Love Lives Here

They come to us unexpectedly. They come to us broken, betrayed, and burdened by a world that has let them down. They come to us looking for a place of peace amidst the storm they’ve been trying to survive. Their passage through our front door transforms them from a stranger to our beloved sister in a single moment. Love lives here. 

They come with a suitcase full of worries, fears, and doubts. They unpack their hearts slowly, day by day, moment by moment. Stories unfolding and wounds reopening. The tightened fist begins to loosen and the bitter heart begins to soften. Their souls begin to recognize the light once again. A light that became unfamiliar to the darkest places of their hearts. This light begins to seep into the cracks, and melt away the fear that has frozen their ability to let themselves be loved. The light casts out their darkness with a gentle and steady warmth. Love remains here. 

LOVE LIVES HERE. The kind that doesn’t abandon you, use you, or rip the rug from underneath you. Love lives here. The kind that believes in you, the kind that has faith in who you are as a precious daughter of a good good father. The kind of love that stays with you until the storm passes. The kind that holds your hand as you learn how to walk again, and cheers you on as you begin to run. Love strengthens you here. 

When we walk with each woman as she learns how to love again, our own hearts are challenged to be vulnerable with theirs. To face our own fears, wounds, and insecurities. We take a leap of faith when we allow our hearts to love them hard and strong without knowing how much it will hurt or how long it will endure. We love these lives which we cannot see through to the end, but only hold onto dearly while we dwell in the same space for an unknown period of time. Tears of pain & joy come rushing in with the waves of triumph and defeat. Love reigns here. 

As a pregnant woman allows her womb to be consumed with a new life, we have the privilege to witness a sense of renewed hope anchor itself in the soil of her soul. The birth of a perfect new life garners her own rebirth as a woman and mother.  Her capacity to love is stretched once more, making room for unexpected joy.  She is given the chance to allow a miraculous explosion of beauty come forth out of her own surrender. This beauty erupts just as fiercely as the storm that brought her to us. It bursts through the walls of fear that she once built around herself. It casts out the darkness, and allows the buds of hope to blossom. Love grows here.

Suddenly, the light that slowly crept into her heart is illuminating her entire being. She begins to glow again, with the same radiance that was given to her when she was formed in her own mother’s womb. A radiance that reflects the perfect love we were created for. A love that dies to itself. Love shines here. 

And then she goes back into an unknown future and we are left wondering how it will all turn out in the end. One thing is certain though. She witnessed HIS love here. 

..........

Every day this year has been an invitation to love more deeply, more courageously and more vulnerably. I am incredibly thankful to Maggie’s Place for teaching me how to love. I wrote this passage in an attempt to express a small portion of what it feels like to experience life in a maternity home. 

To God be ALL the glory. 

Isaiah 61:1-4

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me;

He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

release to the prisoners,a

2To announce a year of favor from the LORD

and a day of vindication by our God;

To comfort all who mourn;b

3to place on those who mourn in Zion

a diadem instead of ashes,

To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning,

a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit.

I AM

These black and white photos were created in the dark room in the fall of 2015. These portraits are meant to evoke a conversation about human dignity. Regardless of your race, age, gender, or perceived ability. Regardless of your mistakes, achievements, role in society, or capabilities. All of us are created equal, worthy of love, and deserving of respect. 

Participants were asked to choose a word that they believed applied to ALL HUMANS. This group of individuals represents the diversity of our human race, ranging from a priest from Tanzania, a man with autism, a student from India, and a woman battling parkinson's disease. These descriptions DO NOT define who they are, yet society often uses these frameworks to define them. This series is meant to highlight our sameness, beyond the way we that others define us. Each word has a distinctive connection to the individual who chose it, yet it describes all of us. We are all connected to each other, equal in worth and created for a purpose. 

Prescription Birthday Cake

"Last night was the first time I had ever blown out my own birthday candles or had birthday cake," she said casually. "My mom was an alcoholic so, I guess she just forgot most of the time." 

Birthday cake. Something I never thought of as a luxury. 

These are the words of a woman I have the privilege of sharing life with at Maggie's Place. These are the words that invited me to contemplate the worst kind of suffering that exists : the deprivation of love. 

