Category Archives: inspirational
You may have a reaction to this vulgar term. Maybe you’re tired of hearing it already.
I get it.
But please stick with me. I have a story to tell. And it matters that you read this.
My new friend – I’ll call him Mathias – sleeps on a mattress so thin, he feels the cold steel of the springs underneath him. A bullet lodged into his left side presses into him, aggravated by the hard coils of his assigned bed. He tries to sleep only on his right, but even then, the pain barely diminishes. The bullet, put there long ago by police who were supposed to protect him.
Mathias is a 25-year-old asylum seeker from one of those African countries.
He’s not a criminal. Yet, he is a prisoner.
He’s one of the detainees I visit weekly at the El Paso Detention facility.
We’ve never hugged. I’ve not been able to touch his shoulder or squeeze his hand in support. Even though I’ve longed to.
I speak to Mathias from the other side of a glass. With a phone to my ear, my body hunched forward, as if straining will help me hear his words more clearly, I listen. To stories of hardship and trauma I’ve never known.
Stories of the challenges of living in confinement.
Stories of hope.
Because Mathias does have hope. Despite all he’s experienced.
He hopes in a country that values liberty, justice, and the dignity and right to life. He hopes in a court system that will do the right thing.
I wish I could share that hope.
Mathias was just a boy, away at school, when his entire family, threatened by corrupt police, fled the country.
It’s been years since he’s seen his mother.
He smiles when I come to see him, asks how my week was, if I’ve heard from my son, who’s only a year older than he is.
I think of Mathias’s mother, holed up in a refugee camp in Kenya. She didn’t get to say goodbye.
Mathias tried to live a “normal” life without his family. Continue school, then hold down a job, save money. But the police threatened him. He had to flee. By that time, crossing the border wasn’t easy. He couldn’t join his family in the camp. He had to get help.
His story of how he made it all the way to the El Paso port of entry is more than admirable. It’s an amazing story of the human spirit. Of faith, hope, trust.
He trusts in the promises of a free and democratic society.
Still. In spite of his shock that, after pouring out his story to Border Customs, they handcuffed him and tossed him in detention to await his fate.
And he’s not unusual.
More weary asylum seekers have been arriving at our ports of entry, fleeing violence from places as far as Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Congo, as well as from El Salvador and Guatemala. Countries that are not on the U.S. list of favorable places to migrate from.
Whether our president used those exact words or not to describe these countries is not the point. The real concern is his intention.
Words like “refugee,” “asylum seeker,” and “immigrant” have become associated with something evil. Or, at least, something undesirable.
Yet international law supports asylum seekers. International law says a Government is prohibited from returning someone to their country if they will be subjected to torture or persecution or death. But a recent report compiled by human rights organizations at the border documents cases where we have not been following that law.
It shows that more punitive and inhumane deterrence practices are being implemented towards asylum seekers under this administration. More human rights violations are being recorded.
Surprisingly, the report also shows, El Paso courts have one of the highest denial rates for asylum seekers. It’s a sad reality that makes no sense.
Yet, the outcome of a case is determined by the judge assigned rather than the severity of the asylum seeker’s life-threatening situation and the credibility of their supporting documentation.
I may be going against the grain here, but I am actually praying that Mathias wins his asylum case and remains in the U.S.
I am praying that more and more of these violations come to light. And that they matter to people like you.
And I pray that one day winning an asylum case will not be a rare occurrence in many of our courts.
It’s worthwhile noting that National Right to Life Day is January 22. The right to life, the dignity of a life, extends to all human beings, not just the unborn. Not just those who were lucky enough to be born in the United States.
For me, Mathias – and thousands others like him – is the voiceless little one who needs me to stand up and say, you are a child of God. You have a right to live.
Sometimes I need to reground. Connect with my center again.
With all that’s been surfacing lately – within the world and within myself – I knew I needed a day away. I planned it for October 10th – my 36th wedding anniversary. A day when I feel especially held and embraced by love.
