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We Have Awoken

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We faced the fear with love. Our spirit is not broken.

That was the message of the film “Awake” that my new Native American friends presented to the public this afternoon. A film that was more than disturbing. I felt sickened as I watched the events unfold at Standing Rock in North Dakota – the site of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We all heard and saw the news reports last year as the protests persevered and expanded, well into December. We know how the story goes.

And, sadly, how it ends.

But to see it unfold in real time, in this documentary…to see peaceful people standing in prayer in the river pepper sprayed and hosed down with water cannons in freezing temperatures…to watch as unarmed Native Americans fell to the ground after being hit with rubber bullets…

It hurt my spirit.

Sadly, this is not new to indigenous people. They have been fighting for land rights, for nature, for the environment, for hundreds of years.

Funny to think that English-speaking people were actual immigrants to this country. And they were welcomed by these natives. Without visas. Without knowing the language.

Coming without jobs or ways to support themselves.

As Rudy, one of the elders of the tribe that has befriended me, explained, “Community is most important to us. We are taught to be gracious hosts, to welcome all into community.”

And that they did. And still do, despite how they were treated in the past.

I can vouch for this based on how they have welcomed me, a white-faced stranger, into their community.

So, why do indigenous people still fight to protect the land?

“What we do is for the next seven generations,” Rudy explained. “It is for our children and our grandchildren. We must protect our earthly home and keep a balance in all of life. Honor what is sacred.”

The Missouri River – which the DAPL travels under – is the longest river in North America and the water source not only for the Sioux Nation, but for 17 million Americans.

Missouri River

Missouri River, South Dakota

Not only was the pipeline built, but in the process, sacred sites were desecrated. Elders were arrested. Tepees slashed. People brutalized.

But something else happened as well. Something positive.

A movement began. Many people – around the globe – heard the truth the indigenous people speak.

They understood the message of DAPL protestors: “We belong to the water. We belong to the air. We belong to all creation. We are all guests on Mother Earth. And we must honor her.”

They realize the truth of these words: “We will pay the consequences for desecrating Mother Earth.”

And more people have joined these water protectors. These global protectors.

DAPL is not the end.

Hundreds of pipelines are being proposed all over the United States. But now millions of people have awoken.

“Will you join us?”

I’VE BEEN WOKEN

by the spirit inside that

demanded I open my eyes

and see the world around me.

Seeing that my children’s future

was in peril. See that my life couldn’t

wait and slumber anymore. See that I was

honored to be among those who are awake.

To be alive at this point in time is to see the rising

of the Oceti Sakowin. To see the gathering of nations

and beyond that, the gathering of all races and all faiths.

Will you wake up and dream with us?

Will you join our dream. Will you join us?”

FLORIS WHITE BULL, ADVISOR AND CO-WRITER OF AWAKE, A DREAM FROM STANDING ROCK

If you’re interested in a screening of the film, go to: http://awakethefilm.org/

Standing Rock

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Coming of Age

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Over the weekend I spent the night in a tepee. Experienced my first coming-of-age ceremony.

And I felt incredibly honored to be included in this spiritual rite of passage for a young woman of Mexican-Indian heritage.

As I participated in this powerful and sacred ceremony, I found myself imagining the possibilities.

What if all girls greeted the threshold of womanhood supported by the kind of love, wisdom, mirroring, and honoring I witnessed these indigenous women showering upon this very blessed 13-year-old girl?

What if every girl learned that her body was something to be honored, not ashamed of?

That she is beautiful, inside and out, just as she is? Without needing to change anything.

That she does not need to fear expressing herself? Or be afraid to learn from making mistakes?

That she can listen to and trust her inner wisdom?

Wow!

It has taken me years to learn these lessons.  Years accompanied by much struggling and pain. And often feeling I was on my own in the process.

Yet 13-year-old Trinity already knows who she is.

Grounded in the sacredness of her people’s earth-honoring ceremonies, empowered by the love of her community, and centered in an awareness of the Creator present in all life, she is entering this stage of her life totally prepared. Her humility, maturity, and sensitivity impressed me.

Even her name impressed me.

