A Faith Stronger than Fear

fear vs faith

I’m scared, the young mom tells me in Spanish. “Miedo.” It’s one of the new words I’ve learned.

“I know,” I say, managing to fumble my way through my limited Spanish. Of course she’s  scared, I tell her. It’s been a difficult journey. She’s in a new country. Everything is new and uncertain. And she doesn’t speak English.

This evening she will board a bus with her four-year-old son bound for California. And she has no idea what to expect or how she will communicate.

Many mothers have come through our doors here at Nazareth Hall after being processed by ICE. But she is the first to look into my eyes and share her fears. Her vulnerability moves me.

Later that afternoon her darling little son shows off the GAP jacket he’s chosen from the donated clothing room. With its puffy shoulders and bright peach color, it’s obviously for a girl. I try to tell him this. He continues to smile at me, as pleased as can be with his selection. His face is so innocent, I want to cry.hispanic-mother-child-8930055

I remember my own son at 4, how one night at bedtime he had a surprising request. Davis wanted my reassurance that I wouldn’t let any bad guys break into our house and hurt him. He wanted me to protect him from the scary people in the world. It broke my heart to tell Davis the truth. I couldn’t promise him that. But I could promise that I would do whatever I could to stop anyone from hurting him and I’d always love him. No matter what. He could count on that.

I wonder about this mom. Has her son asked for such reassurance? Has she been able to protect him on this journey? Certainly she worries about him, just as I did — and still do — about Davis.

I pull a picture of Davis from my wallet. This is my son, I tell her. She says she sees me in his face. That makes me smile.

Wanting to offer her something more, I tell her to have a safe journey, to go with God. “Vaya con Dios.”

She shows me the rosary hanging from her neck. She tells me she knows God is with her. God has blessed her on this journey. Then she says something about God blessing her through meeting me. Her voice is strong and confident. Her faith intense. Her words humbling. Yet I can bet that any one day in her life has been much harder than my worst day.

Later I find her sitting in a hard folding chair set up in the hallway, awaiting her ride, who won’t be  here for another hour. Her face is calm, not looking at anything or anyone in particular. I’m sure she’s silently praying.

Wanting to join her, but not intrude, I take a seat a couple of chairs away. I pray for her journey. For safety for her and her son. For her faith to continue to be strong. Then I quietly return to my work.

When the volunteer driver arrives to take them to the bus station, there’s a sudden flurry of activity, of greetings and goodbyes. We hug and I can feel her heart. They are whisked out the door. I watch them go. And offer another silent prayer. A prayer from one mother to another.

Birthing Hope

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Days after I arrived in El Paso I found myself back in Mexico. A Sister friend invited me to come experience the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in her parish. A spur of the moment invitation. I gladly said yes.

I’ve known about the Latin American Catholics’ deep dedication to Our Lady of Guadalupe but I’d never participated in the feast day celebrations. Filled with lively music, colorful traditional clothing, singing, dancing. I wanted to experience it.

But Sr. Carol Jean’s parish was not in Mexico City, the place where Mary is said to have appeared to a poor, indigenous man named Juan Diego in 1531 and the place where I’d spent two weeks last July for orientation with Incarnate Word Missionaries. Back then I roamed a middle-class neighborhood bustling with restaurants, gas stations, supermercados, and shops peddling local pottery, art, chocolate, and helado. My trip across the border this time was quite different, as I ventured into one of the poorest sections of Juarez where my friend ministers.

Here there are no tree-filled parks. In fact, hardly any trees grow at all in the dry, dusty, gray surroundings. Crumbling structures, small stone adobes, and peddlers line the unpaved streets. A stark contrast. Not only to Mexico City, but to every other place I’ve visited.

Wanting to join in, I helped the neighborhood women decorate the beaten-up white pickup truck that would transport their teenaged Lady of Guadalupe and young Juan Diego — a small boy donning a poncho and straw hat. We covered three-tiered boxes with brown paper bags to simulate a mountain, taping colored paper flowers anywhere we could.
Our little Lady

Once the matachines (dancers) arrived in their bright red and white native dress, our caravan rumbled off. The boys banged their drums, the dancers stomped up the dust, and the rest of us processed behind singing. Walking alongside the women, some pushing strollers, some carrying images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I chanted the lyrics to “La Guadalupana.” Over and over again.

