perception

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I am imagining spring and early summer in Pennsylvania, and it makes me smile. I’m sure my husband would be cursing the green, already-growing grass, as he gets the lawn mower ready for summer. He has enjoyed his life of “leisure” with our little apartment – no snow in Singapore to clear from the driveway and no weeding or cutting the grass! For me, the blooming dogwoods in spring and the magnolia tree (with yellow flowers) that we planted almost 20 years ago in Downingtown always made me rejoice in the changing seasons.

It’s been 11 months since we left our home in Pennsylvania for this adventure in Asia. Hard to believe! I use the term “adventure” with great intention. I just looked up the word; it means “risky or unexpected undertaking.” Synonyms are: trip, enterprise, happening, hazard, peril, speculation! Such a perfect word to describe the experience of leaving our home and forging forward into this unknown. Truth be told, I feel a bit lax in my communications with friends and family in the US, but not for lack of spiritual connection and affection. It has been difficult, trying to articulate why I haven’t kept my closest people, my “tribe,” up to date on our experience in Southeast Asia. I think perhaps it has to do with my level of comfort here. In so many ways I still feel as if I’m floundering. I haven’t found my groove. Each day brings new challenges, even as some things become familiar and more routine.

Being an expat is not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. And my introverted nature often leaves me feeling exhausted after my attempts to navigate this life. So much talking to strangers! I told my daughters (who are 22 and 24 for this year) that it’s a lot like going off to college was for them. Being thrown in to an environment where everyone is trying to make new friends and figure each other out. Learning what I have in common with a bunch of strangers. Being the freshman in a sea of seasoned residents. Not knowing my way around or the best way to get somewhere. Learning the layout of the grocery store so that it eventually feels familiar. Moving our “stuff” into an apartment whose layout is drastically different than our former residence. And getting rid of everything that didn’t fit.

And yet…

I have seen parts of the world I would never have seen. Bangkok Thailand, the Great Wall, Beijing China, Saigon Vietnam, Hong Kong, Bali. Each place with its own personality, its own difficulties, its own cultural flavor. Different ways of getting around. (Taxi? Hired driver? Tuktuk? Subway? Even in Singapore, I drive a car with the steering wheel on the other side, Britain-style!) Each place with a spirituality I have never known before. It’s expanding me. I find myself at a loss for the spirituality I’ve known before. For the old, familiar connection with God. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve had the opportunity to taste foods and cultures I’ve never tried before. To see Indian people walking on a pilgrimage of 4 kilometers carrying milk vessels attached to their body with piercings. To watch Buddhist monks in bright orange robes carrying alms bowls around the city. To listen to the Muslim call to prayer in a little neighborhood in Singapore.

I’ve met some incredible ladies who have lived in every imaginable corner of the globe. We like to joke about this. Whenever someone asks where we are from, our favorite response is, “It’s complicated.” I moved here from Philadelphia. I grew up in Michigan. My kids were born in Maine and Maryland. My experience is all over the US, but the ladies I’ve met have stories like this: “I was born in Louisiana. I’ve lived in Egypt, Paris, and Shanghai. I moved here from Abu Dhabi. We hope to retire to North Carolina some day.” In other words, “It’s complicated.”

And yet…

I miss my wonderful parish in Downingtown. I miss my closest girlfriends. I miss Wawa and Jasper and the Struble Trail. I miss driving down familiar Chester County roads. I miss my yellow magnolia tree. Mostly, I miss my daughters, and my mom, and my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, in-laws.

So goes the roller coaster of expat life. And so goes the roller coaster of ANY life. Finding the spirituality of the experience of every day. Trying a new food at your favorite restaurant down at the corner. Hearing the words of scripture with new, fresh ears. Meeting incredible ladies whose life has been “complicated”and feeling connected to them regardless of where we came from.

I just finished reading a phenomenal book, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment, by Katrina Kenison. It is a beautifully written memoir, a pilgrimage of sorts, about a woman in mid-life adjusting to the new routines, a woman who realizes that her path has been a precious one, and whose path is still opening up before her. I highly recommend it. It has helped me to see that every journey through life is a beautiful one. And so, I will end this post with a quote from the book.