Only weeks ago I had been a stranger to this community. Until I met Carlos, and, without hesitation, he invited me.

The abuela (grandmother) of their tribe wasn’t so sure. After all, she didn’t know this white-faced woman. But she welcomed me. As did every member of the community. They welcomed a stranger into their circle.

I couldn’t help but think that this was the Gospel message of “welcome the stranger” in action.

Later that evening, we gathered around a lantern in the tepee, setting up our cots and sleeping bags. After settling in, we told coming-of-age stories, while outside the darkness deepened.

We shared some of our most embarrassing moments, to let this young woman know that, yes, you will have these moments. You will make mistakes, too. It’s inevitable. And you will survive.

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As I listened to these women share their wisdom, the moonlight poured in through the opening in the top of the tepee. The beauty of this spiritual ritual deeply touched me. And I wished I’d had such a ceremony to welcome my menses, my “moon.”

In the circle we shared our gifts for Trinity. Mine was a poem I’d written and a beautiful broken seashell—a whelk—I’d found on Atlantic Beach while vacationing with special friends. At first I hesitated to part with it.

But I knew it was the perfect gift.

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And my words for Trinity are words for all girls coming of age, especially those who don’t have a circle of wise women guiding them forward, as I did not have. I share them here.

Learn to trust your inner guidance, the wisdom that resides within.

As a girl, no one told me this.

As a woman, it took years to discover the truth.

Our inner authority is the voice of God within.

You can trust it.

Don’t be afraid to be seen.

Don’t shrink under the power of others.

Be all that you are,

Empowered by your unique gifts.

Know that all that you are is gift to the world.

Be grateful always for this gift.

This broken shell I found on a beach in North Carolina

It spoke to me of my woundedness, my brokenness.

And how, even with these broken places within me, I am whole and perfect and beautiful.

This is the message I want to give to you.

Become the woman you were meant to be, fully alive

Not holding anything back, not afraid of your gifts or your power

Not afraid of your broken places.

Strengthened by the challenges, the hurts, the sufferings

Be grateful for the pain and suffering along the way.

They are your teachers.

They may take pieces of your heart,

But they will make you shine like a shell in the sea.

May we learn from the wisdom of native cultures. May we honor this gift called life as we cross each threshold. May we give thanks to the Creator for all of life.

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Sun rises over our campsite as we prepare for a day of ceremony

 

Graces in Greene

 

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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.

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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.

 

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Mountains flank my snowy, winding driveway as I prepare to leave Virginia.

What You Do to Me

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I have never felt so close to the truth of these words.

They have never been as powerful for me as they are now.

Sure, I’ve volunteered before.  Served dinner to homeless men. Worked in an after-school program with juveniles in a housing project. Visited strangers in nursing homes. Manned a phone at a survival crisis hotline. Mentored single moms and their kids. Even volunteered at an orphanage in Bolivia.

Each of these have been rewarding in themselves.

But nothing like what I experienced on Thursday.

I’ll try to explain.

The morning started out busier than usual.

The moment I walk through the door at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center, I’m bombarded with requests. A couple of moms stand at the doorway of the hygiene room waiting for Pampers. Someone needs Tylenol. Someone else wants cough medicine for her child. Families are lined up ready to head out and pile into a van waiting to take them to the airport. One mom hugs her bare arms, looking cold in a pink tee shirt. Some of the children don’t have coats.

“Where are you going? What state?” I ask Nanci, the mom of one of the coatless children.

“Maryland,” she tells me.

“Oh, necesita un abrigo,” I say and run off to the clothing closet to retrieve whatever coats I can find before they’re herded out the door.

With only a few volunteers working in the office, it can feel impossible to try to handle the needs of 100-150 people. Because that’s what we’ve been seeing the past several weeks as the number of migrants and refugees arriving daily has been doubling and tripling.

We do the best we can. Sometimes we make decisions by the seat or our pants.

Like now.

My first priority is to get these travelers coats for their journey. Then I dole out the appropriate-sized Pampers and am about to head to the medicine room when Adolfo, our center coordinator, asks me to accompany the van driver to the airport. It’s his first time driving solo and he doesn’t know what to do.

