Two Roads

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

I went home this weekend; home to my bone country. That place where I was born and my feet can walk without stumbling, in darkened woods they’ve walked for decades. It was my father’s birthday. And while he doesn’t walk as fast or as far down those woodcutting roads and deer trails, he still loves to amble through the woods with me in search of bittersweet and holly to decorate the home for Christmas.

It was my father who introduced me to the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and of course Robert Frost. There were others who accompanied me on my rambles into the woods, Tennyson, O’Henry and the lyrics of folk songs from Pete Seger, Peter, Paul and Mary, New Christie Minstrels and the ballads of my Ozark heritage. My walks were steeped in folklore, existentialism, ecology and poetry. The words and stories became as much a part of me as the bark on the trees or the stones that gave voice to our creek. They added texture, depth and richness to my life as a young woman in rural Missouri. I only imagined I might be able to go to college; it was never assumed and certainly not something my folks could ever offer. Folks in our neck of the woods just didn’t do that as a general rule.

wood pathBut two roads diverged in that wood, and I took the one less traveled by. That road led me to central Africa in a time of war, to China to train auditors of factories, to listen to soldiers from the School of America’s while training in Canada, to share ideas with staff at the United Nations and to be present to the lives and stories of men and women who worked in prostitution.  If I had a hard time imagining college, this life has been beyond anything I could have ever dreamed.  For this simple gal from the Ozarks I probably would have never willingly walked that path had I known where it led.

But that is the Way of the Holy Spirit, to take us to places unknown and unseen, to give us strength and breath when it feels stifling and dark. So it is with the grace of that past journey that I stand yet again at the diverged path; even though this one is more traveled, it’s new to me. At one point during an academic advising session in undergrad, my advisor asked, “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?” At the time, all I could think of was, “I’d love to be a 40 year old potter with a PhD.” She wasn’t impressed and I regrouped. I am 40; I can throw a few “primitive” pots on my wheel, but I never did get that PhD – a masters but not the doctorate.

Looking back, I can see carefully mapped career plans were never going to be my path. God led me where I needed to go – no map or Trip Tik, just a meandering journey into frequent unknowns. And so I am led once again. Now, I’m going back to school to learn to become a nurse.  If all goes well, I’ll be working as a nurse by fall of 2016. Things have changed, as they are wont to do. My family needs me as they did not before. And this is an opportunity to be available to them.

My wanderings had something in common, the awakening those authors and poets planted in me.  Seeds gifted from my father, seeds that grew into the opportunity and awareness of the ministry of presence. And so I hope I will carry that forward in my nursing, my care for my family and on those walks in the woods with dad. So while, I’ve trodden a few leaves on this path and I will miss the adventure it promised, my new path will lead on to another Way and that will make all the difference.

Taking another path but still with you on the journey,

Anna

Praying for Peace

Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another- forgive in the same way God has forgiven you.  Above all else, put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Let Christ’s peace reign in your hearts since, as members of one body, you have been called to that peace.  Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you.  Instruct and admonish one another wisely.  Sing gratefully to God from your hearts inpsalms, hymns and songs of the Spirit.  And whatever you do, whether in speech or in    action, do it in the name of Jesus our Savior, giving thanks to God through Christ.

Colossians 3:12-17

As we witness our neighbors here in St. Louis and beyond experiencing their grief and fear in violent ways we are not always sure how to respond or feel safe. Let us better care for our dear neighbors and ourselves during this challenging time by praying for calm, understanding and healing; be a peaceful presence wherever you go today and with everyone you interact with; and be compassionate with self and others as you interact.

This time requires that we continue to ask difficult questions of ourselves and the structures that serve us. We need to help reveal and heal the implicit bias that continues to build barriers between us, giving us a false sense of security at the expense of our dear neighbors.

 

Mickey McGrath, OSFS

Mickey McGrath, OSFS

We offer this prayer

Gracious St. Joseph, faithful guardian of the Holy Family,

watch over your people with the love and care you gave to Mary and Jesus.

May we employ your example of faithful service

 to serve the Dear Neighbor without distinction. 

