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Beautiful things

image from, photo by Charles Krupa, AP

image from, photo by Charles Krupa, AP

While the investigation into the bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon is still in its early stages, one thing is clear: This was by definition, a terrorist attack. We just don’t know the who or the why yet.

What is also clear is that in the midst of violence and mayhem, compassion, heroism and love outshine hatred. The image of first responders running towards the explosions rather than away from them will always stay with me. Examples of kindness abound in reaction to the tragedy. From thousands of runners rushing to local hospitals to donate blood for the injured to people offering up beds and couches in their own homes, to local restaurants telling patrons they only need pay if they could. So many stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The iconic image of Carlos Arredondo depicts one example of many acts of heroism caught on film.

Carlos Arredondo is no stranger to tragedy. In 2004, Arredondo’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo, died in battle in Najaf, Iraq. When Marines arrived on his 44th birthday to deliver the news, Arredondo climbed into the Marine van with a torch and a can of gasoline from his garage. He proceeded to douse the van and set it on fire, severely burning himself in the process.

In 2007, the New York Times wrote a story of a distraught man in a makeshift mobile memorial in the back of his pickup. There was a coffin containing his son’s favorite possessions and photos of his son ranging from those depicting a happy teenager to a fully outfitted battlefield warrior to a body in a coffin.

His grieving brought him national attention. In that same year, Arredondo was publicly beaten during an anti-war demonstration in Washington.

Just before Christmas, 2011, Carlos’ other son, Brian, 24, took his own life as U.S. troops were withdrawing from the war that left his brother dead.

“We are broken people”, Carlos Arredondo told the Boston Herald.

image from via Getty Images

image from via Getty Images

But broken, damaged people aren’t the same as broken, damaged things. Broken things are tossed aside, no longer useful or desirable. With broken people, their own pain often fuels their compassion for others who are broken. Even broken and bloodied.

The picture inside the picture (Repost)

How to Draw a Picture (Part 9)
(Excerpt from Duma Key by Stephen King)

Look for the picture inside the picture. It’s not always easy to see, but it’s always there. And if you miss it, you can miss the world.

This is the ninth installment of my adventure into serious writing. It’s still not something that I’m completely comfortable with. As a matter of fact, I could never imagine it was anything I would even consider. But to quote one of my favorite lines from the book this series is based upon,

“God always punishes us for the things we can’t imagine.”

And while the biblical implications of that statement are at odds with what I believe to be the Truth, still – it makes me pause.

When I started this silly little blog in April of 2008, it never dawned on me that I would be so inspired by so many talented, amazing people. Among those near the top of that list would be Jeanne Damoff.

I described Jeanne a couple of weeks ago in the following tweet: “Follow @jeannedamoff. She’s like me, only classy.”

Okay, so maybe she’s not so much like me. She holds degrees in social work, sociology, English, and secondary education. Wife to George, mother to Jacob, Grace and Luke. From her bio: “Jeanne is a published writer, a professional choreographer, a musician, and a speaker. She loves to laugh and gives points to anyone who makes her laugh out loud. These points are very valuable. Everyone should strive to earn them, starting now.” As impressed as I was with her writing thus far, I was completely unprepared for the book she sent me.

When I read the quote from Duma Key that inspires these posts, I knew I had to share a bit of her story. So many of us often miss the picture inside the picture, but if we look for it, there is astounding beauty to be found. Jacob Damoff is a shining example of such beauty. Again, here’s Jeanne in her own words:

In May 1996, the world ended. We traded “Happily Ever After” for brokenness and sorrow. My book, Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness , tells the story of Jacob’s drowning accident and our family’s subsequent journey through a valley of lost dreams and into a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty. As our eyes adjusted to the shadows, the beauty of God’s plan came into focus. A pebble is dropped into a pond. Ripples are set in motion. Ever widening, they accomplish eternal purposes visible to those who choose to see.

