Friday, August 17, 2012

A Mother's Love

Every year, during the first weekend in August, tens of thousands of Vietnamese-Americans descend on the small town of Carthage, Missouri to honor the Virgin Mary for helping Vietnamese boat refugees safely reach the United States more than thirty-five years earlier.
One of those refugees was Michael Vu, who now lives in Dallas, Texas. He was “eight or nine years old” when he fled Vietnam with his family. “My dad orchestrated our escape. My oldest brother left first, trying to go before us and prepare for us. His name was Vu Quang Thanh and unfortunately the China Sea took his life. He was on a boat with about 100 people, and they all perished, they were never found. His name is on the wall in the Prayer Garden. My dad is still looking for him, still hopes to find him, but I believe he’s dead.” Michael Vu shared this story while searching for his brother’s name among thousands of others on plaques in the Prayer Garden.
“When the priests here at the Carthage Congregation say daily mass, they pray for these names in this Prayer Garden. They are both the dead and the living. People who need prayer in their lives. For people still in Vietnam who live under hardship, who weren’t fortunate enough to be able to come here. This is the best place to come and pray for them. Family members gather here every year and pray for one another,” Michael said.
The Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix organizes and hosts the gathering each year on their grounds in Carthage for one simple reason: the Congregation shares the same harrowing story as do the attendees. In Vietnam in 1975, under orders from their superior, this group of priests and brothers jumped into boats and headed out into the open sea. In the midst of chaos and gunfire, all the members of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix escaped and eventually made it safely to the shores of the United States.
Though members of the Congregation were scattered in refugee camps and on military bases, they were eventually reunited on an un-used seminary campus in Carthage, Missouri. In 1977, a couple of hundred Vietnamese from nearby cities like Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield gathered on the seminary campus in Carthage for a day of recollection to express devotion to the Virgin Mary. The numbers began doubling each year, until now approximately 70,000 Vietnamese-Americans make the pilgrimage to Carthage to honor the Virgin Mary along with the Congregation.
“We have a very strong devotion to the Virgin Mary,” Michael Vu agreed. “As we left Vietnam, we prayed to Mary to take care of us. We had a priest on our boat. We had two boats of people. There was a curfew in Vietnam, so we left at dawn. As we left, sirens started going off. North Vietnamese soldiers stopped us. There were about 60 to 70 children below, including me. The soldiers came aboard and questioned us. The priest said, “We’re hungry, and we’re going fishing.” There were fishing nets on the boat. The soldiers let us leave. We believe that praying to the Virgin Mary helped us escape Vietnam. Everyone on the boat believes it was a miracle we escaped. We arrived in Huntington Beach, CA We moved to Wichita Falls TX and we heard about Marian Days there. We felt like we had to go. We go every year. We’ve never stopped. We will definitely be here as long as they have it. It renews our spiritual life. Everyone who comes here has the same unity in their heart, one goal, devotion to Mary. It helps us through the year. It has helped us adjust here in the U.S. We didn’t know anyone, we didn’t know English. There are seven surviving brothers and two sisters in our family, and every one of us received a four-year college degree in the U.S., except for the youngest son who has Down Syndrome.”
Over time, “Marian Days” has become a cultural event attracting parishes, families, and communities from all over the United States. Included in the festivities are Vietnamese food, both traditional and contemporary music, open-air confessions and masses on sloping lawns, speakers scheduled over several days, and a procession through the town with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. And although the Congregation hosts the event, volunteers from parishes across the United States do much of the work, including staffing the endless restaurants and food stalls sprawled beneath tent awnings.
Marian Days, while growing from 200 to 70,000 attendees, has evolved over the years and included some growing pains. At one time, wall-to-wall people elbowed for a space to sleep on the seminary grounds and spilled over into the small, bewildered town--and at times the socializing aspect threatened to overshadow the spiritual one. But many of the social tensions have been resolved and the facilities expanded and upgraded, including the addition of showers, restrooms, a Prayer Garden, Stations of the Cross, and the Vietnamese Martyrs Auditorium. In addition to camping out in tents on the seminary grounds or filling nearby motels, attendees also set up tents on the lawns of welcoming locals, some of whom invite the same families into their backyards year after year. Jim Kerr is one of the locals who likes to attend every year “so we can eat something exceptional. I just ate pork intestines and it was very good. We love the Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk.”
His wife Amy recalled, “One year it was raining. We were with our three daughters. We were getting rained on. A teen boy called over several of his friends with umbrellas—they escorted us to the food and kept us dry. One of our daughters grew up going to this, and got to know the people at the parish who run this restaurant (Queen of Vietnam Church in Port Arthur TX). After she was grown, she moved to the Port Arthur area and knows the same people there now.” Doug Huynh from Hastings Nebraska fled Vietnam in 1975 when he was eighteen. But he says Marian Days is about more than the past. “When you have a hard time now, you ask Mary for blessing. We come to visit her, to pay our respects and agree to come back. There are Vietnamese from all 50 states, Canada and Australia. We meet other Vietnamese people from all around the country. Some families drive 24 hours—8 hours is easy, we can’t complain. My mother-in-law listens to Bible talks and talks by priests. My kids like to hang out with other kids. There is good Vietnamese food.” Tai Le is one of the teenage boys from Queen of Vietnam Church in Port Arthur who comes every year to work in his parish’s Marian Days restaurant. “Our parish has a sign-up sheet and we volunteer to work here to raise funds for our church. We also come for the experience of meeting other people and to get to know our faith. The elderly here share their stories and they explain we should go back to Vietnam to learn our history. They tell us you should know history or it will repeat itself. My mother is very devoted to Mary. I choose to go to church every morning at 6 am at home. I don’t expect any rewards when I come here. I just come here to serve others.”
Duyen Nguyen from Arlington TX was blinded in a car accident. “Since 2000, my parents have come to pray for me. Miracles do happen. The doctors said I might see again. One day perhaps I will see again and God will bless me with a miracle. We go to mass here and everything. We go to retreats to listen to speakers. We go to pray and bless ourselves with holy water. Our parents volunteer here. Our church runs a restaurant here. Parishioners volunteer, raise funds for church. We also come for fun.” Daniel Tran of Rochester, Minnesota floated in a canoe with 29 people for 20 days before reaching Hong Kong. Although a Buddhist at the time, he now attends Marian Days every year as a Catholic with his wife. Indeed, his wife, Yen-Huong, says many Buddhists come to Marian Days as well. Also posted on Strange Islands

