Friday, August 15, 2008
Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." (John 13: 7)
When I left Baltimore, Maryland for Gulfport, Mississippi nearly two years ago, I knew I was in for an adventure, but I had no idea what that really meant.
I thought I was going to go help some hurting people. I had no idea that hurting people could help me so much. And I had no idea that I could hurt people so much.
I thought I'd be able to make a difference and help repair some homes. I had no idea that I'd be welcomed into people's families just for showing up, regardless of whether I got anything done to help rebuild their "house".
I thought I'd do a little case management and make sure no one slipped through the cracks. I had no idea how big the cracks were, and that I'd allow some of my neighbors to slip.
I thought I was going to learn about faith, living in an intentional christian community with 5 strangers. I had no idea that my home church would teach me so much about faith and support and love from more than 1000 miles away.
I thought I might eat some fun things. I had no idea I'd become addicted to hot sauce and sweet tea.
I thought I might make some new friends. I had no idea I'd build a second family.
I thought I was going for 10 months. I had no idea I'd be there for almost 2 years.
I thought I'd gain some insight and direction into my future path. I had no idea I'd leave more lost/open to the mystery of what I'll be called to do next.
I thought I'd figure out how to re-open my heart after the loss of my sister, and the near loss of my faith that followed. I had no idea that I'd learn that my heart's journey is really a forever process, and how seemingly everyone else I meet is in it with me, in a way, recovering from their own loss of hope.
I thought I'd pick up some new skills. I had no idea that would include driving a forklift, drywall finishing, pulling electrical wire, mastering trailer septic maintenance, and creative ways to use a palate or two of expiring peanut butter.
In two years in Mississippi I have been more sure of God's presence among us, and more unsure of God's presence in my daily life, at any given moment. I have laughed more and cried more than ever before. I have seen the absolute best and worst of some church people, some homeless friends, and some perfect strangers, as well as of myself. And along the way, I hope I was able to help out a few neighbors in need, even if just a bit.
Just before I moved away, one of my peers (another who'd moved to the Coast post-Katrina to help out) sat and chatted with me for a few hours. He asked me what was the biggest lesson I'd learned during my time on the Coast. I said that my eyes had been re-opened to a colorful, messy world. I'm embarrassed to say that when I get stressed, I shut down my color-vision and choose to the see the world in black and white; right and wrong. To me, that means you are either a good person or a bad one. Agencies are either doing things right or they are wrong. People are either worthy of my friendship and love or they are not.
That is ridiculous. I know that. But I keep slipping back into it. My black and white structured world helps me cope with the confusion, loss, questions, doubt, unknown, that we face every day. The key being, if you live in a black and white world, you never have to forgive anyone: the people who've wronged you, a neighbor who didn't offer to help, a church member who lied, a politician who cheated, that dog who chewed your favorite sweater, agencies who didn't follow through on their promises, the government who stood by watching idly, a God who allowed a whole Coast of people to get wiped out, or even (gulp) yourself. When you live in a black and white world, like I do much of the time, you get to stay angry and righteous because people are just wrong! You never let go of that grudge against the bad folk/system/creator.
What I re-learned over these two years, is that we are all called to live in the mess that is the spectrum of gray. We are all hurting and angry and frustrated. None of us can live up to the standards we set for ourselves or for each other. Setting black and white standards of right and wrong in order to provide structure (and room for judgement) is not our job. Our job is to love. To love regardless of right or wrong, of merit or effort.
I am amazed at how many chances I've been given to love people over the past two years. There were plenty of times I came through on that call, and plenty of times when I failed. I live in the grey. We all do. And I think the beauty of the gray is that we're not alone there. God is with us, calling us to stay in the grey and to keep trying. And somehow, with God's grace and love the gray world is turned to color for me- full of His light, and His joy, and His peace, and His love.
I'm going to attempt to carry this perspective with me as I go on to new adventures in new places...adventures and places still very unknown to me. I'm also going to try to bring along some sweet tea.
To all of you who have loved me in the midst of all my gray over the past two years:
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I love you and all the color you bring to my life, always!