The Call Within

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Her name was Irlanda. I’d never known anyone by that name and I would know her for less than 24 hours.

Months later I’m barely able to conjure up her face. But Irlanda’s words to me — they left a deep impression. One that reminds me why I left home.

Just weeks into my service at the Nazareth Hospitality Center in El Paso, Irlanda and her scrawny, eight-year-old son with the impossibly innocent smile show up at our door. I’m still struggling through Spanish phrases and trying to understand people’s questions. Still learning how to make these strangers feel welcomed, what questions not to ask, and how to listen with my eyes since my ears aren’t doing me much good.

Always there’s lots to be done at Nazareth. Rooms to be cleaned. Intake records to be entered into the system. Volunteer drivers to be called for rides to the bus station. Clothing to be sorted and folded on the tables in the donation room where the next arrival of women will soon dig through the neatly stacked piles seeking a pair of jeans to fit their short, lean figures.

But that day I take time to accompany Irlanda and her son to the moneygram office so they can obtain the cash a relative has sent for their 3-day bus trip. Located just around the corner and a few blocks down on Montana Avenue, the place isn’t hard to get to. But for a young woman from a village in Guatemala, walking along streets loaded with cars, stores, and stoplights could be an overwhelming adventure.

I offer to go with her. As we walk, I fumble through conversing in Spanish.

Suddenly Irlanda stops and points her son’s face toward the sky. “Mira!” she tells him.

A jet plane soars overhead.

Mother and son stand close together, smiles spreading across their faces.

I can only imagine what it must be like to see an airplane for the first time.

And then I’m imagining all the firsts they’ll be experiencing on this journey. At bus depots. Transfer stations. Places where she tries to buy food.

She admits to me that she’s scared. Scared of what she’ll find in this country. This woman who has traveled thousands of miles across dangerous Mexico with her young son. I’m praying people will be kind.

Later in the day, it’s time for the driver to come take Irlanda and her son to the bus station. We hug goodbye. She asks God to bless me and surprises me by saying she thanks God for me. Her eyes reveal the impact I have made. Then she says something that really humbles me. How I am following what the Bible teaches by loving my neighbor and welcoming the stranger.

All I did was show her some kindness. She has given me much more.

That night, back in my room, I write in my journal:
“This is why I am here. This is what I want to do. Be present to these people and share special, intimate moments between human beings on the journey. We’ve shared each other’s lives for a moment. Our paths will never cross again. But meeting Irlanda has left a mark that touches my soul.”

Irlanda reminded me of the call within. A call I experienced long before I met her.

These days I feel worlds away from the border of El Paso. But I haven’t forgotten.

Can you risk opening your heart to the call within? Maybe you’ll discover why you are here.

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The Urgency that Calls You

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“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? “

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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)

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What Love Looks Like

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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

The Risk of Being a Family

michoacan panorama
Michoacan panorama

 

A home on the coast of Michoacán, Mexico. Views of the ocean. Sea breezes waft through the windows as a loving family with three handsome teenaged sons gathers for dinner. This characterized the life of one of the families I met this week at the Nazareth hospitality center.

A life that no longer exists.

Threatened by the drug cartel’s out-of-control violence in the state of Michoacán, the entire family fled their idyllic life and presented themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking political asylum. Unfortunately, only four members of their family made it to our center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to detain their husband and father.

It’s something I’ve been noticing more lately. Males 18 years and older being detained indiscriminately. Sometimes there is a reason. Maybe they tried to enter the country previously. Maybe there’s something questionable on their record. But often it seems to be a random decision, depending on the ICE agent handling their case.

Some suggest ICE is attempting to send a message back to Latin America: if you come, your family will be separated. This disturbs and infuriates me. Are we really using separation of family as a deterrent? Is there justification to cause such pain to a family that has already endured so much?

I think of this family. They did not want to come to the U.S. They told us of their beautiful home. How they hated to leave. And that they hope to return some day.

