Monthly Archives: July 2014
That song from the Disney movie Frozen keeps popping into my head. You know the one every man, woman, and child has been singing since the movie came out: “Let it go, let it go…”
It’s not easy letting go of my entire life as I have known it for the past 28+ years in Virginia. It’s definitely a process. I hit the road nearly a week ago, leaving behind my house and most of my possessions, all my wonderful friends, my precious dog Cody (that was really tough), my beautiful state of Virginia where I’ve now lived more than half my life, and, most importantly, my son (which I’ve written about in previous posts).
Letting go of all this is definitely a spiritual practice for me. I realized the magnitude of my decision as soon as I drove over the Texas border and started to cry. It happened when I saw the “Welcome to Texas” sign. Or maybe it was the “Ammo to Go” sign that did it. But it happened suddenly and spontaneously. With no advance warning like you usually get when you know the tears are coming. The irony of this trip had suddenly hit me. The last time I drove through Texas was 1986 when my husband and I were relocating from South Texas to Virginia. A move we desperately wanted to make. Nothing against Texas, but the year and a half we had spent there was not pleasant. We were ready to move on. I remember feeling excited and full of anticipation, happy to be returning to the East Coast and beginning a new life in a new state.
At the time I never thought I’d return to Texas. Certainly not to live here again. That’s how I know this decision is not coming from me. Nor is it of me. But choosing to live in Texas to work with homeless women and their children for at least a year feels right. The decision is a good one for me.
Still, I fluctuate between feeling the sadness of all I’ve left behind, along with the anxiety of my inner child who thinks I’m a little crazy, to feeling the joy and anticipation of following my heart’s calling. I’ve been staying with my dear cousin Joyce in Austin to visit and relax a little before beginning my year-long lay missionary service. She and her husband live on a golf course where deer come to feed throughout the day. It’s been a much-needed respite. But one of her two little dogs, Cupper, reminds me of my personality. One minute he loves me, wags his tail and is fully receptive of my affection. The next he backs away from me, growling as if he wants nothing to do with me. Joyce jokes and says he’s bipolar. I don’t know much about that, but I do sort of relate to his personality these days.
Not to say that I want to change my mind in any way, shape, or form. It’s just that so many questions pop up about my home in Virginia. Did I remember to do this or that before I left? Did I remember to take everything I needed? Should I have left that behind? And on and on until that refrain “Let it go” sails through my mind again.
It’s a good song really. And a good reminder that following a calling involves trust. It’s a choice I choose to make. I choose to trust the Loving Presence that brought me here. I choose to trust that I’ll be given what I need every step of the way as I follow the guidance of a higher self. Not that small, fear-based ego self that wonders if I turned off the stove.
A week ago Sunday I was having breakfast with my son — our last meal together for a long time. Davis chose to take me to Mother’s Cupboard, a “hole in the wall” diner popular with the locals in Syracuse. This little shack didn’t look like much on the outside, but inside the place was packed with families, loud chatter, ambiance, and memories. The latter seemed odd since I’d never stepped foot in the place before. But its familiarity struck me as soon as we entered.
In the early years of our marriage, David and I would travel regularly to his hometown of Oswego to visit his failing grandmother. Our favorite breakfast eatery was Wade’s Diner, which, other than being larger than Mother’s Cupboard, was exactly like it in every way. Right down to the toasted, freshly made raisin bread I noticed as the waitress whizzed by us, balancing plates laden with cholesterol-producing delights.
Davis and I sat at the counter behind the grill where I got a great view of the action. Two middle-aged men with tattoos running the length of their arms worked in tandem as they shoveled home fried potatoes, flipped pancakes the size of dinner plates, and poured omelets onto the sizzling black surface that stretched out before us. I sat there taking it all in and smiling inside, as if I’d just been given a priceless gift. And I had.
Davis could not have known how this place would affect me. Even now it’s hard to describe. More than a fun similarity, eating this familiar food in this very familiar place, my son beside me, gave me a sense of comfort and reassurance, as if David’s spirit was letting me know that our son was going to be OK here. No need to worry. He’s being watched over. It’s something I’ve experienced before — this spiritual awareness. And it increases my faith just a little bit each time. That faith is what has allowed me to let go of my son, again and again.
I have to say, though, it wasn’t easy leaving him behind that Sunday. Because unlike when I brought Davis up to Syracuse University to begin his freshman year, this time I was leaving him, and our home, and our life as we have known it. Closing up shop, so to speak, and taking off for another adventure of sorts, this time to serve for at least a year, and asking Davis to be okay with that, to take care of himself. See ya, son. I’m heading to Texas.
During the 8-plus-hour drive back to Virginia I struggled with lots of emotions, some guilt, a little regret over not bringing him more supplies for the house he’s sharing, and lots of sadness over the separation. I cried much of the way home. But at some point in the midst of my sobbing, I suddenly considered how my letting go of my son was nothing like the letting go that the mothers of these unaccompanied children traveling from Central America through Mexico have had to endure. As a mother, my heart opened to these women’s pain and worry, and my own sorrow lessened.
I believe that every loving mother understands that no one lets go of her child easily. Even when we know our children are going someplace safe and necessary to start their own life, our hearts ache when the time of separation has come. But what would it take to send your child out the door to travel across several countries, through dangerous situations, not knowing whether they will be abused along the way or even make it alive?
