Miracles, Highlighters and Trash Cans


I stumbled upon the Bible of my high school days this afternoon and took a moment to examine it. The copy is ominously thick and self-indulgent, worn down from angst filled examination of my high school doubts. I dropped it upon my desk with a self-righteous thud.

Opening its pages, I had the sense that many a highlighter met their fate on these words and I was intrigued to notice that even some obscure passages among the Minor Prophets were colored with great enthusiasm, leading me to question what I knew then that I don’t now. Moving further along, I noticed that the pages weren’t just elaborately highlighted. No, no, no apparently that wouldn’t have sufficed. Rather it appeared as though my twelve-year-old self also had the spiritual gift of making radically obvious comments in the margins. Next to the opening to one of Paul’s letters I’d eloquently penned “this is Paul’s introduction and greeting”. Ah, thank you for the insight, Luther.

After doing this, I pulled out my current Bible: a modest, non-intrusive, all-together decent, leather-bound version that’s just small enough to be mistaken for a Steinbeck novel. I opened the cover and found the pages in stark contrast to those of my youth. Very few words were bolded in yellow, and even fewer comments were scratched into the margin. The pages were worn and the cover understandably flimsy, but otherwise there was little to suggest this book was nearly as used as its predecessor, despite my owning it for the past five years. Countless hours had been spent reading these pages to which sermons, papers, notes and reading reports could all attest. But the pages themselves had been overlooked en route to a grander objective.

I have several good friends who are excellent photographers. One of them visited me a year or so ago, and I took him to a lighthouse near my home. As we were walking down a gravel path on the way, he stopped to take pictures of everything from a pebble, to a pinecone to- I kid you not- the garbage can. At the time it struck me as somewhat ridiculous and annoying; I was trying to show him picturesque scenery and he was snapping pictures of a garbage receptacle like paparazzi on a celebrity.  We arrived at the lighthouse and I was proud to hear him confirm how beautiful it was. He took a couple pictures of it but then returned to focusing on rocks and a bit of seaweed. The fact that he’d taken less pictures of the lighthouse than the trash can sat in my mind at the corner of befuddlement and agitation.

Later that evening, after I’d forgotten about the whole thing, he showed me some of the photos from the day. The ones he had taken of the lighthouse were wonderful, but another caught my eye.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh,” he replied, “That’s the trash can near the lighthouse.”

I looked at it.

“No, it’s not.” I said.

This didn’t faze him for a moment. “Yea…see… I noticed as we were walking by how the sun shined on this angle here, and with the right focus I was able to capture the light reflecting off it in that direction, which makes the reflection of the trees on the metal really apparent. Pretty cool stuff.”

The world is wonderful and waiting to be seen. Children seem to get this, and attack the challenge of the unknown with curiosity and highlighters, taking in each new wonder as the greatest they’ve ever found. I’m not sure if it’s a driver’s license, college diploma or the belief that I always have “important things” to do, but I’ve lost this wonder. Instead of zest and great adventure, I am surrounded by unacknowledged miracles; trash cans are just trash cans and even the most remarkable things in life soon fade into a complacent familiarity.

But from a Biblical text to corners of a trash can, miracles exist everywhere for me to highlight, photograph or simply observe. They quietly demand to be noticed, not for their own sake, but for ours because the small wonders in life must ignite our souls if we have any hope of comprehending the large ones. If we don’t take the time to try to comprehend the mystery in a garbage can or tiny portion of Scripture, rest assured that the grandest of miracles like lighthouses and redemption could never be in our grasp.

Only when I understand this will I truly realize that the kingdom of heaven never belonged to the lawgivers, scribes or teachers and it never will.

Rather, it has always been gifted to the enthralled, the meek and curious. It’s always belonged to the highlighting, wonder-filled and captivated children staring at a miraculous trash can by the side of a gravel path.

96 thoughts on “Miracles, Highlighters and Trash Cans

  1. YES – the trash can. I think that’s one of the biggest perks of writing: it forces you to see, revel in, and then share the beauty of things others miss.

    1. It stops with stillness, peace, quiet. That’s the only answer to chaos and it doesn’t come from within ourselves. It has to be rooted in something objective and universal…something outside of ourselves. Thus, every answer I have begins at the cross of Christ… that’s a simplified answer to a complicated question….

