A Friend Such as Rob, #LegacyofLove

Reunion Sept 2019
Rob, surrounded by some of the many women who loved him

Why are we here? Ever ponder that question? My dear friend Rob lived the answer.

It’s hard for me to write about someone so special to me who’s not yet been gone two weeks from this life.

But Rob’s legacy deserves to be shared. And his legacy as my friend and “brother” is something I need to write, to honor one of the most important men in my life. That’s not an exaggerated statement. Although Rob wasn’t my blood brother, he couldn’t have been closer to me if we had been born of the same mother. He knew me so well, and understood and accepted me better than any sibling.

And he taught us all so much.

Of course, if Rob were alive, he’d be reading this rolling his eyes and leaving some sarcastic comment. And he most certainly would be reading it, because Rob read and commented on nearly every post I’ve written since I started this blog 6 1/2 years ago! He only missed in the past couple of months as his beleaguered breathing made even getting up out of bed a chore.

So, why read this post if you didn’t know Rob? Because you’ll learn something about what it means to live with courage and humility, to live your life to its fullest expression, even, and especially, in the face of a disease that you know will take you too soon. Maybe you’ll understand a little more about the true meaning of the words “surrender,” “acceptance,” and “loving presence.”

And if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter someone like Rob whose unique expression of love for you will arrive exactly when you need it. And it will forever impact how you love others going forward.

I met Rob late summer 2008, less than a year before my beloved David died. We’d met at Sevenoaks, months before we were to start the Pathwork program together. Yet, without hesitation, Rob hopped in the car for the 4-hour drive from Raleigh to attend David’s memorial service.

Two weeks later, I was in this terribly painful place. If you’ve experienced the sudden death of a spouse, you know what I’m talking about. All your family and friends have gone home and the shock of what happened sets in. The going to bed every night and waking up every morning alone seems unbearable. You wonder if you’ll get swallowed up in this grief. That’s where I was. So, I picked up the phone early Saturday morning and called Rob, not knowing he wasn’t at home in Raleigh, but visiting friends off the coast of Seattle, where it was 3 hours earlier. Not yet dawn.

It didn’t matter. He got out of bed and stepped outside so as to not disturb anyone else in the house. He listened. He cried with me. And he let his heart stretch as he both stayed with me in my suffering and witnessed an amazing sunrise over Mt. Rainier. Wanting to share that precious moment, he described the beauty unfolding before him, and he helped me recognize that beauty and joy could exist simultaneously with pain and sorrow. That all of it was moving and flowing, and held by a loving God.

dawn at mt Rainier
Dawn at Mt. Rainier

Rob, being the poet that he was, wrote a beautiful poem about that experience – a powerful moment that solidified our heart connection.

From then on, Rob became my #1 supporter, thoroughly trusted friend, and personal cheerleader.

I grieved. He listened.

I wrote. He read and encouraged me to publish my writing.

I loved to dance. He introduced me to InterPlay – improvisational movement, because he knew I needed this freedom of expression in my life.

I questioned my decisions as a single mother handling a teenage son. He offered his wisdom and experience from raising three sons.

I anguished over what to do with David’s many and varied collections. He helped wherever he could, including hauling shopping bags full of David’s tee shirts – collected from every place we’d visited – to his quilter friend in Raleigh. She made two gorgeous quilts: one for me and one for Davis. And when Rob delivered them, he sat with me as I fingered the material and cried over the memories.

I became passionate about immigration and human rights abuses and moved to El Paso. He sent me links to related articles, financially supported my causes, and connected me to a teacher friend offering a segment on immigration at a private middle school, who then invited me to do a presentation for her classes.

I wondered, with David gone, who would remember my birthday and special dates? Rob kept a record and sent greetings on that morning, letting me know he was thinking of me. Even this April, in the midst of tough nights and sometimes rougher mornings, he sent me a message on the anniversary of David’s death.

quilt2
My exquisite quilt of David’s tee shirts

All these gifts – and so much more – Rob gave me. I’ve been considering what I possibly gave him in return. Except my love. I hope that was enough.