First, some background about the context: In Kenison’s heartfelt exploration through the changes she’s experiencing, she decides to enroll in a month-long yoga training retreat. At the end of the retreat, the instructors ask each participant to write themselves a letter that will be mailed a few months later, after they have re-integrated back into their “former” lives. Kenison’s letter to herself is one I will return to again and again, a universal commentary, and also one for me, personally. One I feel like we each should return to, regardless of our age or experience or any pain in the present moment. An expression of what we each should want, need and demand of ourselves, every day, for the rest of our lives.

“What I want to say to you, my dear, is this: Just for today, live the passionate truth of who you are. Stop looking at what is undone, what you haven’t achieved, where you’ve fallen short. Look, instead, into your own full heart. If your journey brings you to a choice between love and fear, choose love. Vulnerability is its own grace and its own gift. Offer it. Be brave enough to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be seen–dancing, and falling, and failing, and trying again. You are loved, and all that you have to offer is deeply needed. Your own presence is a force for healing. Be present. There is more going on than you know, more guidance and support surrounding you than you can even begin to imagine. Trust it. Your own strong roots are in place–in your own body, in the earth, in the ongoing story of your life, just as it is. Put your faith in these roots, and allow yourself to go with the flow. Let go and breathe into the goodness that you already are. Move with the current, not against it. Resist nothing. Let life carry you. You have work to do. Begin it.”

And so I begin again. Today. Tomorrow. And the day after that. Again and again and again.

I invite you to do the same.

 “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”

-Henry Miller

trust

My daughter is going into the peace corps. I find this so hard to believe. Wasn’t it only yesterday that my mom and I were painting the cow-jumping-over-the-moon nursery? (It was the perfect decor, since we didn’t know whether our little offspring was going to be a boy or a girl.) Wasn’t it only yesterday that we loaded our tiny newborn into her brand new baby carrier car seat and took her up Mount Battie in Camden, Maine on her ‘First Outing”? (She was barely a week old.) It might have been that, combined with our ‘First Plane Ride’ two weeks later, that instilled in her the wanderlust that drives her to this day. (We moved to Kansas soon after she was born.)

She leaves for Kosovo on June 6. And while I have known, ever since she applied, that this could actually happen, when we got the news that she had received her official invitation, reality began to set in. In all honesty, I secretly hoped that she wouldn’t make it through the very competitive selection process. But as time tends to do, the grief over the thought of having my daughter so far away from me for so long has waned, somewhat. The roller coaster of emotions that go along with this separation will carry me for the next two-and-a-half years, to be sure. And yet, when I sit with all of these realities in prayer, I know God’s grace.

My mind tells me, she’s going so far away… And God responds, she’s an adult, now.
My minds says, it’s so dangerous… And God responds, I’ll watch over her.
My mind tells me, she won’t have a car, or a mall, or her comfy bedroom… And God whispers, she doesn’t NEED any of those things.
My mind tells me, she NEEDS my love and guidance… And God chuckles a bit. Because God is love, and God is in every face she will see every day during this amazing adventure on which she is about to embark.

It’s funny, this parenting thing. We try to love them with all our hearts, we guide them, we protect them. We say “no” perhaps a few too many times. Or maybe not enough? And we pray. A lot. We do all of these parenting things imperfectly, at best. And somehow, with God’s grace and with Holy Mystery, they become a person who wants to serve others. I’ve thought about this so many times in the past few months. Where did this desire in her soul come from? I’m not entirely sure that I had anything to do with it. But I delight in it, I believe in it, and I am overflowing with gratitude for it.

Today, I pray for complete trust in God’s plan, that plan that is Holy Mystery.

I invite you to do the same.

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
-Matthew 19:21

dedication

In the days leading up to the dedication celebration of our parish’s new church building in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, I found myself praying with lovely little story in a book by Margaret Silf:

I remember well the morning when, after listening to all my outpourings regarding the chaos running riot in my life at that time, my long-suffering and very wise friend commented simply, ‘Just let the Spirit hover over the chaos.’

Silf goes on to connect chaos with creation – with God utilizing raw material to make something new, and God declaring that it is good. She explains, “Chaos is a sacred reality, the very thing that is needed for a new creation to begin. Chaos is a gift, overflowing with potential.”

