A Stranger at the Table

Stranger_hospitality (3)_detail1

That would be me.

For six weeks in Bolivia. I was a stranger at someone else’s table. Living with a family I didn’t know. In a country where I could barely speak the language. In the midst of a different culture. Where everything looked, smelled, and tasted different.

It didn’t take long to realize, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” Or Virginia.

Or anywhere that even resembled the home I knew. Everything felt different. And I felt so alone.

True, that was months ago. But the memory of those feelings has stayed with me.

I actually think the mother of the house where I was living in Bolivia had a preconceived image of me as an American. And maybe she had a little attitude too.

Now the tables are switched.

I’m the one with a little attitude toward foreigners.

Yes, me.

You might find that surprising. After all, why would I travel so far from home to return to the U.S.-Mexico border to serve migrants and refugees if I had an attitude?

Truthfully, I’m happy to be back serving at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center. It feels right to be here.

I knew it the first day I walked through the door and was among “the people” again. I found myself smiling for no particular reason throughout the day.

Even though I never stopped moving from the moment I stepped inside the place. And was exhausted by the time I left.

The thing is, so many people are coming. More than I’d ever seen when I was serving here last year.

It’s not so easy to spot those in desperate need this time. It’s not black and white. If it ever was.

Immigration is such a complex issue.

What got me was I was noticing some conflicting feelings arising. A judging, critical side.

I mean I’m aware that I have this side of me, but I didn’t like the fact that it was coming up here, in relation to the migrants whom I’ve felt such compassion for. In a place where I’m serving alongside some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. The people of El Paso. People who still, after more than two years, continue to fully operate this center through their donations and volunteer hours.

So, the other night I went to bed with these questions on my heart.

“How do I keep my heart open and let go of trying to be judge and jury? How does love respond to this situation? What do you ask of me?”

On the verge of sleep, an image of Jesus in his passion came to me. The pain and suffering he endured. The terrible loneliness.

Then I “heard” his question: “Did I do this only for those who deserve it?

Such a powerful and humbling response! The truth of it hit me hard.

Because I knew. I certainly don’t “deserve” this gift. In fact, I often take it for granted. And I doubt I fully appreciate it.

In that moment, I understood.

Love has nothing to do with fairness or with who deserves it.

Love invites everyone to the table. No one is excluded. And preconceived images are left at the door.

Granted, it’s challenging to love as Christ loved.

I don’t know if I can do it. But this is my practice.

This is why I am here.

4 thoughts on “A Stranger at the Table

  1. Another beautifully written entry into your blog. You created images that brought me closer to understanding your passion for immigrants. It seems that your life is being lived in the moment. Your questions are being answered in a way that confirms your commitment to the folks who pass through the doors of the hospitality center. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Rob Morrell

    This is hard work that you have been called to, sister: not just the long days of trying to meet the physical and emotional needs of swarms of displaced human beings, but the jolt that can hit us when, at times, people don’t behave as we think they should or express their thanks to those who are just trying to help.

    I remember my distress when I first read Dorothy Day’s unadorned description of the “ungrateful poor.” Shocking! Yet who was she to expect or require that recipients of food or shelter from the Catholic Worker respond according to her expectations? Were the ungrateful or the nasty any less worthy of humane treatment? Were the surly or abusive lesser children of God?

    No, this is not easy work you are doing. But it is the work that you have been called to do. And though you may not sense it in every moment, you have divine accompaniment in every step you take and every gesture you make.

    ¡Vaya con Dios, mi hermana!



  3. Karen

    Pauline, I am so glad to hear your heart again. I have missed your insights. Love is a blanket and all are worthy to be warm. Thank you for your lesson to people like me. It is easy to be swayed by the media about the “others” that do not belong here. The truth is, we are all God’s children and we all have needs. Thank you for being an angel of mercy.


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