Beautiful Mess

I met a new neighbor yesterday. I had met his fiancé a few days before and to both of them, I said apologetically, “I’m not so good about maintenance, sorry about my yard.”


He replied something like, “It’s fine. My mom loves your yard because there’s so much going on.” My yard is full of perennials that are thriving. It is also full of weeds that are thriving.  

My neighbor on the other side also often tells me how much she loves my yard.

A friend came over last week to help me weed and plant veggies. At one point I looked at an area dense with vegetation, none of which I planted, all of which I consider weeds, and lamented how overgrown it was. He said he’d rather see that- with all of its variety, than a yard of grass. He talked a bit about the value of diversity- how each plant…and bug…and every other creature both give and receive in ways that ultimately promote a healthier ecosystem. Looking again, I acknowledged that it was pretty. I noticed all sorts of shapes and sizes of plants and leaves, with so many nuanced hues of green.

This hasn’t stopped me from slowly but surely pulling those weeds and covering the ground with mulch, planting flowers, herbs, vegetables, because I like the tidy mulched look and the idea that by creating some order, I am contributing to the beauty in my yard.

I’ve also been creating more order in my home. This is an ongoing process that has been happening in fits and spurts over several years, as I finally get rid of papers, photos, memorabilia from grad school…college…high school…grade school. Going through those things has provided some fun walks down memory lane, and getting rid of them gives me more space, literally and figuratively, to live in the present.

I believe this process of external clearing in both house and yard is a reflection of the internal clearing happening. Slowly I’m clearing out the weeds of doubt that can clutter my mind, throwing out ideas that no longer fit me or serve the purpose they once did, making space for new ideas, new clarity, freedom.

Even as I clear and tidy up, I reflect on why having order is so important. Why am I apologizing for my beautiful messy uncontrolled yard, the one Mother Nature fills bountifully when I’m not tending it? Why do I apologize or try to hide my beautiful messy self?

More than once I’ve heard friends lament the state of their children’s rooms, saying something like, “I can’t even go in there. I have to close the door it’s so messy.”

When I hear such statements, having been one of those kids, I feel myself tense up. Depending on who has said it, I may respond, “You know, your child can be messy and still contribute in wonderful and significant ways. Being neat or messy is not an indication of your child’s worth or ability to do great things.”

At age 46, I am still in the process of accepting my beautiful messy self and remembering that my value is not contingent on the orderliness of my house, yard, or self. As with my yard, I too often see only the mess and fail to see the luscious blooms of beauty blossoming, or the seeds of truth, love, wisdom sprouting in me. I may not notice my roots anchoring me in a way that also helps others stay steady or find grounding. I may forget to fully acknowledge and celebrate the fruits of my labors, because I am too focused on the labor yet to come.

Those who know me best have seen the mess- the physical mess, the inconsistencies between values and action, the times I forget everything I teach, the times I strive to practice what I preach and still get it wrong- and still accept me and love me. Even knowing that, I try to hide those parts I consider unsightly.

And yet when I reflect on the people who are dear to me, it is the ones I’ve shared the mess with, who’ve shared theirs with me, who I feel closest to. We’ve seen each other in wholeness.

Broken wholeness.

Messy order.

Imperfect perfection.

We’ve seen the beauty in the “so much going on.”

We’ve allowed each other to see the chaotic process of transformation, sometimes chosen, sometimes imposed by circumstances over which we have no control, often a little bit of both.

I don’t disparage order. I appreciate the outcomes of clearing space and organizing in my house, my yard, myself.

I also honor and celebrate the potential and the as-it-is-now of the mess.

The beautiful mess.  

More Beautiful in Person

It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful. 

The lesson of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.

-St. Francis of Assisi



A couple of weeks ago I created a heart painting that particularly spoke to a friend of mine. She saw the picture on Facebook and liked the image so much she decided to buy the original. She’s in Cincinnati; I’m in Louisville. We arranged for a friend of mine who’s frequently between the two cities to deliver it to her. When she received the heart, she texted me:

My heart is even more beautiful in person.

I was delighted that my art had touched her in that way. Her statement has also led me to deeper reflection:

Isn’t it true that all of our hearts, when we reveal them, are more beautiful in person?

I can hear the voices of protest already. “But what about this person…do you really think this person has a beautiful heart? Or what about that one? Surely you’re not saying that even that person has a beautiful heart?”

My answer is yes, this person…and even that person have beautiful hearts, but some hearts have gotten lost, are in hiding, are deep beneath layers of defensive protection…and so what we see is not actually their hearts, but all the muck and armor and whatever else is there to obscure what we see. I believe that we are all made in the image of God, Love, That Which is Whole.  I also believe that some people’s hearts have been distanced so long from the divine source that they’ve forgotten their true nature.

What is it that causes us to armor our hearts? Is it fear that if we reveal our ourselves vulnerably, we’ll be hurt…again? Is it fear that if we open ourselves and connect to the hearts of others- those who are suffering from the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other -isms and -phobias- that we’ll be so consumed by grief, guilt, helplessness, that we won’t be able to hold those connections in balance with the connections that bring us joy, acceptance, a sense of agency and purpose? Are we even aware of the armor?

What is it that causes us not only to shield our hearts, but to lash out defensively, assaulting anyone who might try to touch that place most sacred within us, assaulting even people who have nothing to do with us? Are we afraid of what can happen if we don’t act with ferocity? Are we aware that we are only passing on our own unhealed pain?

I can think of more than a few people in both my personal circles and in the public sphere who seem to be acting from these places of fear and anger. I can think of times when I have acted from those places. I imagine there will be more such times. When I am at my best (not acting from those places), I can both hold my own emotions and also generate curiosity about what the other has experienced that has caused them to be the way they are. in those times, I am able to practice open-heartedness. These practices are part of my compassionate communication journey.

