I am moving out of Maggie’s Place this weekend and it all feels surreal to me. It is hard to believe that I’ve been here for over a year, and that my time of service as a MissionCorps member is ending. I have to admit that I’ve been pretty nostalgic over the past few weeks – really embracing the time to reflect and share memories with community members. As part of my reflection, I have been re-reading some of my journal entries from the past two years. There have been a few entries that really stood out to me, but the most striking were on the Feast Day of the Apostle James – July 25th, 2013 and 2014.
I have a special devotion to St. James because I was a pilgrim on El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage of over 500 miles across Northern Spain in order to reach Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of the Apostle James lies in a beautiful cathedral. As I hiked those 34 days, I learned an incredible amount and I can truly say that my heart was changed. I learned that Jesus walks every step of our lives with us – I knew that He had been there throughout my entire life, but it was on the Camino that I truly felt His presence with me and got to know Him.
On that journey, He showed me that He is more than our Lord and Savior – He is my companion, my guide, my strength, my resource, my shadow in heat, my light in darkness, my consolation, my joy, and the power of my intentions. It was on that journey that I surrendered my life to Him, prayed for His mercy, and found His love. At the foot of His cross, I laid down my heart of stone and I prayed that He would give me a heart of flesh just as it says in Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (Ezekiel 36:26).
He answered my prayer more than I could have ever imagined. He put it on my heart then to do a year of service. I knew as I left the Camino that the end of the pilgrimage was a new beginning for me and I sought to greet it with open hands and an open heart. With that open heart, He led me to Maggie’s Place! I interviewed in February, and I knew within hours that God was calling me to serve Him here by loving these women and their babies. I moved in during July of 2014, not very long before the Feast of St. James! On that day, a priest celebrated Mass for us new MissionCorps members. The first reading was from the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 4 – “The Paradox of the Ministry,” and it spoke very deeply to me about both the Camino and my commitment to serve at Maggie’s Place.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”
On the camino, were were afflicted in many ways – physical pain, backpack weight, heat, filled albergues (pilgrim hostels), fatigue – but we were not constrained, we even felt more free. At Maggie’s Place, I knew we would be afflicted in many ways by walking closely with women who were afflicted in many ways – poverty, a history of trauma & abuse, little outside support, drug addiction, losing custody of their children, etc. But we are not constrained because we are lifting each other up in love. I knew we would be perplexed sometimes – when a mom relapses, when we do an intake with a mom in a tough situation who we are unable to serve, when a mom loses her baby – but we would not be driven to despair. We pray and hold fast to Hope. I knew we would be persecuted for the work we are doing and for being unapologetically pro-life, but we are never abandoned because we have the entire Body of Christ and Communion of Saints with us. I knew we might feel struck down when we are stretched thin between contact meetings, a mom striking out, hospital runs, an abusive boyfriend or family member hurting a mom, the community struggling, etc. – but we would not be destroyed by darkness.
I knew all of that before I had lived in the home for more than two weeks. I ended my journal entry on July 25, 2014 with the hopes that I could open my heart to continually die to myself and allow Christ to live within me to love these women who may have never experienced true, pure love. I also prayed then that Brian and I would grow in pure love this year by loving Christ more and seeking His will for us.
Well, another year has passed, and let me tell you – I have loved and been loved in this community more than I thought possible. The stony parts of my heart that remained after the Camino have been more broken down this year as I learned to love more purely. I have loved the moms in our home, the babies, and my fellow MissionCorps. I have suffered with them, cried with them, laughed with them, walked and talked with them, and grown so much. My prayers for Brian and I have also been answered as we are engaged now and preparing for marriage – praise God! And just as on the Camino and as a Corps at Maggie’s Place, now Brian and I will strive to carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our marriage.
By Melissa Peters, a MissionCorps member