It was a sweltering summer day in the Arkansas Delta. My fiancee, his family, and I pulled up to a house outside of a small town not far from where my future brother-in-law law was a pastor. The house was in desperate need of attention, and my heart broke knowing that this family was subject to such difficult living conditions.
That day our goal was to construct an indoor bathroom for the family to utilize.
God, however, had a different vision for me. While most of the family wielded power tools, I spent my time ministering to the heart of a small child by tapping into what St. John Paul II deemed the feminine genius. My mission tools that summer day would be my sensitivity, receptivity, generosity, and maternity.
I won’t soon forget that precious face. The little girl who stood close to me as my fiancee’s father outlined the plans for the bathroom. Her excitement was palpable as she eagerly awaited the fruition of the dream of an inside toilet and running shower. Her constant questions and comments illustrated how desperately she desired to engage and connect with these strange people in her home performing this act of love and service for her family.
I realized quickly it probably wasn’t helpful for the construction for her to observe the entire process in an up-close and personal way. I felt the longings of my own heart to become acquainted with this sweet child, so I invited her to show me the rest of her home. She giggled with joy as she led me by the hand and introduced me to her mother and brother. She invited me to sit at her table and she disclosed to me all of her favorite pastimes, foods, and daily activities. I listened attentively and used all of the freshly gleened college knowledge of child development to actively question and listen to her.
We played card games, watched a show, and read books.
The culminating moment of the day was when she asked if she could “play” with my hair. I couldn’t resist. As she collected various supplies and products, I sat in nervous anticipation wondering what I had just agreed to. Thankfully no cutting was involved. She meticulously constructed at least a dozen tightly twisted knot buns all over my head in some sort of Princess Amidala inspired design. And when she was finished, she beamed with pride as she led me around to show off her work.
I didn’t hammer one nail that day or place a single board, but I did open my heart to intimacy and connection as I welcomed this little girl and her family into my life.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross once said that women, “have ears for the softest and most imperceptible little voices.”
I practiced sensitivity and receptivity that day as I attuned myself to the needs of attention, affirmation, and love that were around me. St. Teresa Benedicta also beautifully wrote that, “a woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” I was compelled to step out of my own comfort zone and to allow others to serve me simply by being present and engaged in their daily lives that hot, summer day.
That day I received the gift of simply receiving the person who was in front of me.
In opening myself to the gift of another, I was changed, and I grew in my capacity to love. My soul grew because I helped to shelter another. The beauty of the exchange is that we were each able to birth new life into one another that day.
When it was time to say goodbye I will forever remember the joy and gratitude the family expressed as they gazed upon their glorious new bathroom. They eagerly proclaimed it was the best room in the house, as they laid upon the floor. My new little friend even asked if she could sleep there.
As we said our goodbyes, I will never forget the hug I received from my new little friend, or the whisper in my ear as she asked me if I would wear my hairstyle to the Mexican Restaurant our family was heading to that evening. I whispered back, “Yes, beautiful, I will wear my hair with pride.”
This was the moment I came to understand what St. John Paul the II eloquently stated in his Letter to Women,that “in giving themselves to others each day, women fulfill their deepest vocation.” That day I learned the power of feminine receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity.