Publisher’s Note: This column was first published in The Trussville Tribune on July 19, 2017. The beautiful feature by Kris Robinette is one of our favorites and we hope you’ll find it enjoyable as we remember a little girl who lit up our hearts.
By Kris Robinette, Feature Writer
There are moments in life that freeze us in place, temporarily stopping us in our tracks and leaving us groping for balance, redefining everything we once knew. And then there are moments that mobilize us, stir a call to action. In those times we band together, somehow sensing that we’re stronger as one.
The death of six-year-old Trussville resident Maggie Bowles created both.
Wispy. Delicate. Precious. She was all of these things.
A photo of Maggie in a softball jersey reveals her tiny frame as the purple fabric shifts to one shoulder. In another she balances on a rock in the Cahaba River, willowy arms and legs extended in the sheer bliss of the moment. Even in the photos, she is a tiny little girl in a big world.
Spunky. Fierce. Strong.
These attributes seem at odds with the delicate little blonde in the photos. Yet for those who knew her, they are right on target. There’s a certain innate confidence as she smiles at the camera, a sideways mischievous grin as she captures a fellow teammate in a headlock of a hug. And then there’s Maggie in a Wonder Woman outfit in her father’s arms, red patent-leather boots dangling below knobby little knees. An aspiring superhero on Halloween.
We never imagine that such a young life will be cut short, that what we view as a natural order of birth and death will be turned upside down. And yet, six days following a tragic car accident, family, friends and a community spanning the globe were forced to say goodbye.
It is medically accurate to say that for six days before her death Maggie was in a coma. But that would be only a fraction of her story, a huge omission of what was important. Because for six days a little superhero named Maggie Bowles brought together a community of people to form an unplanned and even unlikely ministry that was born out of the purest of reasons – love for a little girl.
It started as a method to pass along updates about Maggie’s condition, a closed Facebook group called Miracle for Maggie that would be for family and friends that wished to pray for healing. But the initial group quickly swelled from a handful to thousands. Miracle for Maggie now has 19,693 members.
Those who use social media know that interaction is sometimes wounded, emotional and raw. And not always in the best of ways. But there was and is something special about what is now being called Maggie’s Ministry. The “wounded,” “emotional” and “raw,” was a beautiful thing. And for every one of these emotions expressed, there was an outpouring of love.
After all, a very special child was present. Maggie’s presence on the Facebook page feels as tangible as her faith in God and the faith of her parents, Kelly and Shawn Bowles, as well as her aunt, Leigh Stovall, who often posts updates.
During Maggie’s hospital stay, the community of Trussville hit its knees in prayer, focusing on a funny, lively, innocent child that embodied goodness and light. For six days, priorities were rearranged and problems that once seemed large became small. Pink ribbons suddenly lined the streets, balloons were released, and a candlelight prayer vigil was held. The Bowles family was supported in countless, personal ways. New photos and stories of Maggie popped up on the Miracle for Maggie page, a sweet reminder of the many lives she touched.
All the while, the community of believers that gathered online to pray continued to grow. It grew outside of Trussville and the surrounding communities, outside of our state and outside of our country. Members from all walks of life are now present. Many have never met Maggie but felt drawn to her spirit.
“I live in Gadsden and didn’t know the Bowles personally however, I have followed Miracles for Maggie….this little girl has touched my life in a way I cannot explain. I only wish I would of known her. She obviously was somebody to know. who had the prettiest smile. I have been and will continue to pray for this family and all of her many friends. Fly high Maggie, if you only knew how many people you have touched.” – Sabrina via Facebook
It was common for members to post that they hadn’t prayed in years or hadn’t had a reason to talk to God. Some were angry at God for unanswered prayers or the loss of loved ones but felt led to rethink their perspective because of Maggie.
“I want to be very honest and say I don’t know any verses or words from a Christian song to write. I steered far away from this way of life because God took a few people away before I had wanted him too. I knew Shawn from high school and when I saw this story my heart immediately broke for him and his wife. Shawn was one of the nicest guys and he was oh so funny. I have read post after post from them both that show quite the opposite reaction from what mine was. It has made me really do some soul searching. I didn’t know Maggie but she has made a very large “ripple” with her journey to Heaven. I have prayed and apologized for my actions and I just want to say Thank you for opening my heart and showing me this side of the story. “ – Jennifer via Facebook
“…Praying for Maggie, I have had a lot of conversations these past couple weeks. More to come for sure. Everything happens for a reason they told me. From what I have read, Maggie’s light is bright enough to show me the way back home. It is a miracle her legacy has gotten me this far already. Fly High Sweet Angel – Thank You for bringing us all together in love, light, hope, comfort, and faith.” — Sondra via Facebook
Friday afternoon following Maggie’s passing was a time for mourning. Parents shared the news with brokenhearted children. Some cried sitting in cars. Others cried at work and at sports practice. Hugs and knowing glances were exchanged when emotions ran too high for words. And online the support continued, celebrating Maggie’s life and ministering to one another.
