Driving home from Washington Dulles airport last March after my two months of service in El Paso, I experienced an odd thought: This isn’t home anymore.
Despite those gorgeous green mountains gathering around to welcome me, the lush countryside overpowering my senses after that dry, sandy El Paso landscape, and even the thought of my dog Cody whimpering and running around in circles to greet me, Virginia no longer felt like home.
I wondered — what exactly am I coming home to?
Recently I picked up the novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, to perhaps gain some insight from my friend Bilbo Baggins with whom I’d associated when I began this adventure. I found this line towards the end of the book, after Bilbo has returned home. Gandalf, the wizard who set Bilbo off on this adventure in the first place, could have easily been speaking these words to me:
“My dear Bilbo!” Gandalf tells him. “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”
No, indeed, I am not the hobbit that I was.
My journey to El Paso has changed my life. I knew it would even before I left. The question is—and has been for some time now—what is next for me? Yet I have asked this question with anticipation, hopefulness, and a spiritual awareness that I am being invited to something more.
I heard this invitation last year when I first visited El Paso for that week-long “border immersion” trip. And I felt the pull in my heart to respond to that invitation. That’s what got me back there.
Now I’ve heard, and responded to, another invitation. This one from the Incarnate Word Missionaries. Last week they invited me to be a lay missionary with their program in San Antonio beginning this August. It involves working with mostly Hispanic single moms and their children living in a transitional housing program called Visitation House. The name of the house refers to “the visitation” of Mary, who having just said “yes” to God’s plan of giving birth to Jesus, embarks on a long journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is several months pregnant after many years of wanting a child.
This is symbolic for me on many levels, not the least of which is a dream I had while serving in El Paso. In this dream, I find myself pregnant, at my age, with a new life that I feel unprepared—and unwilling—to handle at this point. Until the baby is born and I am cradling him in my arms. Looking into this newborn’s eyes, I feel such immense love. In that moment, every fear, every doubt, every apprehension simply melts away. And I totally accept this new life.
The day before I said yes to this invitation from Incarnate Word Missionaries, I spent some time in silence, to simply listen and be present to God. I wanted to be sure, after all. I mean this is no small commitment. It involves risk. Starting someplace new. Stepping into the unknown. And opening my heart even further.
Afterwards, while sitting in that silence, I pick up one of the books in my prayer space: Ted Loder’s The Haunt of Grace, and inadvertently turn to a chapter called “New Rules of Engagement.”
When I see that the chapter is about how Joseph in the New Testament had taken a risk by marrying Mary, I almost stop reading. How does this apply to me, I wonder. But something entices me to continue. Then Loder talks about the angel in Joseph’s dream, and how we have our own angel telling us the same thing: “Do not be afraid. Listen to your deepest longing for love, for meaning, for relationships that are deep, trusting, satisfying, challenging, and joyful, for a world of justice and peace and beauty. In a haunting way, our dreams call us to engagement, to move from the outskirts to the center of our lives.”
I hear that message deep within me. Don’t be afraid to take the risks. Don’t be afraid to step into the center of your life. Don’t be afraid to follow your longing.
But then Loder quotes lines from a poem called, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and I hear Spirit speak directly to my inner being:
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silence of the full moon, ‘Yes!’
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.”
So, I said yes to this invitation. I am ready to trust my deepest longing. To love and serve something greater than myself. To stand in the center of the fire. And feel fully alive.