Michoacan park
A street in the center of Michoacan

For now, that’s not possible. At least not without putting their sons in danger.

Other volunteers have heard alarming stories from those who’ve fled Michoacán. How the cartels force people off land that has been in their family for generations. How they threaten to kill or “disappear” their sons. How they instill fear in the community by hanging corpses from bridges. The people can’t trust the police. Often they’re involved themselves. Some communities have tried to set up their own vigilante groups. Others, like this family, flee.

Repulsive image, but a common occurrence in Michoacan
Repulsive image of a pregnant woman and others hung from a welcome sign, but a common occurrence in Michoacan

Fortunately, all the sons in this family are under 18. Otherwise, ICE could have detained one of them as well.

That happened to another mom who showed up this week with only two of her three children. Her 18-year-old son had been detained. They’d made it all the way from Guatemala, crossing treacherous Mexico, only to be separated in the U.S.

So, what’s next for these families?

Now they must make the agonizing decision of moving on to their designated relative’s home without their brother, husband, or son, who will remain in detention and be processed separately. Possibly he will remain here a year or more. Most likely, he will be deported.

I see the anxiety in this mother’s face when she comes to the office to ask when she can see her son. One of our volunteers will drive her to the detention facility on her designated visiting night.

I feel my heart for this woman. I know the joy of giving birth to a son. And the sorrow of being separated from him.

But this is what I cannot imagine: leaving my son behind in a detention facility in a foreign country not knowing when I will see him again. If he is deported, what will he do when he arrives back in the country alone? Will he be safe?

I feel helpless in what I have to offer her. Yet I want to offer something.

Later I go retrieve blankets for our new arrivals. I pass the room of the family from Michoacán. The mom is seated on her bed facing the doorway. The boys perch on the edge of a cot, their backs to me, fully attentive to their mother. Her face is somber. But her eyes are soft with something I easily recognize — her deep love for her sons, right alongside the pain of what she has to tell them.

Tonight, they will visit their father in detention. Tomorrow they will head for their relatives on the west coast as originally planned. Without their dad.

There are more stories like this. More ways my heart has been tested. I’ve come to see that the more I open my heart to strangers, the more I risk. Because there’s a definite risk when you look into the face of another.

You see yourself.

And you realize that we truly are connected as one family. We share the same feelings. The same sorrows and joys. The same desires for ourselves and our children. The same Spirit.

I can no longer NOT care. That’s the risk of being a family. What about you? Will you join us?

Logo from the nonprofit One Family
Logo from the nonprofit One Family

Still Living the Questions

 

questions1

Spring break. College students have descended upon us from the frozen terrain of Omaha, Cleveland, and Boston! But they haven’t come to bask in the desert sun. Or drink beer while lounging poolside. Not that they’d have much luck finding a body of water in El Paso anyway.

No. They’ve come with a more selfless purpose: to learn about life at the border, to experience and better understand the issues concerning immigration, and to serve.

One group of 10 students from Emerson College in Boston has been staying at our house. It’s been fun to catch them being silly with each other, to hear their laughter and feel their high energy. Part of me hopes to capture a bit of it for myself!

But, as the week has progressed, I’ve captured something else from these young people. Or, actually, recaptured.

It’s the passion and enthusiasm I hear in their voices as they share all they’ve been experiencing. They’ve visited with the families on the colonia, prepared and served dinner for migrant farmworkers, helped us clean rooms at the Nazareth hospitality center, and played with the children. They’ve met with Border Patrol, visited a detention center for youth, and listened to legal experts who’ve explained the complexities and insensible process of our current immigration system. They’ve been filled up with the realities at the border.

Realities that have touched their hearts, made them cry, opened their eyes. And committed them to return home and “do something more.”

One young woman, a junior, told me she’s changing the focus of her career because of this experience.

“In college, we’re taught to measure success by our career and what we earn, but now I’m seeing success in a whole different way,” Katie told me. “It’s about doing something that serves others.

“I don’t know exactly what that will be yet, but it’s going to be something different than I thought. I’m going home with lots of questions.”