  2. Beautiful illustration of one of the central ideas of Christianity, and a challenge in general for the human condition in this age where we always seem too busy or already reaching for the next thing. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children…” Thanks for this!

  3. Reminds me of walking across the quad during the warmer months of the semester. You see green trees, teenagers sunbathing and playing frisbee and talking, dogs running and sniffing and barking. You can get used to it, or you can marvel at the affirmation of summer and love of life around you. It’s pretty heady.

    1. I agree, any type of nostalgia involves the need for introspection. I’m a firm believer in taking the time to toss a frisbee now and then. The world can wait.

  4. I truly love when people are able to articulate my most deeply-held truths in news and beautiful ways.

    “…The small wonders in life must ignite our souls if we have any hope of comprehending the large ones.” <– Thank you for this exquisite illumination of something I have always felt.

    1. You’re welcome! And I know I’ve said it before, but that hamster video really made my night a little brighter. I look forward to sharing more writing and laughs with you..

  5. i’d say something like “om! the many-thousand-faceted jewell in the lotus!” but that’d be trite. you re-tell that aphorism, or sutra, much better.

  6. What a great idea — highlighting and essentially writing your own commentary in your Bible.

    I think this would probably be really beneficial. Of course, one would first have to get beyond the worry of sacrilege or writing some sterile ‘Yay for God’ censored exclamation out of some old testament superstition. So I push the question, “Is this not what God, the author wants us to do? Doesn’t he want us to engage. If he needs to he’ll pull a Job on us (where were you when I did all this…) but I really think that an authentic faith needs to have more room for questions than answers.

    If there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that God wants to talk to us, and this is a great way to start that dialogue!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and readership! I’ve always found the Orthodox faith to manage the mystery of faith better than us Protestants. They focus on the mystery of God rather than what we do know; they refuse to state what they “know” about God because it’s much easier to state what we don’t know. I think if we had this perspective on life, and a higher viewing of Scripture, a lot of the questions we throw around would show themselves to be something much better than questions: a glimpse at the divine mystery. I hope this can start conversations in that direction.

  7. I enjoyed reading this because not only is it a present needed truth in my life, but also, the elegant lines of your pen, the way you express your thoughts- without clutter- is a gift to be bowled over!

    1. Well thank you for the undeserved comment. Any credit must be given to all my writing teachers who threw papers back at me and told me how crappy t’was. The editing process has had much practice over the years. I hope you continue to read!

    1. Hopefully providing me with a job! Ha. Kidding. Sort of.

      If you’re looking for a way to maintain the gift of wonder and perception in children, I highly recommend that they read, well, the Bible…but also Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. I’m a huge fan in his creative and perceptive characters.

  8. What a wonderful and engaging write. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! You are certainly deserving of the honor, and we, the readers, are all the richer for being introduced to you! I look forward to reading more of your blog. Again..wonderful and congrats! ~Dennis http://www.dlmchale.com

  9. Congrats on being freshly pressed…as an enthusiastic and relatively new photographer and Bible reader this post hit home on many points.and had me chuckle…and think.

    1. Why thank you, I actually just got a camera as well! Believe it or not, the two have a lot in camera. Gotta have the right focus and the right lens and be willing to be shown truth outside of yourself. Blessings to your journey on both!

  10. Aside from the fact my first Bible was a cheery Good News Bible in a bright blue case, your descriptions sounds pretty much like it. I got it out the other day and looked at some of my comments — like you say, they were spectacularly obvious, and I highlighted basically anything I felt like highlighting. Still … I often use a Kindle edition now, and that makes highlighting very different.

    1. Kindle prompted a good deal of sacrilegious swearing for me because of how it highlights. Sooo now I stick to the paper copy. True story.

  11. One person’s crazy is another person’s interesting point of view. We all need each other’s different perspectives. Thanks for sharing this one. I really enjoyed the vision of the trash can as the canvas of reflected light.

  12. I enjoyed your piece on perspective and joy. I wish it were possible to always be able to see the beauty and wonder of the world. I look forward to reading your posts.

    1. I truly believe it can be. Start with a good indie band, a good nights rest, a Psalm and a walk around the block looking for miracles. They’re out there and this routine can do wonders, I promise.

