Category Archives: spirituality

The Miraculous Mole Maker

MexicoMainlandOaxacaFoodMoles

It’s Friday night. And I’m indulging in chicken smothered in a spicy chocolate sauce while a Fandango dancer clicks her heels on a small wooden block in the middle of the room.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of mole. It’s not something I would order in a Mexican restaurant. Not something that leaves me with a healthy feeling in my stomach.

And the Fandango dancing is basically one enthusiastic woman and two instrumentalists.

But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I’m surrounded by good friends, lots of like-minded folks who want to support a good cause, and an awareness of what is possible when one person takes positive action.

Tonight, that would be my friend Cristina.

She totally planned and organized this evening’s fundraiser to rebuild a migrant center in Oaxaca. A safe haven for refugees passing through Mexico that was severely damaged by the recent earthquake. She’s volunteered there, as have others here tonight, and she wanted to help. She’s made all the food for the evening, from the Mexican hot chocolate, to the cheese and bean quesadillas, to her famous mole. She even found the Fandango dancers.

Earlier in the day, Cristina, who lives in Juarez, crossed the bridge to begin preparing. Arms loaded with Mexican chocolate, fresh Oaxaca cheese, freshly made tortillas, and gallons of milk, she wanted this to be an authentic Oaxacan meal.

Yet she had no idea how many people would show up. How many plates to prepare.

There she stands in the kitchen all night long – her smile bright, her energy unlimited, as she loads up plate after plate.

No sign of slowing down from the cancer that has invaded her body. She says nothing about it, speaks only of God’s goodness. Her face shines.

miracles

To me, Cristina is “full of the Spirit.” She sees what is needed and responds. And she does it with grace.

Like the center she opened for abused and traumatized teens in Anapra. Through games and dance and art, she teaches them body, mind, and spirit practices to help them heal.

Like the volunteering she does at the clinic for disabled children where she patiently teaches children who can’t speak how to mouth letters.

 

Cristina has chosen to fully live. No matter what is attacking her body.

And she reminds me of the good that one person can do.

I see so much of that. So much good in humanity. Not just in Cristina.

It’s true, we all know the tragedy one person can inflict. We’ve seen it again this week in Las Vegas. But I see so much more out of that tragedy. I see the people who responded with goodness. Those who risked their own lives to rescue others. Those who lined up and waited 8 hours to give blood. Those who responded to the “Go Fund Me” site set up for the victims. Another example of an event planned without knowing how many would respond. Who could have anticipated that they’d raised $1M in 7 hours?

Time and again I witness the good in humanity.

And it’s worth repeating. Miracles can happen through the actions of one person. It’s amazing.

I may even become a fan of mole.

goodness quote

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Desiring the Stars

Hueco Tanks entrance July 2017

Hueco Tanks at dusk

Sometimes you have to go out of your way to see the stars.

The other night a couple of friends and I drove out to Hueco Tanks State Park just outside of El Paso to go stargazing.

Used to be, I’d step out onto my back deck in rural Virginia whenever I wanted to view the stars. Most nights I could see the Milky Way, it was so darn dark out there.

Not anymore. Now I live in a place where the lights never go out.

Sometimes I miss the darkness. And I especially miss the stars.

Light years away, they seem so far from our grasp.

Not unlike our dreams.

Sometimes we desire a thing so badly, yet it feels far out of our reach.

Reaching-for-the-stars

Like reaching for the stars.

Like building a log home in the woods in central Virginia, for example.

A far-away dream of mine, yet almost unbelievably, it came to fruition.  And although my time there seemed short-lived, I know that home served its purpose. It planted the seeds for what would follow. Then I heard guidance ask me to leave that dream behind.

As if that were easy to do.

It reminds me of when I longed to have a child.

For six years I tried unsuccessfully, thinking there must be something more I could do – some other method David and I could try.

During that time, I simultaneously stumbled upon a path that led me on a deeper spiritual journey. One that taught me the meaning of detachment, of detaching from a specific outcome. Of surrendering to a God who is nothing but Love.

Still, when my 36th birthday came along and I was still childless, it was hard not to feel emotional. My mind told me “time was running out.”

I didn’t give up on my desire to have a child. But over the course of a painful journey of being attached to the outcome, I had learned to entrust the desires of my heart to God.

