The Eye of the Beholder

rose picture

I heard a quote the other day that I just love:  “Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a great deal to love a leaf.  It is ordinary to love the beautiful, but it is beautiful to love the ordinary.”

I have a conch shell on my bathroom windowsill that is impossible to dust. No one would think it was anything special, just at a glance. It is thickly coated in some sort of white crust, and into the crust is embedded all these tiny little shells that no doubt belonged to tiny sea creatures who wandered up looking for a spot to land. I’m guessing they finally just left their shells there after fruitlessly trying to disconnect from the muck. One can only hope they found a safe harbor before being eaten by something … probably the thing that lived in my conch shell. As unlovely as it is now, it was actually a slimy mossy green when I got it, and I bleached it and scrubbed it until it is now its white crusty, spiderweb catching self. I think it’s beautiful.

Here it is in all it's inglory!

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I do not have an artistic eye, though I’m working on it. I usually last about 12 minutes in an art gallery. I look long and hard at sculptures that appear to have been dropped, then glued back together, and I see no deeper meaning.

I always wind up thinking, “My five year old could make that, and then we’d really be banking!” Those kinds of things are worth a fortune. So I spend my obligatory 12 minutes working my way through the art I understand and then, once I’ve passed the Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses stuff I’m all, “So, someone mentioned going for pizza after this? Is anyone else starving?”

America has a strange idea of beauty now. Have you noticed? Beauty is only attributed to young, smooth, perfect sorts of things. I mean, we seem to like weird artwork, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to other stuff or people, we miss the boat a lot. Not all Americans, but mainstream folks, even Christians seem to place a higher value on that which is fun to look at. Just try finding a popular Christian musician that isn’t pretty. I’m telling you, IF they exist, they are super rare!

Not just Christians though, of course. Hollywood is kind of low on talent, but ridiculously high in the beauty category. It is full of gorgeous, young, smooth women who are twenty pounds underweight, and full of people of ordinary size who are all grocery store clerks in movies. I feel bad for Hollywood women.  They only have a shelf life of approximately three months.  Then they develop a wrinkle that can’t be airbrushed out and their career is shot, unless you’re Betty White who is adorable, or Meryl Streep who is just too fabulous to be shunted away. Still it’s pretty hard to get a job in Hollywood, even for a guy, if you don’t have just the perfect look. I guess if they feel you’re worth the trouble, they might also try to give you just the perfect look. Heaven forbid people just look normal. It might give people the impression that they are worthy of attention just like they are.

Anyone watching the night Susan Boyle debuted on “Britain’s Got Talent” knows exactly what I’m talking about.  You should watch it on Youtube if you didn’t see it live.  People’s reactions to her were incredible.  The obvious, not just distaste, but utter lack of respect shown to her before she started singing will blow your mind.  Also, everyone’s reaction AFTER she started singing will blow your minds.  How could someone with slightly crooked teeth, who doesn’t fall in the 16-22 age range and isn’t a stick figure possibly be talented?  An anomaly of the first order no doubt.  Someone completely forgot to tell her that she was worthless because she wasn’t a super model.  I think we should all use a little less plastic and paint.

Here is my thought about my conch shell, and unbeautiful people (I learned that word from a five-year-old. It’s so awesome that every word processor underlines it with a red squiggly line). I don’t think my conch shell is beautiful because I bought it at a shell shop somewhere in Missouri a thousand miles from an actual beach. You can find shells in places like that.  It’s just weird. I guess they’re there for people who spend money to have perfectly polished and beautiful things to decorate their house. I am obviously not one of those people. If you added up everything I’ve spent on my home decor, it probably wouldn’t equal what one of those pretty conch shells would cost you.

But I ask you this: Was your pretty and polished conch shell fished out of the sea for you on a mission trip to Belize?  Was it handed to you with love by one of the sweetest teenagers in existence?  Was it smuggled, somewhat illegally, through customs wrapped artfully in dirty clothes in your luggage?  I’m just sayin.  My story is cooler. Just so you know, I have nothing against spending money on your house … but I have nothing against my way either.