I knew I’d feel the spiritual support I needed.
I chose my favorite place – a Franciscan retreat center in New Mexico. A place with real wide-trunk trees and leaves that actually curled and floated to the ground, crunching underfoot, making me feel like fall has truly arrived.
It’s no Sevenoaks (in Madison, Virginia), but it’s probably as close I’ll get to it around here.
Why? Because I hear the invitation.
I hear an invitation to let go of “distractions,” like Martha in the Gospel story, distracted by so many things when only one thing matters.
The Divine invites my mind to rest. My heart to awaken. My soul to remember.
Only when I am still and my mind is silent can I remember who I am and whose I am.
Only then can I “hear” the voice of the Divine calling me “beloved.”
And from this place, I can reflect more easily on this heart of God. The heart that I’ve been asked to receive in that meditation. This heart of the world that bleeds for all, yet doesn’t die. This heart that never stops loving.
But in reflecting on this heart, I also hear another invitation. An invitation to let down my boundaries. The self-imposed ones I created to protect me, to keep me safe. I recognize them very clearly in this place. I see how they’re holding me back.
What if I cross these boundaries?
Is that the invitation I’m hearing now? To cross the boundaries that prevent me from knowing who I am eternally in God? Boundaries that prevent me from knowing myself “hidden with Christ in God forever”?
What if I then discover that we all belong to this Heart? That no one and nothing can exist apart from it? That we are never separated from the heart of God? Even when we’re unaware. Or we reject it. Or we think we don’t deserve it.
No one and nothing is excluded.
It’s one heart. And it’s the heart of the world.
I’ve created my own collage of this heart. Cutting out photos that cause strong reactions in me. Pasting these tiny pictures into a heart-shaped image. A sacred heart where everyone is included.
From innocent children to violent gang members. From poets to presidents. From Mexican immigrants to poverty-stricken Nigerians. From Jihab-wearing women to white supremacists. They all fit in this bleeding, bulging, beating heart.
It causes me to weep. And to soften, so that, ever so gently, I can move beyond my self-imposed boundaries. Into the very center of this sacred heart.
And I just may find that I wake up on the inside of understanding the intimate immediacy of the One who calls me “beloved.”
Apparently, my last post concerned some of my friends. Not to worry. I’m not down or discouraged. On the contrary, I’m actually very encouraged.
Encouraged because the more self-aware I become, the more able to step back and see what is arising in me, the less I identify with this judging, fearful self. Encouraged that the more I allow myself to be held by love in the middle of all that arises, the more aware I am of the loving container that holds it all.
And encouraged because more people are willing to go down into those places in themselves.
This is what’s needed during this transformative time – this going down into the darkness and meeting what is there. It’s the only way we can begin to heal. As individuals, and as a nation.
Many have been reflecting on this topic lately. Guess we all know that darkness has been coming to the surface. Darkness that needs to be addressed.
As Richard Rohr said in a recent meditation:
“Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness….”
I’ve certainly tangled with my shadow. Struggled as I’ve discovered my particular woundings.
But I’ve also been trying to listen more deeply from this place.
Twice while in Albuquerque attending the Living School, I heard the same message, from different people on two completely unrelated occasions: “God wants to take your heart and give you God’s heart in return. Be open to that.”
What does this mean? To have God’s heart?
To tell the truth, the idea scares me. It feels overwhelming, to have a heart that holds all the pain, all this darkness.
What will such a heart ask of me?
I don’t yet completely understand.
But as I listen more deeply, I hear that through this Heart, I will see the world differently. With eyes that recognize the goodness of everything. With a heart that can hold all the pain.
And a heart that is not afraid to step into the light.
To stand up and speak up from a voice of love. Even if that voice makes others feel uncomfortable. Doesn’t allow them to remain complacent.
A heart that asks me to accompany those in darkness. Those living on the margins. Those who are vulnerable and have no voice.