For nearly two hours we strolled the streets of Juarez.

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Down the rocky, littered roads and structures scrawled with graffiti, we sang. People ventured out to watch the growing procession. Men from their mechanics shop, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters from homes that seemed incapable of holding them all. One elderly woman stood in her doorway hugging a large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, her smile revealing several missing teeth. Everywhere people stopped what they were doing to watch. Participate. Offer a prayer.

Somewhere during the procession I sensed something. Something about being among the people. I realized what it was. Happiness. I felt happy to be here.

But as I took in the richness of the festivities alongside the desperate poverty, I also felt compassion. And I uttered my own silent prayers. Prayers for hope. Most of these people, I knew, would never leave this life of poverty. How could they have hope? It seemed like the best thing to pray for.

Yet my voice seemed insignificant and small.

Days later I came across Richard Rohr’s meditation on a poem by 16th century mystic John of the Cross.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy...”

Seeking shelter in your heart. Seeking your help in giving birth. She needs us because…

“each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.”

I see an image of the women walking down the streets of Juarez. I remember my prayer for hope.

And suddenly I see that hope is birthed through me. I am the midwife of God. What a gift I’ve been given! Yet most days I don’t feel up to it. I’m like a child, tentatively taking the gift offered, as if unbelieving that she can really have it.

Hope wants to be born. But it needs a recipient, a conduit, a midwife. God can only bring hope to the world through each of us.

I wonder, what if we all chose hope?
What if we all said yes to the birth of hope within us?
Again and again and again?
Might the streets of Juarez look a little different?

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A Place to Lay My Head

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Up until now I’ve had the surety of a place to lay my head. The security of room and board. That all changed when, a little over a month ago, I decided to pursue  the possibility of serving a different ministry than the one I started out with here in San Antonio. Still with Incarnate Word Missionaries, but in a different capacity.

The reason?

Since arriving last July, I have been discerning and questioning, why am I here? I found the ministry in transition, with only one mom and child to serve, and, for various reasons, I clearly felt it wasn’t the best use of my gifts and talents. Most importantly — my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t experiencing joy in the sacrifices that I’d made to be here. Yet, I knew that joy was possible. I’d felt it in El Paso.

Then I discovered Women’s Global Connection. Also a ministry of Incarnate Word Missionaries, WGC supports projects empowering women in countries like Zambia and Peru. And they had a need for a writer. It seemed like a good alternative.

So, I spoke to the director of the program and the Sisters in my current ministry and we all agreed. I should move on. The Sisters gave me until the end of October to get situated in the new ministry. I thought a month was plenty of time.

Until I realized that housing would be an issue.

It seems the only “official” housing for lay missionaries here is associated with the program I’m leaving. That means other Sisters, another intentional community, or some kind person would have to be willing to take me in. The director of the program searched for housing options for me. I searched too. By the end of the month, nothing had materialized.

But that’s not a bad thing. Because as the deadline drew near, it pushed me to go deeper into my heart. And ask those tough questions. Again. Questions like, what is the best use of my gifts and talents? What do I really want? What is my purpose here?

The response pointed me back to El Paso. Where a piece of my heart remains.

Although I needed to take this risk in coming here, San Antonio is not where I’m meant to land. Another, and greater, risk is being asked of me now. I hear my heart telling me to stop holding back. To acknowledge and trust my gifts. To use them in the service of others. Especially my writing.

And I hear the voice calling me back to serve on the border. And write about the issues that need our attention. Issues that need a compassionate voice. The issues of immigration. And human trafficking. And the lives of those impacted by the decisions we make every day.

It will mean taking an even greater risk, though, because I don’t know how I’ll support myself. I don’t yet know for sure who will take me in. I have the possibility of a place to stay beginning in December. But lots of unanswered questions remain. Can I trust my inner authority? Can I trust the God who brought me here? This Loving Presence that wants me to realize the fullest expression of who I am? I’m on this adventure with God. Heading toward something I can’t reason or explain. And sometimes I do feel scared.

I wonder, isn’t this the definition of faith?

