A few years ago, my sisters texted me pictures of their Christmas cacti blooming. It turns out, they’d each purchased one in honor of our beloved grandmother. We laughed at the memory of Grandma Rose happily exclaiming, “Ain’t that pretty!” when her own Christmas cactus bloomed every year. I secretly thought Grandma’s cactus was ugly. But the memory warmed my heart and, not insignificantly, I was feeling a little FOMO about my sister’s shared experience. So I fetched my own ugly cactus on my next lap through Trader Joe’s and set it on my kitchen window in anticipation.
At this point, Christmas was over. So I knew I’d have had to wait a long time for the plant to do its thing. I watered it faithfully and tried to overlook its unsightly appearance in the protracted off-season. One year later, I got my reward. That cheap little plant burst into bloom like its life depended on it. Huge pink blooms weighed down the the cactus leaves. They were showy bits of joy in the midst of dull, thorn-ridden and … if I am being honest … still ugly, leaves. In fact, I am not partial to the blooms, either. But I smiled every time I looked at it. Because I could just hear grandma exclaim, “Well ain’t that pretty!”
My grandma loved flowers, but she wasn’t one to worry about an overall aesthetic. She didn’t have a rolling country garden with benches inviting one to sit and stay awhile. There were no well-designed plots with blooms timed to provide color all summer long. And by no means was she worried about impressing the neighbors. She’d just throw in a row of whatever flower she thought was “kinda pretty” here and there along various routes across the farm.
Looking back, it makes me laugh to think about just how funny it was to have a solitary row of cosmos next to the propane gas tank or irises springing up alongside abandoned tires. I don’t even recall her even making bouquets for the table. But as she marched across the farm with military determination to do chores, she’d pause, light up with a smile and exclaim, “Well ain’t that pretty!” when one of her blooms was doing its thing. The simplicity of this practice is striking. By sprinkling her flowers here and there, she unwittingly ensured she had little bits of beauty to delight in as she went about her busy day. Not for a social media like. Not to impress anyone. Just for the sheer joy of each bloom’s beautiful existence.
These memories of Grandma remind me of to pause and appreciate discrete moments of beauty. These moments can come in the form of nature, yes. But they also comes in other ways … A smile on my daughter’s face. My horse grazing unhurriedly. A perfect chord progression in the middle of a song. A pink sky. My son’s furrowed brow when piecing a LEGO together. The way the air changes scent with each new season. Tiny bird tracks in the snow. Beauty is everywhere if you start looking for it.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.Psalm 111:2
Maybe, like grandma, we could try to worry less about style and more about intentionally tending to our soul’s need for beauty. God delights in beauty and, as his image bearers, so do we. It is an essential part of both our nature and our worship of God to appreciate beauty. But we often miss beauty because we hardly stop to notice it. Maybe we need to buy ugly cacti and drop a handful of zinnia’s in the yard next to the trash cans to remind us stop and smile. Or maybe we simply start need to start noticing the moments of beauty that exist all around us. Because right there next to the pressures and pain and messiness of life are endless opportunities to pause and say, “Ain’t that pretty!”