And may we act as witnesses of loving unity and reconciliation

in our community in these days ahead.

We ask your intercession, praying for peace and healing in our city.

Amen.

 

For what do you pray today?

On the path,

Anna

 

Those were the days…

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

Ephesians 4:15

It’s hard not to be nostalgic on this day. We sit back, think about our lives before 9/11. We may even lean toward over-romanticized dreaming of victory gardens, ticker-tape parades, red-white and blue bunting and glass bottles of soda. For many of us those are not even lived memories but characterizations of a collective wish for what we saw as more innocent times in this country. And I don’t begrudge us that wishing. In fact, I find myself in a similar place.

For me, September 11th is more than just a day that is now a part of our shared national tragic history; it was my grandfather’s birthday. James Alexander Mayfield was born September 11, 1902. He passed away some years ago but he lived a long and colorful life. Growing up, I spent much of my childhood between both sets of grandparents. It was a rich and blessed gift that somehow I was lucky enough to know even then that it was special.

porch sittingMy grandfather’s uniform was blue striped overalls, washed so often they felt baby soft and long-sleeve button collar shirts, an itinerant carpenter by trade and story-teller by love. He could weave tales that left your side aching from laughter. Afternoons would be spent on the porch, where I’d sit spell bound, literally at his feet while he talked of growing up, running barefoot through the hills and hollers of rural Missouri with young brothers I only knew as old men. With his fiddle in hand in between mournful ballads and jaunty jigs, he’d thread tales of coon dogs and fox chases, working in the Civilian Conservation Corps and raising eleven children during the depression.

And as much as I love my grandfather, if I am honest, he was a much wounded man, who could not always live into his best self and would hurt those he loved most. As a much older and experienced person now, when I look back, I think it was his inability to embrace his own human limitations that exacerbated those moments. And in turn, he had a very difficult time asking for grace and forgiveness when the hurt was done. You may be wondering, why I am writing about something so private and one could say, unflattering to his memory.

Today, is my birthday. My grandfather and I shared a very special day and a very special bond. It was difficult some years as a little girl to share that day with him and other years it was pure gift.  But I think I love him all the more for his human failings, and I wish he could see that he was loved deeply and is still loved even knowing some of his unkindness. When I think of my own grandchildren, I hope I don’t do anything to hurt them but if I in my being human I do, then I hope I have enough wisdom and strength to ask for forgiveness.

It is perhaps the greatest lesson, we elders can offer our youth, modeling truth and offering a chance to be spoken to with love. And the truth is as humans and human institutions we fail; we do hurtful things. But we are capable of not repeating those mistakes if we are willing to hear we’ve made a mistake but also asking for help in not repeating it in the future.

As I write this, there are parades, memorials and vigils honoring those of 9/11. But do we really do a service if we gloss over all the human failings that brought us to that day? As I write this, more reports of people being shot in north St. Louis, as many as six in one afternoon, yet we don’t ask how is that possible? We complain that there is no accountability, no reconciliation, and no justice. How can we have those things personally and collectively, when after tragedy we indulge in nostalgic dreams that deny what it means to be human? How can we expect our youth and future leaders to be able to fail, ask for forgiveness and be given another chance if we are not willing to do those ourselves? How can we expect something of others that they have never been given and that we have the power to give?

What truth are you willing to speak with love, even if it hurts a little to hear it?

A little older and hopefully wiser on the path,

Anna

We’ve been here before…

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.

John 16:13

 

We’ve been here before, but we’ve never walked this ground. This mother hadn’t lost her son before that tragic day. This officer hadn’t taken solitudeanother human life until that moment. This community had not experienced days of open grieving, anger and unrest.  This pain and history is tied to mine but not my lived experience. How do I even begin to know how to respond, be present in a compassionate and loving way that does not incite or make assumptions? How do I not excuse the system that has allowed this tragedy to happen?

I don’t know. And my reluctance to even write about Ferguson on the blog is because of my fear of not knowing. My not knowing what will help. My not knowing what will make it worse. A part of me wants to physically be there in solidarity as a peaceful presence but I’m unsure if that is best or even how to be there. And another part doesn’t want to be there at all, if I am honest. I find myself caught in this middle place.

