What a Wonderful, Terrible, Holy World

What a Wonderful, Terrible, Holy World

“Daddy, some of these are terrifying. The colors are so beautiful.”

My friend’s daughter lay nearby on a blanket as fireworks flash-banged in the sky above us.

She was right. So many colors filled the sky, and it was breathtaking. I found myself whispering “wow” more times than I could count. I’m not always the most patriotic American, but I will never not love fireworks.

As I lay there in awe, I thought about our proximity to the fireworks. How for safety reasons we can’t be really close and how they are entrusted to trained professionals (most of the time).

Photo by Shireah Ragnar on Unsplash

Beautiful as they are, fireworks are also dangerous. It wouldn’t take much for a celebration to become a tragedy. Fireworks are fun, but they are explosives to be handled with care.

Beautiful. And dangerous.

Some of the best things are.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. — Frederick Buechner

This is one of my favorite quotes. I also sometimes hate it. I don’t want terrible things to happen. In fact, I’d like to guarantee they won’t. If I could, I would protect my children from all the hurt and heartache to come.

But then I remember how much I learned from my painful moments, how I was changed for the better by the most tragic of circumstances. It is hard to accept, this beautiful-terrible life, sometimes, but they are linked. To separate them would diminish one and exaggerate the other. Would beautiful things still be as stunning if there was no backdrop of terrible? Would terrible things be overwhelming without the hope of beauty?

I am at a stage in life where people my age are losing their fathers. My grandfather died only a year ago and I am still processing that grief.

I read stories of young families losing a mother or a father, the remaining spouse responsible for a young life alone.

I think of all the pain involved with loving someone you live with, how building a life together sounds romantic and fun (and it is, sometimes) but it’s also a lot of work.

Love is beautiful. And risky. Dangerous, even. Because love almost always guarantees loss. Love well and you will grieve hard. It’s not a question.

Would we give up on love to avoid the loss?

NASA on Unsplash

Much as I love the idea of seeing space firsthand, I could never be an astronaut. I love stargazing and staring at the moon. Pictures and stories from space travel, whether by humans or complex and intricate machines, captivate me.

Living, as we do, in the 21st century, maybe we do not always appreciate how difficult it has been. I was not alive for the moon landing or Apollo 13, though I loved the movie. I was a young elementary student when the Challenger exploded. I vaguely remember the Columbia tragedy. I think I was still numb from 9/11 then.

Space exploration can be a bit ho-hum in our technologically advanced age, though I can still remember feeling giddy when I watched the International Space Station pass across the sky above our house. It is still marvelous, amazing, dangerous and risky work.

We could debate the merits of the space program all day long, but one look at a picture of the earth from space or the surface of the moon and it’s hard not to acknowledge it’s worth the risk.

I can no longer believe anything is all bad or all good. The evening news might tell me the world is doomed to despair, but the hydrangea bush next to my house bears its brightest blooms in years and our garden produces more vegetables than we can eat each week. What I read on the Internet tries to persuade me that the people who aren’t like me are worth hating, but the people I meet in person convince me that they are at least as loveable as I am.

The world is a tragedy. And a love story. A comedy. And a drama. It is full of heroes and villains, both of which are not as clear-cut as I would like them to be. It is a terrible place to live. And a wonderful one.

I am on a search for the holy and sacred in the world, and I find it in the unlikeliest of places. These surprising discoveries are what keep me believing that for every terrible, there is a wonderful. For every ugly, there is a beauty. And I can do my part to contribute to either one.

May I be found tipping the balance in favor of the lovely things and forgiven when I tend toward the less-than-lovely ones.

Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.


  1. Bettilu Davies says:

    Very good.

  2. Well said and thought provoking words, Lisa. So true…as much as I don’t want to believe it either- especially when I think about my kids entering into this big, crazy world.


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