I love beautiful things. Quirky dishtowels from Anthropologie, weighty coffee mugs with printed monogrammed letters, bold art prints, cushy throw pillows in an explosion of colors. Handmade children’s clothes stitched to perfection, good-smelling bath salts that melt into hot water. Ella Fitzgerald songs. The freckles on my children’s noses, their chubby hands held in mine. I love beauty in all its forms.
I used to think that was shallow. I felt guilty for enjoying those small pleasures when there were so many deep and heavy issues in the world vying for my attention. But recently I realized that rather than being shallow, that love for beauty is God-ordained:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8
Our love for beauty is a call to see the sheer possibility in the world, the loveliness of nature and relationships and creativity.
Taken another way: I read once that bravery and beauty, rather than separate concepts, should be considered synonymous. That it takes bravery to see beauty—in ourselves, our actions, the world around us—and that we miss out on our chance to be brave when we fail to see the beauty in the world.
As I race toward my mid-thirties, I think about how true that is. How much more comfortable I am in my own skin, now, than I ever was in my twenties. I’m more aware and grateful for my body, the things it allows me to do, and how my good health isn’t something to be taken lightly or for granted.
But what does it mean to be brave? And what does it mean to be beautiful?
Those questions bring me back to my 22-year-old self. Sitting at my 28-year-old sister’s hospital bedside as she fought her final battle with breast cancer, watching her chest rise and fall with her last, precious breaths. On that final day, as I sat there listening to my brother-in-law Jim sing one of Katrina’s favorite songs from church, I remember marveling over the terrible beauty of the moment. My sister always had the most beautiful hands. Soft, long-fingered, graceful hands my dad would call “piano hands.” And as I held her hand in mine at her bedside on that final day, and listened to Jim sing—even in the midst of crippling pain and grief, I still found myself admiring her piano hands, still recognized the beauty of the moment. My sister was brave—brave in a way I could only hope to be, someday—and her bravery made her inherently beautiful, regardless of the disease that ravaged her body.
It’s true that a single-minded focus on a surface kind of beauty, one that willfully overlooks or discounts the ugliness of the world and its problems, can be harmful. But true beauty acknowledges the pain of the world, yet bravely chooses to see the good in every circumstance. Bravery, like love, is ultimately a choice. It’s a choice to audaciously find what’s true and lovely and honorable in the face of our greatest fears, our deepest weaknesses, and our most soul-searing trials. That, my friends, is a radical vision of beauty. And it’s the kind of beauty God wants us to not only choose, but to revel in.