Friday, October 22, 2010


We are headed out this weekend to visit Padre Julio. This is obviously not a picture of him. I will come back and post a picture of him after we return this weekend. I was astonished to find that I had none, given the amount of time we have spent together, but let me go on and tell the story, which begins, like most stories, with a starting point, typically written as "once upon a time."

Once upon a time, a couple of years ago, actually, God sent me a special blessing. At the time, I did not realize what this blessing was. Over time, I became more and more aware. Over time, the blessing became blessings.

Once upon a time, a couple of years ago, actually, I attended the Spanish Mass at Old Mission for the first time. The Spanish Mass is now the usual Mass I attend on Sundays. The first time I attended that Mass, a young priest from Colombia was celebrating the Mass. Charismatic, dedicated, spiritual, and drawn to people, he found many people drawn to him. Attendance at his Masses left no sitting room; no one minded standing for there was much interaction in His Masses, which ended all too quickly.

More than building a congregation, Padre Julio had a very special goal: to intervene in the lives of the children of his home area of Palomar, Colombia who were being pulled into violence by insurgents mainly because they had few alternatives. He wanted Americans to experience the blessing of helping him help the children, and many did. He gathered sponsors for a host of children in the towns. He planned to build a school on a self-sustaining farm, which he also planned to build. He had a start: two tractors donated by the local rotary club.

No voice told me to help Padre, but somehow I understood that I was supposed to help him. I offered to help, but we had a problem. He avoided English speakers because he could not speak English. My spoken Spanish is weak, but I can write in Spanish. So, we began a correspondence, and after a while, he gathered the courage to talk to me, with him speaking in Spanish and me speaking in English, communicating quite well. (He has told people that I do speak Spanish but choose not to. That is not exactly true. I do understand everything I read and most of what I hear. I can also say almost anything I want to say, but I do it haltingly, and that makes conversations awkward. When there is no choice, such as with Padre Julio's mother who came to visit and with gatherings at the home of the president of the non-profit that Padre founded, I do speak Spanish, but when time matters and the other person understands English, we tend to have the same bilingual conversations that I had with Padre.)

At the time, he had limited means to advertise and fundraise. I pointed out that he needed a website. He knew this and had someone working on it, but he was paying a high fee for someone with limited skills. That person had taken his money and not delivered on it. He did not know how to deal with the person, so he turned the problem over to me. I got the person to finish the website, but it looked messy, busy, and unprofessional. So, I gathered my family together, along with a bilingual friend from Colombia who is a professional translator. I translated all the Spanish website documents from Padre from Spanish into English, and then I wrote a website around them. My friend translated all of the website, including localization of the codes, into Spanish. Donnie, my husband, put the website together, doing the design (on which we have received many compliments) and the graphics. My son, Shane, who is a computer guru, did the html, and my son, Blaine, who was living in Illinois at the time and working as a webmaster and commercial web designer, flew home to put on the finishing flourishes that were beyond the amateur skills of Donnie and Shane. We had a website! It brought in money and let people follow the progress of Padre's projects. It also shared letters from the children and encouraged more people to become sponsors.

Then Noelle's shunt for hydrocephalus stopped working, and she had to be emergency evacuated to Stanford University Hospital for brain surgery. Padre drove all the way up there (more than an hour away) to pray for her before the surgery. Already, he was becoming part of our family. Already this was a blessing.

Then, he told me about a predicament he was facing. The bishop had reassigned him from the Spanish Mass in our little town to the English Mass in a nearby town (where Shane and Lemony live). He spoke no English, but the bilingual bishop felt that it was time for him to learn. Padre asked for advice on what school to attend. Since I have been a trainer of ESL teachers and know all the programs in this area, I knew that no school would provide him what he needed. Moreover, they would charge him while giving him little in return. I could give him much more for free. Now, I knew why I had been "pushed" to help him. Anyone could have done a website, although not anyone had offered to donate the required time and expertise as my family had. I had the precise set of skills needed to help Padre. So, I took Santa Biblia and the Bible, side by side, and each week worked through the Gospel reading for Sunday with him. We would start by listening over and over to a homily on that Gospel reading; I typed up the written version so that Padre could listen, then read and listen, then read and get the full meaning. After that, he would read the Gospel passage to me, and I would correct his pronunciation. Then, we would spend 2-3 hours working on grammar and vocabulary connected with the passage. I would make him tell it to me in the past, present, future, and hypothetical. If it was negative, I asked him to give me the positive and vice versus. If it were a series of statements, I asked him to turn them into questions and vice versus. We did that two evenings a week. Then, Friday evening we worked on preparing his homily. Soon, Fridays were also spent on language per se, and he would email his homily to me after he had written it. Then, he did not need to have his homily checked; he had it under control. We continued the language lessons, however, until he returned to Colombia at the end of 2008. By the end, he could listen to someone else's homily once and understand it all without any need for repetition or written crutch. To see that blossoming of his English language was rewarding. Another blessing.

