Jan 222015
 

Caminante

I’ve been asked to travel to see the work of international aid groups more times than I can count. I’ve always said no, for three reasons. First, I have a dear friend who works for a relief group abroad and she often has to stop serving in order to make up work for visiting Americans to do. She needs to accept these visitors because her program needs their sponsorship money, but it’s a real drain on her resources when Americans come. Second, many of these aid groups are faith-based and to tell you the truth, I worry that some faith-based aid organizations use service as a means to further their agendas. That concerns me. I just want people to love each other and serve each other without trying to convert each other. Third, my comfort zone is exactly the size of my cloffice. I don’t much like leaving the house, much less THE COUNTRY. For all these reasons, it seemed right to privately support the international groups I love while publicly working my butt off domestically, through Together Rising.

But trying to keep your circles small instead of allowing them to widen never, ever works in the long run. Enter: Amy. Amy joined the Momastery team years ago and swiftly became a sister to Sister and me. Amy used to work for CWS and knew in her bones that Momastery and CWS would be a perfect match, so over the years she’d send me links to work CWS was doing that she knew would make me swoon.  (Look G! Here’s the CWS president, getting arrested for advocating for refugee children! Look, G—LOOK. CWS staff are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect LGBT people in South Africa from violence and persecution. G, do you see how CWS is supporting food pantries all over the US and doing the long, slow work of recovery in areas hit by disaster? And how, in their work overseas, CWS doesn’t simply go into places with their own program ideas, but, whenever possible, supports people doing great work in their own countries?)

After studying CWS closely, I decided it was time to expand our Momastery family circle to the whole wild world. I trusted the people at CWS to help us do that carefully and right. I gave Amy the go ahead to explore a partnership. And then one day Amy and I found ourselves in a meeting with CWS and they told me about a woman named Denisse Pichardo who is running a program called Caminante in the Dominican Republic that helps get child sex workers off the streets and safe and educated.

And they asked if I’d travel to meet Denisse and see this work and how CWS has come alongside to support her. And I smiled and said: THAT IS AMAZING. ALSO, NO. Nope. That woman is working hard enough without having some American lady come stare at her all day. No. Sorry. No way. I will send her all the love and support in the world but I will not be a drain on that woman.

CWS said: what would it take to get you to visit? And I said, an invitation, probably. From her, not from CWS. I love you- but I’m not going anywhere because you want me to. I’m only going if that badass sister wants me to. And I just can’t imagine why she would.

A month later, I opened my email to see this:

Dear Glennon,

Please receive my greetings of peace, full of God´s grace and life.

I have heard about your great life testimony from my friends at Church World Service, Caminante’s long standing partner, and I would love to hear more directly from you. But I cannot leave my work here with the children to visit you. They need me and they really need all of us working together to support them. They need the world to hear their stories.

I want to invite you to come to the Dominican Republic to visit Caminante Proyecto Educativo (Caminante Educational Project), a nonprofit I started. I work in Boca Chica with children, adolescents, young people and families who are vulnerable to different social problems. Many of these children are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, drugs, gangs and terrible violence.

I’d love to share with you about my work with these children and also learn from you about the inspirational work you do for thousands of women in your own country. It would be a real honor for me to host you so you can meet the children and hear from them first-hand about their lives. I will do our best to make your days enjoyable and fulfilling at Caminante and in Boca Chica.

Warm greetings,

Denisse Pichardo
Executive Director
Caminante Proyecto Educativo

And I had the reaction any do-gooder would: daaaaaaamnit.

But the bottom line here is that if a badass nun from the Dominican Republic who has devoted her entire life to getting children off the streets and into the lives they deserve beckons you, you just put on your big girl pants and go.

And so, in November, I went. I have been reflecting on this trip since then, deciding how I want to tell you about it—because I have so much to tell. I started to write it all down to tell you all about it one fell swoop, but I realized that there is too much—it is too beautiful and too full to share with you in just one sitting. I want to introduce you to the people we met slowly, like presents for us to open up together and examine.

But first and of course, today I want to introduce you to HER.

Denisse PichardoFriends, meet Denisse Pichardo, Dominican lay nun, founder of Caminante, winner of the 2011 World of Children Award, partner of CWS, Lover of the Light.

