Second Simplicity

In his book, “Falling Upward”, Richard Rohr describes the journey through the first and into the second half of life.  We move from a necessary focus on self-image, security and status, on to a paradox-filled pilgrimage, destined for the discovery of our true selves and of God’s deeper purpose for us.

If we make a healthy transition to the second half of life, we offer the wisdom of an elder, but from a childlike stance of inclusion, and with a “both-and” attitude — a “Second Simplicity”.  We encounter a bigger world, and are loved by a God who is more expansive and more mysterious than the One we knew before.  We allow space for the unknown and the immeasurable, and become more welcoming to the stranger and to the “other”.
Perhaps for the two of us, the volunteer work we have been describing represents signposts on this labyrinthine path to growth.  Though we are far from making the spiritual transformation described by theologians and mystics, our experiences clearly underscore that “one cannot give more than one gets in return”.  With every broad smile and warm hug we have received, with every playground wound and scrawled birthday card, God’s ocean of mercy has washed us with undeserved favor.  Like the Central American sun, God’s loving embrace warms us and renews our Spirits.
As the calendar now prompts us to celebrate gratitude, gift-giving and grace, may you, too, be surrounded by God’s everlasting, loving kindness.  Happy Holidays.

Unconditional Love

"Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” 
-St. Ignatius

And the deeds of unconditional love show brightest of all.

Father William Wasson — the founder of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos — explained unconditional love as “seeing Christ as He lives in others.” He instilled in his children a sense of such love which lives on today.

Our days here surround us with a no-strings-attached type of love. We are privileged to have a glimpse of Father Wasson’s message in action.

Photos often say it best.

St. Joseph and Father’s Day

Every June, Father’s Day sees Americans give salute to and celebrate our fathers. What better model of fatherhood could we look to than St. Joseph — the protector of Jesus, and the loving husband of Mary?

The Lord instructed St. Joseph to navigate many uncomfortable and perilous situations. Rather than divorce his betrothed-but-pregnant Mary, he took her into his home (Matt. 1:20-21). With great difficulty and sacrifice, St. Joseph escaped danger and fled with his family to Egypt (Matt. 2:13). Finally, he resettled the Holy Family in Nazareth, in fulfillment of the prophets (Matt. 2:21-23). It seems that St. Joseph was a man of simplicity, humility, and few words (the Gospels share none of them with us). However, he was quick to trust in God and courageous in his commitment to God.

In his 2022 address to the Congregation of St. Joseph, Pope Francis wrote: “Let yourselves be guided by the meek and concrete example of Saint Joseph. Like him, who, working for Jesus and Mary, made of his own life a ‘sign’ of a higher fatherhood, that of the heavenly Father. Welcome the great call to be dedicated fathers for the youth of today”.

I am fortunate to celebrate Father’s Day twice each year. In Honduras — where I have the opportunity to care for children — Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. Like many Central Americans, St. Joseph worked with his hands. Also, like many fathers worldwide, he struggled to be a good parent. It is understandable that so many fathers relate to the life of this beloved saint.

The actions of St. Joseph speak to us more loudly than any words could do. Fathers in every part of the world may find his courage and faithfulness inspirational. This year, may we emulate him as provider, protector, and spiritual guide to our children.

The Gorgojo

November 27 

One of our favorite morning hikes ascends the mountain trail called “the Gorgojo”.  The gorgojo is an invasive pine beetle, responsible for much destruction of the Honduran conifer forest.  Midway up the mountain, the majestic, green-boughed pines give way to their denuded, decayed and deceased cousins who have fallen victim to the damaging insect.

However, found within the zones of heaviest destruction are signs of hope and optimism.  Crowds of tiny pine saplings huddle together, awaiting their chance to be planted, and to renew and refresh the decimated forest.

 These pine tree “daycares” call to mind the young, gangly and tender lives with whom we share community.   We are privileged to have recently participated in many of their meaningful rites of passage.  Quinceañeras, graduations and First Holy Communions have nourished and celebrated their physical, academic and spiritual growth.  How joyful we feel to watch as they grow, push their own branches skyward, and become the teachers, journalists, doctors, lawyers and engineers of the future. 


Tomorrow is Honduras’ presidential election.  
In this country which has many problems, tomorrow ushers in a time to rejuvenate, replant and resolve.  Like the saplings lined up to reforest the mountaintop, these young people stand ready to transform the world on their horizon into a better one.


Back at the Ranch

September 17, 2021

The full-body bounce as the wheels set down …. the seatbelt’s sustained tug on the waist …. the smile and the feeling of relief that follow …. we are back in Honduras.

A familiar one-hour drive from the airport to Rancho Santa Fe in the pine-covered mountains of central Honduras returns us to the place that 222 of our favorite children call home.

Though much appears the same, the worldwide pandemic has substantially changed life for these young people on The Ranch. The past eighteen months have seen eager learners who had packed their classrooms, make the move to sterile on-line educational settings. Ranch-wide activities and traditions such as the beloved “Olimpiadas” have shrunk into events whose participants were a small cohort, functioning in the bubble of their own home.


