Category Archives: Writing

Pay Attention – Lessons Learned in Cochabamba

image Pay attention to where you’re going. It’s one of the lessons I learned in Cochabamba.

Daily I had to be aware of what was in front of me. Figuratively and literally.

Uneven sidewalks, crumbling concrete, hidden holes — all threatened to trip me up as I walked the streets of Cochabamba. Entire slabs of cement jut out like in the aftermath of an earthquake. No sidewalks are flat and even. If I wanted to stay vertical, I had to pay attention.

image

Typical Cochabamba sidewalk

And if walking on the sidewalk wasn’t easy to maneuver and threatened my safety, crossing the street was worse.

Pedestrians never have the right-of-way in Cochabamba.  No matter if you’re in the crosswalk, the traffic light is in your favor, or you’re already half way across the street. Drivers will not stop or slow down.  They constantly beep their horn at you. Even if you’re only near the curb  or simply walking in that direction. Their message is clear: “Don’t even think about it.”

Other lessons I learned:

How to approach strangers and strike up a conversation, asking important questions like “Where can I buy  the best helado (ice cream)?”

How to meet desafíos (challenges) and speak up for what I needed in a language I was only beginning to learn, with people I was not entirely  comfortable with. Not easy for an introverted, introspective person like me. But I did it. Time and again. It gave me a taste — just a taste — of what it’s like for a migrant trying to survive in a foreign country.

How to look the other way when encountering a naked campesino —peasant farmers that have come to the city to work —squatting in the canal to relieve himself or to wash his body in the only water available.

How to hold and feed one baby in my arms while pushing another one in a Fisher Price swing, using my elbow or foot.

I miss holding those babies at the orphanage. When I imagine Teresa and Pablo, Adriana, Jhon, Nichol, and Breiseda, when I remember the tiny knots in their hair from lying in their cribs for so long, and I wonder if anyone is cradling them now, I cry.  Their situation seems hopeless. Yet I know it isn’t.

I also know I can’t go back to care for those orphans. Here’s why. As much as I loved the beauty and culture of the country, my teachers, and friends I made, something was missing. My heart was not in Cochabamba. It remains with the migrants and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. Still.

Did I need to go all the way to Bolivia to learn this? Apparently so.

Because besides learning Spanish and gaining clarity about where my heart lies, I received other necessary lessons. Lessons about courage to face the feelings arising in what I was experiencing. Lessons about finding true hope in the midst of feelings of hopelessness.

If all had gone according to my expectations, according to my well-laid plans, it would have been easy to have faith in my self-made God, to “hope” in my ego’s ideas of what the world “should” be. But God asks more of me than this. God asks me to trust even when I feel betrayed, angry, hopeless in this place of my own making. And then to be present to those feelings. Long enough to come out the other side.

As the Pathwork teaches, through the gateway of feeling  my hopelessness lies true and justified hope. That’s something I’ll need if I’m to serve those who would have little reason to hope.

Spiritual writer and teacher Cynthia Bourgeault says in Mystical Hope:

“Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of the Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us. It is entered always and only through surrender; that is, through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to.”Cynthia Bourgeault_MysticalHope_photo1

May I let go and surrender. To the presence that has always been right in front of me.

 

 

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Next Stop, Bolivia

cochabamba

Mission. The word won’t leave me. It keeps showing up in unexpected ways.

Like through an invitation from a special friend. She asked me recently to consider joining her on a pilgrimage to Amistad, “the Friendship Mission,” in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where more than half the population live below the national poverty line.

I decided to check out their website (see http://www.amistadmission.org/).

As soon as I saw the children’s faces, the Andes mountains, the indigenous women donning wide-brimmed hats and colorful scarves, tears sprang to my eyes.

I had to say yes. With no clear indication why. I simply felt a pull on my heart. A pull to be with the poor of Latin America.

Who can explain such things?

I’ve no idea what I’ll discover there. It’s only for a week. But I know I’ll come back with much more than I could possibly give. Just like what happened with the migrants in El Paso.

Last week Richard Rohr used the word “reverse mission” in one of his daily reflections. His words say exactly what I’m trying to say.

“An overly protected life—a life focused on thinking more than experiencing—does not know deeply or broadly. Jesus did not call us to the poor and to the pain only to be helpful; he called us to be in solidarity with the real and for our own transformation. It is often only after the fact we realize that they helped us in ways we never knew we needed. This is sometimes called ‘reverse mission.’ The ones we think we are ‘saving’ end up saving us, and in the process, redefine the very meaning of salvation!”