The recent canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta has reignited my love for her charism and attitude towards building the kingdom of God. (seems to be the trend around here) She was a woman that had to witness unfathomable suffering every single day, yet she was still convicted that there was something worse than starvation and physical diseases. 

"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst, the most terrible poverty of all," she once stated. "One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody." 

It's frustrating to know that we can't restore all the broken families, clone all the noble and faithful men in the world, or stop the heart wrenching abuse that happens all too often. It's hard to witness the pain that people have become numb to. What we CAN do though, is be somebody for those who have nobody. This is the power of the human heart that pumps love through the veins of every person connected to Maggie's place. We look at every woman that walks through our doors and tell her with our actions : YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOUR LIFE MATTERS TO ME. I believe that this is the most valuable gift we can offer someone. It is the most necessary part of our work as MissionCorps.

The other powerful way that we can respond to suffering is through mercy. A few weeks ago, I attended a Right to Life lunch hosted by the diocese and we heard a series of speakers throughout the afternoon. One of the former board members of Maggie's Place, Mike Phelan, emphasized Mother Teresa's work in relation to mercy. He reminded us that it is mercy that restores dignity. It is mercy that looks at the homeless prostitute and says, "You are STILL loved. You are still important." It is mercy that looks at a mother that has lost custody of her children and says, "You are STILL loved. You are still important." When we take time to recognize God's mercy in each of our own sinful lives, we allow ourselves to recognize the ways in which we are called to be a channel of God's mercy in every life we encounter. 

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." John 8:7

This scene in the bible is such a pivotal moment in Mary Magdalene's life. It was a compassionate hand reaching out to her that enabled her to see herself as worthy of being forgiven and loved. Mercy not only has the power to restore dignity, but also restores hope. When you are working with women who have nobody to depend on in their lives, have a past full of mistakes, and have never been treated with respect, it is our highest calling to be the hand that reaches down into that dark hole and pull them out of their misery. Mercy challenges us to ind the heart in people different from us and see a heart made by the same maker that created our own. It is a heart that thirsts for love and mercy, and must give it to others in return. 

So does this mean that we can fight the world's greatest disease with birthday cake? No, not exactly. But if a birthday cake can remind one woman that her life is important and cherished apart from her perceived self worth, then that birthday cake is the best medicine on the shelf. 

 

The Unbaked Heart

I know you’ve been there. In the kitchen or in your car, belting out those words with Alicia Keys with no shame. Singing at the top of your lungs maybe with a spatula as your makeshift mic. 

THIIIIS GIRL IS ON FIYYYAAAAHHHH!!!!

Well let me tell you something. I think mama Mary (ya know..Jesus’ Mom) was singing this after the pentecost. And I bet the apostles were singing with her. “THESE BOYS ARE ON FIYAAAAA” Can you imagine what it was like for them to just wait in a room hiding after hell broke loose at the crucifixion? Their leader left them in the dust (literally) and they just sat there and waited on the Lord. I admit, when I read about things that happened in the Bible 2000 years ago, I don’t usually envision them happening in today’s world. But guess what. They do. 

Recently, I’ve been exposed to a ministry here in Phoenix that really focuses on using the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every Wednesday, there’s a prayer meeting on an indian reservation where people are invited to let the Holy Spirit take reign over their hearts. People there are constantly telling stories about miraculous healings and conversions that are happening when they call upon the Holy Spirit in complete faith. The power is REAL. 

After conversing with a priest about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I made a decision to desire the Holy Spirit more in my life. Well ever since that day, I continuously stumbled across bible verses that felt like God taking a megaphone to my ear. Literally the next morning I read this : 

"A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,  the spirit of counsel and might,  the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” - Isaiah 11:1-3

Okay okay okay God…I get it. I am a stumpy broken sinful little tree, and you still promise that goodness and beauty will come forth through me. I just have to have faith. 

When we judge our perceived failures and successes based on our own human capacities, we forget that it is the power of God that allows flowers to blossom out of our withering branches. It isn’t our doing, it’s HIS. 

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. - 1 Cor 3:7

Again…the megaphone. It is not my work that transforms people…it is only God through the power of the Holy Spirit. I just have to give God permission to work through me and respond to his invitations to be his light in the darkness. To be a burning flame. The same flame he gave his Apostles. THE SAME ONE.