When I know and trust my own heart’s beauty, born of divinity, I can embrace God in people where God’s presence is not so obvious. In those moments I remind myself that they are more than what I see. I hope that someday I will see the beauty of their hearts. I wish it for myself, I wish it for them, and I wish it for our world. Our world needs more hearts’ beauty revealed.

What I am learning, slowly, through practice, practice where I learn from messing up over and over again, is that if I approach people with trust in their heart’s beauty, if I embrace God in them, even when I can’t immediately see it, sometimes I may get an unexpected glimpse of their divine nature. Vulnerable. Open. More beautiful in person than I could have imagined.

In truth, this is why I love the work I am called to do. When I am commissioned to create a heart portrait, I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts in a visual image. When I offer Reiki to someone, I get to see the beauty of people’s energetic bodies. When I teach Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication), I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts through the language of both body and words.

The experience reminds me of Thomas Merton’s epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) in Louisville:

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.


You are beautiful.

Your heart is beautiful.

Your heart is more beautiful in person.

I want to see it. The world needs to see it.

And whether we can or we can’t see that beauty in the moment, let us embrace each other, knowing that God is in all things and all people.


Witnessing Hearts

A year ago I didn’t know yet that I was creating heart portraits. I didn’t know yet that I would soon come to see and interpret symbols and messages in the hearts I was drawing.

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I had been drawing hearts since fall of 2015. So many hearts. It started when I was preparing to go to Palestine to do human rights and accompaniment work; I was feeling afraid for many reasons. As I was trying to talk myself out of the fear, an image came to me: a heart- my heart- nested in others, like Russian dolls. I drew the image. Then I drew it again. And again. After that I kept drawing hearts. The forms and styles changed over time. But I couldn’t stop. Occasionally my thinking brain heaped judgment on my creative brain, trying to convince her to draw something other than hearts. Thankfully, Creative Brain didn’t listen and kept producing hearts. Eventually, Thinking Brain ceased trying to stop her.

Early in those heart-drawing days, as part of a New Year pay-it-forward activity, I drew a heart for an acquaintance. I sent her a digital photo of it, but never gave her the actual drawing. Fast forward two and a half years.

I had started studying Reiki and found that I had intuitive gifts that I hadn’t known about before. As I practiced Reiki with people, words and images came to me that felt connected to the clients. I shared what came to me and very often, the clients told me that the messages and images made sense to them or that they’d experienced similar images or words during the session. I wanted to understand this newfound ability, so I sought out intuitive people who might help me comprehend. One was the person I’d made a heart for years before.

The morning of our meeting I created a second heart image for her. When we met, I sheepishly gave her both, conscious that in over 2 years I hadn’t managed to get the first heart drawing to her. She received them graciously and told me the meaning each one held for her.

Then she looked at me and asked, “How long have you been tuning into people?”

I shifted in my seat. “Uuuuuuhh.” More shifting, “Since I started Reiki training?” About 6 months before. Then I realized I’d just given her a “tuned-in” drawing I’d created 2 1/2 years before.


I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation. I do remember creating an intention shortly after our meeting: I want to draw people’s hearts.

Heart images came and this time they were connected to particular people. One of the first was a friend’s heart that seemed to be shattering, in pain, even as a brightness was emerging from within. After I drew it, I sent a photo to my friend.

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“When did you make this?” she asked.

“Just now.”

“I’ve been working with this imagery today,” she told me.


More images came. I began to sense that, as with Reiki, the hearts I was drawing had significance beyond the image. What appeared in the hearts symbolized struggles, pains, joy, love, points of high energy, energy available, and energy depletion. I was hesitant to share the interpretations at first. When I did, the recipients told me that what I was seeing and saying resonated, made sense, gave them a sense of being seen.


I realized that was showing up in the drawings and interpretations was not necessarily public knowledge. With this realization, I knew that I needed to ask permission of the intended recipient before drawing and interpreting. Not doing so seemed like a violation of trust and a misuse of the gift I was given.

Trying to understand this new manifestation of intuition, I sought out volunteers, people I didn’t know well or at all (I didn’t even know where some of them were located geographically), who would allow me to draw a heart for them and offer an interpretation. I asked for their feedback in return.

The recipient of one portrait said I’d identified an issue in her life that she rarely talked to anyone about.

In another portrait, created for someone I only knew by name, I got a sense of a “spiritual crisis.” I was hesitant to use those strong words, so when we spoke, I talked about a deep spiritual pain. At the mention of it, she proceeded to describe a spiritual crisis she was working through.


After these trials, I felt an urgency to share this gift with the world. Only about 6 weeks after discovering I can see people’s hearts and lives in this way, I started offering heart portraits on a commission basis. I’ve created dozens of them now for friends and strangers alike.

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Over and over, recipients have asked, “How do you know that?” as I offer some reflection about their life. My truthful answer, “I don’t know.”

Over and over, recipients have said, “This is beautiful,” even when the hearts show signs of brokenness and pain.

I do not tire of saying, “Yes, this is beautiful and it is a reflection of you. You are beautiful.”

The portraits seem to be getting more detailed and the interpretations longer. I continue to be surprised at what appears. I continue to be in awe of the beauty and complexity of people. I continue to be curious about how this gift will evolve.

I have inklings…

Recently I experimented with heart sketches- heart drawings created quickly in the presence of the recipient and interpreted on the spot. I look forward to creating more of these.

I believe there are other ways this gift will manifest as I rely on an Imagination Greater Than My Own.

And so I keep drawing.

And I lean into trust.

And I treasure this gift I have discovered of witnessing hearts.