A few weeks ago, we lost someone who was very dear to many of us here at JustUs.
In times of grief, it’s difficult to know what to do with all of the pain, all of the sadness, all of the questions. Usually there are many more questions than answers.
Alicia visited Rwanda with The Elevation Project in 2010, and she was a devoted supporter ever after. We always talked about travelling there together, dreaming of spending our evenings drinking African tea on the Rwandan hillside. She and I were elated to finally make the trip together last summer with the Elevation Experience team of 2017. I still haven’t stopped talking about what a miracle she was on that trip. The warm, loving presence that she emanated was a magnet for stressed out and hurting kids that just needed some comfort. She saw kids exactly where they were at, saw through all the surface anxiety and frustration, and met them exactly where there were. She soothed all of their complicated problems with such simple solutions.
“Take a deep breath in….and now take a deep breath out. Breathe in…breathe out. When was the last time you ate? When was the last time you drank water? Drink some water.” Easy.
Though she was always stocked up with every kind of remedy a person might need for their complaints, it seemed that just spending some time in her calming presence was the real remedy. When you just needed a rest, she was always there with open arms and a kind word, a safe place to be. She provided a safe place for all of us – for the children and youth she walked with and for her friends whom she loved so incredibly well.
At the end of our two and a half weeks in Rwanda I wrote a blog for our Elevation Experience team. Looking back on these words now, all I can see is how perfectly this describes Alicia:
Our friends at Youth for Christ Rwanda have received us with love and welcomed us like family. Every day they greet us with warm smiles and invite us in to their lives as we work, play, eat, laugh, and dance together. They love us, no questions asked. Despite our faults, despite our darkness, despite our differences. Despite how exhausted and anxious and burdened they may themselves be. Because it’s not about how they’ve built such beautiful new lives that everything is wonderful and that’s why they can now be happy.Life here is still imperfect; it still includes pain; it’s still exhausting; it still can be unjust. They choose love anyway. They choose joy anyway. We have that choice too. Click To Tweet
This is the way Jesus loved, and I think the Rwandans that we have had the privilege of getting to know have done a beautiful job of following his example. My prayer for this team is that they would follow this example as well. That they would realize the smiles that brightened their days here are theirs to pass along to others; that no matter what their lives look like, no matter the chaos, hurt, and loss that comes, it is all part of growth and transformation, and they can choose life within their pain. In times that are easy and times that are hard, they can still offer love and joy to those around them. You can too.
Alicia lived her life like this every day, and she made it look effortless. She knew how to “love anyway” – to show kindness and compassion to absolutely everyone, regardless of circumstance. I don’t even know how it’s possible to have the courage to wake up every day to face the problems of this world and still live the way she did – with endless grace and compassion and love. She was incredible. Losing her is a staggering loss.
The theme among her family and friends, as we have spoken about her in the recent weeks, has been our desire to embody the best of her in our own lives – to carry our favourite parts of Alicia on in her place. For those who didn’t know her, I can tell you that the essence of this is choosing and giving love.
I still have a lot of sadness, and even more questions. All I know is that all we have is now, and the best we have is love. Choose it every day.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all he has made. – Psalm 145: 8-9