Whatever the result, I could trust the One who had placed the seed of that desire in me. I could trust the truth that “all things work together for good….”

In other words, I had set the intention and learned to let go of my demand for a certain outcome.

Months later I found myself pregnant, and before my 37th birthday, I had a child in my arms.

Now, again I find myself facing a desire to manifest a deeply held dream. One I’m passionate about that involves my writing.

It feels like my desire has been taking a long time to be realized. And yet again, I find myself relearning the lessons of patience and faith as I surrender control.

Because I know that whenever I am clinging to a particular outcome, my ego is still in control. Whenever I am attached to the way “I” think things should turn out, I’m not free. I’m not in the flow.

What are the deepest desires of your heart?

Do your dreams seem like stars out of your reach? Or are you clinging to them, unable to let go?

Here’s what I’d suggest:

Set your sights on the stars. Plant and nurture the seed of your deepest desires. Set your intentions.

Then relinquish the outcome. Open to the flow of creative possibilities.

Entrust the results to your co-Creator.

And watch the stars appear.

Harriet-Tubman_Dreamer Quote

 

 

We Have Awoken

Standing Rock orange

We faced the fear with love. Our spirit is not broken.

That was the message of the film “Awake” that my new Native American friends presented to the public this afternoon. A film that was more than disturbing. I felt sickened as I watched the events unfold at Standing Rock in North Dakota – the site of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We all heard and saw the news reports last year as the protests persevered and expanded, well into December. We know how the story goes.

And, sadly, how it ends.

But to see it unfold in real time, in this documentary…to see peaceful people standing in prayer in the river pepper sprayed and hosed down with water cannons in freezing temperatures…to watch as unarmed Native Americans fell to the ground after being hit with rubber bullets…

It hurt my spirit.

Sadly, this is not new to indigenous people. They have been fighting for land rights, for nature, for the environment, for hundreds of years.

Funny to think that English-speaking people were actual immigrants to this country. And they were welcomed by these natives. Without visas. Without knowing the language.

Coming without jobs or ways to support themselves.

As Rudy, one of the elders of the tribe that has befriended me, explained, “Community is most important to us. We are taught to be gracious hosts, to welcome all into community.”

And that they did. And still do, despite how they were treated in the past.

I can vouch for this based on how they have welcomed me, a white-faced stranger, into their community.

So, why do indigenous people still fight to protect the land?

“What we do is for the next seven generations,” Rudy explained. “It is for our children and our grandchildren. We must protect our earthly home and keep a balance in all of life. Honor what is sacred.”

The Missouri River – which the DAPL travels under – is the longest river in North America and the water source not only for the Sioux Nation, but for 17 million Americans.

Missouri River

Missouri River, South Dakota

Not only was the pipeline built, but in the process, sacred sites were desecrated. Elders were arrested. Tepees slashed. People brutalized.

But something else happened as well. Something positive.

A movement began. Many people – around the globe – heard the truth the indigenous people speak.

They understood the message of DAPL protestors: “We belong to the water. We belong to the air. We belong to all creation. We are all guests on Mother Earth. And we must honor her.”

They realize the truth of these words: “We will pay the consequences for desecrating Mother Earth.”

And more people have joined these water protectors. These global protectors.

DAPL is not the end.

Hundreds of pipelines are being proposed all over the United States. But now millions of people have awoken.

“Will you join us?”

I’VE BEEN WOKEN

by the spirit inside that

demanded I open my eyes

and see the world around me.

Seeing that my children’s future

was in peril. See that my life couldn’t

wait and slumber anymore. See that I was

honored to be among those who are awake.

To be alive at this point in time is to see the rising

of the Oceti Sakowin. To see the gathering of nations

and beyond that, the gathering of all races and all faiths.

Will you wake up and dream with us?

Will you join our dream. Will you join us?”

FLORIS WHITE BULL, ADVISOR AND CO-WRITER OF AWAKE, A DREAM FROM STANDING ROCK

If you’re interested in a screening of the film, go to: http://awakethefilm.org/

Standing Rock

Coming of Age

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Over the weekend I spent the night in a tepee. Experienced my first coming-of-age ceremony.

