A Journey of the Heart

We get very little notice they are coming. The door opens and someone cries out, Families! The families are here!

We begin applauding, as those present at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center rush to greet the refugees arriving at Sacred Heart Church’s Community Center, in McAllen, TX. Our eyes meet, as I exclaim Bienvenidos! Welcome!  And we share a smile.

A young woman carrying her baby is among the first to enter. Each mothers, we open our arms to each other, kiss and embrace, holding one another for a moment. Then every person, young and old, embraces me.

A Brazilian father looks around and starts to cry, so happy to be here. Wiping his eyes, the tears just keep flowing. He and his son only have 30 minutes before they will board their bus north to Philadelphia. But it is time enough to get a quick bowl of soup and drink, a warm shower, and new sets of clothes and shoes for the two of them. A fresh start.

As they prepare to leave, I help his son pick out a book to read on their three-day trip.

Estoy tan agradecido, the father says. I am so appreciative, so very grateful.                 Dios los bendiga a todos! God bless you all!

A year ago, I came with women from St. John XXIII parish in Perrysburg, OH, to serve refugee families at the Franciscan Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, TX. During the one-week mission trip, I was looking to have my heart cracked open.

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That’s how the journey of faith begins. Not knowing where He may lead, but trusting God’s grace and blessings will guide us, as we journey in the days ahead.

A year later, my heart continues to expand in love each day. I’ve learned, once our eyes are opened, we can’t turn our backs. We have new eyes to see and new ears to hear, if we are open and receptive to the presence of God around us, and are willing to open our hearts and respond to His invitations.

IMG_1386After his election, Pope Francis shared why he chose St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, as his namesake, “The young Francis understood true joy and riches do not come from the possession of material things, but are to be found in following Christ and serving others. We all need to look upon one another with the loving eyes of Christ, and learn to embrace those in need, to show our closeness, affection and love.”

During my time here, I’ve learned simple acts of kindness transform the world for someone in need. And hugs and kisses are the way we greet one another, and say goodbye, here in the Rio Grande Valley.

It’s a tradition I will carry with me when I leave.

Bendiciones y abrazos. Blessings and hugs.                                                                           Vamos con Dios. We go with God.

The Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church, McAllen, is open seven days a week, including holidays, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or until the last refugee is served. For more information on volunteering or making a donation, please go to catholiccharitiesrgv.org
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Reach Out, Touch Someone

Every day, I see God’s hands at work, and witness how important and healing touch is in our lives. A loving gaze. A warm embrace. Two or more hands clasped in prayer.

Hands clasped in prayer

“Touch speaks the wordless words of love,” writes Henri Nouwen. “In friendship, touch often gives more life than words.”

Nouwen’s meditation on “The Healing Touch” is a bookend for Fr. Herb Weber’s most recent Mid-Week Meditation, “Scars.”

Father Herb is right. We don’t get through life without some scars. And they shouldn’t prevent us from moving ahead with our lives.

But what we see are visible reminders of cuts that have healed on the surface. What remain hidden are the layers of cuts beneath. Scar tissue forms there too, restricting our freedom of movement and often causing pain.

When we feel the scar tissue beneath the surface, and work to release the resulting restrictions, we are freed of what was previously hidden to us.

Let us remember God’s incarnate unconditional love, sent to us through his beloved Son and the Holy Spirit to the people he places in our midst, touches us here and now, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, enabling our healing.

These angels on earth touch our deepest, hidden scars, to help release us from those restrictions, so we may move more freely and ever closer to experiencing the joy of being “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved….” Colossians 3:12

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Baby Steps. Mere Baby Steps, Take You to the Mountain Top.

It’s not unusual for the Central American refugees crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States to develop colds and upper respiratory infections, especially after their extended stay in ICE’s (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) heavily air-conditioned detention centers.

And volunteers serving them at the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, TX, often succumb as well.

I was getting prescriptions filled at the closest HEB grocery, having spent the good part of three hours at a primary care clinic. My attempts at successful self-care for what I hoped was a cold, were short-lived and mitigated by a relapse and recurring fever. I am very grateful Sr. Norma Pimentel led me to seek medical care.

An examination and chest x-ray led to injections of Rocephin and Dexamethasone, and prescriptions for a Z-pack and albuterol inhaler. Even though my kids occasionally used inhalers growing up, I hadn’t myself, so I appreciated the pharmacist’s counsel on how to use one.

Maybe it was the amethyst cross I wore that prompted him to come from behind the counter to help me find the appropriate OTC treatments to complement what the doctor had ordered, sparking a conversation. He wondered how I had gotten so sick, so fast. And if I was prone to such URIs.

That led to me sharing the experiences of a mission trip women from my church made this summer to McAllen, Texas, to serve the Central American refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Many of us came back with URIs that took dedicated antibiotic treatment. And the resultant leap of faith I made in answering God’s call to serve where he had led me ~ to Sr. Norma and the mission work of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley at Sacred Heart Church.