So off I go. Me. The driver. Four moms. And eight kids.

Although we’re not required to accompany them all the way to their gates, it’s something I like to do. After all, none of these women have ever flown before. They don’t know the language. They don’t know what they’re doing. Their fear and anxiety are palpable.

So, I ask the airline agent for a special pass to accompany the moms and their children through security and to their gates. And I ask her to please have someone help the women who will be making connections in overwhelming Dallas. I’ll walk each of them to their gates, show them the letter and number matching the one on their ticket. Review several times the flight number, the boarding time, the time the plane actually leaves, the difference between their two boarding passes if they have a connecting flight.

At security, I wait while each of the adults are patted down thoroughly, their belongings picked through, their papers scrutinized. It takes a while.

Passersby look at us. We must be a sight. The women in their ankle monitors like criminals wear. The white trash bags we’ve given them to store their few articles of clothing. They stand out like refugees, but I know they’ve already been through much worse.

The last mom is nearly finished when Nanci comes over, looks right at me, and begins showering blessings over me. Blessings for my health, for my life, and I don’t know what all else, but she goes on and on. I’m not getting everything she’s saying and I tell her I don’t understand.

“You’re an angel from God,” she repeats slowly.

“Yes, you’re an angel from God,” Estrella, another mom, pipes in.

I feel my eyes moisten.

This is not just a clichéd expression. These women sincerely appreciate my kindness. A kindness that probably no one has ever shown them before.

I want to protest that “I’m no angel.”

But I simply say, “It is my pleasure.”

Because it is.

And in this moment, I recognize something. It’s there in Nanci’s eyes.

sacred_heart_of_jesus

Christ is right here in front of me.

Reflected in this woman. A woman who had been a stranger. And who now is a reflection of the heart of Christ.

In this moment, I understand, more fully than I have before. How these people who live on the margins are close to Christ.

“What you do to me.”

And I know exactly why I am doing this.

Even more clearly than when I made the initial decision to come to El Paso.

And I know why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.what-you-do-to-me

 

 

Abiding in Abundance

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Sunrise at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

I’ve left the shore behind.

Leaving Atlantic Beach wasn’t easy. After all, I grew up near the ocean on the East Coast. And nowadays, ensconced in the El Paso desert, I’m lucky when I spot an occasional raindrop.

But even more challenging – within one week of returning to El Paso from my reunion/vacation in North Carolina, I found myself packing.  I needed to move. Again.

I knew before I left for NC that I’d to have to find another place to live. My three months of room and board at the house for volunteers were coming to an end.

Truthfully, I’d expected my house in Virginia to sell quickly. And I’d be settling into a new home by now.

But my plan didn’t materialize.  So, instead, I had to move into another temporary living situation. Another place that’s not my own.

And, yes, that’s challenging.

But it’s also a gift. A spiritual practice that’s continually teaching me about letting go. About my real “home.” And about the abundance of the Universe.

No sooner had I started wondering where I would go next and what I could afford when an idea came to me. Call Anita. As it turns out, this woman, who hardly knows me, was happy to rent out her extra bedroom. At an unbelievably reasonable rate.

Once again I was given what I needed.

So I began my vacation grateful that I had a place to go once I returned.

And I was open. Receptive to how the Spirit might speak to me at the ocean.

What struck me at every turn? The abundance of the Universe.

I recognized it in my morning walks along the shore as the rising sun cast multi-colored hues of pink and peach across an infinite sky. In the endless waves rolling onto the beach in a constant, humbling roar. In the calm waters that glittered and stretched majestically beyond the horizon. In the sandpipers and pelicans fed from the ocean.

It’s easy to see how Nature exemplifies the abundance of God. With her ever-present giving and receiving, she demonstrates what it means to be “in the flow” of life.

But I wonder. What if we, as human beings, could trust in an abundant Universe? What would our lives look like if we could abide in this flow of giving and receiving? Trusting that we will be given what we need? In every moment? Just as Nature does?

I think I know. The migrants have shown me.