Rob didn’t need much else. He had an ever-widening circle of friends as his heart opened further and further. He had a devoted and fulfilling relationship with his wife Maureen. She was his confidante, his support, his first and only love for more than 47 years.

All this Rob did while balancing his own journey with death as cancer arrived in his body less than two years after we’d met. Then I, along with Maureen and all his friends, received the gift of watching a transformation happen, as Rob walked, and sometimes crawled, along the spiritual path cancer took him on. Not easy for a man who was used to being in control.

In this “divine dance,” as he called it, he learned to let go of his ego’s attachment to self-importance and self-reliance. He slowly put down his roles as a knowledgeable physician and “fixer.”

And he let the Divine teach him to be astonished by the sacredness of life. To be present to whomever was standing in front of him, from a much softer, vulnerable place. To risk fully expressing all his gifts, with spontaneity and joy.

It was a beautiful dance to observe. Although painful, because we knew the outcome.

Still, as Rob demonstrated, no one can grow or be transformed living in a bubble of comfort. He struggled with painful challenges, with wanting to be alive for his newly arrived grandchildren.

Rob_wNina
Rob with first grandchild, Nina

But he also recognized graces, small miracles “happening all around us if our eyes are open enough to see and our hearts are soft enough to feel.”

 

To me, this expresses how Rob came to terms with his “powerlessness”:

“Transformation is not about great spiritual experiences but coming to terms with our own human weakness as we experience it. … [P]owerlessness is the greatest power there is because it enables one to simply be more and more a channel of God’s power and love.” (Thomas Keating, Reflections on the Unknowable)

If our purpose here is to care for one another, to become fuller expressions of God’s power and love, then, Rob, you definitely accomplished that mission. Yes, my dear friend, I am amazed and grateful for having you in my life. What a gift it’s been to have such a friend!

“To be human

Is to become visible

While carrying

What is hidden

As a gift to others.”

 (From David Whyte’s: “What to Remember When Waking”)

 

 

On Being a Midwife

egg nest-843231_1920Today is a special day. April 18th. The anniversary of David’s death.

But this year, it’s especially meaningful because that date falls on the same place in “time” that it fell on the day David passed. Easter Saturday.

Knowing that this sacred season is filled with special graces, I’ve been taking it slow, going within. Paying attention. And I’ve received one heck of an unexpected, insightful gift. From an unlikely source. The popular Netflix series “Call the Midwife,” based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs of midwifery in 1950’s poverty-stricken East London

First off, I should explain that I’m always behind when it comes to watching anything on TV or otherwise. So, you’ll understand when I say I’m only on season 1. Last week I was watching episode 7, a Christmas story about a newborn being abandoned on the convent steps by an unwed teenager. But it was the scenes around the tragic life of Mrs. Jenkins that held my unexpected gift.

Years earlier, newly widowed with five children to feed, Mrs. Jenkins had made the excruciating decision of turning herself and her brood over to the “care” of one of England’s notorious workhouses. All of her children had died there, malnourished and mistreated. Now she lives in abominable conditions, neglecting her health and hygiene, and the midwife/nurse Jenny Lee is sent to care for her.

In one particularly moving scene, Nurse Jenny, joined by Sr. Evangelina, comes to her home to bathe her. Like a silent intruder, I watch as the two women attempt to remove Mrs. Jenkins’ shoes, stuck to her feet after all these years, and tenderly disrobe her for her bath. With her thin, naked back exposed, O Come, O Come Emmanuel plays over this intimate undertaking. Surely this is God dwelling with us and in us, so evident by the love and care with which these two women lower Mrs. Jenkins into the bath, cover her frontal area as they sponge her back so that she will not feel any shame or discomfort. She appears wide-eyed in disbelief over what they are doing for her.

I cry easily. This selfless act strikes my heart open. No doubt because it’s achingly beautiful.

But it’s something more.

