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Spring Is Stirring Everywhere

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Memorial Park in El Paso

 

I’ve been missing Virginia’s spring. Luckily, I’m about to experience it once again when I drive back to Virginia next week to attend my niece’s graduation from George Mason University. Soon my senses will be filled with sweet-smelling blossoms, blasted with the color of azaleas, irises, dogwoods, and lilacs. And, of course, stuffed with pollen.

I imagine Davis is missing it, too. Up there in Nome where the earth is just beginning to thaw and show sprigs of green.

Like him, I’ve been having a different kind of spring.

As in Nome, spring’s arrival in the desert is slow and subtle. You have to really look for it.

So lately I’d been paying attention to the stirrings of the earth. Seeking changes in the landscape. Looking and listening. Trying to find what I thought I was missing.

Turns out, I found something. Something within myself.

One day I ventured out to a park located not far from my apartment. So close, I’d wondered why I hadn’t been there before. Sinking my feet into the grass – real grass – I strolled across the lawn and finally settled down under a tree. A wide-trunked tree. Placed my back up against it and took in the energy of one of my favorite forms of life. Right away I started missing the greenery of Virginia. The red cardinals and indigo buntings. Even the squirrels.

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Roses at El Paso park

Suddenly a slight breeze stirred the leaves above me, as if to say, “Hey, we’re here. Can’t you see us?”

And then – I’m not kidding – a squirrel scampered across the hillside. The first I’ve seen since arriving in El Paso. He was quickly followed by another chasing after him. All along I’d thought squirrels didn’t exist here!

In the silence I sensed God saying, “Everything you need is here.”

I smiled as I was shown once again that I have everything I need. That “everything is everywhere” – to use a title of a lovely Carrie Newcomer song I recently came across. That I am never separated from my Source.

And I remembered why I am here.

In this desert, at the border, I am finding my heart, my compassion, my voice. What was planted in me is thriving. And I’m discovering that the changes I seek in the landscape are happening within me.

Just as Davis discovered something stirring within himself in the dark of winter. Something that called him to remain in Alaska and be a voice for the people there.

It’s part of the sacred pattern of life. This rhythm to the cycle of the seasons. A sacred rhythm that’s playing out within us, too. If we can only have patience to allow it to unfold.

Whether it’s under the deep, dark, frozen earth or the dusty, dry landscape, life is stirring within. Seeds have been planted. Seeds that will miraculously burst forth at the appropriate time.

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It’s all part of the cycle. A cycle you can trust.

And you can trust the Source that’s fulfilling what has been planted within you.

Whether you’re at the Bering Sea, the Arabian Sea, or a place like El Paso that’s never seen the sea.

Because, as Carrie sings, “Miracles are everywhere. Love is love; it’s here and there. Everything is everywhere.”  (from “Everything Is Everywhere”)

It’s a message we need to remember. No matter what season we’re in.

To listen to this beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer, find it at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuCb8EwApQM

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.

 

The Memory of Virginia

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Flowering dogwood — the state tree of Virginia

I’ll miss the trees.

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

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

I love green.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll definitely miss the ocean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s far from easy.

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

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

And follow where I know my heart is leading.

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

And in my experience, memories of love never fade.

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(Lyrics from The Memory of Trees, by Enya)

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

The Gift of Esther

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I can’t believe I’m writing this. Esther died today.

Less than three weeks ago she came into my room at Grandview house and said she had some news. Esther never even ventured into my room, so when she pulled out a chair and sat down, right away I knew this was serious. She told me she had cancer and it had spread throughout her body. I was in shock. We all were.

Esther was the Sister of St. Joseph with whom I’d been living since I arrived in El Paso in early December. Over the past few months she’d been losing weight. I thought it was due to the stress of managing this big house by herself. Although I was helping as much as I could, having volunteers coming and going every two weeks or more, trying to feed them all, keep the house clean, and manage the bills, all seemed like a huge responsibility to me. And I wasn’t 70+ years old.