And I felt incredibly honored to be included in this spiritual rite of passage for a young woman of Mexican-Indian heritage.

As I participated in this powerful and sacred ceremony, I found myself imagining the possibilities.

What if all girls greeted the threshold of womanhood supported by the kind of love, wisdom, mirroring, and honoring I witnessed these indigenous women showering upon this very blessed 13-year-old girl?

What if every girl learned that her body was something to be honored, not ashamed of?

That she is beautiful, inside and out, just as she is? Without needing to change anything.

That she does not need to fear expressing herself? Or be afraid to learn from making mistakes?

That she can listen to and trust her inner wisdom?

Wow!

It has taken me years to learn these lessons.  Years accompanied by much struggling and pain. And often feeling I was on my own in the process.

Yet 13-year-old Trinity already knows who she is.

Grounded in the sacredness of her people’s earth-honoring ceremonies, empowered by the love of her community, and centered in an awareness of the Creator present in all life, she is entering this stage of her life totally prepared. Her humility, maturity, and sensitivity impressed me.

Even her name impressed me.

Only weeks ago I had been a stranger to this community. Until I met Carlos, and, without hesitation, he invited me.

The abuela (grandmother) of their tribe wasn’t so sure. After all, she didn’t know this white-faced woman. But she welcomed me. As did every member of the community. They welcomed a stranger into their circle.

I couldn’t help but think that this was the Gospel message of “welcome the stranger” in action.

Later that evening, we gathered around a lantern in the tepee, setting up our cots and sleeping bags. After settling in, we told coming-of-age stories, while outside the darkness deepened.

We shared some of our most embarrassing moments, to let this young woman know that, yes, you will have these moments. You will make mistakes, too. It’s inevitable. And you will survive.

moon cycle

As I listened to these women share their wisdom, the moonlight poured in through the opening in the top of the tepee. The beauty of this spiritual ritual deeply touched me. And I wished I’d had such a ceremony to welcome my menses, my “moon.”

In the circle we shared our gifts for Trinity. Mine was a poem I’d written and a beautiful broken seashell—a whelk—I’d found on Atlantic Beach while vacationing with special friends. At first I hesitated to part with it.

But I knew it was the perfect gift.

seashell-broken

And my words for Trinity are words for all girls coming of age, especially those who don’t have a circle of wise women guiding them forward, as I did not have. I share them here.

Learn to trust your inner guidance, the wisdom that resides within.

As a girl, no one told me this.

As a woman, it took years to discover the truth.

Our inner authority is the voice of God within.

You can trust it.

Don’t be afraid to be seen.

Don’t shrink under the power of others.

Be all that you are,

Empowered by your unique gifts.

Know that all that you are is gift to the world.

Be grateful always for this gift.

This broken shell I found on a beach in North Carolina

It spoke to me of my woundedness, my brokenness.

And how, even with these broken places within me, I am whole and perfect and beautiful.

This is the message I want to give to you.

Become the woman you were meant to be, fully alive

Not holding anything back, not afraid of your gifts or your power

Not afraid of your broken places.

Strengthened by the challenges, the hurts, the sufferings

Be grateful for the pain and suffering along the way.

They are your teachers.

They may take pieces of your heart,

But they will make you shine like a shell in the sea.

May we learn from the wisdom of native cultures. May we honor this gift called life as we cross each threshold. May we give thanks to the Creator for all of life.

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Sun rises over our campsite as we prepare for a day of ceremony

 

If You Knew the Gift

selfcompassion

Imagine someone gives you a precious gift and you never open it.

Most of us, I believe, are living with such an unopened gift. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are “the beloved.”

Maybe we are afraid to acknowledge and claim our “belovedness.” Maybe we can’t believe it’s true.

Somehow it’s easier to claim what we perceive as “wrong” with us. The places where we fall short. Where we don’t measure up or haven’t succeeded enough. So we walk around with these interior wounds and scars. And much of the time our inner pain gets projected “out there.”

But what if we could be retaught and remember that we are the beloved? What if we could open ourselves to claim the gift that we truly are?

compassion Jack KornfieldIf each of us could hold ourselves with such acceptance and compassion, no matter what shows up in us, what then?

 

Henri Nouwen, a spiritual teacher and writer, said a lot about this in his book Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World.

