Lauren Bee

Conceptual Fine Art Photography for dreamers of fairytales. The FINE ART of Becoming. www.laurenbee.com

Broken. And Beautiful.

It was my 40th birthday weekend, a dark, almost-Winter night nestled near the sound of waves on the Gulf Coast.  The stars were brilliant pinpricks in the endless, black canopy above me.  I had done a decidedly un-40-year-oldish thing:  hauling myself out of the passenger side window of our mini-van, the thin ledge digging into my jeans-clad rear, neck craned backward, sucking in cool air by the lungful, eyes roving about, greedy for familiar forms -- Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, Orion -- a favorite song blaring from the auto's interior.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

And hot tears streaming down my cold cheeks.

It was the end of my thirties and the beginning of my ... what? I didn't know.  I only felt like I should have accomplished so much more before reaching that pivotal moment.  And in those few seconds of raw beauty and bewildered yearning, I was experiencing a strange and uneventful heartbreak.

Healing has never come easily for me.  I am what could aptly be termed "of melancholic persuasion".  I think too openly, feel too keenly, ponder too intensely on All The Things.  Like Jacob wrestling with God, I am as aware of engulfing darkness as I am of God's light intertwined with my own.  His guiding, His influence, His presence in a life tinged with sweet and bitter, one experience leading to the next, the highs and lows of each new day touching on days long gone, grinding away, chipping pieces, mingling together -- like a seashell caught in the tide.

Renewal. Becoming "a new creature".  Rebirth.  These are words which name a concept deeply rooted in my Christian faith, but less so to my seeking, searching flesh nature, aware as I am of our collective fallen stature.  Most days I feel more broken than whole.

The following morning, I slipped on a pair of flip-flops to make the short trek from our rented cottage to the beach.  The ocean was rough and restless beneath a clear, blue sky.  The sun was warm on my skin as I made my way to the water's edge.  I sucked in breath as the chilly foam licked my toes, proving it was indeed December, despite my shorts and sweat.

"Father," I whispered under my breath, lost to the sound of the sea.  "It's my birthday.  My fortieth birthday," I reminded Him, as if He hadn't just knit me together Himself some 14,700 days prior.  "I would very much appreciate a little birthday gift.  Just a simple thing."

And then, I hesitated.  How could I dare ask Him for anything more, standing as I was on a strip of His exquisite creation with my lively (and healthy, wanting for nothing) family mere yards away?

"I'm going to look for a seashell today, on this beach.  Lord, if you could send me shell, just one perfect, good-sized shell, that would be lovely.  A symbol of this new year on which I am embarking.  A new decade.  Make this moment, this passage, New.  Please."

I felt that wasn't too much to ask.  But as I began to troll the sand and gently surging water, I could find no perfect seashells.  I found tiny shells, barely the size of a thimble, that remained intact, but every shell larger was little more than a shard.  Each time I would come upon what appeared to be a big, beautiful shell poking out of the sand, my heart would flicker in hope.  I would reach, pull it free ... and find only a chunk or jagged piece in my fingers.

Lauren Bee 5.jpeg

My heart sank.

Broken shells all about me.  Just broken pieces littered here, there, and everywhere -- heck, the very sand atop which I stood was nothing more than minuscule bits of shell having been worn and weathered by years and years of being tossed about until all that was left was a grainy dust to be trod upon by man and beast.

I was walking in a sea of brokenness.

Like me.

And that was when I heard it.  Above the noise of crashing waves, piercing me to the very pulsating center, a deeper whisper.

Broken yes ... and behold how beautiful.

Broken.  And beautiful.

Not "but" beautiful.  Not "still" beautiful.

and

Brokenness was not a detraction from their beauty.  It was in addition to.

As my heart began to widen in understanding He whispered to me again.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in brokenness.”

I cast my eyes about and there were shells everywhere, each of them only bits and pieces of their former, whole selves.  I had asked God for a gift of perfection and He provided exactly what I needed:  perfect beauty in imperfection.

And hot tears streamed down my cold cheeks.

We seek perfection and are so quick to accept as perfect anything that is unblemished and whole -- in other words, new things.  But it is vital that we understand just exactly what "new" means.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." -- Isaiah 43:18-19

Like seashells, we are miraculously created as a whole thing;  we house the flesh of life for a time, and then we are tossed about by the waves before beginning to break. But --

and

Brokenness is New.

and beautiful

Our missing pieces, the shards that have broken away in the endless tossing about, simply give way to a new form.  In God's eyes, "new" isn't defined as "becoming like I once was".  New isn't "being fixed" or "put back together again", nor does "restoration" mean becoming once more the thing we used to be ...

