Things Broken, Repaired, Transcendent-I

One of Enedina’s Crosses

I met Enedina Vasquez over dinner at a friend’s house in Pembroke Pines, FL, many, many years ago. An artist, a theologian, a pastor, Enedina was one of those charming, playful, full of life people who make real that phrase, “live your best life.” She was also a consummate salesperson and that night, she had things to sell! Extraordinary things!

Some of you reading this may remember the heart and cross glass pieces she made as she walked the way of grief after her husband and artistic soulmate died. Taking broken shards of glass of different colors, she’d heat them up enough to make them malleable and put them together to make something new.  Then each new piece was put through another heating process that melded all the shards into one. When each piece cooled, she made small drawings of deeply religious symbols on the glass, symbols drawn from her rich heritage as a Tejana from a family that had lived in Texas stretching back hundreds and hundreds of years, back when Texas was still part of México. Finally, she’d hang a wonderful bouquet of ribbons at the bottom of each piece—reminders of the promise of a rainbow. Some of the ribbons had tiny little charms—ofrendas, offerings we are able to make when we are grateful.

That night at dinner she explained that she’d never worked with glass before but found it the perfect medium to express the quiet hope that began to walk with her through all the shadows cast on the path through her husband’s death. After being baked the second time, the hearts she made had all kinds of imperfections and small holes in them. Her own heart had shattered and then been slowly remade after losing Arturo. Life ran through her, and her heart never stopped pumping. But it was a new life, a new heart, both fragile and strong, holy, whole, and incomplete. 

I kept in touch with Ene through the years, mainly through Facebook. It was my joy and privilege to give lots of friends crosses or hearts of her making. I was even able to host her at Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, one All Saints weekend. We had some time before she started her workshop so we rode around so she could see the traces of the Civil Rights in West Central Alabama. I took her picture as she walked down the Edmund Petus bridge in Selma and then we stood quietly for a while at the foot of the bridge. So many spirits walking with her.  Such thin space. We were both deeply affected in the sunlight that didn’t warm much because a north wind was blowing cold.

Day before yesterday over and over again, I thought of Ene and I told myself I’d track her down this weekend. This morning, I got a text message from T. who met Enedina at the Ascension. She wanted to let me know that on Tuesday, Enedina died of cancer. I am very sad. I am extraordinarily thankful for what Ene taught me about sorrow, grief and our capacity to grieve, love, care and give even in the face of terrible loss. 

I have started gathering a small handful of stones for my journey on the Camino. Some are about relationships that have been profoundly damaged. Those stones will be offered with prayers for healing that I cannot bring about on my own. I will carry one to offer with the deepest thanksgiving and joy for an extraordinary, beautiful, holy woman, and friend named Enedina

Day by Day

One morning as summer was just beginning, I had been working on my laptop for a while. I became aware I was having a harder time seeing the screen.  Immediately, I felt a pang of fear and shame. As a very, very young child who needed extensive, sometimes excruciatingly painful, medical care. You can read some of the details here. The results of that experience are: a life-long resistance to going to the doctor, a fear of needles and shots and an aversion to the smell of rubbing alcohol that was used liberally on open wounds when I developed bedsores during the years I spent in a full-length cast.

At any rate, here I was with some deterioration in my eyesight that I’d been ignoring. I am still not sure what prompted me to do this, but first, I put my hand over my glasses on my right eye and looked at the screen. I didn’t see the screen nearly as clearly as I should. Then I covered my left eye and it felt like the ground gave out under me. All I could see out my right eye was light and shadow; it was as if I was swimming in milk with my eyes open. I needed to find out what was going on.

I finally made it into the doctor in late June. It’s a cataract. One so thick the doctor could not see through it to the back of my eye when I got my eye exam. My other eye also has a cataract, but not nearly as bad. However, based on what he saw in my left eye, the doctor is pretty confident that once the cataract is removed, I’ll be able to see just fine. 

There is such a backlog of folks needing eye care that I won’t be evaluated for the cataract surgery until early in September. I have no sense of how long it will be after that before I get that cataract removed. It’s no fun having such limited vision right now. I’m not driving at night. I am super cautious even during the day when I drive and I’m doing some other things to make it easier on myself while I wait for the surgery.

As I keep poking around all the different places that have information about the Portuguese Camino, the pictures suggest there is some stunning beauty to behold on that pilgrimage. These nights, as I sweat through my workouts on the elliptical, increasing the amount of time I spend on that wretched machine, jacking up the incline level to prepare for hillside walking, I sometimes sing along to one of the pieces of my ‘oldies but goodies’ go-to music, Day by Day Godspell. With this impaired vision of mine, that song has a whole new meaning.  


This one was a very short journey—a little more than a half-hour drive. J & P, two remarkable men, got home from México a week ago with their new-born baby girl. Earlier this year, they were able to bring home their first child, a little boy with the bluest eyes. Both babies are thriving; the papas? Awfully sleep deprived! Trying to imagine what it’s like to have a 5-month-old and a 2-week-old, I’d prepared a meal of Colombian comfort food to run over to them. Then I remembered there was something else I’d been planning to take. 

First, the backstory. My mom had a very hard time with our decision to adopt Luz María. About 10 months into the adoption process, she made a comment about this child that was already my daughter in all but the legal formalities; her comment was crushing to me.  It left the two of us deeply estranged from each other. Fast forward a year, when the adoption process was almost complete. Unexpectedly, I got a call from an acquaintance from Colombia who had travelled to Miami. She told me she’d brought some things with her from Cali that my mom had sent so we made arrangements for me to pick them up the next day.

The gifts were not for me. They were for my girl. They were a set of the most beautiful little dresses imaginable, along with one little night gown. This was a peace offering, the way my mom knew how to express acceptance of my daughter, how to show her love for her own daughter.  

