No, I’ve not disappeared. I have a good reason for taking a month off from my blog — the sale and closing on my beautiful log cabin in Greene County, Virginia.
With all the details to handle for this long-distance move, my 12 days of Christmas went something like this:
12 hours on the phone working out the details of this major move (most of them spent on hold with Direct TV). Eight friends helping me pack, bringing me food, transporting stuff to storage and Goodwill. Six days driving 9+ hours a day (from El Paso to Virginia and back again). Four trips to a storage unit with some items Davis will surely not know what the heck to do with. Two weeks packing, sorting, and discarding. One light snowfall blanketing the woods and mountains. And a cardinal in an oak tree.
It’s been bittersweet, to be sure.
Finding myself back in that special place brought up a lot of memories. It gave me a new appreciation of my friends, of my Greene County community, of the privilege of living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and, most especially, of the spiritual significance of living in the silence and solitude of this log home that I envisioned and manifested.
Although two weeks was barely enough time to get everything done and moved out, I managed to pause each day. Take time for contemplative silence. Note the blessings. And be grateful.
That practice helped me remain focused. It calmed me, gave me clarity, and assisted me in letting go of my last tether to Virginia. Not an easy thing to do. Because I love that home. I love my friends. I love Greene County.
Still, I knew it was the right decision.
And I experienced, much more clearly than I had before, just how much Spirit had upheld me, kept me safe, supported and loved me in this space. Through the questions and doubts, the loneliness, the seeking, as I attempted to listen more and more deeply to where my heart was calling me.
I felt such profound gratitude.
Gratitude for the graces of both the peaceful and tumultuous emotions that surfaced here. For the healing that took place as well. For the Love that never left me.
Gratitude for the community of friends who have showed up whenever I needed them. For those of you who are reading this, I can’t even find sufficient words to thank you.
Greene County is an amazing place. I think of the friends who appeared at my door within minutes after David died. Your countless meals, offers of physical and emotional support, and prayers carried me through that stage and beyond.
Three years later friends again appeared to help me move from our family home to this dream home in the woods. And now, again, you have come to support me.
I know I could not have made this transformational move without you.
Now I’m back in El Paso, settling into an apartment. I haven’t lived in apartment since before I got married at 24 — a very long time ago!
Yes, it’s an adjustment. Another practice in letting go. Daily I am learning to say “yes” to life as it shows up. To accept a life that’s rarely on my terms. And, I hope, paying attention to the graces.
When I’m in the flow of life, I recognize them. Just as I did these past two weeks in Virginia. They show up in various forms, in unexpected places. They come in different shapes and even in colors. My favorite happens to be Greene.
Have you ever been surprised by joy? Felt it come out of nowhere and suddenly overtake you? Yet you can’t fully explain it?
That’s been happening to me since returning to this desert border town. I’ve been experiencing a mysterious joy.
Despite not knowing for sure what I’m doing here. Not knowing where I’ll settle. Still trying to sell a house in Virginia. Looking for a paying job. Aware that my temporary living arrangement will soon expire.
So many unknowns. Enough to send anyone into a panic. Or at least an anxious spin.
But surprisingly I feel peaceful. And happy.
Maybe it’s because I’ve done this so many times now. Uprooted myself. Leapt off into the unknown. Taken risks. And come out the other side, assured once again that I have everything I need as I listen and trust my inner guidance.
But I know it’s more than that.
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God,” said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest who wrote The Divine Milieu.
God has been showing up a lot lately.
Just two days after arriving in El Paso, I returned to volunteer at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center where I’d served over a year ago. As soon as I walked through the door, took in the familiar surroundings, saw the people, I felt this inexplicable happiness spread inside of me.
Nothing had precipitated it. Other than being in this place.
It was the presence of joy.
A Presence letting me know that I was exactly where I needed to be.
Then last Sunday, I attended a Spanish Mass. A joyous celebration, the walls reverberating with lively music and handclapping. Pews packed with Hispanics. Many others standing along the side and back walls. And this was only one of six masses held every Sunday!
I went because I love being among the people. Saying the prayers in Spanish along with them. Celebrating the combination of their rich spirituality and connection to the earth. Seeing their faith in action both delights and humbles me. I can’t explain it, but they possess something special.