Her words echoed my own two years ago. Like Katie, my trip to the border was life-changing. It awakened my heart and a calling that I still carry. It also generated lots of internal questions. Questions I still wrestle with, as I wonder where all this is taking me.

Sometimes I feel no older than a 21-year-old student questioning her major. I grapple with doubts and insecurities. I get impatient. I want answers, damn it! I want to be able to figure it out. Or at least be able to see the next step in front of me.

Those darned questions.

But when I’m quiet and still, I recognize that this is only my ego’s need to know, to have some semblance of control. Once again.
livethequestions

I’m still learning how to live the questions without needing to have the answers. Still learning what it means to be faithful to a call in my heart.

Sometimes it simply means all I can do is show up every day with a prayer to let myself be used for a purpose beyond what I am able to see most of the time. Or ever figure out.

And on my good days I’m able to recognize that the gift is hidden in accepting the questions.

Early last year, a dear friend sent me an excerpt from poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I need to reflect on these words again, and to remind myself: Rather than seek the answers, live the questions. And love where they take you.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Children as My Teachers

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When Davis was 3 years old, we took a family vacation out west and landed in Reno for a few days. Since David and I loved to hike, we wanted to trek the trails around Lake Tahoe. Only problem was, we could no longer conveniently strap Davis into one of those child carriers and hoist him on our backs. And since his little legs wouldn’t have made it on their own, we came up with another strategy. We’d take turns entertaining Davis while one of us ventured off on the adult activity.

So while David hiked one of the more strenuous trails, I chose a short — or so I thought — trail that led to the lake shore where Davis could play. Going down to the lake was easy and fun. We sang and skipped. Davis giggled much of the way. But I’d miscalculated the trip back. The trail was all uphill. And we were both less perky than when we had started out.

Before long, Davis did what any respectable 3-year old would do. He whined. And then he stopped in his tracks and cried, “Mommy, I’m tired.”

As anyone with young children knows, when they’ve determined they can’t walk any farther, your options are limited. You either drag them along or carry them. I chose the latter. So, I lifted Davis onto my back and started off again. Much more slowly. The weight of a hefty, healthy child made me stop every once in a while either to sit or to let him down so I could rest. The trail stretched on much longer than I’d remembered.

I didn’t complain though. Well, maybe just a little to David afterwards when he showed up exuberated by his adventure. But the truth is, I really hadn’t minded carrying Davis. For me, there had been no other option than to give my son what he needed.

I remembered this incident recently when I heard the story of a 12-year-old boy who had been found attempting to cross the border. He was carrying his 9-year-old paraplegic sister on his back. Through the desert.
child carryingchild carrier
Carrying my little son on that short hiking trail was one thing. But would I, as a preteen, even entertain the thought of lugging my sibling on my back for hundreds of miles on such a treacherous journey? I had to admit, I wouldn’t. But then I never had to experience what these children have faced.

The #1 reason unaccompanied minors are coming to the U.S. nowadays is to escape the violence. In countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, many girls stay home from school for fear of being raped. Boys are often threatened with their lives if they don’t work for the gangs so prevalent in these countries. Their government doesn’t protect them.

Luis, a young man who volunteers at the children’s detention centers in El Paso knows this because he often asks the children, “Why did you risk your life to come here?”

Sometimes, the answer is, “So I could be with my mom.”

Another reason many children come is to reunite with their parents who left home years ago to find work in the U.S.

Like the 6-year-old boy Luis told me about who drew an airplane to represent God. The boy explained that God was in the heavens, and, like an airplane, God would quickly take him to his mother if he kept God in his heart.

Despite the traumatic journey this child had experienced in order to be with his mother, and now finding himself in detention, his innocence and faith in God remained. The boy amazed Luis. He did me, too.

On days when I feel discouraged, when I wonder what is next for me, when I don’t feel like I have enough courage and faith for this journey, I need to remember these children. They can teach me a few things about what it really means to have faith, to trust, to hope. And not to complain.