I hear it challenging me to use my own voice to challenge and change the negativity and untruths associated with words we use. Words like “immigrant” and “Mexican.”
To live out the directive to “welcome the stranger.”
To boldly support DACA and the young people who have studied and worked so hard and contributed so much good to our society.
To speak up when laws are inhumane and need to be changed. Some of us take strong, proactive stands to change the abortion law because we say it is wrong to treat the unborn inhumanely, yet few will stand up to change immigration laws that treat suffering human beings inhumanely.
Love requires that I respond differently to such suffering.
That I reflect on exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and no clothing….I assure you, as often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me.”(Matthew 25)
In my heart, I cannot neglect to hear that call. I can’t NOT respond.
And I know it will change me.
Spiritual leaders have been urging us to speak truth to power and call for justice during this transformative time when our collective shadow has shown itself so boldly. Rohr says, “There is every indication that the U.S., and much of the world, is in a period of exile now. The mystics would call it a collective ‘dark night.’
“Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new cultural creative voices of the next period of history after this purifying exile.”
I may not know where I am going during this “exile.” I still do not fully know what is being asked of me. Or what it means to receive this heart as my own.
But I do hear love’s question, “Will you allow yourself to be challenged and changed?”
Can I say yes to this?
Can I respond wholeheartedly?
I have come to believe that this is what it means to be “virginal” – to let myself be a vessel, empty and available, open to something new being born in me. Something as unbelievable as the heart of God.
The anxious young mother from Guatemala asks me for the third time how long I think it will take to get to New York. By bus. From El Paso.
I’ve tried to explain. Depends on a lot of things.
She asks how many hours. I tell her it’ll be two days. Her facial expression pleads for a different answer.
In reality I think it’ll be three. But I don’t tell her that.
She and her adorable 6-year-old daughter Alison will be spending tonight in the Greyhound station. Their relative back in NY bought tickets for a bus leaving at 4 a.m. Getting them a ride to the station at 2:30 a.m. would be impossible. Our volunteer drivers are great, but everyone has their limits. The best we can do is get them to the station tonight.
And pack them sufficient food and liquids for the long journey. That’s my job. And I take it seriously.
Used to be that the migrants and refugees who came to our center could access cash from Moneygrams wired by relatives in other states. At least that’d give them a little money to buy food on these long bus rides.
But not anymore. The local Moneygram has changed its policy. They now want a “legit” ID. Like a driver’s license.
We all know that’s not possible. Which means we often send our people off with nothing more than an extra set of clothing and a small bag of food. And blessings for the journey.
“Vaya con Dios,” I say. “Bendiciones para su viaje.”
“Que Dios te bendiga,” they respond. God bless you. Like I’m the one that should be getting the blessings.
Alison and her mom aren’t unusual. In fact, another mother and her two children are leaving tomorrow by bus. For North Carolina.
So, when I search through the donations of tote bags, I try to find two sturdy ones to hold enough food for these moms and their kids.
Pickings are slim tonight. Only a few large bags left that could possibly hold everything I want to pack. But I know we’ll soon have more donations. We always do.
I pull some “care packages”—each filled with peanut butter crackers, granola bars, chips, a bottle of water, and juice box. All the snacks, and even the Ziploc bags, donated by local residents.
Then off to the kitchen with the walk-in fridge. I grab apples, burritos, fried chicken, anything I can stuff into the tote bags to sustain five people for a 3-day journey.
Every Monday a local restaurant delivers grocery bags filled with dozens of homemade bean burritos. Wrapped in sturdy foil and ready to go. Another vendor donates apples and oranges. Who knows where the fried chicken came from? Sometimes it’s pizza I find on the shelves. Or baloney sandwiches.
All this food – donated. Anything and everything we need. Just when I notice something starting to get low, next day – or soon thereafter – the supply is replenished.