I’m sure that those who worked on the project of building a new church for the people of St Joseph’s parish would agree that chaos was at least a small part of the picture. Whether it be the abundant rains that fell during the building of the foundation, or the many tradesmen working simultaneously on the floor, the ceiling, and everything in between, or the logistics of the parking lot (aka construction site) on Sunday mornings, chaos is a reality with projects such as these.

Organized chaos. That’s how I would describe the very moment that the doors were opened and the parishioners started streaming into the finished building, the majority of people seeing the beauty of this creation for the first time. No amount of planning or forethought could predict exactly how this would go. And the spirit hovered over it, showering everyone with grace.

The archbishop helped us to breathe life into this building on Saturday. The altar was ceremoniously and beautifully anointed with sacred chrism, the walls and the people blessed with holy water, and our prayers and intentions for the future of this space carried to God as incense filled the air. The Dedication Rite, beautifully orchestrated with a reverence befitting of the occasion, is something that few people are privileged to experience in one lifetime. It is a moment saved for all eternity in the life of this parish family.

During his homily, Archbishop Chaput likened this dedication to the dedication of ourself to God, in baptism and confirmation. And every time we receive Eucharist, or participate in the celebration of any sacrament, the Holy Spirit, which hovers over the chaos of our lives, showers us with grace. At the same time, the significance of this particular dedication for each of us is enormous. It is a new beginning, for the church in Downingtown, but also for each of us. A Holy moment of conversion. Grace abounds more and more.

During the chaos we have experienced as a parish family these past months and recent years, the spirit has hovered over us, blessed us, and called to us. May we continue to learn how to answer.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

-Ephesians 3:14-17

driving

 

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I have always valued car time. For me, it is time spent alone with people I love, where conversations can go on for a while without interruption, where all the passengers are looking forward, where scenery is mutually enjoyed and things (sometimes long unspoken) come to light. When I am traveling in the car alone, I like to blast the music from the iPod and sing along, relishing the fact that I can choose the playlists. I listen more closely to the lyrics, allowing them to speak to my heart as the sound fills the car. When I am traveling in the car with others, I savor the chance to hear and to be heard. To listen, and to respond fully. To be aware of the gift of this time together.

It seems that autumn, for me, has been a road trip season. Both of our children have left the nest and are away at college. So, beginning in August, we’ve driven to their respective campuses for move-ins, visits, and various deliveries that could not be accommodated by mail, from mini-refrigerators to repaired laptops to bookshelves. Lots of time in the car, all of it good.

I drove with our youngest daughter to Kentucky, the car packed up to the absolute max, the GPS set to her dorm’s address, her new home-away-from-home. I’m pretty sure we couldn’t fit much more into the car that day than a couple of extra water bottles. More than the physical “stuff,” during the long drive, we filled the car with conversation. We talked about her insecurities about college, from making friends, to getting lost on campus, to managing her money. I responded with motherly reassurances. On my solo trip back to Pennsylvania, my awareness was on the grace of that trip. The grace of both of us being able to really listen to the other. To respond with love. To help the other understand, and to help the other to grow.

A few weeks ago, I drove with a friend to an airport a couple of hours away. Her daughter was coming in on a late flight, and the dark drive on the turnpike is not much fun. In our hectic lives filled with jobs, family, and friends, our conversations have been reduced to 5-minutes of catching up here and there. Having the car time with my friend gave us the chance to go much deeper into many of the conversations we’ve been starting for the past few years. I talked to her a lot about her cancer, her treatment, her recovery, the financial pressures and the celebration of her cancer-free status. The grace of this time of communion with my friend continues to bless me, weeks after the fact.

More recently, I drove with some dear friends to hear Richard Rohr speak at a venue a couple of hours away. These are women with whom I have shared hours in the car, in airplanes, in restaurants, in each other’s homes. My soul sisters. It’s time in the car with them that illuminates the grace that we are in each other’s lives. When I think about it this way, I am astounded. Surprised. Grateful. Somehow, I know that the grace of the time spent together is truly a gift. When this awareness touches my heart, I give thanks.

Today, I pray that during this holiday time of car trips to come, an awareness of the gift of this time of grace will stay with me. I invite you to do the same.

Now is the time to remember that all that you do is sacred.

-Hafiz