Something deeper that I can’t yet express or identify. The removal of Mrs. Jenkin’s shoes, the tender touches the two women applied to her body. The water and washing.  The one who had difficulty accepting and receiving such care.

It’s all so familiar.

It takes a few days before I understand this scene’s personal significance. Before another tender scene involving water and washing surfaces in my memory.  A scene involving someone who also had difficulty receiving. My husband.

It’s January 2009. David is cashing in on a silly gift I’d given him for New Year’s Eve: a handwritten, magic marker-colored I.O.U. for a foot bath and massage.

David was the serious one in our relationship. I was the let’s-find-some-new-adventure half of our marriage. While he provided stability and focus, I dabbled in creativity and wonderment. Knowing that he would ignore this holiday, let it pass without any fanfare, as he would have so many others if not for me and Davis, I decided to come up with a novel idea. Create a stack of I.O.U.’s, each one a personal treat: a free backscratching, dinner at his favorite restaurant, homemade breakfast any weekend. He chose the foot bath and massage first.

foot-massage-2133279_1920It’d be an understatement to say I was surprised. David – agreeing to such indulgent treatment? David, the guy who could barely handle receiving attention on his birthdays?

But I was grateful. Grateful for this opportunity to lavish him with care.

And months later, I would be grateful for this memory.

As I prepared the footbath, David sat waiting quietly in his favorite easy chair. He wore his terrycloth robe – the one article of clothing I would hold onto longer than anything else he’d owned, as if his scent would never fade. I placed the footbath on the carpet before his feet. And now, this man, this devoted husband who’d given me so much through our years together, allowed me to kneel before him and lovingly wash and caress his tired feet, to gingerly massage his toes, bent and inflamed with diabetes, to rub lotion on his calloused heels, hardened by years of neglect. In giving this to him, I received in return his humble appreciation, visible in his moist eyes as he simply said afterward, “Thank you, honey. That’s the best gift you could’ve given me.”

It was the last gift I would give him. And it turned out to be his gift to me.

Less than three months later he would die unexpectedly. A heart attack taking him too soon on that glorious Easter Saturday morning. A morning not unlike the one I experienced today.

Call Jennifer shell broken

In the Midwife episode, after her bath, Mrs. Jenkins appears to be renewed. Wearing the new coat Nurse Jenny obtained for her, she walks upright, no longer carrying the weight of shame. She’s recognized something in herself through the eyes of love. Through their tender attentiveness, Nurse Jenny and Sr. Evangelina had practiced a different kind of midwifery.

A midwife is an intermediary, someone who meets you in the middle of what you’re expecting and assists you all the way through it to the other side. Hadn’t that been what I had done for David, without even realizing it? Holding that in-between space for him? Helping him to receive and accept the selfless, abundant love that awaited him over the threshold he would soon cross?

The irony is that David had been an arbitrator, a labor relations mediator. He had been the one who’d calmly held this in-between place for others, the place between what is and what is possible. He had taught me how to be that for him.

Eleven years is a long time. I no longer grieve as I once did, no longer fear that the well of grief is bottomless. It isn’t.

I have learned that love takes many forms. That it truly is stronger than death. That every act of self-giving love, of selfless service, brings us closer to the threshold of waking up into who we truly are. The Beloved in God.

Maybe I did walk David home.  Maybe I helped him cross that threshold.  And maybe once again, it’s David who’s given me the real gift.

walking each other

Manna in the Desert

Las Cruces August sunset
Sunset over my desert home

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a metaphor. Or a Bible story.

There’s a desert. Grumbling. (That would be me.) Perceived lack of food and water.

And, always, brown dust. The promise of a strong sun.

Desert sun over Organs
Sun rising over Las Cruces mountain range

 

And more.

The sufferings of those around me. Those who make their way through the desert. Remembered Bible stories fuel their hope. Stories of manna in the desert. From a God who never abandons them. A God who provides unusual food. Water from an unlikely source.