It’s kind of like the loaves and fishes story. Only it’s not Jesus sending down the blessing. It’s folks like you and me. Blessing the snacks, the clothing, the toys, the toothpaste – everything they donate – with their attitude. Their generosity. Their grace.
Later that night, I think about Alison and her mom. They’re headed to the bus station right about now. I think about the food I packed for them.
I worry it’s not enough.
Then I remember the burritos. The commitment of that restaurant owner. The endless supply offered.
And I send out a prayer. May these families meet others on their journey. Others who will be that kind of blessing.
Have you ever been surprised by joy? Felt it come out of nowhere and suddenly overtake you? Yet you can’t fully explain it?
That’s been happening to me since returning to this desert border town. I’ve been experiencing a mysterious joy.
Despite not knowing for sure what I’m doing here. Not knowing where I’ll settle. Still trying to sell a house in Virginia. Looking for a paying job. Aware that my temporary living arrangement will soon expire.
So many unknowns. Enough to send anyone into a panic. Or at least an anxious spin.
But surprisingly I feel peaceful. And happy.
Maybe it’s because I’ve done this so many times now. Uprooted myself. Leapt off into the unknown. Taken risks. And come out the other side, assured once again that I have everything I need as I listen and trust my inner guidance.
But I know it’s more than that.
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God,” said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest who wrote The Divine Milieu.
God has been showing up a lot lately.
Just two days after arriving in El Paso, I returned to volunteer at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center where I’d served over a year ago. As soon as I walked through the door, took in the familiar surroundings, saw the people, I felt this inexplicable happiness spread inside of me.
Nothing had precipitated it. Other than being in this place.
It was the presence of joy.
A Presence letting me know that I was exactly where I needed to be.
Then last Sunday, I attended a Spanish Mass. A joyous celebration, the walls reverberating with lively music and handclapping. Pews packed with Hispanics. Many others standing along the side and back walls. And this was only one of six masses held every Sunday!
I went because I love being among the people. Saying the prayers in Spanish along with them. Celebrating the combination of their rich spirituality and connection to the earth. Seeing their faith in action both delights and humbles me. I can’t explain it, but they possess something special.
I was standing there, silently taking everything in, when suddenly I recognized something. I recognized the Presence of what it is they possess. And it filled me. This unnamed Presence.
Tears sprang to my eyes. Joyful tears.
And I knew. This is God. This is the Presence of God.
In these people. In these tears I’m shedding.
In this overwhelming joy that has taken me by surprise.
In this awareness that I am standing in the midst of grace.
In the knowledge that every leap I’ve taken — even when it didn’t feel “right” at the time — has been a perfect piece of the process of my life. Taking me where I needed to go. Helping me to heal.
In that moment of recognition, a Scripture verse came back to me:
“Count it all joy when you are involved in every sort of trial.” (James 1:2)
Two years ago I was struggling in San Antonio. Trying to make a go of a promise I’d made to serve there. Feeling very alone and uncertain, I’d written a blog post about the “life in abundance” God wanted for me. The promise of joy. Knowing it was possible, but feeling a million miles from anything close to joy.
Now I understand.
My heart knows why I am here.
“That my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
La alegrίa. That’s Spanish for joy. Now I understand. A joy no one can take from you.
Davis arrived from France a little over a week ago. Looking more like a man than ever. If that’s possible.
On the long car ride home from Dulles Airport, he chatted away. About the friends he’d made. His love for the language. How he missed speaking French already. And the food. He went on and on about the food.
You’d think he’d be exhausted after traveling for two days. But he was on fire. I could hear the passion in his voice. Already he talked about going back. About the offers of places to stay whenever he chose to return.
He reminded me of myself and what I’ve been feeling after returning from my recent adventures in Bolivia and at the border. Like me he’s expanding his outlook on life. Opening his heart to more people. And making exciting choices that can be both painful and risky.
