Blog Archives

I Shall Not Live in Vain

I shall not live in vain

I shall not live in vain

Emily Dickenson’s poem “I Shall Not Live in Vain” adorns the wall of Karen’s studio where I currently work part-time. Knowing me and my journey, Karen kindly offered me a job at her home-based business while I sort out what’s next.

I like working for Karen. I like that she’s a creative entrepreneur, fulfilling her vision, designing a much-needed product. And she’s doing it with kindness, compassion, and generosity — both for her employees and her clients. Plus, once I spotted that Emily Dickenson poem on the wall, I knew we shared a similar philosophy. A philosophy about our life’s purpose.

ishallnot live in vain words

Yesterday Karen showed me a short news clip about a sweet, six-year-old boy named Jayden from Georgia. Jayden’s father died when Jayden was very young, and recently his mom died in her sleep. Jayden now lives with relatives, and for a while, everyone around him was feeling pretty sad. So Jayden decided to do something about it.

With the help of his aunt, he began purchasing tiny toys, like plastic neon green dinosaurs and purple rubber ducks, and handing them out to strangers. Everyone Jayden meets gets a toy. The boy’s intention — to make people smile.

As I watched this remarkable young boy get such delight in giving away these trinkets, and the hugs and huge grins he received in return, I realized what a special gift he has. At six-years old, Jayden has already found his purpose. Spreading joy.

Some adults I know say they still haven’t found their purpose. They don’t know their true work, or their true worth. They think what they’re doing isn’t enough. Sometimes I hear that message in their comments about how I inspire them. About how they couldn’t do the kinds of things I’m doing.

Yet I see and hear people doing inspiring things every day. Right where I am.

Like my teacher friend who has taken three motherless siblings under her wing. Every few months she treats them to a special outing, and for a while, they get to have a special woman in their life give them one on one attention.

Or my dear friend Jeanine who for the past year has taken on the responsibility of caring for my dog while I followed a call to mission. They bonded so well, my dog is now her dog. And even though he’s aged and requires much more attention, Jeanine never complains. Yet she doesn’t think she’s doing much. Whenever I try to express how thankful I am for her taking this on, she tells me she admires me.

I have several other friends like this. They think their lives are ordinary. But I know that each one of them is extraordinary. Because of who they are. Because of what they offer. The aching they’ve eased. The pains they’ve cooled. The joy they’ve spread. And the hearts they’ve kept from breaking.

Each of us has a unique purpose. It can be really simple. And right in front of you. All you have to do is recognize it, and claim it. And then you, too, shall not live in vain.

Advertisements

The Urgency that Calls You

wake-up-and-live

“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
― John O’DonohueAnam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

What urgency calls you into wakefulness?

What longing waits within you unfulfilled?

Waking up alone in my quiet household, it’s easy to feel a sense of urgency. To remember where I’ve been and to fear becoming complacent and comfortable. But I feel anything but comfortable.

I miss El Paso. I miss the richness and vitality of life at the border. I miss the people and their stories. Stories of tremendous challenges, deep faith, and generous hearts. Mostly I miss the children.

But I’m not meant to go back just yet.

For now, the urgency I feel is to write their stories. Especially as the fear frenzy and racist comments towards Hispanic immigrants swells.

And it’s time for me, as a writer, to stop holding back. To put myself out there. Words from my favorite David Whyte poem, What to Remember When Waking,  speak to my heart more than ever.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

The truth is, I have been hiding out. Not fully claiming and embracing my gift. Not fully trusting that if I allow myself to be intimate and vulnerable on the page, it doesn’t matter whether I “fail” or what the outcome is.

what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

My one love is to write. And I want to write about the people’s pain. About their sweat and their struggle, their joy and their innocence. And how their lives are so very intertwined with ours.

My friend Rob is familiar with this place of holding back, too. I know Rob as a writer and poet. But, like me, he hesitates to fully own the gift. He writes:

What other gifts or passions have I kept hidden from family, from friends, from the world? If, as I believe, much of our task in this life is to lay claim to, and develop, our talents so as to share them with others – not in a self-centered way, but as proof of the joy in ongoing creation – then what had I been doing? I had put a variety of skills on display for decades, but had I been sufficiently brave or vulnerable to risk putting my gifts out for all to see? “

image

That’s what the urgency is really all about for me now. Putting my gifts out for all to see. To come out of hiding and fulfill my personal calling. To simply trust enough in the gift and the One who bestowed it. And to be willing to continue to live with the “not knowing.” I’ve done it for so long now, you’d think I’d be an expert.