Pieces of My Heart

pieces of my heart3
David would have been 65 today. There was a time I could not have imagined he wouldn’t make it to 65. The fact he didn’t even live to see 60 seems outrageous. Or at least it did.

Now I wonder, what does age mean? And what are years? They all meld together to create this wonderful expression of our short lives on this earth. Because we really are here so briefly. But if we live with our hearts open, it’s an amazing life. And who we are lives on through the hearts of others. That may seem like a worn-out phrase, but I can vouch for it. Love, in some mysterious way, connects two beings beyond the threshold where two worlds meet.

Rumi-lovers-love-Meetville-Quotes-165214

I know that I carry David in my heart. Just as vividly and lovingly as I did while he was alive. And sometimes, just as I did when he was alive, I take for granted the incredible support and influence he has had on my life. Yet the effects live on.

He was the first to recognize my inner strength and courageous spirit. He showed me my good qualities and, thankfully, my faults and weaknesses, too. I changed and grew because of our relationship. Through David I experienced God’s unconditional love. And that’s enabled me to risk leaping into the unknown, to leave behind my home, and to take others into my heart along the way.

But in the intimacy of living with an open heart lies another risk — the risk of feeling the sadness of the heart connections I’ve left behind. It seems I’m leaving pieces of my heart everywhere these days. But, just as I leave pieces of my heart behind, I take other pieces with me.  I’m learning the language of the open heart on this journey. My heart opens wider with each lesson.

It happened in San Antonio.

Especially that short month I spent serving Women’s Global Connection. Transitioning to WGC proved to be a grace-filled decision. A decision that brought me closer to what I came here seeking and that blessed me in so many ways. Located on the extensive campus of the University of Incarnate Word and The Village, a retirement home for many of the Sisters, WGC exposed me to the larger Incarnate Word community. To deeper connections with some of the Sisters and with the WGC staff so committed to its sustainable projects in Tanzania, Zambia, and, my special favorite, Peru. To the peaceful, prayerful oasis of the campus chapels. And to an awareness that “everything is a spiritual experience,” as my new friend Sr. Mary T. taught me.

When I packed up and headed north on I-35 last Tuesday night to spend Thanksgiving with my cousin Joyce near Austin, I was already missing these heart connections. People like Sylvia, Sr. Brigid, Sr. Mary T., Sr. Carmelita, Sr. Alice, Tere and Terrie, and many others who found their way into my heart and made my brief time with Incarnate Word Missionaries so special.

Although I expected to be at Joyce’s only a few days before heading on to El Paso, that changed when I got some surprising news. The house for volunteers where I’d planned to live won’t be available until December 15.

Once again I find myself waiting in this “in-between” place. My mind scrambles to come up with ideas for where to live in the interim. I start to feel anxious. So, I do what I know I need to do.

I go off by myself to be quiet and listen for guidance.

In the stillness I feel the loneliness of not having a place to settle. I’m tired of traveling with my belongings packed in my Subaru. I feel like a homeless child, wandering and wondering where she belongs. I question. I pray. I wait.

A book lying on my bed attracts my attention: Legacy of the Heart, by Wayne Muller — a gift from Sr. Brigid. It opens to this:

“…the journey to our new home need not always lead to a separate country or place. Sometimes it leads us to a still, small voice within our souls, a place of belonging as sure and quiet as our very breath…

Belonging begins in that deep, quiet place where our spirit lives within us. ‘Take sanctuary in me,’ says the voice of God. Do not depend on circumstances to create or sustain your place of belonging, but rather make your home in the unchanging breath of the spirit that lives within. Claim your home, claim your belonging with each breath.”

A stronger, and higher, part of me knows this truth. Home doesn’t rely on physical space. My true home lives within me. In quiet moments, I have touched that place. A place where Love connects all the heart’s pieces.

