When Life is a Broken + Beautiful Mashup

girls lake

Periodically I call a truce with my silent personal war against Facebook and for the sake of the easiest way to share photos with family, I upload lovely pictures of our time together in beautiful places with our beautiful families. Places I love. People I love. Traditions I love.

Being behind the lens helps me capture that which I’m prone to take for granted. My soul craves the snapshots of beautiful moments and soul-stirring places — the low-country Carolina coast in June and the otherworldly greenness of the Michigan summer in July. I binge on these 4 x 6 reminders that my children will have ridiculously amazing memories of cousins and sand and turquoise water that has bathed and buoyed our family at its homestead for over a hundred years.

My soul needs the reminders of beauty because there is a rock-bottomness to July. It happens every summer but you’d never know by looking at the photos.

For me, photos don’t paint a false reality. They simply unveil the gifts in the midst of the mess. If I don’t gaze upon the beauty, I drift toward despair. If I ignore the gifts, I’m prone to shut down in bitterness at the sin and brokenness and complication that is no respecter of place or beauty or persons, that dive-bombs even the most pristine settings and perfect plans and normal familes.

If I got to choose, I’d compartmentalize the good and the bad, the joy and the pain. I’d bask in the beauty and then put on my armor to do battle with the ugly. I would most definitely not entertain them both at the same time or on the same day. Who wants brokenness wrecking up all the beauty?

But no one asked me. So that means that we don’t get to live with our experiences boxed up into tidy compartments, unwrapping each one when we feel ready or fit or in the right mood. We don’t get to do life on parallel tracks, jumping to one or the other but never tangling them up together. We don’t every really get a vacation from hard things.

I’ve told God that it’s too much sometimes.

Having to smile on the outside when your heart is anxious and overwrought on the inside.

Receiving the loveliest gifts of this life when your soul is too heavy to really enjoy them as they should be enjoyed.

Loving people when you also loathe them in any given moment.

Working through gut-level emotional stuff when you feel too weary to stand up to it, let alone work through it.

Appearing serene and confident when you are actually battling fear and intimidation something fierce.

Meeting the challenges and responsibilities of the everyday when circumstances make you want to run away.

holding hands beach

We want days that are either / or.

Instead, we get a days that are both / and.

It’s the mashup that’s hard on our souls. The ridiculous volatility. The necessary duplicity. The conflicting emotions. The simultaneous broken + beautiful experiences.

It’s the mashup that threatens to shut me down altogether because my soul doesn’t know where to land and so it just flutters about frantically, searching for peace and consolation.

In times like this, I have to find solitude. For some of us, that’s a necessity and not merely a luxury. Clarity doesn’t come amid noise and people and activity, not for me.

I also have to seek Truth. I have to boss my frantic, fluttering soul about and tell it to land on what’s certain. Truth brings consolation and a measure of rest to my spirit.

And this clarity has a way of seeping into my soul in the form of tiny sermons that I preach to myself.

It’s okay to live in this tension. Jesus lived in this tension and He’s with you in yours.

Solitude is necessary. Isolation is dangerous. You must live in community. Don’t forget that.

Nothing comes into your life that has not been first filtered through the hands of God himself. Rest in his sovereignty. Rest in his love for you. Rest in his goodness, even when you’re overwhelmed by the world’s badness.

You’re tempted to despair, to give up, to give in, to covet, to condemn yourself and condemn others. Don’t fight temptation with your own will. In the end, you’ll lose. Fight it with the Gospel. Jesus overcame for you; therefore you can rest in what He’s already done and continues to do on your behalf.

single flower

Perhaps middle-class Americans struggle with this broken + beautiful tension more than other cultures. We think it’s supposed to be all fun, all beautiful, all success, all upward mobility, all happy-clappy posed cuteness and perfection. All the time. And that’s just rubbish. Behind every beautiful family photo is a string of late-night marital fights and job stress and children who don’t always tell the truth and manipulative relationships and a million things that didn’t go as planned.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not still a beautiful family photo. And it especially doesn’t mean it’s not a beautiful family knee-deep in the trenches of possibility and redemption.

We weren’t created for a world and a life that’s a broken + beautiful mashup. It’s why we fight it and run from it and numb it with every distraction under the sun. This mashup goes against our divine DNA. For me, that’s consolation that I’m not crazy. Rather, I’m a person just like every other person who is living between paradise lost and paradise recovered, a person living between the shadows of what was and what is yet to come, a person living in “the mashup middle.”

And so I get to choose. So do you.

