I was not born pretty. Some people probably considered me ugly. At least one health professional suggested that my parents could “send me away”. In any case, the illusion that life could be a safe, comfortable experience shattered that first day of my life when even the bottle failed me and I had to be fed with a dropper. My cleft lip and palate stamped the reality of the harshness of our world front and center on my face. It did one thing to me and one thing for me. To me– it prevented me from forming any delusional reality that life is easy or simple. For me– well, it landed me straight in the arms of God.
Psalm 22:10 is a verse that resonated with me from the first day I heard it:
” On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
So this little girl born with an amazing amount of black hair and large, blue eyes had a big problem long after the surgeries were done and the medical files closed. Was life safe? Was life beautiful or was it ugly?
As I grew I formed a sneaking suspicion that it was both. But, by gum, I would try to stay as close to the beautiful side as possible! And I feel like I have done that fairly well. I call it charm. You know, a small house can be thought of as “cottage-like”. And “slightly old” mixed with “inexpensive new” can become “shabby chic”. A crack in the wall becomes “old-world charm” and rusty wheelbarrows can be remade into planters. Seeing the beauty and charm in things is a great skill to learn.
But what happens when you run into something truly ugly?
I don’t do well with that. It makes me very nervous. Like an exasperating Rubik’s cube (which I could never solve) some things in life cannot be twisted or turned into something “charming”. For most of my life I had seen some of these difficult things from a distance, mostly as a nurse. The range was wide: poverty, loneliness, dead babies, twisted bodies, alcoholics bleeding out, addicts in cardiac arrest dying. But that kind of ugly I could walk away from. A question always haunted me as I drove home to my safe, small home with my wonderful husband and four healthy children. “What will I do when I can’t find the beautiful or charming side to a situation? What happens when something truly “ugly” comes to me? Something I can’t charm my way out of? And make no bones about it, I knew that Ugly comes to everyone.
And then it did.
Two years ago, Ugly came. It came into my living room. It came into the lives of my children. It came into our pocketbook, into my health, into my “charming, little world”. It’s been almost a year and the journey is still on. And I am ok with it. It is Christ’s work, to help bear another’s burden. But my heart is breaking.
Oh, the grief! Dear Lord, where is the beauty? I can’t twist this anyway that makes it look better! If there were just some beauty here, I could bear it! I could bear it!
And then a still, small voice.
But maybe you are the beauty in this.
I had never considered this option.
Beauty can be brought by someone outside a situation, for the sole sake of the person in it and change the reality of their suffering. It is so simple. So elemental. So Christian. My friend, caught in the vortex of something ugly, gazes into a mirror and I on the other side, through Christ’s help, touch the opposite side of the looking glass. My compassion, no, Christ’s compassion, beautifies what she sees. And it her suffering becomes bearable. She is reminded that she is loved by Christ. I still see ugly. She sees God working. I feel joy to know that she sees God. Later, I will see beauty. But I feel joy.
What a strange, sweet irony it is that a little girl born into trouble, and shying away from it all her life, should find out that, if she let God do the work, she could be the conduit to bring beauty in the midst of something very ugly.
I’m not so afraid of the ugly side of life anymore. As I show love to others and bring beauty into their suffering, someday someone will do the same for me. Christ will make sure of it.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:11-12