It is new.  Never before discovered.  Completely and uniquely unknown and fresh and perfect.

and beautiful

I began to gather the pieces of shells, honoring their existence as I understood God honoring mine.  Each piece was grasped in my fingers, wiped clean of debris, rinsed in the nearby eddying water, and tenderly secured into the pocket of my shorts.   Walking along the beach, I took in as many as I could find, determined to keep each piece of this gift from God Himself, to take them home and be reminded -- and to share them with others who likewise need reminding.

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my brokenness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." -- 2 Corinthians 9b-10

When I am broken, then I am made whole.

Breathing - and WRITING - Again

You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
And all of my friends who think that I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No, they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what
I've been through like you do

-- Brandi Carlile, "The Story"

 

There is a phrase (or variation thereof) which I have been given time and time again, over the last half decade or so, a phrase so often repeated by friends and perfect strangers that it is too numerous to count:

"You have such a way with words -- have you ever thought about writing?"

And when I receive these words -- mind you, always as a compliment and an encouragement -- I've felt a deep, very hopeless heartache. 

Why?

Because I was a writer.  I did write.  I not only thought about writing, I wrote like the dickens -- for decades.  About people and self and stories, thick literary overtones littered with the occasional madness.  Exactly like a properly proper writer.  

You see, when I was ten years old I had a dream:  to be a published author.  Nearly fifteen years later, I started a blog, back before blogs were a Thing, and with it I had a fairly decent following.  I graduated college with a dual B.S. in English and psychology, my Senior project being a full-immersion with a literary professor who personally guided me through the dark and mysterious waters of editing and publication -- ostensibly so I would be well-versed in how to finally be "a real writer".  And I wrote a novel, dozens of short stories, placed well in writing contests, and received lots and lots of wonderful feedback.

But also, heartbreak.

My novel was never published, despite my best efforts, and when my dad died in 2009, something bigger than my frail abilities fell over me, smothering me.  The words dried up.  The desire for words dried up too.  I laid aside my pen with no intention nor expectation of ever picking it up again.  My heart was completely broken.

I began a journey toward healing when I picked up a camera ... and that's how I wound up doing photography -- which makes perfect sense since photos are simply stories of a visual nature.  I did well in that creative field;  I still enjoy using my camera to create art and further capture moments that would otherwise be lost in the ephemera of time -- will continue to enjoy photography and creating visually because it is now a piece of me --

but still

words

They've been my constant.  Such simple things: curves with connected dots and sticks in various stunted heights, nothing more than vague black symbols with associated meanings, never the same depending on who or what circumstances observes them -- but oh the soul to be found in each and every word!  There's never been a day -- even when I consciously put aside such things with hardened intention -- that words have not been my saving grace.  They are the air in my lungs, the lifeline tethering my flesh to the spirit pulsing inside.

And every time I made a comment on a Facebook status or sent an e-mail or a thank you note or did anything of any sort which involved heart-laced words, I would hear it again and again and again -- like a beating drum ... or the insistent whisper of the heart pumping hot blood through laced veins:

"You have such a way with words -- have you ever thought about writing?"

write, Lauren

(( write ))

For the longest time I refused.  The pain was too heavy, the defeat too overwhelming.  Then, I refused out of a sense of anger and defiance over past failures and a grief so thick it clung to me like a choking tar.  But after a while it became impossible to ignore.  See, when you are nudged, however gently, toward the edge of a precipice, at some point you realize you will fall -- or soar.  At some point you realize God is offering you the very wings which are vital to your soaring.

So it is with wide open excitement (and, I must admit, nervous anxiety), I write these next words:

I'm writing again. 

Not just here (though, yes, that too -- so many ideas I haven't the time to share them here with you all!), but Real Writing.  With broad topics and chapters and research and everything.  I'm working on a deeply personal project, an idea I had many years ago but which wasn't quite ripe enough for the plucking.  But now is the perfect time, ripe as it is, ready to be sliced open, juices spilling out, all fresh and sweet and life-giving.

