On finding beauty everywhere: Why I turned Christian radio back on


I suppose I could take photographs for money if I wanted to. But I don't. There's two simple reasons. One, it only seems to work for me when there's true love involved - that relationship flowing back and forth between subject and photographer that makes the photography session a synergistic hour of magic, laughter, and a time when true beauty shines through and unequaled joy is shared. And two, because I refuse to discard the outtakes: you know, the photos that are out of focus, not quite perfect, or unphotoshopped to perfection.


I see beauty in the rough edges. I see real life in the raw. 


We sing hymns at church these days, the old kind, those written pre-1900. Sometimes you have to listen hard for the raw. The pentameter is perfect, everything rhymes, and the music is classical perfection. One of my favorites, written by Helen Lemmel, based on Hebrews 12:2, was inspired by a simple line from the writings of the impoverished and embattled missionary Lillias Trotter, whose writings on suffering have brought comfort to many on the hard path marked out by our Savior. Lillias wrote, “So then turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that he things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”

Helen recalled that the melody to her hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, came into her head immediately upon reading these lines, and the lyrics were perfected within 2-3 days, with what she felt to be the obvious direction of the Holy Spirit. In the lyrics you hear a rawness of reflection on the brevity of our life here and a bittersweet comfort found when focused on the hope we have in Christ, although Helen doesn't record any particular suffering in her life history as a gift concert pianist, voice professor, composer, mother and wife.


O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.



Christian radio offers up more rawness than I hear on Sunday in the meticulously practiced performances of a concert choir accompanied by a professional organist and pianist. There are the dissonant diminished chords of rock music, the harshness and brashness of unpolished solo voices, lyrics about the realness of 21st century Christian life. For some time after I left the Evangelical Church in 2010, all of this, so familiar to me that I had most of the songs memorized, grated on my soul like rubbing course salt in a fresh and bloody wound. I switched my radio pre-sets, and my kids listened to Kidz Bop instead of Jeremy Camp. I was on a search for Jesus in the lyrics of the lost on pop stations and in the rock anthems of my dad's hippie days.

But I still wake up, I still see your Gospel
Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don't know...
(Some Nights, Fun.)



The past two months have been tough. My schedule is busier than it's been in many years. There are days when I feel like I am failing at everything - mothering, my job(s), my friendships, my relationship with my husband, my duties at home, and any semblance of caring for myself. I have friends wading through some serious hard stuff. I can't seem to focus for 5 minutes, let alone let my mind still long enough to hear a whisper from God. I'm gritting my teeth through Bible reading, and prayer feels like a disciplined work-out rather than a conversation of souls.

That's why I finally turned my radio back to Christian radio. Yes, I still think most of it is pretty bad, musically speaking. The poetry is forced, every third melody sounds virtually the same, and I'm generally unconvinced about the worth of any of it. But it seeps into the cracks of this dry ground of my soul, and every now and then a word catches..."Ancient of Days"..."You were the first, You are the last"..."Here I found my home". For these few phrases, I'll let it be the chatter in the background when I'm in the car. The songs are mostly new, and the wounds are mostly healed. And He is speaking to me again through the musical "outtakes" that make up most of Christian radio.

What's your station tuned to?