Then Esther had developed this unrelenting back pain on top of the weight loss. Still I didn’t attribute it to anything serious. Esther was just too spunky and vibrant. A former phys ed teacher, she’d often break into song. Remembering a show tune or classic that somehow related to the situation at the moment, she’d simply start singing. Not the least self-conscious at all. Even though she rarely got through the first line or verse before forgetting the rest.

I found this endearing.

So was her addiction to doing the crossword puzzle in the morning paper. Whenever I came down to breakfast, I knew if I sat down with her, I could expect to be drilled.

“How many letters?” I’d ask.

But she’d already have moved on to belting out the next clue. It was too much for my mind that early in the morning. Sometimes I’d eat my cereal in my room.

The thing is, I love Esther. But at first, I wasn’t even sure I liked her.

When I came to live at Grandview house, she questioned me. She didn’t understand why I had left everything behind. What was I looking for? More than once she told me she could never do what I was doing. And she wasn’t too keen on the idea that I was writing three days a week instead of working every day with the immigrant families at the hospitality center where all the other volunteers at Grandview spent their time. So, I offered to give her one full day a week of chores to help towards my room and board.

Still, I don’t think she trusted me. Or my ability to live like a missionary and adjust to the situation. Our relationship didn’t exactly start out on stable ground.

But as she saw how I adapted to making meals with whatever lay stored in the cupboard, how I rarely asked for anything, how I was available whenever she needed me, she eased up. And I grew less resentful. Prayer helped. So did my commitment to being there.

And then, very subtly, Spirit slipped in and taught me how to open my heart to this woman. Showed me how to see her more clearly. Like the night Esther shared her faith story with me. How she’d been a teacher for years, focusing on herself, before she experienced a grace-filled moment that changed her life and caused her to join a religious congregation.

The day Esther handed me a large sum of cash to manage groceries because she had to be away from the house for several days, I thought I’d cry. It was more than the fact that she trusted me. Without saying a word about it, I knew we’d grown fond of each other.

By the time my birthday came around at the end of March, she was asking me what I’d choose if I could have my favorite meal. And then she went and bought fresh tuna steaks and told me to invite a friend to dinner. This from a woman who had worried aloud more than once about what the grocery bill was running.

As Esther grew weaker, I felt especially blessed to be at Grandview. I actually enjoyed lugging the trash cans up and down the steep driveway every week. And pulling the weeds popping up out of the pavement and along the hillside. It would have been easy to stay there longer.

The morning I’d packed up my car and was ready to head out of El Paso, Esther and the other Sisters at the house gathered round to bless me on my way. The beauty of this gift — Esther had prepared the blessing. When I looked into her eyes to say goodbye, I recognized my own heart.

Esther surrounded by Emerson College students visiting the border in March

Esther surrounded by Emerson College students visiting the border in March

I’m treasuring Esther’s gift tonight.

Drawing the Face of God

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Imagination, innocence, and trust. Qualities I love about children.

On the days I’m fortunate enough to serve at the Nazareth Hospitality Center, I get to witness these qualities. Interacting with the children is the highlight of my day.

But when the migrant children first come through our doors, their faces reveal anything but trust.  Their eyes search me, as if for a sign. Some cling to their parent’s side or try to crawl in their mother’s lap. Others sit quietly on folding chairs as I explain to their parents where they are and ask the necessary questions to fill out our paperwork. Sometimes when I bend down to tell a child my name and ask his or hers, I get no answer. The little girl glances away shyly. The little boy pulls closer in to his mother. I wonder what they’ve experienced on their journey. And I’m aware of the place they just came from—an Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding facility.

I ask if they are hungry. And I smile. A lot.

After a while, they respond. They begin to trust that we really do care about them here and that this place is safe. Once a child joins in my game of peek-a-boo or lets me chase him like a make-believe dragon, I feel reassured that despite whatever they’ve experienced, their imagination and innocence are still intact.

