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Her 89-year-old frame shuffled slowly and gracefully into the dining room. She was brittle, her bones buttressed on the left by a worn, wooden cane. “Oooh . . . such a beautiful table!” None of us had said that. None of us were 89 years old either. The table was beautiful. The Christmas red table cloth, the spotless white dishware, matching napkins folded edge-to-edge, the silverware set ruler-straight — oh yes, this table was beautiful. We just didn’t see it. The image hadn’t soaked through our soul’s skin the way it had with her.
But I thought about what she said, her simple declaration. I still think about it. I can still hear her Spanish accent, carried 89 years from Cuba, the elongated “ee” sound in her pronunciation of “beauteeful.”
A Highly Sensitive Observer
Very small things affect me greatly. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe I’m just what Elaine Aron calls a highly sensitive person. As I understand it, highly sensitive people are like wet clay. As they walk through the everyday world, they are more easily embossed and shaped by what’s around them. They think, feel, and wonder deeply. Small things, in other words, are very big things to them.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’m convinced it’s true of me. I stop on the staircase at work to stare for a moment at a bug that I can’t identify. And I’m lost for a few seconds. Those two white specks — are those his eyes? Is he looking at me right now? How did he get inside the building? How many stairs has he climbed down to get to this landing, at this precise moment, just as I’m walking up the staircase in the early morning? An hour later, my soul feels crushed when I see his broken body a few tiles away. He had come so far . . . I see beauty, tragedy, and wonder wrapped in an insect frame no larger than the nail on my pinkie.
Speaking of pinkies, what about that little scrape above the nail on my own, in the shape of a closed eye? It’s just started to heal. The mild redness is my body’s blood rushing and gathering to stave off infection. It’s working. The dull pain is slowly and quietly subsiding, like a wind that’s dying out. How many others in world history died from simple cuts like this that became infected? Why was I spared from that? What could be the purpose for a tiny incision on my body closing up and protecting me from greater danger? I see mercy, grace, and sovereignty in a scrape.
And then there’s the Red Delicious apple I cleaned off with my sweatshirt at the local orchard. The way it’s dappled with white stars amidst the red sky of its skin, shining so brightly it’s almost boasting. How many bright days and black nights had it sat on the tree, swelling with potential, building a case around a little treasure trove of seeds — the life to come? Scattered around my feet are thousands of fallen apples, turning to brown mush as they settle back into the grass beneath the trees. I wish they hadn’t fallen. I wish they were still hanging from the trees like promises. I want them to be restored. I want them to boast on the tree, not lament in the soil. I see glory and brokenness in an orchard apple.
And that sunset from last Tuesday’s family walk . . . How my son’s body was outlined in orange fire as he ran towards the skyline. The ease of my wife’s steps as she pushed a 16-month-old life around the bend in the sidewalk. The power of light to burn the skyline and leave the clouds behind as our planet slowly spun into the night. God, how I wanted to pause history for just that moment! It was too much, too potent, too striking. Why was I allowed to enjoy something so richly personal and bursting with light?
People like me, people like us, we think about these things. We notice them. We’re embossed by the life around us. That’s why I wrote Finding God in the Ordinary. I’m a man of wet clay. Almost everything I experience has the power to cast me into thought and feeling. Little things are a big deal to me. And I think, if it’s not too bold to say, they’re a big deal to God, too. Pausing to observe the world is not an inconvenience. It’s a way of imaging the God of details. It’s about being a highly sensitive observer in a wondrously ornate world. But even more than that, it’s about looking through that world to see the God who is speaking through it.