Here’s where I’ve experienced “the real” while on mission:

  • In the sound of children’s joyous shrieks as we play a simple game of Uno at the health center in Anapra, home to Mexico’s poorest of the poor.
  • In the migrant woman, who after being paid a meager $15 for a day’s labor of housecleaning, gave $5 to someone “less fortunate.”
  • In the mud-caked, sole-flapping shoes of the little Guatemalan girls who showed up at our hospitality center with their mom.
  • In the airplane drawing of a six-year-old “undocumented” boy assigned to a Texas detention center who sees God as that plane, ready to whisk him up and reunite him with his mother.

Wherever this mission is taking me, it sure is a slow process. But that’s OK.

I’m learning that each slow step is a piece of the puzzle. And everything is fitting together nicely, just as it needs to, in order to fulfill my unique purpose, my heart’s calling. All I have to do is listen. And not let myself get too comfortable. Something I doubt will happen in Cochabamba.

Truthfully, I don’t really know why I’m going to Bolivia. But I do know what I hear in my heart: “If you want to live a truly fulfilling life, you must follow me.”

As John O’ Donohue writes:

Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment.

These pics were taken from the Amistad website

Amistad_mother_child_s

Picture of mother and child taken from Amistad Mission website

Amistad sisters

aramasi_family2_s

I Shall Not Live in Vain

I shall not live in vain

I shall not live in vain

Emily Dickenson’s poem “I Shall Not Live in Vain” adorns the wall of Karen’s studio where I currently work part-time. Knowing me and my journey, Karen kindly offered me a job at her home-based business while I sort out what’s next.

I like working for Karen. I like that she’s a creative entrepreneur, fulfilling her vision, designing a much-needed product. And she’s doing it with kindness, compassion, and generosity — both for her employees and her clients. Plus, once I spotted that Emily Dickenson poem on the wall, I knew we shared a similar philosophy. A philosophy about our life’s purpose.

ishallnot live in vain words

Yesterday Karen showed me a short news clip about a sweet, six-year-old boy named Jayden from Georgia. Jayden’s father died when Jayden was very young, and recently his mom died in her sleep. Jayden now lives with relatives, and for a while, everyone around him was feeling pretty sad. So Jayden decided to do something about it.

With the help of his aunt, he began purchasing tiny toys, like plastic neon green dinosaurs and purple rubber ducks, and handing them out to strangers. Everyone Jayden meets gets a toy. The boy’s intention — to make people smile.

As I watched this remarkable young boy get such delight in giving away these trinkets, and the hugs and huge grins he received in return, I realized what a special gift he has. At six-years old, Jayden has already found his purpose. Spreading joy.

Some adults I know say they still haven’t found their purpose. They don’t know their true work, or their true worth. They think what they’re doing isn’t enough. Sometimes I hear that message in their comments about how I inspire them. About how they couldn’t do the kinds of things I’m doing.

Yet I see and hear people doing inspiring things every day. Right where I am.

Like my teacher friend who has taken three motherless siblings under her wing. Every few months she treats them to a special outing, and for a while, they get to have a special woman in their life give them one on one attention.

Or my dear friend Jeanine who for the past year has taken on the responsibility of caring for my dog while I followed a call to mission. They bonded so well, my dog is now her dog. And even though he’s aged and requires much more attention, Jeanine never complains. Yet she doesn’t think she’s doing much. Whenever I try to express how thankful I am for her taking this on, she tells me she admires me.

I have several other friends like this. They think their lives are ordinary. But I know that each one of them is extraordinary. Because of who they are. Because of what they offer. The aching they’ve eased. The pains they’ve cooled. The joy they’ve spread. And the hearts they’ve kept from breaking.

Each of us has a unique purpose. It can be really simple. And right in front of you. All you have to do is recognize it, and claim it. And then you, too, shall not live in vain.

The Urgency that Calls You

wake-up-and-live

“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
― John O’DonohueAnam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

What urgency calls you into wakefulness?

What longing waits within you unfulfilled?

Waking up alone in my quiet household, it’s easy to feel a sense of urgency. To remember where I’ve been and to fear becoming complacent and comfortable. But I feel anything but comfortable.