“To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice.”

I know when I claim the gift of my belovedness, I can’t help but open myself up to love. Love for myself and love for those around me. If more of us were able to do that, I don’t think we could possibly treat one another with hateful comments or hurtful actions. We would feel so incredibly graced, we would want nothing more than to give that love out to others. Because we would know the truth.

But, as Nouwen said, the real work of prayer is to become silent enough to hear the voice that calls us the beloved.

Henri Nouwen_Quote

The God whom I love dwells within and never ceases to remind me that I am the “beloved.” But I admit that most days I am hard-pressed to really take that in. And to understand the depth of that love.

But there are moments.

Like Monday morning.

For some reason, I awaken around 3 a.m., with a dream half-remembered. And the word “Beloved” on my lips. I breathe into it and feel myself smile with joy. Because even in my half-awake state, I “know” the truth. This is not something I can explain. But I “know” it.

And I know that this gift has been given to me in the early morning hours when I am too sleepy to fight it, to discount or disbelieve it. I simply take it in.

And I pray.

Teach me to come back to You again and again, and lose my “self” in You so that I may recognize the true treasure I possess – life in You, with You, for You, of You. This is my belovedness.

There is no other gift I need.

There is nothing more.

May each of us come to know and live from this truth. The gift of being the beloved.

 

henri-nouwen-heavy-heart

 

Abiding in Abundance

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Sunrise at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

I’ve left the shore behind.

Leaving Atlantic Beach wasn’t easy. After all, I grew up near the ocean on the East Coast. And nowadays, ensconced in the El Paso desert, I’m lucky when I spot an occasional raindrop.

But even more challenging – within one week of returning to El Paso from my reunion/vacation in North Carolina, I found myself packing.  I needed to move. Again.

I knew before I left for NC that I’d to have to find another place to live. My three months of room and board at the house for volunteers were coming to an end.

Truthfully, I’d expected my house in Virginia to sell quickly. And I’d be settling into a new home by now.

But my plan didn’t materialize.  So, instead, I had to move into another temporary living situation. Another place that’s not my own.

And, yes, that’s challenging.

But it’s also a gift. A spiritual practice that’s continually teaching me about letting go. About my real “home.” And about the abundance of the Universe.

No sooner had I started wondering where I would go next and what I could afford when an idea came to me. Call Anita. As it turns out, this woman, who hardly knows me, was happy to rent out her extra bedroom. At an unbelievably reasonable rate.

Once again I was given what I needed.

So I began my vacation grateful that I had a place to go once I returned.

And I was open. Receptive to how the Spirit might speak to me at the ocean.

What struck me at every turn? The abundance of the Universe.

I recognized it in my morning walks along the shore as the rising sun cast multi-colored hues of pink and peach across an infinite sky. In the endless waves rolling onto the beach in a constant, humbling roar. In the calm waters that glittered and stretched majestically beyond the horizon. In the sandpipers and pelicans fed from the ocean.

It’s easy to see how Nature exemplifies the abundance of God. With her ever-present giving and receiving, she demonstrates what it means to be “in the flow” of life.

But I wonder. What if we, as human beings, could trust in an abundant Universe? What would our lives look like if we could abide in this flow of giving and receiving? Trusting that we will be given what we need? In every moment? Just as Nature does?

I think I know. The migrants have shown me.

The poor I’ve met live with a concept of the abundance of God more fully and completely than anyone else I know. They’ve tapped into this truth. God provides. You can trust in the flow of the give and take of life.

Here’s a recent example.

We’ve been crazy busy at the Nazareth migrant center. And last week, in our rush to get a mom to the bus station, we neglected to give her a “care package” of food that I’d prepared for her long journey.

A little while later, Linda, a fellow volunteer, showed up at the bus station with other migrants heading out of state.  Linda was amazed when the fellow travelers, realizing this woman didn’t have a care package, started pulling food from their own bags to give her. One woman, who said she was “only going as far as Los Angeles,” gave this mom her entire tote bag of goodies. She figured this woman needed it more.

Giving from their need. This is unheard of.

Or is it?

for-it-is-in-giving-that-we-receive1

Believing that more is given to the one who gives. That giving is receiving. And in the receiving is the giving.

