How is it I can
travel the world and still love
the beauty of home.
How is it I can
travel the world and still love
the beauty of home.
Something stirred deep inside me
as I drove through the streets
of the city where my life began.
Feelings of familiarity and belonging,
My body relaxed into who I once was,
the girl who played in these streets and
later took the bus to the Main Library and
then hitchhiked with my cousin when we were young teens,
which, even back then, was quite risky.
The shops lining the streets are unfamiliar—
African braiding salons and check-cashing stores—
but the names on the street signs conjure up
memories from a long ago past.
As much as the city has changed,
so have I.
And yet, my body still recognizes this place as home.
“That sounds like reading tea leaves,” my spiritual director said. We were talking about discernment and how I discerned God’s will for me in major life decisions. I had just told her the process I had used at twenty-five to decide whether to move to Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My decision was made when my car radio play Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John. Not very prayerful, perhaps, but I took it as a sign.
Most of my major life decisions have been made in a similar fashion. When deciding to move to l’Arche, for example, I had wanted to go to l’Arche Toronto, but then a man from Winnipeg randomly appeared and said there was a l’Arche community in Winnipeg. It was a sign.
Or when someone from Midland, Michigan, tracked me down during a time I did not even have a phone and was staying with friends. Their persistence in pursuing me for a job seemed like a sign from God. Off to Midland I went.
When I look back on my life, I look a lot like a leaf blowing in the wind.
But my life also looks like a great adventure that has taken me to places I never would have considered.
Growing up, my future seemed predetermined—after high school, I would work as a secretary for a while, then get married, have babies, be a mom and then a grandmother—all very straight-forward.
But, I stepped off that path early on. I continued working as a secretary at the FBI until I was twenty-seven. Then a new plan formed—I would become an FBI Agent. It made sense; I had worked for the Bureau for eight years and becoming an Agent was a logical move.
Then I was raped, and all plans flew out the window. I spent my thirties bouncing from one job to another and one place to another. Even decisions I made in my forties and fifties were “like reading tea leaves,” once leaving a perfectly good job because of a picture I saw in a newspaper (it was a sign). I can only shake my head!
Now I am learning more about discernment and how to make decisions that are based on what I want and need.
Moving “home” to Michigan seven years ago has felt like I dropped anchor.
I wanted to come home; I needed to come home. Since moving here, I have had offers to move to other places (often to go back to Philadelphia) and I say “no” with confidence. Even if I heard Elton John singing Philadelphia Freedom or the twenty-first century version of that song, I don’t think I would be swayed.
Now the roads I want to travel all start and end here. I can visit other places, and I look forward to the time after the pandemic when that is possible to travel safely, but this is home. This is where I have decided to be.
My home is filled with gifts, reminders of what has been.
Each room has treasures that speak to me of blessing.
Pay attention to what calls to you.
A family photograph, a candle’s flame, the tree outside your window, a bird soaring overhead,
Whispering your name and inviting you to come back to yourself.
If we are open to it, even a stone can be a door.
Return to me with your whole heart—Joel 2:12
One theme that emerged during my recent retreat was home, as in coming home or being at home.
I had brought last year’s journals with me, and one entry reflected a conversation with a friend who had been going through a rough time but was starting to feel like himself again. He said he had started to feel like he was inhabiting his body again and that he was looking out through his own eyes.
It was as if he was coming home to himself.
For so long, I have felt out of sorts. Great loss and grief can do that. So the idea of coming home to myself is appealing. I want to live in my body and to look at the world through my own eyes.
Another coming home is the actual coming home to the place where I was born and grew up, which is what I did five years ago. Living near my family is a blessing for which I thank God every day.A third coming home is returning to God, and in the midst of Lent, I find myself thinking of what it means to come home to God.
Lent invites me to turn away from what separates me from God and turn toward God.
Recently, several people have come to me with questions about prayer or about nonprofit management. After each of these conversations, I am left with a clearer understanding that (1) I have a depth of experience in these two areas, and (2) my experience can be helpful to others.
Sometimes, though, my experience leads me to insights that might be uncomfortable or challenging to those asking for my help.
A young woman came to talk with me about the anger she carries toward the man who raped her. “How can you suggest I forgive him?” she asked with an edge to her voice.
