I’m preparing to give a mini retreat at my house on Saturday. It’s about discerning with your heart. And it’s got me going through my journals from this past year’s journey. A year of tremendous uncertainty. A year of learning to discern with, and trust, my own heart.
Reading some of the things I’ve written, I’m realizing just how much faith I had. And the risks I took. Not knowing how I’d support myself when I decided to leave San Antonio and venture off to El Paso. Not knowing what I’d meet along the way. Nor what I’d face once I got there.
Yet I was willing to go. Because that’s where my heart called me. So I chose to let go of being in control.
That’s no small thing. Especially for me.
While reading the journal entries I came across this poem I wrote that about sums up the whole year. Much of the time I really had no control over anything that was happening. Except how I chose to respond.
I chose to trust.
Trust God. Trust my guidance and inner wisdom. Trust the Love that had brought me on this adventure in the first place and had guided me all along the way. So, that night, I chose to surrender and give up control over the outcome. And I understood, even then, that this very loss of control was leading me to freedom.
But it felt like an emptiness. As I let go of my ego’s need to control and to know what was coming next, I came up against an emptiness. And trusting in that emptiness, in that loss of control, I found something much greater.
During the night, in a semi-conscious dream state, I became aware of a vivid image of a white ball of light connecting everything and everyone to itself as it moved across the scene in my dream. I and everyone around me was united into this bright globe of light and love. As I watched, I recognized the light that lives in all of us. And these familiar words floated in, “You are the light of the world.”
Now, tonight, I’m remembering that losing control isn’t so scary. And maybe I needed to be reminded, too. Reminded that it’s time to surrender. Again.
So, here’s the poem I wrote in my journal that night. Turns out it was dated one year ago today. Funny how that goes sometimes.
Leads to surrender
Loss of control
Leads to a choice
Choosing to fight
Against what is before me
Or choosing to surrender
To what I can’t yet name
Loss of control
Choosing the only choice
That makes sense to me now
To let myself fall
Hoping in the Promise
To catch and embrace me
In this void
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
God with us
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
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.
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.
Driving home from Washington Dulles airport last March after my two months of service in El Paso, I experienced an odd thought: This isn’t home anymore.
Despite those gorgeous green mountains gathering around to welcome me, the lush countryside overpowering my senses after that dry, sandy El Paso landscape, and even the thought of my dog Cody whimpering and running around in circles to greet me, Virginia no longer felt like home.
I wondered — what exactly am I coming home to?
Recently I picked up the novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, to perhaps gain some insight from my friend Bilbo Baggins with whom I’d associated when I began this adventure. I found this line towards the end of the book, after Bilbo has returned home. Gandalf, the wizard who set Bilbo off on this adventure in the first place, could have easily been speaking these words to me:
“My dear Bilbo!” Gandalf tells him. “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”
No, indeed, I am not the hobbit that I was.
My journey to El Paso has changed my life. I knew it would even before I left. The question is—and has been for some time now—what is next for me? Yet I have asked this question with anticipation, hopefulness, and a spiritual awareness that I am being invited to something more.
I heard this invitation last year when I first visited El Paso for that week-long “border immersion” trip. And I felt the pull in my heart to respond to that invitation. That’s what got me back there.
Now I’ve heard, and responded to, another invitation. This one from the Incarnate Word Missionaries. Last week they invited me to be a lay missionary with their program in San Antonio beginning this August. It involves working with mostly Hispanic single moms and their children living in a transitional housing program called Visitation House. The name of the house refers to “the visitation” of Mary, who having just said “yes” to God’s plan of giving birth to Jesus, embarks on a long journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is several months pregnant after many years of wanting a child.
This is symbolic for me on many levels, not the least of which is a dream I had while serving in El Paso. In this dream, I find myself pregnant, at my age, with a new life that I feel unprepared—and unwilling—to handle at this point. Until the baby is born and I am cradling him in my arms. Looking into this newborn’s eyes, I feel such immense love. In that moment, every fear, every doubt, every apprehension simply melts away. And I totally accept this new life.
The day before I said yes to this invitation from Incarnate Word Missionaries, I spent some time in silence, to simply listen and be present to God. I wanted to be sure, after all. I mean this is no small commitment. It involves risk. Starting someplace new. Stepping into the unknown. And opening my heart even further.
Afterwards, while sitting in that silence, I pick up one of the books in my prayer space: Ted Loder’s The Haunt of Grace, and inadvertently turn to a chapter called “New Rules of Engagement.”
When I see that the chapter is about how Joseph in the New Testament had taken a risk by marrying Mary, I almost stop reading. How does this apply to me, I wonder. But something entices me to continue. Then Loder talks about the angel in Joseph’s dream, and how we have our own angel telling us the same thing: “Do not be afraid. Listen to your deepest longing for love, for meaning, for relationships that are deep, trusting, satisfying, challenging, and joyful, for a world of justice and peace and beauty. In a haunting way, our dreams call us to engagement, to move from the outskirts to the center of our lives.”
I hear that message deep within me. Don’t be afraid to take the risks. Don’t be afraid to step into the center of your life. Don’t be afraid to follow your longing.
But then Loder quotes lines from a poem called, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and I hear Spirit speak directly to my inner being:
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silence of the full moon, ‘Yes!’
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.”
So, I said yes to this invitation. I am ready to trust my deepest longing. To love and serve something greater than myself. To stand in the center of the fire. And feel fully alive.