I miss El Paso. I miss the richness and vitality of life at the border. I miss the people and their stories. Stories of tremendous challenges, deep faith, and generous hearts. Mostly I miss the children.

But I’m not meant to go back just yet.

For now, the urgency I feel is to write their stories. Especially as the fear frenzy and racist comments towards Hispanic immigrants swells.

And it’s time for me, as a writer, to stop holding back. To put myself out there. Words from my favorite David Whyte poem, What to Remember When Waking,  speak to my heart more than ever.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

The truth is, I have been hiding out. Not fully claiming and embracing my gift. Not fully trusting that if I allow myself to be intimate and vulnerable on the page, it doesn’t matter whether I “fail” or what the outcome is.

what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

My one love is to write. And I want to write about the people’s pain. About their sweat and their struggle, their joy and their innocence. And how their lives are so very intertwined with ours.

My friend Rob is familiar with this place of holding back, too. I know Rob as a writer and poet. But, like me, he hesitates to fully own the gift. He writes:

What other gifts or passions have I kept hidden from family, from friends, from the world? If, as I believe, much of our task in this life is to lay claim to, and develop, our talents so as to share them with others – not in a self-centered way, but as proof of the joy in ongoing creation – then what had I been doing? I had put a variety of skills on display for decades, but had I been sufficiently brave or vulnerable to risk putting my gifts out for all to see? “

image

That’s what the urgency is really all about for me now. Putting my gifts out for all to see. To come out of hiding and fulfill my personal calling. To simply trust enough in the gift and the One who bestowed it. And to be willing to continue to live with the “not knowing.” I’ve done it for so long now, you’d think I’d be an expert.

Despite my doubts, I long to embrace this gift. To listen to the urgency that calls me to use it. To do it for Love.

And to let go of the outcome.

How about you? What longing within waits to be fulfilled? What urgency calls you to fully use your gifts?

Here’s the full version of the David Whyte poem:

What to Remember When Waking

what to remember upon waking

In that first
hardly noticed
moment
to which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
moveable
and frighteningly
honest
world
where everything
began,
there is a small
opening
into the new day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
night
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
presence
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?
In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

~ David Whyte ~

(The House of Belonging)

“168” class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-591″ />

Midwife to a Soul

birth_seed_sprout

July 1st would have been Esther’s 75th birthday. This post is in honor of her.

The night I moved into the house on Grandview Avenue in El Paso, I questioned myself. Again.

What am I doing here, in this little bedroom? In yet another new place amidst strange surroundings? What can I bring to this situation at the border? What difference can I possibly make in the lives of these migrant families fleeing their desperate lives of violence and poverty?

It was December 14. Both Gaudete Sunday — the third Sunday of Advent marked by joy in the midst of darkness — and the beginning of Las Posadas — the reenactment of Joseph and a pregnant Mary seeking shelter the night her baby was to be born. Earlier I’d joined Esther and the Latino community in downtown El Paso, going door to door, asking the same question that was on my heart: “Do you have room? Is there a place for me here?”

The irony of the situation didn’t elude me.

But it wasn’t like I didn’t have a place to stay. Granted, it wasn’t “home,” but Esther had agreed to take me in, after all. All she knew was that I wanted to serve the migrants and refugees. She took a chance. She agreed to support me.

I looked out from my bedroom window — a high-paned glass that ran the entire length of the wall. Thousands of yellow flickering lights spread across Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, reaching toward the mountains. How many people out there are suffering tonight, I wondered? How many face a future desperately more uncertain than mine? How many are unsafe? In that moment, my life, my concerns, felt small by comparison.

And in that moment I realized, this isn’t about me. My being here in El Paso. It’s not about me striving to make something happen. To succeed at whatever it is I think my purpose is. No. This is about being willing and open. Willing to allow Spirit to use me. Open to whatever wants to be born in this situation. Open to allowing things to be as they are. I simply need to take my small self out of the equation.

