What a Compton hospital taught me about beauty

daffodilsWe arrived on a Saturday, with buckets full of fresh flowers.  

Outside the building, we divided from containers into armloads, and walked through the doors in pairs. Immediately, I was overcome by how stark and bleak things felt on the inside, compared to the warm summer sun shining down on the outside. The hallways were bare, the walls aching for artwork. As we strolled from room to room, the emptiness inside made my heart ache.


I was among a group of college students, delivering flowers to patients at a hospital in Compton. You know, that poor and dangerous and news-making neighborhood of Los Angeles.


We went from room-to-room, dropping off bouquets, engaging in conversation, and praying for patients. The longer we were there, the more I was struck by the contrast between this hospital and the one I would find in my hometown in Wisconsin.


The rooms were empty.


No balloons. No flowers. No cards. Nothing.


The residents sat in white hospital beds covered in white sheets surrounded by white cement walls. It certainly looked like a place of medicine, but it did not look like a place of healing.


At the end of the day, I remember feeling dissatisfied that I wasn’t more successful at the conversations with patients. After all, I hadn’t converted anybody to follow Jesus. All I had done was delivered flowers and prayed.


As I look back on the experience, I am convinced that bringing flowers to those rooms was holy work.


The need for beauty is never so clear as the moment you are completely surrounded by its absence.


Those hospital rooms were filled with hopelessness, sickness, and loneliness. Though, on the surface, a little bouquet seems much less important than medicine, I wonder if it provides something essential for the healing process.




The flowers were reminder that beauty was available in the life outside those walls, and it was worth fighting to get back out there.


I wonder if God had this in mind when He crafted flowers in the first place. If even in the beginning, God knew flowers’ beauty could one day change the feeling of an entire hospital. He is, after all, in the business of bringing life into dead places.


Right now, as I write, I am looking at a vase full of daffodils. They are my tangible reminder that spring is coming, even though the weather outside still brings the harsh sting of winter winds. Flower-induced smiles are not restrained to patients in hospital rooms of the inner city, they extend to suburban moms sitting at their kitchen tables.


Beauty does that. It lives and breathes of a hope beyond itself.


I wonder if I can spread beauty more often. I want to walk out of rooms like I did as a flower-bearing college student: leaving them better than I found them. I can do that. With my words and actions and creations, I can be a purveyor of beauty.


What if each of us made that our goal each day? To leave behind more beauty than what existed when we got up in the morning?


I want to see that world.


“Only you can make the conscious decision to use your life to create beauty. And only you can decide how you will create it.” – Matt Appling


Life after Art CoverThe book Life After Art, which released yesterday, inspired this post. I was given an advanced copy for review, and without compulsion I can tell you that I highly recommend it. Like me, I believe it will cause you to think about what you are creating with your life.

Want to read it? I am giving a copy away!

Simply leave a comment below giving one idea of how you can create some beauty with your life. I will announce the winner on Friday.

What if We Created more than We Consumed?

My downstairs is a jumble of fabric and thread and scissors and stuffing.  

I am in the middle of a sewing project: making reading nook pillows for my niece’s birthday. To be honest, sewing doesn’t thrill me. I can do it, but it is more detail-oriented than I like to be. The nit-picky details of measuring, finishing edges, and lining things up just-so drains me. But still, I do it. Because it connects me to something I do love to do.




When my niece and I went to the fabric store together, it was so fun. We admired colors and ran our fingers over textures as we dreamt together about what her reading nook could be like. Smiles. Possibilities. And now, in my downstairs, results.


There is a bolster pillow, pieced together with the combination of fabrics that she chose, that did not exist a few days ago. There is something new that used to live only in our imaginations.


Creating is about bringing ideas to reality. I love it. There is such joy in imagination coming to life.


Our culture gets it so backwards. It convinces us that it is the consumption of things that will make us happy. We have an obesity epidemic, but it’s not just with our bodies, it is with everything. We stuff ourselves full of objects other people have built, words other people have written, food other people have prepared, ideas other people have dreamed. And we fail to give our own imaginations a chance to come to life. And when we do, we miss out on a deeper satisfaction.


When we don’t create, we don’t connect with a core piece of our identity as humans. We are built in the image of a Creator God, who imagined this world and brought it to life.


A few weeks ago, I was at the Catalyst conference. The theme was “Make.” At the opening session, Chris Seay echoed the same thoughts. He said, “We are not made to consume, we are made to create.” Yes.

We are all creators.


Do you feel like you are living in that identity?


My guess is that if you are not an artist, you don’t. The terms “create” and “creative” have been hijacked by the right-brained. But really, these terms are universally true. To create means to bring something into being. We all have that power. We can create a meal, or a system, or a garden, or a party, or a costume, or a piece of furniture. Creating doesn't have to be crafty, and it doesn't have to be stuff. That's the fun. Creating doesn't have to be anything.


I wonder what would happen if we all created more than we consumed. How would it change our moods? How would it transform the world?


Sounds like a fun experiment.