noticing what is, not what isn't.

photo-4// i usually pace things out a little more here but i’m going out of town tomorrow for a week.  if i don’t get things up when they come, the moment sort of passes so sharing these while they’re fresh.  one more tomorrow & then back for summer and planning to try a few new things here on the blog to mix it up a bit! //

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“few of us ever live in the present. we are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”

– louis l’amour

this past season i have been trying to practice a simple spiritual discipline:  celebrating what is instead of focusing on what isn’t.  in all kinds of ways, it’s been helpful.  at the refuge, during our first few years, the only thing i seemed to center on was who wasn’t there, what wasn’t the way-i-thought-it-should-be, the things we lacked.  at home, it was the projects that weren’t done, the things i hadn’t taught my kids yet, the things-that-always-fell-short.  in my personal life it was the same way–always centering on all the things that weren’t instead of honoring the good that was.

this past saturday night at the refuge my friends craig & jenny facilitated a beautiful exercise on mindfulness & the art of noticing.  using contemplative photography, we set out to see things with new eyes.  i will post the refuge blog link of everyone’s work once they have the slideshow put together, but let me just say–it was beautiful!  amazing, the loveliness that we “saw” when we opened our eyes to it.

i was thinking afterward how the idea of focusing on what is instead of what isn’t has not been nurtured in my faith experience over the years. some might think it’s a stretch, but i believe it goes back to the core theology of depravity vs. being created in the image of God.  this distinction is important; when the focus is on what isn’t (all the ways we fall short and suck) instead of celebrating what is (image bearers, with all of God’s glory there to be uncovered), it creates an insecurity that robs many of us of life now.

we end up only focusing on what we aren’t instead of honoring what we are.

we end up spending all of our energy on how-we-fall-short instead of experiencing being fully loved by God, here, now, in spite of our character defects.

it creates an insidious and invisible bar-of-expectation that steals joy and peace in our daily lives.

we develop in-grown eyeballs where we are always failing personally, spiritually, practically.

“noticing what is” doesn’t mean we don’t care about transformation or change or that we are settling for less. it doesn’t mean we don’t desperately need God’s help & Spirit-at-work-in-our-lives to constantly transform us. it doesn’t mean we don’t want things to be different in our lives, our relationships. as someone dedicated to recovery & healing, there’s no question that there will always be an awful lot of inner-work to be done!

but i think we often miss a lot of what’s happening in the moment because we are so focused on the past or thinking we need to get to the future faster.

noticing what is, not what isn’t is noticing the good in today because today is all we have.  it is celebrating God’s work in our lives so far instead of being so mad about all the things that aren’t there yet.  it is having eyes to see beauty in the midst of the ugly–our own beauty & beauty in other human beings, too.   it’s practicing gratitude instead of disdain for our present circumstances.

noticing what is, not what isn’t is not all about our inner journey, either. it’s apparent in many other ways, too–in our ministries, our vocations, our relationships, our families, our present circumstances.  in each of these areas it’s easy for me to think of all the things that aren’t instead honoring the things that are.

something very interesting happened to me during the exercise on saturday night. on my walk to the place of quiet, i didn’t see much. i was focused on finding a spot, i was focused on getting where i needed to be.  if anything, i thought the walk was pretty ugly.

as a space opened up for quiet & contemplation, it was wild, really, the things i began to see.  God’s beauty poking up out of the hard ugly ground.  the crisp air & the blue sky.  the flowers in the midst of weeds.  rusty railroad spikes next to lovely colored broken glass.

on my walk back, i was much more aware.  the colors were more vivid, the beauty more apparent.

i began to have new eyes to see.

it was very simple, very profound.  a lesson i hope lingers.

God, it’s so easy to focus all of our energy on what isn’t.  help us cultivate eyes to see what is and celebrate it as a gift.

ps: this pic is one that i took on saturday night during the exercise. lots of pretty broken glass near the railroad tracks that i’ve never seen before!




Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

    One of the things that I love about my art and design classes is it has trained my eyes to see things that I didn’t see before. I see stunning beauty in the simple everyday things around me. Sometimes it’s about the color, or contrast, or repetition, or form, or line, or subject, or… I think God works the same way, the more we see the world through His eyes the more beauty we see and experience.

    Thanks again Kathy! Beautiful!

  • Needed to be reminded of this today. I’m becoming more and more aware of the universality of discontent. I thought I was the only one who is never satisfied with my hair. I thought it was because I have the worst hair ever. Then I find out that EVERYONE I know is dissatisfied with their hair on a regular basis. How I wish it were a simple matter of bad hair and not the human condition of always wanting more. Thanks for reminding me of the cure.

    • oh that is so true. i love this line: “how i wish it were a simple matter of bad hair and not the human condition of always wanting more…” no kidding!

  • i was thinking just today how the disciplines have evolved. they probably are the same, but with different language, contemporary. what a beautiful new way of practicing the art of celebration. you are on a roll!

    • yeah, it’s so funny, the different ways we say the same thing. and how freaked out people can be by certain words that sound new agey or something. i am really glad many of these contemplative practices are being more valued these days because they really do expand ways to connect with God & our souls. i will also never forget as long as i live when we had our 1 year anniversary and that guest at the refuge said “well, i’m here.” to me, this is a perfect example of noticing what is, instead of what isn’t.

  • Crazy how you seem to know exactly what is going on in my head!

    • well at least we have this & long voice mails back to each other that make up a really good conversation from afar, ha ha! love & miss you!

  • I did not get a chance to comment yesterday, but I wanted to make sure I stopped by to tell you I loved this post. The idea of focusing on what is instead of what isn’t resonates deep into my soul.

    Have you read the book “The Good and Beautiful God”? It’s one of the best books on discipleship I have read. Wonderfully holistic in its approach. This perspective reminds me of something the author of that book said. He criticized the church for its use of the phrase “I am just a sinner, saved by grace.” Because though there is truth to it, it does not take into account that once we are saved, we are a new creation. So, though we still sin, and still need grace, our core identity is no longer that of a sinner.

    He said he’s seen wonderful life transformation in those who stop referring to themselves as sinners. Because sinners aren’t surprised when they sin. It fits the label. But, if we are a new creation and are stuck in a sin habit, it should shock us. It should remind us to get more in tune with the Holy Spirit.

    I thought it was a good perspective that I hadn’t heard before. Perhaps when we see ourselves through the lens of redemption and newness instead of sin and brokenness, we will live out that identity more fully.

  • Turning off my senses and drowning in deep internal places is as effortless as breathing. Escaping those depths? Much less so.

    Looking back these last few hours-to-days, I’ve realized (“noticed” is the wrong word) that my self-awareness easily lapses into self-absorption. That I can dwell on my soul, its receptivity, my hopes and fears and thoughts and needs and wants for it (especially those!), and run out of words because I managed to ignore the entire day.

    That my prayers are *requesting*; but when I pay attention more, and only then, they can *give* thanks. (And I should try that more often.)

    All of which is, as ever, to thank you for writing this.

    • thanks for sharing. i have thought many a time about the energy and time that i have spent over my lifetime, obsessing about so many things that didn’t deserve obsessing about. those in-grown eyeballs can really ruin us. i am all for introspection & self-reflection but that thing that happens where we get so sucked into it we can’t see anything else is where a lot of trouble starts. here’s a link to the pictures that people took that night. kind of fun.


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