Speaking of faith…

With my other ministry ended, I started serving Women’s  Global Connection, which I’ll continue doing through the month of November.  The Sisters have graciously allowed me to stay in this apartment a little longer than October 31st, but I need to move by the end of the week. I couldn’t have told you for sure where I was going to be sleeping next week.

Until today. One of the staff at WGC offered me a room in her house for the month. Talk about getting what you need when you need it!

Now I have a safe place to lay my head for another month. It’s something I always used to take for granted.

But on those nights when I started feeling anxious, wondering where I’d wind up, I thought  again about the children at the border — those migrating with their moms and those traveling alone. I wonder if they will be so fortunate. How many of them will have a safe place to lay their head tonight?

 

 

Trust the Flow

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 Trust the flow of the river.

As I teeter on the edge of this threshold, preparing to step into something that remains unclear and uncertain, Richard Rohr’s daily reflection speaks to my heart. Just as so many of them have these past several weeks, reflecting on liminal space and trust.

Röhr says, faith is “the ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover…

“It’s a process we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow.”

Not so easy when the river is dense with fog. You are listening within and believe you are following your heart, but you’re a bit anxious of what’s in front of you. Like Röhr says, “That takes an immense confidence in God.”

Since I arrived in San Antonio I certainly have been refining that faith and confidence, along with a deeper trust in my inner knowing. I have learned — with slowly improving skill — to hold “a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension.”

It’s all part of the adventure. Of the journey of realizing a personal calling. And of realizing that “the river is God’s providential love.”

As I prepare to move on, I’d like to share images from my favorite places in San Antonio: Brackenridge and Woodlawn parks and the grounds of the Oblate School of Theology.

brackenridge river
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Breathing Together

Conspirare

Friday night, I caught myself holding my breath.

It happened while sitting in Bates Recital Hall at the University of Texas-Austin in the middle of a Conspirare concert. Conspirare is an enormously talented Austin-based choral group whose name, ironically, means “to breathe together.”

That night they were performing the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, set to music. And the breathtaking piece was Soneto de la Noche.

But the beauty and sentiment of the poetry were not what had caused this reaction in me. It was much more than that.

I’d first experienced Conspirare singing this piece five years ago. My very dear friend Rob had brought a DVD of a live performance of the choral group to a weekend gathering of friends. Awed and inspired by these talented artists, Rob wanted to share their music with us. It was July 2009 — three months after my beloved husband had died.

I remember Rob sitting next to me on the sofa as we watched and listened to voices and music that took me to another realm. Then, one of the men from the choir stepped forward for the next piece, and Rob suddenly reached over and grabbed my hand. He’d forgotten this song was among the selections, and he knew what was coming would cause me pain. It was Soneto de la Noche.

Although the poem is in Spanish, the soloist spoke the words in English. In his deep, gentle voice — not unlike my husband David’s — he began:

      “When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes; I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me one more time…”

My tears flowed, unrestrained. I cried from a deep pit of grief — this dark place that I thought, at the time, could never be healed. But I also cried from the recognition that I was being comforted by those reassuring words, as if my own dear David were speaking them to my heart. I heard David telling me to go on living, to live a full life, the kind of life he knew that I was capable of and that he so often saw and admired in me.

Knowing how much that song, and Conspirare, meant to me, Rob later gifted me with both the DVD and CD, and I must have listened to Soneto de la Noche hundreds of times. I’m well past the place of crying when I hear it. Now it’s simply a bittersweet memory.

Or so I thought.

When that same soloist stepped forward for this song Friday night, I found myself holding my breath in anticipation. Was it in anticipation of experiencing this gorgeous piece of music “live”? Or did it have something to do with the fact that I’m standing at yet another crossroads in my life? As I let go and exhaled, surprisingly and instantly, tears formed again.

But this time, I heard the words spoken to me not from David, but from a Loving Presence within me:

“I want you to live, Pauline…

I want all that I love to keep on living, and you whom I loved and sang above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom, so that you can touch all that my love provides you.”

 

I exhaled and took in the words. Breathed them in, gulping them like much-needed oxygen.

 “…flowering into full bloom.”

Yes!

