Thursday, March 24, 2016

Taking Pictures of Garbage

My husband and I recently met my sister and brother-in-law in Las Vegas for a few days. We decided not to rent a car so we used Uber for the first time. Our trip over to the Fremont District was fantastic. The driver was friendly and engaging, so we had good conversation on the way. A few hours later we used Uber again to return to our hotel and got a different driver. He was also friendly. But as he drove he started telling us about all the negative things about living in or even visiting Las Vegas. He would tell about a hotel he helped build, or about the monorail, or about the taxi vs. Uber battle, or about how he wanted to move back to California. Each story was punctuated with “they just don’t care about you” or “they wouldn’t want me telling you all of this, but...” When he finished one story we were all quiet and then he broke the silence by saying, “sorry if it seems like I’m negative…but I’m not, I’m just a realist.”

So let me be honest here, I had been riding along thinking, “this guy is such a fun-sucker…he’s so pessimistic and negative,” but as he said, “I’m just a realist,” I shifted my thinking - in the same way a sharp elbow to your gut would. For so many years I argued that I was a realist every time my husband would tell me I was being a pessimist. I would map out some projection for how a health challenge or finances or whatever scenario was going to go in a catastrophic direction and when he called me out on the negativity I said, “I’m not negative; I’m just a realist.”  I knew my realism was extremely negative, but I felt justified in that. I could list off a dozen examples of times when things had gone exactly as negatively as I expected.

Here’s the tricky thing about reality, our reality is influenced by what we decide to include in the image we create. One of my favorite beaches uses tractors to scrape the seaweed off the beach and then rake the beaches so they’re perfectly smooth and pristine looking. I love it—it’s why this beach is one of the favorite destinations in the area—but it’s not realistic. If I travel 5 miles south where this doesn’t happen, I will see piles of seaweed, some litter, more sand flies. But if I zoom in on a pile of stinky seaweed crawling with flies and ignore the beautiful surf, the warmth of the sunshine on my skin and the smell of the salty, sea air it, too, isn't realistic because it’s not the whole picture.

Life is not meant to be a series of photographs that we edit to suit our purposes. If every snapshot of our lives is airbrushed and cleaned up, then that means we’ve spent a ton of time and energy to rake away and bury all of the debris that we don’t want others to see. This is not realistic. At the same time, if every picture of our lives focuses on the garbage and the flies—which truly did exist as part of the reality—we’ve also taken a lot of effort to block the beautiful things from entering our awareness. This is also not realistic.

Embracing a life filled with both beautiful and ugly moments; neither denying nor elevating one over the other, is a worthy goal. One that allows me to take all that life offers, lean hard into the strength that God provides, and be filled with the joy that carries me through the journey.