"For this reason I remind you to stir into flame  the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own design. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  -2 Timothy 1:6-10

…..oh Tim. You always know just the words to say. 

So friends, put those unbaked hearts of yours in the oven and set yourself on fire for the Lord, because he is waiting with some lighter fluid. 

I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. -Ezekial 36:26

As I continue to live daily life with the mothers at Maggie’s Place, I find myself constantly asking God to guide me on what to say, what to do, and how to act. Dealing with women who just got out of rehab, who are fighting court cases for custody of their children, have been abused their entire lives, and have very little relationship with God….well it’s all very new to me. I have a Studio Art degree, not a Masters in Social Work. But what I do have is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is working. I will expand more on that later. 

I can’t believe I am going to say this but….Let’s get lit for the Lord. Timothy asked us to. Heaven is not for the indifferent soul. 

A Mulan Moment

Out of all the Disney Princesses out there, Mulan has always been my girl. First of all, she ends up with a guy with a man bun. Score.

Secondly, she is a total feminist. (My Saint Mary's Belle roots coming in strong) She defies all cultural expectations and isn't afraid to test the waters. Again...my kinda woman. 

Now as a child, my reasons for loving this movie were more so because I thought MuShoo was hilarious and I liked to occasionally pretend I was a ninja while listening to "Let's Get Gown To Business". Last weekend, I found myself convincing everyone in my household to watch this movie with me while I was on duty. As I sat there on the couch with one of the other moms, I thumbed through my shoebox full of pictures and various memorabilia to hang in my room. I am a hoarder to say the least. I came across a stack of scrapbook pages that my friends made for me in college for my birthday. One of them read :

"She is clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs without fear of the future." - Proverbs 31:25

I turned to the mother sitting next to me, and asked "Are you Christian?" 

"Yeah, I am. Why?" she said. 

I showed her the bible verse and shared with her how much I love it. 

"Oh, I don't know if that's true about me," she said. 

Now let's get back to Mulan. We kept watching the movie, and the final scene was upon us. Mulan finally returns home after single handedly saving China at war. She kneels before her father, and presents him with a the General's sword and the crest of the Emperor himself.

"Their gifts to honor the Fah family," she says with her head bowed. 

Her Father tosses the gifts aside, kneels down across from her and gives her a warm embrace. He holds her face in his hands and looks deeply into her eyes. 

"The greatest gift and honor, is having you for a daughter. I have missed you so," he says. 

A tear rolls down Mulan's cheek at the sound of those words, because isn't this what we all want most in life? To be cherished, to make someone proud, and to be loved for who we are. To be loved apart from what we do or accomplish. Mulan flippin' saved an entire country from the big bad huns (they still scare me), and yet her Father's love for her did not depend on that. Her Father loves her because she is HIS OWN. She belongs to him. 

 

So there I am sitting on the couch having a profound God moment with Mulan because I couldn't help but see myself and God in that scene. Oddly enough, I recently heard God clearly speak these words to me in prayer : "I have missed you."

Talk about a heart throb. Thanks, Jesus. You sure do know how to make a girl cry. Our Father misses us when we are away. When we forget about his existence, and pretend like he is just this being up in the sky that is just there to answer our requests and tell us what to do. No. He is a loving  and living Father who just wants to love on us all the time. He dreams of our happiness. 

So this is how our God in heaven looks at us. The same way Mulan's Father looks at her in this scene. Just take a moment to image this. 

Our God in heaven takes you, his child, and holds your face in his hands, saying those same words.

"The greatest gift and honor, is having you for a daughter."

He is honored to call you his daughter/son. Your existence is a gift to Him. He is proud to call you his creation. 

I immediately thought about the Mom sitting next to me, and how I hope to help her realize this more. God is honored to call her his daughter. There is nothing that we can do to change this. We are his prized possessions. The next day the responsorial psalm followed the same theme : 

"The Lord takes delight in his people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation." Psalm 149:4

The Lord looks at us with the same pride that a parent does when they hold their child for the first time. He looks at us with delight. No matter what we do, the mistakes we have made, what has happened to us, or the people we have hurt. The Lord takes delight in us simply because we are his. I want to convey this message to every Mother I meet this year. It is the most important one.

Thanks Mulan. I always knew I liked you.