Sometimes that source is people I know. People at a shelter that waits for them to arrive. Empty cots longing to caress them into sleep. Give them dreams beyond imaginations held in their homelands. Dreams that only come when a rock transforms into a pillow.

This God source has provided in other ways as well.

With provisions for times when it feels as though the desert takes too much. Too great a toll of flesh demanded for the promised freedom. Too great a toll on desperate travelers forced into a more desperate Juarez. Too great a toll on exhausted, hungry children arriving with abuelas, tίas and tίos. They are taken from the only family they know. Pulled away and placed in shelters far from the desert, in rural American countrysides, hidden from view.

The toll seems unforgivable. Unimaginable to us who remain in the desert, watching, bearing witness to the inhumanity.

“Where is God in this?” we ask.Chihuahuan Desert

Where is God in the long aridity? When it feels like provisions are lacking?

In asking the question, the answers come.

I begin to notice provisions for the journey. The gifts in the sand.

The tireless female attorneys, mothers themselves, crossing the port of entry daily. Checking on clients. Seeking those with hearings in unsympathetic El Paso courtrooms. Holding up in the heat, the long lines at the bridge. No matter how few asylum cases they will win. Unfaltering despite the odds.

Manna in the form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. El Paso volunteers now prepare these sandwiches for migrants waiting in Mexico to be processed. The people are hungry.peanut_butter_and_jelly_2

And Mexican federal immigration officials do not have the provisions to feed so many before releasing these families to shelters. Or worse – the streets of Juarez. The migrants – and the Mexican agents – welcome PB&J manna with smiles.

Provisions of friendship. The gift of camaraderie – of soul friends committed to the refugee, to the hurting, to those fleeing enslavement, a life of extortion.

We come together, share food and drink. Sing songs of a world we know is possible. The gift of laughter lightens the burdens. Our common prayer rises to the “column of cloud” guiding our journey.

Provisions of expression, of expelling the grief. Lisa offers the gift of her therapist skills, a free-will offering to those of us “living on the cusp,” living in the midst of the atrocious effects of the pharaoh’s dictates. She desires to help us. Her provisions fall like manna from the sky, alighting on our souls so in need of nourishment.

This heart I’ve been given – this too is a gift, a “talent” I’ve been asked to magnify on the journey. Even though it sometimes feels like a curse. A weakness. A vulnerability that needs alteration.

Then Brother Lalo gifts me with the words of St. Paul: “It is when I am weak that I am strong.” He tells me this is what comes to him when he thinks of me.

His supportive words, another provision in this desert. A reminder of another Bible story. The weak will befuddle the strong.

Yes, I call these “provisions for the journey.” And I hear God ask, can you trust that you’ll be given what you need? Just for today? Can you trust that I’ll be with you again tomorrow? Even when night descends?

Quotes_Creator_2Cor I am strong

 

 

 

Gratitude, Grace, & Grief

Close up of tableset with colorful plate for Thanksgiving party.

Thanksgiving.

Soon Davis will be here celebrating the holiday with me. I don’t have to be told how fortunate I am.

At the same time, I’m also aware that many will be missing a loved one at their Thanksgiving table this year.

Those who are still seeking news of a family member among the 700 or more missing in the California fires. Those whose loved ones were among the dozens of victims of mass shootings in the past several months, from a bar in Thousand Oaks to a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Sometimes it all feels like too much. We turn away. We turn off the TV. We find something else to occupy our minds.

Thanksgiving. Grieving. The two don’t quite go together.

Or do they?

Although we don’t have any control over when tragic, painful circumstances will strike our lives, our world, what I’ve discovered is what I do have control over – how I respond.

And, inadvertently, how grieving and gratitude can occupy the same space.

viktor_e_frankl_quote

I remember reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl years ago. One of the many things that struck me was a scene in which this man in the concentration camp is out working on the rock pile in the gray, predawn hours, concerned about his wife, and he turns to see the glory of the sun beginning to light up the sky as it rises in the distance. Even in what seems like a hopeless situation, he recognizes this as a moment of grace.

