Beautiful Connections

airplane window
The Uber driver pulled up right on time, at the impossibly early hour of 4:50 a.m. I stood under the white spotlights of the overhang at the front entrance of my niece’s apartment building outside Washington, DC. A sole figure with two suitcases by her side. He could not have missed me. Only the birds announcing their predawn celebration accompanied me.

The tall, brown-skinned man introduced himself before lifting my heavy load into the trunk of his car. Already, in just the few words we had spoken, I thought I recognized Tedor’s accent. After we chatted a bit, I felt comfortable enough to ask his country of origin. He wanted me to guess and tried to give me a geography lesson, which doesn’t work well with me. But after I incorrectly guessed Kenya, and he revealed that it was a neighboring country, I knew my first inclination had been correct. He was from Ethiopia – the same country as my young friend whom I’d been visiting in detention for over a year in El Paso.

I so appreciated the connection that I began to share a bit of Abdinoor’s story. (I have been using the pseudonym Mathias in my blog posts to protect my friend, Abdinoor, and I am happy to finally be able to reveal his real name. Sweet, intelligent, upstanding young Abdinoor has entered Canada, where he is receiving refugee status and is no longer being treated like a criminal. Now he can finally go visit his mother in Kenya.  Although I am thrilled for him, I feel it is our loss.  And our shame.)

Then Tedor and I shared a little of our own stories.  I learned he had been living in the Washington area for three years, along with his family. When I told him I’d lived in Virginia for 30 years, he expressed great surprise. “But you look so young! I thought you were only in your 30’s!”

It had been quite dark when he’d picked me up, so I figured he must not have seen my face clearly. Still, I was really liking this guy.

“You look young because you have love in your heart,” he explained, after I’d revealed my age. “That’s important. To have love in your heart.”

I agreed, of course.

Tedor said he appreciated my kindness, noting that few people he picked up spoke to him. Some don’t even say hello or good morning. They keep their eyes cast downward, gazing into their phone screens during the entire ride.

I tried to imagine that – someone not even acknowledging another human being inside that small, confined space.  I remembered how, as much as I loved the diversity in the DC metro area, the congestion and stressful lifestyle could make it hard to connect.

But what a sweet connection I had made with this stranger in the shorter than 15-minute ride to the airport. Isn’t this what it’s really all about, I thought, as I left his little red car feeling much better than I’d had when I’d dragged myself out to the curb that morning? And Tedor clearly was in good spirits, too.

Isn’t it about kindness and connection? About recognizing our common humanity? About seeing how we are really more alike than anything?

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Not the exact words I saw, but close enough

Later, as my jet rose above the Washington National Monument, I glanced out the window to say goodbye to my beloved Virginia when I noticed an incredible message displayed on the lawn.

Incredible, because of how it spoke to my heart.

There, beaming up at me were the words: “You are not alone. No estás solo.”

Talk about connection! Who had created this message, I wondered? For whom and what was it intended?

It didn’t matter, because in that moment, it was surely meant for me.  Meant to carry my spirit forward, to face the growing challenges of our work at the border and to comfort me in the further letting go that I’d experienced on this trip to Virginia.

I had just let go of my son – again.  Let go of many special things we’d put aside for when he moved into his own place in the lower 48 – something he’d decided was not going to happen anytime soon. So we’d had to let things go for a song, or even less. And I had to let go of the idea that he would live a little closer than the ridiculously long and challenging time it takes to get to Nome by plane.

Davis toddler
I let go of the boy, but kept the story books and the rocking chair

But because that message was also in Spanish, I felt it calling me back to El Paso. To the migrants we accompany, who face far more grievous ways of letting go than I ever will. Asylum seekers, like Abdinoor, stuck in detention, far away from families and anything familiar. And mothers who are still separated from their children, toddlers, and even their babies.

Their forced “letting go” makes mine pale in comparison. My connection with them helps me keep things in perspective.

And if all that wasn’t enough, when I got down the escalator at the El Paso airport, I unexpectedly ran into someone I knew.

Not just anyone.

Sr. Fran was the woman who’d made my first volunteer experience here possible back in 2014. We greeted each other with surprised smiles and warm hugs, genuinely glad to see each other.