I want to thank every single one of you who voiced God's urging, even when you didn't know you were doing it.  By simply reaching out to me in love, you put me back to rights again -- piece by delicate piece, reminding me of my nature and higher calling.  I can't thank you enough.  I'm writing again.  I'm breathing again -- truly and properly filling my lungs with intoxicating air and exhaling relief-suffused purpose and joy.  And that is everything to me.

Everything.

Thank you.

The Stuff of "Real Stuff" Hours (Part 2)

"Life's a journey, not a destination." -- Aerosmith

 

Life is a mystery.  A puzzle, really, made of thousands of pieces that need placing in just the right spots.  These pieces -- circumstances, needs, whims wants -- bombard each of us nearly 24/7.  This or that emergency clamoring for attention;  assorted and sundry advertisements on the television, radio, and internet promising items and services that will "make life easier";  Must-Do lists a mile long with so many varied activities -- dance and piano for the children, a work supervisor's demands, keeping the spouse happy, grocery shopping, cleaning, and laundry;  and personal projects that are each a puzzle in their own right.  There's a place for everything and everything in its place -- but it takes time.

As previously discussed, time (like any natural resource) is limited and finite.  Once it's spent, it's gone forever -- and unlike riches or wealth or prestige, we can't "earn" more.  Time spent is just

gone

If you're anything like me, you find yourself in a constant and chronic state of Overwhelm, puzzle pieces scattered about you.  You crave, in those moments of sheer chaos, moments of pure peace.  You fantasize about seconds carved out for the sole purpose of soul purpose -- not grand moments;  life is "grand" enough already.  No, yours is a dream of tranquility.  Of putting away the pointless and settling into Solitude.  Meaning.

You walk through the woods, feet sinking deep into the soft, dampened crunch of old and newly fallen leaves.  Dry branches brush your shoulder, brittle fingers reaching out from textured tree trunk, raw things serving as poetic reminder of the world around you: sharp cold air on your cheek, a tendril of hair falling across your eyes, an inhaled breath of almost-December, damp moss, crystalline sky, the tang of wood smoke.  Silence is everywhere.  God is everywhere, in lungs, in leaves, in light.

These moments, are the truest.  The most Holy.

These moments define your purpose with a pinpoint clarity.  These moments define your priorities, the Important Things amid the jumble of noise.

What are your priorities?

I'm learning what mine are.  I've made it a priority to do so.  I'm intentionally distancing myself from the overwhelm of the puzzle, laying out all of my pieces in a logical, orderly fashion so as to better see the whole -- and the details.

Many years ago I stumbled upon a book in the public library, Amazing Grace, by Kathleen Norris, a Benedictine oblate and writer who first introduced me, a wholly Protestant girl, to the world of Catholicism.  I had no desire to become Catholic, but there was a beauty and a rhythm to this branch of faith that I found appealing, comforting.  Recently, I've dabbled once more in the world of Benedictine theology, and I've hit upon a beautiful practice that, in this season of my spiritual journey, resonates: crafting a Rule of Life.

The word "rule" comes from the Latin regula, meaning "standard" or "straight edge".  In a spiritual sense, a Rule of Life is a fence, a fluid and organic one, constructed of clods of firm earth or smooth stones, stacked just high enough to guide a soul on her path and long enough for the next leg of her journey.  The word "rule" has such an unyielding, almost strict connotation, but in the tradition of St. Benedict, a rule is actually a grace-centered path, heavily suffused with purpose, growth, and love-drenched Becoming. 

I can think of nothing holier.

Used in conjunction with the centuries-old Liturgy, my developing Rule of Life is becoming the foundation of my Real Life Hours, knitting together the ebb and flow of seasons and holidays (holy days) with the minutiae of every day.  There is a rhythm to life, the mundane mingling with scripture, lessening chaos and increasing mindfulness, nourishing the shift in my mind and heart, gently honing in on the vital in order to place pieces into their rightful place.

Priorities. 

What do you truly desire in life?  In what will you immerse your Real Stuff Hours?  The mere vagaries of "family" or "hobbies" will not suffice here.  What are the tangible actions and relationships that draw from and encourage you onward in your ultimate priority: walking with the Father?  In a Rule of Life, all that you do is geared around this concept;  your Rule is your labyrinth, curling around itself and back and forth again, leading to your true center, the pulsating heart-desire to walk in holiness. 

Time well spent.

The Rule of Life is as individual and unique as its author and designer, but what makes it work is a deeper awareness of of God's breath in life.  Choices are made mindfully.  Successes come as a result of space having been made.  Mistakes aren't to be avoided;  they're miraculous twists and turns toward a greater goal … all part of the journey, part of the process of your Real Life Hours.