Later that night I sat down on my bedroom floor and wrote this poem:

The Midwife of God
Emmanuel
God with us
Within me
Grasping my hands
As the hot pains of labor
Sharp and prolonged
Cry for relief
Searching my eyes
For the answer to one vital question:
Am I willing
To take on this labor
As midwife,
To be present to all that comes?
Am I willing
To support the life
Struggling to be born?
Day and night
The pain continues
Sweaty brow, clammy hands,
a raw dryness in my throat
Still I stand alongside
the moaning laborer
Rooted in solidarity
Committed to the cause
Until what emerges
Elicits a glorious light
Erasing the memory
And exuding hope
In the familiar darkness.

midwife_John-ODonohue-quote

Months later, questions remain. And I remember to look for signs of the Source of life in the uncertainty. Signs like Esther, who stood by as midwife to the seed planted in me in El Paso. Signs like the words of encouragement and praise from friends who’ve been inspired by my journey. Possibly inspired to give birth to their own seeds of longing sprouting within.

Signs like the light that came to earth so many years ago, that shone in the darkness of an otherwise ordinary night in the desert.

A Father’s Day Journey

parent-baby-hands

I’ll be missing something important this Father’s Day.

No, I don’t mean my husband. Although I will think of David, as I do every Father’s Day, I no longer have that gaping hole in my heart. The kind of bottomless pain I couldn’t quell on holidays, birthdays, and special events during the first couple of years after his death.

I’ve moved forward with my life now, discerning a different purpose.

These days it’s other people’s pain I feel more keenly. After having ministered to and witnessed the journeys of people in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, it’s inevitable my focus would have changed. I’m aware of just how privileged my life is in comparison.

What I’ll be missing this Sunday is the chance to meet someone I admire — Father Alejandro Solaline, the recipient of the 2015 Voice of the Voiceless Award. El Paso’s Annunciation House gives this annual award to those courageous people who speak up and witness for the oppressed and marginalized. And Fr. Solaline — a Mexican priest and human rights activist — is definitely courageous and outspoken.

Padre-Alejandro-Solalinde

As the founder and director of Hermanos en el Camino in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca, a shelter for Central Americans migrating through Mexico, Fr. Solaline knows that tens of thousands of migrants are kidnapped every year as they travel through Mexico. Many who aren’t kidnapped are raped, tortured, extorted, brutally abused, or murdered.

He knows migrants have no voice. They’ve basically been invisible. And the brutal acts against them, overlooked. Until Fr. Solaline came alone. He opened a shelter to protect them. He spoke out. Accused the corrupt Mexican police and drug cartels. Insisted the Mexican authorities stop these abuses and go after those who prey on the migrants. He soon received death threats. Had to leave the country for a while. But that didn’t stop him. He grew stronger. This small-statured man, now nearly 70 years old, had found his voice.

While in El Paso I was gifted with a special little journal on “vocation” that reminds me of Fr. Solaline’s ministry. It includes Mary Oliver’s poem The Journey and this quote from Frederick Buechner:

“…the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Fr. Solaline was supposed to have been in El Paso on April 18 to receive his award at the Voice of the Voiceless benefit dinner. But he couldn’t get across the border. Mexican authorities conveniently kept him away.

Although selfishly I would have liked for him to be at the ceremony on the 18th, which I actually attended, I think it’s appropriate that he’ll receive this award on Father’s Day. After all, he symbolizes a parent’s love, God’s love, to so many. Without ever having been a biological father himself.

Once you’re able to recognize someone’s humanity, you begin to love that person. And when you witness the grave injustices committed against that person, you can’t be silent.

As Fr. Solaline says, “God speaks, and the voices inside cannot be quieted.”

When he heard that voice many years ago, Fr. Solaline gave up his comfortable, middle-class life and asked to be sent to the poorest part of Oaxaca, where he witnessed the proliferating abuse and violence against the migrants.

Now I too feel uncomfortable living so comfortably, so far removed from what is happening in the world. How can I remain silent, knowing what I know?

onedayyouknew

I have much to say — and, like Fr. Solaline, I hear a voice telling me, this is your journey! Use your voice to speak out against the injustices — “a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do — determined to save the only life you could save.” (from Mary Oliver’s The Journey)

Although I can’t save the lives of the migrants who suffer to make their way here, I can offer what is mine to offer: kindness, compassion, understanding, and a voice! It’s true, the only life I can save is my own, and I will save it by doing what I know I have to do — following my calling, my unique purpose.

As Fr. Solaline journeys to El Paso this Father’s Day weekend I’ll be considering my own journey. My own “new voice.” And the one life I can save.

What about you? Where does your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?
What is the one life you need to save?

