“It’s been one year since I first came to the United States from Honduras,” Teresa* tells me, eyes wistful. Then: “And I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing since then!” Those pensive eyes fill up with tears, and her face melts into forceful sobs that shake her whole body. Her son, little Sergio*, looks up at her from the floor where he has been knocking blocks together.
It’s an anniversary for me, too; it’s been one year since I started my spiritual ministry at Casa de Paz. Like I do every Tuesday and Thursday, I am sitting with one of the residents, listening and being present.
Today, my heart lurches with sadness. This is a woman who, since last winter, traveled all the way from Central America by foot, survived an abusive relationship and a miscarriage, and kept her one-year old child protected and happy through it all. I am in awe of her. God rejoices over her. I long for her to see herself with the same admiration.
“Teresa,” I begin gently, handing her a tissue. “Can you tell me about that journey you made to the United States?”
She sniffs and clears her throat, snapping back to the present as she considers where to begin. “It started when there was a change of power in the government, and I lost my job. Things were getting more dangerous. I knew I couldn’t stay if I wanted Sergio to have any kind of future. And his dad had stopped coming around as soon as I got pregnant.” Her voice strengthens as the story comes alive in her mind.
Teresa tells me how they left under the cover of night, each of them with only one change of clothes and as many diapers as she could fit in her small bag. She carried Sergio as they walked, rode buses, hid under bridges, and even laid in the covered bed of a pick-up truck with fifteen other people. Once in the U.S., she and her baby spent days in the detention center hieleras (iceboxes) as they are notoriously known – cold, cage-like, crowded rooms where the U.S. holds recent immigrants, offering them aluminum blankets and one or two cold burritos per day. When she was finally processed and released, she and Sergio were alone in a new country. The difficulty had only just begun.
“You are amazing,” I whisper. “Did you hear yourself? Did you hear what you have accomplished and overcome?”
Finally, Teresa smiles. She takes a deep breath. Sergio has toddled over to her now, and she lifts him onto her lap. Her beaming face and the shift in her energy tell me that she has indeed heard herself. We sit for a minute to honor the story.
“I love Sergio’s little dinosaur onesie,” I say eventually. “It’s looking tighter on him these days; he must be growing!”
Teresa laughs, patting his pudgy arm, and then looks at me again. “You know, this is what he was wearing when we crossed into the U.S.”
I touch the fabric on Sergio’s back and think of all the places this onesie, this little child, and this beautiful woman have been. “Teresa, look at him. Look at your son,” I say. “You have journeyed so far, through so much. You’ve survived migration, escaped a violent man, suffered the loss of a baby, dealt with living in a shelter…and look at your son. He is healthy. He is cared for. He has no concept of the pain you have endured. And he loves you so much.”
“I heard you say before that you’ve accomplished nothing in this year. But I see it so differently. I admire you deeply. You’ve faced more obstacles in a year than some people face in a lifetime. You’ve had to be endlessly resilient, and I’m so sorry for that. But when I look at you, I see the steadfast, unwavering love of God. I know God’s heart has broken along with yours, and I know that God celebrates you with the deepest love you could imagine.”
Teresa hugs her son to her chest and smiles with shy pride. “If you say so.”
One year since Teresa came to the U.S.; one year since I began the privileged ministry of pastoral care with the women of Casa de Paz. Sometimes, I, too, wonder what I’ve accomplished in the last twelve months. Accompaniment doesn’t often yield measurable results. Sometimes, I meet with a woman only once or twice before she moves on. Some days, I leave Casa de Paz feeling like nothing much happened in my sessions that day. And yet, if I look upon the journey through God’s eyes, I see sacred encounters of support that contribute to the process of healing. Sometimes, there are awakenings. Sometimes, God’s light seems to break in tangibly. Sometimes, a woman feels free to release crippling grief. Sometimes, she feels her dignity deep in her bones. Sometimes, she recovers hope enough to carry her forward, even for one more week.
On Valentine’s Day, my housemates and I put on a party for the families at Casa de Paz. In the midst of all the trauma and hardship, through ice cream sundaes, face painting, and lotería, the house burst with love and joy that reminded me what undergirds all of our journeys. The song “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent famously says it this way: “How do you measure a year in the life? Measure in love.” Both of our years, Teresa’s and mine, have been filled with the fierce, active, transformative love of God – the God who smiles upon and fills every corner of Casa de Paz.