The second day of our program we were asked to construct and share a road map of our lives.  This was the first of many times that the fellows heard me say, “I’m not good at art.  I’m not creative.  I over-analyze my creation to the point where my intended expression never gets conveyed.”  And this negative, overly-critical comment played out in my design.  The map was messy, unoriginal, and incomplete.  And so was the content.  I focused on superficial past accomplishments, the circumstances surrounding my criminal history, and my inability to find employment or move on with my life. 

But I’ve come to realize that art is messy.  And so is life.  Through this year of service I’ve learned to appreciate both the splendor and mess of life and the product of art that flows from it.  The type of splendor displayed in paintings at Hammonds House and the glory expressed through songs performed at the annual Morehouse/Spelman Christmas Concert.  The grandeur of creation witnessed while kayaking down the Ogeechee River or hiking up the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Conversely, the beauty found in culture and nature during my year of service could also be found at the community dinners at work (also known as staff meetings), phone calls from potential clients lamenting their despair, emails detailing how our work at GJP led to an offer of employment or approval of an application for housing, and the efforts of supporters from around the state empowered to storm the State Capitol on Lobby Day in hopes of changing legislation for the good of others similarly situated.  The same messy brushstrokes that led to sacrificing a snow day to help a stranger find a warm bed for the night proved to be as impactful to my life as observing and connecting with the exhibitions of love and conviction of generations before at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.  From pushup pacts to rice-based meals and evening prayer, frisbee at Four Corners to Fridays with our cloud of witnesses, art was lived through my daily experiences. 

Paul wrote in Chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into his grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” 

I encourage you all to accept the peace given to you by God.  The awareness of this peace has allowed me the patience and understanding needed to take risks; knowing that all things work for my good.  Additionally, I admonish you to rejoice in your sufferings.  Through reflections over the past year, I acknowledge the endurance that has come from being raised by a single mother with limited resources; the skills honed from moving around the country as a child, forcing me to adapt to new customs and build and invest in new relationships; the fortitude garnered from resolving issues like having your car being broken into within the first 24 hours of your college tenure; or the resilience procured from working 3 jobs as a 22 year old undergrad with a newborn.  These sufferings produced much endurance.  And this endurance has shaped my character.  The type of character that finds satisfaction in serving hundreds of persons in need during the All Saints Day Requiem.  Or the honor that comes from taking a respite from the busyness of life to listen to a stranger share their story and have their existence affirmed.  This character has produced hope; hope that my talents and passions will serve and enrich the lives of every community encountered.  The hope that my sufferings and joys are preparing me to guide and stand by others as they suffer while being a fount of joy as they grow. 

This is the art that I’m good at.  Life…  And I pray that you, too, are open to sharing your sufferings and joy with others as we all work toward this common, wonderful masterpiece called life.