They were all gorgeous and one in particular stole my heart—a little yellow dress not unlike one I wore when I was a girl not much older than the child I would soon bring home to finish raising. That yellow dress was the only one I took with me to México twenty years ago, when it was finally time to receive María.  We arrived on a Sunday morning and went straight to the orphanage where she was staying. The staff had bought María a very cute outfit and I regret that on that day, I couldn’t wait to change her into the little yellow dress; I wish I had been better able to rejoice in how she came to me instead of being in such a hurry to impose my vision of who she would be. I can’t go back and change that moment and I want to believe I grew into being a more thoughtful and aware mom. Over and over again, that dress has still been a reminder of the joy of becoming a mom, of having a stunningly beautiful child, of feeling her slip her little hand in mine wherever we went. 

As María outgrew her abuelita’s dresses, they went into a special keepsake box I had for them. For years, I kept them carefully packed away, occasionally pulling the box down from the closet shelf to look at those lovely pieces of clothing and remember those early months as a parent. The day we placed her in her residential program when she turned 16 and needed more care than we could provide, I came back home, pulled those dresses out again, sobbed and raged at the injustice and the brokenness that had gutted the promise of providing our daughter a home to grow and thrive in until she was ready to have her own home.

Slowly—very slowly—I became aware that I was holding on to those dresses in a way that did them no honor. Even more slowly, I made my peace with the truth that these were not clothes a granddaughter might one day wear. Instead, one found its way to the UK, to María’s cousin. Once I had done that, it became a lot easier to send each of them to another little girl, and then another, until all I had left was the yellow dress. 

When J and P told me they were going to have a little girl who would be born in México through a surrogacy program for gay men, I knew little R would get this last dress. I got to bless these two men’s marriage. I have come to cherish them. My both beautiful and broken family is now part of so many different expressions of what it means to be a family, so many different efforts to provide for children in ways that are life giving. I am beyond thankful for that much broader vision and understanding of love and devotion. 

I’ll confess I cried again yesterday, as I ironed that little part of who my girl was and who I was twenty years ago. I allowed myself to abide in the realization that all journeys are about death and life, letting go and receiving so much more than I can earn, all those paradoxes inextricably bound together. After a lovely visit with this new little family, I came home to an empty house; my Spouseman is on a trip to Kentucky to see his daughter M. I immersed myself in an app I found for my phone that is a pilgrim’s guide to all the villages the Portuguese Coastal Camino goes through. One journey (or perhaps, one part of the journey) is complete.  Another beckons. 


I don’t fight them and in fact, simply let them visit. But the parts of me that tend to be the most pessimistic and fearful pipe up from time to time these days, enumerating so many ways in which the pilgrimage to Santiago may not work. Soon enough those negative thoughts dissipate and there is such a sense that I am already walking. That now matters as much as the day I walk into the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

On Saturday, I officiated at a burial out in rural Alabama. Just the name, “Oak Bowery,” is so beautiful. A good part of the drive to get there was on country roads. We had had blistering heat for several days and as I got closer to the funeral home where the visitation was taking place, the rain started–welcome for the relief from the heat, challenging for a graveside service. That old cliche, “even the skies are grieving” seemed appropriate for a person who died too soon. However, I barely made it to the funeral home in time to join the funeral cortege. Because I was late, I ended up fairly far in the back of the line of cars following the hearse. The woman who died comes from a large family so even a small family graveside service meant about 25 or so cars slowly, carefully, driving in the rain.

Over and over again, on the opposite side of the road, cars had pulled over to the side, out of respect for the solemnity of that moment. Most of them had pulled off enough that if there was an emergency vehicle or someone in too much of a hurry that needed to get through, they could do so–probably the kind of thoughtfulness that does not require thought if you’ve lived out in that part of the country.

I kept wanting to stop and lean out the window, thank each stopped car for the respect they were showing, for acknowledging the hearse not only carried the precious remains of a beloved person, but had opened a thin, a liminal, space. Each person in the cars that had pulled over was surely reminded how even in life, we are always closer to death than we want to accept. Just as important, especially for those grieving intensely, all those cars that had stopped were a silent reminder that we carry our grief in community, that no matter how isolating sorrow can be, there are always other pilgrims walking along the way. That companionship matters.

Hoping to walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela means so many different things, even now. I’ve buried a lot of folks in the past year; just since Easter, I’ve officiated at 4 funerals. After I got the news that B had died, I sat with the parish administrator who has also become a good friend, and said, “so, so many losses.” Her response took me by surprise. She said something like, “yes, but then that has to do in part with the fact that we are getting older, more deaths come with the territory.” I was startled–after all, I simply cannot fathom that I am already more than 60 years old. But she has a point.

Without wanting to be lugubrious or morbid, one thing the pilgrimage means to me is an opportunity to recognize that in this time of my life, I am walking towards my own death. It isn’t that I anticipate it any time soon, or want to obsess about my mortality. It is much more about the realization that there is hope and grace to be found in not running away from, nor denying my days will come to an end. I yearn to meet death with dignity, grace, to have lived so even the last days have space for joy and laughter in the absence of fear and regret.

It looks like there is a place on the Coastal Portuguese Route, where pilgrims who have gone before me have left stones engraved with a message, a word, a simple image. The most famous of these rock piles is on the French Route of the Camino, at the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross). The tradition of putting down a stone on such a pile is ancient. It is a gesture of penance, of gratitude, of putting down a burden. You have to travel light for this journey and I am trying to think what small stone or stones I’d want to put down if there is a rock pile like there is at Cruz de Ferro on the French route. Perhaps it will be those two words, left behind to open more space for life.

That part of the road is far off still. Here today, there is now…