I literally have a stack of books four feet high that are waiting patiently to be read. But once I picked up Jeanne’s book, I could not put it down. If you’ve ever struggled to understand why bad things happen to good people and can’t seem to find the silver lining in the clouds of life, I would highly recommend this book.

And you know I know a good book when I read one, right?

Beautiful (by Billy Coffey)

Image courtesy of

A little while ago:

“What are you doing?”

My daughter is standing on her bed and facing the mirror atop her dresser. She’s not looking at herself, not performing the sort of quick once-over females tend to do before going to town. Instead, she’s studying. Closely.

“I’m looking at myself,” she says.

“Why are you standing on the bed?”

“Because if I stand on the floor I can only see half. I want to see the whole thing.”

I offer the sort of nod I often give to females. The sort that says I don’t understand you, but I’m going to act like I do.

“Okay,” I tell her, “but hurry up. We’re ready to leave.”

She continues to scrutinize and then asks, “Daddy, can I ask you something?”

“Can you ask it in the truck?”

“Can you answer it here?”

“Okay, fine.”

She tilts her head to the side and lets her blond hair spill down over her shoulder. My daughter never used to pay attention to mirrors. Now she can’t pass by one without taking a peek to make sure nothing needs tucking or straightening or smoothing.

“Am I pretty?” she asks.

“Very much so,” I say.

She tilts her head to the other side. “Do you think Hannah Montana is pretty?”


“Taylor Swift?”


“Carrie Underwood?”


“Well,” she says, “I think they’re beautiful.”

“Can we go to town now?” I ask her.

She hops off the bed and takes my hand. “What makes them beautiful, Daddy?” she asks.

“Well, since I don’t think they’re beautiful, I can’t really answer that question.”

“I don’t think I’m beautiful,” she says.

“Why’s that?”

“Because there’s a lot wrong with me.”


We’ve made it to town. My daughter managed to sneak away and into the truck before I could talk to her more. And heading to town with family in tow is not the proper time for such a conversation. So I’m currently left to stew and walk the aisles of the local Target, trying to decide how I’m going to finish the conversation her and I had begun.

At eight, my daughter is on the cusp of that age when appearance begins to matter more than it once did. I don’t think that’s really a bad thing, but it is confusing to her. She thinks everything is beautiful—sunrises, sunsets, and the puffy white seedlings atop dandelions come to mind—but she secretly fears she is not. I can understand. It’s hard to compete with sunrises, sunsets, and dandelions.

And when it comes to things that are beautiful in any obvious way, she still refuses to call them ugly. To her, ugly is just a word people use for things where the beautiful chooses to remain hidden.

That’s the way I want to keep it with her. Because that is nearest to the truth.

This is also the truth—there is a lot wrong with her. Behind that blond hair and those blue eyes is a little girl who has gone through much. Too much, if you ask me.

I see the way she wears long sleeves and pants in the warm weather to hide the bruises that can pop up after her insulin shots. I see the way she talks to friends with her hands in a fist so they won’t see the pock marks left on her fingers from her sugar checks.

It’s bad enough to have a disease, she’s told me. But when you believe that disease makes you ugly, it’s worse.

I don’t blame her for thinking that way. I think there are a lot of people—older, smarter people—who do the same. But what she sees as ugliness I see as a means of becoming beautiful. Her disease has given her a compassion and an understanding I could never have.

I remember recently reading about the Miss Navajo Nation beauty pageant. Held every year. The contestants do the sort of usual things you would find in any pageant anywhere. They dress up and show their talents and talk about what they would do if they held the title.

But there is no swimsuit competition. In its place is a demonstration of some traditional Navajo skill, which can be anything from weaving to butchering a sheep.

I like that.

Because beauty isn’t simply about looking pretty and speaking well. True beauty is useful. It draws attention not to how good you look, but what good you can do.

That’s what I’m going to tell my daughter when we get home.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.