Etty Hillesum, in An Interrupted Life – her diaries written during WWII – wrote: “I am in Poland every day, on the battlefields, if that’s what one can call them. I often see visions of poisonous green smoke; I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and with that piece of sky beyond my window; there is room for everything in a single life.”

Etty found herself in the midst of a frightening era of unspeakable atrocities. She also found herself on her knees, giving thanks for unspeakable beauty and grace-filled moments.

It seems when I, too, am brought to the edge of raw grief, I go to my knees. In surrender. In vulnerability and humility. Calling upon my Higher Self, the Holy dwelling within.

And then I discover the grace in my situation.

The grace that was there all along but I didn’t have the eyes to see. Until that moment.

Gratitude, grace, and grief can indeed occupy the same space.

I’ve learned this. And I am still learning it.

Learning it from my spiritual teachers, in Pathwork, the CAC Living School, Insight Meditation, and others, who continue to remind me that whenever life’s “disturbances” pull me down, I can pause and choose what to focus on.

And I’m learning it from our “guests” at the Loretto Nazareth hospitality center. Even after the kind of suffering they’ve experienced, they are still filled with gratitude for small kindnesses.

And every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of a parent and child on their knees before the crucifix displayed in our common area. In prayers of thanksgiving for their safe journey. And for their long journey ahead.

Something beautiful alongside the sorrow.

There is room for all of it.

And, in every moment, something to be grateful for.

Graces in Greene

 

snowy-full-view-jan-2017
My cocoon in the woods

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.

snowy-goodbye-jan-2017
I experienced one last snowstorm in this magical place.

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.

Graces abound.

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.

 

snowy-road-jan-2017
Mountains flank my snowy, winding driveway as I prepare to leave Virginia.

Alegrίa

Joyful mysteries

Joy.

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.

joy-is-the-infallible-sign-lucid practice

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)

la alegria image

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.

 

A Poem for Sue

new-beginnings

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 —

 

Grace to Find Your Way

wandering-in-desert

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.

Choosing to Come Home

BlueRidge mountains
Scenic Blue Ridge Mountains taken on my drive home

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.

my cabin in the woods
my cabin in the woods

What Love Looks Like

unconditional-love
Today is the sixth anniversary. It happened on a Saturday morning, not unlike this one. David died looking up at a bright blue spring sky. Warm sunshine beaming down.

It doesn’t seem like it could be six years already. And yet it feels like forever since I heard him call me “honey,” touched his skin, felt his body close to mine, and smelled his scent as I nuzzled my nose into his beard.

It’s true what they say — your life changes forever once you lose someone you love that much. Certainly my life and my son Davis’s changed forever on April 18, 2009. But I’m sure Davis would agree with me — our lives didn’t change in a negative, feeling resentful, why-did-this-happen-to-me kind of way.

Sure, it’s taken time for us to heal. To move through the tough, painful feelings and come out the other side. To begin to recognize the blessings in the pain. You realize you’ve grown and matured in ways you couldn’t have otherwise. You realize this is your path.

When Davis and I talk about losing David, we agree. We’ve made choices and gone in directions neither of us would have if David were still alive.

That’s not to say that we would have chosen this — to live our lives without this generous, loving man beside us, supporting us. But here’s what we do choose — we choose to live full lives without him.

David is the reason why I came to El Paso. With his passing, I wanted to know what else was in store for my life. I started to seek what that might be. And I had the freedom to go find it.

But it’s much more than that. It’s about what David taught me for the 28+ years he was in my life.

He taught me how to love.

Through our relationship I learned what unconditional love might look like. He was the closet thing to it that I’d ever experienced. And that’s what gave me the courage and the willingness to open my heart to strangers. To be vulnerable in places where I’d previously been so protective. To be willing to trust.

Little by little I’ve been learning this lesson. I’m sure it’s a lifelong lesson.

But today, on this anniversary, I wanted to acknowledge this:

Because of you, David, I know what love looks like. Because of you, I carry it within me wherever I go.
Thksg2008David