And then I know with certainty that I can never truly be separated from anyone or anything that I have ever loved. No matter where I find myself.

heart wide openII
A special card from Sylvia

 

A Place to Lay My Head

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Up until now I’ve had the surety of a place to lay my head. The security of room and board. That all changed when, a little over a month ago, I decided to pursue  the possibility of serving a different ministry than the one I started out with here in San Antonio. Still with Incarnate Word Missionaries, but in a different capacity.

The reason?

Since arriving last July, I have been discerning and questioning, why am I here? I found the ministry in transition, with only one mom and child to serve, and, for various reasons, I clearly felt it wasn’t the best use of my gifts and talents. Most importantly — my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t experiencing joy in the sacrifices that I’d made to be here. Yet, I knew that joy was possible. I’d felt it in El Paso.

Then I discovered Women’s Global Connection. Also a ministry of Incarnate Word Missionaries, WGC supports projects empowering women in countries like Zambia and Peru. And they had a need for a writer. It seemed like a good alternative.

So, I spoke to the director of the program and the Sisters in my current ministry and we all agreed. I should move on. The Sisters gave me until the end of October to get situated in the new ministry. I thought a month was plenty of time.

Until I realized that housing would be an issue.

It seems the only “official” housing for lay missionaries here is associated with the program I’m leaving. That means other Sisters, another intentional community, or some kind person would have to be willing to take me in. The director of the program searched for housing options for me. I searched too. By the end of the month, nothing had materialized.

But that’s not a bad thing. Because as the deadline drew near, it pushed me to go deeper into my heart. And ask those tough questions. Again. Questions like, what is the best use of my gifts and talents? What do I really want? What is my purpose here?

The response pointed me back to El Paso. Where a piece of my heart remains.

Although I needed to take this risk in coming here, San Antonio is not where I’m meant to land. Another, and greater, risk is being asked of me now. I hear my heart telling me to stop holding back. To acknowledge and trust my gifts. To use them in the service of others. Especially my writing.

And I hear the voice calling me back to serve on the border. And write about the issues that need our attention. Issues that need a compassionate voice. The issues of immigration. And human trafficking. And the lives of those impacted by the decisions we make every day.

It will mean taking an even greater risk, though, because I don’t know how I’ll support myself. I don’t yet know for sure who will take me in. I have the possibility of a place to stay beginning in December. But lots of unanswered questions remain. Can I trust my inner authority? Can I trust the God who brought me here? This Loving Presence that wants me to realize the fullest expression of who I am? I’m on this adventure with God. Heading toward something I can’t reason or explain. And sometimes I do feel scared.

I wonder, isn’t this the definition of faith?

Speaking of faith…

With my other ministry ended, I started serving Women’s  Global Connection, which I’ll continue doing through the month of November.  The Sisters have graciously allowed me to stay in this apartment a little longer than October 31st, but I need to move by the end of the week. I couldn’t have told you for sure where I was going to be sleeping next week.

Until today. One of the staff at WGC offered me a room in her house for the month. Talk about getting what you need when you need it!

Now I have a safe place to lay my head for another month. It’s something I always used to take for granted.

But on those nights when I started feeling anxious, wondering where I’d wind up, I thought  again about the children at the border — those migrating with their moms and those traveling alone. I wonder if they will be so fortunate. How many of them will have a safe place to lay their head tonight?

 

 

The Sound of Freedom

 

(image by Gary Gray)
(image by Gary Gray Photography)

Faced with loud, unfamiliar noises, our imagination tends to leap into action. That’s what happened to my friend Nina.

Nina’s probably one of the funniest people and greatest storytellers I know. She’s got that Erma Bombeck kind of humor. For those too young to remember, Erma penned a funny newspaper column about suburban family life for about 30 decades, until the late 1990s. Like Erma, my friend Nina could easily be writing her own column. Lucky for me, Nina’s been supporting my journey by regularly sending along humorous emails about life back in Virginia.

But this week Nina’s intended humor turned into a different kind of — and unexpected — gift.

In her email update, she joked about how her hearing has been declining. My hearing has been declining, too, so I can relate, even though Nina’s quite a bit younger than I am. I guess that encouraged me in a weird kind of way. So, right away she peaked my interest.