It’s a message I’ve heard from the Gospel. And a spiritual law that I recently came across in a Pathwork Guide Lecture. This line from that lecture says it all for me:

“I will let God give through me in sincerity, in strength, in truth, in wisdom, in beauty.” (PGL #233, pg. 8)

Isn’t that what Nature does? Isn’t that what these migrants did for that mom?

To live life fully we need to move beyond our fear of not having enough. We need to leave the comfort of the shore behind. To trust in the abundance that is given to us and through us.

Whether I stand, sure-footed, on the shore of a North Carolina beach or move like a nomad from place to place in the El Paso desert, I want to learn this lesson.  Nature is teaching me. And so are the poor.

Cultivating the Secret Garden

Secret-Garden1

Cultivate your inner garden.

Maybe you’re wondering what the heck that means.

I know ever since I was given that directive on a recent retreat in Ruidoso, NM, I’ve been walking around with the phrase in my head. Thanks to our very spiritual and wise retreat director, Sr. Margarita, who just happens to have indigenous grandparents and a real connection to nature.

Our first night there she had us all sitting in silence in the middle of a green meadow surrounded by lovely green trees (that in itself was a gift for someone like me who’s been missing greenery since I arrived in El Paso).

“Listen to nature welcoming us,” she said as we settled into our plastic lawn chairs.

Sure enough, within moments, trees swayed in unison, leaves rustled, crows cawed. Even the setting sun slowly lit up clouds drifting overhead.

I felt at home.

Not because the place reminded me of Virginia. Although it did. But because I realized, in that moment, that I am always home.

That was just the beginning. The gifts kept coming.

And Sr. Margarita, with her awareness of the presence of Spirit in everything, helped foster that awareness in me.

She seemed to love using metaphors. Something I also love as a writer.

The most powerful metaphor was that of a garden – a place where resurrection happens. (Think of a seed falling to the ground. Or Jesus falling to the ground at Gethsemane.)

A place, she said, that we need to cultivate. A place that represents our inner selves.

She told us how, like Mary in the children’s story, The Secret Garden, we have to go into the attic – or the basement – and take the risk of delving into our dark, mysterious selves, in order to find the key to our secret garden.

I don’t have any problem with that idea. I’ve been to some pretty dark places in myself. But the idea of cultivating and discovering a “secret garden” intrigued me.

So, one afternoon I stepped into the middle of this huge garden at the retreat center, hoping I’d get some insight. I sat in the sun taking in the scent and beauty of red and peach roses — a childhood favorite.

All of a sudden I noticed them.

First one weed. Then another. Pretty soon I was completely focused on those weeds.

The thing is, they weren’t even that large. Or tall. Or overgrown. They seemed so miniscule standing beside the expansive rose bushes that only minutes ago had captured my attention.

But I just couldn’t leave those weeds alone.

Before I realized it, I’d grabbed hold of one and plucked it out of the ground. It lay there limp and lifeless, the sun beaming down on it.

And then it came to me. How that sun is always present. How it warms both the roses and the weeds. How it doesn’t judge whether one is more worthy than the other. It simply shines. And nurtures. And warms and loves everything.

What about me? Can I do the same for myself? Can I let go of focusing on the weeds?

Allow my inner garden to flourish? And accept and love the whole beautiful mess that is me?

Maybe that’s the real secret to gardening.secret Garden Cultivate

Secret Garden Buddha

The Memory of Virginia

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Flowering dogwood — the state tree of Virginia

I’ll miss the trees.

White and pink dogwoods. Towering oaks. Weeping willows with fairy land canopies.

Since childhood I’ve had a thing for trees. Summers you’d find me on our backyard lawn mesmerized by the sun dancing on the tips of leaves. I’d watch the morning light trickle down like a waterfall as it slowly engulfed entire trees, turning everything a sparkling, vibrant green.

I love green.

But there aren’t many trees in the desert. And certainly not much green where I’m going.

There won’t be any rolling green hills dotted with black cows and red barns.

No sweet smell of freshly mowed grass on a late spring morning.

No moss-covered stones jutting from brooks, their soft surfaces slippery and smooth like a carpet.

There won’t be much water anywhere in fact. No streams or rivers.

I’ll definitely miss the ocean.