  13. Love this. I often envy those who have a real ‘eye’ for capturing mundane things with a spectacular perspective. Great post.

  14. Very nice blog entry! Congrats on getting “Freshly Pressed.” You have an engaging writing style. I could envision myself walking with you and your friend, seeing the pebbles, the lighthouse, and the garbage can. And you’ve made a wonderful point, as well. The lighthouse is beautiful; but there are smaller, more wondrous, things along the path to the lighthouse.

    1. Thank you for this comment- I do think it’s incredible how small wonder can be. If you get a chance to read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Small Wonder” I think you may be a fan.

  15. Amazing writing. That’s a really great idea! And the way you’ve presented it, the choice of words and the lack of clutter! – Pretty Amazing stuff! 🙂 Great Post!

      1. It’s embarrassing, but I really don’t know how to tag on here. Nonetheless, here’s a link to my post- it’s a work in progress but I’d love your feedback!

  16. Interesting viewpoint, but I have to disagree with your final paragraph. The world belongs to all types, those who are enthralled and those lawgivers teachers and scribes. When I let go of religious preconceptions, I saw how incredible the universe is, and how much we have to learn about it . Religion limits a persons imagination and sense of possibility. Without the curious we would still follow the theologians who shrieked and damned those who did not think the earth was the center of the universe. These Zealots who would rather maim and kill than learn about other cultures. Religion may put on a face of love and kindness, but hate and divisiveness are part of the history.

    1. Mike, thanks for your feedback. I truly hope you continue to read and interact mostly because of how much we disagree. I’m not sure what exactly you’re trying to argue, because it is generally the lawgivers and scribes (in a biblical analogy) that do the maiming and killing, it’s those who see religion for what it is that produce things like the Cistine Chapel and the Chronicles of Narnia. True religion does not stifle creativity, but opens it’s doors.

      The Church bears many self-induced scars, and it has an ugly history, I will not deny that. History remembers debaucheries and often times forgets grace (somewhat rightfully so). You cannot say the aim of religion is divisiveness and hate, just like I cannot point to the actions of a single individual in an organization and judge the entire organization based upon it.

      Again, I hope you continue to read and interact. Thank you for doing so.

  17. I like this, because I’m one of those photographers who takes pictures of rocks and leaves and random things, and it gives me the perspective of my friends who ask why. Thank you for that!

  18. I loved this! The congregation here in Vienna is discussing Simplicity, or “Einfachheit” as our spiritual discipline of the month. We’ve talked about those who are like children in life inheriting the Kingdom and what it means to be a child – wonder-filled – as you said. Thanks for sharing!

  19. And I thought I was the only one whose High School Bible looked like a coloring book! You know it’s bad when you start creating your OWN colors by overlapping the yellow w/orange, pink w/blue, etc! The Bible I use now is small, just like yours. There are a few highlighted areas but I find that in my later years I would rather just use a pencil and re-write everything in a notebook! Thanks for reminding me to slow down and look at the miracles of God that are all around me.

  20. I love having my perspective adjusted! What a beautiful reminder to appreciate inconspicuous beauty. And to see from another’s eyes without judging! Loved it.

  21. Love this 🙂 Perception is reality, right? If you get a chance, check out my blog: “Life, love, and the pursuit of godliness…” 🙂 you may like it!

    1. Actually, I beg to differ. Perception is a far shot from reality and I write about that quite a bit. Perception enables little beyond my ego- my point in this was that the trash can was beautiful whether I perceived it to be or not. I’d love to hear why you think it is though…

  22. Blessings,
    You have an awesome blog here. I thank God that He led me to it. Very intriguing, encouraging, and inspiring. Thank you for what you do. When given the opportunity you should take a stroll through my blog and give me some feed back God willing. Many blessings to you and yours.

  23. Great blog and congratulations for being pressed! I recently also had a look at my first Bible, the same experience! Isn’t that part of believing like a child? And yet, to revisit the spiritually infant days really makes you notice the trash – can beauty! Thanks.

  24. Thank you for the reminder of what I really need to be looking for daily. My son is almost 4 and he sees so many things I don’t and until I read this I didn’t get it…how slow I am sometimes! Thank you again! Blessing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s