When the Sun Goes Down

This is beautiful:

When the sun goes below the horizon he is not set; the heavens glow for a full hour after his departure. And when a great and good man sets, the sky of this world is luminous long after he is out of sight. Such a man cannot die out of this world. When he goes he leaves behind him much of himself. Being dead, he speaks.”

– Lyman Beecher

Last night, I sat with four tired young men, watched the sky softly fade from blue to a pinkish purple to a drab gray and thought about how my life has changed in the past year or two. If anyone had asked a couple years ago, as I sat on the porch of a huge rambling house in upstate New York, where I would be on May 31, 2006, I never would have guessed that I would be hanging out with a group of ragamuffin boys at a home in North Carolina. I would have never ventured to say that I would be spending my evenings scratching up my legs playing "capture the flag" in the woods or thrown into awkward conversations about girls and kissing and whether or not girls like guys with facial hair.

The past year and a half has found me in unchartered territory. I emerge from this journey with scars and scrapes and many lessons learned. In the past 16 months I moved 12 hours away from everyone and everything familiar to me.

I learned to find joy in little things like children falling asleep in my lap while watching a movie, and I learned the pain of watching a little person hurt and not being able to do anything to stop the crying.

I experienced the privilege of learning of someone’s need for something as simple as diapers for her newborn baby and having the means with which to meet it.

I grew strong from shouldering the weight of a struggling ministry as it tumbled and staggered beneath the crashing waves of hypocrisy and pride. I found humility and refreshment in being broken so that God could shape me into a newer and better vessel for His use.

I discovered the incredible richness of sharing conversations with strangers and establishing bonds and ties that will live forever in my heart. I felt my heart come alive again as I stood on a desolate beach and shared with my Creator the magic of a sun rising over the ocean.

I allowed myself to be wooed and romanced as I wandered night after night beneath a starlit sky and listened to the cicadas’ rhythmic refrains. I crossed paths with a kindred soul and found the journey even more beautiful as I walked alongside him, sharing the beauty and awe and glory of the miracle of this life.

I moved again, this time three hours away from a few familiar friends. I found family in complete strangers. I learned to find joy in little things like pillow fights and awkward hugs from teenage boys. I witnessed the radiance of true love as I watched a frail man faithfully sit beside his beautifully aging wife with a sparkle in his eyes and a selflessness that caused me to feel shame.

I experienced anew what it meant to share others’ pain, as God revealed others’ deep wounds to me and somehow used me to bring healing. I felt joyful exhaustion from working from sunrise to midnight, energized in the knowledge that I was finally doing something that was touching the futures of others.

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I taught myself to be strong after having learned the secret of being weak. I learned to embrace painful moments with a joyful heart. I rediscovered how beautiful and precious I am to the One that knows me better than any other.

I moved again, into a neighborhood that felt like home the first time I entered it. I clambered over cultural barriers to build clumsy relationships with precious souls who bring a smile to my heart.

I finally learned what it is to really love another person and expect nothing in return and the searing pain and indescribable joy that come with that process.

I realized that a day is never long enough for me to do all that is in my heart, and that I never want it to be …

As I approach another year of my life, I do so with an expectant heart. I’m not sure how this coming year could top this past year, but I am excited to see what lies ahead. That night, although the sun had already "set" in the dark sky, those colors lingered as a reminder of all that the day held. This is what I long for my life to be—I long for the colors of my life to linger in the minds of other people. As I leave behind one day or one place or one person, I want some part of me to remain there, living on in some way … and I want that piece that stays to be full of beauty, love, wonder, awe and God.

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