A Fight For Beauty–Guest Post by Marilyn Gardner

Marilyn is a dear presence on the internet, full of wisdom and calm and yet a heart that is always searching for more. I adore her for her heart for cross-cultural relationships and her literary approach to life. Marilyn is totally somebody I want to grow up to be like.

Fighting for beauty is definitely an everyday part of life over here (some days it is a  battle, other days it is easy as pie). And the fight for love, truth, and beauty is always worth it.


A Fight For Beauty

Guest post by Marilyn Gardner


It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m looking out my window at a blanket of white snow. It is soft and pristine in its beauty. The snow has covered up cars, streets, sidewalks. It has also covered up garbage bins and garbage.

My Greek neighbor has already been out shoveling and I hear the sound of his metal shovel against the concrete. He puts the rest of us, who wait until we have no choice, to shame with his disciplined shoveling and keeping of the sidewalk in front of his apartment snow-free.

The snow is beautiful. But I know in an hour, two hours tops, it will have turned from fluffy white to squishy brown. Because this is the city.

There are times when living in the city is not about downward mobility, when it’s not about relationships or intentional living.

Instead, there are times when living in the city is about a fight for beauty.

This was true in Egypt. It was true in Pakistan. And it’s true where I now live.

We live in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, not the Cambridge of the Harvard elite or the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) nerd. Rather, the Cambridge of the other 80%. The Cambridge that is middle class, refugee, immigrant, or single mom.

The ‘real’ Cambridge, we like to call it. The Cambridge where high school students refer to areas as Coast and Port and where teen moms bring their babies to the day care center at the high school. The Cambridge where cars are broken into and neighborhoods work hard to become safer. The Cambridge where the homeless gather in raucous community at Central Square, oblivious to any great minds that may have walked their path. The Cambridge where Jahar Tamarlaen, the alleged Boston bomber lived and played sports and went to prom and knew my daughter.

And in this real Cambridge I realize that for me it becomes a fight for beauty, a fight to see redemptive beauty in daily life.

In the spring, it’s a fight to find the crocus that has worked its way through hard, city soil and blooms, brilliant blue or yellow. A fight to see beyond city problems to forsythia, that first reminder that spring has come.

In the summer, it’s a conscious effort to see the rose peaking through the rusted chain-link fence; to see sun flowers raise their giant heads tall to the sky against a concrete back drop. It’s a fight to see beyond the cigarette butts crumpled on the ground with last night’s garbage, made worse by the summer rain, and see instead dew drops on sparse grass.

In the fall, it’s a fight to look up and not down – up at towering trees glowing in Autumn glory, taking me away from broken bottles and ugly, barred windows.

In the winter, it’s a fight to see beyond the bitter cold mornings and homeless huddled under thin blankets, grey and worn. A fight to take the extra step and buy that cup of blueberry coffee with 8 packets of the artificial sweetener – because that’s the way he likes his coffee. A fight to find out names and see Sheryl and Valerie and Donald as real people, not homeless numbers. A fight to witness Imago Dei in the eyes of those who walk these streets.

So I walk and I put on my armor so I can fight for beauty. So I can walk with lenses cleaned, eye-sight restored to see beauty in the ordinary, everyday ugly.

A fight for beauty – a prayer that the Beautiful One who restores and redeems will give me eyes to see beauty.






unnamed-2Marilyn Gardner was raised in Pakistan and as an adult lived, worked, and raised a family first in Pakistan and then in Cairo, Egypt. She now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she works as a public health nurse with underserved communities and vulnerable populations. She wrestles through life, faith, and third culture kid issues through blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.








For all posts in the Downward Mobility series, please click here.

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14 thoughts on “A Fight For Beauty–Guest Post by Marilyn Gardner

  1. beauty is truth and truth beauty…………..

  2. brianameade says:

    I love this Marilyn, and loved visiting your site as well! I’m a TCK and have bookmarked your TCK pages to read when the kids nap. SO excited to find you!