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
(Mary Oliver)

Simple Joys

joy-image

Recently two little girls from Guatemala arrived at our door wearing something I’d never seen on a child. Men’s sweatpants.

Admittedly, the girls and their mother appeared a little more disheveled and a little wearier than most of the migrants that show up at Nazareth. Their massively tangled black hair encircled brown faces streaked with dirt so ingrained, their skin appeared to hold various shades of darkness and light. Permanently.

It wasn’t until Mary Beth bent down to help the children remove their worn-out sneakers that she noticed their clothing. With no laces, broken soles, the tongues flapping and tattered, the shoes were what first caught her attention. worn-out-shoes

But just above the tongues of the sneakers hung gray, baggy pants rolled up at the ankles, spreading out 100 times wider than the width of these thin girls, and then rolled several times over and cinched at the waist. Startled, Mary Beth motioned to me.

“They’re wearing men’s sweat pants,” she nearly whispered.

I had to take a look for myself.

She was right.

If they’d wanted, the girls could have ducked down under the waistband and swum around. I couldn’t imagine them trekking all the way from Guatemala through Mexico wearing these oversized pants.

Yet they had. And neither the girls nor their mother seemed bothered in the least by this. They simply smiled at our attention.
worn out sandals

While Mary Beth helped the family find appropriate clothing, I went off to get bath towels and toiletries for their showers. As I laid out the clean towels on the cots in the their room, I couldn’t help notice what they’d brought with them. Two brown paper sacks sat like fat, wrinkled cabbages on their cots. Twisted at the neck, the bags bulged and split from the weight of the belongings stuffed into them. It was everything they had.

Later, when I escorted the three of them to the showers, I realized the girls had already donned their newfound clothing. One wore a pastel top and jeans, the other, a white dress printed with colorful flowers.

“A dress!” I said to her in Spanish. Her response — nothing but teeth as she smiled up at me, her expression revealing everything. For a moment, I felt as happy as she did. All because of a second-hand dress.

They were still in the shower when it was time for me to leave. Since I wouldn’t be back for a few days, I knew I wouldn’t see this little family again. They’d be gone by tomorrow.

I wanted to do something more. So, I went to the storage room and got a couple of gift bags with crayons and notepads and little TY stuffed animals and placed them on the girls’ cots. It was fun to imagine the joy on their faces when they’d return to their rooms and find them.

But here’s something I’ve noticed.

In the process of doing whatever it is I think I am doing for the people here, something wonderful happens. Each time I learn a little more from their simple faith. Their trust. Their joy. Something about what it really means to live with uncertainty. To trust the journey to something beyond oneself. And to be happy in the midst of it all.

choose-joy

The Risk of Being a Family

michoacan panorama

Michoacan panorama

 

A home on the coast of Michoacán, Mexico. Views of the ocean. Sea breezes waft through the windows as a loving family with three handsome teenaged sons gathers for dinner. This characterized the life of one of the families I met this week at the Nazareth hospitality center.

A life that no longer exists.

Threatened by the drug cartel’s out-of-control violence in the state of Michoacán, the entire family fled their idyllic life and presented themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking political asylum. Unfortunately, only four members of their family made it to our center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to detain their husband and father.

It’s something I’ve been noticing more lately. Males 18 years and older being detained indiscriminately. Sometimes there is a reason. Maybe they tried to enter the country previously. Maybe there’s something questionable on their record. But often it seems to be a random decision, depending on the ICE agent handling their case.

Some suggest ICE is attempting to send a message back to Latin America: if you come, your family will be separated. This disturbs and infuriates me. Are we really using separation of family as a deterrent? Is there justification to cause such pain to a family that has already endured so much?

I think of this family. They did not want to come to the U.S. They told us of their beautiful home. How they hated to leave. And that they hope to return some day.

Michoacan park

A street in the center of Michoacan

For now, that’s not possible. At least not without putting their sons in danger.

Other volunteers have heard alarming stories from those who’ve fled Michoacán. How the cartels force people off land that has been in their family for generations. How they threaten to kill or “disappear” their sons. How they instill fear in the community by hanging corpses from bridges. The people can’t trust the police. Often they’re involved themselves. Some communities have tried to set up their own vigilante groups. Others, like this family, flee.