After Maggie’s death, it felt okay to be human and inadequate. And hundreds did. They posted to say, “I don’t have words.”
It felt safe to question why loss is necessary, why God would allow it. It felt right to seek answers and allow others to minister to them without hesitation.
It felt appropriate to ask for prayer, not only for Maggie’s family but for other children, for others that were weathering life’s storms.
It felt empowering to say, “seek God,” to those that were struggling.
“…When awful things happen that we cannot understand, faith and trust in Jesus is the only way we can find peace. Thank you for sharing your story of how God used Maggie in your life.” – Didi via Facebook
Children selected photos for their parents to post, often asking that messages to be relayed.
“We’ve been praying so hard for your family.. my 8 year old said ‘Mom she’s a light she’s a bright shiny light’ that description just shows what an incredible impact she had on this earth. He rode rode the bus with Maggie. We will continue to pray for your precious family!?” – Devin via Facebook
It seems so many needed a forum for comfort, a safe place to discuss similar experiences. Hundreds, if not thousands, craved a way to process unanswered prayers while maintaining complete faith in God. Miracle for Maggie provided that and more.
This was evident when Shawn Bowles posted that a match had been found for Maggie’s donor heart.
“I have cried more in the past seven days than in my lifetime. More tears were shed yesterday when we found out there has been a match for Maggie’s heart. Please pray the new body can accept it with no complications.” – Shawn Bowles, via Facebook
Shawn’s news opened the floodgates for those who have been on the other side of organ donation – families of past recipients.
“…we cried and prayed for our donor family- and 18 years later we still don’t have the right words to say thank you. I am in awe of families who say yes to organ donation- Maggie’s ministry will continue because of her precious family’s decision.” – Kelly via Facebook
“I’ve been watching this story unfold. I don’t know you or your family but have been so grateful to follow “Maggie’s Heart” it has been a beautiful story unfold. I know your family’s heart breaks and I know that not going away but I just wanted to tell your family that you have been amazing and a Godsend to so many! You have opened our lives up to “Maggie’s Heart” we see through you and God’s word what lived and now with prayer will to continue to live through her heart. God Bless you and your family as you have blessed others.” — Shannon via Facebook
It’s difficult to predict what ripple effect will continue through Maggie’s Ministry. Perhaps each of the nearly twenty-thousand members of Miracle for Maggie will take a bit of Maggie’s spirit into their own lives and light new pathways. Maybe it will grow into a local grassroots ministry. But one thing is certain, her legacy of faith will continue.
“Maggie’s Ministry of Prayer, Faith, and Unity will continue to impact lives through each and every one of you. She has passed her torch to us now, and we must carry it with honor. God allowed so many lives to be reached through her, Shawn Keith Bowles, and Kelly Roberts Bowles……now it is our turn to keep the flame burning bright.” – Jeff via Facebook
“Ultimately, I keep reminding myself that ‘grief is the price we pay for loving’ and the one thing I saw in Leigh Stovall ‘s eyes, every mention of Maggie was love, so boisterous, abundant, and contagious, that it feels only right for our hearts to ache in Maggie’s worldly absence. I know her death has challenged me to add more love into this world, especially the lives of those who were so fortunate to be filled with Maggie’s Glee. It will take 100’s if not 1000’s of us to fill the hole left by her, yet I can think of no greater challenge to honor her life. The image I keep coming back to, is of the 1000’s of us each raising our hands to hold the shattered hearts of Maggie’s family. We will gladly stand by you holding the broken pieces in place as your hearts reform into something whole again.” — Karon via Facebook
But when all is said and done, children say it best.
“I was just explaining to Avery about Maggie being about to save other kids through organ donation. He said “so she’s pretty much a super hero!” – Erin via Facebook
Avery, we couldn’t agree with you more.