Recently a friend sent me a link to Parker Palmer’s May 2015 commencement address on the six pillars of the wholehearted life. So much of it resonated with me. But in these lines in particular, I recognized myself and Davis:
“The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, not death. It happens every day. I’m 76 years old, I now know many people who have suffered the loss of the dearest person in their lives. At first they go into deep grief, certain that their lives will never again be worth living. But then they slowly awaken to the fact that not in spite of their loss, but because of it, they’ve become bigger, more compassionate people, with more capacity of heart to take in other people’s sorrows and joys. These are broken-hearted people, but their hearts have been broken open, rather than broken apart.”
Hearts broken open. That’s what Davis and I have. Hearts broken when we lost the best husband and father we could have had. But hearts that remain open. Because we’ve chosen to keep them open. To not close ourselves off to the pain. To let ourselves be vulnerable and loving to those we don’t yet know. And that has made all the difference.
And there’s something else that Palmer said about brokenness. About being willing to go down into the tough, painful dark shadows within ourselves.
“Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.
Davis is learning to embrace his brokenness. So am I.
And in doing so, I’ll be better able to be present to someone else facing her own darkness.
As Joan Chittister explains:
Only the experience of our own darkness gives us the light we need to be of help to others whose journey into the dark spots of life is only just beginning. It’s then that our own taste of darkness qualifies us to be an illuminating part of the human expedition. Without that, we are only words, only false witnesses to the truth of what it means to be pressed to the ground and rise again.
So, on this eve of the winter solstice when we will face the longest night of the year, I celebrate my choice to embrace the darkness. With a heart broken open.
I leave for Bolivia in the morning. And I’m excited! But not because I’m visiting a new country. Or having another adventure in the Andes. Although both of those are true.
It’s more about the anticipation of how this trip will speak to me.
We’re calling it a pilgrimage — seven other like-minded women and myself. We’re all from different backgrounds with different expectations. But each of us is going with the intention of listening more deeply to how the Spirit might be calling us as we visit a mission in an area of extreme poverty.
I plan to be awake, attentive, and as present as possible. I don’t want to miss anything.
I read recently that after Thomas Merton first visited Gethsemane Abbey, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. Surprisingly, this place had affected him so deeply that he saw that as a “signpost” — a signpost to which he should pay attention. He kept returning to what he called, “a persistent feeling and idea.”
Merton would eventually leave the secular world and return to Gethsemane to become a Trappist monk. Not exactly a mainstream decision. But he believed the signposts had revealed his calling.
Hmm. A “persistent feeling and idea.” That sounds a lot like what I’ve been experiencing. Ever since November 2012.
Already I’m noticing.
In November 2012 I was mysteriously drawn to an invitation to go on a border awareness trip to El Paso. That experience would change my life.
November 2013 I visited Peru. The earth-centered, rich spirituality of the people there opened me up to the desire of serving and following my heart. Two months later I would return to El Paso to volunteer at the border. With only the realization that I was following a “persistent feeling and idea” deep within that wouldn’t leave me alone. And then last November I received an affirmative response to my request to return to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Now it’s November again. And I’m leaving for Bolivia. Simply because I was attracted to a place. To a people. To the children. The moment I checked out the Amistad Mission website, I felt an inner prompting. Go.
So I am going. And I’m going with an important question on my heart. How do I move forward from here? Because the passion to follow my calling persists. But I have yet to determine the where, the when, and the how.
I’m hoping to pay attention to the signposts that will show up in Bolivia. To listen to my inner guidance. The guidance that’s always trying to get through to me: “See what I’ve put in front of you? Pay attention. There’s a deeper meaning here.”
Like Merton, I want to ask regularly, “What of God is being revealed in this experience?”
Even though I honestly don’t know what I’ll find in Bolivia, I fully expect that the voice of my Higher Self will be eager to speak to me through the “signposts.” Just as it did in Peru, in El Paso, and in Mexico.
Just yesterday morning, after my meditation, I was writing in my journal, reflecting on what I could anticipate on this trip, when I heard its voice pipe up:
“Come and see.”