And April’s ruby red azaleas. Pear and apple tree blossoms, too. The orange tiger lilies stretching out to meet me as I drive the back roads home. With the Blue Ridge mountains as the backdrop.

But most especially, I’ll miss my community. My friends.

Those who’ve walked with me through the birth and rearing of my son. Friends who cheered and howled along with me and David at all the soccer games and swim meets.
(Well, maybe not as loudly as David. Even I had to walk away from him shouting in my ear sometimes.)

Friends who showed up at my door with ham biscuits and casseroles and tears I couldn’t shed the afternoon David died. Friends like Deborah who accompanied me to the funeral parlor to make all the necessary arrangements. Kathy and Janet who helped clean my house when I didn’t think I had enough energy to get through another day. Whitney who mowed my acre of lawn whenever the grass grew too tall.

So many friends who helped me through all of it. Held my hand. Embraced me. Let me cry when I needed to. Or scream.

Friends who’ve accompanied me on this spiritual journey. A journey that took root, deepened, and blossomed here. And eventually veered off in a direction I never would have anticipated.

Now it’s time to leave. After 30 years in Virginia.

It’s far from easy.

I’ve come to understand that “poverty of spirit” really is about detachment. About letting go. But not only of possessions. It’s also detachment from what I thought was important. From what no longer serves me. From the fears and images and illusions I’ve falsely believed and carried.

And here’s a big one — detachment from trying to anticipate the outcome. From trying to control and plan and have everything in place. Because I can’t step out in faith otherwise. Or trust the voice of God within.

And follow where I know my heart is leading.

So, yes, Virginia, I will miss you. All your natural beauty. All your trees and greenery. All those special people you hold for me. But I will carry the memory. I will carry all of them.

And in my experience, memories of love never fade.

GC Tree

(Lyrics from The Memory of Trees, by Enya)

I walk the maze of moments
but everywhere I turn to
begins a new beginning
but never finds a finish
I walk to the horizon
and there I find another
it all seems so surprising
and then I find that I know…

You’ll Never Be the Same

Thomas-Merton-our-job

It happened to me again. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

When the subject came up, I felt a familiar passion rising in me, seemingly out of nowhere.

And it wasn’t like I had instigated it.

The incident happened  last weekend.

I was at a gathering of people from my church community when a woman I hadn’t seen in about two years came up to me. She wanted to know how my “mission” at the border had turned out.

Wow. The border. After just having spent several weeks in Bolivia and being back home in Virginia for a year, that experience seemed so far away. And yet it didn’t. Because as soon as I started to talk about the border, I was right there again.

I didn’t know where to begin. How to tell her everything I had witnessed. How to share the stories of the people. How to explain the misinformation and downright lies that have been spreading across this country about immigrants.

But her friend cut in. “I don’t have anything against immigrants, as long as they come here legally.”

And I could tell by looking at her face that this woman had no interest in what I had to say on the subject.

Our mutual friend — the woman who’d engaged me in this conversation — looked sympathetic. But then she admitted that she agreed with her friend.

I felt myself reacting to such a blanket statement that puts the problem in a neat little box. “If they want to come here, they should follow the rules.”

I started to argue that, yes, we need rules and regulations but do you know what it takes to get here legally? And how impossible it is for many people who are desperate? That what we really need is immigration reform to fix our broken system. But I’d lost her, too.

So, I stopped talking.

But inside, I felt the fire again. I experienced again the injustices of what’s happening.

And how ignorant we are of our role and responsibility.

And how American companies — privately-run detention facilities are just one example — benefit off the backs of immigrants.

And how the migrant poor, who have clearly suffered a lot, have more faith and generosity than I’ve ever had. I remembered their stories and their faces.

And I remembered again why I say that I can’t be at peace with a completely comfortable lifestyle anymore.

And why I can never not listen to my heart again. I’ve experienced too much to go back.

Recently, when I was on the plane heading from Bolivia to Miami, I discovered one of the Maryknoll priests I knew from Cochabamba was on the same flight. We chatted for a while about Bolivia, the people, the culture, the poverty.

“You will never be the same,” he said.

Little did he know. God had already awakened my heart. Three years ago. In the border town of El Paso.