  3. Yes! Two reasons for saying yes – 1. I love seeing you two on the same page, and 2. I completely relate Marilyn. Fighting for beauty is about making the choice to look beyond the sewage and up to the mountains, to see the colors instead of the garbage, to focus on the wild green parrots instead of the endless brown desert. And making those choices rubs off on my attitude (and my kids’ attitudes). It helps me see places better, deeper, more fully. Thanks for this reminder.

    • Marilyn says:

      Rachel – love both of your reasons for saying yes! 🙂 It’s one of those things that’s hard to describe to people, it’s a little like when you love someone and others see only the bad, only their flaws. But you know so much about what they’ve been through, who they are, how they have struggled – and that’s what you see when you look at them. Beyond the surface to the eternal I like to think. May we both continue the fight for beauty.

  4. […] Instead, there are times when living in the city is about a fight for beauty. Read the rest of the piece here. […]

  5. Bill says:

    I so admire those of you who have stepped into downward mobility in the heart of a city. The pervasive ugliness, the constant fight for beauty–those would be hard on me, as I’m sure they are on you all (and as they are for our friends who live in intentional community in the heart of our nearest city). We were all set to move to Haiti and live that life, where beauty is precious and rare, but the earthquake derailed those plans. Our path of downward mobility has taken us to a farm instead, where we don’t fight for beauty, we fight not to become so accustomed to it that we take it for granted.

    We’re still trying to figure out how to answer both calls on our lives. Two of our friends who has chose the path you and D.L. have taken are coming to stay the weekend on our farm, in celebration of a birthday and to recharge their batteries. I hope there are times when you who yearn for more natural beauty can venture out of the city and into the country for some rest and relaxation.

    peace and blessings….

    • Marilyn says:

      I love this comment for several reasons. One is its honesty — and that helps me be honest for there are these times when I desperately miss my 2400 square feet with designer paint and my pool. And honestly – where we are is easy compared to what I know of DL and their community. The second reason is knowing you open up your heart and home to people without space and without a view. That is huge. To be able to recharge in natural beauty is incredible. To know that others welcome you to their space is a gift. Lastly – it gets me thinking about the power of God to change our vision. What I used to think ugly — now has beauty. Not dirt and smells and garbage — but other stuff as I detail above. Thank you for reading, thank you for your words.

  6. as ever, love your thoughts Marilyn. We thirst for beauty.

  7. pastordt says:

    I.LOVE.THIS. Thank you so much for this beautiful contribution to D.L.’s amazing series here. And I’m grateful for Bill’s comment above, because in all my reading of this series, I’ve pretty much managed to a.) feel guilty because I live somewhere so magnificent or b.) try (and fail) to just shrug it off and keep putting one foot in front of the other where God has placed us. But Bill reminds me that the beauty I live with is a gift to me that’s meant to be shared – and we do that. A lot. I’d just not thought of that in the context of this ongoing discussion. Your search for beauty totally speaks to my heart, because for me, beauty is a game-changer, a life-saver, an intrinsic part of what it means to be a human creature. Without it, we die. So developing those eye muscles – the one that see what’s around us and the ones that see what’s inside us – that is key, no matter where we live.

    • Marilyn says:

      “Developing those eye muscles” exactly. Praying for healed eyesight. All of that I agree is critical. And just to weigh in again on the guilt for living in beauty. I love beauty and inside my home I choose to light candles, have flowers, white lights – beauty is critical and I agree when you say its a game – changer. I don’t think anyone has to feel guilty about beauty – I think it’s about being thankful for beauty and willing to share that beauty and both those things come through so clearly in both your comment and Bill’s above. Thank you.

  8. Adriana Athie says:

    Hello I am new to your blog and I must say that while reading many of your post I love your style of writing! In the case of this blog I couldn’t agree more, everyday we fight a battle for beauty! I look forward to reading more of your post!


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