When Beauty Is Right There


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We walked into the barn, straw beneath our feet, cool dampness in the air.

The heat was held back outside, behind the thick, whitewashed walls.

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The stalls stood empty, long since vacated by the cows that had once made this place their home. Cobwebs stretched wide across the windows and walls, remnants of a life and living tucked safely into yesterdays.

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I pointed the camera again and again, searching for the beauty beneath the layers of dust and webs.

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But with each click, each image saved, the beauty wasn’t hidden.

It was there. In the dirt. In the shadows. In the empty echo of a cat’s cry.

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In the forgotten tag, the cracked walls.

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Waiting – for eyes to stop,

eyes to see,

eyes to behold.

It’s always there. Always waiting.

Food for the joyless soul – the hungry soul – aching for more grace.

Tears & Thankfulness.

Everything happens in the bathtub for me. Prayers. Weeping. Revelations. I seep into the bathwater, as hot as my body will allow it and I let the water absorb whatever it is that needs to be let go. I write my words as I stare at the shower tiles and I contemplate life and meaning as my body is washed clean.

Last night was no different. I sank into the water and let my tears mix with hot water and my breathing became shallow. Prayers were whispered into the silence. Shaking shoulders as sorrow entered out of me and into the empty air around me.

I’ve been making thankful lists lately. I’ve been finding joy, so long elusive, as I’ve practiced the discipline of thankfulness. It’s always easy to be thankful when things are going well. It’s easy to find gratitude in the beauty of two birds singing hello to you. It’s easy to find gratitude in a warm bed and a fluffy duvet.

But when tears are falling, not so much. But maybe it’s then that we need it the most.

And as tears fell into the bathwater, and life shifted and changed so that it looked a little differently than it did just an hour before, there was the question.

Would you find gratitude even in the midst of tears?

I stared at the white tiles, watching them reflect me back. Still the question remained.

Would you?

And I did. I bent over, letting tears flow into the bathwater even harder and the gratitude broke me even more. But maybe that’s what thankfulness does. Maybe that’s what broken hearts are for. Maybe the cracks let in the joy, and let in the light, if only we are willing to be broken in order to be healed. If only we are willing to whisper thanks even in the midst of tears.

Let Me Tell You a Story

I’m going to tell you a story.

Sit tight. Pull up a cozy chair. Curl your hands around a warm cup of coffee.

It was a reserve up in Northern Canada, with 1300 Native Canadians calling it home. Alcoholism was rampant; there was only one way in and one way out, and that was by bush plane. The reserve was about the size of two football stadiums, and each night as people wandered the streets, back and forth, they would toss pebbles onto the tin roof. With a ping they would trickle down the roof and back to the ground below.

A man named Carter Conlon, a pastor in New York City, was called. The men on the other end of the line begged him to come – although they only had enough money to pay for his flights. They asked him to minister here, to speak light into a town filled with darkness.

So he went. And he found himself in his small room, unable to shower – for there was one shower for all of the community – and with a basin filled with murky brown water to wash his face. A bowl sat in the corner for him to use as a toilet.

I don’t know what you would do in that situation. I’d mostly recoil. I’d inspect the mattress and sit in the middle of it, acutely listening for sounds of rodents underneath the bed. I might tear up at the unsanitary water and be appalled that I had put myself in such a situation.

But Mr. Conlon didn’t. Instead, he got down on his knees by the side of his bed and prayed. His prayer, a simple few words, stuns me every time I hear them.

“Lord. Thank you for seeing something in me to bring me to this place.”

Those words always rock me. 

I listen to this sermon that tells this story every season I am in the pit of depression. He talks about what deliverance looks like, and how to understand why God doesn’t always rescue as we hope He will. And he finishes with this story to remind us of one thing.

To thank Him.

To thank God that even in our pit of despair, He has seen something in me to allow me to find myself in this place.

It’s desperately hard. I wish I wasn’t in this place. And I know that God doesn’t desire that either, for He desires not to harm us but to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11).

But He’s seen something in me to walk alongside me through this place. He will always, always, always be glorified in each place we are in. The darkness of depression is no different.

And so every time I hear that story, with quivering lips and tear stained cheeks I whisper my thanks. I thank Him that He will use it. He will be glorified. That He has chosen to use me in this story for Him and that His Light will win.

And in this season of darkness, that truth is no different.

 

Thankful Lists

This past Saturday, Belinda and I left Kylie and Lauren at the front of the Kotoka Airport in Accra. A few tears were shed, many hugs were exchanged, and we headed home to an eerily quiet house. I spent the day reflecting yesterday; cleaning (as it seems I tend to do when I feel like I am mentally cluttered), and reading the Word and praying.

My beautiful African sisters.

It’s funny how we always begin something knowing that it will some day end, knowing that with every hello there will inevitably be a goodbye. I came here knowing someday I would leave, and the girls arrived and I knew that I would eventually be leaving them at the airport. Yet, even in the saying of goodbyes, the memories that led up to that point make every goodbye worth it. So even though I miss my lovely African sisters, I am choosing instead to be thankful, even in a quiet and empty house! So here are a few things I am thankful for today:

1) Christmas music. It makes writing report cards a little more bearable.

2) Cockroaches. At first glance, I know they are atrocious and disgusting, but Friday night we had the most hilarious half an hour trying to kill the monstrocity on my bedroom wall. It involved a shoe, a ‘back up’ book, and Celtic music … someday you’ll need to see the video. I will probably laugh for years to come at the memory!

3) Language barriers. Today, a few kids I met on a walk came by to hang out. We can’t speak to each other very well, and that’s really hard. But it makes you be creative … it makes you tickle them more. It makes you make funny faces some more. It makes you realize that even if you can’t speak, presence is so much more important.

4) Tears. Because you know what? They are precious to Him. He catches every one in a bottle. He is near to the brokenhearted. He calls those who mourn blessed for they will be comforted! And yet we push away tears, and we tell kids to stop crying when maybe we should be telling them to see those tears as precious.

5) Mangoes. Seriously, there’s no better fruit. Honestly. I will write about mangoes and my love for them until the day I die, probably.

6) Sore knees. I’m not good at being disciplined and working out, but Kylie and Lauren were the best encouragers and I worked out with them for the past few weeks. And then I hurt my knees doing one too many squats – but you know what? I’m proud of those sore knees. I’m proud that I was trying my hardest! And I will take my sore knees as a reminder to work hard, but know my limits, too.

7) Clingy students. Even though there have literally been moments when I’ve run away from kids who won’t let me go – I know that I will miss those moments. Clingy kids remind me to love just a little bit more, to hold onto them just a little bit longer, to kiss away their tears, because maybe there’s a reason they are clinging to you so tightly.

8) The ability to write. I don’t think I ever really thought about how blessed I am to be able to read and write. But being here in Africa has made me realize just how much I love writing, and I think the thing I love about writing is that it lets me see beauty in brokenness. It lets me work through things. It let’s me make the most ordinary, mundane experience become beautiful. And it lets me take my story and wrestle with it, and see that even in the broken cracks His redemptive fingerprints are still there.

Those are just a few of the things I am thankful for today. What are you thankful for?

Much love,

Angie