When I was in Africa two years ago... there was this cold night in November that I still remember as clearly as if it were yesterday. It was the kind of cold that is completely chilling, where nomatter how many blankets you have or layers you wear, that deep mountain cold still sinks into your skin and makes you shudder. I was sitting outside of my hut crying... looking up at the vastness of the sky... that endless African sky. The stars were brighter than I'd ever seen them. I remember that night so clearly for many reasons. I remember when she came silently and sat beside me. I remember her words and her voice and her arms. I remember her eyes and how deep they became when she told me that she understood. Her words that night, healed my heart. Her willingness to come and sit beside me under the blanket of cold and beauty of African stars changed me. Two months before that moment she had been a total stranger. We lived an airplane ride away. We led completely different lives. But not there, not in the Kibera slum. There we lived a bunk away. We taught in the same one room schoolhouse. We were broken by the same people and moved by the same resiliance. Our lives there were bigger than we ever imagined they could be. And she doesn't know it, but I think the most profound thing she did her entire time there... was sit beside me and tell me her story. She told me about walking through the Valley and how for days it felt like she wasn't going to survive her pain. She told me how deeply her heart hurt and how she never thought she'd ever be the same. She wasn't the same. The valley changed her. It made her able to easily reach into the depths of the hearts of other with her ease and her smile. It made her real. She laughed more than anyone I've ever met... and she made people laugh so hard they cried. She was comfortable in her own skin and had this unique way of making those around her feel like they could be too. She had a faith and a belief deep and stong and genuine enough to put most to shame. And in her there was no hint of legalism or judgement. She taught me it's okay if not everybody likes you. She put people in color categorys like green, blue, red, and yellow and however those colors made her feel well, whoever made her feel that way was that color. She told me I was pink... and that normally she didn't like pink... but that she very sincerely liked me. She was memorable not because of her thick Southern accent, or the fact that she snorted when she laughed or even because she was all that special... but because I could see the frank sincerity of Jesus in her unlike anyone I'd ever met. There was a sweet simplicity in her faith that, at that point in my life... I'd lost. And she reminded me that sometimes all you have to pray is "Jesus... heal my heart." or "God... this really hurts." She wrote me a letter (and in it told me she didn't write letters so I should feel honored) I still have that letter. And every time I read it, it makes me smile. I've grown much since the last time I saw her. I've changed. And she helped start that by showing me that it's okay to just be who you are even if people don't always like it. It's okay to like being a "pink". It's okay to embrace things about the way God made you rather than always wishing you could be different. She changed my perspective. And that was a priceless gift.
Her name was Blake. And today as I prepare for my last few days at Grace Refuge (more to come on that) I am reminded at how blessed I have been to have many like her in my life. Those who have sat beside me and given me the most precious pieces of themselves... their stories. Those who have lived life alongside me and known my ugliest self and liked me anyway. Those who have made me laugh but cried when I cried. Those who have forgiven me when I've wronged them and loved me with a love that holds no conditions.
Today I talked to my best friend Lauren... who is a continent away at the moment (which one of us has been for most of our friendship) and I had five precious minutes with her. And even in those five minutes she reminded me why she is my best friend. She's not afraid of the big stuff. She's not afriad of tears. She's not afraid to say the wrong thing. And she's not afraid to love someone like me.
There are many like these two. Many like Blake and Lauren. And I'm so thankful to have people like them to walk with... to share life with.
Margy and I have stood side by side for the this past season of my life... raising kids and finding beauty amidst the mundane. She has taught me more than she will ever know and forgiven me more than I deserve. And as I think about leaving this place... my eyes fill with tears. And then I remember Africa... and how hard I cried the day I left. And I remember that there are seasons of our lives for a reason. Places we need to be for a little while so we can embrace a part of the heart of God that maybe we didn't know before. And my, have I seen His heart here. And my, am I grateful that once again he will show himself in this next season.
So thank you... Blake, Lauren, Margy.... and all of you who have shown me what it is to love Jesus with all your heart and yet be completely real, flawed, and authentic in the process.