I was in the Santa Cruz Mountains not long ago, speaking and singing at a women’s conference. We were focusing on the theme of loving others in practical ways through our gifts, and something in particular happened during one of the sessions that will remain imprinted in my memory as a beautiful illustration of this practice.
A young Syrian woman (“Lilith”) had been invited to the conference at the last minute, and everyone seemed surprised and delighted that she’d actually come. Just a few days earlier, Lilith had fled her country and found refuge with one of the women attending the conference. As an Orthodox Christian in Syria, she and her loved ones had become targets of violent atrocities from radical terrorist groups in the country’s ongoing civil war. Lilith had witnessed horrors no one her young age should ever see. Despite the further danger it presented, she’d decided to leave her home and her family to find safety here in America. Knowing some of her story, and seeing her sitting through the sessions at the retreat, head covered in a scarf, face bowed toward the floor, broke my heart.
Lilith’s story touched all of us, including Pam, an attendee who was a quilt maker. Beautiful, hand stitched old-fashioned quilts you don’t find too many people making anymore. Pam made quilts for Project Linus, an organization that donates handcrafted quilts and blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need. Pam told me she’d been making quilts for her friends and family for years, but it was when she’d studied the Parable of the Talents that she was moved to do more. She told me, “I saw how the two servants in the story used what they had and thought, ‘You either do it or you don’t. So I did it!’” I hugged her hard. She gets it.
Pam had just finished a gorgeous, intricately-patterned quilt she’d been inspired to create at one of the past women’s retreats, and had brought it with her. She, along with a few of the leaders, decided to give it to Lilith as a symbol of their comfort and love. Lilith had left her own mother behind in her homeland, and I can’t imagine how frightened and alone she felt. But in her absence I could see there were lots of “mamas” in this community of women who were more than ready to love on her.
During our last session together Lilith was called forward and prayed over, hugged, and wrapped up in that beautiful quilt. I thought of the many hours Pam undoubtedly spent working on it, unaware of the horrendous events that would lead Lilith to this moment—literally surrounded by the beauty and love the quilt embodied. I wept. When they told her it was for her, she wept. We all wept, honking our noses and wiping our eyes.
I thought about the words from 1 Peter 4:10: Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you, as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God. The words particular and varied suggest to me that there may be as many gifts as there are people and personalities. A quilt wrapped around a ravaged young woman that says, “God is with you, and we’re here for you” is just one practical, loving act of service that demonstrates God’s grace.
Think of all of the multi-talented and variously gifted people you know. The ways they manifest strength, personality, and flavor in what they do. Now think of just as many hurting, suffering people you’re aware of—right now, today. Imagine the ways these gifts could intersect with these needs, and see the wisdom in Paul’s words in this verse. Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given you.
Paraphrasing one of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, I believe we find our true calling at that intersection where our greatest passion meets the world’s need. When we feel moved to compassion by something in particular that’s in tune with our personality and sensibility, we ought to pay attention. What breaks our heart is as much an indicator of our calling as what brings us our deepest joy.
It’s the particular things we do, as only we can do them, that we sometimes think are too small or inconsequential compared to the suffering we witness. But to do nothing when we see an opportunity—to serve, to comfort, to ease another’s pain—is to withhold whatever facet of God’s magnificently varied grace our gift offers.