At the August LCWR gathering in Nashville, Nancy Schreck, OSF shared this wisdom about living in this middle place:

Importantly, this middle place calls for theology of witness in which we cannot assume presence or straightforward resolution. It calls for witness to events that exceed the parameters of death and yet cannot so easily be identified as life. It is about imagining the form of God’s presence and power arising in the places when life is least discernible. It is precisely at these edges of comprehension, that the possibility of something else arises. In this time all of our fixed categories are broken open. In order to negotiate the space we need to be able to keep complexities in tension and speak from their creative crossing.

Right now, I am trying to be open to where the Spirit of truth calls me to. For now, I feel all I can do is pray. I pray for healing. I pray that I will take an active part in that healing. I pray I will not settle for the easy comfort of quick action but a willingness to sit with the discomfort of waiting. I pray that when the crisis is no longer news that I will not abandon this call. I pray I will be willing to still be here, in partnership with friends, neighbors, seeking together a way to heal and transform our broken system.

For what do you pray?

Waiting on the path,

Anna

Thanks I needed that

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9

Stepping backWhere does one even begin? Looking at my news feed there are rockets in Gaza, airliners shot down in the Ukraine, crisis at the border, resurgence in Iraq. And that is nothing to say of what is happening in our own back yards. How can we not feel overwhelmed, consumed, helpless and hopeless?

I’m grateful to Sr. Sandy Straub for sharing her journey at the border. I needed that. And as you are aware it’s been a while since I’ve logged on and blogged on well about anything. When we established this blog we wanted it to be a forum for conversation, growth and support for trying to minister in this unfinished world. 

I want to be honest about why I wasn’t writing for all that time. I was burned out, tired, feeling pretty used up. And I’m not sure I’m completely back on track. But I did step out and step back and was able to get a new perspective on things. I think we need to do that once in a while when all around us we are immersed in what’s wrong with the world.

There is a lot that’s wrong, but there is so much that’s right. I’ve been doing this work for some time now. And while I waffle between calling it ministry and work, some days it is “work” with little reward. Unlike other jobs there’s never a time clock you can punch out, go home and turn off the brain. Media inundates you with the very reasons you do what you do.

And let’s be honest, we’ve all met folks who really seem to love living in that negative space. “Hey did you hear the latest awful report from…” or “If you want to read something that really makes you angry, check out Senator X’s comments…” or my favorite (this is a direct quote). “Just read this article about … and it will make you sick.”

I wish these were the exceptions to peace and justice work but I’ve found they have become the norm. We fill our lives with the horrors of the world hoping that we and others will feel so outraged that we’ll act to stop them. It’s a tactic that I don’t see working and the media has taken it and ran. Everything and I mean everything is presented as a crisis. But I see that folks appear to be more desensitized, numb and inactive – than outraged, compelled and ready to act.

We cannot physically, emotionally or spiritually  sustain a constant state of crisis and fear if we want to truly transform ourselves and the world. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to care about others or know that the suffering is there and want to work toward its end. But how can I be faithful to the life of Jesus if I feed on the suffering and in turn feed the suffering? How am I His disciple if I don’t make room in my life for the life giving joy of the gospel? Where is the blessing I want to share and inherit? Why would anyone want to join me in this if I’m only ever saying how bad everything is, focusing on the evil? I’d run the opposite way too – and kind of did for a spell.

Let’s not forget to step back, see a bigger picture and remember that it’s not our problem to solve, but we are joy-filled disciples, available to the Holy Spirit. And when we are faithful, we lift one another up and invite the whole world into the kindom, ready to inherit the blessing.

How are you doing? Can you take a step back and get a different view? Where are you finding joy and being blessed? I’d really like to know.

With you on the path,

Anna

 

Diary from the Border: Entry Five

immigration photo

Sister Ida and Sandra (back) are joined by some CSJs from Los Angeles.

by Sister Sandra Straub

I thought I would only have one more story, but God writes in crooked lines using strange media! As soon as we thought the center would be empty we received five more families!  My story today relates to women from El Salvador .

