I never thought about how my life might echo the story of someone in the gospels. After all, those are all about Jesus. Not me, right? But I do see Jesus in my story. Can I look into scripture and see myself in his?
That’s the question that stirred in me when I finished reading Chapter 2 of Kate’s book. She was talking about Zebedee and Salome, John and James’s parents. What the call of Jesus was like for them. And what it was like for John and James. She said, they didn’t have any idea “…what they would experience along the way, or how it would change them.” (Why God Calls us to Dangerous Places pg. 33). Then she said, that’s what going to Afghanistan was like for her.
When we’re invited
And really, that’s what coming here to Malta has been like for me.
Certainly, I sensed God’s invitation when Jenny and I prayed and dreamed at my kitchen table. It was easy for me to map out a plan. My late husband and I owned and managed more than a few rental properties, so I had some strong resources and a good amount of experience.
I figured getting the guesthouse in Malta would be a bit difficult, and it was. There were some disappointments along the way, but nothing major.
The move was a pain, but moves always are. My parents were disappointed. They hoped I would come home after Jack died, but nothing in me wanted to do that. Still, they didn’t really mind. Florida or Malta – both required airplanes.
We weigh the possibility
Every life decision has consequences, some we anticipate, most we don’t. I anticipated a lot. I was confident I’d find this property or some other lovely villa on the island. I knew I would have to transform it to serve my missionary guests. I expected to hire local staff. I assumed working with businesses and the government here would be challenging, and sometimes it is. I hoped and prayed people would come. But I figured if they didn’t, I’d just find another plan.
Wonder at the destination
What I didn’t expect was the stories. I didn’t know how they would affect me.
Before I came to Malta, Jenny was the only missionary I knew. We grew up together, fast friends from grade school. Between us, Jenny was the extrovert, the talker; creative, exuberant, and fiercely brave. I was the introvert, and still am. I listened, laughed, and followed along in her crazy ideas. Jenny was always the leader and in my own way, I became her perfect match.
Over the years, we grew closer than sisters. She was Maid of Honor at my wedding and my home was her American retreat. When Jack died, it was Jenny who pulled me out of the funk and helped me dream again. Malta was my dream, birthed at my kitchen table in conversation with Jenny.
Count the costs
And she was all for it. Incredibly encouraging. Still, she didn’t tell me how much I would love my guests. Some of them I’ve only known for two or three days and yet I remember them all. Each has a voice and a story, some have laughter, others tears. So many different personalities. And the children. The children just delight me.
Jack and I never had children. It was a thing we made peace with. His family was true Catholic, so they never pushed us for any medical intervention. Anyway, my sister has four kids and she lives close enough to my parents to satisfy their grandparent hunger. I don’t want to imply that childlessness was easy, but we found our way.
And step forward
Now, my house is often full of children. Even today, a family from Germany’s here with their four kids. Two are the most precious blonde haired, blue-eyed, four-year-old twins. Girls. They have their own language. Pure mischief between them. And the older ones are just delightful. The boy’s full of energy and curiosity. I swear he’s into everything. The girl, I think she’s 12 or 13. She found a stack of books in our library and took over the hammock chair in the inner courtyard. I’ll send her back to the field with the books she hasn’t read. Well, if they have enough space in their luggage.
Only to discover
And that’s the thing, Jenny never told me how much I would love my guests. How much space each of them would take in my heart. She didn’t tell me how much I would hurt for them when they were struggling. How deeply I would grieve, like when Kate showed up at the guesthouse that last time. She was more than exhausted. A little sick, lethargic, really. And she didn’t sing. That’s the thing I noticed after she left. No song fragments floating through the house.
I pieced together her story from what little she said. Another heartbreak. Another devastation. Another loss. No, Jenny never told me how much I would have to bear.
Maybe I really am like John and James in the gospel story. Packing off to Malta seemed like such a good idea at the time. Leave my nets. Easy to do. Or at least, well within my reach. But I had no idea how loving people would affect me. Not these people, anyway. I just feel so helpless sometimes. It’s nearly overwhelming.
A friend of mine in Florida talked about that. Karen. She’s a caseworker for families in crisis. Sometimes, she could barely breathe. I get that now.
We’ve entered his story
That’s the one. Not the seven demons part, but the part about traveling with Jesus. Supporting the disciples out of her own means. Sure, my guests pay to stay here, but they don’t cover the costs. Well, actually, they cover most of the operations cost, but that’s it. Not the set up. Not the refurbishments. Not the expansion of the library so I would have books for the little German girl.
Mary Magdalene, the one who traveled with Jesus and the others. The one who heard the stories of the seventy after they went out preaching. The one who watched James and John lobby for fire against that Samaritan village. Yeah, Mary Magdalen, the rich lady who must’ve rolled her eyes whenever the twelve argued with each other. I feel like that sometimes, too, when my guests argue. And believe me, they do argue sometimes.
Mary Magdalene. She’s the one; the person in the Gospel whose story I echo. A dim echo, sure. But she’s still the one. And Mary followed Jesus all the way to the cross. She must’ve wept through the rest of Friday and Saturday. But then Sunday. She saw Jesus first.
Yikes, my soaring emotions just crash. I haven’t seen the resurrection yet.
And find our place
I’m living in the middle of the gospel story. The space where people are traveling from town to town, preaching, doing miracles, and getting stones thrown at them. I see the bruises. I wonder if Mary ever wept when she was making the group’s evening meal. I do sometimes. Rejoice, too. Really, they’re stories are amazing.
And wait, I’m in the story, too. Me, a middle-aged American woman running a guesthouse on a beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean. I’m like Mary. Not the mother of Jesus, the other one. The rich one. The one who provides. I’m the one who shows hospitality to strangers and believe me, I know some of my guests are angels.
I feel like I’ve just grown two inches taller. Stronger. Clearer. It’s like, I matter. No, I’m not doing what my guests do. And I certainly can’t take away any of their heartache, but I can welcome them. In a way, I provide for them. A small way, but mine. This is what I give.
And Mary got to see Jesus after the resurrection. She was the first. I don’t expect to be the first, but is he smiling? Does he delight in me? In the work I do? The gifts I give? I think he must, just like he must’ve loved Mary, the rich lady who did her part.
In his eyes
I’m doing my part as best I can. Maybe I am echoing Mary. A little, anyway. And no way she could’ve imagined any of what would happen when she walked off with a group of itinerant preachers. We don’t even know how she wound up following Jesus in the first place. Another obscure story.
James and John, Peter, and Matthew. Most of the men got their stories recorded, but not Mary Magdalene. She just appears. Just like I appeared. A lady with a guesthouse. Story-less. But Jesus knew her story. Not just the seven demons part, either. He knew her whole story and he loved her.
He loved her enough to meet her after that horrible crucifixion. After she sobbed in the pain of such total loss. And he met me to, after I sobbed in the pain of my own loss.
I did see the resurrected Jesus. I saw him at my kitchen table. I saw him in the face of my best friend. I saw him in the dream of this guesthouse.
Amazing. Isn’t it. Not only is Jesus present in my story, but I’m present in his. I don’t know what Kate wanted me to get out of this chapter of her book, but seeing myself in the gospel story and seeing Jesus in my own story is such a beautiful gift.