Besides, once they see the toy room, they can’t hold back. Before long, I hear the sounds of giggles traveling down the hall and plastic wheels being dragged across the linoleum. Or I’ll walk by and catch a budding artist concentrating on her picture. Later she’ll ask me for tape so she can add it to our wall collection of drawings from the hundreds of children who’ve passed through this center. Most likely her colorful drawing will include words like “blessed” and “thank you” and “God.”  Always the children are thankful. No matter what they’ve experienced.

Luis, a young man who volunteers at Nazareth, knows a lot about the migrant children. About their innocence and imagination. Their trust. And their faith. In addition to taking classes, studying, and juggling a full schedule, for the past six years Luis has volunteered with his church’s immigrant ministry. On weeknights and some weekends he visits and works with the children and youth confined to detention centers.

These children are what our government calls UACs — unaccompanied alien children. That means they’ve come to the border without a parent. Unaccompanied children under 12 are put in a foster care-type system until they’re reunited with a parent or deported. Youth 12-17 are placed in a very structured and secured detention center.

When Luis asks the children why they’ve come, the top two reasons he hears over and over are:

#1 – “To be with my parents/my mother.”  Often the child’s parent came to this country years ago to work and support the family. Some haven’t seen their mother since they were toddlers.

#2 – “To escape the violence.” Now more than ever children tell Luis of being threatened by gangs. Girls often don’t even go to school for fear of being raped. They tell him no one can protect them.

Luis has many stories about the children and youth he’s encountered. Tough stories to hear. Stories about the pain of being separated from parents for years. Stories about things children shouldn’t have to endure.

But Luis has something else, too. A very special scrapbook filled with drawings and letters from the children. They say how blessed they are to have known Luis. In their neatly printed letters, they thank him and thank God for him.

child's drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe

child’s drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe

And then there are the drawings. So precious. A seven-year-old’s version of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A young teen’s intricate painting.

But there’s one unusual drawing that Luis especially likes to explain.

One day he’d asked the little kids at the center to draw a picture of what God looks like to them. Six-year-old José presented a colorful, oblong-shaped object up at the top of his page with his name above it.

Not having a clue as to what it was and not wanting to hurt José’s feelings by trying to guess, Luis simply asked him.

“An airplane,” the little guy answered.

Confused, Luis asked, “So, José, why is God an airplane?”

“Because God is fast like an airplane. And I know that if I have God in my heart, God will be the fast plane that will take me to my mom.”

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Trauma. Heartbreak. Disappointment. Uncertainty about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

This is what these children experience. Yet they remain innocent. They still have faith and trust in a God who is present no matter what. And their imagination soars. Just like José’s airplane.

It makes me wonder. If I’d been through what these kids have, how might I draw God?

Simple Joys

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Recently two little girls from Guatemala arrived at our door wearing something I’d never seen on a child. Men’s sweatpants.

Admittedly, the girls and their mother appeared a little more disheveled and a little wearier than most of the migrants that show up at Nazareth. Their massively tangled black hair encircled brown faces streaked with dirt so ingrained, their skin appeared to hold various shades of darkness and light. Permanently.

It wasn’t until Mary Beth bent down to help the children remove their worn-out sneakers that she noticed their clothing. With no laces, broken soles, the tongues flapping and tattered, the shoes were what first caught her attention. worn-out-shoes

But just above the tongues of the sneakers hung gray, baggy pants rolled up at the ankles, spreading out 100 times wider than the width of these thin girls, and then rolled several times over and cinched at the waist. Startled, Mary Beth motioned to me.

“They’re wearing men’s sweat pants,” she nearly whispered.

I had to take a look for myself.

She was right.

If they’d wanted, the girls could have ducked down under the waistband and swum around. I couldn’t imagine them trekking all the way from Guatemala through Mexico wearing these oversized pants.

