Beauty in the Simple

Sometimes I can get discouraged by all the encouragement out there.

Every day, there is a pin or a post about never giving up, letting our dreams be bigger than our fears, never limiting our vision. And I picture all these people doing huge things and influencing thousands of people.

And I feel small. And sometimes question whether I have anything to offer that will matter. But then I remember her.
Beanie Lady

Every sunny day, this precious 90-something woman in a bright yellow coat and a beanie copter hat walked down a sidewalk by my house, plastic bag in hand. I would often see her standing, pointing to something not visible to my eye. Or picking up garbage. And I must admit, I thought she was a little, well, crazy. Until I met her.

One spring day I was out walking and saw her in the distance beckoning me to come. She was enthusiastically pointing at something, and I honestly didn’t see what she was pointing at. “It’s a leaf! It’s not just a bud, but it’s blossomed into a leaf. Isn’t that just beautiful!” This 90-year old woman who has seen the signs of spring for that many years was still struck by the beauty the season. And I would have missed it.

I stopped to chat with her the next time I passed her by on my walk. She was picking up garbage and putting it in that little plastic bag. “I love beauty so I go out and pick up the garbage I see on my walk. It helps this place look better.” I asked her if I could take her picture. She seemed shocked that I wanted her picture, but she smiled big and walked away happy. I walked away changed.

The next sunny day, I looked for her. And the time after that. Sadly, I never saw her again. She never knew the impact she had on my life. She appreciated beauty, noticed the little things, and did what she could with what she had. It’s really so simple. She taught me to look for the leaf amongst the buds, to have eyes that perceive beauty, and create more beauty wherever I happen to be. Simply, to do what I can with what I have.

I didn’t read that in a book, a pin, or a post. I learned it from a 90-year old woman picking up garbage in a beanie copter hat. She was truly a woman of perception, maybe even an angel with a sense of style.

Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception
resembles more than anything else
that celestial source from which we all are come.

Risk: Discovering Beauty Outside Our Comfort Zones

Snow Lake 2

Risk. I have always thought of it as a big deal, something unfamiliar and maybe even dangerous, like moving to a new area, changing careers, leaving unhealthy relationships, or jumping out of airplanes. Not something I would want to do everyday.

But Warren Buffet has a definition that gives risk a more daily perspective. He believes that, “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” Muscles grow when we ask them to do more than they are used to doing. Every time we take a step during a time of “not knowing,” we are getting stronger.

There are many reasons we can find “not knowing what we’re doing” seasons. Life happens and we often find ourselves confronting situations that are new territory, even if the shift is relatively minor.

These situations can feel disarming, strange and confusing. But the more comfortable we get with this not knowing, the more willing we can be to take risks that we don’t think about when life is filled with the busy and familiar.

One thing I have found over the years: “comfort zone” wants to be my default setting. A comfort zone is a place where security is high and anxiety low, a place we feel some measure of control. Choosing to visit there is healthy; opting to stay there is not. It is outside our comfort zone where we are able to grow.

Whether risk is a big move or a response to not knowing what we’re doing, it involves saying yes to a step that leads away from security and comfort. We don’t always like that idea.

This last year has proven to be a starting-over period for me that began a lot like the others. At some point, I said yes to doing something new. It started as a small step and began a journey down a path of discovery.

The school I taught at for 25 years had unexpectedly closed down, affecting finances, relationships and security. At the same time, I was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I went from a long season of having more life than each day could hold to being mostly home alone without a job. My kids were going to college, moving out, and getting married.

But most life transitions come like that. We find ourselves in situations we may not have chosen. Or we chose them and they weren’t what we expected. Viktor Frankl writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

So I took some tentative steps away from the familiar and allowed that to lead to the next. The hardest part of risk is not knowing how it will turn out. Will there be rejection, or failure, or loss? There are no guarantees when we sign up to get stronger. Only the promise of stagnant comfort zones if we opt out.

Whether it’s by choice or not, being uncomfortable pushes us further than we think we can go. But risks don’t have to look big or make us anxious. We can challenge ourselves in small ways everyday that come from not knowing what we’re doing.

Tips for Exercising Our Risk Muscle:

  1. Make a list of things we would do if it weren’t uncomfortable. It can be trying that class offered on Groupon, or finding a new place to walk. It can be sitting still for 20 minutes to switch out our thoughts. Maybe it’s going back to school or maybe it’s going for a hike.
  2. Remind ourselves that being uncomfortable means we are growing. If we never place a demand on ourselves, our lives will get smaller.
  3. Allow for surprise. We can go to a new restaurant and not google it beforehand. We can go somewhere we have never been and discover it the old-fashioned way. Instead of Google maps, we allow serendipity to lead the way. Maybe we even skip the virtual tour and discover a place when we see it for the first time!
  4. Open up to the world. We can intentionally set out to learn something new, whether it’s reading a top-selling biography or listening to a podcast.
  5. Think of people who might need what we have. We can make a call, send a text, give a word of encouragement, a gift, or a meal. Our lives matter. We can risk giving them away.

Our risk muscle can actually grow stronger as we walk through life. All it requires is not knowing what we’re doing. I love that transition seasons have this woven into their very nature. Every day we can find a reason to celebrate the beauty we are finding both within and without.

He who doesn’t risk never gets to drink champagne.”~ old Russian proverb.