“ Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8, The Voice)
I’ve never been much of a perserverer. When the going gets too tough, and I get overwhelmed with the tough, I give up. I’m a quitter through and through. I know this about myself– I’m very quick to leave when things get too tense or too hard. I avoid conflict with all my might– hence why I attempted to drop my Holocaust lit class instead of go talk to my professor about what I’m struggling with. (that’s another story for another blog).
I focus on the bad. My brain is always anxious, always heading straight towards the worst-case scenario. I’m not a pessimist, but a realist: I see things for how they are. And I almost always see how the bad overpowers the good. And it’s because of this– this hopelessness in seeing the bad– that I quit instead of keep going.
I don’t get my hopes up for the miraculous. I roll my eyes at the happily ever afters and the fairytales. I hardened my heart to the world and people when I was a kid, and have slowly been learning how to trust them again.
I’ve never been too good at focusing on the good. On focusing on anything but the ugly, really. There could be 10 things going right, but I only see where I’m failing.
While I’m a details person in how I function (as in every detail has to be perfect omg), I am not so much a details person in paying attention to anything but the big picture. And when the road to the big picture looks bleak or the path is filled with conflict or stress, I run away. Fast.
And then, Annie Downs comes along, and teaches me a new way of thinking that isn’t really all that new, but framed in a way that has re-taught me. She’s helped me learn how to fight against this quitter mentality, how to see the little details as the big picture of life.
She’s shown me how to look for lovely.
Annie F. Downs is no stranger on this blog. She’s basically one of my favorite people ever. I’ve heard her speak three times now, and read Let’s All Be Brave so hard that it started fraying and falling apart. We share a birthday which makes her automatically fall on my list of favorite humans in all the world. She’s a loud laugher like me, a lover of good music and books and glitter like myself.
And, she was a quitter. Until she started looking for lovely. Now she knows what true perseverence– and hope– looks like. And she learned, as I’m learning, that lovely and hope don’t always look like things we’d think they do.
Annie has this way of taking a concept that the world defines and twisting it on its head–kinda like Jesus did. Reading her books feels like getting coffee and having life talks with a friend- refreshingly light and funny while powerfully life-giving. She has pointed me more towards Jesus than any other author with humor and grace and just plain normalness, and she has taught me so much about what lovely– and hope– looks like in my life. Even when lovely and hope aren’t very visible.
I always thought the lovely things were big productions and giant gestures of grandiose proportions. Annie says no, that’s not what we’re talking about when we look for lovely. At least not all of the time.
We find lovely in the smallest, most obscure ways– and in the littlest things. It’s those seemingly little things that turn into the biggest seedlings of hope we need to persevere through whatever life is throwing at us.
When I eagerly signed on to become a member of the launch team for her new book, Looking for Lovely, I was mostly excited because she’s Annie and I love her. What I didn’t know at the time was how much God was going to use this book to get to me.
Annie starts the book by talking about her “broken crazy,” a time in her life that she started seeing some issues she had going on in her life and sought help in a few different ways– which led to her looking for lovely. It was kind of funny to me reading about her “broken crazy,” because I soon figured out that my broken crazy happened right around the same time. I’ve stayed mostly afloat since then (thank you Jesus for therapy and paxil), but more broken crazy has arisen the past few months.
This semester has not been my favorite. At all. This season of life– stuck in a useless “bonus” semester while being anxious and unsure about the future and what I want to do– has truly been awful. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I’m just done with it all. I’ve wanted to give up more than once… I still do, if I’m being honest. I told two different professors today that I was completely apathetic towards the rest of this semester. (One took it better than the other).
Besides Cozumel, there has not been much lovely or good about this semester.
Until I started reading Annie’s book. I soon started looking with a different set of eyes– and God revealed to me what lovely looked like.
“And as I’m collecting these moments that matter, I’m actually just seeing more of Him. When you find Jesus, you have found lovely.”
Lovely looked like random encounters with long-seen friends.
Lovely looked like a sunny Sunday in February, reading my Bible and books outside.
Lovely looked like seeing a counselor and exhaling for the first time in months.
Lovely looked like laughing with girlfriends about chick flicks and youtube clips.
Lovely, I learned, was everywhere. I just had to re-train myself how to look for it.
Lovely looked like singing and dancing and laughing alongside some of my favorite people in Mexico.
Lovely looked like friends seeing my broken and loving me anyway.
Lovely looked like friends seeing you sad and bringing you flowers to cheer you up.
Lovely looked like singing hymns under the stars in Mexico with 40 of your favorite people.
“It’s not that my life is all that different; it’s just that I see it differently. So it feels like a brand new life.”
When I started paying attention, I found lovely. It didn’t just start happening or showing up suddenly– I just became aware of it.
The season may not be lovely right now, God says, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any lovely in it. It took this book to remind me that there was–and is– hope that lovely will come across my path, and hope will be waiting for me around the corner. Even when it doesn’t feel like hope is possible anymore.
After the broken crazy, Annie talks about how she has to be rebuilt– and in this rebuilding, she starts watching for a miracle and looks for lovely. The book goes through the different places she finds lovely– and how she finds hope and God in her right-now life, giving us suggestions for how to find our own lovely in where she finds it.
Even when life isn’t lovely itself, she finds the lovely in the margins– and she clings to it.
Kinda like I’m doing right now. I’m clinging to the hope that is anchored in looking for the lovely things around me. Even though life is chaos and stress and mental hell right now, there is lovely in the midst of it. I just had to rebuild myself with a new lens to see it.
I could go on about the book, and there are a few future posts that will probably come from chapters of it, but for now: this book was just what my heart needed. It’s become an anthem for my life: look for the lovely. Even when it hurts. Even when you’re scared. Even when lovely is nowhere to be found.
I adored this book. Annie is so personal and honest– I was so teary reading parts of it because I know her better now (and how much more I’m like her than I realized). My favorite chapter is the end, because she tells us that this journey is still a work in progress– it’s not unfinished. She doesn’t tie it in a pretty little bow and say that Jesus fixed every problem. Nope. She tells us she’s trying, aiming to be the person that looks for lovely in all things, finds hope in the lovely, and see Jesus as the most lovely thing we can find. But she’s not there everyday yet. That takes guts to admit– so many times Christian authors want a concrete ending that says that they’ve figured the answer to all their problems.
Annie instead offers us a grace-filled “I’m in this with you– and I am unfinished” ending that reminded me it’s OK not to be finished. It’s OK not to have it all figured out, to not neccesarily be able to find the lovely every second of every day. We just keep trying, refusing to be quitters anymore. That’s what I see when I see Annie in this book: a flawed, funny, grace-filled daughter who is trying to look for lovely and see hope in all circumstances. She doesn’t get there 100% of the time, but she isn’t letting the broken crazy in her life turn her into a quitter anymore.
I don’t want to be a quitter anymore, either. Thanks, Annie.
Looking for Lovely is out in stores everywhere now. If you’re in a place where you’re needing to find slivers of hope and help to cling to, please look at this book. Annie writes about her story and her path to finding lovely in such a funny, open-hearted way. It’s worth checking out. Jesus and hope are on every page, and it is a beautiful book that captures what God has been trying to teach me.