Fortunately, thanks to strong leadership, innovative management and dedication to safely, every day here sees steps which move life on The Ranch back toward normal. Today, fifty-seven children — ages 12 to 15 — received their first of two COVID-19 immunizations. The vaccines were a recent donation from the United States. Young people filled the school auditorium’s spaced-apart chairs, the medical staff shuffled vaccine records and rosters, then ushered each recipient up for his vaccination. “I felt happy to get the shot” reported Rony, a 5th grader wearing an FC Barcelona T-shirt and a broad smile.


One of the children’s homes has been repurposed for the care of COVID-19 patients. In spite of NPH Honduras’ strict adherence to health precautions — including masking, distancing and hand washing — some become infected. Happily, today’s COVID-19 census was only four patients — all with mild symptoms — who now eagerly awaited completion of their isolation so that they may return to their homes.


It brings great joy to be back where we feel called to be. Working together with the lovely people of Honduras — a country with few resources — gratifies us. In pandemic times, our hearts are particularly buoyed up by witnessing such a country lifting itself up, while the helping hand of the world outside pulls with equal force.

“We are number one!”

This seemed to be the message that Carlos was giving me upon entering the exam room.
Carlos — a smiling 12 year-old from a neighboring village — continued to extend his left index finger as we chatted about his visit and started his exam. Six months earlier, he had received a cutting injury to his palm, had it sutured, and eventually saw his skin heal nicely.

The cut flexor tendons of his finger, however, left Carlos’ hand in his permanently-celebrating position. “Could this be fixed?” asked his eager mother.

A single thought struck me as I reflected on this mother’s hope for her child’s healing, and on the privileged relationship a physician has with his patient. That thought was how fortunate I was, to be at that place and in that time. To participate in this healing profession, and to do so in a simple and unobstructed setting, provided me with a pure taste of what it is to be a physician.
On a sunny Spring morning at our surgery center, Carlos had reparative surgery on his disabled hand. The surgeon — who repaired the tendon to restore Carlos’ grip and dexterity — also rejoices at the opportunity to bring her skills to neighbors in need.

Some wound care and physical therapy are in Carlos’ future. He will receive those from the health care professionals who collaborate with our local physicians — some of whom, like me, volunteer through Mission Doctors of America.

Soon, Carlos will be celebrating with his index finger extended, but this time he will do so with all ten of them working.

Cancel that Corona

 20 March 2020

Very possibly, yesterday I did something that no one else has ever done.
After protecting myself with astronaut suit, mask and gloves, I gave a Clorox bath to a pickup truck full of watermelons. 

Of course, not all by myself. Dra. Dora and I teamed up, and upon receiving the Ranch’s first Coronavirus-era shipment of food from Tegucigalpa’s crowded market, we made the 150 much-handled melons safe for the many hands that awaited them.
How dizzying it is to look back at the past eight days. 

First, because of the increasing Coronavirus threat to Honduras, NPH stopped all its community programs, released all nonessential employees, closed the school, and discontinued the medical work in the External Clinic and Surgery Center. Moreover, one of our Volunteers who had shown classic Coronavirus symptoms, was isolated while we awaited his test results. Unfortunately, Honduras (with only a handful of Intensive Care Unit beds for a population of 9 million) would face certain devastation in trying to manage an outbreak. 

Sunday, after discerning that staying our entire stint at NPH Honduras was not well advised, Susan and I rearranged our return flight to Texas in order to leave within the next few days. Then, we notified the others of our change in plans.
Not so fast. Sunday night, Honduras closed its borders. 

Soon after, a presidential decree also halted bus traffic in the country, and required residents of the major population areas to stay home. National police enforced the curfew. Few stores were opened — and those for only limited hours.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch: returning High School and University students were briefed, examined, and then sent into quarantine as they entered the NPH front gate.
All the children were to be in groups no bigger than their own hogar, had to stop hugging, and were drilled on catching their coughs and sneezes in the angle of their elbows. 

Finally, the dreaded advice from NPH International: all Volunteers should return to their home countries. They were invited to stay on the Ranch only with a liability waiver. 

Today’s early morning transportation left the Ranch carrying Claire, Michaela, Erin, Chau-Nhi, Lauren, Sofie, Susan and me. Only seven hours prior, Arielle — our diligent Volunteer Coordinator — had breathlessly delivered us the instruction to pack up and be ready to leave Honduras, in what might be our only chance to do so for a while. Though we were excited and energized, our spirits sank at the thought of what we were leaving behind. We would miss the camaraderie of our work, the nightly squeal of the noisy chicharas and the simplicity of the meals. But mostly we would miss the bonds with our community. Though we knew we would return to the Ranch next year, we worried about those we love and serve, and how they might fare in a pandemic in this poor country of limited resources and unpredictable government.
Moreover, there was no time for goodbyes. 

