On a Saturday, I unexpectedly became a part of a miracle. At an Alaskan women’s summit workshop, I learned we would be of service to two young women, and split into teams. Saint Vincent de Paul, a Catholic priest who lived in France in the late 1800s, came to mind. He believed in the reciprocity that can occur between those who are marginalized and poor, and those who are not.
Twenty years ago I learned by experience that when we offer—or receive—service or care, unexpected lessons, healing, and connections can happen. During my initial training as a spiritual director, I connected with a woman, Mercedes, who was incarcerated. On the opening night of my training program, I received a card from Mercedes, and learned she was praying for me. My world flipped.
We met in the prison a week later, for a one hour, once in a lifetime, conversation. I knew I would never see her again. The encounter disrupted and changed me.
I was terrified—what would we talk about? Sitting together we tentatively smiled, and with a “hello…” conversation flowed, punctuated with mutual laughter and even tears. I discovered there was not much difference between the two of us, except choice and circumstance. Each of us received a gift from the time together.
Fast forward a few decades, to October 2016
On Saturday my team of eight was given two hours to determine how we could give a hand-up to a young woman whose primary life experience was homelessness, and put the plan into action. “V” had found her way to Covenant House, a shelter for youth who are homeless, and learned skills, set goals. She was in transition to her own living place, beginning college studies, and needed a warm winter coat and basic necessities. We could spend no more than USD$50 each, but could tap any connections or resources in our circles. Our team split up, and three of us began our mission. I created a social media post explaining what we were doing and asked for assistance. Offers flooded in via text, calls, and private messages.
In ninety minutes, we returned with far more than the requested coat. Warm clothing, toiletries, bedding, and a backpack containing an iPad and keyboard were obtained through merchant gifts and items purchased with donations from friends. Gift cards for groceries, an inspirational book, journal, and piece of art were placed on a table. Our team looked at one another. Then, the door opened, and two girls entered, eyes growing wide with wonder, as were ours. The director of Covenant House had brought the girls to our location. Listening to “V” share a few parts of her life story and goals, recognition swept through me that so little separates us when we open ourselves to vulnerability,compassion, and kindness with—and on behalf of—one another.
I believe that when we are brave enough to push beyond barriers of fear and bias, both within us, and in systems and culture, we will discover everything is possible. At times we act too swiftly or are indifferent to people and situations that can benefit from our discerned response. Please join me to explore these questions with a spiritual guide, a trusted friend, small group, or in your journal:
- Is there a person or group of people who I can connect with?
- What barriers do my own fear and bias create, limiting goodness and kindness to come alive through me?
- Is it challenging for me to receive from others?
- Who or what needs my action through service or advocacy?
January 2017, Vol 11.1
Reprinted from Listen: A Seeker’s Resource for Spiritual Direction, January 2017, Vol. 11, Issue 1 (Spiritual Directors International © 2017). Reprinted with permission of Spiritual Directors International. To order copies or a free subscription of Listen, call 1-425-455-4506 or go to www.sdiworld.org