Denisse is a Dominican nun with the Order of the Altagracia. In 1994, she was sent to the city of Boca Chica with the task of assessing the needs of the city. Denisse knew no one in the city and had no idea what to expect, so, as soon as she arrived, she began walking—walking down streets and through neighborhoods, up and down the beach, walking all day and into the long nights. And what Denisse discovered in Boca Chica broke her heart. She found children sleeping in the streets, without access to basic resources or schooling. She saw extreme poverty. And, at the heart of it, she saw foreign tourists preying on local children, especially young girls, many of whom were being forced into the growing sex tourism trade.

Denisse reported back what she was seeing and she stayed put. She didn’t have any money to rent a meeting space, so she gathered children under trees and on beaches and began to teach. She taught them basic school lessons and began talking to them about their rights. She told these precious ones that even though they were abused, forgotten and abandoned by the world, they were children of God and deserved to be treated as such. She promised them that they were wildly and completely loved.

Denisse also started writing. She wrote down dreams for what she would like to do in the city, grant applications and requests for funding. CWS was the first organization to respond and has been her partner ever since, supporting her over the last 20 years as she gradually turned her school under a tree into a well-run non-profit called Caminante Proyecto Educativo (Caminante Educational Project). Caminante means “We Walk Together,” and from how it all started to what they are doing today, I can’t imagine a more perfect name.

We spent three days visiting Caminante programs and meeting people whose lives have been transformed by Denisse’s work, and I kept wondering—How in the world did she DO all this? How does someone go from walking the beaches and simply talking to kids to building an organization providing education, therapy, health care and protection to an entire region?

Denisse doesn’t stop caminante-ing long enough to take many questions, but she sat with us and told us her story on a long van ride on the way to visit programs outside the city. We finally got to ask—how did she get from there to here?

She told us that while she did not grow up rich in any sort of material way, she was surrounded by a wealth of women—a strong assortment of aunts who challenged her and raised her up towards who she is today. And she had books. She remembers discovering books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and being captivated by his life and his work. His words advocating for justice in the far away United States unlocked the idea in her that she — a poor, black girl in the Dominican Republic – had rights and worth as well. And she told us that somehow she has always, always known she is loved — loved so radically and completely by God that she wants nothing more than to make sure that everyone she comes in contact with feels love like this as well.

As we were talking to Denisse about her life and her work and her deep Catholic faith, she asked us if we knew about Pope Francis, and how he invited people to step out of their comfortable lives and churches and go out into the streets and into people’s lives and “make a mess.” Then she laughed and said, “Oh! If Francis were walking here with me today would make such a mess together!” My jaw dropped open and even though we were traveling down a bumpy rural road the moment got real still and holy. Because isn’t that what we are all trying to do? Just walk alongside one another down this messy, beautiful path of life? Maybe it doesn’t matter where we live, what we look like, who or how we serve—once we accept the invitation to love, our lives are turned in one crazy, beautiful mess. 

Denisse was the 2011 recipient of the World of Children Award, which has been called the Nobel Peace prize for people working with children. She is a really big deal. But she doesn’t seem to care much about that–she has much more important things on her mind. At the end of our van ride we arrived at the destination and climbed out to and climbed out to visit a new CWS-supported health program and a community school run by another local partner, SSID. Denisse immediately got to work—gathering the children in the school together and getting them to recite back to her their rights. Telling them that she loved them and that they were worthy of this love. Reminding them to remember who they are, and what they can grow up to be.

Denisse teaching

Denisse

G and Denisse

Thank you, Denisse. Thank you Amy and Don and Luciano and Angie and everyone at CWS for being such good, true FRIENDS to the world. That is what I to be. I don’t want to be a helper – I just want to be a friend. I just want to keep letting my circle ever widen. Thank YOU- Monkees and Together Rising for being my circle, and for always, always making room for a few more.

Actually I think we are more of a horseshoe than a circle. Open. Always open. Always holding space for someone new.

Make a mess, friends.



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest


Jan 192015
 

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. . . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hiba

From Hiba, a Pakistani woman, mother, sister, artist, and peacemaker:

*********************************

Dear Glennon,

Two days ago when you posted about Pakistan, I wanted to write to you and thank you for your heart, but I felt shy.

Today, when you have written about stepping gently into each other’s worlds, I am compelled to reach out to you; to somehow make this invisible thread connecting us, stronger, more tangible.

You see, I am a Muslim Pakistani woman. I am the ‘other’ in many, many ways. And I am of a people reeling from tragedy. 132 of my school children have been killed by people who profess to follow my faith. It’s so hard, so very hard, to be of a race and a faith that is the subject of so much misunderstanding, so much misrepresentation, so much hate both internal and external. But we can do hard things, right?!