I knew I was home.Quotes_Creator_no estas solo

 

Emptied Out

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I was a little over an hour away from Dallas, where I’d planned to stop for the night, when three warning lights popped up on my dash.

Panic. I’m on an interstate surrounded by nothing but ranchland. I still had about another 10 hours of driving to get back to El Paso. Plus, it’s Friday night of Memorial Day weekend.

After pulling over to peruse my manual and check my engine, I offer a prayer to get somewhere safely. Then I decide to calm down. I decide to trust that whatever happens, it’ll be OK. And I let go of any expectation to make it back to El Paso tomorrow.

This is not a typical response for me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting a lot of practice in learning to trust over these past several years.

Maybe it’s the effects of listening to CDs on Meister Eckhart and the art of letting go while taking this incredibly long roundtrip drive from El Paso to Virginia.

Maybe it’s because, from the beginning, this journey has been about ridding myself of what is unnecessary. Of letting go of attachments and outcomes. Of learning to say yes to what is in front of me.

And there’s no doubt it’s because of what I’ve seen and experienced along the way.

Days earlier I had emptied out the extra bedroom at a friend’s house where I’d stored boxes I couldn’t get to before leaving Virginia last January. Sorting through years of family photos and other memorabilia filled me with gratitude for the blessed life I’d had.
A life I couldn’t return to. No matter how appealing it seemed.

And appealing it was. Visiting friends who were settling into a simpler life with their husbands, their kids now grown and out of college, yet still living close enough for family get-togethers in the beautiful rural countryside of central Virginia – I’ll admit, it was attractive.

This physical emptying out, I realized, was a metaphor for the internal releasing and emptying that has been going on. An emptying of attitudes as well as possessions, of the way I would like life to show up. The way I would like things to be.

Like not having car issues on the interstate, for example. Or not having my husband die so young. Or living so far away from my son who’s remaining in Alaska for at least another year.

Yet I also saw how, the more I “empty myself out,” the more I have room for God. And for “the other.” Room for true listening. For opening to the grace that’s right here.

filled-wspirit

The next day, as I sat in the customer service area at the Dallas Sewell Subaru, waiting to get the news about my car, I pulled out a letter I’d received from Martin, a 27-year-old Mexican journalist who’d come here seeking asylum because his life had been threatened. He was stuck in the El Paso detention facility, awaiting the results of his case.

I’d begun writing to Martin, hoping to encourage and visit him soon. I was considering my response to his letter when I received a text from a friend in El Paso saying that Martin had been denied asylum for the second time! Losing hope, he’d decided to give up his case rather than appeal and remain in our prison-like system. That means he’ll be returning to Mexico where at least half a dozen journalists have been killed in recent months. His young life is surely in danger.

Suddenly my minor inconvenience is irrelevant. My calling to follow my heart clearer than ever.

It may be that every time I step out in faithfulness, I’m taking a risk. But my risks are insignificant compared to the risks taken by those I’ve accompanied, my brothers and sisters running for their lives. People who live in constant fear and danger.

Living with an open-hearted stance is not easy. I feel the pain of the other as I grow in awareness that my life is not about me.

But this is what I choose. And I need grace to succeed.

“Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaningless in which we ask, ‘What is it all for? What does it all mean?’ All we can do is try to keep our hands cupped and open. And it is even grace to do that.”       Richard Rohr

I hope that I am being “emptied out” so that I can be filled with the very fullness of that grace.

The Memory of Virginia

Virginia_flowering-dogwood
Flowering dogwood — the state tree of Virginia

I’ll miss the trees.

White and pink dogwoods. Towering oaks. Weeping willows with fairy land canopies.

Since childhood I’ve had a thing for trees. Summers you’d find me on our backyard lawn mesmerized by the sun dancing on the tips of leaves. I’d watch the morning light trickle down like a waterfall as it slowly engulfed entire trees, turning everything a sparkling, vibrant green.

I love green.

But there aren’t many trees in the desert. And certainly not much green where I’m going.

There won’t be any rolling green hills dotted with black cows and red barns.

No sweet smell of freshly mowed grass on a late spring morning.

No moss-covered stones jutting from brooks, their soft surfaces slippery and smooth like a carpet.

