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It’s Not About Me

“Is it true? We are here for only a little while?

Let us at least leave behind flowers.

Let us at least leave behind songs.”

Three years ago this weekend, I went to Mexico for a week of professional learning with Monarch Teachers Network. I was so lucky that my administration supported my decision in letting me go, believing that my interest in monarch butterflies would benefit the students. Myself and about 30 other educators from the US and Canada went to see the overwintering site of the monarchs and learn about Mexico. We had two amazing teachers, Erik Mollenhauer from New Jersey, and Marcos Garcia from Mexico. This week I’ve had “Mexico on my brain” as I’ve reflected on this time which was so infused with God encounters.

My Watershed friends not only encouraged me to take the trip, but also to deepen my learning in my first ever blog. I read over the blog this weekend, reflecting on the experiences which became life-changing.

“Life-changing” might sound too extreme for a mere 7 days away from home, but I stand by this assessment, even now that 3 years have passed. I made many new friends in this week-long community, all educators like me, several of whom have stopped by Winnipeg on travels and stayed with us, and others who I still keep in contact with on Facebook. I ate amazing food. I became a student for a week, soaking up a huge variety of well taught lessons on history, biology, current Mexican culture, even astrology.  I stood in Mexican forests surrounded by millions of fluttering monarchs, a forest which felt like a sanctuary.

In keeping a blog about the experience, Paul (the pastor of my small house church) encouraged me to see the trip through the grid of the hero’s journey. It became invaluable as I filtered my experiences through this “roadmap”. Google “Hero’s journey” and you’ll come up with tons of links. Originally coined by American scholar Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey is a basic pattern that is in many stories around the world, from thousands of years ago (Moses, the Buddha) or in Hollywood movies (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or even Shrek).  Looking at a trip in this way changed my perspective.

The hero’s journey starts for any of us when our normal or known world is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure. We can refuse the journey (and many do when fears come up), but if we say yes, there are many stages to go through, complete with mentors, enemies and tests. There is wisdom to be gained in the journey, and we return to the ordinary world with the “elixir” or lesson which will help others in some way.

This story helped change my trip from a vacation to a pilgrimage as I began to contemplate everything within this pattern. I got the call to adventure in Salisbury House in September, 2008, when the women from Watershed were there for breakfast one morning. As I shared my dream to someday take this trip, they shocked me by suggesting that I could actually do it. Discerning the call was not easy because I had many fears and roadblocks, and I was tempted to say no. But the call was insistent and I pushed through the “no” and stuck with my decision. Many of the stages were chronicled in the blog I wrote at the time. There was one event which has stayed with me and has guided and maybe even changed me.

I probably would have forgotten the lesson of this event if I hadn’t reflected on it weeks later in the blog.  In contemplating the trip, I had often wondered what it would be like to finally step into the monarch forest. Neurotic person that I am, I began to worry – would it be a “big experience”? Would I see the miracle or would depression or headaches cloud my thoughts as often happens?

At El Rosario

We took the long trek up the mountains of the main butterfly sanctuary of “El Rosario”, a few hours west of Mexico City. Finally I began to see them, a few at first and then more and more – the overwintering monarchs stirring to life in the spring migration. I stopped at the edge of the field and a thought struck me amid my worries – “This is a miracle. No matter how I’m feeling physically or emotionally, it is and always will be a miracle. It’s not about me.”

“It’s not about me.” I don’t usually hear God’s voice directly, but this time it felt like I was. The voice wasn’t yelling. It felt more like a whisper from outside myself, a voice of wonder as I saw those first clusters of monarchs. This was a miracle that was much bigger than my many worries. Like my own life’s journey, these butterflies had survived so much in their migration and were proof of God’s hand. God works a huge miracle in our lives every day, despite all our bumblings and human fragility.

The group of women who had started my journey had given me a gift to take along. Each of them had chosen a quotation or verse for me to reflect on, and had set them in a book to read along the way. My dear friend Lorna had given me a quote which I read at the end of that day:

“And what was the purpose of our pilgrimage?

To let a new intelligence prevail.”

Wallace Stevens

It’s not about me. This “new intelligence” became the calling that I carried forward into the world after that trip. It feels vulnerable to write it, because the implication is so obvious, but I have been a narcissist, obsessed with the small story of “me” for far too long. God gave me a gentle nudge that day, reminding me in what has become my mantra, that there’s more to life than I see in my often limited imagination. “Stay open,” it seemed God was saying to me, “Let your life migrate, just like the monarchs, to your home in my expansive world.”

After that memorable afternoon in the mountains, we trekked back down and bought quesadillas from a roadside vendor. I sat with Erik, our teacher, and shared what had happened and what I’d heard. He is a spiritual man and quickly resonated with what I said, telling me a story of how the miracle of migration had changed his life as well.

Later that week, in a thank you speech to a local school who had hosted us, Erik quoted a line from a poem written by an ancient Mexican philosopher emperor, which I began this blog entry with:

“Is it true? We are here for only a little while?

Let us at least leave behind flowers.

Let us at least leave behind songs.”

I read this short poem again this weekend in my trip blog, and was reminded of the deeper purpose of my life. I am forever grateful that God has called and is still calling me out of the small world of my story into the expansive world of “The Story”.

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