I learned he, too, was rediscovering and renewing his Catholic faith. But he lamented the lack of inspiration he felt in his recent return to the Church. How he looked around the Church he had attended his entire life, yet felt as if he knew no one there, except his parents who sat beside him.

I shared how blessed and grateful I was to have found a faith community whose core values of Reverence, Hospitality, Invitation and Outreach, had sparked and nurtured my year of spiritual transformation. The Mass for me now was a celebration of faith I looked forward to each day, culminating in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. But I, too, here in the Valley, was missing the sustaining community of faith I had grown close to. For I’ve come to know people joining together, engaged in this spiritual journey with each other, make the Church.

Fortunately my parish is a high-tech church, so I can join in the celebration of Mass in Ohio each week. And I showed him the wealth of spiritual resources on the Saint John XXIII Catholic Community website and phone app.

We discussed how these ministries, meeting people where they were along their journey’s way, could and would spark a renewed faith in Catholics across the Valley and the country. How Pope Francis, who through his example, was spreading The Joy of the Gospel, and re-awakening Catholics’ desires to return to the flock and inspiring people of all faiths to serve the poor in our midst.

“Once God opens our eyes,” I said, “We can’t turn our backs.” For me, the journey began with a heartfelt conversation with God he prompted. “We just need to be open and receptive to the presence of God around us, and be willing to open our hearts and respond to his invitations.”

He told me his father had given him the The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. He’s the third person I know to be currently reading this book by James Martin, SJ, here in the Valley. I shared how I had taken to opening the book at random, trusting I’d find the very advice I needed to hear in that moment, and lauded him for nurturing his own faith journey.

“Baby steps,” he said. “Mere baby steps.”

But that’s how the journey of faith begins. With those initial baby steps.

Not knowing where they may eventually lead, but trusting that God’s grace and blessings will be with us and guide us as we journey in the days ahead.

All we have to do is start the journey.

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Make Me A Channel of Your Peace

I carry the current issue of Magnificat with me, everywhere I go.

Each day, this monthly magazine offers beautiful morning and evening prayers drawn from the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily readings for Mass, meditations and spiritual writings, and essays on the lives of the saints. It’s full of God’s Word.

As a subscriber, I can read it online or on my smartphone. But I carry it with me because I like reading from the printed page, marking a quote, making a note. And I’m not risking a ticket, if I happen to be reading while stopped in traffic or at a red light.

This past Sunday, at the end of 3 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle National Shrine, the Hispanic woman sitting at the end of my pew turned to me and said, “I love you!” She embraced me in a hug, gave me a kiss, and I did the same to her. I’m learning hugs and kisses are the Hispanic culture’s way of greeting one another and saying goodbye, here in the Rio Grande Valley.

The moment reminded me of Saturday’s “Meditation of the Day” in Magnificat, shared on the Memorial to St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th. Pope Francis writes:

The young Francis abandoned riches and comfort to become a poor man among the poor. He understood true joy and riches do not come from the possession of material things, but are to be found in following Christ and serving others…. We all need to look upon one another with the loving eyes of Christ, and learn to embrace those in need, to show our closeness, affection and love.

But then, what the woman did next surprised me.

“I really like your book,” she said. “May I have it?”

I looked down at the Magnificat I tenderly held. My daughter, Lauren, brought it from Ohio, just a few days before, when she surprised me with a visit to McAllen, TX.

“But it’s in English,” I said, thinking that might possibly dissuade her from wanting it.

“That’s ok,” she exclaimed. “I can read English!”

How could I hold on to it? I had the means to get another. She might not have the means to get one. And Fr. Herb’s homilies this weekend were all about letting go!

“The great Christian paradox is we have to let go to have,” says Fr. Herb, referencing The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. “It is in letting go, we find peace. ‘It is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we receive eternal life.’ In letting go is when we really have. And we are doing God’s will.”

So I gave her my beloved copy of Magnificat, as the Lord continues to Make Me A Channel of His Peace….

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A Fresh Start

A 43-year-old Brazilian father just came into the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church – McAllen, TX, with his 13-year-old son. The father looked around and started to cry, he was so happy to be here. Wiping his eyes, the tears just kept flowing. I quietly took over a box of tissues for him. “Gracias,” he said.

They only had 30 minutes, before they would board their bus to Philadelphia. But it was time enough to get a quick bowl of soup and drink, a warm shower, and new set of clothes for the two of them. A fresh start.

As they prepared to leave, I had his son pick out a book to read on their nearly three-day trip. “Estoy tan agradecida,” the father said. “Así que muy agradecido. Dios los bendiga a todos!” “I am so appreciative. So very grateful. God bless you all!”

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Bienvenidos!

We get very little notice they are coming.

The door opens and someone cries out, “Families! The families are here!” And all of the volunteers and staff from Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley rush to the front of the parish hall to greet them and begin to applaud.

This evening, a young woman carrying her baby, about 8 months old, was among the first of the Central Americans to enter the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church – McAllen, TX.

As I exclaimed, “Bienvenidos!” our eyes met, and we smiled. Each mothers. We opened up our arms to each other, kissed, embraced, and held one another for a moment. ❤

“So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

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Snowflakes Keep Falling

large snow at dark

Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful snowflakes that greeted me this morning!                          They are the largest and fluffiest I’ve seen all year. I had to chuckle, though,                   since it’s the second day of Spring!

Then I fell on the patch of ice in the driveway, hidden by the inch of snow                       already on the ground. I’m guessing that’s when you chuckled.

I bet you found my fall especially funny, since I just had a wonderful, full                         body massage from Jill last night. Didn’t you? :-}

Well, the irony brings a smile.

God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. — Voltaire

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Wicked Weather Epiphany.2

How’s the weather where you are? Is winter over yet?!?

I am mystified how clear roads and skies can give way to immediate whiteout blizzard conditions within minutes.

whitoutI was driving along, singing a song, feeling centered and secure. Then my drive became treacherous. Four inches of snow fell in about 10 minutes. With no traffic on the roads, there were no tire tracks to follow. I’m not familiar enough with the roads to know how they curve, so I was driving blind. The white-on-white roadways left nothing to guide my way.  [That’s my windshield wiper and view, to the right, at about 6:20 p.m.]

Now, I’m a country girl who’s been driving in the dark for decades. But I turned off the radio and began calmly praying out loud, “LORD, GOD, PLEASE KEEP ME SAFE!”

I was never so happy to walk into the Lial Renewal Center when I finally got there. Our book discussion had just been cancelled, but a surprised Sr. Dean insisted I stay the night. I am so very grateful she was there to Open the Door and give me a room at the inn. And what a blessing to wake up the next morning in a room with this beautiful view!

room at the inn2

Oh yes. My Wicked Weather Epiphany.2? It’s time to get his blessing.

I’ve been carrying around three St. Christopher medals for Father Herb to bless for my two kids and myself. I keep switching them from coat to coat, because I’ve been too embarrassed to ask him. Do people still ask priests to bless things anymore?!?

st. christopher medalI will never forget my Grandpa Mickey meeting me in the driveway as I packed up my car to head back to college after a weekend visit with my grandparents. He handed me a St. Christopher medal he had had his priest bless for me. I hung it in my car and wish I still had it. But I never saw it again after a major head-on auto accident I was in more than 30 years ago.

So, the next time I see him, I’m hoping Father Herb won’t mind blessing                           the St. Christopher medals I’ve been carrying around since before Christmas.

Never hurts to have the blessings of a living saint and another who’s the patron saint of travelers, protecting us on our journey and reminding us we never travel alone.

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Wicked Weather Epiphany

Polar Vortex.1Over the past two days, my typical under-an-hour work commute, each way, has turned into a two-hour commute, both there and then back again.

I don’t mind the time, usually. I drive along the river and love watching the sunrise and sunset skies change, minute by minute. God’s Masterpieces! And music is often a comfort. If I’m not listening to something from my own collection, the music on the radio often becomes a serendipitous soundtrack for my life at that moment.

But not the past two days. This polar vortex has left me white-knuckled, tense, and irritable. And tonight, I was disappointed there would be no evening Mass, because I had been looking forward to going all day.

And then one of my favorite Elton John songs came on the radio, that I began to listen to in a completely new way. Next? James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)!” And as I was singing along, it became clear I was telling the Lord, how sweet it is! From that point on, each of the songs that followed added to what became an uplifting soundtrack to my evening commute, giving me a momentary respite of sorts from this longing. This yearning. This increasing spiritual hunger I feel that cannot be satiated!

When feelings strike, I tend to intellectualize and compartmentalize to keep emotions at bay. But this is one feeling state I just can’t seem to shake or satisfy. Or set aside.  The Holy Spirit and God’s grace are definitely at work here, and I am beginning to wonder.

Do you think my soul and spirit are once again beginning to dance!?!

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Medicine 2.0 @ Stanford Opened The Door

I looked furtively for friendly eyes.

That’s the first piece of advice I give to speakers I coach. The stage is yours. Your audience isn’t going anywhere. So, before you open your mouth to speak, take a moment to get centered.  Breathe deep. Smile. And find those friendly pairs of eyes.

It was Day 2 of the Stanford Summit and Medicine 2.0 @ Stanford, the prequel pilot to what is now known as Medicine X, the brainchild of conference organizer Larry Chu, MD, MS, and his teams of advisors.

Ten ePatient scholars volunteered to tell their story, and I was one of them.
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