When we were not studying at my house, Padre would be meeting with members of the Por Amor a Los Ninos de Colombia organization he founded. They met at the home of the president in Salts. I was often asked to come. (I was a bit of a celebrity among them thanks to having donated the website.) From time to time, the meetings included a Mass for one reason or another. Celebrating Mass with a highly spiritual priest like Padre in a small group in an intimate home was another one of those blessings that God seems to like to shower on me for reasons, as the expression goes, God only knows.

Then, his mother came to visit. She so wanted me to come to Colombia, but my boss would not let me go there (long story). I became close to her, too, and I could tell that she liked me, most likely because Padre had already become part of my family. She is remarkable lady, having raised seven sons, three of whom are priests. (I have met two of Padre's brothers, one of whom is also a priest.) She told someone at the last Mass of Padre's before he returned to Colombia that she would miss me because I was like the daughter she never had. She commented that I even called her Mama. (Well, yeah, because Padre never told me her name!) So, what does one say upon hearing such feelings toward oneself? Another blessing.

Throughout 2009 and 2010 Padre would Skype me from his mother's house, and they both would talk to me, Padre in English and Mama in Spanish. While there, Padre finished building the self-sustaining farm and the school. Classes started in the fall of 2009, and Padre taught the children English! My friend, the interpreter, sent computers for the school. This fall the children started their second year. It was such a happy outcome for this major effort. The story of Padre in my life seemed to have moved to one of correspondence.

Then, surprisingly, the obispo (bishop) in Colombia freed Padre to return to the USA, and he has now landed at a parish in San Diego. Upon arrival, he contacted me. "Please come to San Diego," he begged in still-good English. "I miss you. I need you."

So, Donnie and I are heading to San Diego this weekend. As if facilitated by fortune, at the last minute, I was able to get prime seats for free on a non-stop, good-time-of-day flight. I never would have expected that level of luck. However, nothing associated with Padre is luck. It is all one blessing after another.

No, helping Padre was not a tasking from God. It was an ever-growing gift from God.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Just when I begin to think that I understand just a small slice of God's grace, I find myself back at the beginning -- in a state of confusion. (See my conversion story for a description of the two-week period of total confusion that ultimately resulted in belief.) Physical things happen to me that I do not understand. Mystical things happen to me that I do not understand. Where are these experiences supposed to lead me? Or, am I supposed to sit tight and let their transforming power affect me alone? I just don't know. So, at times (many times), confusion reigns.

While I am grateful to God for the three unexpected, undeserved, unexplainable-by-doctors healings I have received in the past four years, more than anything else they have left me in a state of confusion. Why would God intervene in my fate in this way? Am I supposed to be doing something as a result of them? If the latter, I am not doing a very good job of it. When I talk about what happened, I am met with skepticism although two cases are documented in my medical records (which, of course, I do not carry around with me, thrusting under the eyes of the skeptics). So, I end up confused.

When it comes to mystical experiences, i.e. God's direct involvement in my spiritual development, I find myself even more confused. Are these personal, intimate gifts for maintaining in a private relationship or are they joy and knowledge to be shared with others? If the latter, then I do such a poor job that I have to think that any other person would be a better choice as recipient of such gifts. Again, when I speak of such things, with the exception of a few people who are highly spiritual, I meet with sheer incredulity. So, again, I am back at the beginning in the state of confusion.

Perhaps I should simply accept such grace as an unconditional gift of love from God, nothing more and nothing less, a gift that God gives to sinners and righteous alike, to believer and to unbelievers, even if human logic has difficulty "computing" that and human morality demands that only those who have "earned" God's love receive it. Perhaps I should accept grace as it is -- given not earned, undeserved, and unconditional -- because, in reality, there is nothing else I can do.

Perhaps I should accept my state of confusion as a gift, as well, and stop searching for clarity based on a human understanding of motivation. Perhaps I should not worry whether people consider me sane. My state of confusion in a way I cannot explain (right, I was going to stop trying to explain and clarify) brings me closer to God. Should that not be enough? After all, my life is not about me and the importance of my understanding clearly rather than "seeing through a glass darkly;" it is about God. That much is clear. I shall try, then, to value and love my state of confusion for it has been given to me by God.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where in the World Is Elizabeth?

I just thought of an interesting little competition. While I am gone tripping, please leave a comment, guessing where you think I am and why. And since I will not have access to the Internet, no one will see anyone's answers until I return so there will be no influence one upon another!

I will send a surprise gift to everyone who guesses correctly.