I was standing there, silently taking everything in, when suddenly I recognized something. I recognized the Presence of what it is they possess. And it filled me. This unnamed Presence.
Tears sprang to my eyes. Joyful tears.
And I knew. This is God. This is the Presence of God.
In these people. In these tears I’m shedding.
In this overwhelming joy that has taken me by surprise.
In this awareness that I am standing in the midst of grace.
In the knowledge that every leap I’ve taken — even when it didn’t feel “right” at the time — has been a perfect piece of the process of my life. Taking me where I needed to go. Helping me to heal.
In that moment of recognition, a Scripture verse came back to me:
“Count it all joy when you are involved in every sort of trial.” (James 1:2)
Two years ago I was struggling in San Antonio. Trying to make a go of a promise I’d made to serve there. Feeling very alone and uncertain, I’d written a blog post about the “life in abundance” God wanted for me. The promise of joy. Knowing it was possible, but feeling a million miles from anything close to joy.
Now I understand.
My heart knows why I am here.
“That my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
La alegrίa. That’s Spanish for joy. Now I understand. A joy no one can take from you.
This post is for my friend Sue, who finds herself on the threshold of a new beginning. Uncertain of what’s ahead. Yet daring to risk. And she’s a little scared.
Not unlike me. I too will be making a huge move in 2016 and I’m not sure where I’ll land.
So, maybe this post is for both of us. And for anyone who is beginning again.
You know who you are.
Like us, you’ve decided it’s time to leave behind the familiar and the comfortable. Maybe it’s a meaningless job you’ve had for too many years or a relationship or situation that has suffocated you, yet you’ve feared moving on. Maybe you can no longer deny what has been “quietly forming” deep within your soul. Kindling this growing awareness, you’ve decided to take the risk and step out into the unknown because the “sameness” of your life no longer serves you.
Recently my dear friend Rob sent me John O’Donohue’s poem, “For a New Beginning.”
Rob knows how this poem speaks to my heart. And maybe he knows, too, that I need this reminder in the midst of dark winter days as I take the next small steps towards following my heart’s calling.
And, Sue, I think that you might need this reminder, too.
Because it’s not easy — beginning again. Leaving the security of what you’ve known for the risk of what is unknown.
But I can tell you from experience. Your soul knows the way. Trust that voice. Trust “the promise of this opening.” Soon you will know the grace that “is at one with your life’s desire.”
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
— John O’Donohue —
Find your way. When a flight attendant uttered these words yesterday on my return flight from a brief visit to El Paso, I stopped reading my book mid sentence. Maybe she had some words of wisdom for me.
But no. Apparently “Find Your Way” is simply an American Airlines website that helps you make your connections and get to your destination. Just check the Internet and “find your way.”
If only life were that easy.
Finding your way can be a lifelong journey. Sometimes you wonder if you got on the wrong flight!
If you’re like me, you’ve realized you might as well relax and give in to not knowing where the journey will end. Or when.
But you can go forward with a willing spirit, an open heart, and a mind a little less engaged in trying to “figure it out.”
Which brings me back to El Paso.
I had to return this past weekend to attend the last module of my Capacitar training. Otherwise I wouldn’t have received my certificate acknowledging my year-long study and application of these body-mind-spirit practices. Practices that are helping people in over 40 countries, including Israel, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, who suffer from trauma, violence, or any type of stress. Practices that I have been using myself and hope to use with those I will serve in the years ahead. Wherever that may be.
I still don’t know for certain where I’m going next. But I do know I haven’t lost my way. Nor have I lost an awareness of the grace available to get me there. Grace that seems to appear as I need it. That happened a lot on this trip.
Like the frequent flyer miles I unknowingly had acquired that helped me “afford” the flight to El Paso. Like the offers of rides to and from airports, of meals, and of places to stay while there. And, most especially, the unanticipated grace of the very warm and genuine welcoming I received everywhere I went. They sure made me feel like I was home.
For the four nights I spent in El Paso I slept in three different homes. And at every one of them, I was offered a room should I decide to return to the border. I admit, it certainly feels tempting. Something about being with people who have a heart for mission — for this mission of serving the migrants and the marginalized — just feels right. But lots of questions remain.
On the table in one of the bedrooms where I stayed, a postcard-sized greeting caught my attention. A pretty picture of blue sky and birds in flight. A quote I can’t now recall.