Once the US embassy representatives confirmed that we were all allowed on the airplane, we bid Victor farewell and hopped off the van — lugging heavy suitcases and wearing our N-95 masks and protective gloves. 

Now, I sit in the mesh seat of a US Air Force C-130 transport, flying over the Gulf of Mexico, along with 80 other fleeing US citizens. Our unlikely group is comprised of people from the diplomatic corps, their families, volunteers, and a US women’s tackle football team — who had just completed an exhibition tournament in Central America. Thanks largely to this team and its persistence with US lawmakers, governors — and even a Fox News interview from the Clarion Hotel in Tegucigalpa — here we all are.
As I look around the airplane, my heart smiles. What an assortment of Americans! In spite of the admitted polarization, contentiousness and noise in our days, this is what our country does well. To put what unites us ahead of what separates us. 

This is also what we human beings do well. To see and to embrace the human dignity that inhabits each of us. 

Tonight, as I lay my head on a pillow somewhere in Charleston, South Carolina, it will be filled with dreams of a return to a familiar — but changed — America. Being back in the Lone Star State will be especially welcomed. 

Perhaps a slab of brisket at Earl Campbell’s in the Austin-Bergstrom Airport. No beans, please. 

Perhaps a Shiner Blonde to toast our recent adventure. 
No Corona, PLEASE ! 


Today was to be a Saturday to sleep late, to catch up, and to clean up at the Ranch.
     Instead, the little boys gathered early for breakfast, sporting combed hair and
                  collared shirts.
     Instead, incense filled the air, rather than the familiar mop-cleaning solution.
     Instead, holy water puddled like potholes at our feet in the chapel.
     Instead, it was a morning of stories and song, of laughter and tears.

Last night, Nora* died. Nora — an 86 year-old long-time resident of the “Abuelo home” — succumbed to some combination of a fall, subdural hematoma and pneumonia. At her funeral today, her community put aside its plans, and united in recognition of the life of one of its own.

The bouquet that tenderly encircled Nora’s coffin was formed by hundreds of faces. Faces of the young, the old, of those who knew and loved Nora, and those who did not.

Each person had his chance to say goodbye, to take a look at, and to embrace the box that held Nora’s body. Each person had the chance to reflect on how their life and Nora’s connected. Each person could more clearly see themselves in this mysterious journey of life, and could gain a better understanding of where this road takes us.

Life is like this. It comes to us ready or not, bringing unforeseen detours, amid our pains and our joys. It comes to us through sights, sounds and smells.

If it is true that “God comes to you disguised as your life*,” then He has touched ours with Nora’s. May we all rejoice in this unwieldy gift of life.

Tomorrow, we will clean up.

*1 Name changed 
*2 Paula D’Arcy

Blurry Lines

In a community like this, the lines that separate one’s roles as

            - physician,
            - stand-in parent,
            - encouraging advocate,
            - listening friend   

may become blurry.

Professional and social boundaries often direct us to define those lines of separation, and to remain aware of the “hat that we are wearing.”  However, life’s situations often make us realize that we are already wearing more than one:

            Sharing a seat on the bus with a frightened young man with special needs, who 
            had violently objected to his exam earlier in the day.

            Dressing up and participating in a play performed by the youngsters.

            Treating the broken arm of your own sponsor child, late on a Saturday night.

            Joining a group of teenage girls in their effort to cut the grass — with machetes.

            Embracing a 5 year-old — his forehead smudged after having received his Ash 
            Wednesday blessing from you — who, while still on the altar, asks you to recheck 
            his ear infection.

In writing about our connectedness to one another, Richard Rohr recognizes “the presence of the divine in literally ‘every thing’ and ‘every one’.”  Further, he describes the mysterious relationship between God and man by stating that “God is a mirror big enough to receive everything, and every single part of you,” . *  

We are also mirrors to those around us.  If our lives truly mirror our Creator to one another, we should put no limits on the light that shines among us.

There is a deep and peaceful beauty in living, working and being in a community where one does medical volunteering.  The beauty is that the blurring of the lines that separate our roles, in fact, arises from the softening of human relationships, and from the glare of the reflection of the Infinite.

* The Universal Christ, p.18,  p.228

Rolling With the Panchos

How many uses could I think of for this object that I am now carrying to the trash?

One – maybe two?
-       A broken coffee pot could become a flower planter.
-       An unused calling card could serve as a bookmark.
-       Wouldn’t this orange juice can make a useful pencil holder?

Here at NPH-Honduras, Pancho * wins the award for the most creative uses for a single, discarded roller skate.  He has converted it into:

-       A personal land surfboard
-       A rolling stool
-       A transporter for heavy books
-       A marketable, extreme experience – for which friends will offer cookies and candies in order to try.

Pancho shows us that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.  He also reminds us that when our eyes see few possibilities, God’s plan for us may be quite the surprise.

*    Name changed