A. We can choose to refuse the beauty altogether.

B. We can go the other way and choose to deny that the mess and pain exists and bow down at the one-dimensional altar of happy distraction.

Or we can choose a third way. It’s called acceptance. We can choose to receive the beauty in the midst of the messy relationships and volatile emotions and complicated contexts and stories we wouldn’t have chosen and futures that seem especially uncertain. We can live full anyway.

It comes down to the question I’ve asked myself over and over again in so many of these posts across the years:

Will I choose to receive my own life?

folded hands

On a whim, I decided to look up the definition of “receive.” I shouldn’t have been surprised by the ironic, three-pronged definition:

1. be given, presented with, or paid (something).

2. suffer, experience, or be subject to (specified treatment).

3. greet or welcome (a visitor) formally.

To receive one’s own life is to live with the both / and tension. It means that we celebrate the obvious gifts of our life and that we also suffer, experience, are subject to, and welcome that which life tosses our way.

{Insert deep sigh.}

This inevitable tension — between that which we welcome and that which we want to kick out the door — it is also an invitation. We can refuse the unwanted characters and story-lines with resentful bitterness. Or we can receive them with reluctant grace…which can even turn into gratitude.

This is the heart of my own story, the one that’s made up of a hundred verses of the same song. It’s not the one I’d have chosen to write in this exact way but it’s the one I can choose to receive anyway. And just when I think I’ve sung every possible verse and can finally close the book, a new but strangely familiar line writes itself onto the page, invited or not. Apparently I am not as far as I thought along the journey of acceptance.

Perhaps this tension / invitation feels true for you too. Perhaps you’re weary and bitter and resentful that brokenness keeps colliding into what should only be beautiful. I get it.

Each day and each season ushers in its bitter and its sweet, often disproportionately. But time has shown me that we can still choose life, even when it’s falling apart. Or even if it’s just tattered around the edges and we’re feeling kind of raggedy about the whole thing.

On the days when you taste far more bitter than you do sweet, hunt down beauty as if your life depends on it. Because in a way, it does.

So grab the camera and shoot. Stick more favorite pics to the front of the fridge. Pick flowers from your yard. Or in my case, pick leafy stems and put them in vases anyway. Slather on your favorite lipgloss. Gaze into well-loved faces. Pinch chubby cheeks. Make delicious food. Or get your favorite takeout. You decide. Go to Starbucks and spring for the venti iced macchiato. Which is the yummiest and prettiest drink of summer.

Do it all anyway. And don’t let brokenness have the last word.

Make your declaration of beauty and goodness and scatter the reminders all about.

There is beauty here. And I choose to see it.

This is my life — untidy, messy, tangled web of joy and sorrow though it is. And I choose to receive it. 


flower w text.jpg


P.S. That pretty photo above? I snapped that years ago on a spring day during one of the darkest seasons of my life. It’s one of my favorite reminders that brokenness doesn’t get the last word, that beauty blooms anyway.


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  1. says

    Yes to all of this. Have you read Inside Out by Larry Crabb? I’m reading it right now and I am simultaneously loving it and wincing at its goodness. He spends some time on the idea that we fall for the trap of pain elimination, as if we could get rid of all pain AND that it would be good for us.

    Also! I can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. I’m going to camp out at the sofa and table situation.

  2. says

    thank you oh so much for these words Marian!! thank you for being vulnerable and honest, and sharing reminders for those of us who need them :) I know too well the rock-bottom feeling of July… *sigh*
    blessings to you!

  3. Kristin says

    Marian – this is just what I needed to read.
    “Having to smile on the outside when your heart is anxious and overwrought on the inside.

    Receiving the loveliest gifts of this life when your soul is too heavy to really enjoy them as they should be enjoyed – what you said…..

    Loving people when you also loathe them in any given moment.

    Working through gut-level emotional stuff when you feel too weary to stand up to it, let alone work through it.

    is just what I am feeling. Thank you for your words…your honesty and your wisdom. And thank you for sharing your wonderful vacation pictures!

    Love to you guys!

  4. Renee says

    This was a gift for my week, thank you for sharing these thoughts. It reminded me of one of my favorite blog posts from Ann Voskamp that I have thought of many times since she published it January 2, 2012. Two of the quotes I wrote down and have returned to since then “Embrace every pain as a peeling away of something – to make me know it in new ways, that He is enough” and “There’s only one address anyone lives at and it’s always a duplex: joy and pain always co-habit every season of life. Accept them both and keep company with the joy while the pain does it’s necessary renovations”

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