I see life like I see a photograph.

When viewed from a distance, a photo appears continuous. One unbroken capture with fully-blended colors, lights and shadows. A closer look, though, reveals it actually consists of many small squares. Pixels. A mosaic of highlights and lowlights, with bright squares touching dull…soft next to strong…bold rubbing muted.

I remember the first moment I saw the pixels in my life.

The Moment

It was three-and-a-half years ago, and I was in beautiful Terre Haute, Indiana. Hard to imagine now that I thought that town was beautiful. It’s not. Frankly, there’s nothing special about that town at all. But on that day, it was stunning. On that day, my wife and I were about to adopt our first child. Finally.

We’d taken the first step toward parenthood three years prior. It had taken a few hundred more steps than we’d ever expected, but we’d finally made it.

We arrived at the hospital and walked into the room where she was sleeping in the arms of her birthmom. We exchanged pleasantries with the family before finally getting to hold the reason we’d come.

She was gorgeous and seemed to fit perfectly into my arms. We snuggled. I cried. I may have even fed her a bottle. And then we left the room for a moment to call, text, tweet, and post the news to everyone we knew to tell. “She’s heeeeeere! At 12:39p…7 lbs. 11 oz…20.5 inches! Pics to come I’m sure!”

But they never came.

I took them, just never sent them. A few hours after we shared the news, the birthmom was beginning to second-guess her decision, before finally making the call to retain custody the next morning. The ride home was a long, lonely one—an empty backseat staring at me in the mirror.

The Search

In the months and years that followed, I wrestled with many emotions and wrung out a lot of questions. What the hell just happened? How had my life change so quickly from happiness to sadness? How long would this road actually take? Would I ever get to taste the joy of fatherhood? Would I be ok with that?

And then bigger questions came. I’ve believed in God since I was a kid, so where was He in all this? Had He even listened to one prayer I’d tossed His way the past few years? Why’s He so unfindable now? Was this whole religious thing just a waste of time?

I dug around for answers in a lot of places.

Music became a great refuge. An eclectic list of artists like Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, Bob Dylan, Ray LaMontagne, Johnny Cash, Gungor, Jon Foreman, and Josh Garrels spoke my language in their lyrics. They all seemed, at some point in their lives, to have stood firmly in the shit of life and lived to sing about it. I dug that. They weren’t untouchable. Not polished.

And I read a lot. Authors like C.S. Lewis, Brennan Manning, Jerry Sittser, Donald Miller and Bob Goff seemed to write right to me. Their words resonated so much because they offered no quick fixes. They asked more than they answered…pondered more than they responded. And my reading also led me back to those stories I’d heard in church of those who had their lives tossed upside down. People like David, who spent much of his life God-grappling. I connected most with those, because they weren’t afraid to throw their frustrations and accusations at the heavens.

Of course, I also talked and listened to people a lot, which proved to be an equal parts encouraging and discouraging exercise. But it’s here where I found my life’s pixels.

The Discovery

In all my talking and listening, I discovered sadly that in your darkest moments words do not escape those they should, and they hide from those who deliver them best.

It seemed like those who talked the most wanted so desperately to be your fix. Your savior. They wanted to pick you up with their words and remove you from the pain…or remove themselves from their own awkwardness in dealing with your pain.

But when you see life like a photo, you realize that it’s the darkest pixels that add the greatest depth to the finished work. They add dimension. They provide the contrast that’s necessary to make the bright elements even more brilliant. They make the image more full. Complete.

And in life, the darkest moments are just as beautiful as the brightest. They’re not to be escaped, but embraced. Maybe not desired, but maybe better accepted as necessary when they come.

The Plea

And so I say…rest in the shadowy pixels of your life. Let others rest in theirs. Stop the sweating and striving to move away from the present moment. Being where you are…being still…may be where you need to be.

This too shall pass, and you too shall pass from one pixel to another.




  1. Great post, Joe.

    • Brianne, thanks so much for note. I don’t know much, but I’m sure life’s not been the easiest lately for you. Sure you could relate to the darkness on some level.

  2. Awesome. Beautiful example. I guess pixels are like impressionist paintings in this way. Up close just blobs of color, step back and it’s beautiful. And the artist has a plan as he’s painting that I cannot see until he’s put an immense amount of work in.

    • Thanks sis! Yes, it’s exactly like an impressionist painting. I think of that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where they zoom in on the dots that make up the large painting. And you’re spot on that the artist’s got the finished image in mind.

  3. Beautifully written. A message I needed to hear. Thanks for sharing and helping me to see things from a different perspective.

  4. Jen Pollock Michel

    Wonderful. I love this image – and more importantly, your bravery in sharing your story. Thanks.

    • Thank you Jen! You’re one of the people who have helped me along the road to get to a point where I can share. Thanks for running alongside me…years ago in person and today online.

  5. great post Joe, I love how open and honest you are about your experiences. It’s a rare and wonderful trait. See you soon.

    • Thanks Jeb! I actually had a similar thought about you, and your bravery in posting your working thoughts via blogs and Facebook posts. Appreciate that you share what you’re working thru and aren’t afraid at the pushback you may receive. A humble way to handle it that’s refreshing to see.

  6. You pinpointed exactly why Brennan Manning is my go-to when I need honest spirituality. It takes a deeper faith to say sometimes it just sucks and not offer platitudes.