This will be fun, no?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Touch III

Something odd – a cascade of metanoias -- happened on my way from atheism to believer to more fully converted believer, conversion, of course, being something that never ends, which is what, I guess, those cascading metanoias have all been about. I wonder where the ripples will carry me next.

Recently, in reading Things Hidden (Rohr), a most excellent book, some things hidden became a little clearer, revealing where ripples from metanoic experiences have already taken me without my being aware of them. One case in point is my children who were born with birth defects. I gave birth to two, took in a third, and am grandmother to two more.

As an atheist, I accepted the condition of my children. I never asked “why me?” I suppose that thinking there is no force in the universe that can provide assistance or change matters leads atheists more readily to acceptance (if I am any example). Bad genetic combinations happen. That is life; no one is to blame. It may be a poor hand that my husband and I were dealt, but we would make the most of it. And life went on. And on.

There came the day, though, when I came into the Presence of God through a hierophanic conversion experience, and then things changed. Given the existence of a Greater Power, I had some questions of that Power, and those questions were directly related to my progeny and their birth defects. I demanded to know why God had not intervened to protect them, and I was told to read Job. I did. Five times. (See my post on Job, excerpted from my book, Blest Atheist, for more details of how I came to read Job and the delineation of the “reasoning” I went through and the ultimate understanding I came to.) During the fifth reading, I finally understood that love for God and the bad things that might happen to us are separate things. One is not dependent upon the other.

Then, I moved beyond simply understanding and forgave God. It may sound presumptuous, but I don’t think it is so. If Jesus could forgive those who murdered Him, certainly I can forgive God for choosing not to make my children physically and mentally perfect.

I suppose that forgiveness brought me back in some ways to the starting point, i.e. to the state of acceptance I had lived in as an atheist. There was an emotional sea change, though. My acceptance of life’s challenges as an atheist I often referred to as living in the Land of Splat! (See posts on Splat! for a definition and description.) I met the challenges and fought the battles for my challenged children because the alternative, in my opinion, was unthinkable. After all, I reasoned and would tell others, we do what we have to do, we do what is put before us to do, we take a bad hand and play it as well as we can, bluffing where we need to in order to win. At least, that has been the way I had lived my life, without giving much conscious thought as to why.

My post-conversion acceptance was quite different. Not only did it have an element of forgiveness, but that forgiveness was also wrapped in loving awe, then, with the next metanoic ripple, in deep gratitude (evinced by praise), and now (I don’t say “finally” because I don’t know when, if ever, the ripples will end in this fascinating process of continuous conversion) in a humbling sense of unworthiness.
The awe came when, after reading Job (five times!), I inventoried my life and saw how God had turned every challenge to good use. Learning to care for my first handicapped child (Noelle), along with Russian language proficiency I gained in parallel thanks to various jobs I held, gave me the skills I needed to rescue another child, a talented artist from the frozen steppe of Siberia. For every challenge, I could point out a positive outcome, for every bad a resultant good. My complaint quickly turned to praise for in my initial reaction I had missed the obvious. That praise has deepened as my conversion has deepened, as my love of God has deepened.

As I tallied up all the good that has come from what looked like bad things, the knowledge (medicine, education, psychology, parenting) I would not have otherwise acquired, the knowledge – and more important, compassion and sibling love and active support – that my children developed, the ways in which I have been able to help others, the love my challenged children and grandchildren have brought out in others, and even the transference of many of my parenting experiences to the workplace that has had as much to do with my rise as a leader as a leader in my field as traditional training in the field, the next metanoic ripple carried me into a pool of gratitude. For all the things I have listed and much more, I am eternally grateful. I am especially grateful for my children just the way they are. They are not burdens; they are gifts.

As my gratitude has deepened, yet another metanoic ripple has carried me onward to a humbling sense of unworthiness, which is where I find myself swimming now: in a pond of trust, filled by God, where I wonder if I deserve to be. God has entrusted me with some very special challenges. He has trusted me to meet those challenges, and most important He has trusted me with raising His rainbow-makers. I want to be worthy of such trust, yet I fear (well, honestly speaking, I know) I am not. I have just done the best I could and have trusted God, in return, to take care of the rest. I still do as I wait for the next metanoic ripple to help me better understand redemptive suffering that God so values that He took it upon Himself.

As I was reading Rohr’s book and thinking all these things, I felt a nearly-imperceptible-but-clearly-loving, whispy touch. I have felt that touch before. When I feel that touch, I know I have gotten something right. (I wish I would feel it more often, especially in cases where I am trying to discern something.) Just what it is I have right, I am not one hundred percent certain, but I am pretty sure it has something to do with God wanting me to have these experiences out of love for me, God trusting me to meet the challenges and learn from the experiences, and God wanting me to rely on Him to help me with all challenges -- the ones I have described, the ones I have not described, and the ones yet to come.