New Year’s Eve with Mother Theresa: Her Reflections

05520018On New Year’s Eve, 1990, Mother Teresa invited about 30 volunteers to spend time with her in the Mother House Chapel.  Below is my journal entry reflecting on her words.

January 1, 1991

Last night, I sat at the left foot of Mother Teresa and listened to her talk to about 30 of us volunteers.  She was like a grandma with all her loved ones at her feet listening to her stories and wisdom and wit.  I have never had a grandma, but last night, as I sat at her feet, I felt like a grandchild.

“If you don’t remember anything else, remember Jesus’ words, ‘Whenever you did it to the least of my little ones you did it unto me.’  Each night before you go to bed look at your hand on on your fingers see the words, ‘ You did It for me…You did it to me… You did it with me’  And ask yourself, ‘What did I do for Jesus today?  What did I do to Jesus today?  What did I do with Jesus today?’

“Love each other as God loves you. God loves you…God loves you.

“The more you love others, the more you’ll love God.  The more you love God, the more you’ll love others.

“Serve His little ones with dignity.  You’ll know it’s done with dignity, if it’s done with joy.”

She told us the story of an Indian couple who had a simple wedding ceremony and rather than receive gits, they received money.  Their love was so strong that they wanted to share it with the little ones.  They donated all the money to Mother Teresa.

Sitting at the feet of Mother Teresa, being close enough to see all the beautiful lines that crease her face and the mole under her chin, I was in awe of her gentleness, humility and strength.  Oh God, that I may grow in likeness to her.

 

My Time with Mother Teresa: “Keep What You Get.”

MT rosaryFrom my journal dated December 29,1990

‘I went to Devotions at the Mother House tonight.  As I was leaving, Mother Teresa was just returning from a holiday gathering.  She stopped to talk with me and my companions.  She held my hands as she asked how we were doing.  I said I was fine and asked, “But how are you?”  She said she was just fine.  I asked her about her heart, knowing she had recently been in the hospital for a heart condition.  She said, “Oh it is fine.  I have two now, you know.  They gave me a pacemaker.”  We all giggled and she assured us she was feeling well.

Mother Teresa asked if I had my rosary.  That night at Devotions, we were given a plastic rosary.  I told her I had put it back.  She looked me in the eye and told me to keep what I get!   she said she would get me one tomorrow.  As she departed, she said, “God Bless you, dears.”‘

I was not there the next day and I did not have another chance to get a rosary while I was in Calcutta.  However, a few years later, my friend Amy went to Calcutta and brought me home a rosary from the chapel at the Mother House.  This simple gift reminds me to RECIEVE the gifts God gives me with gratitude, to use them with integrity and to share them with joy.

My Time with Mother Teresa

MT and ME pic"Love others as
God loves you.
    God bless you.
        Mother Teresa mc
                     21/12/90"

One of my deepest dreams, as a girl and then as a young woman, was to meet Mother Teresa and experience her work in Calcutta.  In 1990, I turned 30 years old and decided to go for it.  I bought a ticket and headed to Calcutta by myself to fulfill a dream.  In honor of Mother Teresa’s canonization today, I will share my stories of my encounters with this holy woman.

My first encounter with Mother Teresa was on December 23rd.  I had been in Calcutta for a couple of weeks, living and working in a L’Arche community with 7 developmentally men and on my days off I worked at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute and at her orphanage.

Acclimating to Calcutta was a challenge.  Everything was different and seemed difficult.  Within 24 hours of my arrival, I contracted a parasite and was intensely ill.  I lived in one of the poorest tangaras.  We sat on the floor there was no furniture.   We ate with our fingers, there was no silverware, we wiped ourselves with our left hand and water, there was no toilet paper, I slept on a piece of plywood with a thin mat and a mosquito net.  Half of the men I lived with spoke English, but I had a difficult time understanding them and the other half spoke Bengali, which I did not understand.

As I wondered the streets of Calcutta on December 23rd, I met 2 young women who were from Scotland, and I could understand them!  I was so thrilled to visit with them.  Even though we were from different countries, they felt familiar and easy.  They invited me to meet them later that evening for tea.