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What do you do when....

What do you do when you can't breathe?  When something occurs that literally strips the breath from your body and you're suspended in that polarizing moment, gasping.  This can take many forms.  Some beautiful, some incredibly raw and angry, some reaching a level of sublime happiness, and others so steeped in sadness that  it is beyond words to express.

That moment, when the air is taken from us seems to last an endless forever.  Our minds and emotions seize up in a sort of shock as we grapple to understand the enormity of the moment.  A whole slew of physiological effects set in...pupils dilating, heart rate increasing, fingertips and lips going slightly numb, slightly tingling, goosebumps hitting at times, sweating occurring at others, stomach twisting and pitching, laughter bursting from us in a glorious ripple of smiling notes, or gut wrenching sobs the next sound we're capable of making.  

Most of the time when this happens, we are forever changed.  Uplifted at times, devastated at others.  It's one of those very pure moments when everything narrows down to a literal pinpoint of focus.  From that one breath suspended, to that next moment when we finally inhale again, the world changes.  We change.  A remarkable shift occurs.

It's a curious thing, how everything can change in such a blinding, rapid manner.  It can happen in a fleeting rush, barreling upon us in a wild, dramatic swirl.  Or it can slip through and brush softly as a whisper.  Regardless of the delivery, it is profound and dramatic.

We experience it from the hands of another....from the words of another.  Or from our own initiative.  Sometimes it is a moment in Nature.  Or a song lyric.  A fragrance that teases the heart and the memory.  A touch so sincere that we cannot resist it.  And we are undone.  Unraveled, or conversely, wound so tightly, so quickly, that we must shatter into a million pieces of delight or maddened grief.

Peace walks these same halls.  As does love.  They both grab the breath from us, lifting up and embracing us in an inestimable manner.  

What do you do when you can't breathe?  You endure it.  Or you celebrate it.  You continue to live, accepting that infinitesimal moment that has shifted everything that you are into a new person.  And you are born anew, taking fumbling steps, uncertain on wobbly knees and feet.  Pared down to your elemental self, vulnerable, naked and alone, and seeing the world through brand new eyes.

What do you do when you can't breathe and the cold vapor of that crashing moment stuns you?  You momentarily become a creature of ice, shards of silvered frost entwining throughout your very cells, turning you crystalline.  Waiting for a touch to warm and melt you back to humanity.

Waiting for a touch to enfold.  To stutter-start your breath again.

There in an indefinable space that simultaneously lasts both a nanosecond and a limitless, echoing eternity...what do you do?  You feel.  Simply that.  

You feel.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more, you can find me at Healing Morning blog.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My purpose is ________.

My talented friend, Tameka Mullins (Lyric Fire blog) posted this today on her Facebook page:

My purpose is _____________.
She shared her own impression of her raison d'etre in a beautiful manner and I loved the concept.  I dashed off my own reply:

Good question! To write. To love. To recognize the beauty in those around me and give them a shining mirror to see their own beauty. To remember that my words have power and as such, to use them mindfully. To share my heart in an authentic manner. To see those obscure yet breathtaking moments around me and scribe them, painting them onto paper. I do much of this via the medium of writing, but I also do it by simply being Me.  - SDS 1/29/2012
I was immediately struck by the thought that this would make a fun blog post, so I zipped off an inquiry and request to Tameka to use her idea here.  She like the idea and here I am, tapping away at my keyboard.

