Friday, April 1, 2011

When Ugly Isn't

A few years ago I met with a new client named Brian who was in charge of a large retirement home. After our meeting he took me on a tour of the facility. As we waited for the elevator, an adorable little old lady approached us.

"Hello, Mrs. MacFarland," Brian greeted her. She returned his greeting with genuine sparkle.

As we stepped into the elevator together, I smiled, extended my hand and introduced myself. She looked up at me and said, "Well, you're awfully pretty. Really. Very beautiful." Caught a little off guard, I thanked her awkwardly, unable to get over the way she made such a fuss over my looks.

We walked a little further through the facility, then Brian casually commented, "You know that lady in the elevator?" I nodded. "She's legally blind." (ba-doom-ba!)

I laughed about that one all the way home. Perhaps it was my inner beauty she saw? But the irony wasn’t lost on me either. In fact, it stung a little. Because for most of my life I’ve been carrying around a pretty heavy ugly complex. I inherited this complex from my mother, who was strikingly beautiful, but also felt she got the short end of the stick when it came to looks.


In the last six months, two things have made a difference for me. Not changed the way I look. But changed the way I feel about how I look.

First, this book.
Precious Bane, written in 1924 and somehow overlooked as a classic (but clutched tenaciously by those who value great literature, including C. S. Lewis) has some of the most beautiful, poetic passages you can ever hope to read. Set in Shropshire, England in the 1800s, it’s a fairy tale of operatic proportions. There is love and hate, lust and innocence, birth and death, fire and flood. The heroine was born with a cleft palate (hare lip) for which she’s despised and accused of witchcraft. Yet she never gives up hope of being loved and cherished. While her brother allows his obsession with riches to poison and destroy him, Prudence rises to a shining level of wisdom and grace. Ultimately, one wonderful man sees beyond her physical flaw to her radiant inner beauty, and it becomes a love story that is powerful and unsurpassed. How I was engulfed in the pages of this marvelous book, where a woman is loved for what she truly is on the inside, rather than for how the rest of the world sees her! This is the kind of love story I’ve always believed in: True beauty rewarded with truest love.

Next, this talk, by a modern prophet.
When Thomas Monson rose to speak to a large group of women from our church, a palpable hush fell over the crowd. Toward the end he told the story of Mary Bartels, an innkeeper of sorts, who rented a room to a shriveled, misshapen old man whom many had turned away. Over the years she came to know and befriend this man, and discovered he had a generous and humble heart and a beautiful soul. Besides the symbolism of the innkeeper, this is the part that undid me:
After the man passed away, Mary was visiting with a friend who had a greenhouse. As she looked at her friend’s flowers, she noticed a beautiful golden chrysanthemum but was puzzled that it was growing in a dented, old, rusty bucket. Her friend explained, “I ran short of pots, and knowing how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn’t mind starting in this old pail. It’s just for a little while, until I can put it out in the garden.”
Mary smiled as she imagined just such a scene in heaven. “Here’s an especially beautiful one,” God might have said when He came to the soul of the little old man. “He won’t mind starting in this small, misshapen body.” But that was long ago, and in God’s garden how tall this lovely soul must stand!
This reached me on such a deep level it unleashed cathartic sobs. I felt a power and a soothing in his words, as if God Himself had spoken them directly to some deep hiding place in my heart. And some healing happened. I left that grand, sweeping room feeling almost beautiful.
After all that, I'm sure you can imagine how fondly I'm looking forward to hearing him speak again this weekend. Tune in if you get a chance. You’ll never know what all those inspired words could do for you if you don't stop to hear them.


And now, we have a winner to announce: chose LisAway -- who also won a book in my December giveaway -- to win the signed copy of Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth. Lisa, the book gods must hold you in high favour! Next, the set of "Miss Delacourt's Roses" notecards goes to Patty Ann. Hopefully one of my wonderful readers also won the original painting over at Heidi's blog. But if not, don't despair. I have more notecards and giclee prints available through my website. And I'm always just an email away.


Sandy M. said...

Beautiful post Jana! Thank you for the book recommend; I will read this. I don't know what the deal is about our looks. My grandmother told me most sincerely that she thought the most beautiful women in the world was Queen Elizabeth - I think she loved her sense of duty..
What I do know is that the best people I have ever met in life have not been the best looking. Not that I have anything against good looks - I love and enjoy beauty, as I feel sure you do too, especially with your artist's sensibility. But it's just one part of what we can be, and not a very important part, when all is considered.
I think the modern world is so incredibly replete with an over-abundance of images everywhere: by mirrors, in reflective windows and other surfaces, photographs, pictures, in magazines, on posters, in advertising, through media, etc, etc, etc - that we've become hyper-sensitive to this one aspect of humanity - giving it an importance far beyond what it deserves. Added to that is our modern societal custom of interacting with many people each day only by viewing them and having them view us, usually briefly, in passing. The impression we get to make upon others is therefore reliant upon what they see in that brief glimpse. There's some pressure! - to be evaluated time and again by only our appearance. Before the miracles of modern transport, most of us lived all of our lives among the relatively few people who shared our often very small geographical area of home. People got to know each other for who they really were. I think looks were much less important in such an arena. A beautiful soul could be truly appreciated only under such a sustained light.
My point is, in summary therefore, that I don't think it was always like this!
But I do wonder about the next life.. Do we change, or do we see with different eyes? I sometimes consider that the Saviour was described with the words: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" I also note that the modern prophets and their wives were not usually ultra-slim and model types. (I do this, as you understand, to comfort myself on occasion :)
I think you should paint yourself.
You probably already have, but I think you should paint how beautiful you are. Not for anybody else, but for you to see.
I appreciate your plug for Conference, thank you. I will be watching, but most of all I'll be listening :)

