“If money goes, money comes.
If money stays, death comes.”
– Muslim (Urdu) Proverb
In 1989 Roger Montoya left a successful career as a professional dancer in New York City. At the age of twenty-nine, after studying, performing and touring with celebrated dance companies – Alvin Ailey, Parsons, Paul Taylor – Roger returned to his childhood home in Velarde, New Mexico.
Growing up in a rural village in northern New Mexico, Roger was loved and nourished by his parents, Jose Amado and Dorotea Montoya; nurtured by excellent teachers; and blessed with opportunities rarely available in such remote, financially distressed areas. Roger showed extraordinary promise. As a teenager he earned a; place on the team representing the US and Canada, traveling to Romania, France and Denmark. At 20, he received a merit scholarship to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City, which led to an astonishing life as a professional dancer, performing all around the world.
When we started Bread for the Journey in 1987, I was barely two years out of the seminary.
I graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was blessed to find a spiritual home in a newly formed, passionate church community, started by an inspired – and inspiring – group of people. Most were deeply engaged in serving the complex needs of the multi-cultural community of Santa Fe. I was soon called to serve as their part-time pastor and spiritual director, to walk beside them, to help deepen their mission and work.
It’s an unremarkable day, a Sunday, and I pick up the San Francisco Chronicle to read while eating lunch. I find myself engaged with a story of a 12 yr. old girl sold into sex slavery by her auntie. I’m reading it and the sorrow in this story feels like it takes a bite out of my heart. Immediate pain. I don’t even know this young child or her auntie, but I don’t need to. At that moment, I feel her pain, her family’s pain, and I understand how deeply connected I am with everyone, no matter where they are, or who they are. It’s a profound moment and I use it. I make a conscious decision to stay with what I’m feeling and not distract myself, which is to say I do not to abandon myself.
I decide to gather some flowers from the garden and make a little altar for her. Staying with my feelings doesn’t mean I have to make it harder than it already is. I can bring flowers into the room.
I cannot tell you how often I type the word “Live” when I want to sign off my emails with “Love,” as in Love, Marianna. The I and O are next to each other on the cell phone keyboard, and my chubby thumb is clumsy. Maybe if I lost an extra 10 pounds, I would say what I mean.
Or maybe what I actually mean to say is Live.
As in be alive. Now.
If you find yourself going mad, go to lunch and keep driving till you get to the beach or mountain or field of wildflowers that brings you home to yourself.
If someone you love has gone away, or never came, grieve till you get to the bottom of it.
If singing is your thing, do it once every day. More if you’re brave enough to keep feeling alive.
If you have finally figured out & named that little, unique thing you love about someone, tell them.
I had an accident a week ago at my health club (Laugh. It’s okay. I get the irony.) I, unknowingly, stepped onto a treadmill that was on and moving at a fast clip. Someone had walked away without turning it off. What???
I was suddenly in a free fall tumble trying to grab something, anything, to regain some control of my body. No such luck. When I landed on the floor, one leg was twisted between two treadmills, my head hit the floor and I felt jangled. Everyone jumped off of their machines and a crowd formed with people asking a lot of questions to determine how badly I was hurt. I couldn’t really move for several minutes, but not because anything was broken. Read more
My friend Teresiana once said, “I have a deep and abiding faith that comes and goes.”
People always laugh when they hear it because everyone can relate. We know faith and we know wavering faith. It seems like a contradiction to have faith come and go. Especially a deep and abiding faith. Right? So we conclude we actually don’t have any, or that it’s weak.
Last year I had to foreclose on a piece of income property that, after the mortgage crisis of 2008, was valued at less than fifty percent of what I owed. For several years the income kept dwindling as the expenses were growing and the difference was draining me of everything I’d saved. The creditors were no help at all and I blamed myself for not being smarter about money. I was so filled with shame that I didn’t talk with anyone about it.
Several years ago I moved into a sweet house with a verdant yard that calls me outdoors. I named it Cielo en Tierra – Heaven on Earth. For weeks I was graced with the unmistakable warmth of gratitude each day and especially when I looked out the bay window at the 120 year old oak tree in my back yard.
This tree was the thing that made me say yes to the house. Ten steps past the front door, a bay window framed this force of nature and I was drawn like a Yo Yo to the hand of someone playing with me. The window, the tree, the blue sky, my breath. All of it a bit overwhelming. She was beautiful. I turned and said, “I’d like to rent this house.” That was four years ago.
At the same time I was struggling with a certain inner tension. Let me explain. At Bread for the Journey, our vision is To Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart. As Executive Director, I had been practicing generosity by nudging the limits of my giving, noticing the places where generosity is easy and where it’s not. Following in the footsteps of new friends who were immersed in the “gift economy” movement, I wanted to provide my grief support services as a gift to anyone who needed them, but was afraid. I worried that giving away my services would reduce the value of my work; worried there would be too many takers and it would interfere with my job at Bread for the Journey; worried that it was an unwise move for a woman who did not have much financial security. And yet I deeply wanted to do it.
Okay, so there is an upside to being a person who didn’t see herself as generous while running an organization whose vision is To Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart. I became earnest in my wish to become a generous person.
I practiced a little every day, giving away some of my money to people on the street and to non-profits I loved. I also gave my time. Sometimes to people I didn’t know, sometimes to friends. I wrote a book called Being There for Someone in Grief, a labor of love. And since I was my own living experiment, I paid attention to how I felt when I was generous and when I wasn’t.
Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving creates love.
Our volunteers at Bread for the Journey know that living up to our Vision to Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart is an inside job. As we nurture the seed of generosity in our heart, our energy ripples out and touches others. Seen or unseen, it is felt by the people in our lives. And the way it feels is—well, it feels like love. Read more
What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for others?
Yesterday I needed my friends and they needed me. It was a day when magic happened with near strangers, where the “shared world” was in high relief and it was obvious that we’re all connected in a web of wonder.
I woke up feeling unsure of myself, and as I spoke to a friend while drinking my morning coffee, I cried some. Now, one thing I have learned is that having friends who listen well and have the capacity to hold sorrow without needing to repair the problem are good as gold. And if that friend sees the beauty in you AND is outspoken about it, well, she’s a keeper.
Laurie is one of those friends and she did something remarkable for me. Read more