Beautiful Connections

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The Uber driver pulled up right on time, at the impossibly early hour of 4:50 a.m. I stood under the white spotlights of the overhang at the front entrance of my niece’s apartment building outside Washington, DC. A sole figure with two suitcases by her side. He could not have missed me. Only the birds announcing their predawn celebration accompanied me.

The tall, brown-skinned man introduced himself before lifting my heavy load into the trunk of his car. Already, in just the few words we had spoken, I thought I recognized Tedor’s accent. After we chatted a bit, I felt comfortable enough to ask his country of origin. He wanted me to guess and tried to give me a geography lesson, which doesn’t work well with me. But after I incorrectly guessed Kenya, and he revealed that it was a neighboring country, I knew my first inclination had been correct. He was from Ethiopia – the same country as my young friend whom I’d been visiting in detention for over a year in El Paso.

I so appreciated the connection that I began to share a bit of Abdinoor’s story. (I have been using the pseudonym Mathias in my blog posts to protect my friend, Abdinoor, and I am happy to finally be able to reveal his real name. Sweet, intelligent, upstanding young Abdinoor has entered Canada, where he is receiving refugee status and is no longer being treated like a criminal. Now he can finally go visit his mother in Kenya.  Although I am thrilled for him, I feel it is our loss.  And our shame.)

Then Tedor and I shared a little of our own stories.  I learned he had been living in the Washington area for three years, along with his family. When I told him I’d lived in Virginia for 30 years, he expressed great surprise. “But you look so young! I thought you were only in your 30’s!”

It had been quite dark when he’d picked me up, so I figured he must not have seen my face clearly. Still, I was really liking this guy.

“You look young because you have love in your heart,” he explained, after I’d revealed my age. “That’s important. To have love in your heart.”

I agreed, of course.

Tedor said he appreciated my kindness, noting that few people he picked up spoke to him. Some don’t even say hello or good morning. They keep their eyes cast downward, gazing into their phone screens during the entire ride.

I tried to imagine that – someone not even acknowledging another human being inside that small, confined space.  I remembered how, as much as I loved the diversity in the DC metro area, the congestion and stressful lifestyle could make it hard to connect.

But what a sweet connection I had made with this stranger in the shorter than 15-minute ride to the airport. Isn’t this what it’s really all about, I thought, as I left his little red car feeling much better than I’d had when I’d dragged myself out to the curb that morning? And Tedor clearly was in good spirits, too.

Isn’t it about kindness and connection? About recognizing our common humanity? About seeing how we are really more alike than anything?

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Not the exact words I saw, but close enough

Later, as my jet rose above the Washington National Monument, I glanced out the window to say goodbye to my beloved Virginia when I noticed an incredible message displayed on the lawn.

Incredible, because of how it spoke to my heart.

There, beaming up at me were the words: “You are not alone. No estás solo.”

Talk about connection! Who had created this message, I wondered? For whom and what was it intended?

It didn’t matter, because in that moment, it was surely meant for me.  Meant to carry my spirit forward, to face the growing challenges of our work at the border and to comfort me in the further letting go that I’d experienced on this trip to Virginia.

I had just let go of my son – again.  Let go of many special things we’d put aside for when he moved into his own place in the lower 48 – something he’d decided was not going to happen anytime soon. So we’d had to let things go for a song, or even less. And I had to let go of the idea that he would live a little closer than the ridiculously long and challenging time it takes to get to Nome by plane.

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I let go of the boy, but kept the story books and the rocking chair

But because that message was also in Spanish, I felt it calling me back to El Paso. To the migrants we accompany, who face far more grievous ways of letting go than I ever will. Asylum seekers, like Abdinoor, stuck in detention, far away from families and anything familiar. And mothers who are still separated from their children, toddlers, and even their babies.

Their forced “letting go” makes mine pale in comparison. My connection with them helps me keep things in perspective.

And if all that wasn’t enough, when I got down the escalator at the El Paso airport, I unexpectedly ran into someone I knew.

Not just anyone.

Sr. Fran was the woman who’d made my first volunteer experience here possible back in 2014. We greeted each other with surprised smiles and warm hugs, genuinely glad to see each other.

I knew I was home.Quotes_Creator_no estas solo

 

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Emptied Out

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I was a little over an hour away from Dallas, where I’d planned to stop for the night, when three warning lights popped up on my dash.

Panic. I’m on an interstate surrounded by nothing but ranchland. I still had about another 10 hours of driving to get back to El Paso. Plus, it’s Friday night of Memorial Day weekend.

After pulling over to peruse my manual and check my engine, I offer a prayer to get somewhere safely. Then I decide to calm down. I decide to trust that whatever happens, it’ll be OK. And I let go of any expectation to make it back to El Paso tomorrow.

This is not a typical response for me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting a lot of practice in learning to trust over these past several years.

Maybe it’s the effects of listening to CDs on Meister Eckhart and the art of letting go while taking this incredibly long roundtrip drive from El Paso to Virginia.

Maybe it’s because, from the beginning, this journey has been about ridding myself of what is unnecessary. Of letting go of attachments and outcomes. Of learning to say yes to what is in front of me.

And there’s no doubt it’s because of what I’ve seen and experienced along the way.