I am connecting with you today to make a deliberate declaration, however inconsequential, to those who spread hate that peace and goodness and bridge building will always be more powerful than they are. To announce that whether we are a Muslim Pakistani woman like me, or a Christian Florida gal like yourself, we are all the same. To prove that Love Wins.

I am sharing below an excerpt of something I wrote on the day of the school massacre. Some people asked why, as a Muslim writer, I included a Christmas carol.

I’d like to think it is because, like you, I insist on dreaming of the possibility of that ONE world where grace and miracles abound. Tweet: I insist on dreaming of the possibility of that ONE world where grace and miracles abound. http://ctt.ec/317zm+ @momastery

Where it doesn’t matter who is quoting what as long as they are truth-telling and hope-spreading.

Glennon, in Islam, we believe that Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the same One God, the same Ii’lah. May that One God bless you with increasing wisdom, continued eloquence, a bigger cloffice and ever-excellent coffee.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and a happy new year. Hiba

My three year old daughter adores the color pink. Every time she sees it, no matter where, she exclaims joyfully, “For me? For me!” Last week, I was at the beach with my kids. As the sun began to set, pinks and purples streaked and lept across the sky in a breathtaking evening dance. When I pointed it out to my little girl, she exclaimed, in her particular high sweet voice, “The sky is so beautiful for me, Mama? For me!” I held her in my arms, kissed her head, in the way that us sappy moms do when our kids school us in Life, and said “Yes. Yes, of course it’s for you.” Because she was absolutely right, it was.

There is a beautiful sky above us today, Pakistan. It is for us. There is beauty, in every shade and color, all over our beloved country today and every day. It is for us.

These terrorists, these evil, loathsome, misguided individuals, win when we tell ourselves and our children that this world is all darkness. They win when we stop believing with our very core that “Hum aik hain. Hum naik hain,” We are one. We are good.

Tomorrow, when you wake up and your stomach sinks and you remember the horror of this day, do something good for those one hundred children no longer with us. One hundred random acts of kindness for one hundred strangers. Give one hundred rupees to as many people as you can. Light one hundred candles. Recite one hundred verses from the Quran. Spend one hundred seconds in reverent silence. Do whatever you can to announce loudly and proudly to your heart and whoever else wants to hear you that “Pakistan is for me! This world is for me!”

There is a beautiful Christian hymn of which one part is:

“Said the King to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light.”

May these sleeping children pave the way for goodness and light for Pakistan. May the horror of today become the promise of tomorrow. And may in God’s wisdom and mercy we always trust, amen.

Hiba

*********************

Amen, Hiba. Love You True and Deep and Real. We are one. We are good. We belong to each other. Love Wins.
G

 

You can see the original Facebook post by clicking here, and below are just a few of the hundreds of beautiful comments you wrote to Hiba.

For Hiba

For Hiba

For Hiba

For Hiba

Sister and Alice

 

If you’d like to read more from the indomitable, vast, brilliant Hiba, you can find her here.

Under the Same Sky-

G



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest


Jan 162015
 

Books are like people

Here is the thing about books and me: It’s possible that our relationship is not entirely healthy.

I am a speed reader. Not officially, but enough so that every time I’m on the elliptical at the gym, someone stops me and says, “I have to ask- are you actually READING that thing?”  To put things into perspective, “every time I’m on my elliptical at the gym” has been exactly three times in three years. But this has happened all of those times.

I read frantically –to the point that it becomes less enjoyable than maybe it should be. I read like I used to (sometimes still) eat. Like the book or cookie is ON FIRE AND SO I MUST FINISH IT IN THIRTY SECONDS OR IT WILL CERTAINLY TURN TO A PILE OF ASHES. Also, I am frantic even if I’m not actively reading or eating.  If there is an unread book or an uneaten cookie in my home I can pretend to pay attention to the people in my home but I cannot actually  pay attention because I am looking at them and nodding but the distracting and all-encompassing words looping through my brain are THERE IS A BOOK AND/OR COOKIE IN THE VICINITY OF US AND SO HOW THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE CARRYING ON AS IF ALL IS FINE WHEN CLEARLY THERE IS  UNFINISHED BOOK AND COOKIE BUSINESS IN THE VICINITY OF US.

And so often I sneak away to read and eat. I have to sneak because it feels wrong to prefer being in my  book and cookie world more than being in the real world which is not REALLY true except for it’s a teeny bit true. It’s just mostly true but not completely.

It’s completely true. I prefer book and cookie world.