Everything in my house is either a token of an experience that I loved, or given to me by someone I love. I hate those random psych questions that ask, “If your house was on fire and your family was safe and you knew you could save one thing, what would you save?” I usually sit for a moment and mentally run through every picture, book, bottle of sand (yes, sand is a decoration at my house) and then flee the room in tears. I would want to save all of it. It all has meaning to me. That query is even more bizarre when they tell you you can only save one family member. My husband refers to a Captain Kirkism as an answer.  “I don’t believe in a no win scenario.  I would save them all.”   I refuse to answer altogether.  I don’t think Jason or I would do very well on a psyche evaluation.

It is my personal opinion that people are more beautiful the longer they live and the less they botox. If you will sit and share your life story with a kid for an hour, or if you can describe what it was like to huddle in a foxhole, or fearlessly march onto a beach in Normandy under constant German fire, or you still knit, sew or crochet, you are a beautiful person. If you sag somewhere because you’ve had three children, or your skin is puckered from surgery, or your hands are calloused from years of using them for your livelihood, that’s all because life has happened to you.  If you’re a single or foster parent, don’t even get me started on your level of amazingness.

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The greatest beauty lies in reality: in the depth of our experiences. Smile lines are a mark of a life spent finding joy in trials. Not the mark of a perfect life.

So, we should expand our definition of beauty a little bit, right?  At least enough to include ourselves, for pete’s sake!  It isn’t because we’re humble that we don’t think we’re beautiful, it’s because we’ve been lied to, we’re insecure, we’re inundated with plastic figurines all painted to perfect specifications by toddlers in China.  So forget the Walmart version of you, or the Dillards version if you happen to have more money.  We are my conch shell.  We have a story that is worth being a bit banged up for.  We are real people, with real purpose in life.  We are loved by God.  Jesus would rather die than live without us.  If nothing else in this entire world is beautiful, that is beautiful.  End of story.

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Heroes in the Elevator

A couple of weeks ago, a group of firefighters answered a call to rescue a little family from an elevator.  Firefighters are pretty much always my heroes anyway … I mean, who else would sign up to run into a burning building to save complete strangers, except someone heroic?  Still, these kinda went above and beyond to, not only rescue, but keep calm a little four-year-old girl by singing “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen”.  Not sure why this story made me misty eyed, but it kinda did.

firefighters

Do ya’ll remember that question in your class at school … your third grade teacher or whoever would ask, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Answers used to be awesome.  “Firefighter, policeman, mommy, ballerina …” now, and this is just from kids I’ve personally asked, more and more it’s “famous, in a band, an actress like so and so, Taylor Swift.”  Hm … our kids seem to be missing several crucial points.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with being famous, or being Taylor Swift for that matter, but I think they could aim higher.)  What our kids are reaching for are professions that they look up to, idolize.  People who they perceive as heroes.  Nothing wrong with that.  Mostly.

The term hero is badly misused I think.  Our kids use it to describe how they feel about anyone, from Hollywood actors to the X-men.  In my opinion, heroes are rarely famous.  Sometimes celebrities use their fame for good, certainly, and of course, some people are simply too heroic to ignore.  Mother Teresa didn’t seek limelight, but she was one of the greatest women of our time, and her selflessness threw her into the public eye.  I hope my daughters try to emulate her one day instead of some silly teen idol.  My personal favorite definition of hero comes from the wonderfully hilarious Dwight Schrutt, from “The Office”, who, after spraying Pam’s ex-boyfriend with pepper spray to keep him from beating up Jim, states, “I am not a hero.  You know who’s a real hero?  Hiro … from ‘Heroes’.”  Thank you Dwight, just for being you.

(This isn’t the exact clip, but it’s still pretty awesome!)

So, seriously though, I thought it would be fun to talk about some everyday heroes.  Things real people do right now, tomorrow, when the situation arises, whether they are ever famous or not.  So, here goes.  Some of my personal heroes.

I have a former student named Katy Lauderdale.  Katy attends UT now and has turned into a really fabulous young lady.  The other day, she found someone’s debit card on the sidewalk and picked it up. When she got home she looked up the owner’s name in their directory, got ahold of her and set up a place to meet so she could return it.  When Katy arrived, the other girl had tears in her eyes.  She confessed to Katy that it had been a really hard semester, and that her faith in the goodness of humanity was almost gone … until she got a call from Katy.  Katy hugged her and told her that she was going to be okay.

