Friday, April 25, 2014

Beauty and Affliction

"But two things pierce the human soul," wrote Simone Weil, "beauty and affliction."

Sweet friends at Anna's
The words of the Christian mystic ring especially true in Nassau, where we experience such humbling beauty and such immense pain--all in concentrated time and space. Our hearts are pricked, and we are not the same again.

Having just returned from the second annual April edition of the Nassau trip, my heart is full and also achy this morning. It gets harder to leave that place each time. And although I'm so proud of our little team and what we accomplished in only three full days on the worksite, the time flew by too quickly. I find myself wishing that today could be another day for piggyback rides and plaiting hair and sharing our peanut butter.

All of life to me is generally a bold and joy-filled adventure, with the difficult stuff inspiring as much wonder as the fun. But there's something about returning from Nassau that makes the breakneck pace of my cushy Connecticut life feel a little numb--and after this trip especially, in which the company was so sweet, the work so satisfying, and the experiences so rich with meaning.
The best little team--what a privilege to serve alongside these three!
(Photo creds to our dear friend Mindy Seeley at the ALC.)
The Project
It was a joyful encounter with God this past week to watch my three teammates create.  In their own unique ways, they are each desperately creative: Kim with her big ideas and her paint, Steve with his words (which I know are always taking shape in his head, even when he's not putting pen to paper), and Jon from behind the lens of his camera.

In a place that is characterized by rubble and trash, I am inspired by the way God has been inviting us to image forth His creative presence: first with Will's garden project last year, and now with Kim's project to invite the kids to help paint the classrooms at Carmichael Church.  As our relationships in the Carmichael neighborhood continue to blossom and flourish through the years, I pray that these creative marks left on their places will shape and empower the community.  Love creates, and creativity inspires courage.  Such is our ongoing calling in Nassau, I'm learning.

My girl Kiddi washing up.

Watching excited Haitian kids sponge paint flowers on the walls of their now canary-yellow Sunday school classroom, so giddy to participate in this work, to leave their imprint on a building where the entire community gathers, my heart could have burst.  We say with God that it is good (Genesis 1:24).

The All-Saints Visit
There were so many sweet moments with the team this past week, but one I will never forget is our brief visit to the All Saints Camp. I had not been back since Ms. Moxey's passing more than a year ago. I avoided a visit last April, and was ashamed at my relief when it wasn't feasible for me to go with the students this past July. It felt scary and hard to return to this place that I love, having lost our matriarch.

But as I prepared for last week's trip, I had the feeling that maybe it was time. And how appropriately timed with Easter because Ms. Moxey lived the resurrection life more fully than anyone I have ever known. True to her nickname, which means "force of character or determination," her contagious joy, reckless love for others, and inexplicable courage displayed the presence of God with her. Tim Keller writes, "The difference between knowing Christ and knowing the power of his resurrection is the difference between knowing a person and resembling a person." Ms. Moxey not only knew but closely resembled Jesus.  And as Keller goes on to say, "Death actually moves this process on to perfection." Standing at her memorial, thinking of her influence and the power of Christ in her, a flood of emotion washed over my aching heart.

I'm forever grateful to these three compassionate souls for their grace in going with me on that first dreaded pilgrimage back, and for giving me a few tearful moments to revel in the tension of pain and beauty, the longing for Ms. Moxey in this life and the joy at knowing she is with our Lord forever. Thank you, friends!

The Sunrise
Earlier that same morning we had one of the most transcendent experiences I can remember, a stolen sunrise on Cabbage Beach that sums up the trip for me. We awoke at 5:00 a.m., eager to make the most of our last few hours on the island and jealous for one last glimpse of sun and sea. In the foggy stillness of those last minutes before first light, we made our way ungraciously to Paradise Island, racing the clock to find the perfect spot.

Cloud cover made the sunrise slow in coming. So after Jon shot the first blushed hues, we all got in the water to watch the rays unfurl their magic.

Just thinking about it still takes my breath away: The peaceful calm of the deserted beach. The perfect chill of the water and the subtle fierceness of its enveloping waves. The clouds becoming pinker and more saturated with each untainted moment. The quiet conversation about Jesus and life and beauty. And finally, the magnificent tangerine sun coming up giant and full, so compelling we couldn't take our eyes away. It was all so beautiful, it made my heart hurt.

With calm, easy strokes, our two bold swimmers made their way back to the beach to snap some photos and then out to us again in the water, laughing and carefree.  As I watched Kim and Stephen swim in the glow of that sparkling light, I couldn't help but think of the limitless possibility their young lives hold. Their college choices may still be uncertain--but they will change the world, those two. Kim with her diligence and organization and her ability to make plans come together so effortlessly. And Stephen, like his namesake the martyr, with his inspiring words and boldness to speak about God's goodness.  I'm so proud of them and so thankful for the ways in which their hearts have been pierced for the things of God: His creation, His people, His beauty, His participation in suffering.

Fortunately for us, and for our Haitian friends with all their suffering and all their joy, the sunrise reminds us: "His mercies are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!" (Lamentations 3:23).

We do not want merely to see beauty... we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. 
- C.S. Lewis

Our good friend and member of the ALC family, Kevin, was a godsend to us! He also painted the dove on the wall.