To Flourish in the Desert
In my adult life I have lived in three different countries and the Pacific Islands. I’ve settled into twelve different homes in my sixteen years of marriage. After all the moves, all the starting over and after being the “new girl” again and again, I’ve come to to long for places that are familiar, that anchor me in time and space, places that nurture a sense of safety and stability. I’ve come to long for home in the deepest parts of my heart with an ache I can only just now begin to describe with words.
When our family moved from Germany to the United States, my husband and I found ourselves back in our hometown, rather penniless and rather tired… and right in the middle of the dry season. The caramel yellow of the hills and the constant dust seemed to echo a fatigue that matched our own. We had lived in a 12th century hunting castle in Bavaria, steeped in rich community on a missionary base, and I found myself often longing for the green of the hills that surrounded our small village, for the food and shared tables and quiet of the country. Among the strip malls and billboards of the western United States, I craved the sights of old architecture: churches and buildings lovingly updated and restored through the centuries, looking forward, but not quite letting go of the past. My oldest was just two years old at the time and in my days of caring for her and entrenched in the mundane tasks of setting up a new home that I wasn’t very fond of, I sensed a growing discontent with my surroundings, with relationships, with our pauper circumstances- it all felt so bland and gray a little hopeless.
My daughter and I had visited all the libraries, parks, pools and riverbanks I could remember from my own childhood and on a lark, I decided to do a bit of exploring. I was on a quest, really, willing myself to find something that would stir excitement. We found ourselves at a small French bakery I’d enjoyed visiting in high school. Appropriately named The Anjou for its location nestled in the heart of a beautiful pear orchard. The scene was idyllic. The bakery had transformed an old barn into a haven, with a front porch lavished in flower pots and the sweet smell of fruit ripening in the orchard to engulf our senses. I was captivated by the simple beauty of the place as we savored butter croissants and patted the head of the resident old lab, Fritz.
At that very moment, something awakened in my heart. I became aware of the lime green patio furniture and the contrast it brought out in the grooves of the old slab floor, my baby girl’s dimpled hands seemed softer than ever as she held on to me, and her laughter was infectious as she played with the dog that was bigger than she was. The sun in our eyes lit up that space and I drank in every single drop. I felt AT HOME. Not in memory or association, but in a sentimental feeling, in the connection that was knit between the beauty of this bakery and my own personality.
This physical place had an unspoken ability to nourish my soul and fill it with beauty and light at a time when everything else felt as dry as the hills.
Drinking in beauty, stretching out in the space of a pause, hanging on to the note of tension, even in the dust of the desert that can leave us so thirsty re-orients our hearts. There is no possibility of experiencing rich flavor, deep hues, the scent of blossoms or the laughter of a child tugging on the hair of an old dog that does not connect us to the true beauty we've always had a hankering to take hold of. As C.S. Lewis put so much better than I,
"We do not want merely to see beauty... we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it."
And so we shall. The sentiment of our longing, being tugged awake, sparked to its presence, however small is only the beginning. Even in the desert, true beauty inhabits the land, as it inhabits our souls. Its found deep, beyond the hills and plains themselves, not in any one place or even in our sentiment, where we often believe it resides, but in a PERSON. He sustains our days, he lifts our heads. He is our water. He is our BEAUTY.