garden fence with tree smashing in

Beholding When It’s Not Pretty

Happy 2022, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful New Year celebration. We stayed at home and I had a little time to do some self-reflection.

It’s the dawn of a new year.

In 2020, my mother-in-law gave me a book by Rachel Chou Simons that I skimmed through and mostly admired for the beautiful artwork. Lately I’ve had a chance to actually read the wisdom in these pages.

This year as a resolution I decided to celebrate the life my family chooses to live in our country farmhouse.

I wanted to take time to pay attention to my home– both its interior and exterior landscape– especially the elements of the rural lifestyle that first drew us to Charlottesville.

historic farmhouse painted greek villa sherwin williams with white snow on roof

One of the major attractions of life in the country is enjoying the views of superb landscapes. The light changing on the trees. The big sky at dawn.

green garden shed with cupola in the snow

Today I’m sharing a bit about my thoughts on a fresh start in 2022… nearly two years into this pandemic, when things might not look so rosy.

The Art of Beholding

The idea behind this book is that it’s important to take notice of the beautiful life around us. Essentially, beholding the beauty of the every day around us will lead to beautiful thoughts. Beautiful thoughts will lead to a beautiful life. It makes sense. I would think this is really, really easy to do when things are going right.

text box with green background and pink font stating "we become what we behold"

Basically… when things aren’t January 2022.

If you live in a bucolic area and there’s no Omicron, and no homelessness, and no children needing homes in foster care, I imagine it’s relatively easy to stop and smell the roses (and behold the beauty of a rose). But what if you live in a pandemic with a 24/7 news cycle blasting out scary news nonstop? Or what if you’ve stood by helplessly as your friends lost their four year old daughter, and are now witnessing the same genetic disease take hold of their three year old daughter?

A lot of the time, when life isn’t pretty to pay attention to, I tune out.

Distractions in 2022

One result of the pandemic is the normalcy of hours upon hours of screen time every day. My friends kids’ schools are going virtual…  in 2022. As parents to two school-aged kids and two babies, David and I have relied on screen time more than we ever imagined for childcare (and “education”). It’s so easy to become captivated by technology and virtual this and that. Plus screens are blissfully mind numbing when the real world hurts too much.

black wolfhound mix laying down in the snow

Screens are obviously addicting. I fully recognize our family has fallen into such a desire for and an expectation of drama through screens that we’re overlooking so much wonder and glory in the every day moments. But the hunt for the wonder and glory requires us to open our eyes to what’s around, and sometimes that just feels too painful.

black and white cat eating outside in front of column by boxwood bush

What do you do when the fresh start isn’t a beautiful sight?

A new year is supposed to bring with it a fresh start. 2020 was hard for us for so many reasons, and I had so much hope for 2021. 2021 was also very hard, and I spent a lot of the year thinking 2022 would be better.

This past Monday, January 3, a snowstorm descended upon Charlottesville that had scary winds and heavy snow. I think we got around 6-8″ altogether but it’s hard to tell because the wind made it pile up high in some areas and it was lower in others. It totally wreaked havoc on Virginia’s power system. Trees went down everywhere. We lost power right away, as did everyone I know around here. Despite having five fireplaces in our sweet farmhouse, none of the chimneys are in safe enough working condition for a fire, and our well pump can’t pump water without power either. It sounded like shotguns were going off around us every few seconds as branches snapped and fell. David cut up a bunch of trees that fell into our driveway with the chainsaw.

enormous tree branch crashing into garden fence with snow on the ground

We left our house on Monday and stayed at my mom’s house in town (she also had no power but she had water and a gas fireplace and stove!). Our van got stuck in the snow in our driveway. We finally got through, only to see our next door neighbor’s car get hit by a tree limb. I’m so grateful we had another place to go that was safe. We finally got power back yesterday and moved back home this morning, praise the Lord! I know there are still thousands of families around Charlottesville that still don’t have any electricity. We are and were so, so blessed to have not felt the cold this week as the temperatures go below freezing each night.

crepe myrtle tree in the snow with branches fallen over

Taking in the View

I am grateful beyond measure that our family was able to weather this storm safely.

Once we returned home today, I spent a few minutes surveying our property. It was not bad, but it was not good. Looking around, I’m still kind of in shock at what a mess we have with all the massive downed tree limbs in the yard.

snowy field with trees and limbs down

dogwood tree snapped in half with snow in background

tree limb fallen onto garden fence next to gate

As it’s only the first week of 2022 and I’m still mindful of my goal to take it all in and notice the details, and practice beholding, I can’t help but immediately want to turn to my cell phone and start scrolling Instagram or something– anything– to not have to face the circumstances in real life. I feel so overwhelmed with the house upkeep and being a mom, and David has so much on his plate with work and being a dad, and now we have all this extra work to figure out how to do before we can let our kids out to play around any of these limbs. It feels too much, and it feels like I’d rather behold pretty curated images elsewhere and let my attention creep to something other than what’s right in front of me.

dark green text box with pink font stating "we've been given so much to look at, but we are missing the art of beholding" by ruth chou simons

The Secret to Beholding is Knowing You Don’t Know

So often on the internet (ie blogs or Instagram) we see photos of old farmhouse living through the lens of staged meals, or community and sharing, like prepping for entertaining/ parties. (Don’t get me wrong: that is all lovely and fun to see pictures and think about.) The reality is that this lifestyle has so much more behind-the-scenes work.

chicken coop with snow on top of chicken wire

I never realized how much work it was until we were in the thick of it ourselves. Just now, writing this blog post next to a space heater because the mini-split in our kitchen is broken and we’re waiting on parts, I had to take a break and make sure the goats and pigs have enough hay in their shelter since it’s supposed to get pretty cold tonight. It’s not glamorous. We love it, love love love it, but if I really wanted to stop and focus on all the hard work it takes living in an old farmhouse, I could easily become consumed by all the negatives.

