Beautiful, Terrible

March 23, 2012 | 26 comments

This world, it’s a beautiful and hideous world.

It is heaped with extragavant joy, and with tremendous pain, and I — a gape-mouth, tear-streak human being — bow in stunned awe. I don’t know what, yet, to do with the range of emotions stirring here. I do not think I knew fully how a human could experience such range within a few miles, a few minutes, a few breaths.

Indeed, I did not know that those depths and heights could occur so jarringly fast within one human soul.

Frederick Buechner once said that God calls us to places where our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I always figured the quote spoke about someone like me who had the financial resources, security and faith to go out and do something — with God’s help — to repair the abysmal rancor of this world. And I suppose that is part of what Buechner meant.

But I look at these people, and think this thought: Their hunger is excruciatingly deeper. So, too, is their joy. They are missionaries to me.

A friend of mine here said it this way: “Sometimes, it’s more fun to be dumb and ignorant. It’s certainly easier.”

But we’ve crossed a threshold, and we can’t turn back. We’ve made real relationships with real people. These are real human lives. This morning, a woman I met will wake up and put her feet flat down on a dirt floor and wonder how she’ll feed herself and her child. Chances are 50 percent or more that she won’t.

I might try to make myself feel absolved by saying something like: “Oh, but they know Jesus.” Which they do.

I might try to excuse myself from doing anything more by saying: “They appear to have more confidence in God’s faithfulness than I ever did.” Which is also the bold-faced truth. I have never been in a position to have to trust God at this level. I could then, perhaps, walk away to my cushy life and never do a thing, reminding myself every day that “at least they have Jesus. And that’s what’s most important.”

But Jesus is not OK with this.

He came to save people from their sins, no doubt about it. But he also commanded us to help the widow and the orphan and the hungry. He didn’t tell us how, exactly, he just said to do it.

He called us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I met my neighbor. I met her just off of a rocky path, with her head, heavy in her hands, and she says life feels hopeless. She used the word “dark.” I met another neighbor at my hip, a little neighbor with begging eyes who wanted a drink.

I stepped back on our air-conditioned bus and took a sip of water. It was the most wonderful and horrifying drink of water I’ve ever taken.

This world, it’s a beautiful and hideous world.


The bungee-jump of emotion took us back to the orphanage, where we experienced the sheer joy — and slight chaos — of escorting 72 orphans to the beach. That’s 72 swimsuits, 72 sets of Crocs or flip-flops, and 72 little heads to keep track of. Then, a few of us raced back to the orphanage to hide 800 candy-filled eggs for the most rapturous Easter Egg hunt I have witnessed.

Happy-tears rolled down my cheeks as those children raced through their home looking for eggs, and as their “mommies” cheered and rooted for them, and lifted them high to find eggs in the high places.

Yet, tonight, they will go to bed without someone rubbing their back, or singing them a lullaby. And I find myself, again, in that strange place where the human spirit tries to figure out what to do with these wildly conflicting emotions.

Yes, it’s a beautiful and hideous world. And dear God, help me to make it just a little bit better with love.

(Scroll down to find a 20-second video of those children racing in to find Easter eggs. Subscribers, you can click here to find it.)


by | March 23, 2012 | 26 comments


  1. Lisa Auter

    Bless your broken heart.

  2. Kim

    Beautiful words, beautiful images.

  3. Megan Willome

    There has probably never been a happier Easter egg hunt–ever!

  4. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Did your group bring all those Crocs?

    Thank you, Jennifer, for letting us–letting ME–watch over your shoulder from the insulated comfort of home.

    But see? You bored a hole right through all cushy padding.

  5. Connie@raise your eyes

    LORD bless all this and multiply it in ways far too wondrous for us to imagine. Amen.

  6. Michelle DeRusha

    My God, Jennifer. Bless you. Thanking Him for you, there.

  7. Cindy

    This morning as I prayed for you (before reading this post) I asked God what He would help you do with all of this. And then you described it……..beautiful, terrible. You will never be the same, and I am confident that God will show you specifically what He would have you do with this beautiful, terrible knowledge.

  8. Simply Darlene

    thank you for sharing this journey with us…


  9. Ann Kroeker

    Joy in the midst of suffering–to be part of that, Jennifer, you are part of Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for going, serving, loving, sharing.

  10. Dawn

    Yes. Barely a whisper, but Yes.

  11. Mari-Anna Stålnacke (@flowingfaith)

    Yes! Faith is not just a sentiment but a call to action. Faith is meant to be lived out…out of our comfort zones. Dear God, empower us to make a difference! Blessings!

  12. Stephanie Spencer

    Thank you so much for this post. It is inspiring and challenging. I have found the same thing on mission trips. As much as I am giving, I am receiving (if not more). So many lessons about contentment and true joy. So much hurt over the disparities in the world.

  13. Denise

    Your words bring me right there to the sweat, the dirt, the smoky air. Oh how I wish I was there with you in the midst of the extremes that is Haiti.

    Raw and terribly beautiful.

  14. Missy

    Pure joy. I love seeing it.
    And that baby in the first photo…I just want to run over there, pick them up and bring them back home.

  15. Kim

    This truly is beautiful and terrible. May our hearts keep aching, breaking, and going. Thank you, Jennifer.

  16. Dolly

    Thank you, Jennifer…praying for you, the kids, and the women of ViBella.

  17. emily wierenga

    oh jennifer.

    i know. i felt this way when i went to mexico.

    it breaks you and humbles you and makes you pray like never before.

    love your heart, friend.

  18. Diana Trautwein

    YES – this is exactly it. Jesus is NOT okay with any of this. And yes, they are missionaries to us – their faith shines where ours is too dull. But…BUT to put feet to your faith, to carry material necessities along with your love, to provide fun as well as shoes – this is doing kingdom work. Yes. Yes. YES. Thank you so much, Jennifer. There are no words.

  19. Diane bailey

    As each day passes I pray for you. How I wish I could be there with you. Give hugs for me

  20. patricia spreng

    tears… beautiful, terrible tears.

  21. cindy K

    Yes, beautiful, terrible, OUR GOD – praying, praising that HE is walking with you and each of them. Blessings, sweet friend, Blessings… to you and them.

  22. Dea

    There is something so beautiful about an Easter Egg hunt in a polka dot swimsuit! I love these and love that you understand. So thankful your words and pictures but most thankful for your heart that beats for Jesus, that breaks for the things that break His heart and and thrills to the things that bring HIm joy!

    So much grace, so much glory here.

    You know my heart is beating with yours right here in this “beautiful, terrible” world.


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