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.

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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?”


God Bless You – And Me, Too!

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I am trying to imagine the scene from a different perspective – as if I were another person across the room watching me as tears splashed on my Kindle and I patted my own head. Makes me giggle to think about it. The chair in the photo above is where I was sitting when it happened.

Towards the end of his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr tells a story from his time in the Philippines, celebrating Sunday Mass in a squatters’ camp. Here is part of his description:

“I don’t know who trained them to do this, but you constantly feel your hand taken by the little Filipino children. They take your hand and put it to their head. They don’t ask you to bless them. They take it from you. It made me weep. For they have their souls yet! They have light, they have hope.”

Sometimes even big things are stealthy enough to sneak in through our heart’s backdoor and catch us unawares. When I read that passage, I was completely undone – sobbing and laughing all at once. I visualized these children in the midst of dire poverty, taking their blessing because it was theirs to take. It opened up a chasm right down the middle of my heart and flooded it with my own tears and longings and regrets and hopes and dreams.

Without thinking (thank goodness), I reached out my own hand, put it on top of my head, and I blessed myself – yep, spoke a big, bold blessing right out loud over my very own person. I said something like this:

Bless you, dear one, for you are forgiven all, and you are loved deeper than you could ever comprehend. You are a daughter of the King – the One who made this entire Universe from scratch. There were times in the past when you were lost in the darkness, but your identity does not lie there. You are named Alyson, which means “truthful one”, and that was no accident. May you love and grow, suffer and create right alongside your father God, who made you uniquely you. May you taste the fullness of His JOY.

I know, I know, I KNOW that I cannot properly love and forgive other humans if I cannot find love and forgiveness for myself. There are battles yet to be fought on that front, but I made some serious headway that night. I have light – and I have hope!

Have you ever had such a moment? If not, I kindly suggest that you give it a try.

I Would Love to Be an Underrated Writer



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I had a swarm of thoughts last night when I could not sleep at 2 a.m. I picked up Richard Rohr’s brilliant work, Everything Belongs, and read this line, “The calculating mind is the opposite of the contemplative mind. The first is thought by the system, the second by the Spirit.” This got me thinking about my potential career as a writer.

In this age of Twitter and Snapchat, a writer’s hope of financial survival, especially when starting out, is all about content creation, connecting, getting people’s attention, and fighting for that 5 seconds of screen time. That entire list is accomplished by our calculating mind. I would take Mr. Rohr’s argument one step farther.

In regards to writing, our calculating mind is not only the opposite of our contemplative mind, it is actively killing it.



When everything I write goes through the filter of content, branding, audience, and success, truth and creativity are often sacrificed.

My friend Len Woods recently referred to Frederick Buechner as one of the most underrated writers of his generation. And I agree! Buechner’s work has had a profound impact on my heart and mind. So, why is he underrated? I believe he is only underrated by our culture at large. It is not many people who want to journey into the difficult realm of deep contemplation. But among the contemplatives who know his work? He is usually on their very short list.

So, why am I writing, reading, thinking and connecting? For broad success? Admittedly, I would love it if my writing could help send my kids to college – I won’t lie; but beyond that, I want to write only what is true and real to me in hopes that it will reach the lives it is intended for. That might be a small number, but what a rich writing life it will be!

So, if someone says of me one day, “She is one of the underrated writers of her generation,” I cannot imagine a bigger compliment. That is a dream worth writing for.