“That’s nice,” I thought. But then I turned the card over.
As soon as I saw Thomas Merton’s name at the bottom, I knew what it was. Merton, a well-known Trappist monk, author, and contemplative, has a famous prayer, found in his book Thoughts in Solitude. It’s my favorite. And one that’s shown up at various times in my life when I needed to hear it. That’s what was on the other side of this card.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death
I will not fear for you are ever with me.
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
A prayer of surrender. Of trust. Of humility. From a man who dedicated his life to seeking union with God. I immediately knew this prayer was yet another grace. A gift to my heart.
I figure if Merton wasn’t sure about the way forward, I don’t have anything to worry about. I’m in good company. In more ways than one.
Last week I drove nearly 1,900 miles from El Paso across Texas — more than a day’s drive in itself and, for me, a reaffirmation of why I wouldn’t want to live in Texas — all the way to Virginia. When I crossed the VA state line I let out a hoot. Everything was so beautiful! And colorful! The lush green hillsides. The grazing black and brown cattle. The white dogwoods. The purple and pink blossoms. Even the bright green layer of pollen everywhere. No more desert sands and rocky landscapes. I was so happy to be home.
Still, it was hard to leave El Paso.
But I made a conscious choice to return to Virginia. Mainly, I wanted to give Davis the option of coming home this summer. He’s been so supportive of me ever since I decided to go on this “mission.” It’s been a lot for a young person to take on — having his mom go off on an adventure so far from home. Yet he never once complained. Now I want to be there for him.
And there were other reasons on the list, too. The fact that I need to make a decent income again certainly was up there. So, it was time to come home.
But leaving El Paso — no, that wasn’t easy. Part of me is still there.
It’s not easy to adjust to life in the mainstream again either.
Like yesterday, for instance, I bought two different kinds of cereal. Both were healthy choices and they were on sale. It seemed like a good decision. But this morning when I opened my cupboard and saw those boxes sitting on the shelf, I almost cried.
It’s been a while since I’ve had choices.
In fact, having even one box of cereal I like is a special treat. To be able to choose from two felt a bit overwhelming.
Maybe that’s hard for you to understand, but for the past nine months I’ve not had much control over my life. Not much choice about what I was going to eat. Or buy. Or who I was going to eat with. Or live with. Sometimes it was a lot more challenging than I’d imagined.
But each time I’ve thought, “This is too hard,” grace stepped in and reminded me that anything I was experiencing was only a taste of what the people I was serving have experienced from day 1.
The thing is, if you’re poor, you don’t have choices.
Unlike me, many people I’ve met on this journey are not free to go home whenever they want. Those forced out of their homes by violence and hunger do not have choices. Not if they want to live.
I suspect that most people coming to the Nazareth Hospitality Center didn’t want to leave home. Given a choice, I’m sure they wouldn’t have stepped out their door into the unknown, leaving everything familiar behind — their country, their language, their customs and values, their relatives and neighbors — to risk traveling thousands of miles to the U.S.-Mexico border where they hoped something better awaited them. Some talked of returning home someday. When things are different.
One woman who came to Nazareth with her two teenaged sons confided that she was scared. Her oldest son had already been killed in their native El Salvador. She feared her other two sons would suffer the same fate if she didn’t leave. But, she worried, how would this new country affect her sons? How would they adjust to this culture, so different than her own? Would it change them?
They were headed to her brother’s in Los Angeles — a city she knew would expose her sons to many things and many choices. She worried about what they’d be facing and how they’d handle it. But she feared even more the risk of losing them altogether if she’d stayed home. What choice did she have?
Her story is only one of so many I’ve heard.
Right now I don’t have the words to explain what it means to me to have the choices I do. To have the life I have. In the beautiful place I call home. And the gift of being able to choose to come back home.
Water filled my day. Not only because of the unusual rain we experienced. Unusual simply because it rained in El Paso. And people don’t know how to act or drive in such a phenomenon. Kind of like Virginians with snow.
But the image of water actually started before I woke up, when these words entered my half-asleep awareness:
“What does it mean to really trust God?”
I left El Paso last year with these exact words. They were on my lips and heart right about this time as I was preparing to return home to Virginia. I’d had some powerful experiences of Love upholding me through those uncertain months, and I’d come to see, and to trust, that I really do have everything I need. That a benign Universe does uphold us. I thought for sure I’d never not trust myself and God again.