The poor I’ve met live with a concept of the abundance of God more fully and completely than anyone else I know. They’ve tapped into this truth. God provides. You can trust in the flow of the give and take of life.

Here’s a recent example.

We’ve been crazy busy at the Nazareth migrant center. And last week, in our rush to get a mom to the bus station, we neglected to give her a “care package” of food that I’d prepared for her long journey.

A little while later, Linda, a fellow volunteer, showed up at the bus station with other migrants heading out of state.  Linda was amazed when the fellow travelers, realizing this woman didn’t have a care package, started pulling food from their own bags to give her. One woman, who said she was “only going as far as Los Angeles,” gave this mom her entire tote bag of goodies. She figured this woman needed it more.

Giving from their need. This is unheard of.

Or is it?

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Believing that more is given to the one who gives. That giving is receiving. And in the receiving is the giving.

It’s a message I’ve heard from the Gospel. And a spiritual law that I recently came across in a Pathwork Guide Lecture. This line from that lecture says it all for me:

“I will let God give through me in sincerity, in strength, in truth, in wisdom, in beauty.” (PGL #233, pg. 8)

Isn’t that what Nature does? Isn’t that what these migrants did for that mom?

To live life fully we need to move beyond our fear of not having enough. We need to leave the comfort of the shore behind. To trust in the abundance that is given to us and through us.

Whether I stand, sure-footed, on the shore of a North Carolina beach or move like a nomad from place to place in the El Paso desert, I want to learn this lesson.  Nature is teaching me. And so are the poor.

Love in a Mosque

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Thursday I found myself praying in a mosque. For the first time. Hopefully, not my last.

Although a Christian woman, I chose to be here. To join my friend Rob, whom I am visiting in Raleigh, and his friend Steve – also Christians. Rob and Steve have been visiting this mosque every Thursday for months. An expression of solidarity.

It was Steve’s idea. As anti-Muslim rhetoric grew more vicious, and frightening, he felt the need to do something positive. So they come at 5:30. One of the five times daily that Muslims gather to pray.

They sit among Muslim men in folding chairs spread out on bright green prayer rugs. And they pray. Silently. Respectfully.

The people have noticed their presence. And welcomed them. It doesn’t matter that Rob and Steve clearly are not Muslim.

On this particular night, I take a seat in the back, where the women gather. A shawl draped over my head covers my shoulders and bare arms. As I sit, I become aware that this might be risky. Associating with Muslims these days can be dangerous. Innocent people have been killed. Simply for being near a mosque. Or appearing to be Muslim.

A smiling man walks over to hand me literature entitled “What Is Islam?” I leaf through the pages as the women wander in with their children.

I read things I did not know. For instance, Islam means to be at peace with God and His creatures. “Being at peace with His creatures implies living in peace within one’s self, with other people, and with the environment.”

I consider this statement – that one of the aims of Islam is “to emphasize the oneness of humanity as a whole and the Oneness of the Creator….”

Hmm. The Oneness of all. That’s the reason I am here.

I pray silently for that Oneness to be realized. For unity. For compassion. For peace.

I watch the women demonstrate their own prayer to this Oneness.

They stand, arms stretched out before them, palms raised in worship. They utter words I don’t understand. They kneel, bend forward, forehead to the floor.

An act of surrender. A humbling expression of devotion.

Present. Open. Surrendered.

That is what I see. That is what I experience. And I mirror it back to them.

I remain in contemplative silence for awhile. A passage from the gospel of John surfaces: “God is love. And he/she who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him/her.”

In this space, I recognize our connection to the One whose power surpasses all.

That connection is Love.

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I like to think that this choice that Steve and Rob have made, and I along with them on this Thursday night, delights God. That in choosing to be in love and solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, we are co-creating a world of love, beauty, and truth. For more years than I can remember I have prayed to co-create such a world. Thanks to Rob and Steve, I am being shown how.

Gerald May once commented while sitting in a prayer circle on a winter retreat when the electricity went out, “Here in this darkened room we are saving the world.”

A bold statement? Maybe.

