Perfect pictures

An island of beauty in a cobblestone square, Germany 2007

An island of beauty in a cobblestone square, Germany 2007

“I’d started playing another game, one I kept a secret…I called it the Perfect Picture game.  The goal was to find snapshot-sized scenes in my town that showed absolutely no sign of Katrina.  The game had been especially challenging right after the storm.  Broken limbs, torn streets, and mangled houses relentlessly assaulted the eyes.  With the Perfect Picture game,  I’d discovered I could turn off my peripheral vision and focus on one small area…Much later, I would understand why the game seemed so important to me.  The miraculous gifts of the storm were those of the spirit…Yet it was difficult to pair any image with those inspiring qualities.  Meanwhile, the losses of Katrina were imminently visible, branding the brain with panoramas of despair and pain…Finding even a small visual balm — like a small garden planted by a neighbor — gave us the power to heal our dreams and restore our peace.”  — Ellis Anderson

In her award-winning book Under Surge, Under Siege, Ellis Anderson writes movingly of her small Mississippi town surviving the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.  Faced with overwhelming loss and grief, the residents of Bay St. Louis pulled together and rose above sorrow through their relentless determination to overcome despair with optimism and strength.  The Perfect Picture game was one of my favorite parts of Anderson’s engaging book, and probably was an influence in the creation of this blog.  Just as Anderson managed to frame islets of perfect beauty amid massive destruction, so we can create mental places of refuge from pain by focusing our eyes (literally and figuratively) on what is beautiful and inspiring.  In 2013, try creating your own “perfect pictures” with your camera, your eyes, or your heart.


  1. God Morning, Beloved Child of God and family, as i read your morning meditations you encouraged me to read this day again Paul’s treatise on JOY. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians while he was in chains in cell in Rome. A gift of God ‘go to place’ to encourage us to be content in any circumstance. Here i hear God say through Paul: “whatever things ARE lovely..” “these DO” 4vs.8-13. To know that there is always Hope while there is at least one beautiful star in sky, a sturdy tree on a hill, single flower in garden, or word spoken to encourage; even if, these things are visiable at this moment in memory. Never chained to “circumstances” always free in “meditate on these things”. Praying without ceasing in agape Love for an Abundance Gifts of healing through Jehovah Rapha with physical and spiritual healing in “these things”.

    • Kate, thanks so much especially for the prayers and the reminder of the encouragement we can find in the Bible. It’s so true that even when we are physically restricted, our minds can be free. I’m so glad to have you visit us here!

  2. Thank You!! 7X7 for the inspiritation this morning to go to sit with Paul again and remember why his treatise on Joy can increase the Hope while in “chains.” i am so very thankful i am receiving your ‘blog’ through email notices while writing in the Garden of Hope 2 days ago ‘something’ happened in fb & i’ve been unable to recover my fb personal site or GH page. No understanding of late of all the attacks on internet accounts, i stay “content” no matter the circumstance. For with God’s Holy Word there is an abundance of encouragers in the saints. Praying you, your husband & son are filled to overflowing with the Joy of this day. agape Love, Kate

    • Kate, I’m glad you found a way to reach me — I have a hard time navagating Facebook myself, also just getting acquainted with all that’s out in cyberspace. It can be overwhelming. We appreciate and need your prayers – THANKS!

  3. What a smart idea. It has helped me in times of heartache, personal or around the world to remember that this world was created by God and that it is perfect. I love the line from the song that says, “…and let me not forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” I will be looking out now for the little pictures.

    • Amy, I thought you might like that part of the book as much as I did. It reminds me of Anne Lamott’s suggestion about 1-inch picture frames. It’s a good reminder to stay focused on what is within our grasp and not get too sidetracked with worries for the future or grief from the past.

  4. What a wonderful idea and approach to such devastation! Would that we all can have the peace and joy that comes in seeing the beauty that remains in the midst of such tragedy. I suppose we can use the same game in dealing with all tragedies…some not so visible. But then again, that’s what counting our blessings is all about, isn’t it?
    I know your connection/friendship with Ellis makes it even more special to you!

    • Yes, Ellis is an amazing woman and she has been a help and inspiration to me in too many ways to list here. Her book started as an online journal/blog during the very immediate days after Katrina, and so many of us told her “YOU MUST publish this!” So the book is extra-special to everyone who knows Ellis.

  5. Ellis Anderson

    Julia, I’m so honored to have my writings included in your fantastic blog! We may not have seen each other physically in decades, but have remained connected by some vital thread – a friendship of an encouraging nature that makes me feel very, very fortunate. I hope as little elderly ladies we’re still corresponding with each other… with the same sense of wonder that we had as college students.

    When I was much younger, I caught myself whining about some petty business concern to someone who had just tragically lost a child. Horrified, I stumbled over myself to apologize. Her response was generous: “There’s no comparing suffering. Mine is the same as yours.” It was a forgiving thing to say, but I’ve always wondered how that could possibly be true. It seems to me that what you and your family are dealing with now must present the ultimate challenge. I am so proud to know you. So proud of the way you are holding your head high and walking ahead, leading with out intention, showing the rest of us the meaning of dignity and faith. Thank you.

    • Ellis, as always you’re very generous with me, as you are with everyone! I have copies of some of the letters and notes you wrote me years ago, tucked away inside my copy of Under Surge — your faith in me has never wavered even when I couldn’t believe in myself. Thanks for giving me the gift of always finding the best in me and helping me focus on what matters.

