I watched one woman and her young daughter unload a Wal-Mart shopping cart heaped with groceries onto the bus platform in anticipation of their bus’ arrival. It took them several trips to pile everything onto the cement. I wondered how the bus driver would react when he saw their load, but I witnessed no impatience on his part as they stepped on and off the bus methodically carrying the groceries and stacking them as securely as possible. I imagined this was a regular practice for them.

There were funny moments too. Like when the bus lurched suddenly, causing a couple of beer cans to fall out of a plastic grocery bag and roll down the aisle, their owner laughing as she chased after them, joking in Spanish. Or when a young woman wearing a short, black leather jacket, black eyeliner, and black fishnet stockings that revealed flesh all the way up to the hemline of her cropped black mini skirt got on board, strutting slowly down the aisle. The middle-aged man sitting in a front seat lowered his dark shades as she passed. Shortly thereafter he headed to the back of the bus.

When not paying attention to the passengers around me, I became engrossed in reading The Great Work of Your Life, the book recommended to me during my first full week in El Paso. It became, and has been, a messenger and guide for my current stage in life, as it deals with discovering your dharma, or sacred purpose, and how to live it “full out.”

Rereading excerpts from this book, now that I’m back in Virginia, helps me remember. You see, part of me is afraid I’ll forget. Forget what I learned. Forget the richness of life I experienced. That I’ll somehow “miss the bus” and remain in my quiet, peaceful, and safe surroundings. But I know that’s not really possible. Not now. Too much has changed. I’ve changed.

I can’t ignore the images of the people I met. Or the messages about deportations and the stalling of immigration reform in Congress that keep popping into my email box. I choose not to ignore them. Next week is the National Week of Action for Administrative Relief from Deportations. According to the Immigration Interfaith Coalition, 1,100 people are being deported every day and predictions are that by the end of April, 2 million people will have been deported under the Obama Administration. For me, now, this has a very personal side. I know about the stories of families being separated. Some of those being deported are parents of children who are U.S. citizens. The children remain behind and are either put in foster care or in the care of relatives. Or if they go with their parents, they are thrust into a country, culture, and language that is foreign to them, and that poses many threats.

I remember when I was teaching English to Hispanic adults and we got onto the subject of immigration reform. One of my students asked me what I thought about it. Every student’s eyes were on me, waiting, wondering what this white woman would say. My answer might have surprised them. They were accustomed to hearing, or expecting, something different from white America. My student then shared that her neighbors of more than 20 years had recently been deported. Taken away one day, just like that. They had been good people, she said, the sadness in her voice and eyes so palpable.

Since returning home, I’ve been discerning where to go from here. Attempting to listen further to my heart. And considering the risks I will take. In The Great Work of Your Life, author Stephen Cope describes what listening for divine guidance, or what some of us call “the will of God,” involves. Among other things, it involves asking for guidance, actively listening, allowing yourself to be surprised, testing the guidance, praying for the courage to take action, and then letting go of the attempt to eliminate risk.

Cope says, “The presence of risk is only an indication that you’re at an important crossroads. Risk cannot be eliminated, and the attempt to eliminate it will only lead you back to paralysis. In important dharma decisions, we never get to 100 percent certitude.”

That’s funny. Those words about the lack of certitude in following one’s calling are the same words I heard from Ruben Garcia—the director of the refugee and immigration house of hospitality called Annunciation House. And from Fr. Bob—a Columban father and missionary now serving in downtown El Paso. And from Alma. Alma, the wonderful massage therapist I visited via yet another bus ride. While kneading my sore muscles, she asked about my journey and discovered how and why I had come to El Paso. Then she shared a special story. Her indigenous people from Mexico had a ceremony for women when they turned 52, an age that is seen as a significant period in their lives, a time when women “cross over” into becoming elders in the tribe, and their focus now changes to one of serving the community. As she spoke of this ceremony and the letting go of old roles and patterns, symbolized by the woman breaking her old dishes, one at a time, as she releases her old life, I wondered, where could I sign up? And why don’t we have these kinds of threshold ceremonies in our culture as we pass from one significant stage into another?

Before I left El Paso, one of my English students gave me a gift: a dragonfly pin. At the time I had no idea that the dragonfly symbolizes transformation and a “change in the perspective of self-realization.” According to information I found on the web, the symbolism of the dragonfly includes “maturity and a depth of character. …the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.” (http://www.dragonfly-site.com/meaning-symbolize.html

my dragonfly pin
my dragonfly pin

Hmm. Am I coming to understand the deeper meaning of life? Is my perspective changing? Am I being transformed?

I believe so. I think I’m ready to take the risk involved in serving something greater than myself. I’m on for the ride. Without knowing where it will end.