But on that Thursday night, in a brightly lit room, with green prayer mats, I, too, experienced that possibility. Abiding in love with one another, we are saving the world.

One sacred moment at a time.

Blessings & Burritos

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The anxious young mother from Guatemala asks me for the third time how long I think it will take to get to New York. By bus. From El Paso.

Depende.”

I’ve tried to explain. Depends on a lot of things.

She asks how many hours. I tell her it’ll be two days. Her facial expression pleads for a different answer.

In reality I think it’ll be three. But I don’t tell her that.

She and her adorable 6-year-old daughter Alison will be spending tonight in the Greyhound station. Their relative back in NY bought tickets for a bus leaving at 4 a.m. Getting them a ride to the station at 2:30 a.m. would be impossible. Our volunteer drivers are great, but everyone has their limits. The best we can do is get them to the station tonight.

And pack them sufficient food and liquids for the long journey. That’s my job. And I take it seriously.

Used to be that the migrants and refugees who came to our center could access cash from Moneygrams wired by relatives in other states. At least that’d give them a little money to buy food on these long bus rides.

But not anymore. The local Moneygram has changed its policy. They now want a “legit” ID. Like a driver’s license.

We all know that’s not possible. Which means we often send our people off with nothing more than an extra set of clothing and a small bag of food. And blessings for the journey.

Vaya con Dios,” I say. “Bendiciones para su viaje.”

Que Dios te bendiga,” they respond. God bless you. Like I’m the one that should be getting the blessings.

Alison and her mom aren’t unusual. In fact, another mother and her two children are leaving tomorrow by bus. For North Carolina.

So, when I search through the donations of tote bags, I try to find two sturdy ones to hold enough food for these moms and their kids.

Pickings are slim tonight. Only a few large bags left that could possibly hold everything I want to pack. But I know we’ll soon have more donations. We always do.

I pull some “care packages”—each filled with peanut butter crackers, granola bars, chips, a bottle of water, and juice box. All the snacks, and even the Ziploc bags, donated by local residents.

Then off to the kitchen with the walk-in fridge. I grab apples, burritos, fried chicken, anything I can stuff into the tote bags to sustain five people for a 3-day journey.

Every Monday a local restaurant delivers grocery bags filled with dozens of homemade bean burritos. Wrapped in sturdy foil and ready to go. Another vendor donates apples and oranges. Who knows where the fried chicken came from? Sometimes it’s pizza I find on the shelves. Or baloney sandwiches.

All this food – donated. Anything and everything we need. Just when I notice something starting to get low, next day – or soon thereafter – the supply is replenished.

It’s kind of like the loaves and fishes story. Only it’s not Jesus sending down the blessing. It’s folks like you and me. Blessing the snacks, the clothing, the toys, the toothpaste – everything they donate – with their attitude. Their generosity. Their grace.

Later that night, I think about Alison and her mom. They’re headed to the bus station right about now. I think about the food I packed for them.

I worry it’s not enough.

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Then I remember the burritos. The commitment of that restaurant owner. The endless supply offered.

And I send out a prayer. May these families meet others on their journey. Others who will be that kind of blessing.

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.

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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)

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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.

 

Cultivating the Secret Garden

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Cultivate your inner garden.

Maybe you’re wondering what the heck that means.

I know ever since I was given that directive on a recent retreat in Ruidoso, NM, I’ve been walking around with the phrase in my head. Thanks to our very spiritual and wise retreat director, Sr. Margarita, who just happens to have indigenous grandparents and a real connection to nature.

Our first night there she had us all sitting in silence in the middle of a green meadow surrounded by lovely green trees (that in itself was a gift for someone like me who’s been missing greenery since I arrived in El Paso).

“Listen to nature welcoming us,” she said as we settled into our plastic lawn chairs.

Sure enough, within moments, trees swayed in unison, leaves rustled, crows cawed. Even the setting sun slowly lit up clouds drifting overhead.

I felt at home.

Not because the place reminded me of Virginia. Although it did. But because I realized, in that moment, that I am always home.

That was just the beginning. The gifts kept coming.

And Sr. Margarita, with her awareness of the presence of Spirit in everything, helped foster that awareness in me.

