Life is full of beauty. It is full of gladness and rejoicing and elation and laughter and moments of loveliness, both big and small. Babies are born. Couples get married. Dreams come true. Friends share a meal together and relish one another's company. Life is also full of pain. It's hard and harsh and sharp and devastating and dark and despairing. Death. A move. The severance of a relationship that is as painful as a torn muscle. Loss. The crushing of a long-held, tender dream. Uncertainty. Fear.

I'm learning, though, that neither light nor darkness appears in isolation. I'm learning that they are not divisible. You cannot take one and refuse the other. You don't get to accept one into your life and deny entrance to the other.

I wrote recently about how I'm learning to receive gifts. I am a little child of the King, and He loves to give me good gifts -- and like a little child, I am called to leave shame behind and receive the gifts with open arms. I realized this after a conversation (in text messages) with my mother. I was in the midst of rejoicing over something wonderful that had happened to me, and I told her I almost felt too lucky, too blessed.

She stopped me in my (virtual, text-messaging) tracks. "Sara, don't even go there. You've worked so hard for this! ... You've had your share of hard knocks."

And the next morning, while I was driving to the grocery store before church (If you value your health, life, and sanity, never go after church), I said to myself, "Oh, yeah. I have had hard times. I've had sadness and grief in order to get to this point."

Go ahead, tell me I have a slow processing time. Gosh, Sara, it took you over twelve hours to remember crappy things have happened to you in life? I know, I know. That's what this post is about; I promise I'm getting there.

Here's my thing: I'm an idealist. I know some people who are pessimists. Good for them. I don't want to be inside their heads. More often than not, I look at the bright side and at least try to see the good in situations. This tendency to see the good side can sometimes lead me to forget about the not-so-good side. Something great will happen, and I will put out of my mind the things that have caused me grief and sadness and pain. It's not because I'm in denial. It's because I feel that the "bad" stuff isn't even worth thinking about anymore.

I was so full of joy that day that when Mom reminded me that I had been through grief and pain on my way to that point, it was like being recalled to earth from a beautiful dream. Oh, yeah. Duh. Of course I've experienced the harsh rocks of reality. Who hasn't?

It was then that I noticed a tendency in myself to focus exclusively on either the positive or the negative. I don't do both super well. Whenever I'm happy, I'm really happy. And when I'm anxious or despairing, I'm really anxious and despairing. I focus on one to the exclusion of the rest. It's like I'm just looking through one eye, or only using one side of my brain.

Here's the deal, y'all. Life isn't made up of that. Life is made of light and darkness, fear and hope, happiness and sadness, laughter and grief. Adventures are made up of all these things and more, rolled into one ball of knotted, messy, incredible Story.

We don't get to pick and choose what we allow into our lives. We don't get the option of excluding all the beauty when we see the negative, or pushing away all storm clouds when we behold the golden sunshine (Sonnenschein -- German is so perfect). That is not a luxury given to us, for the simple fact that we are not the ones who control our own lives. We must take what is given to us, whether we like it or not.

And then, what are we to do with it? Sometimes we are rocked with grief so intense that we think we will die from a broken heart. What should we do when we are immobilized beyond fear, beyond any hope of recovery?

We have to acknowledge it. We have to accept the fact that it is part of our story.

And what are we to do with joy so intense it overflows from us, demanding and eliciting our joyous thanks and praise, which are all we can give but still not enough? What are we to do with an elation so great we tremble from it and are sure that we behold the face of God in all His shining glory?

We have to acknowledge it. We have to accept the fact that it is part of our story.

But while we sit with it, may we remember that that moment is not all there is. Grief is lined with light. Joy is anchored to the rocks of reality by the beauty of Real Life.

May I learn to see with both sides of my brain. May I learn not to pick up light and choose to leave the darkness on the table, but to hold both of them together in my clasped hands and dare to look them in the face -- not to confront or to fight or to change or to get one look at the enemy before I flee, but to simply see them for what they are.

Sometimes I'm anxious beyond comfort. Sometimes I'm so happy I could cry. Most days they happen at the same time. And that's okay.

It's not good to dwell on negative things, because that's such a downer, y'all. But I think it's important to remember where we come from, where our stories have taken place. It's vital to recall what has happened to us: both the light and the dark. If we don't, we're just wanderers and vagrants without a story.

Do you ever notice how the mysterious people in stories are viewed as unsavory characters? Cue nerd moment here: In the first book of The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits meet Aragorn, the rightful King. Only they don't know he's the King -- when they meet him, he's Strider the Ranger, a wanderer without a story. And without a story, he is seen as a vagrant, a dusty wanderer, mysterious and untrustworthy. If we don't have a story, a place to come from, then we are anchorless, rootless, blown about like chaff in the wind. Without a story, we are less human.

Plus, y'all, we are given our stories. God has given us our light and dark, our very own adventures. To not acknowledge and accept what He has given us is to say to Him that we don't like what He's making us into. But how do we even know what He's doing with us? How do we know where the adventure leads? How could we possibly have any foreknowledge of that?

Chiaroscuro is an Italian word that describes the union and coexistence of light and darkness in art. My voice teacher also uses it to describe a singing sound (so much brightness in my voice, guys). Adventuring has the same combination. There is overflowing grief and gladness and despair and laughter and wholesomeness and rottenness and just real life.

And when we feel like it's too much for us to hold? We place it in the hands that made us and wrote our story. Because, sometimes, y'all, adventure is too much to bear. The good is too good. The darkness is too dark. And even the mundanity feels like more than we can take. We cannot handle it. We will break.

Our job is not to handle it. Our job is to accept what comes to us and trust the faithfulness of the Creator-King-Warrior-Lover-God to fight for us and write our story, woven with light and darkness and mundanity. And the art that it creates rivals the greatest adventure story to ever be written by human fingers.

May we take what is given to us. May we know that it is not ours to pick and choose, and set that responsibility down. Instead, may we accept what comes to us and trust the God Who made us to work with the raw material that creates art. For we are His artwork. And the way He marbles silver and gold alongside threads of rough stone is marvelous to behold.

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