I am certain that I will remember the night as one that changed my life. At least I hope I will. I hope I will take the stories, the inspirations, the not-at-all-subtle prompting of the Holy Spirit and let them have their way with me.
On the evening of Saturday, August 18, my husband and I attended the Fourth Annual Summer Soiree to benefit Mary’s Shelter. We were invited by a dear friend and looked forward to an evening out and a chance to catch up with some people with whom I correspond frequently but don’t see in person nearly enough. I had heard good things about Mary’s Shelter, so I was eager to learn more about that work, too.
Mary’s Shelter is actually four shelters right now—four lovingly decorated, beautifully comfortable homes for women in crisis pregnancies and their children. In these homes, women who have no place else to go come to be loved while they bring their babies into the world and after the births, while they put their own lives together and step forward with hope. Residents of Mary’s Shelter live in a dignified manner and are expected to rise to the dignity of their surroundings. They are provided with a stable home and abounding support, but they are held accountable, too. They cook and clean, live and love in the homes just as other mothers do in theirs. While they are residents, they work towards acquiring the skills necessary to be employed and support their families. At Mary’s Shelter, they are also provided necessary classes in childbirth and parenting.
A place to call home. We live in the shadow of the most powerful city in the world. Every day, I drive streets lined with big, sturdy trees and brick homes that have housed generations of children who are always fed, well educated, and offered every opportunity to succeed. My travels take me from old, established neighborhoods to a bursting new communities. The trees are not so sturdy, nor are homes all-brick, but the houses are even bigger and the communities where they have sprouted like mushrooms in the rain are full of the promise of young families sure that life will be rich with school and soccer and Saturdays on park swings.
Blessed Mother Teresa said, “I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?”
Do you? Do you know that in the midst of these neighborhoods of plenty there is a woman who is pregnant with twins? She is here on a visa, having survived life as a refugee. She has a loving husband. His visa is Canadian. She is here. He is there. Their babies are growing within her and she has no one, nothing. Except she does. She has the unwavering support of the good women at Mary’s Shelter. She has in Kathleen Wilson, the director, the best advocate a girl could ever pray to have.
I listened in awe at the story of how Kathleen and two of her friends and their husbands hatched an idea to shelter pregnant women in need. I heard how they grew this program of genuine nurturing love, a program so successful and so unique, that people all over the country are sitting up and taking notes and praying hard about taking their model and making it a reality where they live. I was so much more than inspired by the story.
I thought to myself that here in this ministry, the people of Fredericksburg are offered the opportunity to tangibly live the works of mercy. All of them. Mercy lives at Mary’s Shelter. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to be a part of it, to show up, hold a baby, offer encouragement to a mom, help someone get her three-year-old ready for a little sister
Then, I freely admit, a little voice in my head said, “You have nine children at home. People with nine children don’t throw themselves into formidable works of mercy like this one.” That voice was silenced when a woman in the lobby told me that Kathleen has ten children. Ten children of her own. And legal guardianship of two more. And there is room in her life and her heart and her prayers for the mothers and babies sheltered at Mary’s Shelter. She knows her neighbors, knows them well.
It took my husband and I two hours to drive to Fredericksburg that night. Two hours is a fair distance for me to be involved in a ministry on a daily or weekly basis. I don’t know what God wants me to do there. I do know that the stories are burned indelibly on my soul. I also know that while I seek to know my neighbor better—much better—I can help the women of Mary’s Shelter right now. Without moving from this comfortable spot on my couch, I can make a monthly commitment. I can be a very small part of ensuring that the good people of Fredericksburg continue to move mountains to save lives. And I can beg you to do the same. Together, we could make a big difference. These are our neighbors. These are the people God allowed in the midst of our plenty so that we could love them as He does.
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The post above appeared as a column in our diocesan paper and on the web version of that paper. I had high hopes that people would contribute--that people would care. I shared the column on Facebook and Twitter, but I didn't post it here, because I wanted to come here today and share from my heart with my closest online community, the people who read my blog. I wanted you to see more images than would have appeared in the paper. I wanted to be able to talk some more with you in the combox, to share with you how much this matters.
Like so many organizations, Mary’s Shelter is grateful for one time donations. An extra infusion of funds is always welcome. But like any household, things work more smoothly when there is a regular operating budget. The big goal is to have 1000 people donate $20 a month. Twenty dollars a month. Here's where I admit that I have a bit of a local coffee shop green tea habit. About twice a week I order a gigantic iced tea.That's about the extent of my habit. (Honestly, I think it's more about someone with a smile quickly and efficiently doing what I ask;-). I can forego a few cups of iced tea. I can be one more person to get closer to that 1000. I'm told that they have reached about 10% of their goal. Suddenly, my small $20 seems even smaller. We need 900 people to donate to the Fulfill the Promise campaign. Can we begin to make a dent in that here? Now?
Can my blog readers see their neighbors in homeless pregnant women
We cannot say that we're pro-life and then turn away when faced with the nitty gritty details. Those details are the difference. A place to call home, a place to grow comfortably--that's when a young woman begins to see that there is hope. That's when she sees that she does indeed have a choice.
We have to care about the details.
What can you give up so that a new mother who has nothing has a chance to make life better--much, much better--for herself and her children? What can you sacrifice to save a life? Or two?
A day or so after the column appeared last week, someone from Mary’s Shelter wrote to thank me. She told me that two people had contributed as a result of the column. I was crushed. So disappointed. So sad that my words couldn't move more hearts.
A friend told me not to be surprised. She said that when she shares the story of Mary’s Shelter she often is met with disapproval. People actually think that these women have made poor choices in their lives and so they must live what they "deserve."
They deserve dignity.
They deserve mercy.
Those babies deserve love.
and to live.
We are called to love.
We are called to mercy.