It’s mid-afternoon and I’m curled up in my wicker butterfly chair, completely immersed in the second chapter of Kate’s book. I’d never heard how she wound up in Afghanistan, but always wanted to know. Not just about Kate, either.
In the stories of others
All my guests come and go to the most amazing, incomprehensible places. Of course I want to know what led them there. After all, who in their right mind goes to Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, Afghanistan, or any of the other wild and foreign countries my guests call home?
I’m certainly not going to any of those places, but why not? Have I been so immersed in myself that I’ve ignored God’s call? Did I even forget to ask?
I wonder if my other guests asked God for some crazy place to go. Some big mission to live. Some foreign country that might kill them?
We look for God
Perhaps they had, but had they started the conversation? Did they awaken one morning and say, “Hey God, send me somewhere crazy.” Or did God put the desire in them in the first place? Stir in some crazy hunger, then fulfill the dream that grew from seeds he’d planted, himself?
I flip back through the pages of Kate’s book. “I did not ask God for a mission.” Ah, relief. But still, she went.
I let her book fall on my lap and gaze through the window. My thoughts travel to the first big decision I ever made for myself. College. Was that God? Had he lead me? Had I followed?
The very question clashes against the adolescent thinking I’d used to decide my own future.
When I was growing up, I thought God’s will was a general, universal kind of thing. Do good. Pursue justice. Offer mercy. And of course, go to church on Sunday mornings. My job was to be a good, obedient, kind, and wise person. That’s all.
Young men packing off to seminary spoke of calls. The rest of us were encouraged to do what we liked, what we were good at, or, really, whatever was possible.
I can see my mother’s bridge club ladies in my memory. “What do you want to be when you grow up, Helen?”
“A dancer.” That was always my answer.
Was it good enough? Or just selfish?
My father indulged me. Tap, ballet, Jazz. He drove me down to Charleston or up to Pittsburgh whenever a big show was presented. Even took me to see the New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Center. I was captivated by everything and anything having to do with dance.
Was he in ours
I could see myself in photos. Remembering. My passion blossomed and scattered more than a few fantastical dreams. I would study at Julliard. Learn technique from the best teachers. Dance for the most creative choreographers.
My mother wasn’t convinced. She expected me to fall in love with a college student and wanted me to marry a man who could support me. I can almost hear the concern in her voice. Marry a man with business degree or engineering. Not a doctor. They’re never home. And definitely not an artist!
In the end, she won, not by force, but rather by my own limited training and ability. The truth is, I didn’t stand a chance of getting into Julliard or any other top notch dance program. I chose University of Pittsburgh, theater arts with a minor in dance. But really, it was the best I could do. Disappointing at the time, but in the end, a good decision.
When we couldn’t see him?
Yes, that was my decision. The first one I made. But did God lead me there? Did he give me a love of dance? Did he limit my potential and thus ensure I would meet my husband, the love of my life, and live a lifestyle closer to my mother’s dreams than my own?
How would we know?
I was a kid, just seventeen when I made the decision to go to Pittsburgh. Sure, I prayed. A lot. But it was more like desperate begging. “Oh please, oh please, oh please God let me get into…” Followed by a list of schools for which I was woefully unqualified.
Did he create us
Still, God must’ve given me my love for dance. If he hadn’t, where would I have gotten it?
My sister went to dance classes until third grade, then quit the moment our parents allowed her to. She hated everything about it. No, dance was never her thing. She was a nerd. Always smarter than me. She gravitated toward figuring out how things work. It was no surprise when she chose biology and took up research.
Did she get that love from God? Did God wire an intense curiosity and extreme focus on details into my her fetal mind? He certainly didn’t give me any of her brilliance!
As we are
And if that’s his gift to my sister, was dance his gift to me?
The very possibility is like clean air. I can feel it in my lungs.
I’m sure God gave me a love for dance. And not just dance, either. That was the beautiful thing about university. I discovered, what can I say? More about myself. I fell in love with theater sets and all the visual work that goes into creating a make-believe environment. I nurtured a love for beauty and an eye for drama. I explored colors and shapes and the intentional creation of ambiance. I even played with light and shadows, textures, and sound.
And if he did
I never paused to ask, “God, are these your gifts?” If I had, I might’ve asked the next question. “God, how can I use these gifts to do good, pursue justice, and offer mercy to others?”
Startled, I realize; this is exactly what I’m doing here in Malta. And suddenly, the garden through my window comes to life. Half a dozen little birds alight on the fountain bath in a splash of water and dazzling realization.
I’ve created a beautiful guesthouse in structure, color, furnishings, plantings, and even water and light. Each room is unique and now, repeat guests request the particular room that most welcomes their souls. I even completely redesigned the rec room to delight the imaginations of visiting children and teens. That room is wild and colorful, full of toys, games, beanbag chairs, and couches the invite jumping, tumbling children.
The Mediterranean facing veranda is wide, elegant, and comfortable. The dining room seats sixty or six in warm ease. Enclosed gardens welcome readers and pray-ers. Air conditioned sitting rooms offer respite from the summer heat and our computer stocked cubbies give guests the technology and privacy to connect with distant loved ones.
Do good. Pursue justice. Offer mercy. I’ve found my way with art and hospitality.
Are we enough?
The rush of words coursing through my mind collapse into a kind of whispering doubt.
Is it enough? I mean, look, all my guests are doing the most amazing things, and I’m celebrating colors and curtains.
I resist. Wait. I’m providing a service. Value. Washing the feet of the saints. Does that count? And it must, right? I mean they keep coming back. They write me thank you notes. Even Kate’s book is a thank you gift.
I catch myself glancing at the clock. 3:46. I still have time. At 4:00, I’ll return to the kitchen. Mikela, my Maltese house helper will prepare dinner. I’ll help. We have 16 tonight, including three middle sized children.
I rub my knees with the palms of my hands and notice another errant thought; I’m measuring the value of my life in numbers of people served. But how’s that right?
The question begs
I sigh, pick up Kate’s book and flip back through the pages. “I just knew that Christ had been calling me, inviting me to walk with him in Afghanistan, and soon, the door would open to go.” “Why God Calls us to Dangerous Places”, pg. 32
Yes. I feel strength return. God did invite me to come to Malta. He invited me to set up this guesthouse, to live here and serve these overseas workers. I know that with absolute certainty.
And there’s a grace in it, too. I get to be exactly who he created me to be. I use structure, and color, and textures, and sound to create a welcoming, nurturing space. These are my gifts. This is what I offer to the world, or, for now, my guests. And someday, maybe I’ll give these gifts to someone else, just like I did before I came to Malta.
Standing up, I realize a kind of energy, an excitement in the work before me, and the evening to come. I think, yes, I’m doing exactly what God’s inviting me to do. I feel an internal amen. It’s strong and I realize I’m smiling.
I take a step toward the door, but then, a kind of cloud settles across my eyes. I stop, nearly mid-stride. But what about when I went to university? Did God invite me there? Did he lead me? I never asked.
I shudder, but just for moment. Of course God led me to university. Maybe I was too young and to naïve to know it, but God’s always God. Of course he was with me in my adolescent immaturity. He led me to college. He nurtured the gifts he’d given me. And where would I be today if I’d never gone there?
And invites celebration
The cloud passes and now I feel like I’m standing in sunshine. Of course my love for dance and art and beauty and color is all God’s creation within me. All my life he’s nurtured the gifts he’s given me. And yes, God’s led me to Pittsburgh. And God who led me here, to Malta.
My whole life is God’s living work of art. I take a deep breath and feel the freedom of being who God has created me to be.