What do you see? Why did it capture your attention? Why did you take that shot? These are some of the questions that I ask myself, and I’m sure you too, when I look at this photograph. I mean, what is it? When I first saw it, while walking through the woods, it grabbed my attention and I just looked at it. Was it a fallen nest or simply some twigs and other items that fell off the trees and clumped together?

It really didn’t make sense for it to grab my attention so much but I decided to take the shot anyway; just call it practice. As I looked at it on my computer, though, it stood out even more. I started to see shapes in it like one does when looking at fluffy clouds in the sky. A tree house, a fish on a line, even an angel ascending into the light from the shadows (Yeah, I know; maybe a stretch but it’s my story…) but I saw more beauty in it than what was there initially. I suppose the blue sky just beyond added something but I chose to see more than what was there on the surface.

We’ve been conditioned to see beauty that is obvious and easy. Most photos on the internet and in magazines depict idyllic scenes, clean lines, and aesthetically pleasing shapes that are meant to evoke societal ideas of beauty so it’s easy to dismiss things that don’t match up to those norms. The problem, though, is that we slowly start to lose our ability to recognize the beauty around us that lies below those shallow perceptions. We sacrifice the creativity of our imagination while having beauty defined for us.

My first impression of this image was of darkness and chaos; a mess that is simply hanging in the trees. As I looked more, though, the chaos started to take shape (like the ones I mentioned before) and I started to see my life in this image. I saw an unintelligible mess that wasn’t beautiful in the least become so much more because I chose to look deeper and allow myself the opportunity to find the beauty where it didn’t appear to exist. If your life has been anything like mine then perhaps you’ll understand and see the same.

Life is not clean and easy; it is often messy, chaotic, and confusing. It can seem to make little sense but, then again, at some point you see how all that chaos — the hurts, disappointments, and confusion — all come together in a beautiful mess (shoutout to Jason Mraz). And, even though the feelings you dealt with over the course of that time were very real, you start to appreciate what it took to create such beauty out of such “ugliness.” You finally see the blue sky just in the distance rather than the darkness and gloom that is much closer. You realize that there is always hope at the end.

What sprang forth from a dark, dirty, and smelly manger ended up becoming the most beautiful expression of love that man has ever known but you’ll always miss the beauty if you never look deeper than what’s obvious. May we all see the simple beauty around us today and in every moment we have.