But that’s not how my story goes.
So this morning when I awoke with these words on my heart again, I figured Spirit was trying to tell me something. I sat down with my journal in my lap, pen poised, and right off I started writing about myself as if I were a fish. Who knows where this all came from, but here’s what I wrote:
“I see how I go back and forth, floundering like a fish flapping in and out of the water, sometimes trusting completely and serenely in the ocean that holds me; other times gasping for air so frenetically, I wonder if the ocean ever existed.
“But it’s here. It’s always here. Sometimes its presence is so obvious and constant, I’ve missed it completely by the sheer ordinariness and simplicity of its existence. Probably my small, fearful self expects a grand Tsunami to show up and knock me over with its immense force. Now that would be unmistakable!
“Instead, the ocean is simply present. Quiet and still, nourishing and sustaining me without my knowing it. Can I recognize its presence and drink from the possibilities? Can I let go into its current and trust where it will take me? Or will I fall back to my old way of thinking and resort to struggling to stay above water?
“It’s funny to think about the ocean in the El Paso desert where it’s hard to find any body of water. Or any moisture at all. Why the ocean metaphor in a place that lacks water?”
I’m quiet for a while.
Patches of bright orange-yellow blooming across the desert sands. Nourished by water that seems nonexistent. But it’s there. You just have to go deep underground to find it.
Occasionally—like today—water appears on the surface. Unexpectedly falling from the sky in big, wet, unmistakable raindrops that grace my face, my arms, my spirit. Raindrops that can never be separated from the ocean.
And neither can I.
Apparently Irish poet John O’Donohue, well-known for his Celtic spiritually, was a good friend of some of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. In fact, he’d come to San Antonio, and elsewhere, at their request. I only learned about this recently.
It’s not surprising, I suppose, given that many of the Sisters came over from Ireland years ago. Some may even have been from County Clare where he was born.
Sr. Brigid, my spiritual companion and probably my biggest supporter in San Antonio, knew him well. She hails from County Kildaire, where O’Donohue spent his early years as a novitiate. At my farewell luncheon I listened to her and other friends tell amusing stories about John as if he were an endeared brother.
I sat there wondering, how could this be?
I mean, not only because I love John O’Donohue’s poetry. Although that’s certainly true. Ever since I came across his writing a couple of years after his death in 2008, I’ve claimed him as one of my favorite poets. From the first lines I read — and I can’t even recall which poem it was — my heart lifted. My imagination blossomed. My longing awakened.
But beyond being excited and delighted about the Sisters’ special friendship with O’Donohue came another realization.
Many months before I ever considered leaving my home in Virginia I would choose and reflect on selected poems taken from his wonderful collection called To Bless the Space Between Us. One of my favorites was, and continues to be, a blessing “For Longing.”
This poem resonated with something in me I couldn’t name. But I felt it in the depths of my heart and soul. O’Donohue put me in touch with my divine longing.
Musing over those lines of poetry created a restlessness that encouraged me to take risks. To seek something beyond the familiarity of home. To imagine the possibilities of truly following my heart.
Ironically, O’Donohue’s words brought me to Incarnate Word Missionaries. They connected me with the Sisters he held so dear. And in doing so, have enabled me to learn some of the most important lessons I needed on this journey. Lessons about trusting myself and trusting my inner being, which I know as God responding to my longing. And lessons about what it means to follow your heart when nothing about doing so seems to make any sense.
Once again I see the synchronicity of events. And I’m shown something much more — the connection between heaven and earth.
The most beautiful thing about us is our longing; this longing is spiritual and has great depth and wisdom.
Hidden in plain sight.
Sometimes that’s life’s challenge. To recognize the beauty, the sacredness, the God that is right in front of me. Has always been there. In everything. Waiting for me to notice.
Not so easy to do when the rough road blurs my vision and makes me turn inward with questions that get me stuck in my mind. Getting lost in thought puts me in a trance that prevents me from being present. Present to what’s right in front of me.
That had been happening quite a bit as I faced some tough questions and hard situations in what feels like an in-between place to somewhere else.
But a wise Sister who has been accompanying me as my spiritual companion while I’m in San Antonio helped wake me up. She did it by asking an odd question.
