Finding beauty and embracing wonder

IVEP staff insight

Purple petunias

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

I love to grow things in my garden, so this time of year is especially exciting to me as I visit the greenhouses and pick things out to plant. I do like the native plants and standard northern U.S. vegetables, but it’s also exciting to find a new and unusual flower to add to my garden.

I worked with MCC in Cambodia for four years and while I was there, we had a few meetings in Thailand. I took advantage of the travel opportunity and looked for gardens to visit in Bangkok before or after our meetings. One time I was walking through rows of orchids and other flowers native to southeast Asia, but unusual to me. I came across a sign that said, “exotic species — petunia.”

I had to stop, look again and then laugh to myself since never did I even once consider the lowly petunia “exotic.” If I go to greenhouses late in the season here in Pennsylvania, I can find plenty of pink petunias, but not much else. Petunias are the ones left over at the end of the season, the most common of the common. What irony — an exotic petunia in Thailand, but something so common at home that I hardly look twice.

As we consider IVEP, whether hosting, supervising or participating, these unusual and surprising moments can pop up. These moments of surprise bring forth the joy and excitement experienced when going to a new place or at least seeing our normal lives through the eyes of someone else. When we’re in a new place, everything is exciting and “exotic,” even the sights that seem mundane to the locals. For example, have you ever considered yellow dandelion heads and white puffs of seeds as something of beauty and joy? (Try gently lowering a full dandelion puff headfirst into a glass of water, then slowly pull it out again and you’ll gain a bit of childlike wonder at the scientific results.) How can we enjoy the native plants, people, places and events in our own lives with the wonder of someone seeing them for the first time?

When I look at the breadth of God’s creation, it is quite amazing to consider — from the different gifts, backgrounds and personalities of people to the natural wonders of mountains, streams, oceans and forests. Each bit of creation is unique and even with all this grandeur and beauty, God also notices the small, brown sparrow. As Matthew reminds us: if God notices sparrows and takes care of them, how much more does God love and dote on his creations?

To the IVEPers returning home, it might seem like life is unexciting, but I challenge you to go out in your backyard, a nearby park, or talk with a neighbor to notice the beauty and community around you with new eyes. While you might feel alone and out of place, God notices and cares for you.

And to the hosts and supervisors, when you see the first snow of the year or remember the reaction of an IVEPer to a particular place, experience or food, remember what it was like to have the experience for the first time and the excitement shown. You have poured time and energy into another person — allow them to show you the beauty around you with new wonder and joy.

Whether you see orchids or petunias at home, snow or sand, look for the beauty around you and appreciate the variety in creation. G.K. Chesterton may have summed it up best when he said, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

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