It all started with coasters.
This afternoon I was out and about, when I decided to run into my local thrift store to see if they had any cute coasters we could use on the new/used coffee table we’d just placed in our family room. Was going to be a quick trip. In & out. Inconsequential.
As I hustled through the door, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a young man, profoundly physically disabled, sitting in a wheelchair near the entrance. His body was physically twisted a bit, and another young man, who I assumed to be his personal care assistant, stood next to him.
Instinct told me that the polite thing to do was to move along, without staring, so I did just that, walking quickly right past him into the store. A few steps past him, I heard an electronic voice coming from his wheelchair, A few steps past that, I had the sickening realization that the voice had been intended for me, voicing a greeting that had been programmed to welcome me to the store and inform me of the days discounts. It had just been a second too late. I realized he was not a shopper; he was a volunteer greeter, and I had just ignored him. And it seemed lots of other people were passing him by, too.
I quickly checked out and immediately went to him to thank him for greeting and apologize for missing him when he’d welcomed me, telling him I hadn’t realized he’d been speaking to me. I fumbled over my words; I spoke more to his assistant than to him, I later realized, but the bright smile on his face told me that even my clumsy little greeting was probably not something he got much.
When I got to my car, I felt sucker-punched. Have you ever felt that way? Smacked by the sadness and unfairness in the world? In addition to the young man, I’d seen some clearly hurting and confused people in the store, and I was mad. Mad at the heartache and pain in the world. Mad that beautiful people like the young man I’d encountered are passed over so often, not valued as they should be. Mad that I’d been one of the people to pass him by.
As I made my way home, I got to thinking about even more darkness in the world. About explosions in concert halls and famines and friends who have been abandoned and betrayed and…all kinds of darkness. By the time I pulled into my driveway I was depressed…and really, really mad. I got out of my car, and did what oddly felt natural: I grabbed my gardening tools, went straight to a flower pot at the base of my driveway, and furiously planted 3 plants I’d been meaning to plant. Bright reds and yellows and greens filled the bare dirt that used to fill that pot. It felt strangely calming.
Then I went up to my perennial garden at the top of my yard. I had a day lily plant that I’d not yet planted. I grabbed a shovel and furiously dug a hole, breaking through the layer of plastic beneath the rocks. (I was still carrying my purse, by the way. No gardening gloves. I’d literally gone straight from car to garden.) I stuck the plant in the hole and recovered the earth surrounding it. Ah. Much better.
Then I realized I had a tulip plant that needed planting. Another hole in the rock. Another burst of color. Another sense of relief. How was this helping?!
I thought of what I’d once heard Sara Groves say at a concert, about how sometimes when we create, we protest the darkness…we “add to the beauty.” That resonated. I thought of our Creator God. His response to the darkness “in the beginning?” Create. Bring beauty to the world. Somehow, in planting those flowers, I felt like I was contributing to that…doing something, SOMETHING to bring light and color and loveliness.
I also thought about how those little acts of protesting the darkness can go beyond physical, artistic creations. We add to the beauty when we do justly…love mercy…speak truth…live joyfully…when we “let our light so shine before men, that they see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.” We are the salt of the earth…we are the light of the world.
When we plant those little seeds of goodness in the earth of this hurting world, we can trust the Holy Spirit to make them grow into beautiful bursts of beauty and light and hope that this world desperately needs.
So today I created. I drew…I experimented with watercolors…I worked out my frustration in a song (that will never see the light of day). And I am going to try to remember these things tomorrow, in the way I live, love and interact with those I know, near and far.
Come, Lord Jesus, help us bring your beauty and light to this dark world!