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Monday, January 08, 2007


I’ve neglected this blog for three weeks, partly because I’m trying to discern where to go next with it. I’m feeling renewed energy to work on the Wisdom to Know the Difference book, exploring the last line of the Serenity Prayer and how we know the difference between what we should accept and what we should try to change. Since I’m not teaching this term, it would be exciting to just totally focus on the book, without worrying about whether I’ve posted once a week. What I’m thinking is that I’ll just post as I feel led (as Quakers say), without predicting how often that will be. For those of you who like reading my posts, I’d appreciate it if you’d sign up for RSS feed so you can receive notice when I do have a new post. Now that I have some regular readers, I’d hate to lose you!

As for today, the story I want to share has been in my mind since the week before Christmas when I volunteered with an inter-faith network that hosts homeless families in local congregations. Our Quaker meeting was cooking and accompanying the families, though this time they were staying at a large Baptist church that has grander accommodations that our little meeting. I had a frustrating time finding a way into the massive building, which had entrances on three streets, most of them locked. I was wandering around in the dark, carrying my portion of dinner, tired because it was the night after Megan’s sleep-over birthday party, which didn’t involve much sleeping. I had just passed the children on to Tom, who was driving around the block trying to help me find the entrance to the building and was near tears by the time he picked me up to drive me around the block to the entrance tucked off a side street. “Why are we doing this anyway?” asked my seven-year-old, clearly annoyed. His question shook me out of my self-pity.

“Because there are people with worse problems than the one we’re having now,” I answered. That was brought home to me a short while later when I held a six-week-old baby so her dad could eat dinner in peace while her mom was upstairs. After dinner, I overheard the baby’s mother telling the father that she was concerned about so many people holding the baby. (Another volunteer had taken a turn after me.) It was cold season, she said, and in the course of a week, they saw thirty people, all of whom wanted to hold the baby. How, she wondered, could they make sure they kept their child healthy when so many people were handling her?

Her concern reminded me of my first moments home as a mother. A friend was bringing us dinner the night we were released from the hospital, and her twenty-something daughter showed up to help. The daughter, glowing with excitement, asked if she could hold Megan, event though she had a cold. I was immediately put up against an ongoing dilemma of motherhood: how much of my energy needs to go into protecting my own children, and how much needs to be concerned about the needs of others?

Overhearing the homeless mother’s dilemma gave me a deeper sense of how hard it must be to nurture children without the basic protection of a home. I felt very humbled and full of compassion as I approached the woman and tried to affirm her concern and suggest ways it could be communicated to the volunteers. (She was very kind and worried about offending people, which I would have thought would be the least of her worries.) The incident also made me think of the nativity story in a different way. When we imagine the shepherds showing up at the manger, followed by the magi and their camels, we don’t usually think of it from the viewpoint of a homeless new mother. That Mary put up with a lot.

If I have a new year’s resolution (other than eating less sugar) it’s to live with more compassion and its correlate, gratitude. So often I focus on my own inconveniences, like the difficult to find door, and forget how blessed we are to have food to share.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today I had to counsel a young family whose first child suffered a devastating illness in the newborn period; an event no one could have ever predicted nor ever explain. This cherished infant will now take a journey far different than her parents ever imagined.

I am moved by your words because I feel the same wound of ego when those moments of grace show us how the world really works, how inappropriate we are to the task of understanding where we sit in the grand scheme of life if left to our own doing. There but for the grace of God go I, I thought today looking into the eyes of this young couple; I think as I read your words about the homeless mother.

When we are offered those moments of compassion the exquisite gift of humility tugs at the coattails and says, there FOR the grace of God go I.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hey, Eileen,

Good idea (RSS).... It's done. It's good reading, but I forget to check. Now it'll be there for me to see!

My daughter called... she's singing "You Are So Beautiful To Me" to me... gotta go....

Oh... We'll be at Casa Amistad next Saturday, maybe celebrating her and her brother's birthdays. Maybe we'll see you(s) there?


7:55 PM  

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