Yet they had. And neither the girls nor their mother seemed bothered in the least by this. They simply smiled at our attention.
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While Mary Beth helped the family find appropriate clothing, I went off to get bath towels and toiletries for their showers. As I laid out the clean towels on the cots in the their room, I couldn’t help notice what they’d brought with them. Two brown paper sacks sat like fat, wrinkled cabbages on their cots. Twisted at the neck, the bags bulged and split from the weight of the belongings stuffed into them. It was everything they had.

Later, when I escorted the three of them to the showers, I realized the girls had already donned their newfound clothing. One wore a pastel top and jeans, the other, a white dress printed with colorful flowers.

“A dress!” I said to her in Spanish. Her response — nothing but teeth as she smiled up at me, her expression revealing everything. For a moment, I felt as happy as she did. All because of a second-hand dress.

They were still in the shower when it was time for me to leave. Since I wouldn’t be back for a few days, I knew I wouldn’t see this little family again. They’d be gone by tomorrow.

I wanted to do something more. So, I went to the storage room and got a couple of gift bags with crayons and notepads and little TY stuffed animals and placed them on the girls’ cots. It was fun to imagine the joy on their faces when they’d return to their rooms and find them.

But here’s something I’ve noticed.

In the process of doing whatever it is I think I am doing for the people here, something wonderful happens. Each time I learn a little more from their simple faith. Their trust. Their joy. Something about what it really means to live with uncertainty. To trust the journey to something beyond oneself. And to be happy in the midst of it all.

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Where’s the Ocean?

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Water.

Water filled my day. Not only because of the unusual rain we experienced. Unusual simply because it rained in El Paso. And people don’t know how to act or drive in such a phenomenon. Kind of like Virginians with snow.

But the image of water actually started before I woke up, when these words entered my half-asleep awareness:

“What does it mean to really trust God?”

I left El Paso last year with these exact words. They were on my lips and heart right about this time as I was preparing to return home to Virginia. I’d had some powerful experiences of Love upholding me through those uncertain months, and I’d come to see, and to trust, that I really do have everything I need. That a benign Universe does uphold us. I thought for sure I’d never not trust myself and God again.

But that’s not how my story goes.

So this morning when I awoke with these words on my heart again, I figured Spirit was trying to tell me something. I sat down with my journal in my lap, pen poised, and right off I started writing about myself as if I were a fish. Who knows where this all came from, but here’s what I wrote:

 “I see how I go back and forth, floundering like a fish flapping in and out of the water, sometimes trusting completely and serenely in the ocean that holds me; other times gasping for air so frenetically, I wonder if the ocean ever existed.

“But it’s here. It’s always here. Sometimes its presence is so obvious and constant, I’ve missed it completely by the sheer ordinariness and simplicity of its existence. Probably my small, fearful self expects a grand Tsunami to show up and knock me over with its immense force. Now that would be unmistakable!

“Instead, the ocean is simply present. Quiet and still, nourishing and sustaining me without my knowing it. Can I recognize its presence and drink from the possibilities? Can I let go into its current and trust where it will take me? Or will I fall back to my old way of thinking and resort to struggling to stay above water?

“It’s funny to think about the ocean in the El Paso desert where it’s hard to find any body of water. Or any moisture at all. Why the ocean metaphor in a place that lacks water?”

 

I’m quiet for a while.

And then I remember the poppies I saw this weekend.poppies2

Patches of bright orange-yellow blooming across the desert sands. Nourished by water that seems nonexistent. But it’s there. You just have to go deep underground to find it.

Occasionally—like today—water appears on the surface. Unexpectedly falling from the sky in big, wet, unmistakable raindrops that grace my face, my arms, my spirit. Raindrops that can never be separated from the ocean.

And neither can I.

 

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.
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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.

Wake Up! Don’t Go Back to Sleep

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Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

(Rumi) 

It hasn’t escaped me — the parallel between what’s happening in my life and this current season of Advent. Both are marked by expectant waiting and preparation. Of hope and anticipation in the darkness.

But my experience seems to be lasting a lot longer than one season!

