Archive for February, 2010

Sue’s shoes

Last Sunday I walked the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure along with Sister Carol, Romina, and about 13,000 others.  It was a windy, chilly morning but spirits were high and who could complain when we were surrounded by so many breast cancer survivors?  The return trip after the halfway mark was uphill and into the wind and my feet were really bothering me by the time we made it back to the stadium for the closing ceremonies.  I’ve been meaning to get new walking shoes for several months because my toes were crunched in the ones I bought just last year.  I tried to just “offer it up” in gratitude for having the gift of life and health to participate in the Komen walk at all.  My own diagnosis of ovarian cancer was made the day after we walked it in February 2008.

On Monday afternoon David, the husband of a woman whom Carol and I accompanied through her last months of ovarian cancer, brought the last bags of Susan’s clothing to our house.  We had been distributing them to the women at our project in Mexico.  Sorting through her things that David had piled into black plastic bags brought memories of Sue, a willowy artist who loved clothing of natural fibers and earth tones.  They carried aromas of essential oils.  One bag was full of soft pajamas and nightgowns and baggy pants with drawstring waists.  As I folded them I knew that this wardrobe reflected the changes in her body and what was most comfortable as the disease progressed.

I also discovered that Sue really liked shoes: “crocs” and tennies and ballet flats and pointy black lace-ups and hiking shoes.  Not a single pair of pumps though!  Carol pulled out some that had some mud in the treads.  “Remember they took a trip to Ruidoso not long before she was homebound…”  We agreed that they were a great pair of shoes, almost new, and Carol’s size.  I said that I thought Sue would be happy for Carol to have them.  “You walked very closely with her those last months.”  So she cleaned them up, planning to take them on her trip to New Orleans this week.

But guess what?  Though they were only marked size 9 they were too big for Carol.  “Why don’t you try them on?” she said.  As I slipped my feet into the shoes I knew they would be perfect.  And they were.  So as took my walk through the cotton fields the next day I was wearing Sue’s shoes.  I felt an intense surge of gratitude: for the privilege of having known her, for her generous sharing of her last days and months, for the courage and dignity and acceptance she witnessed for us, and for the health and strength I feel at this time in my own journey.  I walked like so many Race for the Cure participants who wore bright pink signs on their backs “In memory of…”  I walked for Sue- and for me.


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ash wednesday

The ashes of today, from last year’s palms, are gritty and grimy and dry.  Kind of how I get after a long hot year in the desert.  Many parts of the country are still covered with snow but here at the border on Ash Wednesday we are already Spring-ing forward.  Yesterday I watched a tractor plow up the cotton field that surrounds our house.  It is a rich image for the beginning of Lent.  The stubble of last year’s harvest had become somewhat of an eye-sore so I was happy to see the John Deere machine turn into our field.  Up and down the rows it moved, tearing through the dry topsoil to reveal a darker, richer, fresh layer beneath.  But ouch!  How that must hurt!  And all kinds of critters that have been comfortable since the summer months have now gone scurrying for shelter.

It is a painful process, this preparing the ground for a new planting.  Not just the old dead remains of summer get torn up and plowed under.  Some good living stuff must go down as well.  And so it is with Lent.  Each year we need that plow to turn into our lives, to dig down into what has become dry and hard and stuck, to breathe some light and air into us.  And sometimes one pass isn’t enough!

What helps me to accept this necessary roughness is knowing that there is a planting to come.  There is meaning in the suffering, the  voluntary and involuntary sacrifices that I embrace in this season. God hovers over this freshly plowed ground of my life.  In the days and weeks ahead God will give me what I need in order to grow something new and wonderful.

And from this gritty Ash Wednesday Lent prepares me for the fresh clear holy water of the Easter vigil.  But not so fast…there are forty days ahead.

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joan of arcadia

This week I feel like I’ve had some “Joan of Arcadia” moments. Not too many years ago there was a popular tv program by this name about a high school student who experienced God in the most unexpected people and places.  It played on the life of St. Joan of Arc and the voices of God she heard that got her into such trouble with the Church. 

Last Sunday I was at a reception following a Mass for the World Day for Consecrated Life at our cathedral.  I was just taking a seat when a Sister came running over to our table.  Our paths had not crossed in several years, since she was in administration at her congregation’s inner-city high school and I was at Clinica Guadalupana.  Sister Maria Jesus is a large, gregarious woman who wears a modified habit with veil.  She almost lifted me out of my seat to give me an enormous bear hug.  “Look at you!” she exclaimed.  “You look so wonderful!  You are a miracle!  Fr. Bill told us about your cancer and we have prayed and prayed for you!  God is so good!  He has done a miracle!  Sometimes God does these things in our lives to let us know when we need to do something else.”  She squeezed my face between her great hands and looked at me with such joy.  As I thanked her for her prayers (and asked her to keep praying!) I felt that this was God breaking through in my life, standing right in front of me, reminding me of my call and the gift of my return to health.  God in the form of a Mexican-American religious sister in habit.  Several times during the week I’ve returned to that moment and message, especially during the two hour PET-CT scan I had on Tuesday afternoon as routine follow-up for ovarian cancer.  I waited as the radioactive isotope circulated through my body and then waited some more as I laid in the scanner I had a deep awareness of how good God has been to me.

Then on Wednesday afternoon I was finishing my time at the University of Texas at El Paso when I am available for students who want to talk about “whatever”.  I looked up from my reading to see a dark-skinned young man standing in the doorway with a great smile on his face.  He stretched out his hand to greet me and introduced himself.  His accent was French and sure enough, he is a visiting student from Senegal.  He came just to make my acquaintance and he shared his perspective on UTEP and on the welcome he received from Catholic Campus Ministry.  He told me about his country, his family, and his experience with Mass in English and Spanish at CCM on Super Bowl Sunday.  “It was so beautiful,” he said, “to feel so at home there.  You know, whenever things in my life get difficult I find—-” he struggled for the word in English—“a safe place, somewhere to go…”  “A refuge?” I suggested.  “Yes!  That’s it!  A refuge!  God- the Church- is a refuge for me!”  He was positively beaming.  Once again I felt myself in the presence of God who indeed has been my refuge and my strength.

As I drove away from the university I marveled at the opportunities I have had to encounter God and how persistently God seeks after me.  Like Joan of Arcadia only in real life!  God appears not just “in distressing disguise” as Mother Teresa said, but also in the most surprising and delightful people who grace my life. Where will God show up next?  I guess that depends on how open my eyes are!

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When I heard today’s Gospel (Mark 6: 7-13) which is the story of Jesus sending out his disciples to teach and heal, I reflected on the fact that each day he does the same for me and for you.  Every morning we wake up, more or less excited for the day ahead, and Jesus missions us.  “Go out and be good news.”  And don’t be worried about taking anything along with you- except Me.  Just get yourself going- and trust Me.

Seeing myself as I do before a couple of cups of coffee and a shower (and even sometimes how I look as I go out the door!) I marvel at the confidence Jesus has in entrusting his mission to me.  But he does it day after day.  We are exactly what God chooses for the works of Love.

There are moments when I remember that I myself am the mission: I need the evil spirits cast out.  I need the prophetic word for repentance.  I need demons driven out and holy oils rubbed on.  In those moments I am grateful for you who have also responded to Jesus’ call to mission.

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