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?
If 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.
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.
A new baby arrived last week at the orphanage. When I got there on Wednesday, I found her sleeping in a crib — a tiny dark-haired bundle wrapped in a yellow blanket. She was less than one week old.
Her name was printed in black magic marker on the placard above her crib. The women who work at the Salomon Klein orphanage named her. Abandoned, she came with nothing. No first or last name. No birth date. They think she was born on Easter Sunday.
When I changed Adriana’s diaper, I noticed the brown remains of her umbilical cord. What a way for this precious new life to begin.
But the sad truth is, Adriana’s situation is not unusual. During the four weeks I volunteered, three new babies appeared. Either they’d been abandoned or removed from an unsafe home. Now their home is a room lined with cribs filled with babies and toddlers under 2. There aren’t enough arms to cradle these children. Not enough voices to coo their names and let them believe, even for a little while, that the world revolves around them.
That’s what I normally try to do. But, for whatever reason, this day was different.
I changed more diapers than usual. Rubbed ointment onto red, raw bottoms and wondered how many more little ones lay in their cribs or sat in the play yard with wet, coarse cloth wrapped around their behinds waiting for someone to discover their need. But I couldn’t keep up while tending to tears and keeping toddlers from crawling on top of each other.
The mood was anything but tranquilo.
Babies who normally lay quietly in their cribs cried uncontrollably. I picked them up, one after another, cooing, cradling, calling their names, but the crying didn’t stop. My friend and fellow volunteer noticed the reason first.
“Look at the time,” she said. “They’re hungry.”
It was nearly 5:30 p.m. Well past the time for their second bottle. We mentioned it to one of the staff and she said the bottles were coming. But not soon enough.
During the next 15 to 20 minutes, my friend and I tried to console inconsolable babies. We carried them around the room, rocked them, sang to them. Feeling helpless all the while. We both remarked that this must be what it’s like for migrant and refugee mothers who can’t feed their hungry children. The experience was short-lived, but very vivid. It has stayed with me.
And, it brought another insight. Something even more powerful.
As I held little Pablo, his tiny mouth quivered, he was crying so hard. He couldn’t hear my voice calling his name so sweetly. With his eyelids squeezed shut, his face tight with the pangs of hunger, he couldn’t possibly take in the love I was offering him. His hunger and pain were too great.
Now I understand.
This is how it must be for a loving God who is trying to get through to me when I am hurting. Because I was hurting and crying out in Cochabamba. I’d experienced some painful challenges, and I felt abandoned and alone. But like these children, my hunger and pain kept me from recognizing the presence of the love that’s been holding me through all of it. I couldn’t see it with my eyes squeezed shut.
And like I did for these children, the One who longs for me simply held me in my spiritual blindness.
This love is so patient. It is kind and compassionate. It is willing to wait with me. Until I finally take in what I need. What it’s been offering all along.
Nearly a dozen orphaned babies. Another 14 or so toddlers less than 2-years old. Put them together with my desire to be una abuela (grandma) and you have the perfect scenario at the Solomon Klein orphanage where I volunteer two afternoons a week.
With only two women working full time to care for 25 or so little ones, it’s easy to imagine that diapers don’t always get changed immediately, tears don’t get dried, and hugs and loving arms tend to be in short supply. From what I’ve witnessed, the staff does a super job. But they can’t possibly manage all of the children’s physical and emotional needs.
Here’s where I come in.
Along with a few other Maryknoll volunteers and one tireless nun in her 70’s who shows up Monday through Friday afternoons, I help feed, hold, play with and care for these children, many of whom have been abandoned at a very early age. One little angel was only a week old when he arrived at the orphanage after being discovered on the street. Unfortunately, his story isn’t unique.
And if it’s not a case of being abandoned, most likely the child was removed from a home where he or she was being abused. Apparently it happens a lot. About 150 children live in this one orphanage alone.
It’s a sad and difficult situation. But when I’m there, I don’t think about that. My only focus — who needs to be cared for in this moment? Whose nose needs to be wiped? Which baby can I cradle in my arms while she drinks from a bottle that is usually propped up against her mouth with her blanket because it is impossible for two women to hold and feed 11 babies while managing all their other responsibilities? Which toddler most needs to know that his cries for attention will be answered by a soft caress to his wet cheeks?
Actually I have learned how to tend to multiple pequeño niños while simultaneously soothing a baby in one arm. I’m amazed at what I can do with only two hands, two arms, one voice, and one heart.
And there’s something else I’ve learned. I’m here for another reason besides giving much-needed love and attention to these children. I’m here for myself. Because every once in a while when I look into the eyes of a baby I’m holding or stroke a toddler’s face and hair, I get it. The gift of Love I’m giving to these children is trying to get through to me, too. To the vulnerable, young one who needs to remember. It’s as if God is saying, “Do you see, this is what I long to offer you?”
Just as tenderly as I hold them, Loving Presence desires to hold me.
Sometimes I have a hard time fully taking that in. But this Love never gives up on me. Even when I’m so active or self-absorbed that I barely take time to be still and know.
Am I physically tired after spending 3 1/2 hours rocking, singing, cooing, caressing, playing, and listening to wailing children? For sure. But for the gift of healing, and the love of a child, it’s more than worth it.
Exactly one year ago today — July 18 — I left home. Got in my car and followed a longing to fulfill something deep within me. But I hadn’t realize just how scared I was until I locked and closed the door to my house, leaving everything behind — my son, my dog, all my possessions. I had no clue what I would find in Texas, how I would be cared for, how I would support myself financially, or what shape things would be in when I returned. It definitely felt like a major risk.
Yet I felt absolutely certain I had to risk it.
And I’m so glad I did.
Nothing was as I expected. So many challenges. So many doubts and questions along the way.
And it was all good.
The journey taught me some things that, even though I thought I knew them, I didn’t really “know.” Not until I actually lived them.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Trust your inner guidance.
- You have a deeper wisdom and tremendous inner strength that kick in when you ask for help and trust enough to listen.
- It’s safe to leap.
- When you follow your heart, the Universe really does provide.
- Even though you sometimes feel all alone, you never are.
- Your true self will keep you company through any darkness.
- Love connections can be made in an instant. Even when you don’t speak the language very well.
- You don’t have to know where you’re going. You only have to “do the next right thing that’s in front of you.” (This one’s from Sr. Brigid Marie, my dear spiritual mentor who provided a light for my path during a dark time in San Antonio.)
- Celebrate the unique way God is revealing Godself in the world through you. (Another gem from Sr. Brigid Marie.)
- You can live in liminal space a lot longer than you think.
- Love and grace are always available. You’re the only one that blocks them from getting through.
And the most important of all:
When I can still the voices long enough to be in the silence, I hear a gentle and quiet Spirit that whispers nothing but love in my ear and fills me with this one truth: I am loved beyond measure. In return, I am asked to love “the unseen” and the “not-yet.”
In those moments, this is what I do know: that everything — all things — live and move and have their being in God’s love.
Sometimes I have a hard time accepting and taking this in. I have to remind myself that I KNOW this. I may not know where my next home will be or how I’ll live out the next step of this journey. But I do know when I truly listen and follow, Love gives me what I need.
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.
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?
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?
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
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
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.