Despite the constant palette of fads that brush their way into our culture, I always love a nice coat of Cherry Crush on my toes. It’s fun when a new shade tantalizes us and we dip our feet in together to celebrate whatever new brand the piper brings to town, but we tend to smudge each others’ toes, working our way back to our favorite places in the composition, however ordinary they might look. I’m a hue, my neighbor is a shade but thankfully, there’s the holy One one that supports the corners of us, offering us a better way to join together. We may paint some fences along our edges to slow our bleed of colors, but that piper likes to come in with his battle sword, and make us forget our vital corners. His true intentions may be cleverly polished like some kind of bling, but if we’re careful not to foul our colors with it, and keep that holy One as our cornerstone, we can make this place one beautiful work of art.
What would you think of as beautiful in your last season of this life?
I may take that question to work, where people go to live during this great transition. I learn a lot there, where most conversations revolve around family: theirs, mine, and whoever else has one.
Children are incontestably beautiful. They celebrate life in so many colors and
expressions, it’s hard not to look at them as canvases of the most divine kind of art. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to raise them—we don’t want to unintentionally shape a Monet into a Picasso if that’s not who they are meant to be.
Speaking of art—if my “ship” ever makes it through all the cactus and dust devils, bringing treasures beyond my expectations—I hope it’s full of art to fill my walls with. I can’t get enough—Impressionism, Renaissance art, Contemporary…maybe even an art studio of my own, because to me, life without art means a life without beauty.
At the retirement resort, there used to be a group of ladies who, at the first sign of a fire truck, would gather in one of the lobbies to watch the firemen walk by (unfortunately, they were usually accompanied by an ambulance). Young and fit people will always have an audience.
But really, when we reach that phase where our human side starts to peel away from the eternal—what will we remember as truly beautiful?
My daughter is seven, and in public school. She’s reached that point where she’s gaining that early foundation of experience. She’s a butterfly—sweet and quiet (at school), and full of color (strong-willed monkey at home). Her teachers would like to see her speak up more in class, speak louder—find her confidence. We do our best to build her up—we even signed her up for ballet where she can express her creative side within a group.
But a person has to uncover their light on their own accord.
When a boy in her class kept coming in without lunch, and worried about his parents “illnesses”, she found her voice, taking him to the lunchroom supervisors and asking if they would give him a free meal. For those of you who have never been shy this may seem like plain old common sense, but all those former and practicing wallflowers will recognize what a leap of faith this was for someone afraid to raise her hand.
This, to me, is beauty at its brightest. It’s reaching beyond our own comforts, switching on that stubborn lamp, and letting the eternal side shine through the human side.
King David, in his early years as a shepherd boy, was described as beautiful.
“So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” 1 Samuel 16:12 (emphasis mine)
I’m sure he was made “good-looking” for a reason, but is that what made him “the one”?
When I look at Michelangelo’s David, I see the story of him—the slingshot, the strength of body and spirit—the shepherd boy who stepped forward to save his people.
The statue will eventually crumble, but the part of him that made him a legend came from the Divine.
What do you think is eternally beautiful? Tell us in the comments.
There is a field of beautiful weeds next to my daughter’s school. I pull in line alongside it every day with the other parents, creeping along for my turn to pick up my child. The weeds are quite tall now, catching every breeze and butterfly that comes its way. There is the occasional set of tire tracks mushed into the field from a driver who couldn’t wait for the line to move. The school has tried to purchase it in hopes to expand, but that rectangle of dirt and brush is far too pricey.
The land is surrounded on one side by old trees, firmly rooted into the ground in the yards of neighbors. They tower above the weeds, holding court in their superior standing of shade-givers.
But when the light hits the weeds just right, you can see gold. While the sun outlines the trees like halos of honey, the weeds are given the full force of the light, casting a breathtaking beauty upon them. They are not weeds in this moment, but the light so many artists try to capture in their paintings. When I finally understood the value of a weed, it changed my thinking forever.
Although not everyone waits around to witness their transformation.
As I approach my 20th year high school reunion, I think about the weeds and wonder how many of us will walk in feeling like we’re pulling a cart-ful of them, and how many will feel like the trees that look down on them. Are my adornments as beautiful—do my shoulders reach as high as the others?
Does the weight of my cart outweigh those of the others?
Despite the joy of seeing old friends, successes will be measured on this day. Classmates will walk in with lists: the accomplishments, and the list that we probably won’t talk about –the failed relationships, losses of all kinds, mistakes.
But the light shines just as bright on our carts of weeds. They are what make us work harder, gain wisdom, and grow beautifully. God didn’t come for the best of the best after all.
I‘m here inviting outsiders, not insiders – an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke 5:32 The Message
Those of us in the weed fields become part of God’s masterpiece—too unworthy in the eyes of those who miss the light—too valuable for the wallets of the insiders.
A beautiful woman walked by me in church last week, hair a shining fan of honey, figure stitched by the best. For a moment, I wanted to be her, this lady who had been sculpted by humanity. She catches many eyes, men and women, and we all pause to see this vision, different than she was a month ago. She pretended not to notice and put some pride in her strut. Something about that strut is wrong but I still feel a bit faded with my wash-and-go hair and years-old blouse.