The point is that I do not eat nor read leisurely. I eat and read like I suspect that maybe every book and grain of sugar is saving my life. I think this might be why a lot of folks with food issues don’t eat in front of people. Because for us, eating is not a social activity. It’s full immersion. It’s –  like – SERIOUS.  We do not nibble on food or books – we devour them. Almost whole.  Without even chewing sometimes. It’s so personal that it feels private. I don’t know.

ANYWAY. Here is my point: I finish a book maybe every three days.  And I always love them. I ALWAYS LOVE ALL THE BOOKS. To me, books are like people- they don’t need to match me perfectly- I just need to be able to learn something new from them. And I always do. I always learn something new. My favorite person is usually the one I’m with right now and my favorite book is always the one I’m reading right now. And so every time I finish a book-  I want to thank the writer in some HUGE way and then tell you all about the writer in some HUGE way to show how HUGE MY LOVE IS FOR BOTH THE WRITER AND FOR YOU but then it all seems too huge to try –  so I just do nothing.  This is actually the entire story of my entire life.

But no — I cannot let this happen! Not when it comes to BOOKS! Let me neglect anything but books and writers and you!

The enemy of good is perfect. Things are better done crappily than not done at all. Tweet: The enemy of good is perfect. Things are better done crappily than not done at all. http://ctt.ec/b63QE+ ‎@momastery Everything worth doing is not worth doing well — and on and on etc., etc.

So here’s what I’m going to do: Every time I finish a book I am going to post a picture of it here or on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and then I am going to ask who wants it and then I’ll randomly choose one of you and then you will email me their address and then I will go to the Post Office and send it to you.  Since I hate going to the post office with a burning, burning fire – I will offer that up to the author as my deep and sacrificial THANK YOU.  *Please note that when you receive your book it will VERY  likely have water damage because I drop every book in the bathtub at least one which is why I’m not allowed to have a kindle. Consider your book well loved. No returns, please.*

First Book!!!

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Anne PachettI assume that everyone here knows Ann Patchett, but we are going to need to talk about her anyway.

I just finished This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which is collection of her essays. You need this book. In it she writes about her divorce and her friendships and her beautiful second marriage and Nashville and the Sisters who helped raised her and about the pure, fierce, tender love between her and her dog, Rose. The blurb on the cover says, “A collection of sparkling essays.” I finished the book on a plane and then sat with the book in my lap, just staring at it and thinking. As I stared I noticed with great delight that when the cover catches the light, it literally sparkles- because subtle glitter is hidden inside the strong layers of color. When I discovered this I was so tickled that I tried to show the man in the seat next to me. He was not as excited. I think maybe you have to read the essays to become sufficiently delighted by how PERFECT the cover is.

The way the cover works is exactly how Patchett’s writing works. Her essays are strong, layered, bold – with subtle but very real sparkle. She is a master. Her writing is so crystal clear and good and steady that it doesn’t even feel like WRITING. It’s like she presents her entire story WHOLE. Here is the thought in the back of my head as I read her:  This woman is so SANE. She is just so SANE. And she makes sane seem so damn attractive. So wait- one can have a life with this much depth,  this much beauty,  this much wisdom and ALSO be totally SANE?  I usually feel a little bit hostile toward sanity but she and her friend Elizabeth Gilbert make me want to consider considering it.

In one essay, Patchett is deciding what to do about her less than healthy marriage, and a friend asks her: does he make you a better person? It’s a good, hard question and this whole book is sort of an answer to it. It’s  about what makes her a better person. I believe that Ann Patchett’s writing makes me a better person, so I am going to keep her around. You should, too.

One important thing: Ann and her friends Mary and Karen opened an independent book store in Nashville called Parnassus. They did this because they believe in the power of the independent book store to bring a community together. It is my new goal in life to go to Parnassus and just sit on the floor and read for many hours. If you must know, I will only pretend to read while out of the corner of my eye I will  spy on Patchett and gather ideas about how one might kick start this sanity thing.

Parnassus

I bring all of this up because the right thing to do, if you decide to order any of Ann Patchett’s books, is to order them not from Amazon, but from Ann Patchett.  No ill will toward Amazon, but Patchett makes me want to do things right. Visit her! Small bookstores are so important. I’m grateful that she and her partners are doing their part to keep them alive. Also, I would like to formally register my concern that — in the distribution of fiery, cool, talented, beautiful hearts and minds –Nashville has been egregiously over-served. This is a fact, jack. SHARE, Nashville.

 



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest


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