Beauty or Broken?

The view out my current kitchen window is that of a beautifully lush garden… surrounded by a concrete wall with razor wire.

Wall outside my windowI find myself vacillating between those two contrasts. Some days I marvel at the greenery growing there — and the exotic birds who come to visit — even though half the year there is no rain. I spend time considering their strength and endurance, almost a beauty-from-ashes sort of story.

Other days I only see the wall. It’s tall enough to block the view of the house next door. Built of seemingly impenetrable concrete, with a capstone of spiky razor wire, our wall serves its intended purpose well. No uninvited guest has made it through.

Well, except those I let in.

I’ve worked hard to smile at the view — most days — regardless of where my eyes come to rest.

But then a few months ago, we started to talk seriously about returning to the U.S. full-time. I wanted no part of such a move. I couldn’t understand why it was necessary or what purpose it would serve. Around the same time, the rainy season that was supposed to begin found itself temporarily delayed. The greenery outside my window, having held out for as long as it could, withered and died.

And so the wall became bigger.

As I washed the household dishes, the concrete blocks stacked up in my mind and consumed my thoughts. Things that previously felt like mere pebbles suddenly became huge boulders I couldn’t get around. The razor wire threatened to rip away my flesh, leaving me vulnerable and broken.

Have you ever felt that way? Ever found yourself staring at two contrasts, wanting to focus on the beauty but being enveloped by the broken? If you’re like me, you probably know better, right? For so long, I stared hard at the beauty. But eventually too many glimpses at the broken ripped away my strength. And when that happens, we risk ignoring the beauty altogether.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Phil. 4:8 The Message)

As we inch closer to the day we fly one-way tickets back to our passport country, I am faced with more and more contrasts. Last week, while traipsing through a half dozen houses in suburban North America to find the next one we’d call home, my feet were reintroduced to wall-to-wall carpeting, frost-covered grass, and the crunch of autumn leaves. This week I’m back to muddy tile (the rainy season finally arrived), a lush landscape, and perpetual flip-flops.

I can find the beauty and broken in each situation. If I choose to, I can spin it however I want… both when speaking to others and in my own head. For example, the following two paragraphs each describe the same set of circumstances, but carry vastly different perspectives:

// Beauty-focus
We’re so grateful to finally visit the city we expect to call home! The girls fell in love with the school we’ve been considering, and we met some amazing people who are excited about welcoming us to their community. We saw some definite possibilities for both homes-to-purchase and apartments-to-rent, and feel confident one of those will house us when we arrive after Christmas. We felt God met us there and carried us through.

// Broken-focus
We weren’t able to purchase any of the homes we saw on our recent trip to the U.S. and might have to rent a small apartment instead. Our first-choice-school doesn’t have any space for our youngest (and neither does our second- or third-choice, actually). Someone backed into my rental car only two days into the five-day trip. Our return flight was delayed, so we arrived home in the middle of the night… only to find my husband bedridden with fever, and a house guest diagnosed with malaria.

And then this week… there’s more sickness, an expensive mechanical problem with the van, the dissolution of the company accepting donated funds for our ministry, and now this:

Crumbling wall

Yes, that’s the same wall I’ve been writing about. In fact, the wall fell right when I thought I was finished with this post… as soon as I saw it, several different “lessons” began to take shape in my head, everything from if-your-foundation-has-problems-so-will-everything-else to what-goes-up-must-come-down.

In the end, my original object lesson still holds true (now with a better visual aid). Just like the neighbor’s construction trash invading our yard, this wall of brokenness can spill over into every area of my life, and lead to a landslide of devastation.

And sometimes it all happens regardless of my efforts otherwise.

But no matter how vast the contrast, I always have a choice to make. Do I focus on the beauty? Or the broken?

Proverbs 4:23