It's an interesting, thought provoking question, yes?  My purpose is ______________.  The fascinating thing is that at any given moment, our answer can and probably does change.  We change from moment to moment, after all.  With each breath, there is potential for a new experience that will shape and change us.

If I had to boil it all down to an inclusive, all encompassing thought, I would automatically say that my purpose is to write.  That's why it was my first response above.  Writing is such an intrinsic part of my nature that it touches literally every part of my life.  I write as a vocation, to make a regular living, and I write as an avocation, to please myself and satisfy my need to create.

Probably the other purpose that didn't occur to me when I dashed off my response above is another simple one:  To grow.

That's why we're here on this Earth School, after all.  To grow.  To learn.  To mature.  To become that better version of ourselves on a daily basis.  We do this by trying, failing, succeeding.  We try on different hats to see how they suit us in myriad applications - relationships, careers, creative pursuits, healthy ambitions, places to live and travel.  The list is endless.

Tameka's Facebook post gave me an immediate and entertaining challenge and I responded with a stream of consciousness flow of words.  Usually when we do that type of writing, it is as visceral and truthful a response as you can achieve.  So, in an interesting manner, I gave myself that same mirror that I mentioned in my own comment.  I learned some things about myself of which I am already cognizant and comfortable.  When I read my words back, I smiled, because the picture painted was that perfect fit.

There have been times when I have engaged in similar writing exercises when the resulting picture wasn't as perfect a fit.  There is value in that very thing, being confronted with thoughts that we didn't realize we espoused until challenged to give them voice.  I've grown dramatically from such experiences.

Today's exercise was lighthearted, effortless and fun.  Tameka's delightful response further in her thread was:

Wow, Dawn! What a beautiful purpose you have! You give good purpose! LOL!
Isn't that the BEST comment that she made?  "You give good purpose."  I think this belongs on a t-shirt, similar to the one posted above.  I know I'd certainly buy it and wear it!

Why not take a few minutes and play this game with Tameka and I?  Empty your mind, take a deep breath and just write.  Don't over think it.  Just let the words flow until you feel it is finished.  Then read your words back and see what you learn about yourself.  If you're so inclined, share here with us - I think it will be a fun experience for all of us.

I also encourage you to click the link for Tameka's wonderful blog, Lyric Fire and experience her writing.  She is wonderfully talented and I enjoy myself every time I pay her a visit.  Tameka, thank you for the inspiration for this post!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me at Healing Morning blog.

Friday, January 6, 2012



Well, after a year (actually - it's been OVER a year!) I'm back.... at least, I think I'm back! (insert smiley face here!)

Alas, what BETTER time of year - when making New Year's resolutions - to re-start, jump-start, RENEW my outlet for self-expression and optimism? Due partly to just letting LIFE "get in the way," I've also experienced some major set-backs within my life - I think I've spent the last few months of this year just reflecting on all that has happened in that time-frame. Both good and bad, it's definitely been a roller-coaster of a ride!

One thing I've discovered in my absence from this page, is that I was experiencing a tremendous amount of guilt during those less-than-stellar moments in my life when I attempted to sit down to spread a positive thought out into the world... I mistakenly felt that I just couldn't do it. I've always known deep within me what I wanted this blog to represent. During all these lower points, I took a (probably) too-deep look at my current situation and ended up developing a major pity-party for myself in the process!

Besides a major health scare and another open-heart surgery for my husband, ailing parents, financial issues, job searching... I previously thought the year was just going down hill all the way. But believe me, I've also had PLENTY to be happy and thankful for as well this past year... So then, what about those moments that weren't so bad, or so ugly, or so horrible? Simple. Laziness.

I let myself slip out of the habit of writing - and sharing. The next thing I knew - three months had gone by - then six, then twelve. Isn't that how we let most bad habits take over? Without thinking - without focus it . just . happens .

And so - my "theme" this evening, if you will - in keep with our traditions of renewal during the month of January - is that it's o.k. .....






My mission statement within this blog has always been - and will continue to be - to spread a positive word - or smile, if you will. I hope you will continue to walk with me in that endeavor, while I learn to cut myself some slack in my self-expectations!

I might not be able to write each and every single day, but I'm going to set a NEW goal that I start by trying to post at least once a week - and hopefully, the good habits return, and I post more than that! And if I don't - I don't. But I won't get all "hung up" about it!

I sincerely pray that all of you are looking UP at this time - looking ahead to the possibilities, and taking the time to re-charge and re-kindle your batteries. Happy New Year to all of you - I look forward to renewing some blogger friendships, and making new ones!!!

Pay it forward - spread a smile!!!