“Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:5-6).
Beauty? Our first year of living in Karachi, my eyes saw the sand and dirt. Trash along the roads. The walls and buildings that matched the browns of a desert landscape.
Nothing seemed pleasant. Or beautiful.
I decided “pleasant places” must refer to the believer’s spiritual condition. Certainly not physical surroundings. Not this desert megacity, anyway.
The reality? My initial sense of adventure and excitement about entering a new culture had dulled.
We were studying a complex language. And living daily life in Pakistan. Our city was struggling with violence between political and religious factions.
It was difficult. Complicated. Different from anything I’d ever known. Anywhere I’d ever lived.
I should be able to do this, I thought. After all, I’m a TCK (Third Culture Kid).
But culture shock is no respecter of persons.
I cried out to the Lord
One day I was driving to my language lessons. Noticing the dust and sand. The usual brown, grey and beige-colored walls. And more sand.
I suddenly cried out, “O Lord, isn’t there anything beautiful in this city?”
There. I’d said it. Out loud. The longing that simmered inside. The hunger for beauty.
A gentle rebuke
At that very moment I turned a corner. And right before my eyes was a brilliant branch of bougainvillea spilling over one of those grey walls. The grey contrasting with the magenta was breathtaking.
Tears came to my eyes. Such a tender answer from the Father. And a gentle rebuke.
“There is beauty in this city. This city that I love. Open your eyes.”
Looking for beauty
I worshiped in the car as I drove on.
And began a journey. Of looking for beauty in unlikely places. Asking Him for eyes to see what I was missing.
Part of this journey involved letting go of my own pre-conceived notions. What I thought was beautiful. Crossing cultures into new color combinations, styles and designs.
It meant looking past the immediate impression. Exploring with a teachable heart.
As I sought and searched, He revealed.
Colorful and exquisite art in nature and through the creativity of His image-bearers. Glimpses of His perfect designs.
There were rough places along the way. For sure. But I began to see the city with new eyes.
“You reveal the path of life to me;
in Your presence is abundant joy;
at Your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
A note from my Karachi journal. A few years in. 1995.
in garbage-strewn neighborhoods,
crumbling, graffiti walls
on every side.
Beauty kept secret
by power breakdowns,
born in the desert,
formed in the bitter struggles
of daily routine.
Pain—the mother of her art.
How I searched
for something of beauty,
to “anchor” me
to this land.
No tropical garden this.
No vision of paradise.
No smiling faces.
Even the music
did not move easily into my heart.
Urban war zone.
How could I ever really love
through fire and nothingness,
I’ve come to see the beauty—
perhaps made more vibrant
by the contrast of
art and decay,
the beautiful and the bitter,
colors set in dirt black
and urban grey
of crowded streets and alleys.
For there are gardens
behind the walls.
in ancient tiles.
and scenes painted
on trucks, buses
that ply the roads.
and smiles beneath the burqas.
The Designer’s touch.
Waiting to be found.
And the search is on.
What about you?
Have you seen the pleasant place, the beauty where you are? Glimpses of His glory on faces? Behind walls? Hidden treasure? It’s there. Don’t miss it.