All Are Welcome Here

Almost 300 people gathered at Kanuga Conference Center in the woods of the NC mountains.  All were somehow touched by HIV/AIDS.  The Southeastern dioceses of the Episcopalian Church have sponsored this annual June retreat for over 20 years. Clients and patients mixed easily with staff and volunteers from agencies in NC, SC, AL, FL, GA and even Texas.  Some rode many hours on buses.  Others carpooled.  For many, this was their only trip beyond their home county all year.

I attended this year, my 4th time.  I listened to stories of loss and loneliness and hope and resilience.  Many voiced gratitude for a place of no shame where the dominant message was “You are welcome here.

A young man in his 20’s told of being born HIV positive.  His mother died shortly after his birth and he was adopted at 3 weeks old from the hospital. At 8, his mother told him he was HIV positive.  He went to a support group and found a best friend.  As he reached adulthood, his adoptive mother died and then his best friend.  He was ready to stop his medications and die, too.  He found Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.  He participated in a men’s support group and the men nurtured him and loved him and he decided to keep on living.

Another man shared that he doesn’t take communion at home because he is HIV positive and doesn’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable by drinking from the communal cup. He gratefully took communion and drank from the cup at the sunrise lakeside worship service because all were truly welcome that morning.  He cried telling his story.

At that same lakeside worship service, just as the priest was consecrating the bread and wine, a flock of geese circled the lake, flew over our heads, and landed softly on the water.  They stayed there, floating, as we went to the front for communion.  Flying geese are a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit.*

I volunteer at Higher Ground, a house in my town where people infected and affected by HIV gather. I’m on the board of directors for its parent agency, Triad Health Project.

Once a month my church provides lunch at Higher Ground for about 30 people, sometimes more.  Over the years, we have fed over 6,000 hungry mouths. One time I fixed baked chicken breasts.  I knew how many I cooked and I knew from counting heads it wasn’t enough.  We had leftovers.  And no way to explain them.  There is always enough food.

Once or twice a month I lead a group, called Robin’s Nest on the calendar. Sometimes we write in journals–everyone gets one and they’re stored in a big wicker basket in the back room.  We’ve played with Model Magic, weird stuff that’s like new-age Play Dough. We’ve used markers and crayons.  Always I play music, usually soft jazz like Kenny G or Boney James. We’re quiet for a while and then everyone has a chance to share.  We talk about life and death, faith and fun, anger and love.  We tell our stories. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry.  We listen and we are heard.

Most of the folks who participate have lost something because of their disease.  Lovers, family, honesty about themselves, mobility, health.  They are more likely to talk about what they have gained.  For some, days free from addiction.  For most, faith in a loving God.  Often, it’s Higher Ground, where they have a community of welcoming friends who care where they are and ask how they’re doing.  They daily choose to keep on living because they have come so close to dying.

Nine years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I went to Higher Ground.  I knew they would understand my fears and would show me how to keep living each day, one at a time.  When my rheumatoid arthritis is acting up and I’m in pain, Higher Ground is one of the few places I will go.  They accept me as I am and it’s okay.  They offer compassion; there is no pity.  They know how to live life on life’s terms.

I know the Holy Spirit was at Kanuga. I saw Her geese. I feel God’s presence every time I pay attention at Higher Ground.

14 years ago, I resisted the call to Higher Ground.  I had just resigned after  6 1/2 years as a Hospice volunteer coordinator and I said, “I don’t want to be around people who are going to die.” I’m not sure when or how that changed.

People I love have dwindled and died.  But more have come close and then gotten well again.

I think I have more to learn from my friends at Higher Ground.  My heart needs to continue opening to new friends.  I’m willing to take the risk.

 

* “Wild Goose” is a Celtic spirituality metaphor that evokes unpredictability, beauty, and grace.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://ammaponders.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/all-are-welcome-here/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. THANKS, dear Robin, for sharing your experiences at the Kanuga Conference; Higher Ground; and Robin’s Nest. thanks mostly for how you live your life.

    ps… PLEASE tell me you know about the Wild Goose Festival! if it was so darned hot outside in NC in August, i would SO be there! https://www.facebook.com/wildgoosefestival

    • I need to remember sometimes how special my life is. And how how many teachers surround me. Like you!

  2. Your entry touched my heart, Robin. Kanuga is a magical place and you are a magical woman, so full of heart, courage, and compassion. I feel so blessed that our paths crossed years ago and once again.

    • I made fun of facebook for a long time. Now I’ve reconnected with good people who had left my life. Thanks for your kind words.

  3. LOVED it…especially Robin’s Nest. Hahahaha. How cute. So glad your trip was fulfilling.

    Love you. Jan

  4. Just the title of this post is enough to bring a smile and because it is a post of yours, I know that truly, all are welcome. That feeling has always been a part of this blog. As usual, I am late to comment but I savor your posts and this one, in particular.

    “They daily choose to keep on living because they have come so close to dying” is the sentence that seemed to have my name on it. It is not that I have been close to dying but that so many around me have come face to face with death. Some lived, some died but all lived as long as they could.

    I could not help but be struck by the force that is life, and your post reminds me there are places where all are truly welcome on any day. That, it seems, is yet another expression of the force of life.

    Beautiful post, Robin.
    Karen

    • I’m so glad you comment on my posts, whenever I read them. I savor them and your thoughtfulness. Thank you, Karen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: