[As 2016 begins, I want to honour a girl who got me through 2015. Micah Madsen is one of those people who you hear about for years and when you finally meet you are fast friends, despite soon-to-come distance. After a year or more of long emails, she is one of my closest friends. Raw, creative, and brilliant, she has drawn out stories, rawness, and creativity in me that I didn’t know I had. The result is this excerpt (yes, really, it’s only an excerpt) from an email to her, while I was on outreach in Amsterdam and she in Togo. This one’s for you, Micah.]
The wind tonight is brutal, rain just spattering the windows. It’s probably dipping down to 7C about now, and the dark figures walking towards Centraal Station have their heads down and posture stooped. Tram lights reflect the wet roads, canals ripple restlessly… and I’m here, in a summer dress and tights with a hole in the toe– cheeks flushed from windburn or heat. I’m here, with my laptop balanced on my thighs, I’m here, listening to my iTunes playlist “Writing” which includes the likes of The Middle East, Branches, Tom Rosenthal, Coldplay, Regina Spektor and friends.
I’m here, Micah. Oh I’m here. How do I start this?
Today, I went to the Rijksmuseum– basically a castle with art and suits of armour and tiny miniatures that made me clasp my hands in front of me and cry, “Awww!”. (I die with miniatures, I just love them– dollhouses, and so on). I got stopped in my tracks by a Monet painting and was tempted to take a selfie with Van Gogh’s own selfie. (I didn’t have my phone, and taking selfies with my Nikon is near impossible).
Today, I continued on to the Van Gogh Museum. I sat underneath a staircase in one of those classic European gardens with hedges, hiding from the wind and ate my sandwiches, then waited in line for at least half an hour (I almost didn’t go through with it).
And I was lonely, Micah, oh how I was lonely. I was sick of the European cloud, I craved the Australian or Kiwi or Hawaiian sunshine, I was incredibly homesick, waiting in line, even though, what the heck, I’m going to be on an airplane home in exactly one week. Then I started counting people until it was my turn, and before I knew it, I was there, I was almost crying at the beauty of oil paintings I’d only seen in a book or on a computer screen.
Oh, things are so much better in real life, aren’t they?
Today, as I studied the paintings in the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh… this is what struck me. Almost a prayer, almost a conversation with God, almost a passing comment to myself:
It’s the contrast that makes them.
I looked at the paintings and the ones that grabbed me, pulled me in with their vivid colour reality– it was where white and black, or sunshine and grape so vividly contrasted right next to each other. When I paint, I think everything has to blend, it has to flow together nicely. But that’s not what grabs us, and that’s not real life. When sunshine comes through a window, the shadows aren’t blended all nicely with the wall and floor. No, what makes it beautiful is the chessboard pattern only made possible by contrasting colours.
And it’s like a passing Facebook message from one of my best friends from university. It’s amazing how God sometimes brings our greatest highs and lows at the same time. I remembered that. I thought of my DTS… and the deep pain, but also the effervescent joy… the belonging, the home, the heartbreak, the healing. In this painting of life– do I want just sunshine flooding the whole canvas? No.
I want light, but I want to remember that the contrast makes it all the more beautiful.
(Dang. This will probably have to be a blog post at some point haha. But for now, I only have the energy to write to you. So I’ll continue.)
Today, I bundled up with my red wool scarf, beige-and-black trench coat, and red beanie… and took the half-an-hour walk home. I wanted life to make some sort of sense, I wanted to enjoy this evening in Amsterdam, the streets lit up with Christmas lights and expectant faces of tourists. But I still wanted to get home already.
Home. How can I be pounding through the beautiful cold of Europe… and still want to be Australia? I know I’ll miss this. I know I’ll miss this. So why am I even here, why did I come to Amsterdam? And I was a mess of emotions, Micah, I can’t even explain it. But I remembered my teammates’ conversation last night… “What if this isn’t a lesson?” and Jesus whispering to me…
What if this is about your heart?
I thought of the canal houses crammed together, I thought of the art breaking my heart in the best way possible, I thought of the Sherlocked sign that reminded me I really did want to finish Seasons 2-3 (and oh gosh I have a crush on Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock). I thought of the many, many tears here… yes, ministry has been lovely here– but not like Cambodia-life-changing as those days were for me, yes I have been scared to talk to people, yes I have shared the gospel, yes I painted a picture of Psalm 23 for a homeless Romanian lady.
But when I think of my time here– Micah, my DTS outreach feels like my own hospital bed. And I’m just about off the IV. Or… you’d know the right medical words. I had a heart attack… surgery… healing time… and my heart’s beating again… I’m sitting up… remembering how to walk. And the little girl who grew up in Hawaii dreaming of Europe and a world where art and literature is honoured… she’s being healed, honoured, loved.
What if this is about your heart?
The rain drops are now splattering the window like a frost, with an orange tint from the outside street light. It’s ugly out there, the worst wind I’ve seen it… small black figures are running to Centraal Station. Woah, I haven’t ever seen it this bad. I’m kinda thrilled, haha.
It’s the contrast that makes the painting beautiful, right?
So, embrace it all as it conflicts: exhausted, full, grieving, homesick, happy… and whatever gets added to your list. Mmm, yes, add awkward… I like it. Because it’s real and raw and messy.
I love hearing your stories, Micah, so keep sending as much as you like. I’m here.
Lots of love,
[I love hearing new stories, too– my email inbox is always open.]
Photos: The view out our window at sunset and the Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2015.