“My hearing is shot,” Nina writes.

“It’s been a steady decline for 15 years. However, I REALLY thought I was ‘hearing things’ yesterday.  Is it my heartbeat?  Is the ringing in my ears getting worse?  Am I now schizophrenic? Because I HEAR noises that are SO LOUD?”

As would happen with most of us at this point, her imagination has kicked in.

“What did I do yesterday to worsen the condition?” she muses. “Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that cheese enchilada at El Agave!!!!”

She is obviously baffled, and maybe just a tad anxious. Yet Nina ventures outside to her porch, where she is bombarded by this unidentifiable, VERY LOUD NOISE!

The culprit?

Thousands of swallows have alighted on the trees in her backyard. Nina relaxes and watches as the birds fly together from tree to tree, casting shadows over branches and earth. In the process, they create magnificent hues of darkness and light, like figures dancing across the sun.

“It was a little gift to me,” Nina writes.

And a very special gift to me. Because by the time I got to the end of her story, I was smiling.

Not because she had made me laugh. It was much more than that.

Those birds in flight represented a powerful metaphor: my own freedom.

Not simply because the image of birds flying symbolizes freedom. What really struck me was how the sound they had created was initially unfamiliar and somewhat scary.

Just like in my own life.

Here I am at another crossroads. With another decision to make. In about one week’s time. Living in liminal space can definitely create a little angst. And possibly lead to more risk-taking as I try to listen more deeply and follow my heart.

As a wise friend assured me, the risk involved is a small price to pay for the freedom of following our bliss.

The freedom to be who we truly are.

The freedom to live from our deepest self.

The freedom to create from a place of vulnerability and compassion.

Sometimes we can be surprised by the sound freedom makes. But if we are willing to venture out and follow the source, we may discover something breathtakingly beautiful.

 

 

Finding the Extraordinary in Ordinary Time

Night glow of unusual flowers
Night glow of unusual flowers

Hidden in plain sight.

Sometimes that’s life’s challenge. To recognize the beauty, the sacredness, the God that is right in front of me. Has always been there. In everything. Waiting for me to notice.

Not so easy to do when the rough road blurs my vision and makes me turn inward with questions that get me stuck in my mind. Getting lost in thought puts me in a trance that prevents me from being present. Present to what’s right in front of me.

That had been happening quite a bit as I faced some tough questions and hard situations in what feels like an in-between place to somewhere else.

But a wise Sister who has been accompanying me as my spiritual companion while I’m in San Antonio helped wake me up. She did it by asking an odd question.

“Why did Jesus wait 31 years before showing up on the scene to begin his ministry?,” Sr. Brigid asked me. “What was he doing all that time?”

I had to admit I didn’t know. Nothing in Scripture I’d read ever mentioned those years between the 12-year-old Jesus who worried the heck out of his parents by staying behind in the temple to chat it up with the elders and the 31-year-old who showed up on the banks of the Jordan asking his wild-eyed cousin John to baptize him.

Sister Brigid reminded me that Scripture simply says of that time, “he grew in wisdom, age, and grace.”

Quite ordinary. Or was it?

Then she shared that “ordinary time” is her favorite liturgical season in the Church year. And that she has found it can be quite extraordinary. She suggested that I, too, begin to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary of every day living. Which is what I have been doing as I hang out in liminal space.

I have no clue how much longer I will be here. But in the process I like to think that I’ve been growing in wisdom and grace. (The growing in age part goes without saying.) I’ve certainly learned even more about the word “surrender.”

There’s a kind of calmness that comes with surrendering. With nothing left to control, you simply let go in trust. You begin to pay attention more. And you notice the beauty, the sacredness, the God that is right here…in ordinary time.

These are some of the images I’ve captured since I’ve been paying attention.

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Juan Diego statue located in a very special tree-covered prayer space
Juan Diego statue located in a very special tree-covered prayer space

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