There won’t be much water anywhere in fact. No streams or rivers.

I’ll definitely miss the ocean.

And April’s ruby red azaleas. Pear and apple tree blossoms, too. The orange tiger lilies stretching out to meet me as I drive the back roads home. With the Blue Ridge mountains as the backdrop.

But most especially, I’ll miss my community. My friends.

Those who’ve walked with me through the birth and rearing of my son. Friends who cheered and howled along with me and David at all the soccer games and swim meets.
(Well, maybe not as loudly as David. Even I had to walk away from him shouting in my ear sometimes.)

Friends who showed up at my door with ham biscuits and casseroles and tears I couldn’t shed the afternoon David died. Friends like Deborah who accompanied me to the funeral parlor to make all the necessary arrangements. Kathy and Janet who helped clean my house when I didn’t think I had enough energy to get through another day. Whitney who mowed my acre of lawn whenever the grass grew too tall.

So many friends who helped me through all of it. Held my hand. Embraced me. Let me cry when I needed to. Or scream.

Friends who’ve accompanied me on this spiritual journey. A journey that took root, deepened, and blossomed here. And eventually veered off in a direction I never would have anticipated.

Now it’s time to leave. After 30 years in Virginia.

It’s far from easy.

I’ve come to understand that “poverty of spirit” really is about detachment. About letting go. But not only of possessions. It’s also detachment from what I thought was important. From what no longer serves me. From the fears and images and illusions I’ve falsely believed and carried.

And here’s a big one — detachment from trying to anticipate the outcome. From trying to control and plan and have everything in place. Because I can’t step out in faith otherwise. Or trust the voice of God within.

And follow where I know my heart is leading.

So, yes, Virginia, I will miss you. All your natural beauty. All your trees and greenery. All those special people you hold for me. But I will carry the memory. I will carry all of them.

And in my experience, memories of love never fade.

GC Tree

(Lyrics from The Memory of Trees, by Enya)

I walk the maze of moments
but everywhere I turn to
begins a new beginning
but never finds a finish
I walk to the horizon
and there I find another
it all seems so surprising
and then I find that I know…

Giving It Up for Love

fall foliage

The fall foliage is crazy gorgeous this year. Vibrant oranges, golden yellows, and ruby reds shimmer in the morning sunlight. Whether I’m doing Tai Chi on my deck surrounded by breathtaking multicolored trees or driving along rural Rte. 810, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, I regularly find myself breaking out into spontaneous smiles and giggles.

Maybe it’s because I missed fall completely last year. Or maybe I’m just paying closer attention. Because who knows where I’ll be next year.

I really love fall in Virginia.

And I love my peaceful home in the woods. It’s a place of refuge and reflection. A place of beauty and blessing, for myself and for anyone who’s visited. It’s a place I can come to rejuvenate and reflect. To write and to find solitude. A sacred place.

And yet, I hear an inner voice asking, “Can you let it go?”

That’s the question I’m faced with now. And it’s a tough one. But there’s something I love more than my home in Virginia.

I love the possibility of fulfilling my heart’s calling. And I love the God within who urges me to fulfill that calling. In the process, I realize my True Self.

Every spiritual journey deepens when you’re willing to let go of the attempt to eliminate risks. This means you have to be willing to pay the price. To give up attachments to anything that might hold you back.

All that happens in our lives prepares us for our calling. I believe this. I believe that all the pieces of the events of our lives—the sorrows as well as the joys, the roadblocks and the unexpected detours, even the things that have previously held us back—all of it fits together like the pieces of a puzzle that leads to our true calling.  This house has been part of that. So has my husband. Had I been unwilling to let him go, I never would have come to this threshold.

Now the key is being willing to let go even further.

Maya Angelou
Maybe I won’t have to sell my home and leave it completely. But maybe I will. The real question is, am I willing? That’s all God asks of me. It’s all I have to answer right now. Are you willing?

Am I willing to trust the voice that says, “Do it for love”?

I try to listen more deeply. I want to know exactly what next step I should take. Where I’ll wind up next. But all I hear is:

Don’t think your way through the journey. Trust what you hear in the silence where I dwell. You will land when it’s time.

Losing Control

surrender1
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.

Emptiness

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

Emptiness

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