Monthly Archives: August 2014

Learning to Bend

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Waterfall alongside stone etching on the River Walk

This morning after attending Mass at the San Fernando Cathedral, I decided to stroll the River Walk here in San Antonio where I’ve begun my lay missionary service. Tourists roamed along the canal lined with shops and restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. I couldn’t help but remember the last time I visited, I was one of these tourists, vacationing with my husband and son.

My life is hugely different now. My roles changed completely. How could I have known then that I’d be back several years later, David gone from this life, Davis attending college in upstate New York? And me, a lay missionary?

It sounds bizarre even to write this. Almost surreal.

But even though I find myself in this unexpected situation, I feel strangely peaceful. And that’s saying a lot, because at the moment, I’m uncertain what my role will be here. Currently, only two moms and their children are living at the transitional housing program where I’m serving, and one of them will soon be moving out. Exactly what I’ll be doing is still evolving.

This, too, is unexpected. I honestly thought I’d show up, be surrounded by a brood of energetic kids begging me to play with them, and I’d pull out my crayons and jump rope, which I brought along in expectation, and everything would fall into place. Not so.

And that brings me back to why I was on the River Walk this morning. With a day free to do as I please and no one in particular to do it with, it seemed like a good idea. Suddenly I came across words etched into the stone wall that struck me.

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I’d been praying to stay open to ways that God was showing up in all of this. These words loomed up in front of me, speaking to my heart in a way I couldn’t deny.

If you know me, you know I love trees. Trees have been a metaphor for many of my life’s lessons, not the least of which is how to bend in the storms. Hold onto life no matter what raging wind shows up. Adjust to all types of climate change.

I recognized myself in those words. Certainly I have learned — and am still learning — how to bend and adjust. I also recognized all the ways I’ve been spiritually held during those “adjustments.”

No sooner had I snapped a couple of pictures and wandered off when my cell phone beeped that I’d gotten a text. It was from my son. He’d just been to a church service where the pastor had talked about losing his own dad at a young age. Moved by this pastor’s words about his mother’s influence during that trying time, Davis sent me one of the most beautiful messages of gratitude I’ve ever received.

David, Davis, and me — connected once again in an unexpected moment.  By an unexpected loving presence reassuring me that learning to bend can be a good thing.

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My life has been full of hellos and goodbyes. Especially over the last five years. Some goodbyes more traumatic than others. I’ve noticed that the more I open my heart, the more emotions I feel when it’s time to say goodbye.

Like now.

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Today was my last full day in Mexico City. I have come to care for the people I have met here. No matter that it’s only been two weeks. Our little group of four missionaries and Tere, our director, have become close. And here I am saying goodbye again and feeling the sadness of separation. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Last night Sr. Carmelita, my spiritual companion while I’ve been here and a sweet and compassionate soul, shared photos from her three years serving in Mongu in Zambia. The dark faces of the children, eyes shining with wonder and joy, captured me. When Sr. Carmelita expressed how sad she felt to leave them, I understood.

How could she feel otherwise? She had opened her heart and loved them. But now she was needed somewhere else.

And that’s the life of a missionary, too. You open your heart and let them all in. And then after a while, you move on.

So you learn to make your heart your home. A good friend told me recently that that’s what I am learning to do. I hope I am. And I hope that, like Sr. Carmelita, my internal home will be overflowing with all the people I have taken in. With tears and joy and everything in between.

So, as I say goodbye, I’d like to share some photos of my temporary physical home with the sisters here in San Angel, Mexico City, with love:

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Above photos are some scenes on the convent grounds.and below, around town.

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Hola from Mexico City

Walkway at Benedictine Monastery in Cuernavaca

Walkway at Benedictine Monastery in Cuernavaca

I have nearly completed my two-week orientation in Mexico City with Incarnate Word missionaries. Long days packed with teachings by various credentialed instructors on everything from understanding one’s identity and Liberation theology to the spiritual concepts of interior cultivation.

Whew!

My knees speak to me every night, wondering when I’m going to pick up my exercise routine and yoga poses again. And my healthy, nearly vegetarian diet learned the word “adios” soon after we arrived.

But despite the changes and adaptations, and the continued uncertainty of how things will go while I’m away from home, I am happy to be here. What I feel and hear and experience resonates within me that this is where I belong. The three-day retreat we recently had at a Benedictine Monastery in Cuernavaca only reaffirmed my decision. During the silence, while wandering the beautiful grounds, I discovered yet another metaphor in yet another tree — I have a thing for trees — about the gift of not resisting, of being willing to go underground and hang out in the darkness for awhile, just as the seed does. What emerges will be completely new and surprising — like the humongous, glorious tree that stood before me.image image

 

Tomorrow is our commissioning, or sending-off, ceremony. I feel excited and joyful while still unsure of what’s ahead. What will life be like as a missionary in San Antonio? What will I encounter along the way? How will I deal with the anxiety and loneliness that’s certain to arise? These are questions I cannot answer now. Just as we have been taught this week, all I can do is be present. Present to what is here. Now. And this is exactly where God is.