There is a fascinating children’s book that a friend introduced to me many years ago, and I’ve never forgotten the pages. As they turn, you become aware of a sort of optical illusion. You aren’t entirely sure what you are seeing. Intricate and beautiful details line the pages, birds and objects seem to be designed as a full picture themselves. As the book progresses, the picture zooms out to show a busy city scape and eventually a wider view. The effect being, that by the end of the book, you are fantastically aware that the greater scheme is made up of intricate and innumerable tiny details.
One of the most intriguing aspects of photography as an art form is the ability to focus the camera on a single object or person. The background might be a mud hut, but in the right light under a choice lens, the image can prove more captivating than a palace. My house might be completely wrecked, but there in the midst are eyes as blue as the sea. There is an aspect of focus that ought to be learned, not ignored, for the sake of embracing reality. Beauty is all around us. But we have to train our eyes to see it, to focus in on it.
There’s a whole messy world to see – both out there and in your own house. In the years when your children are young, it is particularly tempting to close your eyes to the details around you. We’re just trying to make it through until nap-time, right? The zoom lens feels out of focus, the chaos too great.
We lived for five years in a particularly chaotic city in South Asia. One of the gifts that our life there gave me was that of perspective. Particularly in developing countries, the dichotomy between beauty and utter filth moves so rapidly in any given scene, that you can begin to give your eyes and mind over only to the whole picture. When your neighbors live in cardboard houses, it’s easier to look away. On any given street in South Asia, I could find a dozen trash heaps, sewage drains, and mangy dogs to give my eyes and mind to. If I wanted to find ugly, it was right in front of me every day on every street.
When I stopped and looked, though, I could notice the lady selling chai, whose sari was so intricate and extravagant that she could be on her way to a royal gala, her hair as black as a raven, shining with fresh oil and her face carved in ancient beauty. She was exquisite. There amid the chaos, she stood. When I focused, I saw her, made in the image of her Creator.
I turned toward a shop, with mangy dogs and beggars on every side. I felt pressed in and crowded. Then I noticed the lines on an old woman’s face as she waited for me to put a coin in her hand. The lines are so deep and weathered that I was startled by the story they seem to write on her very person. I realized that she had history; she has known beauty and happiness, sorrow and tragedy. She was before me as a stranger. But, she could have been my grandmother. Certainly, she belonged to someone at one time and she has worth.
It changes me to stop and notice.
Learn to see. Look at what is before you. Focus in on the details and let them startle you with their beauty and depth, their winsomeness and joy. Let the sorrowful sights build compassion in you and your little people. Don’t be afraid to meet the eyes of someone who seems so very different from yourself. Listen to the sound of those soft tender feet padding through your hallway or the voice of a toddler raised in song. That other mother sitting across the park is made in the very image of God.
The bigger picture is true, however marred and messy. Take time to remember that within the broad picture, there is a world of exquisite detail waiting to be seen. There are extraordinary souls for you to meet on your very ordinary errands. There are details of God’s glorious creation to talk about with your little one. There are people with sorrows that you can help ease simply by seeing them and entering into their world for a few moments.
Let your eyes zoom in sometimes. Speak aloud to your children what you see.
Be a scavenger for beauty, right where you are, and you will find that your heart is growing more beautiful along the way.
Laura is a Memphis native who's spent nearly a decade living in foreign lands. Her husband teaches the Bible, primarily among South Asians, of whom less than two percent of the population follow Christ. She lived in the land of boy-moms with three rowdy little men for nine years. Recently, their family also welcomed a daughter, whom she invariably dresses in pink and florals. She loves children’s literature, recipes from around the world, and hiking up mountains.