First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 4, 2020
How can a place you’ve never been to before feel like home? On a cold day in February, my friend and I travelled to Phoenix, Ariz., for a retreat. Neither of us expected to feel like we had come home.
Lifting our heavy backpacks out of the cab from the airport, we laughed and smiled, admiring the variety of cacti growing in the neighbourhood.
We would be staying at the home of a relative of a colleague of ours from the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The sun was shining, and we no longer needed our coats and scarves. When we left Vancouver at 4 a.m., the temperature was below zero. Here in Arizona, doves cooed from surrounding trees. Palm trees dotted the yards and swayed in the distance.
We stood at the front door, where a large statue of Mother Mary was the first to greet us. I knocked and the door immediately opened. A beautiful blonde woman smiled and opened her arms. “You must be Maggie!” I said. As soon as I passed the threshold, her arms wrapped me in a big hug.
Her home beautifully combined order and cheerfulness. “Can I get you something to drink? We have beer, pop, and seltzer water. Feel free to help yourself to anything. Make this place yours.”
We settled our things into her teenage daughter’s bedroom and lounged on their large grey couch. Excitedly, we told her about the retreat that would start the next day. Then she left to take her son to his older brothers’ baseball games. She promised to take us out for margaritas and Mexican food when she and her husband returned home.
I’d come to Phoenix with a worn-out heart, mind, and body. My heart was heavy, my mind was exhausted, and my lower back ached. It was no coincidence that the theme of the retreat was Restore. It was organized by Blessed Is She, a ministry for women with a mission for community and prayer.
When Maggie came back with her son from the baseball games, her younger sister Stella popped by with her 2-week-old baby. Seeing the precious baby cradled in my travelling companion’s arms made my heart swell. It was easy to notice how close-knit this family is. They live on the same block and visit each other frequently.
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).
It rained hard on Saturday morning. It didn’t rob us of our joy for the day. Stella’s husband’s brother waited outside to drive us to St. Andrew the Apostle Parish for the retreat. He is an Uber driver, and our colleague’s mother paid for our trip. We were overcome with gratitude at the generosity of this family.
My heart was under renovation. Negative thoughts had been spinning me into low moods. “I am not good enough. I am unlovable. I am alone.” During times of worship and adoration, I heard words like a whisper fill me. “I will never leave you alone. I wanted you in your mother’s womb. No pain, no loss is wasted. Do not be afraid. You are my delight. Find peace in me. I love you, my beloved daughter. There will always be days of rain, but I am always shining brighter than the sun. I will provide for you.”
The home we stayed in for three nights was a refuge. The love Maggie showed for her family, her community, and her vocation of motherhood confirmed for me the boundless love of God.
A home restores. It is something we are all made for. We desire to belong and to be missed when we go away.
Author Annie F. Downs says in her book 100 Days to Brave, “Do whatever it takes to expand your map. Because if you go where you’ve never gone before, you will see God like you’ve never seen him before.”
God makes a home in our hearts. Our ultimate destination and eternal home is heaven. We long to return to the heart of the Father. And now I also long to return to Arizona.