“Why did Jesus wait 31 years before showing up on the scene to begin his ministry?,” Sr. Brigid asked me. “What was he doing all that time?”
I had to admit I didn’t know. Nothing in Scripture I’d read ever mentioned those years between the 12-year-old Jesus who worried the heck out of his parents by staying behind in the temple to chat it up with the elders and the 31-year-old who showed up on the banks of the Jordan asking his wild-eyed cousin John to baptize him.
Sister Brigid reminded me that Scripture simply says of that time, “he grew in wisdom, age, and grace.”
Quite ordinary. Or was it?
Then she shared that “ordinary time” is her favorite liturgical season in the Church year. And that she has found it can be quite extraordinary. She suggested that I, too, begin to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary of every day living. Which is what I have been doing as I hang out in liminal space.
I have no clue how much longer I will be here. But in the process I like to think that I’ve been growing in wisdom and grace. (The growing in age part goes without saying.) I’ve certainly learned even more about the word “surrender.”
There’s a kind of calmness that comes with surrendering. With nothing left to control, you simply let go in trust. You begin to pay attention more. And you notice the beauty, the sacredness, the God that is right here…in ordinary time.
These are some of the images I’ve captured since I’ve been paying attention.
Call me crazy but I drove to El Paso this past weekend. 550 miles one way. A straight line right through the desert along I-10. And a speed limit of 80 mph all the way. Not that I drove that fast!
My reason for going? To begin the first of four weekend trainings in Capacitar — a multicultural wellness program that I wrote about in an earlier blog. Ever since I was exposed to Capacitar during my first visit to El Paso, I’ve been attracted to it and inspired by its founder Pat Cane. Capacitar — a Spanish word meaning “to empower, bring forth”— integrates body-mind-spirit practices to bring healing to people all over the world who have experienced trauma, violence, and emotional and physical stress. (You can read more about it at http://www.capacitar.org)
Now I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to receive training and certification in this program, with the idea that I will bring it to others who need healing. Not only did I receive the assistance I needed to do this, but the sisters here in San Antonio allowed me to extend my weekend in order to take advantage of the program. I was pretty excited about how this all came together. My hope is that I can teach some of these practices to the women at our little learning center, La Casita.
But even more than feeling extremely grateful to be participating in the Capacitar training, I recognized the excitement growing in me as I drove closer and closer to El Paso.
As soon as I exited off I-10 onto Lee Trevino and headed to North Loop, I felt like I’d come home. The familiar roads. The bus route I’d taken, along with all my Hispanic neighbors. Even the Whataburger on the corner. I’d treated myself to a great chocolate shake there. I was smiling from ear to ear.
When I called my cousin in Austin to let her know I’d arrived safely, I couldn’t contain the feelings.
“I’m so happy to be here!” I blurted.
I heard her chuckle. “Nobody’s happy to be in El Paso.”
“Well, I am. My heart is happy here. It’s like being home.”
I’m sure I must have left a piece of my heart in El Paso when I left back in March. Certainly the sisters welcomed me as if I were home.
I talked to them nonstop through dinner, pouring out every detail of my journey to San Antonio. Where I am and what I’m doing. The questions and concerns that still remain.
They listened to all of it. Then one of them suggested something that struck a chord.
“Sounds to me like you’re in liminal space, Pauline.”
Hmm. Liminal space. I’d heard that term before.
Having read many books and reflections by Richard Rohr — a Franciscan and contemporary spiritual writer — I knew that liminal space meant that inbetween place where you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of a threshold, about to cross over into something yet unknown and unforeseen.
When I got back to San Antonio on Monday, I looked up Richard Rohr’s explanation of liminal space:
…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
I’ve certainly lived through stages like that in my life. But this one feels different. It challenges me from a tougher place. Something in me knows that I will experience deeper spiritual growth and maturity. That is, if I can hang out long enough with the discomfort and the questions, not to mention my aversion to finding myself in this position. To be honest, I don’t like this version of living in liminal space.
To help me manage living here for a while, I’ve set some goals for myself:
- Focus on the healing work of Capacitar
- Learn Spanish while hanging out
- Be open to the surprises, to whatever comes
- Trust that God is with me in this
- Look for the little graces every day —
Graces like this opportunity to participate in Capacitar. And the gift of being able to return to El Paso — at least every now and then.