The first was a young mother who traveled several weeks through Mexico. She had a coyote (a person who smuggles immigrants) who tried to rape her, but she escaped. Her sister who lives in Mexico did not want her, because she was traveling with three young girls, 11, 12, and 13. Some gang was after them. Her sister did not want the trouble. The young 22-year-old mother did not know what to do. Eventually she decided to separate from the girls. She is so worried because of the attempted rape on her. In her gut she knows they are in harms way and doesn’t know what to do. She told me the story as she was leaving, comfortable enough but grieving for the loss of these girls. All she could do was cry as I comforted her.

The second is was more criminal and difficult to hear and tell. I will call the Señora Maria to protect her. Her mother died very young when Maria was baby. Sometime in her life her father started raping her. He then sold her to a man. He made her marry him. Her husband was very violent and has scars on her face and other places from being beaten. He sold her or she became a part of a prostitution ring.  She had an abortion.  The man did not want the baby and had her operated on to remove her uterus.

She ran away to the states, and was picked up by immigration twice. The second time she had a court case and missed it. The judge placed her in the detention center where she stayed for 3.5 years waiting to have her case heard. She is now in a center too afraid to go out.  S. Albia, IHM is talking with her. Ida took her to the store to buy crafts. While there S. Ida noticed Maria eyeing frozen pizza and asked her if she would like one, so pizza was her lunch. Afterward she was in the car as we drove her to her center. She talked about liking El Paso. She felt somewhat safe. We were all laughing I saw her with smile and laughter. S. Albia told me she has more to tell…a life of suffering.

I can’t tell you how grateful we are for this privilege and  experience to walk with our neighbor.

Diary from the Border: Entry Four

Maxim 56

The fourth in a continued series written by Sister Sandra Straub about her experiences serving at the border with Sister Ida Berresheim. 

Today is a change day. We are always trying to adapt to the need of the client. We go to work with a perceived thought of what might be the experience and finish the day with WELL, that was not what I thought might happen!  I did not think that within one week I would be so immersed in the life of El Paso and all with whom I have been privileged to know and work with….the volunteers. Yesterday and today all are going back to their homes.  Ida and I are the seasoned ones!  While I am so very happy to have met them, I am also somewhat sad to see them go.  Yesterday as we emptied the house five IHMs from Scranton arrived!  One week of intense work is very stretching.

We also had 90, then 70, then 20 clients on Friday. We accepted no one and every so often said our goodbyes. Yes of course, I had a lump in my throat and misty eyes. One lady choose our  175th  tee shirt that I brought to El Paso to wear for her travel. As I saw her I told her that this community of sisters was praying for her and surrounding her with their care, like this tee shirt she was wearing.  I found the moment inspiring…for me!  Of course I felt her heartfelt expression of gratitude.  I can still feel her smile!

Yesterday we also said good bye to a Guatemalan Mother who is no more than 4 feet 10 weighing 90 pounds, and her son, 9 years old with two deformed legs. The mother carries him on her back!  They are going to Shriners in St. Paul, Minneapolis in hopes of finding some solution.  I told him my story of having polio and not being able to walk in hopes of giving him and the Mother that miracles do happen!  We had lunch together and became soul mates!  Some very generous person gave the Mother an expensive carriage. They came scared, tired, hungry, and left, the child sitting in a carriage with smiles, hope and rested.  More lumps in my throat as I experience such generosity and valor!

I decided to return to St. Louis on Wednesday. The decision was based on the fact that we hear these centers will be phased out. We see this already in our center and experience the departure of volunteers.  At the same time my leaving allows a space for another to experience the border!  I have been working since I came and a break is needed. We, Ida and I, are so grateful for all you give. Ida, our housemother, continues to serve.

Note: Sister Ida will be staying in our name in El Paso and continuing to make the house available for more volunteers. Five more sisters from another community,were arriving today or tomorrow. The St. Louis Province thanks S. Linda Markway who sent down 100 small back pack for the children from the Vocation Office. This will allow the children to carry their few possessions with them on their bus journeys to families or sponsors. Let us keep them all in our prayers.