How great is that?  How broke were you in college?  That’ll tell you how great it is!  If you never went to collegeor did, but you had money, allow me to explain.  Picture standing in a Walmart and trying to decide between buying shampoo, or toothpaste that week, because you can only afford one or the other.  So, you think, I guess I can just put corn starch in my hair this week … and brush my teeth with water, because on a second glance at your bank account, you’ll actually be overdrawn with buying your weekly Ramen Noodles and can’t afford either.  That should give you a vague idea of college kid brokeness … or at least how broke I was!

M’kay, in case that one didn’t do it for you, here’s another fantastic tale of heroics.  Last year a friend of mine named Devin Dickinson collapsed.  He’s a normal healthy 30-year-old with very little medical trouble, so this is obviously hugely alarming.  They got him to the hospital and many days and tests later (Devin, correct me if my timeline’s off, buddy!) he was diagnosed with Guillian-Barr Syndrome.  If you don’t know what that is, it attacks the peripheral nervous system the way Multiple Sclerosis attacks the central nervous system.  So anyway, Devin is making huge leaps in his comeback, but it is a long slow process.  To celebrate how far he had come in his recovery, at his year anniversary of being diagnosed Devin’s entire family went to Disney World.

They were greeted at the door with buttons that said, “I’m Celebrating!”  After which, they were escorted to the front of every line, brought in to rides by separate entrances  and treated like royalty for their entire visit.  Brilliant!  Another reason I love Disney!  Sorry if you’re not a fan … actually, I’m just sorry FOR you!  You’re missing out on a lot of wonderful. (Of course “wonderful” is a noun.  I was an English teacher … I can make up nouns if I want to.)  There are two stories of awesomeness in this account, of course.  The Dickinson’s entire family, especially Devin, and the people who work at Disney World.

My last set of heroes are my favorites because they are heroic every single minute of their day and for the rest of their lives.  Foster parents and people who adopt.  I know a few couples who are brave enough to do this and, in my mind, they are real life superstars.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Brian and Jasmine Jamar,  are now the proud parents of not just one, but three little boys.  All brothers from the worst background you could possibly think up.  They are now our official nephews and three of the most wonderful kids in my life.

Imagine the kind of courage it takes to not only Foster three kids who were three, four and five-years-old when they first got them, but to start out parenting with three children who have no connection to you whatsoever.  There is no logical reason for Foster parents who adopt to bring a perfect stranger’s children into their home and treat them with kindness, dignity and respect (something which these boys had never received before).  If you think the money’s good, you’re completely out of your mind, and after you adopt, there’s no money at all.  No one in their right mind would do this.  Thankfully, there is a force for which there is no explanation embedded in these people’s souls.  Love.  Nothing in the world is as weird or wonderful as that.  And nothing is as wonderful as witnessing the effects of love on a previously unloved child.  If you had met those three before, and then you met them again now, you wouldn’t even recognize them.

I could write an entire book about these kinds of people, but I’ll just include one more family and leave you to your happy and heroic thoughts.  My friends Andrea and Justin Chambers have been Foster parents for years. I don’t have all the details of the heartbreaks they have endured in that timeframe, but I can tell you every time they weren’t granted a child that they had Fostered their hearts were shattered because they just cared so much.  Every child that came into their home was treated as if they would stay forever.  There are not two more wonderful people on the planet and now, after all these years of giving many children a loving home for a few months or even a couple of years, Andrea and Justin have been able to and are in the process of adopting three precious children, all from different homes and backgrounds.

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Justin and Andrea’s Christmas card
I don’t think actors are beautiful really, I think Foster parents are.  That’s just an opinion of course, but still …

Of course the common denominator of all these heroes is so simple.  Just love.  Love causes firefighters and policemen to run INTO a situation when all normal people run away from it.  And gives them the kindness to sing to a little girl, instead of just telling her to calm down.  Love causes strangers to give special attention to a man in a wheelchair and insure that he has a wonderful time at “the happiest place on earth”.  Foster parents … no words for that kind of love.

I Corinthians 13 says that if we could speak with the tongues of men and angels and if we could prophecy and understand every mystery in the world and had all knowledge and could move mountains but don’t have love, we have nothing.  We ARE nothing.  Just think what we can be if we have love.  We can be anything.  We are heroes  just waiting to happen.

 

Please feel free to comment about your own personal heroes!  I would love to know about them!

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