I’ve decided to adopt a mindset I recently discovered from Ann Voskamp’s blog. (If you don’t know this author, she is absolutely amazing, and I highly highly recommend all her books!)

The gist of it is: we don’t know the full picture.

Ann shares a story in her blog post that I’ll copy and paste here:

That mindset, I now see, is how to behold when the picture’s not pretty. When it’s 2022… and your kids are out of school yet again. And you can’t believe you have to order more masks because you were convinced last time you ordered would be the last time. And your beloved trees have come down and broken all of your fences.

Being Mindful of the Full Story

We don’t know how the full story goes, we simply can’t know how the full story goes, and we were never supposed to know how the full story goes. It’s infuriating for someone like me with control issues who likes to be a know it all.

But we are given a sliver (as Ann calls it in her story) of the full story through our own experiences. It’s that little sliver, I’m realizing, that we’re supposed to embrace–but we have to be mindful that we only get to experience a small part of the big picture.

tree branch crashing into garden fence with snow on the ground and farmhouse in background

Country living, especially when it means living in an old farmhouse, is really a state of mind. It’s a longing for and acceptance of simplicity. For wholesome goodness. For the little things.

Ann writes this at the bottom of her blog post:

How do we know if what looks like it’s the worst might be for our best, how do we know if what looks all wrong could turn things all right, how do we know if what seems wrong isn’t actually part of writing a redemptive story? 

I think Ann nailed it on the head. That’s why I wanted to share this part of my experience so far with beholding. (By the way, Ann just wrote this after her father was killed in a tragic accident– the same kind of accident which took her sister’s life when they were little kids decades ago. I respect her mindset so much in a time of grief.)

Bottom Line: Recognize Our Experiences Aren’t The Full Picture

Whatever your mindset is this January 2022, I want to encourage you to recognize that who we become day by day is shaped by what we can’t live without as we go. And what I’m realizing is it’s easier to travel light. 🙂 I used to assume I could analyze everything going on around me– that my understanding of the world was the end-all be-all story. Let me tell you how freeing it is to simply let go. I recognize now that I don’t have to make sense of what’s going on around me. I can simply acknowledge that I only know what I observe, and that perhaps is only a fragment of what’s really happening.

icicles on side of white farmhouse roof above porch railing

You see… when I try to put my experience as the center of the whole story, I become discontent. I believe I know how it all goes. I trust my perception to be the whole story, and that’s just not the case. As Ruth Chou Simons writes in her book:

“Honest self-examination is brutal but revealing. Sometimes things appear to be unfair or unjust, and they stoke our bitterness. We struggle to humbly receive, but instead secretly demand.”

I think the art of beholding (for me anyway) is more an art of letting go of the desire to think I understand everything happening.

Variations of a Story

For example, I could write this story this way: we had a big snow storm, the trees and limbs all came crashing down, and now we have a lot of work to do to repair all the broken fences and clear it all out before the kids can safely play outside.

Or… I could also recognize I don’t/ can’t/ won’t ever really know the full story.

Maybe one of the branches just narrowly avoided my kids as they first went out to play in the snow Monday morning and I didn’t even know what a close call they had. Or perhaps a tree would have fallen on our farmhouse were it not for a change in the direction of the wind. It could be that a lot of those limbs were dead anyway. Maybe they would have fallen some other time in the near future. Perhaps our kids will learn something about trees from this experience. Maybe when we repair the broken fences we’ll find ways to make them even sturdier. Or we may want to put in a new gate now that we hadn’t realized we needed. And we might have a big bonfire with the wood from all those limbs that will end up being one of our family’s most cherished memories.

Join Me in Beholding

Do you see what I’m saying? Beholding really is an art that I can tell will take practice. It means to physically stand your ground. Beholding keep your eyes open amid the hard parts when the view isn’t pretty. Beholding means not to wander away or give up your purposefulness. It means to stay present and face what’s in front of you while accepting you don’t know why it’s happening or how it will end. And for me, that means to be stronger than the desire to get overwhelmed and turn to a screen.

You don’t have to own an old farmhouse to practice this. I want to challenge you to the same challenge I’m giving myself this year: transformation from within by practicing the art of beholding, one everyday sliver of a moment at a time.

limb down in backyard covered with snow

4 thoughts on “Beholding When It’s Not Pretty”

  1. Lynne, this is such an inspiration to read …. and a lofty goal for us. But it is do-able, with practice and with God’s help. I am thrilled that you like the book and now you have passed on what you have gained from it.

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