Monthly Archives: August 2015
Her name was Irlanda. I’d never known anyone by that name and I would know her for less than 24 hours.
Months later I’m barely able to conjure up her face. But Irlanda’s words to me — they left a deep impression. One that reminds me why I left home.
Just weeks into my service at the Nazareth Hospitality Center in El Paso, Irlanda and her scrawny, eight-year-old son with the impossibly innocent smile show up at our door. I’m still struggling through Spanish phrases and trying to understand people’s questions. Still learning how to make these strangers feel welcomed, what questions not to ask, and how to listen with my eyes since my ears aren’t doing me much good.
Always there’s lots to be done at Nazareth. Rooms to be cleaned. Intake records to be entered into the system. Volunteer drivers to be called for rides to the bus station. Clothing to be sorted and folded on the tables in the donation room where the next arrival of women will soon dig through the neatly stacked piles seeking a pair of jeans to fit their short, lean figures.
But that day I take time to accompany Irlanda and her son to the moneygram office so they can obtain the cash a relative has sent for their 3-day bus trip. Located just around the corner and a few blocks down on Montana Avenue, the place isn’t hard to get to. But for a young woman from a village in Guatemala, walking along streets loaded with cars, stores, and stoplights could be an overwhelming adventure.
I offer to go with her. As we walk, I fumble through conversing in Spanish.
Suddenly Irlanda stops and points her son’s face toward the sky. “Mira!” she tells him.
A jet plane soars overhead.
Mother and son stand close together, smiles spreading across their faces.
I can only imagine what it must be like to see an airplane for the first time.
And then I’m imagining all the firsts they’ll be experiencing on this journey. At bus depots. Transfer stations. Places where she tries to buy food.
She admits to me that she’s scared. Scared of what she’ll find in this country. This woman who has traveled thousands of miles across dangerous Mexico with her young son. I’m praying people will be kind.
Later in the day, it’s time for the driver to come take Irlanda and her son to the bus station. We hug goodbye. She asks God to bless me and surprises me by saying she thanks God for me. Her eyes reveal the impact I have made. Then she says something that really humbles me. How I am following what the Bible teaches by loving my neighbor and welcoming the stranger.
All I did was show her some kindness. She has given me much more.
That night, back in my room, I write in my journal:
“This is why I am here. This is what I want to do. Be present to these people and share special, intimate moments between human beings on the journey. We’ve shared each other’s lives for a moment. Our paths will never cross again. But meeting Irlanda has left a mark that touches my soul.”
Irlanda reminded me of the call within. A call I experienced long before I met her.
These days I feel worlds away from the border of El Paso. But I haven’t forgotten.
Can you risk opening your heart to the call within? Maybe you’ll discover why you are here.
Emily Dickenson’s poem “I Shall Not Live in Vain” adorns the wall of Karen’s studio where I currently work part-time. Knowing me and my journey, Karen kindly offered me a job at her home-based business while I sort out what’s next.
I like working for Karen. I like that she’s a creative entrepreneur, fulfilling her vision, designing a much-needed product. And she’s doing it with kindness, compassion, and generosity — both for her employees and her clients. Plus, once I spotted that Emily Dickenson poem on the wall, I knew we shared a similar philosophy. A philosophy about our life’s purpose.
Yesterday Karen showed me a short news clip about a sweet, six-year-old boy named Jayden from Georgia. Jayden’s father died when Jayden was very young, and recently his mom died in her sleep. Jayden now lives with relatives, and for a while, everyone around him was feeling pretty sad. So Jayden decided to do something about it.
With the help of his aunt, he began purchasing tiny toys, like plastic neon green dinosaurs and purple rubber ducks, and handing them out to strangers. Everyone Jayden meets gets a toy. The boy’s intention — to make people smile.
As I watched this remarkable young boy get such delight in giving away these trinkets, and the hugs and huge grins he received in return, I realized what a special gift he has. At six-years old, Jayden has already found his purpose. Spreading joy.
Some adults I know say they still haven’t found their purpose. They don’t know their true work, or their true worth. They think what they’re doing isn’t enough. Sometimes I hear that message in their comments about how I inspire them. About how they couldn’t do the kinds of things I’m doing.
Yet I see and hear people doing inspiring things every day. Right where I am.
Like my teacher friend who has taken three motherless siblings under her wing. Every few months she treats them to a special outing, and for a while, they get to have a special woman in their life give them one on one attention.
Or my dear friend Jeanine who for the past year has taken on the responsibility of caring for my dog while I followed a call to mission. They bonded so well, my dog is now her dog. And even though he’s aged and requires much more attention, Jeanine never complains. Yet she doesn’t think she’s doing much. Whenever I try to express how thankful I am for her taking this on, she tells me she admires me.
I have several other friends like this. They think their lives are ordinary. But I know that each one of them is extraordinary. Because of who they are. Because of what they offer. The aching they’ve eased. The pains they’ve cooled. The joy they’ve spread. And the hearts they’ve kept from breaking.
Each of us has a unique purpose. It can be really simple. And right in front of you. All you have to do is recognize it, and claim it. And then you, too, shall not live in vain.
I spent the weekend at Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison for a reunion with some very dear friends. Sevenoaks has special meaning for me. It’s the place where I dived deeper into the courageous and challenging spiritual journey of knowledge of self and God through the Pathwork program. It’s also where I began to trust the overpowering and overwhelming experiences of God’s love flowing through me. And Sevenoaks is where I first made a serious commitment to use my gifts and talents to serve community.
Being there again this weekend only affirmed that commitment.
I know I have a mission. Or, I should say, the mission has me. That’s what I was told during my missionary service orientation in Mexico City last August. And I know these words are truth.
I also know this passion for my mission did not come from my ego mind. It came from what I would call the Spirit of divine love. A love that has awakened my heart to the needs and the pain of the “other.”
I hear friends — good and caring people — voice concerns about how the influx of Hispanic immigrants is affecting our economy, affecting our lives, and I wonder, how can I explain what I’ve experienced? What I’ve seen in the Other? What I know about how our country has contributed to the economic situation in Latin America? How our economy would falter without the contributions of these hardworking immigrants? About what it really means to be hungry and in danger?
Mostly, how can I explain that when we look at the other and feel fearful or lacking, we are in illusion?
Yes, my heart has awakened.
Sometimes it feels impossible to hold it all. To know the pain of others in my heart. But this weekend at Sevenoaks I was reassured that I am not holding it alone. All I need do is listen and follow the call. Take the next right step. But it’s not easy.
The question I must ask myself time and again is this: In whatever I am doing, thinking, or expressing, am I in love’s flow? Or am I in my fear? Will I spend my life worrying about whether there will be enough? Or will I trust the transformative Love of God to support me and give me what I need as I listen and follow as best as I can? The kind of trust I witnessed in those I served.
I choose to trust.
I trust that if enter the flow of seeing the divine in the other and open my heart, I will in turn receive much more than I have given. I’ve already experienced this. Especially in Texas and Mexico. Why wouldn’t it continue?
How about you?
Will your soul be enriched by the other?
How will your heart respond?
Will you allow yourself to look into another’s eyes, listen to their story, feel their pain, and recognize your Self?
This weekend I was reminded of the Prayer of St. Francis. It’s a tough one to live by. But I say it anyway, trusting that it’s quietly transforming me. Along with those whose lives I touch.