I’ve never witnessed so many fireflies in one place, flashing in the dusk as we hiked up the mountain last night, dancing around us with their flickering light. On our way back down, however, we witnessed a gathering so dense that it appeared the milky way was caught in the trees, flashing like tiny paparazzi through the dark night. It was stunning, causing us to linger so we could enjoy creation’s light show. Although we tried to capture the beauty, it was too elusive. We’ll have to carry the memory in our hearts.
Some things shine because light is shining on them while others radiate light from within, illuminating the world around them. Here in Paintsville, Kentucky, seven youth and four adults are experiencing first hand this radiance of creation in the lush beauty around us but even more so in the brilliance of the people we have met. At the top of the mountain, we shared not only Eucharist but also what drew us to come on the mission trip in the first place and what we might take from here into the rest of our lives.
Over and over people named the incredible light we witnessed in the people around us:
Bev, an EMT who is creating a cozy home out of a chicken coop, is resourceful, with an eye for finding scraps that can be repurposed. She is intensely passionate about her children and grandchildren, caring for the latter after her daughter’s death. Wiry and strong, she is invested in making her home livable, working side by side with the team and calling them ‘baby,’ even writing them a lovely note when she couldn’t be there. Her infectious joy spills over even to those of us who haven’t met her.
Karen, a Wendy’s cashier raising her grandchildren together with Larry her beloved husband of 41 years, is so grateful that her kitchen floor no longer has dangerous soft spots—especially after her young grandchild fell through one. Larry has had three back surgeries and needs at least one more, but the more urgent issue this week was his heart—he underwent double bypass surgery on Tuesday and, thankfully, is recovering well. The concern etched in their 19 year old granddaughter’s face, wordlessly conveying the tremendous role these two have in providing a safe haven from absent fathers and a mother’s drug addiction, gave way to relief upon hearing this good news.
And there is Jason, who gave up his ‘dream job’ in Minnesota some ten years ago to live and work alongside the people of Eastern Kentucky. He founded Good Neighbors, Inc., the group who is making possible our work here, to support the working poor while providing groups like ours an unforgettable experience. His joy is contagious.
Like the twinkling lights of the fireflies, I cannot adequately describe the radiance we are experiencing first hand, although I’m guessing it will be visible among us Sunday morning when we share more about of our time here. From an infamous Steak ‘n Shake stop on the drive down to priceless one-liners that crop up through each day to the fun of working hard together and making a real difference in the lives of such beautiful people, we are forging powerful bonds and memories of a lifetime. We are deeply grateful to and for our parish, who have made this incredible adventure possible.
At our baptism, we are given a candle and invited to shine forth as the light of Christ in the world. It is beautiful to behold this little group doing just that. Let your light shine this day and always.
Hope to see you Sunday.