It's happened twice in the last several months. Visiting another part of the country - or world, in the case of my most recent trip to Regina, Sask. - I've caught a happy glimpse of heaven.

Each visit involved speaking engagements, tours of the respective cities, and stepping into the everyday lives of my hosts for a few days.

But what encircles my heart most of all from the experiences are my hosts themselves and all the premeditated actions they carried out well before and upon my arrival.

In Boise in January, I walked into a home that beckoned with a marker board bearing hand-written words, "Welcome Roxane," and a bouquet of fresh, colorful flowers.

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Soon, I was ushered into a sunny bedroom with a wall sign, "Be Our Guest," just above the bed's headboard; a basket of goodies nestled on a nightstand; and personalized gifts with more greetings placed throughout.

My Canadian visit also brought floral in the form of wildflowers in vases sneaked into the guestroom, along with a capped jar of homemade trail mix and a cold bottle of water for refreshment.

In each host-home, closets had been cleared, fresh towels and toiletries laid out, and coffee pots prepped with empty cups nearby ready for warm drinks.

Perhaps most precious of all, photographs of my now-faraway family in wire-clip frames met my tired eyes each night as I drifted to sleep.

These treasures were both unexpected and lavish, not in expense but thoughtfulness. I felt unworthy, but then realized that holding onto those thoughts would only dishonor the truly unconditional actions of my hosts, and possibly cut short love's circular nature.

Instead, allowing the special touches to penetrate my soul, my gratitude swelled; first, toward my hosts, and then, almost simultaneously, toward God.

And it could not be contained.

"Thank you, Lord, for the friendships you've placed in my life," I whispered. "Their generosity reveals your great love for me. Thank you."

Standing at the guest-room sink my last evening in Regina, getting ready for our final event, I wondered about those who experience abundant kindness such as I had in the absence of a belief in God.

How do the godless respond to grace? How do secularists absorb and process love?

To me, God is the ultimate host, always busy adding special touches to our lives well before we've arrived - birdsong, mountain streams, and flowers that bring little sparks of life everywhere.

Indeed, countless acts of thoughtfulness happened before we ever entered the room. But how do those who deny God respond?

Imagining those who live without an awareness of God in my place, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming most would be equally warmed, for we all have the capacity to be touched by God whether we recognize it as such.

As humans, I'd also hope they'd be grateful for their good and kind hosts, but would it stop there, with no secondary thought about the source of goodness itself?

It's unreasonable to believe mere chemical reactions are behind the kind of generosity I've experienced in the homes of my hosts, and in the goodness, truth and beauty I see every day.

But the sun shines on the believer and unbeliever alike. Moving about this big, beautiful world, we all have a chance to enjoy the thoughtful gestures of God. And yet lack of recognizing the true giver misplaces our gratitude, makes it incomplete.

As a grateful guest, I concluded that those without God would by default be capable only of being an ungrateful guest, or at best, one half-hearted in appreciation. But let it not end with that.

Humility and gratitude are the first steps toward seeing God. While the vision of some may be blocked by wounds, others are consciously obstinate and prideful. May God in his mercy be gracious to those who overlook his hospitable ways.

I, too, have questioned God's existence, but ultimately, both reason and evidence return my gaze to the creator behind the creation, the goodness behind the good, and God as the ultimate host.

So why worry about those who don't know God?

Because God's love amplifies the good, true and beautiful in the world. Without God, the prism dangles but no light shines through to display the brilliant colors within. Those who know God witness the light and all the accompanying colors.

Our hearts expanded thus, we can't help but desire this amplification of love and color for others.

May those who've witnessed the sun-lit prism be the kind of hosts in God's big home that would lead all eyes to the divine host, so God might find a home in us all.

 

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com.