When I was a young child, I once asked my mom out of the blue, "Mommy, where's South America?" I subsequently developed a fascination with the Amazon, Latin people and the Spanish language.
When I signed up for my first Spanish class at age 13, and before I knew a word of the language besides "Hola", I knew that I was going to love it and be good at speaking it. And I knew that one day I would travel to South America and that my heart would remain there.
How could I have known these things, never having experienced Latin America or known what it was like to speak Spanish? I believe it's because God birthed them into my heart.
The things that intrigue and fascinate us, as well as our natural gifts, are often clues to God's destiny for us, though we may not realize it when we first discover them. He didn't fit us with interests, passions and likes for nothing, though we may be tempted to think so, especially when He hasn't (apparently) used them much in our lives, or we believe that their use is solely for recreational purposes.
I studied Spanish throughout high school and college. Though I enjoyed it, it was also tedious to learn. For years, I didn't see the fruit of my labor, and until I graduated from college, Spanish was little more than a series of mental exercises for me. And as a Spanish major in college, I wondered how it would be useful in a career. At times, I have believed that I should have been more practical and studied engineering or marketing or something else that would have been (supposedly) more useful in the business world.
But over the past seventeen years, God has used my ability to speak Spanish and my love for Latin America in ways that have exceeded my wildest dreams.
For instance, I never imagined that by age 20, (and after having lived in Argentina as an exchange student for a year), I would speak Spanish with a fluency and accent that would confuse some into thinking that I had been raised in Latin America. I never would have guessed that by the time I was 30, I would have traveled to nearly every country south of Mexico, and lived for short periods of time in Venezuela and Costa Rica, in addition to Argentina.
Yet as precious as the gifts of travel and becoming fluent in another language have been for me, much more has come of the desire that God birthed in me to learn Spanish and become enamored with all things south of the border. Perhaps most important are the deep friendships that I have developed with Spanish speakers. Second to that are the eyes and ears that I now have to see how people of other cultures think, live and experience God. I have also developed more profound insights into my own culture, as I compare and contrast the society in which I live, to the different societies of Latin America.
I have also used Spanish in my work- as a medical interpreter, translator, Spanish instructor, flight attendant, and missionary. I have used it to communicate God's love to people in Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Cuba and beyond. Just yesterday, I used it to pray for a beggar on the street, who couldn't work due to severe back problems. As she wiped tears from her cheeks, I realized that God had healed her. When she confirmed this, and showed me how she could move parts of her body that she couldn't move before, I was, once again, thankful for my gift. I have used it to dispel myths about Americans to Latinos, and myths about Latinos to Americans. I have used it to create a bridge between my culture and that of others.
Travel for me these days is hard. I don't sleep well, and Latin America is really the last place that a sleepless soul who needs peace and quiet to rest, should be. As I write this from a balcony fronting the ocean on the Guanacaste peninsula of Costa Rica, I am reminded that the sleeplessness, along with other symptoms that I suffer from, aren't for forever. Because I think that God intends to my gifts for an even greater purpose, and this purpose can't be accomplished unless I am able to sleep and function in the places that I used to travel to- places more rustic and less comfortable than my friend's plush beach condominium in Costa Rica.
But just as, at the age of 13, I couldn't have guessed all that God would use my gifts and passions for, at the moment, I can't fathom the even greater ways in which He will use them, but I sense that He's just getting started with me.
How do I know for sure? I don't, but every time I am nudged to read a Mario Vargas Llosa novel, or pray over a beggar, I sense something bigger in the works beyond the activity at hand.
I share my experience to encourage those of you who have wondered if your passions are for a purpose; if your interests aren't just for your own enjoyment, and if God desires to do something great with the natural gifts and desires that He's given you.
God is glorified when we explore, express and use our natural gifts for His Kingdom. Sometimes, what seems like a useless talent or frivolous dream is really the seed of a majestic plant that God intends to grow and use to draw people to Him, although life sometimes has a way of squashing the seeds that God has planted within us. Yet if we ask Him to resurrect our dreams; to show us the what and why of our passions, and to develop that which He has placed within us, we will see those seeds bearing fruit that satisfies us in a way that goes beyond selfish pleasure, recreation or vain ambition. There is nothing wrong with pleasure, but sometimes, God desires to take something that gives us pleasure and use it for the good of others, too.
Recalling your childhood interests and fantasies, and exploring the pure, innocent passions of your youth, may help you to discover how God intends to use all that He has placed within your soul.
Knowing why and for what we were given talents and desires, helps to sustain us during times of trial or uncertainty and to have hope when life seems to offer none. Just as I didn't know at age 13 that God meant to use my love of Spanish and Latin America for so many purposes, so you may not know, until you ask Him, the entire reason for the talents and loves that He has placed within your heart. And if you have forgotten how to dream; if you can't remember what stirs your soul to life, and what awakens joy within you, ask God to resurrect those things, that you may once again, dare to dream with Him.