Luisa Perkins said...

I've never heard of that book! I must get it at once. It sounds amazing.

And I love that talk by our dear prophet. It's one of his very best. I was similarly overcome when I first heard it.

I am so excited for Conference! I feel like I'm a kid anticipating a carnival, or something.

Jana, you must know how utterly gorgeous you are. Your children--especially your daughter--are your exact image, and I know you think they are lovely. Even though I have always felt incredibly physically ugly, when I am able to see myself in the faces of my beautiful children, I recognize humbly, that I, too, have beauty.

LisAway said...

What a beautiful post! How could a person who writes and thinks like that be ugly? I'm so glad you're learning to recognize how beautiful you are from stories of truly beautiful people. I love blogging and how, although we may see pictures of each other occasionally, what we are responding to is the person's mind and heart. I think that's wonderful. And I think you're wonderful.

AND I CAN'T BELIEVE I WON!! I am very, very, super happy! And grateful! A signed copy! I can't wait! Thank you so much!!

charrette said...

Sandy, I thought of that exact same scripture as I was writing this. Queen Elizabeth. Duty. Yes.
Thank you for chiming in. You and your children are so beautiful, inside and out!

charrette said...

Luisa, Thank you for reminding me of the beauty so similar to our own we recognize in our children. I looked at you and your daughter last weekend and saw that in its fulness, inside and out! SO MUCH BEAUTY!

Also, I should add a warning/disclaimer/caveat to those of you who expressed interest in the book that Precious Bane has a very strong dialect (the narrator's voice throughout) which takes some getting used to. Also, you MUST search for the edition with the Erika Duncan introduction. (My link goes there.) Her words sold me on the book and encouraged me to plow through the first few pages, plus you get the original 1924 illustrations, which are excellent. Amazing book! I am begging Jeff to recreate it in film.

charrette said...

LisAway, YES! I feel like blogging is the ideal social vehicle because we get to know each other's HEARTS first, and then the rest doesn't seem to matter.

And I'm so happy you won! YAY!

Patty Ann said...

Totally love this today. It is beautiful. I am going to try that book you recommended. Going over to amazon to see if it is available. I love CS Lewis and need to get a few of his books too!! Thank you, for all your insights today and for your amazing post.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This whole thing is a testament to me of the folly of mortal eyes. We just don't get it sometime. Thanks for a post that has reminded me (again) how lovely you really are. :)

Patty Ann said...

Whoo Hoo!! hank you so much for letting me win the notecards!! (I am a Postmaster, so what could be a sweeter gift!) I love the picture and can't wait to see the cards. Thank you again for everything. I too, loved the story that Presiden Monson told. It makes me want to be just like her!!

Katie Bevan said...

Thank you for sharing that post. It made me feel at peace. I think many women feel like they aren't pretty, including myself and hearing these stories helped me remember that what matters most is our inner beauty. I love that you quoted Thomas Monson, it made me anticipate this weekend's conference, so thank you again.

Kimberly said...

This reduced me to tears. I've been carrying my ugly complex around for decades now, and oh how tiring the burden of it is!

Thank you for sharing those beautiful stories and helping to lift that burden.

I love the golden chrysanthemum within you, but I think your bucket is gorgeous too. You may see it as rusty and worn, but I see it made shiny and new by the sweetness it contains. You radiate love, laughter, and kindness and I'm in awe of BOTH your beauties.

Kazzy said...

I need to read that book. It sounds so powerful.

And congrats to lisaway!

Shari said...

This was more than a beautiful post. I remember President Monson telling that story. It moved me as well.

Just so you now, I think you are incredibly beautiful, inside and out.

This is such an amazing painting of the roses. I'm going to have to contact you about the note cards!

Erin said...

What makes my husband upset is when I complain of feeling ugly to him. He says, "I think you're beautiful. Do you think I'm stupid? Do you think I would have married an ugly woman?" He's right, you know.

I think I will have to read that book!

Lara said...

I love that story Pres. Monson told. And it really reminds me that I need to teach my daughters to focus on their inner beauty, and the inner beauty of others, which is so difficult to do in our world.

Heidi said...

Love this! I want to read that book! And I'm so glad Lisa won! And so glad that the gal who won the painting is one of your readers/friends. Happy Dance!