She seemed to love using metaphors. Something I also love as a writer.

The most powerful metaphor was that of a garden – a place where resurrection happens. (Think of a seed falling to the ground. Or Jesus falling to the ground at Gethsemane.)

A place, she said, that we need to cultivate. A place that represents our inner selves.

She told us how, like Mary in the children’s story, The Secret Garden, we have to go into the attic – or the basement – and take the risk of delving into our dark, mysterious selves, in order to find the key to our secret garden.

I don’t have any problem with that idea. I’ve been to some pretty dark places in myself. But the idea of cultivating and discovering a “secret garden” intrigued me.

So, one afternoon I stepped into the middle of this huge garden at the retreat center, hoping I’d get some insight. I sat in the sun taking in the scent and beauty of red and peach roses — a childhood favorite.

All of a sudden I noticed them.

First one weed. Then another. Pretty soon I was completely focused on those weeds.

The thing is, they weren’t even that large. Or tall. Or overgrown. They seemed so miniscule standing beside the expansive rose bushes that only minutes ago had captured my attention.

But I just couldn’t leave those weeds alone.

Before I realized it, I’d grabbed hold of one and plucked it out of the ground. It lay there limp and lifeless, the sun beaming down on it.

And then it came to me. How that sun is always present. How it warms both the roses and the weeds. How it doesn’t judge whether one is more worthy than the other. It simply shines. And nurtures. And warms and loves everything.

What about me? Can I do the same for myself? Can I let go of focusing on the weeds?

Allow my inner garden to flourish? And accept and love the whole beautiful mess that is me?

Maybe that’s the real secret to gardening.secret Garden Cultivate

Secret Garden Buddha

A Stranger at the Table

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That would be me.

For six weeks in Bolivia. I was a stranger at someone else’s table. Living with a family I didn’t know. In a country where I could barely speak the language. In the midst of a different culture. Where everything looked, smelled, and tasted different.

It didn’t take long to realize, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” Or Virginia.

Or anywhere that even resembled the home I knew. Everything felt different. And I felt so alone.

True, that was months ago. But the memory of those feelings has stayed with me.

I actually think the mother of the house where I was living in Bolivia had a preconceived image of me as an American. And maybe she had a little attitude too.

Now the tables are switched.

I’m the one with a little attitude toward foreigners.

Yes, me.

You might find that surprising. After all, why would I travel so far from home to return to the U.S.-Mexico border to serve migrants and refugees if I had an attitude?

Truthfully, I’m happy to be back serving at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center. It feels right to be here.

I knew it the first day I walked through the door and was among “the people” again. I found myself smiling for no particular reason throughout the day.

Even though I never stopped moving from the moment I stepped inside the place. And was exhausted by the time I left.

The thing is, so many people are coming. More than I’d ever seen when I was serving here last year.

It’s not so easy to spot those in desperate need this time. It’s not black and white. If it ever was.

Immigration is such a complex issue.

What got me was I was noticing some conflicting feelings arising. A judging, critical side.

I mean I’m aware that I have this side of me, but I didn’t like the fact that it was coming up here, in relation to the migrants whom I’ve felt such compassion for. In a place where I’m serving alongside some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. The people of El Paso. People who still, after more than two years, continue to fully operate this center through their donations and volunteer hours.

So, the other night I went to bed with these questions on my heart.

“How do I keep my heart open and let go of trying to be judge and jury? How does love respond to this situation? What do you ask of me?”

On the verge of sleep, an image of Jesus in his passion came to me. The pain and suffering he endured. The terrible loneliness.

Then I “heard” his question: “Did I do this only for those who deserve it?

Such a powerful and humbling response! The truth of it hit me hard.

Because I knew. I certainly don’t “deserve” this gift. In fact, I often take it for granted. And I doubt I fully appreciate it.

In that moment, I understood.

Love has nothing to do with fairness or with who deserves it.

Love invites everyone to the table. No one is excluded. And preconceived images are left at the door.

Granted, it’s challenging to love as Christ loved.

I don’t know if I can do it. But this is my practice.

This is why I am here.