Missing beauty

“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.  

two boys standing on a street with trash littered all around
Street scene. imb photos

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. 

Culture shock

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.

Beauty revealed

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. 

And joy.

“You reveal the path of life to me;
in Your presence is abundant joy;
at Your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
(Psalm 16:11)

Treasure hidden

A note from my Karachi journal. A few years in. 1995.

Treasure hidden
in garbage-strewn neighborhoods,
dusty streets,
crumbling, graffiti walls
on every side.
Beauty kept secret
by power breakdowns,
water shortage,
summer heat
that cripples,
suffocates.
Culture
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,
something
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.
Hard, bitter,
dry, crumbling
wilderness.
Urban war zone.
How could I ever really love
this place,
this people.
Slowly, achingly,
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.
Treasures hidden.
For there are gardens
behind the walls.
Intricate designs
in ancient tiles.
Vivid hues
and scenes painted
on trucks, buses
that ply the roads. 
Brightly-colored clothing
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.

RELATED POSTS: Momentary art and the glory of God ; Place ; Travelers ; Hidden art

22 thoughts on “Missing beauty”

  1. Walking in my tropical city I can choose to be miserable from the heat or to look at the abundance around me. I’m trying to see beauty!

  2. Thanks for this. Have had similar feelings while traveling in India. God is good to provide what we need.

  3. Susan, I remember when we were transferring from Zambia to Thailand and we went back to Zambia to pack up. As we flew in to Lusaka, our 9-year old son looked down from the plane and said, “Doesn’t the garbage on the sides of the road look beautiful?” It truly awakened me to the beauty He puts before us to see what no one else can see when we need to see it. Thanks for reminding me to once again look for that beauty.

  4. In 2000, I landed in a city that was dry, barren, ugly and in the summer, extremely hot. The heat didn’t always work in the winter; my apartment was situated right next to the garbage dump where they burned garbage; after rain, the top of the soil would be white with salt; the temps got up to 50C/122F frequently in the summer; the buildings were all run down. It was not a pleasant place on the outside. The guide books even told people not to go there.

    But I found the beauty in the people. In what He was doing. In the colorful scarves and dresses worn. In the wonderful melons. In the few flowers that bloomed. In the hospitality. In the colorful bazaar. In the traditional handiwork. That place still holds a special place in my heart.

  5. Susan, another m shared this and I would like to make sure if it is ok to share with other m personnel that I am pr partners with. Thank you for your insight.
    Donna, a m parent for 7 years.

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