By the way, I learned today that JC Elder likes to dance. A lot. Even on a boat.
But I made a few messes, too.
I've struggled to have healthy relationships for most of my life. Codependency, my own broken places or just plain stupidity; I have chosen poorly on many occasions. And poor choices in relationships create messes and pain.
I have experienced the redemptive grace of God and the beautiful ability of humans to forgive and move forward. I have been blessed more than I deserve. He has made beautiful things out of the dust of my life. I see it; I acknowledge it. I believe it.
But the Caribbean era of my past has had a few loose ends. Frankly, there were some people who needed apologies from me, and several years ago, I made those phone calls. But inside - in that murky place that nobody else every goes - I still carried some darkness. Regret nibbled at the corners of the new creation, the clean heart, the redeemed soul.
It's not been a stretch for me to experience this trip as a return. It is a different island, but so much - so much - appears the same to me. I hear the Spanish, read the traffic signs, nod my head to the music, eat the empanadas and tostones; and everything feels and tastes and looks and sounds the same. All day long I fought to keep my mouth closed, because I wanted to keep a running dialogue going as I remembered things and events and people and food and three years of life experiences. I wanted to tell somebody all this, and every sentence began, "When I lived in the DR, I..."
But I did keep my mouth closed, out of respect to the folks who wouldn't want to hear my ongoing monologue, and because I knew that this was personal. Private. About more than the stories of what was.
I began the day in San Juan with this:
The heavens praise your wonders, Lord, your faithfulness too...For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?... Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them...The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south...Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. Psalm 89 (excerpts) NIVWe left San Juan, climbed into our six mini-vans and made the 35 mile journey from San Juan, at the north of the island, to Ponce, on the southern side. It was beautiful - mountainous, green, lush, gorgeous. As we crested a hill, the Caribbean ocean spread out before us. Whoa.
We ate at the mall (quite American) because it was quick and convenient (remember: there are 36 of us. Seating us is not convenient for any restaurant.) We journeyed to Paraguera, a bustling little village west of Ponce, and we got ready for the day's team-building / acclimation activity - snorkling! Two boats took us out to a reef about 20 minutes from the coastline, and all of us PLUS another World Changers team from Florida jumped in the water and spent an hour snorkeling.
It was good - not the exquisitely amazing bright coral colors you sometimes hear about, but beautiful nonetheless. Swimming alongside somebody who's never done anything similar is pretty fun, and there were a lot of novices there today. We held sea urchins, took deep breaths and dove deeply, took underwater pictures and overall, had an amazing time.
And so...one of my Dominican experiences two decades ago was becoming PADI certified as a scuba diver. I remember the awe and wonder of sitting on the ocean floor, watching fish and eels and all sorts of incredible images filter in and out of my line of sight. I loved diving because everything was quiet. Nothing but the sound of your own breath, an occasional bubble, and then a feast for the eyes. Today was different - but the sound was the same. The rhythm of my own breathing, my eyes focused below me, and beautiful living things to see. It is impossible to remain without amazement or uninspired by the creativity of what lives below the waterline.
Something about that experience resonated in me, deeply. We were in a huge herd of swimmers, but I was alone, and I felt like I was with God. It was a reminder of his creation, of his constant presence, of the solid, stability of life. Much has changed in 23 years; but what's under the ocean is still a delightful garden of beauty, swaying with the current. I swam close to the boat as we came in and whispered "Thank you thank you thank you." I praised his wonders and his faithfulness along with the heavens, and I felt so very close to him.
We came back to shore and gladly welcomed the homemade empanadas served by our hosts. Delicioso! Part two of our day began shortly thereafter, as the sun set and darkness settled over the water. Very little moonlight shone as we set out across the water again. A 20-minute ride led us to a quiet lagoon; as we dropped anchor and turned out the lights, our guide explained that there are 12 bioluminenscent bays in the world; three are in Puerto Rico. The unique conditions of the bay, the water temperature and the currents cause a particular algae to thrive; one that is luminescent when put into motion. One by one, we started slipping into the water under the very thin sliver of moon - perfect conditions for seeing the light. Voices exclaimed, "Oh, man! Can you see it?" "Oh my gosh! Look!" "It's awesome!" "Look at me - I'm glowing!"
It was, absolutely, one of the most magical experiences of my life. Move your arms in the water and little sparkles of light decorate your skin, like waving through a gathering of 20 or 30 fireflies. Swirl your legs below you and you literally glow, a hazy white light surrounding you.
It doesn't last long - the brightness is brief, but it's there every time you move. We splashed water on our faces and laughed. The boys dared one another to pee as forcefully as possible to see if it would light up (I don't think that really worked...) Every movement sparkled. It never got old; it was amazing every time. I thought, "Really, God?"
What a brilliant creation.
I wiggled my fingers in front of me and could not stop smiling. And then something amazing happened; some dots got connected, something cracked open inside of me, and the amazing power of grace and mercies-new-every-morning washed over me.
This I had never experience. This was a new thing. I saw myself in a whole new way, my skin decorated with organic lights, some bizarre creation of God that lives in limited quantity, in specific conditions. The light filled the water and I swam in it.
I couldn't stop smiling.
We crawled in the boat and headed back, all of us filled with some sort of indescribable joy. And this thought came to my head as my eyes filled with tears:
An ocean that glowed, alive with light, washed me clean tonight. Cleansed from the regret that I have carried, reminding me that all of me - ALL of me - is forgiven and redeemed. The same southern Caribbean waters of my old life brought new life.
Brian once served us communion with these words: You are not who you used to be.
Tonight, God washed me clean in the miracle of water that glowed, and he reminded me: You are not who you used to be.
I am a person who has learned to acclaim the Lord, to walk (and swim!) in the very creative light of his presence. I rejoice in his name all day long; I celebrate his righteousness.