Isn’t that what the poet Neruda, the composer of these beautiful pieces of music, the musicians, and the singers were doing — flowering, allowing their remarkable talents to fully bloom?

And isn’t that what God asks of us?

How we use our life, how we manifest our gifts and talents is our responsibility. Just like the parable of the talents. We’re not meant to bury our gifts. Our spirit isn’t meant to “die” with the one who passed on before us. We are meant to fully live, just as Neruda urged his lover. And just as God, our Divine Lover, urges us.

When I consciously allow this Loving Presence to breathe through me, then I am my truest self.

And as my truest self, I can “touch all that Love provides me.”

And isn’t that what God asks of us?

 

Turns out that today, September 23rd, is the 41st anniversary of Neruda’s death. He died at the young age of 69. Below is his poem, Soneto de la Noche:Pablo Neruda (2)

 Soneto de la Noche

When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes;

I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me one more time;

I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,

I want your ears to still hear the wind,

I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,

And to continue walking on the sand we walked on.

I want all that I love to keep on living, and you whom I loved and sang above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom, so that you can touch all that my love provides you,

so that my shadow may pass over your hair,

So that all may know the reason for my song.

 

An Opportunity to Grow

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I’ve been experiencing growing pains. Yes, at my age. But I’d call them spiritual growing pains. The kind you get when you sincerely say, “Your will, not mine, be done.”

If you know me, you know I’ve been praying for some time to fulfill my longing to serve something greater than myself, and to deepen my connection with the Divine. Now I find myself asking, “Am I willing to pay the price?”

Because I’m finding that letting go of my little self-will’s desire to have things be as I want them to be is not easy.

Like this situation in San Antonio, for instance. Some things haven’t quite been turning out as I’d hoped or expected. I’m facing challenges in several areas. And in the process, I’m being shown just how much I struggle against what is present when it goes against what I’d prefer or what I think it should be.

The other day I came across some notes I’d scribbled during a Tara Brach weekend workshop I’d taken last year. Tara Brach is a Buddhist Insight Meditation teacher and presenter in the Washington, D.C., metro area who gives excellent talks available free of charge online. Her sage teachings have often helped me. Now, this particular line of hers popped off the page:

“Peace is this moment without judgment— that is all.”

This moment, in my heart space, without judgment. Completely open to what is in front of me. No matter whether my little ego likes it or not. No matter whether my self-will would like to change it into something else. That’s peace. It’s also the meaning of surrender.

A wonderful model of this for me, in the Christian tradition, is Mary. Her total surrender to God with the words, “Let it be done unto me,” are an example I find hard to replicate. Yet, I’ve said “yes” to a calling, and this is where it’s taken me.

At least for now.

And I do believe I’m here to learn and to grow in preparation for the next step on my journey. Whatever that may be.

In the meantime, I find San Antonio to be more of a desert experience than El Paso was. These are some of the temptations I’m facing in this desert:

  • To desire clarity and understanding over living with mystery and “allowing”
  • To doubt my faith and my discernment
  • To want to turn back when I don’t understand or I feel scared or I don’t have control
  • To want to mold and make what is present into something different
  • To take back my “yes” and resort to my more comfortable self-will

I’ve been humbled more than a few times as I’ve recognized these places within myself. It’s humbling to come up against my ego’s demands and my “no.”

Can I wait it out for a while? I think so. Because I truly do see this as an opportunity for growth.

Since I started this journey, I’ve been keeping a file of inspirational quotes that speak to my heart. Here are a few that especially speak to me now:

“In this well ordered universe, the perfect vehicle for our spiritual growth and unfoldment is exactly our present situation.”

 ~ Sevakra

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

~ Thomas Merton

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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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.

Letting It Go

 

My Texas welcoming committee

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.

IMG_20140724_091014_541I’ll finally arrive at my new temporary home in San Antonio later today. And I’m sure there will be lots more practice at letting go as the days and weeks unfold. Stay tuned.

The Comfort of Mother’s Cupboard vs. the Uncomfortable Issue of Unaccompanied Minors

motherscupboard2

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.

behind the grill at Mother's Cupboard
behind the grill at Mother’s Cupboard

 

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.

APS photo
APS photo of immigrant children

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.

compassion