Piece after piece after piece, a turn, gentle pressure, and then a satisfactory, effortless shift.

it fits

Interested in learning more, or perhaps exploring the crafting of your own Rule of Life?  Here are some links to get your started:

"Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life". -- Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)

The Stuff of "Real Stuff" Hours (Part 1)

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. -- Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)

 

My daughter slept-in this morning.  She slept way, way in.

All of my kiddos are fairly early risers, always have been.  You can find us all puttering about in the mornings by 7:30 A.M. at the very latest.  So it was surprising when half past nine came and went, Little Sister asking why on earth Big Sister was still snoozing upstairs.  I wasn't too concerned;  it's the first official day of our holiday break (yes, seven whole weeks of pure, unadulterated Thanksgiving and Christmas goodness with nary an exam or written paper in sight), and she still had a post-sleepover-with-friends-oreos-and-potato-chips hangover from this past weekend.

"Mom, I found out why she's still sleeping," said my youngest, after a wee, soft patter up and down the stairs again.

"Oh?  Why?"

"Her clock says it's only six o'clock."

A full three hours behind.  It felt naughty, the thought of a clock being set that far behind, missing (wasting)  that much of the daylight hours ... and also richly luxurious to be that oblivious to the actual goings on of the world around.  To still be safely wrapped in warm comfort, in your bed, while the sun lazily passes overhead through clear blue sky.  I will admit I was a little jealous of her.

I've been very lost in thought over the past few days, floating around in a sea of introspection, dwelling on my true calling and purpose, mulling over the meaning of my life.  Call it an existential crises (or a midlife "I'm turning 40 in 28 days" crises), but I am taking these thoughts very seriously, chewing them over with meaningful intention.

The lifespan of the average person is 71 years. If you're a guy, you can expect to live about 68 years. If you're a woman, give yourself 73. For now, let's bump it up for all of us to 75 years, just for the sake of generosity.

One third of that time is spent sleeping, so now we each have 50 years to work with, or 438,000 waking hours.

Of those 438,000 waking hours, you can expect to spend roughly one third of those "working". Whether your job is as a welder, an accountant, a stay-at-home parent, teacher, lawyer, doctor, or journalist, the average work hours add up to 60 hours per week -- more if your job demands more, but let's just say you now have 292,000 hours remaining for "all the other stuff", roughly eight hours per 24-hour day for what we'll call the Real Stuff.

Here's where the rubber begins to hit the road: take your age in years and multiply it by eight, then multiply that number again by 365.  Deduct this number, the number of Real Stuff hours you've already lived, from 292,000.

The number you're staring at is the number of Real Stuff hours you have left before your life here on earth is no more.

Now let me ask you this: how are you going to spend those hours?

Are you going to spend them with family and friends? Are you going to spend them staring at the T.V.? Are you going to play iPhone games with those hours?  Will you spend them on Facebook, gathering bits of intel about people you may or may not know on a daily basis? Are you going to spend them exercising? What about gardening? Taking photos of your kids dance recitals? Going on Vacations? Surely some of your Real Stuff hours will be spent eating, showering, brushing your teeth, picking out the day's clothes, driving to and fro -- but what about the rest of them?

It is this I have been pondering: what is the stuff of Real Stuff?  What are my priorities?

Is it acquiring knowledge or wealth or status?

Is it playing board games with your kids or kissing your partner?

Is it going to church or practicing yoga?

Is it laughing with friends over hot tea or taking prayerful walks in the woods?

What is it?  What are the top priorities in your life?

And are you spending your Real Stuff hours on those things?

I haven't been. I've spent many thousands of hours on social media, glued to my computer screen, glued to a television screen -- well beyond what is healthy or acceptable for mere mindful rest (because rest is just as important as the Real Stuff).  I have only 175,252 hours of my Real Stuff life left (assuming I don't get hit by a car in the morning).

I'm not trying to be morbid. I'm trying to be real.  I'm trying to be honest.  Because taking a cold, hard, calculating gander at what I am doing and what I really want to be doing is a valuable, valuable thing.

What are you doing -- right now, eyes pasted to screen, sitting at home or standing on the curb waiting for your bus to work, checking your laptop or smartphone?  What are you doing with your Real Stuff hours?

I believe we owe it to ourselves to figure out the answer to this key question, sooner rather than later ...

To be continued ....