She caught my eye right away; dressed as she was in scarlet. Her arms were cutely attached to her sides with 1800’s looking thread, and her shaker style hair and clothing spoke to a simple plainness missing these days. Her wings were discretely tucked behind her and painted a soft color to mimic the inside of an oyster shell. Perfect. But I instantly chose the smaller, tan version – assuming that would cost less. Gulp - $16.99. Not something I was ready to part with for just a small tabletop statue. As an afterthought, I picked up the scarlet one to see how much more she cost. $12.99.
At first I couldn’t figure it out – why was the larger one less? And then I saw it. She was marred. The side of her bodice was discolored, paint missing; and her hair had white splotches on one side. She had what looked like an ink dot above her eyebrow and a slightly misshapen hand. And so she was… marked down. Not perfect; she was valued less by those who made the rules.
And now I knew I HAD to buy her. In my eyes, she was worth more. Marred, beaten up by life, she was still just plain beautiful.
My marred angel statue has me thinking today. What is ‘beauty’? I guess if it is ‘in the eyes of the beholder’ then it could be many things. My mother thought only perfection was beauty. I suspect this was due to an abusive father whose own insecurity detested imperfection. This could easily lead one to fear being imperfect; and indeed having anything imperfect in their lives. I’ll never forget the coffee table. The dog chewed two edges off and my mom spent a fortune sending it out, having new wood seamlessly affixed and wondrously woven in so that NO ONE would know. Of course the dog, who was not paying the bills, chewed them right back off again. So much for perfection control.
I will always remember when I first learned that imperfection is really beauty. As a young Navy wife, I visited another young Navy wife. She and her husband were both very strong Christians who came from very strong Christian families. They read the bible and knew it inside and out. It seemed they had different values for things. She had a full dining room set, inherited from her husband’s grandmother. Since none of us young wives had much of anything besides Goodwill purchases, I commented on the beauty of it. “Oh,” she said, “that’s not the best part!” She then proceeded to walk all around the table, pointing to every scratch, every gouge, every nick and every chip. As she did so, she told the story of how each and every one came about – a Thanksgiving meal here, a boy scout project there. Each imperfection was nothing but another memory of their lives; nothing but another celebration of the messiness of it. Together, the imperfections told the story of a family living and growing, learning and doing, messing up and cleaning up, laughing and loving. It was the first glimpse I had into life in a truly Christian family – one where people, and not things, are valued. And one where imperfection is really a way to beautiful.
I think I’ve always known it should be that way.
Even as a young teen, I loathed ‘perfection’. When my dad rose up in society and got a job, and pay, that raised our social status – the old furniture went out and in came the new. Stuffy new dining room chairs arrived – chairs too perfect to allow even the least amount of ‘mess’ that might fall on them. Suddenly, even eating became something that had to be done ‘perfectly.’ Stubbornly, I dragged my old chair into the dining room each night to sit on it in silent protest – till Mom just plain lost it and ordered it out!
But isn’t imperfection just another way of saying that someone was there? Isn’t it another way of saying that sometimes life hurts – but then again, maybe that’s how we know it is real?
And as I write this, I realize something – perfection usually masks such… imperfection. I grew up in a ‘perfect’ home and it was all so… imperfect. When you suffer imperfection in secret; it has a way of scarring. But accepting imperfection as a fact of life, and moving on to try to make it through together, has a way of healing – like my Navy friend’s stories show.
We live in a ‘perfect’ culture today – gone are the crooked teeth that were a normal part of life. People did not fix perfectly fine teeth just so they would look good. How silly was that? Grey hair signaled a person you could go to for advice - cause surely they would know - and not someone who needed to be ‘put out to pasture’ so they wouldn’t bother us young, beautiful, perfect people. Families were large, loud and full of ‘drama’. But if someone was picking on you – it sure did help to have 4 big brothers show up with clenched fists…
Today, every child has perfectly arranged teeth; with parents working endless hours away from home to pay for them and all the other ‘necessities’ of perfection. It is rare to see a grey haired person in each home caring for those orphaned children whose parents work constantly. Grandmas and Grandpas have tanned, lean bodies with highlighted hair – honed from endless hours on the golf course hitting a small white ball into endless holes, while their grandchildren are raised by endless numbers of total strangers. But not a problem, since each family is limited to the ‘perfect’ size of 2.1 children – who are orphaned at birth with parents who parent a couple hours a day – and with not even a crowd of older siblings to turn to for help.
Yet today, in our ‘perfect’ families, there is very little that is actually perfect. As a public school teacher of those 2.1 children, I can tell you that the children are not the only things that are limited in today’s family – so is the love. It is doled out in perfect measures of ‘quality’, not ‘quantity’; and ‘success’, not ‘failure’. 2.1 children have never felt more driven, more prodded, more ignored, more abandoned, more desperate – but gosh, we sure have our perfect families here in America!
And so I am leery of perfection. It has always made me nervous – like a tall glass of tea balancing right next to the computer just waiting to – splash – ruin the hard drive. Give me imperfect any day. At least then you know what you got. At least then, you know you have actually lived.
We are told that America is a ‘Christian’ nation. I wonder, however, whether it is made up of Christians who know anything about Christ? Somewhere along the line, Christianity seemed to go from sinners being healed by Christ – to ignorance being healed by education and plain old hard work. Who needs Christ when they can just become perfect themselves? Gone are the days when imperfection was something to be boasted of - when made so very perfect in Christ. Now that imperfection is code for ‘not working hard enough’; nobody fesses up to nuthin.
But I’ve always thought that if you want to know someone, look at what they do. Well a big “Do”, when talking about God, is the world. He has put His handprints all over it; and when I see His imprint in the natural world – everywhere I look, I see nature made beautiful by…. Imperfection. Take the Grand Canyon. What is it; other than weak soil eroded away cause it was just too wimpy to hold. Life (the unrelenting river) came along and it yielded – it was simply not strong enough. Now if my house had been sitting on that soil, I would not have called it ‘the greatest wonder in the world’; I would have called it ‘an insurance nightmare’. Nonetheless, God (and we) now call it … beautiful.
Ever see a forest in the spring after a devastating fire? Black charred trees stand next to the most prolific profusion of greenery sprouting from the enriched soil - then has ever been seen. Spectacularly beautiful!
What of childbirth? Could anybody call it the ‘perfect’ way to bring a baby into the world? Once you’ve been through it; the stork story is starting to look pretty darn good. Strong women slowly - as the days, weeks and months go by - become weaker, more uncomfortable, more… well just LOOK at them! Does that fit any definition of ‘perfect’ today??!! Then they go through the worst pain of all, the messiest mess of all and the end result is … the beauty of new life. And is that new life perfect? Pointed heads, wrinkled skin, is that hair on his/her face??!! But no one looks at that – all they see is their beautiful new child.
I think, perhaps, God has been trying to tell us something. His Son came and said the same thing – but perhaps we’ve forgotten. There IS no perfection. There is only imperfection, made perfect by, and through, Christ. The more we accept that, and the more we accept life as it is and turn to Him to bring beauty from it – then the more beautiful we become.
And even if society chooses to ‘mark us down’ due to our imperfection, we at least can know that – in God’s lexicon – ‘imperfection’ is another word for ‘beauty’. And if we simply give that ‘imperfection’ to Him, then yet another word we will hear is “My child”. And that, my fellow travelers, IS perfection…
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to Hope in Love.