In the early evening, I went to the Mother House for prayer.  I entered a large room.  The visitors sat on the right side and the nuns sat on the left.  I sat down next to the aisle, hoping to get a glimpse of Mother Teresa.  They handed each of us a plastic rosary.  As I sat there taking in the peace of this place, Mother Teresa came into the chapel and sat directly across from me.  There was no more than a few feet between us.  I admit, I did not pray.  I just sat and watched this holy woman.  What was most surprising to me was how ordinary she was.  There was no bright halo above her head or lights shooting out from her.  She was just a simple old woman praying the rosary.

When the prayers were completed, she stood and went to the front of the room.  She announced that there was a visiting priest and that Confessions would be available.  I walked out of the chapel with those who were leaving, convinced that I would rather go to tea then Confession.  But instead of going down the stairs and out the door, I  walked down a hallway and stood off to the side where no one could see me and had an argument with myself.  One part of me was convinced I should leave and go have tea with the 2 young women I’d met.  The other part pushed me to stay and go to confession.  I had good reasons for both choices and the argument within went on and on.

Then the most amazing thing happened.   Mother Teresa came out of the chapel and walked right up to me.  She put her hand on my arm, looked up into my eyes and said, “So, you are going to confession?” With my eyes wide, I responded, “Oh yes, Mother!” .  She kept her hand on my arm and walked me down the hallway and into the chapel.  Then she pointed to my head and said, “The line for Confessions will form here.”  I was astounded!  Did God have to be that obvious?   Who could say “No.” to Mother Teresa.

As I said my five redeeming Our Fathers, deep tears streamed down my face, tears of shame and remorse for having so much and always wanting more when so many in the world have so little. My tears subsided as the shame poured out and a new resolve set in: to be a good steward of all that I have, to buy less and to buy good quality so that it will last, to live in gratitude and to give back to the world through service.

 

 

 

 

Our Guides

day 12 Leribe and Nat'l Park (13)As we travelled down a dirt road that would lead us to the Church, 2 men were waiting to offer their services as our guide for a small fee. The guidebook had told us to expect this and so we agreed. We had yet to see, the hill we would need to climb to get to the tracks, and still we were humbled as we looked at their shoes.

In Search of Dinosaur Tracks

day 12 Leribe and Nat'l ParkWMToday we headed to the town of Leribe, just 20 minutes by car from Mary’s home. We visited a shop that has beautiful weaving so made by people with developmental disabilities. Then we headed down the road another 20 minutes or so in search of dinosaur tracks. The guidebook tells us that there are many Lesothaurus tracks behind the Church, on a ledge that has fallen.

As we travelled down a dirt road that would lead us to the Church, 2 men were waiting to offer their services as our guide for a fee. The guidebook had told us to expect this and so we agreed. The fee seemed high, given that they were just leading us to the backyard of the Church. I was certain, we could find it on our own. And yet, one look at their clothing was all the encouragement we needed to employ their services. Their clothing was ragged. One of the men wore a pair of tennis shoes that were barely more than thin soles held together by the shoestrings. It was evident that the fee they were asking was necessary.

They lead us to the Church. As we walked behind the Church, I expected to see a large stone nearby with dinosaur tracks on it. I started looking at every large rock in the vicinity. The guides caught up with us and pointed up, up, up. p a steep hill were large overhanging ledges. This is where we would find our tracks.

We started to follow them up the hill. I made it about 5 to 10 minutes in when it became clear to all of us, that I was not going to make it up to the overhang. The respiratory infection had stopped me in my tracks. Mary insisted on staying with me, so she and I had wonderful Mother Daughter time, while the guys headed on up the hill. After they had been gone for 15 minutes, my breathing had slowed down. I decided to try again. I did not even make it 5 minutes, before my lungs began to burn and my breathing became labored. It is the first time in my life, that I was unable to do something physical that I had set my mind on doing.