Since my last post, I’ve made it back to El Paso. With a writing assignment waiting for me at the Columban Missions’ border ministry, I didn’t want to “wait it out” any longer at my cousin’s until housing for volunteers became available. So, I decided to make a couple of calls. An El Paso friend took me in for two nights, and then I moved back temporarily with the School Sisters of St. Francis, where I lived when I started this journey at the beginning of the year. It may sound funny, but I’ve slept in so many places over these past several months, it’s been hard to keep track.

Guess it’s not unusual I’d be feeling displaced, uprooted, unsettled. Yet again.

And I’d not anticipated the sadness I’d feel upon leaving Incarnate Word Missionaries and the deep connections I’ve made there. Sometimes I think I’m too old for all this uprooting and moving around. This lack of routine and daily schedules. This inability to anticipate what’s ahead on the path. Even in the slightest next step. It requires a keen watchfulness. An attentiveness to the clues — signs visible only to my spiritual senses.
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Seeing as it’s Advent, I was reflecting on another journey: the journey of a couple who, many years ago, also found themselves uprooted, displaced, and wandering. The young wife, pregnant with her first child, traveling away from home, her mother, her midwife, all that was familiar, was guided only by her new husband and the hope of a promise, which, to tell the truth, hadn’t been laid out very clearly. All she knew was her willingness to respond to a call she didn’t fully understand.

That’s really the metaphor for Mary’s life, isn’t it? How one’s willingness to say yes to the unknown, to something that doesn’t make sense in a logistical, material world, gives birth to something well beyond our expectations? Something that can only be envisioned in the imagination. The place where Spirit is experienced, and born.

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Still…I think Mary must have been at least a little scared and unsure. Did she question her decision? Did she wonder what she had said yes to?

I know I often have.

Franciscan Richard Rohr’s reflections this week have been on “Presence.” He’s been reminding me exactly what I need to be aware of — the Presence in this moment I am living. Not in the moment I am waiting for around the next bend when everything, hopefully, will become clearer.

“The key to all spirituality,” Rohr writes, is to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive.”

To know that I have everything I need in this moment.

I had one of those “a-ha” awakening moments a few weeks ago while staying at Alison’s house in the suburbs of San Antonio — yet another temporary abode. One morning, as I searched among my half-unpacked belongings for something to wear, feeling frustrated over the constant moving and trying to find a place to land, I said aloud, “This can’t be my life!”

It felt so crazy.

But then I paused. And a new thought slipped right in.

“But this is my life! And it’s OK! It’s perfectly fine just as it is. I don’t need to wait for it to be anything different. I’m serving my purpose right where I am.”

Just for a moment I felt as though I had awakened. It’s not that I won’t go back to sleep. I need reminders. Be alert! Stay awake! Be present to your own life!

And know that it is good, just as it is, however it shows up. Because that’s where God is.

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Sure, I’d like to have more clarity about where I’m going. Assurance that I’m making the right decisions. But even more, I want a deeper awareness of this abiding Presence. An awareness of this Love guiding all my choices.

Rohr says, “This is what it means to be awake: to be constantly willing to say that God could even be coming to me in this! Even in this!”

Even in the things I don’t like or don’t understand. Even in what I would prefer to change. Or at least be able to anticipate.

Like Mary, can I recognize and hope in the Presence that abides in me? In the here and now?  As I wonder and I wait?

Voices in the Desert

Me with some of  my students in front of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza

Me with some of my students in front of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza

The desert has spoken to my heart. In so many ways. Through so many people.

As I prepare to return to Virginia tomorrow, I’m finding it hard to convey the richness of my experiences, the warmth and generosity of the people, and the many powerful ways that they and this place have touched my heart during these two months.

I came with so many questions, doubts, uncertainty as to why my heart was calling me here and what I would do exactly. My Spanish was limited. My goals unclear. My future uncertain. I only knew I was following a fire in my heart. But I kept asking God why? Why have you put this on my heart? Answers evaded me.

Some time ago I realized I had stopped asking the questions.