“Your anger does not affect him; it affects you,” I offered. “He doesn’t even know that you are angry; he has moved on.” Not forgiving him does not hurt him in the least; but holding onto her anger keeps her in bondage.I think she both wanted to hear that message and did not want to hear it. Forgiveness can be so difficult, and radical forgiveness—forgiveness for some horrible act—can seem impossible.
I know because I, too, hold onto some anger for past hurts. I want to forgive, even the people who hurt me the worst, who left the deepest scars; it is difficult. I pray for the grace to let go, and I look to Jesus’ example for inspiration. At the moment of his death, he forgave those who put him to death.Coming home to God, for me, means being true to my history and experiences. It means speaking of radical forgiveness and believing in it.
I want to return to God with my whole heart—and with my heart made whole.
So Abram said to Lot: Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are kinsmen. (Genesis 13:8)
“You have a perfect family,” my friend Jim used to tell me. Of course, he knew the quirks and dysfunctions of my family, but it was his way of reminding me to intentionally look for the good—and to be grateful.I was reminded of this the other day when I was praying for the people on my prayer list—a hand-written list I keep in my Liturgy of the Hours book. Some people on the list are very close to me—family and friends—and others are people I have been asked to pray for, people I often don’t even know, but who have undergone some great suffering—divorce, illness, job loss, etc.
Several of the families lost children to drug overdoses or suicides. Others have been shattered by misunderstandings, betrayal, or some other dysfunction. Illness, accidents, drugs, alcohol, mental illness—the list of things that can go wrong in a family is long.
Four years ago, I moved home to be near my family. It was a good move for me, and I am deeply grateful for the way my family (both immediate and extended) has welcomed me and created a space for me in their lives. I feel blessed by my relatives, but I know that not everyone has that same experience.
Sometimes families are like Abram and Lot who “could not dwell together.” (Genesis 13:6) Abram was wise to recognize the issues and address them, but I am not sure that happens very often. More often, I think people hold onto an image of what they think a family should be.A friend recently told me that her brother had manipulated their mother into taking $10,000 from the bank and giving it to him. It is, of course, not about the money—whether it is $10,000, $100,000 or $10—it is about the manipulation and sense of betrayal.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations can be so difficult, but holding onto them is much more painful. Wishing and hoping that people will act in a certain way is a set-up for disappointment.But it must be fairly common to have high expectations for our families, because I keep meeting people who are surprised by some relative’s actions—like my friend who expected her brother to keep his hands off their mother’s money.
My family was perfect in that it was a great training ground for me in letting go. As a young child, I learned that more often than not things were not going to turn out as I hoped, so I needed to readjust my expectations. Over time, I have learned to ask God, What is the invitation in this? What am I to learn when my expectations are not met, when I am disappointed?
The lesson is usually about my unrealistic expectations, and the invitation is to let go.
My dog loves to cross the street, any and every street. At driveways or corners, she often pauses and looks longingly toward the other side. The wider the street, the more wistfully she seems to eye it. “Do you want to cross?” I will ask, and then follow as she merrily runs across.
I recently had a dream about crossing a street—a very wide street like Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. In some spots, Roosevelt Boulevard has five lanes in each direction, broken up into outer service drives of two lanes, and the main road of three lanes each way. Crossing it can take a long time and can be very dangerous.
In my dream, I was aware of how wide the road was and how dangerous. I approached the crossing in segments—first the service drive, then three lanes in one direction, three in the other and the other service drive. I was relieved when I made it to the curb on the other side.
Walking Detroit this morning and watching her eye the street for possible places to cross reminded me of the dream and the potential dangers in crossing to another side.
The past few years have had a number of crossing-over experiences for me in terms of relationships, jobs and where I live. Each time I reach a plateau, some sense of familiarity and comfort, I have a sense of accomplishment—I experience it as having crossed over. I am no longer on that side, but now I am on this side. The difference is tangible.
Recently, the crossings have felt like they are bringing me closer and closer to myself, to the “me” I used to be before Jim got sick and everything turned upside down—but with a twist. All that I have been through these past few years has changed me so that my new self is somehow a bit different from my old.