I settled in to enjoy this blessed time alone with Mary. I took pictures of her and her beautiful pregnant belly. We laughed and talked and breathed in the preciousness of this time together.

The guys made it down and filled us in. Sam said it was the highlight of the trip for him so far. They showed us the pictures of the tracks. They were so grateful for the guides. They did not think they would have been able to find the tracks without their help. The fee that I originally considered charity, was in fact fair payment for a job well done.

 

Cultural Differences on Motherhood

DSC_0155bwmTonight Will, Sam, Mary, Paul and Sammy went to Paul’s parent’s for dinner. Sam and I stayed in bed. After dinner, Paul’s parents came back to the house to meet us. They said hello to Sam as he laid in bed. I got up and came out to the living room for a short visit.

Mary’s relationship with Paul’s parents as well as their relationship with Sammy has been confusing to me. When Mary and Paul got married, she was required to live with Paul’s parents for the first 3 months of their marriage to learn how to take care of Paul. This was confusing to me. Paul is a healthy young man. He does not have any special needs. Mary patiently told me that this is part of their culture.

When Mary got pregnant with Sammy, she was not allowed to live with Paul for the last trimester of her pregnancy, nor for the first few months after Sammy was born. It seems that there is a cultural belief that having sex during this time could cause the baby to become blind or disabled. Mary lived with her parents for the last trimester and then for the fist 2 months after the Sammy was born. After that she had to move into Paul’s parent’s home for a few months.

When I would ask her the baby’s name for a long time she would say that she did not know. It was Paul’s parents who would name him. I could not imagine this. In fact, Paul’s parents did give him his Basotho name and then Mary and Paul gave him his English name – Sammy.

Paul’s parents have as much and perhaps more say in the raising of Sammy as Mary does. He lives in their home during the week and comes home to Mary and Paul’s house on the weekends. They can come and get him whenever they want. This has been very confusing to me. Mary’s response is, “It is my culture.” Tonight as I sat with Paul’s parents, his mother pointed at Sammy and said, “That is my last born.” I thought my head was going to explode. That comment made no sense to me. Her last born? Wasn’t it Mary who was in labor for 2 days to give birth to that child? Wasn’t Sammy her child? I had a difficult time reminding myself that I was there to grow in my understanding of the culture, not to judge it.

A Day in Bed

Will entertains Sam after a long day recuperating.

Will entertains Sam after a long day recuperating.

My low grade fever upgraded to a fever of 101.5 in the middle of the night. Remarkably, I was able to text my dear friend and Doctor, Steve. He diagnosed me with a respiratory infection and suggested I take a specific antibiotic. I looked at the antibiotic that the travelers clinic had prescribed and gave him the name…nope. Not effective for respiratory infections. As I continued to text him, Niko found Will and Sam’s prescribed travelers medicines and there it was, the very antibiotic I needed! How incredible is that. I am half way around the world and I am able to text my doctor for $.50 and get a diagnosis and prescribed the medicine I need and just happen to have it with us. I started the antibiotic immediately in hopes that I will feel better within 24 hours and be able to explore the sites with Mary and Paul.

Sam woke up in the night with pains in his tummy and ran outside to vomit. This morning, we both woke up feeling miserable. And so, today, we are both spending the day resting.

Sam moved into Niko’s bed so that he could get some rest and so that we could keep each other company as the others went on with their day. Mary and Sammy left early this morning for school. Will and Niko slept in and then spent the afternoon at Mary’s school. Sam and I slept and read and slept some more.

Niko and Will came home and shared their stories with us. They were able to enjoy another performance of the incredible choir. I am disappointed that we missed going to the school. I especially am disappointed that I missed hearing the choir again. Their performance will be one of the highlights of our time in Maputsoe.

The Weavers

DSC_0951wmBetween Maseru and Maputsoe is at town known for their weavings. We stopped at one of three weaving outlets suggested in our guidebooks. The front room of the building was made out of cans and is where the weavings are displayed and sold. The back room is where the looms are and where the tapestries are made.

We stopped at each loom and watched the artisan weave their tapestry. Amazed by the deftness of their fingers, and the beauty of their work.

