Beauty Balm


With Krista Wallace, on the drive back from Big Blue Trail, CO, following our 13 mile hike.

There are 2 significant things I have been learning this year – presence and expectancy. I have my continuing struggles and frustrating patterns, but I have come to expect God to meet me in the middle of them. I expect him to work on me and show me things, and I, in turn, try to be agreeable to the process. The “work” I have been called to when it comes to my own healing and growth can be hard at times, but there is a part of it that consistently brings me immense joy. That is the work of paying attention.

Richard Rohr draws a wise connection to these words from the gifted photographer, Ansel Adams, who said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Rohr continues the train of thought, “So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months, and years of “fear and trembling.”” –Breathing Under Water

I was struck to the core by all of this – It wipes away every bit of the shame of struggle. In fact, it is the struggle itself that allows grace to do its best work!

I have taken some lovely photos the past couple of years. Someone asked me recently, “Why do all of the beautiful things find you?” I was a little taken aback, and as I glanced over my photos, I thought for a moment that there was some truth to it. But I quickly realized that’s not really the way it works.

I am astonished at times when beauty finds me, but it is easier for beauty to find me when I pay attention to the urging to get up at 4:30 in the morning, climb out of bed at 2 a.m. to see the stars, listen to the birds and educate myself on their migratory patterns, work on a writing or editing project till 10 p.m. instead of watching T.V. so that I can spend the next morning at the state park, or sacrifice a little physical comfort.

“Softest of mornings, hello. And what will you do today, I wonder, to my heart?” ~Mary Oliver, Devotions

None of these “sacrifices” guarantee that I will find beauty, but I sure give myself a better chance. In all of the photos in the slide show below, I gave up something to get them – I got up early, stayed up late, stood still for a long time, turned off the TV, hiked a long way, got hot, got cold… something kind of hard, or really hard. I did nothing to make the scene beautiful, but I was willing to put myself out there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sometimes working with God means I wake up early, read challenging books, step into tough but necessary conversations, place myself among people who are not like me, vulnerably confess my struggles to a friend, or say I’m sorry, frightened or hurt. None of these things is guaranteed to make me beautiful, but all of these things, in cooperation with a caring God, give beauty a fighting chance.

Job 12:7-12 The Message (MSG)

7-12 “But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?”


Enjoy is An Action Verb

Make your life enjoyable.  Out of all the words spoken at my son’s commencement speeches, these are the ones that stuck. I wanted to stop it all for a minute in hopes that those words would soak into the hearts of the graduates a little deeper than all the noise about success and grit and the like.

The smart and wise young speaker, Jordan Griffin, alluded to finding this enjoyment in relationships, work, learning, & play. When he got to that specific line, the J-O-Y in the middle of that word jumped out. It occurred to me that this is our difficult calling – to enjoy this life in its moment-by-moment entirety. Finding JOY is a choice.

“Enjoy” is derived from the Latin word “occupo” – the same root that gives us grasp, seize, take hold of. Enjoyment when seen through this lens is far from the passive, just-happens-to-us, stumbled-upon thing we make of it. It is something we choose and seek and start, something we can lose, something we must find again.

How do I do this in the repetitive circumstances of my ordinary days? Do I cherish the meal that was shared and hope to share another one tomorrow as I rinse the dinner dishes? Do I contemplate the new birdsong I heard on my walk as I fold the socks that I wore on the path?  Can I notice the multiple shades of green in the grass I mow, or rest in the occasional pauses, appreciating the quiet and comfort held in my breath?

For if I can habitually find enjoyment in these cyclical and routine happenings, find meaning in what I am tempted to call tiresome or mundane, how much easier would it be to treasure the moments of lying close to my husband, of laughing with my kids, petting my dogs, filling my bird feeder while the cardinals chirp their thanks above my head, or chatting with the marvelously singular people in line with me at the grocery? Maybe I will marvel at the unique hazel sparkle of my daughter’s eyes when I wipe her tears, or dream of what her passion might accomplish when she slams the door in my face.

Enjoyment is not forced on us, or handed to us. It does not scream out from the kitchen broom or computer keyboard. It does not separate itself from the pain of loss or the shame of mistakes, but it there all the same. It is waiting to be sought, pried out, noticed, and accepted. It is under my fingertips as I type these words – it is the sensuous feel of tapping lightly on my thoughtfully designed Mac keyboard; it is the surprise at the words that tumble out of my often-wandering and spaced-out brain.

This I know for sure: the only way I will seek joy in the midst of life’s tumultuous tragedies is if seeking it has become second nature to me when the seas are calm.

I make my life enjoyable by fully occupying the space and the time I am in right now, by fully occupying and appreciating the body that holds me there, and by connecting as deeply and kindly as possible with the lives I intersect. Awake, my soul, and enjoy!