Days earlier I had emptied out the extra bedroom at a friend’s house where I’d stored boxes I couldn’t get to before leaving Virginia last January. Sorting through years of family photos and other memorabilia filled me with gratitude for the blessed life I’d had.
A life I couldn’t return to. No matter how appealing it seemed.

And appealing it was. Visiting friends who were settling into a simpler life with their husbands, their kids now grown and out of college, yet still living close enough for family get-togethers in the beautiful rural countryside of central Virginia – I’ll admit, it was attractive.

This physical emptying out, I realized, was a metaphor for the internal releasing and emptying that has been going on. An emptying of attitudes as well as possessions, of the way I would like life to show up. The way I would like things to be.

Like not having car issues on the interstate, for example. Or not having my husband die so young. Or living so far away from my son who’s remaining in Alaska for at least another year.

Yet I also saw how, the more I “empty myself out,” the more I have room for God. And for “the other.” Room for true listening. For opening to the grace that’s right here.

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The next day, as I sat in the customer service area at the Dallas Sewell Subaru, waiting to get the news about my car, I pulled out a letter I’d received from Martin, a 27-year-old Mexican journalist who’d come here seeking asylum because his life had been threatened. He was stuck in the El Paso detention facility, awaiting the results of his case.

I’d begun writing to Martin, hoping to encourage and visit him soon. I was considering my response to his letter when I received a text from a friend in El Paso saying that Martin had been denied asylum for the second time! Losing hope, he’d decided to give up his case rather than appeal and remain in our prison-like system. That means he’ll be returning to Mexico where at least half a dozen journalists have been killed in recent months. His young life is surely in danger.

Suddenly my minor inconvenience is irrelevant. My calling to follow my heart clearer than ever.

It may be that every time I step out in faithfulness, I’m taking a risk. But my risks are insignificant compared to the risks taken by those I’ve accompanied, my brothers and sisters running for their lives. People who live in constant fear and danger.

Living with an open-hearted stance is not easy. I feel the pain of the other as I grow in awareness that my life is not about me.

But this is what I choose. And I need grace to succeed.

“Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaningless in which we ask, ‘What is it all for? What does it all mean?’ All we can do is try to keep our hands cupped and open. And it is even grace to do that.”       Richard Rohr

I hope that I am being “emptied out” so that I can be filled with the very fullness of that grace.

Graces in Greene

 

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My cocoon in the woods

No, I’ve not disappeared. I have a good reason for taking a month off from my blog — the sale and closing on my beautiful log cabin in Greene County, Virginia.

With all the details to handle for this long-distance move, my 12 days of Christmas went something like this:

12 hours on the phone working out the details of this major move (most of them spent on  hold with Direct TV). Eight friends helping me pack, bringing me food, transporting stuff to storage and Goodwill. Six days driving 9+ hours a day (from El Paso to Virginia and back again). Four trips to a storage unit with some items Davis will surely not know what the heck to do with. Two weeks packing, sorting, and discarding. One light snowfall blanketing the woods and mountains. And a cardinal in an oak tree.

It’s been bittersweet, to be sure.

Finding  myself back in that special place brought up a lot of memories. It gave me a new appreciation of my friends, of my Greene County community, of the privilege of living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and, most especially, of the spiritual significance of living in the silence and solitude of this log home that I envisioned and manifested.

Although two weeks was barely enough time to get everything done and moved out, I managed to pause each day. Take time for contemplative silence. Note the blessings. And be grateful.

That practice helped me remain focused. It calmed me, gave me clarity, and assisted me in letting go of my last tether to Virginia. Not an easy thing to do. Because I love that home. I love my friends. I love Greene County.

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I experienced one last snowstorm in this magical place.

Still, I knew it was the right decision.

And I experienced, much more clearly than I had before, just how much Spirit had upheld me, kept me safe, supported and loved me in this space. Through the questions and doubts, the loneliness, the seeking, as I attempted to listen more and more deeply to where my heart was calling me.

I felt such profound gratitude.

Gratitude for the graces of both the peaceful and tumultuous emotions that surfaced here. For the healing that took place as well. For the Love that never left me.

Gratitude for the community of friends who have showed up whenever I needed them. For those of you who are reading this, I can’t even find sufficient words to thank you.

Greene County is an amazing place. I think of the friends who appeared at my door within minutes after David died. Your countless meals, offers of physical and emotional support, and prayers carried me through that stage and beyond.

Three years later friends again appeared to help me move from our family home to this dream home in the woods. And now, again, you have come to support me.

I know I could not have made this transformational move without you.

Now I’m back in El Paso, settling into an apartment. I haven’t lived in apartment since before I got married at 24 — a very long time ago!

Yes, it’s an adjustment. Another practice in letting go. Daily I am learning to say “yes” to life as it shows up. To accept a life that’s rarely on my terms. And, I hope, paying attention to the graces.

Graces abound.

When I’m in the flow of life, I recognize them. Just as I did these past two weeks in Virginia. They show up in various forms, in unexpected places. They come in different shapes and even in colors. My favorite happens to be Greene.

 

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Mountains flank my snowy, winding driveway as I prepare to leave Virginia.

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

Making My Heart My Home

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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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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.