For me, the answer is simple. A mother would have to believe that the risks her child would take on this journey were worth it compared to life at home. And, just as I experienced with Davis, she must have faith that her child would be taken care of. The Hispanic women I’ve met have tremendous faith, and a strong sense of family. They would do anything for their children. Even at the cost of an indefinite, or permanent, separation.
Time and again people I spoke with in El Paso who worked with children in detention centers spoke of the violence and poverty of their young lives. Yet I’ve not seen one political leader meet with and listen to the stories of these children who are streaming over the border now. Journalists use the word “humanitarian crisis,” but our politicians are not treating it as such.
I heard one governor on the news this morning say, “I empathize with the children, but…” Really? Does he even know what the word “empathy” means? The dictionary says it’s “the ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.” How can you share in something you don’t know anything about? Before we can “empathize” with anyone, we have to listen to their story.
I hope I sound as impassioned as I feel about this issue. I have come to see just how privileged my life is. Because I can make choices every day. I can choose where I want to take my son out to eat. I can choose what I want to eat every day. I can also choose to move 1,500 miles because the responsibility of caring for others is greater than my desire for being comfortable.
This week I spoke with Sr. Arlene, one of the sisters I stayed with while in Juarez, Mexico. In her ministry, she risks her life every day. I asked her why she stays in Juarez, amid the violence, the abject poverty, and the desolate landscape. Her response moved me to tears:
“In my experience when I walk with others in compassion, I have been led to places not of my choosing. I have learned that compassion does not allow one to be at peace with the comfortable.”
And those tears, for me, are a clue. A clue that I do, in fact, have a calling to serve those who won’t ever have the choices that I do. Those who will never experience the comfort of places like Mother’s Cupboard. But they can experience the spiritual comfort of a loving God. I can at least bring them that.
Here’s the real reason I’m able to follow my heart. My son. Without his full support, I couldn’t leave my home and my life behind in Virginia. All it would take would be four words from Davis: “Mom, please don’t go.”
It’s not like he needs me. He’s 20 years old, after all, and quite capable and responsible. Since Davis left home to attend college, he’s asked very little of me. I know he can survive, and thrive, without me. But a powerful and tender chord tugs at my decision. A chord connected to an unspoken bond that has deepened over the five years since his dad died into something both precious and precarious. Precious because both of us know how much we mean to each other. Precarious because we also know anything can happen to the other. At any time. With no warning.
No one — absolutely no one — comes close to how important my son is to me. I can’t imagine loving anyone more. So, before I committed to this decision to apply to serve with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Texas, I asked Davis what he thought of the idea. I genuinely wanted to know his concerns. He didn’t hesitate to support me. If he had any concerns, he didn’t express them. Davis simply wants me to be happy. Just like his dad would have wanted. No one supported my choices, my independence, as much as my husband David did. Now Davis is doing the same. How I could be twice blessed to have such men in my life is beyond my comprehension.
But here’s what I think. Davis is an “old soul.” If you believe, as I do, that some of us come to this earth more evolved, then you’ll understand. Since the age of four he’s been saying things that have made me pause and wonder, “Where did that come from?” Occasionally I find myself asking, “Who’s the adult here?” Maybe you have a child like this. One whose words can sometimes stop you in your tracks. I mean in a good way.
Several months after my husband died I finally entered that stage of grief called anger. If you’ve experienced a painful loss, you may be familiar with this stage: lots of complaining, resenting all the responsibilities I had to handle alone, second guessing my decisions regarding my young teenaged son, huffing and puffing at the supermarket shoppers who parked their grocery carts in the middle of the aisle (David used to do all the grocery shopping), shouting and swearing when dinner didn’t turn out quite the way I’d expected (David had been a superb cook and I regretted not standing behind him taking notes at the stove).
I remember one particular incident when my voice had lost all control. I was in my bedroom ranting and raving about something I had to do — although I can’t recall now what it was about. You know those moments when you hear the pitch of your voice and you know that whatever comes out of your mouth is not going to be good, but you’ve gone too far.
Davis stepped into the room, sat down on my bed, looked at me, and calmly said, “Mom, Dad’s gone. We can’t bring him back. You might as well stop fighting it.”
His words silenced me. That wise, sweet voice struck my heart. In that moment, I got it. I understood what I was doing to myself. And to him. He’d put an invisible mirror in front of my face, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. Grief, and guilt, consumed me.
There have been many other moments since where Davis has witnessed my faults and limitations. It’s unavoidable when you’re part of a family. But it doesn’t seem to matter what side of myself I show my son. He still loves and accepts me. And he always forgives me.
To know Davis is to know what a special gift he is. In so many ways. Not the least of which is his miraculous birth. After 12 years of trying to conceive. Three miscarriages along the way. Lots of tears, prayers, and spiritual seeking, ending with a child more perfect for me than I could have imagined.
As one of our family friends said recently, “You guys make a great team.”
Yes, we do.
Thank you, Davis. Thank you for being who you are. And for allowing me to be who I am.
I know that is all God asks of me. Of any of us. To be who we really are. And I realize it takes an immense act of humility to give back what God has given to me, warts and all. Thanks to Davis, I just might be able to believe that my warts aren’t so bad.