  6. Thats really quite profound, thanks for sharing that. It’s good to remember, it doesn’t all have to be solved at once and that’s a refreshing way to look at things.

    • I love that – “It doesn’t all have to be solved at once.” Words I really need to hear right now. 🙂 Thanks so much!

  7. Sheila

    Julia, you are so special to so many! You share a beautiful photograph everyday and the personal glimpse into your life certainly is touching. I don’t do blogs to speak of except I was so drawn to yours.Maybe it was your situation,your character,your style or your very being that really touched me! I include you everyday in my prayers. I so believe! Sheila

    • Sheila, it would be hard for me to explain (without writing about 5,000 more words) how much it means to me to get this message right now. Let’s just say it’s been a rough day and let it go at that. Thanks so much for your kind words. I appreciate it more than I can say. Thanks for visiting us here and I hope you will continue to enjoy the blog.

      • P.S. Sheila thanks especially for the prayers — we really need and appreciate them!

  8. Kathy

    Wow, Ellis’ Perfect Picture is a brilliant challenge to me to seek respites of beauty in snippets, throughout the storms of my day. It reinforces what we talked about when we sharing why photography is gratifying to us.

    • Yes, I’ve thought of the Perfect Picture game frequently ever since I first read about it. Even when I don’t have my camera with me, I will often mentally frame a pretty or inspiring shot in my mind.

  9. Well, this was an eye opener. Thanks for putting it in front of me. ti makes perfect sense. I’ve learned a lot here.

    • Ellis is a great writer. I feel honored to have been friends with her since our college days.

  10. Good morning, Julia! I’m glad you’re reposting. I missed some the first time, and although this send familiar, I am glad to read it today.
    My life is quite hectic so far in 2020, and focusing on one small part at a time is just what is needed; better yet, to focus on one small positive aspect!
    Perhaps some picture-perfect memories may come of it!
    Blessings on your day!

    • Susan, “hectic” is just the word to describe my year so far…but mostly in a good way. I keep coaching myself to try to focus on one future even at a time (lots of travel planning going on here) or I start feeling scattered and overwhelmed. I’ll try to do the perfect pictures mentally since I never seem to make time for my camera lately, which is one reason I quit writing new posts…Hope you’re having a great week!

      • Thank you, Julia, I hope you’re having a great week, too!
        Even when I use my camera, I’ve been stopping there, instead of (for example) posting sunrise photos on Facebook as I had been doing for the past few years.

        • Susan, I’ve all but quit Facebook. My perception is that many others have too, but the stock market reports suggest otherwise– though much of Facebook’s growth is international. One thing about this need to share photos– whether on Facebook or a blog or whatever– is that it can prevent us from understanding that much of what any human beings do, they do primarily for their own edification– and there’s nothing wrong with that. I took photos for years but Jeff and Drew were largely dismissive of them, never much caring to look back at them. Matt loved them, and so did Jeff’s mother, but for the most part my love of photography had to survive purely on my own enthusiasm. It waxes and wanes, but it’s always there.

          • I’m debating whether to even bring my camera and associated accessories to Mexico next week. Sometimes it’s so great to have the option, but other times it’s just a heavy bag to lug around.

            • Susan, that’s why I’ve all but abandoned my digital SLR in favor of my trusty lightweight Canon SX280, which fits into even a small purse. It has taken loads of punishment over the years, but keeps churning out the photos. These newer small cameras have become so sophisticated as to provide more than I need. If I was more accomplished as a photographer I might feel differently, but for travel, I almost never take my SLR. Truthfully, I hardly ever even get it out anymore.

              • Well, I did bring the camera, and since I don’t seem to have the manual with me, I’m Googling how to do night and blue-hour photography…. We will have to see if I capture any interesting views, but with the full moon coming, the light sand holds beach features and furniture in stark relief.

                • That night beach photography is quite a challenge. The one time I tried it, I was unable to get the shots to come out how I wanted on a full-moon night, even with my digital SLR. Good luck, and let me know how it goes! BTW what is “blue-hour?”

                  • Blue hour is the (approximately) hour before sunruse and after sunset when the atmosphere scatters mainly the blue light though the sky. According to Wikipedia, Chappuis absorption and Rayleigh scattering create this effect. I think it’s why I often prefer the sunrise sky before the sun actually rises!

                    • Wow, now I have two new terms to look up (Chappuis absorption and Rayleigh scattering). I’m reminded of this old Bartles and James commercial, which was one of my favorites back during the days when I still watched TV occasionally. If all the commercials were that funny, I might never have stopped watching television! Seriously, I think I’ve probably enjoyed the “Blue hour” a number of times without even knowing what it was. I don’t think I ever tried to take any photos then, though. 😀

                    • Ha ha ha ha ha, I laughed out loud at that commercial. Cute! “Vernal”
                      (Still giggling as I go to start my day – thank you!)

                    • Let us all strive to make sure that good old Vernal is never forgotten. I think of him every springtime, thanks to Bartles and James.


  1. Aware of the treasure | Defeat Despair
  2. Beautiful discovery | Defeat Despair
  3. So great a sweetness | Defeat Despair
  4. How ordinary | Defeat Despair
  5. Perfect Picture | Defeat Despair

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