As we walked in, I was immediately taken by a tapestry that was hanging that was of the mountains and trees in deep hues of green, purple and blue. The more I looked at it, the more I questioned whether it would feel too dark in our home. Then I saw this incredible tapestry of a woman with a water jug on her head. Her dress was a deep red. The colors were bold, not bright but bold and beautiful. I fell in love with it. Niko took one look at it and said he like us to find another one. He feels like we have enough art of woman in our house and would like to balance it with something more gender neutral. And so we went back and forth and chose a weaving that depicted village life in Lesotho to hang in our living room.

I just cannot stop thinking about the woman with the jar. I am beginning to realize that when we find something we love we should not be so quick to let it go. It is important to find a compromise with those who share our space for what goes in our shared space. However, I also know that I could have hung her in my office. I like the one we got, but I do not love it, nor am I moved by it as I was with the woman with the jar. With art, should we go with what we love, or with what fits, or compromise on something that everyone likes enough? I think with art, we should go for that which speaks to our soul and save the compromise to where it will be displayed.

DSC_0942DSC_0953wmDSC_0949wm

Bathroom Joy

As we passed through Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, Sam and Will spotted a Kentucky Fried Chicken and convinced us to stop. Niko found a parking spot near the building on the street and not wanting to leave our things unattended, sent us in to get the food.

I entered the building and headed straight for the bathrooms. Oh my, they were beautiful! They were clean, Western toilets, that flushed and felt like home. I could not believe my excitement. The food was fine, but those bathrooms? They were a bit of Heaven!

Seshoeshoe Aprons

 

DSC_0939wmWe left Mohales Hoek with a lighter load and a heart that was full. We left behind over 400lbs of donations and now carried in our hearts the 20 children of the St. Camillus Center. Stephanie drove with us as far as Mafateng.

Mafateng is between Mohales Hoek and Maseru. It has a Shoprite grocery store, which has a large selection of foods and better prices than can be found in any store in Mohales Hoek. Before we entered Mafateng, we turned off the highway to a small village, where Stephanie’s friend Tracy lives.

Tracy is a 50 something year old woman who lives in a small village as a Peace Corp volunteer. She has a big heart and a bright spirit, and I liked her immediately. She has started a sewing coop with the women of the village. She purchased four hand cranked sewing machines and seshoeshoe material in all different colors. Seshoeshoe is the traditional cotton cloth of Lesotho and it comes in beautiful prints and colors. The women were making aprons, bags in all different sizes and bracelets.

We entered Tracy’s small one room home. It was no more than 10 by 10 feet. On her bed and on each surface were laid out these beautiful items. I was drawn into their colors and started to set aside those that we would purchase. The Lesotho Connection had requested that we look for crafts that we could bring back that could be sold to raise funds for The Lesotho Connection’s projects. We bought over $500.00 worth of wine bags, aprons and bracelets. It was so much fun to purchase these beautiful items knowing that 30% of the sale would go to the women who made the products, 50% would go to the programs for children affected by the AIDs pandemic and the rest of the funds goes to replenish their stock. Stacy gave us a wholesale price to support the work of the St. Camillus Center. Our $500 was worth 6000 maluti. A small fortune in their village. Our dear Mary who has a job as a high school teacher only makes 2000M each month, which is considered a middle class salary in a society where the unemployment rate is about 30%.

A week after we arrived home, I received an email from Tracy. It read, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. When I told my cohorts that I had sold 6000M worth of product today, they looked at me and said, ‘You must be mistaken. You must mean 600.’ I said, ‘No, I mean 6000.’ They looked at me and said, ‘Say it again.’ Then there was screaming and dancing and singing.”

As I read these words, I was overcome with emotion. Here we were just looking for beautiful things that we could buy to sell back home. We had no idea how deeply our purchase would impact these women’s lives. A story Tracy told us as we learned about this project echoed in my mind: The first time the women received their checks, they embraced Tracy and said, “Tonight our children will eat meat.” Then there was dancing and singing.