Repulsive image, but a common occurrence in Michoacan

Repulsive image of a pregnant woman and others hung from a welcome sign, but a common occurrence in Michoacan

Fortunately, all the sons in this family are under 18. Otherwise, ICE could have detained one of them as well.

That happened to another mom who showed up this week with only two of her three children. Her 18-year-old son had been detained. They’d made it all the way from Guatemala, crossing treacherous Mexico, only to be separated in the U.S.

So, what’s next for these families?

Now they must make the agonizing decision of moving on to their designated relative’s home without their brother, husband, or son, who will remain in detention and be processed separately. Possibly he will remain here a year or more. Most likely, he will be deported.

I see the anxiety in this mother’s face when she comes to the office to ask when she can see her son. One of our volunteers will drive her to the detention facility on her designated visiting night.

I feel my heart for this woman. I know the joy of giving birth to a son. And the sorrow of being separated from him.

But this is what I cannot imagine: leaving my son behind in a detention facility in a foreign country not knowing when I will see him again. If he is deported, what will he do when he arrives back in the country alone? Will he be safe?

I feel helpless in what I have to offer her. Yet I want to offer something.

Later I go retrieve blankets for our new arrivals. I pass the room of the family from Michoacán. The mom is seated on her bed facing the doorway. The boys perch on the edge of a cot, their backs to me, fully attentive to their mother. Her face is somber. But her eyes are soft with something I easily recognize — her deep love for her sons, right alongside the pain of what she has to tell them.

Tonight, they will visit their father in detention. Tomorrow they will head for their relatives on the west coast as originally planned. Without their dad.

There are more stories like this. More ways my heart has been tested. I’ve come to see that the more I open my heart to strangers, the more I risk. Because there’s a definite risk when you look into the face of another.

You see yourself.

And you realize that we truly are connected as one family. We share the same feelings. The same sorrows and joys. The same desires for ourselves and our children. The same Spirit.

I can no longer NOT care. That’s the risk of being a family. What about you? Will you join us?

Logo from the nonprofit One Family

Logo from the nonprofit One Family

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.

The Generosity of Strangers

generosity 2 A house filled with women in their 70’s. That’s where I’m living now. No, it’s not a retirement village or an assisted-living community. Located on the outskirts of downtown El Paso, this boarding house belongs to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, who reopened it recently to welcome volunteers coming to the border to work with the influx of immigrants. It just so happens that all the current residents are in their 70’s. Except me, of course.

I’m also the sole lay person at the moment. And the only one who has ventured here on her own, listening to a call within to write about the issues related to immigration, along with the personal stories. Stories of those who’ve made it across the border and those who serve them. There’s a lot to tell.

Heartbreaking stories for sure. But heartwarming stories, too. Stories about the goodness of people. Something I witness every day in El Paso.

Like these retired Sisters who come from all over the country, leaving their communities, and the comfortable and familiar, to spend two weeks or more volunteering at Nazareth Hall, a welcoming center for the refugees and immigrants detained at the border.

The dedication at Nazareth Hall is amazing. The place is run entirely by volunteers. And has been since June when the Loretto Sisters opened it in response to the influx of women and children from Central America.

Once Immigration and Customs Enforcement releases the immigrants from detention, an agent brings them over to Nazareth Hall. Then volunteers help reunite them with their families as they await their court date. Some might have to stay the night; some maybe two nights or more until their relatives can secure their travel arrangements. As they wait, these immigrant families — mostly young mothers and children — are given meals, a shower, and clothing. And they are treated with kindness and compassion. Maybe for the first time on their journey.

Generous El Pasoans volunteer to make and deliver meals, take home bedding and towels to wash, donate clothing and hygiene necessities, cover a night shift, and provide rides every day to the bus station or airport. But they can’t do it all.radical generosity

That’s why a call went out to women religious nationwide to join this effort.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., these Sisters — some of them well into their late 70’s — are on their feet, other than a short break for lunch. They clean bedrooms and bathrooms, serve meals and clean up, and accompany guests to the showers and to the clothing room where a mom chooses a coat or sweater or second set of clothes from neatly organized piles of donations sorted by size and gender. No one ever takes more than they need. And they are always grateful. For everything.

This week I started volunteering at Nazareth Hall. I want to be with the people. They’ll teach me what it really means to live with uncertainty. To do what needs to be done without complaining. And to trust in the generosity of strangers to show up. Maybe just when you need it most.