Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Captured By Beauty - Part 1

On my way home last night from a late night run to the grocery store, I spot the full moon peering through the horizontal clouds streaking across the sky in front of it.  I’m drawn to its beauty.  My car takes me to the waterfront in our neighborhood.  I roll down the window facing the water. My sunroof is already open so I can hear the summer sounds of the evening bugs.   I turn off the engine. There she is - the moon in all her glory.  Her light shines on the water with the reflection coming straight towards me in a breathtaking column of glistening light, like a white royal carpet spread before the queen. I take in the beauty.  I watch the rippling of the water move across the reflection.  I see the tall grass at water’s edge wave in the moonlight.  I simply sit.  I let the silence and the beauty envelop me.

I wake up this morning, open my emails and find God sending me another reminder of beauty. I read the Daily Reading sent out by John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart Ministries.  It captures me quickly as he speaks of beauty and our need to chase after it. It’s the very subject that rises above my circumstances every single day. I began looking for beauty and catching sight of her, as much as possible since my husband died 6 years ago.  Reading Eldredge’s words brings my thoughts on beauty to a denouement, a grand culmination.

In an excerpt from his book entitled, Fathered By God, he writes, “We must open our hearts to all the other ways God is bringing beauty into our lives. The beauty of a flower garden or moonlight on water, the beauty of music or a written word. Our souls crave Beauty, and if we do not find it we will be famished. We must take in Beauty, often, or we will be taken out by beauty.”

Moonlight on the water.  It enraptures me every time.

I remember with great clarity the moment in my life when I recognized my hunger for beauty.  I was famished yet had not paused to take notice. 

The year is 1990. I’m teaching at a huge public school in Rankin County, just east of Jackson, Mississippi. My classroom buzzes with constant movement, restrained movement.  It’s full of boys with learning disabilities, most of them on medication for ADHD.  Eighteen preteen boys without a fulltime teacher’s aid.  Teaching this motley crew requires every ounce of focus and strength I can bring to the table each morning.

Wearing my Janet Jackson “Rhythm Nation” look, all the way down to the large hoop earrings with a cross hanging from one of them, I am not the average Special Ed teacher.   I am tough but cool and the boys love me for both.  I wear fake glasses to look older and more serious. It seems to work.  One day, James (think Fat Albert in look and voice), says, “Miss Barranco, you be mean when you wear ‘dem glasses!”  They were worth every penny of the five dollars I spent on them at the flea market.

 During my interview for the teaching position, I’m hired on the spot because I am currently reading C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien simultaneously, and because I use all of my verbs in proper tense. (I’m not kidding – the principal told me this then almost leapt out of her seat across her desk when I answered what I was reading at the time.)

I took that job in the middle of the year when the woman holding the position couldn’t handle the boys (or the room) any longer. She simply didn’t show up for work after Christmas.

…In walks Janet Jackson, a young newlywed fresh out of student teaching.

Armed with all of the colorful and creative bulletin boards I crafted in the days leading up to my first day, I walk into a room completely barren of beauty. Floor to ceiling grey cinder blocks become the backdrop to our uncommon yet surprisingly thriving little learning center. The fluorescent lights, hanging high above from the 16 some foot ceilings, disburse even more grey light and shadows in the room.  Their incessant buzzing is a bonus added to the dungeon-like atmosphere.   Without any windows, the soaring ceilings save us from feeling as if we are in some type of torture chamber or interrogation room.

I use the walls as enormous bulletin boards to bring life and color to the room.  When it’s time for afternoon activity period, they bust out of the room as if it is the last day of school.  I completely get it.  Sitting outside with them, I watch them detonate the stored energy in their bodies. Occasionally, I close my eyes behind the brown Ray-Ban wayfarers while my soul and body greedily inhale the light, the breeze, and the vitamin D.   I see a car drive by on the road and I think, “Oh, I would love to be going somewhere…anywhere.

I loved my boys in spite of the cinder block dungeon.

After the last student walks out at the end of the day, I head straight to coach and train two cheerleading squads until 5:30. Working only five minutes from home, I’m quickly back in my kitchen preparing dinner before my husband gets home from work.  After dinner it’s IEP work for one of my students, laundry and choreography for an upcoming dance job.  Crashing into bed is never early enough.

Our tiny house backs up to a small wooded area between subdivisions.  It’s early in the morning. I step outside the back door to head straight to my car before work.  I stop suddenly. I notice the quiet in the air. Beauty calls me.  The moment snatches me.  I breathe in this little slice of beauty.  It feels as if I am out in nature instead of standing on a concrete slab in the middle of our zero lot line neighborhood with cars parked on the streets and no privacy from neighbors.  Then I hear the birds.  I see the blue sky outlining the towering pines.  I notice the leaves that are now on the trees from an early spring.  I press the pause button and truly see.  I see there is beauty if I only pause and acknowledge it.  It is in this moment I realize I’m starved for natural beauty.  I know in order to survive my days in the cinder block dungeon, I have to take in natural beauty wherever I can, whenever I can - even if it’s only while standing on a concrete slab, in a little cookie cutter neighborhood development, in Rankin county Mississippi.

I have short-term memory.  I found how easy it is to forget beauty.  Easy to forget to feed my soul with her.  Easy to forget she’s right there, if only I pause to breathe her in, in all situations, locations, and circumstances.  I must find time for beauty.  She desires to fill me and bring me back to life, as it should be. I must be intentional. When I acknowledge beauty and take a moment to simply be with her, I’m renewed.  My hope renews, my stress recedes, my joy emerges.  I am reconnected with God on an intimate level.

Some people never connect with beauty.  How tragic that is to me.  They don't even recognize they miss her.  They are content in their routines, schedules, to do lists, and more. They learn if they simply stay in motion, then they can silence her cries.  More times than not, these people are the ones who have turned down the volume of their heart's voice because they "don't want to go there."  They don't want intimacy - with people, or with nature, with beauty, or with their own heart.  So they shut off opportunities for beauty because it makes them squirm.  They turn away and get back to what they "need" to do.

Since my years of living in the Hudson River Valley of New York, I’ve become even more keenly aware of beauty.  Beauty in all things.  Nature especially, but also in people (not their looks), but the beauty of a conversation, the beauty in pain shared, the beauty of fellowship over a meal, the beauty of laughter. The beauty of a naïve comment from a small child.  And the beauty of real love.  Deep, pure love - love without judgment, love in spite of flaws, love that is patient, kind, and compassionate. Enduring love.

Now I sit typing while listening to a summer rain land on the tin roof – another beautiful moment.  Allow unexpected beauty into your life. Hit the pause button. I pray you see, fill your mind with, and experience beauty today.

 “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. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”  Philippians 4:8 & 9 MSG

Photo cred to Mia Jené Barranco

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