I don't care how many times I see a beautiful sunset on an autumn evening; it always moves me either to smiles, or to the feeling of being full to the brim, or to the point of actually brimming over.

For example, take the sunset that lit up our West Michigan skies on Wednesday evening. I was in the car driving in a general southwest-ish direction to Grandville to meet a friend there for dinner. When I looked at the road in front of me, it was completely bathed in the late evening glow of pink and orange radiating from the sky. Wave upon wave of color glistened in the heavens, peeking through the puffy, white clouds and injecting them with color like the way cool whip turns pink when you add strawberries.

I gasped with astonishment. It had been months since I witnessed a sunset of that magnitude and splendor. Despite the hundreds of sunsets just as beautiful that preceded this one, there was still something entirely shocking, new and fresh about it. And I thought to myself, "How great is this Creator-God, who pours forth beauty at every turn!"

And then, because I love the way God draws me into conversation with Himself through these moments, I let my thoughts continue in that vein.

"Just look at that sunset. 'The heavens declare the glory of God,' I thought. What other things declare His glory in that way?"

Immediately, it came. People. We are the apex, the pinnacle, the climax of the Ultimate Novel Writer's story.

People are more beautiful than sunsets. Sunsets have the ability to mesmerize us for isolated moments every now and then. In those moments we feel as if we've never been touched by a beauty so magnificent, and we cannot avert our eyes.

But think of the glory of God's sixth-day creation. I look around me and see a planet teeming with little reflections of the beauty of the Triune Creator God Himself. Each face is different, but each one contains more mystery and glory in the tiniest corner of a smile than does the whole vastness of the sky.

As we age, the outward signs of beauty fade, but the personalities -- as they grow and age and mature -- become by turns more complexly shaded, brilliant, joyous, funny, intelligent, wise, hopeful and loving.

I understand it's not always so. Often age brings deeper evil, bitterness, hatred and ugliness. But where the Creator has dominion, where the Redeemer shines through, there is much potential for growth and beauty.

Can a sunset love? Can a sunset laugh? Can a sunset cry? Can a sunset hold, soothe, listen, create, walk, run, dance, eat, sleep, read, write, pray, think?

No. That wondrous gift has been given to humans. Since the Garden it's been evident the bent of our hearts leads us away from the One who made us more beautiful than sunsets.

But thankfully, the Beauty Giver never gives up on us. He waits for us. He groans for us. He offers us his free and full redemption, paid for by the blood of His one and only Son, who came in human form, and showed us perfect love.

That is much more beautiful than a sunset.

There's just something about this song. It's the desire for sweet, old-coupley kinda love from the eyes of a young person.

There's so much hope, so much expectation.

I want to meet an old couple who say it was everything they thought it was gonna be. For now, I'll just listen to these kinda songs and smile. :)
I spent two years at Cornerstone working for our student newspaper, The Herald; the last year I was the editor.

It was the hardest job I've ever had. I found it difficult, fraught with problems and pain, and, at times, rewarding. Like the times I was able to help people on staff work through communication problems. Or when people challenged my leadership and I was forced to admit that no-- I do not, in fact, have all the answers.

I was humbled to realize I am not actually the kind of person who can love everyone easily. I often had to make painful choices to pray for those who made my life difficult. And sometimes, God let me have my way, just so He could bring me back to HIMself when I came to the end of MYself.

As the months passed, I realized more and more that I'd already had everything I wanted before I started.

Words. The ability to share them. A blog is a powerful tool, and I have two blogs. How good can God possibly be?

It doesn't matter if no one was reading. It doesn't matter that the tool is essentially self-publishing. It's a medium that allows me to express myself freely.

And, on top of that, God chose to drop another blessing into my lap: Yesterday I found out I won the MPA college newspaper contest award for blogging: First place, division II (for weekly papers).

Here is the blog. (The one you're currently on is my personal blog. The Daily News blog was my hometown newspaper blog.)

Here are the entries:

1. "I dream in color"

2. "Sunset thoughts and a moral dilemma"

3. "Only the sidewalks can hear their cries"
I went to look at ArtPrize exhibits tonight for only the second time since the contest began two weeks ago in my beloved city. It's not that I don't love art; it just took me a long time to find the emotional space for this specific contest after editing stories about it all day long at The Press.

And trust me: The Grand Rapids Press has been somewhat obsessed with ArtPrize since creator Rick DeVos first announced it last April.

I don't blame the paper necessarily, because this is, after all, our town, and it's a pretty phenomenal history-making event. But I have struggled internally wondering if we should be focusing so much coverage on a contest that overshadows other types of news our readership also should know about-- things such as, oh say, how Grand Rapids' rate of homelessness is rising daily and the city is becoming a bargain basement of cheap housing because of foreclosures. But those are just minor things of course, and ArtPrize is a lot sexier, so um, yup, it all makes sense. ;)

All cynicism aside, I have to admit my perspective shifted tonight after visiting the exhibits on display at the old art museum on Pearl and Division, aka, The Old Federal Building.

I went alone, on purpose. I wanted to get my own perspective of the art-- as much as that is possible after reading other people's all day long, and hearing it from friends and roommates after work. I wanted to see it, feel it, step into it and let it soak through my skin, like a hot shower after a long day on my feet, or like a good book in mid-winter when I need a new world to crawl into. I wanted to find "The One." The piece of art that would give me a reason to write to you tonight.

I don't think I found "The One," necessarily. Instead I was blessed with three very moving experiences.

Exhibit A: Open Water No. 24.

Stemming from stubborn, anti-mainstream principle, I have to admit I'm sorry a Top Ten entry made it onto my "three moving experiences" list. It wasn't going to. I was just going to go and look at it and say, "Well that was pointless," and make fun of all the people who raved about it. (Oh Rachel, how haughty you are...)

But then I met the artist.

I was standing back, circling around Open Water, snapping pictures from various angles, and then I realized the reason I was having a hard time getting a panoramic shot was because a clump of people were standing in front of the painting talking to Ran Ortner, its creator.

I'm not stupid. It makes sense he would be in town for the last day of voting, to promote his work heavily leading up to the announcement of the contest winner tomorrow at DeVos Place, but I didn't really care why he was being friendly at that moment; I just knew I had to talk to him. So when there was an opening, I introduced myself and was surprised by the pleasure of a five- or 10-minute conversation with this man.

And it wasn't just any conversation. There was something in his manner of moving and speaking and explaining that captured my imagination. I found myself asking him dozens of questions about how he does art. He told me of his theory of opposites. Nothing in life inside the limits of our human capabilities, he said, can truly be known apart from a comparison to its opposite. Can you feel pleasure without pain? Is there love without hate? What is peace if not an absence of war? Is there calm without a storm preceding it? What is rest without having known chaos? Can white be so pure without having seen black? And so, he said, his art is a daily attempt to depict those opposites in their relationship and connectedness to one another.

I looked at his painting quietly, slowly, after an exhausting rapid barrage of words had passed between us. I could tell he was waiting for my next question, because he didn't walk away. He just watched, and waited.

"Ran," I asked. "Is this painting chaos or calm to you?"

"Both," he said. There they are next to each other in constant motion, tossing on the waves-- gently and yet fiercely. He felt them both as he painted, and he could not separate the two.

"My work is always reaching for the eternal," he had said to me only moments before.

I could have asked so many more questions, but other visitors wanted his attention, and so I asked for a quick photo with him and then moved on.

All night I have been thinking of this. He is so right. Eternity is the only place beyond this container of opposites in which we will be able to know the true meaning of one state without having to experience its negative counterpart. I want that so much. Whether or not Ran knows the place where it can be found, he has hit upon the longing for it in the heart of every man. I think that is why Open Water resonates for the masses in this contest. I am convinced only life in Christ offers a shot at hope of finding resolution. And now I pray Ran can find that out, too.

Here we are in front of his painting. (Notice the arm around my shoulder. Yeah, we were pretty much best buds after that convo. ;)

Exhibit B: The Space Between Us

To those who haven't experienced this exhibit up close (sat in the chairs, read the guestbook, etc.), perhaps it seems odd I was so moved by this. "What the heck?" you might say. "It's a yellow living room in the middle of a bunch of real art."

But stop a minute. What is the definition and purpose of art? This is heavily debated, I know, but some traditional touchstones include the facts that art sends a message, communicates and, in turn, elicits emotion, conveys an interpretation of reality, and creates conversation.

So what artist Michele Bosak has done with The Space Between Us qualifies as art in that sense. In her description of the piece, Bosak shares she created it to start a discussion of what defines "home." Is it a specific collection of furniture? Does its secret lie in the symmetry and color of the architecture? Or is it a feeling evoked by memory and solidified by time?

As a recent college grad/apartment-dweller, I relate to her feeling of transiency-- the lostness and longing for that space/time/place relationship to people and furniture. And so, in the guestbook, I told her so. I wrote her a short letter, and so became part of her art.

Exhibit C: Light Passes Through It

I purposely did not take a picture of this exhibit, because there is no way to do it justice. Read the description in this photo first, and then read what I have to say.


As the artist said, the power of this exhibit comes from its "ever-shifting light, sound and imagery." It was all there, and it was moving. Call it mixed-media, call it a slideshow reflecting off clear-paneled screen prints of famous photos from history (and not-so-famous ones), but whatever you call it, anyone who has seen the rapidly firing images of the 20th Century (as well as a few from the 19th and 21st)
and heard the voices-- the cries, the fragments of bygone speeches, the sounds of firing weapons in war, the laughter of children-- anyone who has stood in that room upstairs in the Federal Building cannot walk away the same.

At least I couldn't. In fact, after about five minutes, I was wondering if I could walk away at all. And so I didn't for awhile. I leaned against a pillar in the room and cried within myself.

"This artist has summed up exactly what it feels like to be me," I thought to myself. I haven't lived in the shoes of all these people or fought in these wars or listened to "I Have a Dream," or "Never, ever, ever give up" or "Fourscore and seven years ago..." but I know I have felt these people's pain and hopes and fears and joys.

Friends get scared sometimes when I tell them I often have the sense I can feel the pain of people I haven't met... but go to that room and you will feel it, too. You will understand what it's like inside my head on a daily basis. And because the artist understood, it didn't matter to me that the exhibit itself appeared to contain very little actual talent-- if you measure talent with the same measuring stick the masses use.

But you can't. Not at ArtPrize. Not in that room. Not in my world.

And now you've seen a slice of ArtPrize through my eyes.