The fall foliage is crazy gorgeous this year. Vibrant oranges, golden yellows, and ruby reds shimmer in the morning sunlight. Whether I’m doing Tai Chi on my deck surrounded by breathtaking multicolored trees or driving along rural Rte. 810, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, I regularly find myself breaking out into spontaneous smiles and giggles.
Maybe it’s because I missed fall completely last year. Or maybe I’m just paying closer attention. Because who knows where I’ll be next year.
I really love fall in Virginia.
And I love my peaceful home in the woods. It’s a place of refuge and reflection. A place of beauty and blessing, for myself and for anyone who’s visited. It’s a place I can come to rejuvenate and reflect. To write and to find solitude. A sacred place.
And yet, I hear an inner voice asking, “Can you let it go?”
That’s the question I’m faced with now. And it’s a tough one. But there’s something I love more than my home in Virginia.
I love the possibility of fulfilling my heart’s calling. And I love the God within who urges me to fulfill that calling. In the process, I realize my True Self.
Every spiritual journey deepens when you’re willing to let go of the attempt to eliminate risks. This means you have to be willing to pay the price. To give up attachments to anything that might hold you back.
All that happens in our lives prepares us for our calling. I believe this. I believe that all the pieces of the events of our lives—the sorrows as well as the joys, the roadblocks and the unexpected detours, even the things that have previously held us back—all of it fits together like the pieces of a puzzle that leads to our true calling. This house has been part of that. So has my husband. Had I been unwilling to let him go, I never would have come to this threshold.
Now the key is being willing to let go even further.
Am I willing to trust the voice that says, “Do it for love”?
I try to listen more deeply. I want to know exactly what next step I should take. Where I’ll wind up next. But all I hear is:
Don’t think your way through the journey. Trust what you hear in the silence where I dwell. You will land when it’s time.
I’m preparing to give a mini retreat at my house on Saturday. It’s about discerning with your heart. And it’s got me going through my journals from this past year’s journey. A year of tremendous uncertainty. A year of learning to discern with, and trust, my own heart.
Reading some of the things I’ve written, I’m realizing just how much faith I had. And the risks I took. Not knowing how I’d support myself when I decided to leave San Antonio and venture off to El Paso. Not knowing what I’d meet along the way. Nor what I’d face once I got there.
Yet I was willing to go. Because that’s where my heart called me. So I chose to let go of being in control.
That’s no small thing. Especially for me.
While reading the journal entries I came across this poem I wrote that about sums up the whole year. Much of the time I really had no control over anything that was happening. Except how I chose to respond.
I chose to trust.
Trust God. Trust my guidance and inner wisdom. Trust the Love that had brought me on this adventure in the first place and had guided me all along the way. So, that night, I chose to surrender and give up control over the outcome. And I understood, even then, that this very loss of control was leading me to freedom.
But it felt like an emptiness. As I let go of my ego’s need to control and to know what was coming next, I came up against an emptiness. And trusting in that emptiness, in that loss of control, I found something much greater.
During the night, in a semi-conscious dream state, I became aware of a vivid image of a white ball of light connecting everything and everyone to itself as it moved across the scene in my dream. I and everyone around me was united into this bright globe of light and love. As I watched, I recognized the light that lives in all of us. And these familiar words floated in, “You are the light of the world.”
Now, tonight, I’m remembering that losing control isn’t so scary. And maybe I needed to be reminded, too. Reminded that it’s time to surrender. Again.
So, here’s the poem I wrote in my journal that night. Turns out it was dated one year ago today. Funny how that goes sometimes.
Leads to surrender
Loss of control
Leads to a choice
Choosing to fight
Against what is before me
Or choosing to surrender
To what I can’t yet name
Loss of control
Choosing the only choice
That makes sense to me now
To let myself fall
Hoping in the Promise
To catch and embrace me
In this void