I haven’t been the same since.change-the-world

More Than Enough in Bolivia

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I admit it. The food we were served in Bolivia was different than I and my seven companions were used to. No greens to speak of. Few vegetables. More starches than I’d ever need in any lifetime. From the staple of papas fritas (French fried potatoes), to the serving of two kinds of potatoes and a huge dish of cheesy rice all in one meal.

Too much to take in. But every dish that Esperanza (“Hope”) and her sister-in-law Marta served us during our week-long stay was freshly prepared and plentiful. They gave the best of what they had. We had more than enough to eat. And we were grateful.

Like the food, the love and graces I experienced on this pilgrimage were unusual and plentiful. Not my normal daily diet. After a few days, they began to feel extravagant. Like too much to take in. Maybe it’s because a constant flow of positive energy and selfless giving permeates the Amistad mission where abandoned and orphaned children have found a home for more than 30 years.

Its founder, Fr. Will, who now lives in the U.S., just “happened” to be staying at Amistad’s guest house while we were there. Every morning we’d gather in the chapel for silent reflection and meditation and then he’d offer us Eucharist, along with gems of wisdom that sprang from the depth of his decades-long contemplative practice. I’ve met few people in my life who were as visibly close to God as Fr. Will.

Then there were the mamás and tiás who care for and give of themselves to the children 24/7. Each mama is assigned to one of the eight houses where up to 10 children can live. Not a small undertaking for anyone, but these women do it with patience and, from what we witnessed, a simple and deep faith.

My fellow pilgrims and I wanted to give the mamás and tiás a day off, so we planned some special pampering and creative activities for them. One by one, Mary Lou washed the women’s feet and then I massaged them. I doubt any of these women had ever had their feet massaged. They could barely look at me while I rubbed lotion into their blistered toes and heels. This intimate act turned out to be as much a gift for me as it was for them.IMG_1512

And that was only our first day.

Then there were the children. We visited and played with these precious little ones at their family-style homes at Amistad. As soon as we arrived, the children ran over to hug us. One little girl after another entwined her arms around my waist whenever I was within range. Their hands clasped mine and wouldn’t let go. On the playground I pushed the girls on the swings and spun the boys around and around on the merry-go-round. They laughed and squealed, calling, “Amiga, amiga! Mira! Mira!” “Look! Look at me, my new friend. Look!”

Their love and desire for attention filled me. I felt my heart opening wider and wider. The children “wrecked” me — a term my friends and I used every time our hearts broke open.

By mid week I began feeling overwhelmed. Had a hard time taking in all the core goodness, vulnerability, and the letting down of all defenses that was happening. The skeptic in me kept jumping in. Challenging what I was experiencing. Arguing against it. “This can’t be real. Life can’t be this loving and selfless. People can’t be this joyful, supportive, and accepting.”

I began seeking out the flaws, the imperfections, the hole in the tapestry. But what I came up against instead was the tough stuff within myself. My own flaws and imperfections. Rather than lovingly accepting myself in this, as I knew I needed to, I plunged into a momentary darkness.

And then we went to the remote hillside village of Aramasi. Where I really got wrecked.

At Aramasi, we stayed in individual tiny stone hermitages with outhouses nearby. Each of us had a single, threadbare mattress laid across a plank of wood. We had to sweep the dead bugs off the floor and pray no live ones were hidden anywhere else. None of my fellow female travelers complained about the accommodations. Unusual for Americans, I know. But then these are unusual women.

If prayer is standing naked and vulnerable before the Source of all Being, then I prayed an awful lot in that little room. My bed was placed alongside a window overlooking an unobstructed night sky filled with stars. All night long I entered in and out of sleep and gazed out the window, occasionally spotting a shooting star. Somewhere in the sacred solitude of that hermitage, I encountered an extravagant love that washed over me and helped me reclaim my belovedness. And in that tender place of recognition, I was shown the power and beauty of my own preciously imperfect heart.

One night Mary Lou read to our group from Henri Nouwen’s book, Gracias, which recounts his experiences during a six-month long ministry in Peru and Bolivia. Nouwen suggests that what we have to offer is our “own human brokenness through which the love of God can manifest itself.” He reminds me that I am broken like glass, and it’s the brokenness that lets the light shine through.

It’s the best I have to offer. And it is more than enough.