I now have a clearer sense of my inner strength, of what I am capable of doing and of what really matters to me. I am more aware of the importance of being centered and staying centered; and I think I catch myself more quickly when I am veering away from my true north.
I can look back to how life used to be and where I once was, and remember it with fondness. But now I live on the other side of the street. The grass is not any greener, but I did not expect it would be. What is different is that I am becoming more comfortable, more familiar with what is on this side of the street, and it is feeling more like home.
“She’s a rescue dog,” said my five-year old neighbor, pointing at our dog Detroit as I was walking her one day. I was impressed that he had remembered my earlier conversation with his mother about how we had rescued Detroit from a shelter.
“Yes, she is,” I responded.
“What can she do?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said, “can she climb a ladder on a fire truck?”
“No,” I chuckled, “but she will bark if there is danger.”
“She’s not barking now,” he said.
“We must not be in any danger,” I assured him.
Two days later, though, Detroit did alert me to danger.
On that particular day, two years ago, my friend Jim was scheduled to pick Detroit up at noon for a weekend at his house. His custom was to call me when they got to his house to let me know she was taken care of. But on that day, no call came and I knew something was wrong.
Jim had collapsed in his office and when EMS got him to the hospital, a scan looking for a concussion revealed that Jim had brain cancer. If not for the dog, I probably would not have been concerned about Jim’s whereabouts until it was too late.
So much has changed since that day two years ago. Jim lived for nine more months and then died peacefully at home. Earlier this year, I quit my job and sold my house in Pennsylvania. Now Detroit and I live in Michigan where I have started a new job and bought a new house.
I often reflect on how important Detroit was to Jim, both before and after he got sick. Now, she is important to me.
In this new place where I am building a new life and don’t know many people, she is my faithful companion.
Every evening when I get home from work, she is anxiously awaiting my arrival. We go for a walk and then a little later, she wants to play. Eventually, she rolls over for me to rub her belly and scratch behind her ears.
She is happy in our new home with its fenced-in yard and resident rabbits, squirrels and birds. Her antics make me laugh.
In this time of transition, when I can sometimes feel so sad at what I have lost, she reminds me to live in the moment and appreciate all we have.
Initially, we rescued her, but she has returned the favor many times over.
“Only you,” a friend said when I told her I had been asked to speak at a fundraiser for a cancer research foundation. I had just moved back to Detroit two days earlier and serendipitously met the director of the foundation. The fundraiser was a fashion show based on the themes of the Wizard of Oz—brains, courage, heart and home. I was asked to speak about home. I shared the following story about my coming home:
My cousin Marlene was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October, 2008. She and her husband lived in Phoenix, AZ, and I visited them the following May. By then, Marlene had finished traditional treatment and was enrolled in an experimental protocol.
“Why don’t you go home?” I asked Marlene.
“I am going to beat this,” she said, “and if I go home, that is like saying I am going to die.”
“No,” I said. “You can go home and beat this there or not, but you will be with family.”
At home, in Michigan, Marlene had children, grandchildren, siblings and our large extended family. But, she would not consider my suggestion. Seven months after my visit, Marlene died in Arizona.
Marlene’s illness and death rocked me and made me reconsider my own situation. I, too, was living away from family, and I began to wonder what would happen if I became seriously ill. I came to realize that once Marlene got sick, it was impossible for her to move home because she had neither the physical nor emotional strength needed for such a move.
I soon decided that I wanted to move home to Michigan, and I shared my decision with my friend Jim. One week after that, Jim had a seizure and was diagnosed with a very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer. He had had no symptoms.
He underwent surgery, chemo and radiation to extend his life; but we knew from the beginning that he would not live long.
Jim asked me to help him to live until he died. He did not want to be kept alive or to live or die in the hospital. He lived with me the last seven months of his life and died a very peaceful death on April 3, 2012, at home, with his dog by his side.
During Jim’s illness, we often talked about how important it is to know where we are “at home.” We also talked about my moving back to Michigan to be near my family.
Three weeks ago, I moved home. I was fortunate to get a job at the Mercy Education Project, a literacy program in Detroit, which is the same work I had been doing in Philadelphia. I sold my house in Pennsylvania within two weeks, and I have already bought a house here.
I take all of these as signs that I am in the right place, and I agree with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: “There is no place like home.”