working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Archive for July, 2014

A standing ovation

I love running races because of the cheering. There aren’t too many places in our daily lives when we get to stand up and actually clap for one another. But coming down the final stretch, whether it’s been 5K or 26.2mi, I know there will be a crowd making lots of noise to encourage me to the finish line and congratulate me on achieving my goal. It lifts me up and carries me into training for the next race.

Today I visited the emergency relief facilities at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, TX. Through a partnership with the city, other churches, and relief agencies, they are welcoming families with children (not unaccompanied minors) who have received their initial paperwork from Border Patrol to enter the US and connect with family members who are already in residence.

They provide gentle nourishment of chicken noodle soup, recommended by doctors as the most appropriate diet for people who are dehydrated. They have warm showers available with fresh-scented bath products and soft towels.

They can pick out 2 new outfits for each member of their family and also make a call to assure family back home that they have arrived safely.

Volunteers Walk with them to the bus stop to help them navigate the complicated transportation system and correctly utilize the voucher provided by the family member in their destination city (the government isn’t providing transportation for families- only dropping them off at bus stations.)

But the most powerful gift they are providing these families is a welcome. I was there at the door as 4 families arrived from Border Patrol processing. They looked weary from the journey and beaten down by all they had just experienced. And when they entered the doors of the fellowship hall, they were met by a wave of volunteers, clapping and cheering for them! It was a walll of welcome. It was a chorus of encouragement. It was a statement that love rules here, and that we begin, not with questions, but with compassion.

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A beautiful life

I can’t stop thinking about their eyes.

I was privileged to meet with children in transition today. They are temporary residents of Bokenkamp Children’s Shelter in Corpus Christi, TX, a ministry of Lutheran Social Services of the South. I learned that LSSS is so good at providing care for children at the border that the federal government came to them before the latest surge in child migration, asking them to expand their facilities.

Even as the new site prepares to open, Bokenkamp serves 500 teenagers each month. They are brought here by Border Control after their arduous journeys, and are given what they need: water for their dehydration, clean clothes and new shoes to replace the worn-out garments they arrive in, nourishment for body and spirit, pro-bono lawyers to begin the immigration process.

Many are reunited quickly with parents, grandparents, or other relatives across the US who have been waiting with bated breath for their arrival. Some linger at the shelter while the case workers try to locate a relative or family friend who is able to provide a stable, safe home for the children. But all of them have endured immense hardships, have risked everything, to arrive here.

I wasn’t prepared to face them today. Touring the facility was nice and meeting the staff people was interesting. I was beginning to put together the big picture of what LSS is doing to meet the needs of these children, when all of a sudden I came face to face with them. I was following our tour guide to the next room, and I walked unknowingly into a cafeteria full of teenagers.

They were expecting us, had been waiting excitedly for us. One of the Spanish-speakers in our group made a few introductory remarks thanking them for their willingness to talk with us, and then we were invited to join the youth at their tables for conversation with a translator.

I haltingly pulled up a chair with some teenage boys, using one of the common phrases I’d picked up, “con permisso,” to excuse myself, feeling like I was barging into the group. We began by talking about where they were from (all over Central America) and how old they were (14 – 17) and they shared their names (several common Latino names, and one Brian.) The whole time I was listening to them and to the translator, I was preoccupied by their eyes. They were curious eyes, radiating with anticipation. They darted around the room a lot, in the nervous habit of people who are slow to trust. Their eyes sparkled when they talked of home, and then glossed over a bit when we asked what they missed (family.) And then we asked about their journey.

Their eyes darted to the floor then. Darkened. Got distant. How we’re really they treated at the border? “Mal.” Bad. How did they get here? Several took “autobuses” and others also had to walk miles and miles. I heard the boy next to me say something and then I heard “tren.” I asked the translator what that meant and he said, “on top of.” I gasped. This was one of the young boys. He had come from El Salvador. 1500 miles away. By himself. On the top of a train.

That’s when the tears came. I couldn’t hold them back anymore. Looking into their eyes and realizing that these young people had endured the kind of danger I’d only seen in action movies was overwhelming.

But there was more to learn. Why did they come here? One boy was approached by a gang member on his way to school. He demanded payment to let the boy pass. Every day this young man was accosted and forced to pay the gang in order to get to school. There was no one to turn to for help.

Another’s answer was simpler: “Hambriento.” Hungry.

My eyes were cloudy by this point. And yet I hoped the boys could see the love I have in my heart for them, the hopes I hope for them, the prayers I am sending up for them.

I wanted to know one more more thing – what are they looking forward to, when they are reunited with their family here in the US?
“Seguridad.” Safety.
Another added, “It is going to be a beautiful life.”
His eyes sparkled then, and so did mine.

Coming home

I’ve lived in a lot of different places by now. I moved every year through college and seminary, I’ve owned two homes and rented several in between. I’ve traveled to Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and all over the US, and I’ve lived in 6 different states. I’ve loved it all – discovering new cultures, exploring new terrain, meeting new people. And because I’m an organizing geek, I’ve loved finding ways to arrange my stuff in each new locale.

But with traveling and moving comes some stress. There are new customs to decipher, procedures to follow, information that’s needed but can’t be found. It’s hard to start your day when you can’t find the basic necessities of life: towels, soap, toilet paper. And it simply takes a while to get used to a new place. So even as I seek out new adventures, I long for the comforts of home.

One thing has always helped me find the balance between adventure and safety. Wherever I’ve traveled, wherever I’ve moved, I never feel right until I’ve found a place to run. When I’m running, I’m able to explore new places in a way that most tourists don’t. I’m up early and out the door as the shopkeepers begin their daily chores and the locals are walking their dogs. I learn which bars were the rowdiest the night before and which parts of town get overlooked by other travelers.
But even as I get to experience something new on each run, I’m also returning to the safety of what I know: the way my knees creak during my warmup, the satisfaction of deep breaths, the rhythm of my stride that remains the same, no matter where I am.
When I’m running, wherever I’m running, I am home.

On Sunday I ran in that fabled city of runners, Austin. It was in the mid-90’s by the time I got to Lady Bird Lake in the middle of town. But I knew I needed this run, to remind myself of who I am, and so I took off into the humidity. I ran under the shade of trees that line the lake. And I partook of life-giving water from fountains generously located along the trail. I was entertained by the hundreds of kayakers and SUPers learning their new skills, and by the families with kids in various stages of grumpiness and irritability. And as I was buoyed by the crowd of runners braving the heat, I realized that once again, I had come home.

I still can’t find the box that has my belts and scarves, and I don’t know how we’re going to get to the decorations in the garage come Christmastime, and who knows how long it will take to get my car and self registered and licensed in the state of Texas. But none of that really matters. Because I found a place to run.

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