I love pretty things. LOVE them. My idea of heaven on earth is an Anthropologie store. Anthropologie has not yet graced Anchorage with its presence, so when we visit out of state, my husband knows to dedicate an entire morning to the window-shopping of this store. I smell every candle, examine every pretty plate, and try on endless amounts of dresses with pockets, which cost a little more than we can afford but make me feel like a woodland princess. Though I rarely purchase much, I always leave with at least a dainty dish in hand, slowly adding to my collection for whimsical summer gatherings.
Over the long Labor Day weekend, I enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon strolling through stores. I found myself making one last stop at Pier One before heading home. I had saved a little gift card since last Christmas, waiting to find that just-right item to beautify our home. As I was looking, I found myself wishing for a job where my only role would be to decorate and make things pretty. Does anyone else dream of such things?
Almost immediately, as I thought about my actual oh-so-glamorous job as a middle school Language Arts teacher, I felt a little tap on my heart. Knowing tears brimmed in my eyes. No pretty dish could dazzle me more than the beauty of a hard, messy, good life.
When I think of what adds beauty to my life, dishes and decorations and dresses with pockets are buried by a list of more substantial treasures.
This past summer, I hosted my first annual summer dinner party, and what I remember is not the table setting, but the friends who gathered round to dine and celebrate together. Friends who listen and affirm each other when doubts arise. Friends who show up at the door with dinner when inconvenient injuries make the daily grind harder than it should be. Friends who sorrow over each other’s losses and get to rejoice in the new life of babies born. Friends who board planes without hesitation when grief seeks to destroy, and who make special dessert deliveries on the hard and hopeless days of middle school teacher life just to say, “Keep going.”
When I think of my family, beauty isn’t just in that JC Penny portrait hung on my grandparents’ wall, with our matching dresses, sponge-curled hair and toothy grins, but in the dark moments too. Too many times, we yelled and screamed and said things we regretted, but the last fighting words to leave our mouths before our tear-stained cheeks hit the pillow were the fiercest fighting words of all: “I love you still.”
Beauty isn’t in my Pinterest-perfect bulletin board I hang in my classroom, but in the rare, special moments of growth. Like when my rowdiest kids of the day sat together in hushed silence, tears streaming down their faces, as a peer shared of a brother lost. The quiet echoes of “me too” began to sound, their shared hurts healing a loneliness that no thirteen-year-old should carry.
How beauty comes from ashes, I’ll never know. I have only thanks and awe to give to the One who works these kinds of miracles. If I had to choose between the picture-perfect prettiness of what I often long for and the rugged beauty of love’s triumph, my choice is unabashed.
Give me the real, the raw, the messy, and the gritty. Give me obstacles to overcome, a hand to hold, a finish line to cross. Give me the dirt under my nails and the days I want to give up. Give me overcoming together. Give me beautiful.