I finally understood, deep within myself, that this is exactly where I was meant to be. Everyone and everything I encountered has been speaking to me. All have been teaching me, molding me, preparing me for the next step, whatever that may be. I still don’t know.

But this I do know.

I know that I cannot be silent. I will use my voice to speak of what I have witnessed here, to be a voice for others who can’t speak for themselves.

I know that I will not return to the same life I had before. It’s not possible. Something within me has changed.

I know I will carry in my heart the people I have met. People like the wonderful women to whom I taught English at Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza — a center where Hispanic women come to learn new skills and to share their stories. We have joked and laughed together, and they would greet me with hugs and kisses on the cheek. Their final goodbye involved a homemade chocolate cake layered with strawberries—my favorite—and gifts, and, of course, more food. They told me they will miss me. I already miss them.

Me in front of Las Americas

Me in front of Las Americas

People like Katie, the director of Las Americas, and her staff who work tirelessly to represent immigrants in their cases for asylum and other human rights issues. People like Victoria, “the bean lady”; Pat Cane, the founder of Capacitar; Sylvia, who shared her faith story with me and drove me around El Paso; and all the women I met at the detention center, at the Centro Santa Catalina sewing cooperative, and in the colonias. I’m especially thinking of one of the women I helped to study for her citizenship exam. A very bright young woman, who knew all 100 answers the very first time I quizzed her. Yet her anxiety as the exam date drew near caused her to begin making mistakes. Inspired by Capacitar, I taught her a spiritual practice to help ground and relax her. The morning of her exam, I prayed and anxiously awaited her phone call. But she never called. Instead she drove over to share the news with me in person. She had passed! We squealed like excited children. Before we parted, she told me she thanked God for putting me on her path. And she cried.

Then there are the people I met in Juarez. Zeferina, extremely poor and blind from diabetes, yet she teaches catechism every Sunday with the help of her young daughter who serves as her eyes. This woman’s deep peace and trust of God was so evident in her face, her stance, her composure, and her kindness. Esperenza, a poor widow who cares for a disabled man in her home because his family threw him out. And, of course, the sisters who live and work in Juarez, serving the poorest of the poor and standing up for human rights.

Lastly, there’s the School Sisters of St. Francis with whom I’ve been staying in El Paso.

Sr. Elsa, Sr. Kathy, and Sr. Fran on a fun trip to Mesilla, N.M.

Sr. Elsa, Sr. Kathy, and Sr. Fran on a fun trip to Mesilla, N.M.

Sunday night they surprised me with a despedida. That’s a Spanish farewell party. Except it wasn’t a party at all, but rather a ceremony to bless, honor, and affirm me. The sisters invited me to sit down at their computer. Then Sr. Fran lit a candle and turned up the volume as she played two songs on YouTube she’d chosen especially for me: “Just to Be” and “Sarah’s Song.” Sitting in the dimly lit room, surrounded by these three sisters, a candle flame flickering beside me, I listened to the sweet voice of Colleen Fulmer — a voice I’d never heard before — sing these beautiful lyrics:“Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy…Be still and know I am God. In quiet and trust lies your healing.” (lyrics from “Just to Be”)

“The whole of the earth will be blessed by you; In God you have made your home. The stars will dance as they call out your name. Your heart always laughing with joy…
As you have shared with us the sowing of seeds,
So too all you’ve planted will bear fruit…” (lyrics from “Sarah’s Song”)

Then each of the sisters expressed what they have seen and appreciated in me. What an unexpected and humbling gift! In that moment, I felt and heard God speaking to me. As it turns out, the sisters’ gift was the most powerful voice of all. A reminder of how loved I am, how loved we all are.

I remember a Scripture verse I came across years ago. It spoke to me then, but it speaks to me even more clearly now:

“I will lure her into the desert where I will speak to her heart.”

God has definitely spoken to my heart here. And I now know how important it is to listen and follow.

(source: wikipedia.com)

(source: wikipedia.com)