I was standing on the balcony of our apartment building recently, looking down the street at the colorful roof tops and dusty road. I was thinking how I wished I could share what Cambodia is really like with those back in the States. So I leaned against the railing, trying to figure out how I could take a picture without all the power lines and wires in the way of the picture.
All of a sudden I realized how ridiculous I was being. To show what Cambodia is really like, I ought just to take a picture as-is, without finagling angles to cut out unsightly objects. If my goal is to show what it is really like, it should be unedited and unfiltered and uncropped.
Unedited and uncropped. Those words reminded me why the blog is named Beyond the Smiles—because of the huge portion of life that’s lived in that space beyond the smiles and social media posts and the “I’m fine” lies that slip from our lips unnoticed. I don’t want to be captive to masks and false fronts; I want to practice honesty and authenticity and talk about all parts of life, even the difficult and ugly and messy parts—what life is really like.
So I wondered, what if the power lines aren’t making the picture less scenic? What if they are making the picture complete?
When we physically look around, we have an amazing ability to look past the “ugly” things and appreciate the beauty around us. We look past telephone poles and wires and trash on the ground to enjoy a breathtaking sunset or a budding flower. If we waited for a beautiful view without any kind of distraction, we would rarely—if ever—find a suitable one.
Perhaps the power lines are simply part of the view.
Sometimes I edit the picture I paint for people about life here—and often people want the edited version. It’s tempting just to tell about the highlights in ministry and the fun cultural experiences and the delicious new foods I’m trying. Certainly that is part of life overseas! But that’s not all there is. There is also the homesickness and traveler’s diarrhea and culture stress. There’s still the anxiety and depression that comes and goes.
Really, it’s always tempting to edit the stories of our lives, overseas or not. Sometimes we encounter parts of our stories we wish weren’t there, and we want to cut those chapters out. There are certainly parts of my story I've wanted to white-out or highlight and hit command+x or just take a pair of scissors to. Yet these unwanted chapters are still part of our stories, whether we own them or not. When we leave out the power lines in our stories, we aren’t making them more beautiful. We’re leaving them incomplete.
Each day we face a choice: will we spend the whole day searching for a perfect Kodak moment, or will we embrace life with all the messy (and sometimes ugly) power lines and trash and poor lighting? Will we choose to enjoy the beauty in life even when it comes alongside hard things?
In part, this is similar to giving myself permission to say things I’m not supposed to say, things that are humble and honest. Choosing to accept the less-than-perfect parts of life is much like admitting fears and weaknesses and letting people see the warts and wrinkles behind our masks and makeup. Just as we try to disown chapters or themes in our stories, sometimes we try to orphan unwanted parts of ourselves. Yet when we orphan our imperfections, we aren't making ourselves more attractive, and we're certainly not getting any closer to perfection. We're simply missing out on who we were made to be.
I used to think life was about avoiding pain. I thought the purpose of life was to enjoy the moments that were happy, when everything was going great. But now I see things differently. Now I’m learning to accept that no matter what I do or where I go, power lines will most likely stay in the picture.
And that’s okay.
The point of life isn’t avoiding pain and finding happiness. It’s about knowing Jesus. Sitting with Him and walking with Him and getting to know Him. That’s what makes life full and meaningful and worth it. With Jesus here, the power lines can stay.
Are there unwanted “power lines” in your life right now?
How do you usually respond to these less-than-perfect parts of life or situations?