We come to this holy place to worship the Maker, King of all Kings, Creator of mankind, sculptor of hook noses and romans noses, thin lips, full lips, frizzy hair and various ranks of waistlines. We are walking temples, yet we have bowed to the church of man. Even in the midst of Halleluiahs and salvation tears, our insecurities walk like shadows across our eyes. They weave in and out of the chairs, drawing out attention from God to the woman/man with a better _______ than mine. Who do we put in all this effort for? Not God, for like any parent, He must think His children are beautiful. Of course He does, He made us. Could there be a greater purpose for my ghostly pale skin?
What claws at our insides so sharply that we need to fill in the gashes with another’s approval? No matter how much we love exterior beauty, this is starting to feel like an inspection before the slaughter.
It reminds me of Katniss Everdeen, when she considers the deception of appearances in The Hunger Games: “After dinner, we watch the replay in the sitting room. I seem frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling in my dress, although the others assure me I am charming. Peeta actually is charming and then utterly winning as the boy in love. And there I am, blushing and confused, made beautiful by Cinna’s hands, desirable by Peeta’s confession, tragic by circumstance, and by all accounts unforgettable.”
What really gets me is how the devil slithers into church, in holy camouflage. He works hard. Really hard, I mean, if I can obsess over my ghostly skin and how I can get a tan like so-and-so’s, then I have completely missed what God was trying to tell me in that moment. I have given God the proverbial slap in the face when I decided to take control over my appearance because what He gave me doesn’t work. Wait – work for what?
Doesn’t He count every hair on my head? Hasn’t He called me uniquely and wonderfully made? Such attention much be for a greater plan than mine.
My imperfections keep me humble. I accepted my pale skin when too many doses of sunshine burned it into cancer. I had that sucker cut out and thanked God for the skin that was still healthy. What’s tan skin when I can find joy in being healthy?
Katniss was forced to look beautiful to increase her odds of survival. No one would sponsor an ugly woman.
But they would still throw her to the wolves.
All the waxing and makeup and designer clothes did indeed help her. Because of it, she captured the interest of sponsers. But those gifts from man’s approval are not what stirred a nation to hope. Not what ultimately led to her victory. It was her inner gifts, those things that have become too cliché to mention because people still want it wrapped in a beautiful package.
Clever plan for a devil. And we take credit for it. We glorify his work in magazines, in movies, in the permission we give others to criticize our appearance to death.
A few people who know my history with skin cancer still tell me I need a tan. Thanks a lot. I don’t need your approval and certainly won’t risk my life for your viewing pleasure. Would you?
Katniss and Peeta became a symbol of hope. Not for their looks, not for the acts they put on to earn sponsors, but for the hope they gave a nation. Isn’t that what we all hunger for anyway? Hope?
In the words of my friend and fellow writer Nikki Hahn, “God doesn’t make ugly.”
Her white lace dress floats on the swirls of her princess dance. Blue eyes catch emulations of Snow White in a mirror with a hand to her face and a soft voice to sing along to her play.
They’re sweet these moments and if I can capture them on camera, I will. With a click and a wink of year 5, another day goes by where my daughter thinks the world will be a smooth walk in her princess shoes.
No one wants to deal with the ugly stepsister, but Chloe will need a little fire in her step when it’s time to face her.
I like to teach her about the real heroes – the ones in sandals and hearts for justice. Those who were set apart from the other girls, not the ones set on joining the myriad castle clicks.
Will her goal be to stand out to the young princes swarming the halls of high school or will she stand up for the King of glory?
I like to tell Chloe about Queen Esther (an edited version, of course). When King Xerxes’ wife, Vashti, refused to appear naked in front of a party (to show off her beauty), Xerxes, on advice from his counsel, decided it was time for a new, more obedient wife.
Many local women were kidnapped and forced to live in a Harem for one year to receive beauty treatments. At the end of the year they all appeared before the King where he would choose his favorite. Esther, the most beautiful, was chosen as the new Queen.
What Xerxes didn’t know was that she was not Persian like she allowed everyone to believe (on advice from her guardian Mordecai), but a Jewish woman named Hadassah.
When Haman, Xerxes’ right hand man, decided that he wanted to annihilate the Jews, Mordecai said this to Esther:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14
By law Esther could not appear before Xerxes without his summons. This could cause her to loose her life. But to save the Jewish people, she did anyway. Because she was different – set apart by God to do this very thing, and succeeded.
Not bad for a harem chick. Beauty became a tool, not her identity.
Chloe’s eyelashes flutter down, sweeping my glance to her painted toes.
She is beautiful and charming. But underneath all the layers, she is no Snow White.
She is a girl who loves to run and play in the mud. She is a protector of her baby brother when the big kids get a little rough and she is quick to learn when an injustice has been done.
My prayer is that she and her generation will grow to recognize that beauty is not in the mask, but in the way that God has set them apart.
How do you think our culture has had an impact on image vs. calling? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.