Despite my doubts, I long to embrace this gift. To listen to the urgency that calls me to use it. To do it for Love.

And to let go of the outcome.

How about you? What longing within waits to be fulfilled? What urgency calls you to fully use your gifts?

Here’s the full version of the David Whyte poem:

What to Remember When Waking

what to remember upon waking

In that first
hardly noticed
moment
to which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
moveable
and frighteningly
honest
world
where everything
began,
there is a small
opening
into the new day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
night
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
presence
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?
In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

~ David Whyte ~

(The House of Belonging)

“168” class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-591″ />

A Father’s Day Journey

parent-baby-hands

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.

Padre-Alejandro-Solalinde

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?

onedayyouknew

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?

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
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
was terrible.
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.
(Mary Oliver)

The John O’Donohue Connection

image
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.

image

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.

image

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.

John O’Donohue

 

“For Longing”

image

Breathing Together

Conspirare

Friday night, I caught myself holding my breath.

It happened while sitting in Bates Recital Hall at the University of Texas-Austin in the middle of a Conspirare concert. Conspirare is an enormously talented Austin-based choral group whose name, ironically, means “to breathe together.”

That night they were performing the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, set to music. And the breathtaking piece was Soneto de la Noche.

But the beauty and sentiment of the poetry were not what had caused this reaction in me. It was much more than that.

I’d first experienced Conspirare singing this piece five years ago. My very dear friend Rob had brought a DVD of a live performance of the choral group to a weekend gathering of friends. Awed and inspired by these talented artists, Rob wanted to share their music with us. It was July 2009 — three months after my beloved husband had died.

I remember Rob sitting next to me on the sofa as we watched and listened to voices and music that took me to another realm. Then, one of the men from the choir stepped forward for the next piece, and Rob suddenly reached over and grabbed my hand. He’d forgotten this song was among the selections, and he knew what was coming would cause me pain. It was Soneto de la Noche.

Although the poem is in Spanish, the soloist spoke the words in English. In his deep, gentle voice — not unlike my husband David’s — he began:

      “When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes; I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me one more time…”

My tears flowed, unrestrained. I cried from a deep pit of grief — this dark place that I thought, at the time, could never be healed. But I also cried from the recognition that I was being comforted by those reassuring words, as if my own dear David were speaking them to my heart. I heard David telling me to go on living, to live a full life, the kind of life he knew that I was capable of and that he so often saw and admired in me.

Knowing how much that song, and Conspirare, meant to me, Rob later gifted me with both the DVD and CD, and I must have listened to Soneto de la Noche hundreds of times. I’m well past the place of crying when I hear it. Now it’s simply a bittersweet memory.

Or so I thought.

When that same soloist stepped forward for this song Friday night, I found myself holding my breath in anticipation. Was it in anticipation of experiencing this gorgeous piece of music “live”? Or did it have something to do with the fact that I’m standing at yet another crossroads in my life? As I let go and exhaled, surprisingly and instantly, tears formed again.

But this time, I heard the words spoken to me not from David, but from a Loving Presence within me:

“I want you to live, Pauline…

I want all that I love to keep on living, and you whom I loved and sang above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom, so that you can touch all that my love provides you.”

 

I exhaled and took in the words. Breathed them in, gulping them like much-needed oxygen.

 “…flowering into full bloom.”

Yes!

Isn’t that what the poet Neruda, the composer of these beautiful pieces of music, the musicians, and the singers were doing — flowering, allowing their remarkable talents to fully bloom?

And isn’t that what God asks of us?

How we use our life, how we manifest our gifts and talents is our responsibility. Just like the parable of the talents. We’re not meant to bury our gifts. Our spirit isn’t meant to “die” with the one who passed on before us. We are meant to fully live, just as Neruda urged his lover. And just as God, our Divine Lover, urges us.

When I consciously allow this Loving Presence to breathe through me, then I am my truest self.

And as my truest self, I can “touch all that Love provides me.”

And isn’t that what God asks of us?

 

Turns out that today, September 23rd, is the 41st anniversary of Neruda’s death. He died at the young age of 69. Below is his poem, Soneto de la Noche:Pablo Neruda (2)

 Soneto de la Noche

When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes;

I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me one more time;

I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,

I want your ears to still hear the wind,

I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,

And to continue walking on the sand we walked on.

I want all that I love to keep on living, and you whom I loved and sang above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom, so that you can touch all that my love provides you,

so that my shadow may pass over your hair,

So that all may know the reason for my song.