By Laura Gossman

This past weekend I spent 48 hours in the hills of Malibu, California overlooking the ocean at a Franciscan monastery called Serra Retreat. I used to go on a spiritual retreat about once a year, but between my favorite Santa Barbara retreat center burning down and major life events like marriage, unemployment and parenthood I haven’t been on one in about five years. I was long overdue.

The grounds are stunning and with ease usher any sojourner into a place of rest, contemplation and reflection. There are so many places to sit that have a beautiful view, garden, statue or fountain to look at. The most known image of this place is the cross that sits on the edge of one bluff with panoramic views of the Pacific.

Serra Retreat Center's cross that overlooks the Pacific ocean.

Serra Retreat Center’s cross that overlooks the Pacific ocean.

I surprised myself that considering all the breathtaking scenery, I was drawn most to the thousands of mosaic tiles there. They were salvaged in the 1903 fire that destroyed the original mansion on the property ( now reconstructed and serves as the retreat center) and are turn-of-the-century from the first pottery factory in Malibu. “Lady May”, a widow, was to rebuild this mansion but she died before it was finished.

One of the many walls at Serra adorned with turn-of-the-century mosaic tiles.

One of the many walls at Serra adorned with turn-of-the-century mosaic tiles.

When I think about how these tiles were salvaged, I imagine workers finding matching pieces that created an image, the tedious time this took and then the intricate love it required to place them creatively throughout the estate.

Sundial comprised of sets of tiles recovered in the estate's fire over a half century ago.

Sundial consisted of sets of tiles recovered in the estate’s fire over a century ago.

I took dozens of pictures of them. They inspired me – in a mysterious way I’m still pondering. For some reason they brought life to me even more than the stunning cross with the statue of the “Apostle of California” overlooking the ocean. I hope that is not too blasphemous!

Maybe it is because I am in a season that takes tedious love and tireless work that I often feel goes unnoticed or I think is too mundane. Just like these tiles – each one is unique but small, and on its own does not necessarily stand out to the onlooker as beautiful. But when the tiles are grouped together on a patio, wall or fountain, then the onlooker like myself realizes they adorn almost every corner of this place, and without them the estate would feel much more  mundane. Okay, admittedly the view will always be amazing with or without the tiles!

One of the many mosaic stairs on the property.

One of the many mosaic stairs on the property.

I think I am one of these 60,000 tiles – or maybe a handful since this season began in 2012 when I quit my job at Hope Gardens/Union Rescue Mission (as a chaplain and vocational director to homeless mothers), took an “ordinary job” and started having a family. But what I long to know and see is the bigger view of how my little tiles I am “becoming and creating” every day fit in the grander estate of the property God has laid in front of me.

Does my mundane group of tiles that I reflect matter to my community? My world? I know it does to my family and this is no small mountain of meaning…but I yearn to be a part of something outside of my nucleus, but at the same time not so much “bigger” that it sits on a mantle of the impersonal, unrelated to a real neighborhood, people or cause.

Quote underneath the sundial.

Quote underneath the sundial.

I guess aside from the mosaic metaphor I can rest in the simplicity of God’s direction to focus my thoughts on what is pure and all that is lovely (Philippians 4:8) and I’m hoping he is delighted that I am delighted in the intricate beauty that inspires me to just be.

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership, mother of a growing toddler named Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her MA in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006. Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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