This morning a friend of mine dropped by to pick up the equipment I bought to sift through rocks and dirt as we searched for Steve’s remains. He would be using it to look for valuables and mementos amidst the rubble of his incinerated home.

As he stepped out of his car and looked around at my suburban street, with tidy homes and ample trees colored with the tint of early fall, he inhaled sharply, looking for a moment as if some invisible force had suddenly stripped his lungs of oxygen. Here, standing in the middle of my simple street, he was surrounded by such tangible reminders of his neighborhood–now reduced to a moonscape of ash and twisted metal.

The loss of a home and loss of a loved one are both deaths of a sort… I do remember well those early days of myopic numbness and overwhelm following Steve’s disappearance. It was so hard to see past the cavernous gaping hole that dominated my life.

But then a shift began to take place deep within me. I started having a sense that God was trying to get my attention. There was something important I needed to hear. Everything I was already focusing on seemed so vital–how could I take my focus away for even one moment?

But when I did stop long enough to listen–really listen–I sensed he was saying this: “Even though this is so overwhelmingly painful and everything looks black to you, I want you to know that light and beauty do still exist. Look for them. Stop and drink them in wherever you find them. You’ll find sustenance there. You’ll find me there.”

And so I began to open my eyes and look for beauty amidst the chaos. (This was grudgingly at first, I’ll admit. I was like an angry toddler, eyes squeezed shut, resisting the urgings of his parents to open them.) I didn’t expect to see much in my darkened world.

But bit by bit, my eyes and heart became trained to notice the little things: the warmth of my mother’s hand as she held mine, the crimson to persimmon to gold hues of an autumn leaf merging together into a miniature masterpiece, the comfort of an open-hearted, generous hug offered with no words, but saying so much. Like oxygen to my gasping spirit, these are the things that sustained me. It was learning to savor the beauty that appeared right alongside the pain.

So if you (like so many in my community) are walking through your own season of piercing shock and loss, I want to encourage you to open your weary eyes and heart, look around, and see if you can glimpse even the smallest flash of beauty…the steady reminders that a good God still exists in your charred world.