By Jen Wallace
When John proposed to me, I cried. It was an ugly cry. In this beautiful moment the woman he was proposing to was sobbing—“So, is that a yes?” he asked. My response to his first question, “Will you marry me?” and the subsequent one was a resounding, “Yes! Yes!” I am still not entirely sure what all my tears meant. Years and memory tend to colour the retelling of events. But I think a part of me knew that he would now have a chance to really know me. He would see it all: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly and maybe that realization came spilling out.
I have been thinking about beautiful ugly for some time. I didn’t realize it is an actual term used in modeling: jolie laide is someone unconventionally beautiful or who one might perceive as beautiful and another ugly.* Life is full of this paradox. Some of the most riveting stories and moments in history are beautiful ugly; in the midst of horror a glimmer of hope, in the face of evil someone provides a light and some goodness.
I remember trying to explain this in my first year of college/ university. I was in Bible College and taking some university classes off campus. I was wanting to convey to my English university prof my belief that there could be joy in sorrow, light in darkness. My idea was that not everyone had to be jaded to produce good writing. I am not convinced I did a decent job explaining (but I did get him to read Anne of Green Gables for the first time). I was faced with a similar challenge when I was part of a Let’s Start Talking training weekend. The training was to prepare us before going to another country where we would offer English conversation classes using the book of Luke from the Bible. We were admonished that weekend not try to explain why there is pain in the world or suffering; that “I don’t know” is an okay answer.
It is true; I don’t know. But what I do know is that life is beautiful ugly. Birth itself is beautiful ugly. There is blood, pain, body fluids, contracting, tearing; and there is life. It is amazing and scary and beautiful. Whenever I think about who Jesus was, this idea comes to mind. He was “like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”* His birth was pregnant with anxiousness and distress, surrounded by animals in a less than ideal birthing location under the reign of a murderous tyrant. His whole existence in the flesh was beautiful ugly. He ate and drank with the sinners. He went into the homes of those tax collecting scammers. He allowed one of those women to wash his feet in perfume and dry them with her hair. It was too much. He went too far. Touching untouchables. Loving unlovables. His death on the cross was heaven and hell, all at once.
We are all born and we all die. It is true. Death, too, can be beautiful ugly. I am not here to say that we are “happy all the time” like one of the children’s songs we sing. We mourn with those who mourn. I am not here to deny that sometimes situations are just ugly and that beautiful can take a long time to show itself. Sometimes reconciliation doesn’t happen. Sometimes ugly situations get uglier. But beautiful ugly exists. I have experienced it in birthing my three babies and saying goodbye to people I love.
We have a Creator who placed a hunger for beauty within us. We have the ability to see shards of light in dark places. Corrie Ten Boom. Anne Frank. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Teresa. Nelson Mandela. Malala Yousafzai. They all recognized the need for reconciliation and peace, to be peacemakers and to see good when faced with evil. Being able to see the beautiful ugly is powerful. It is the ability to see redeeming qualities in someone most people have written off, to mend relationships that most have deemed broken beyond repair, to have hope when in “the depths of despair” and it is so much more. Our loving Creator graciously gives us the ability to see the beautiful ugly. Open the eyes of my heart Lord. I want to see you.
Definition of beautiful ugly: Jolie laide – Wikipedia and urbandictionary.com
Isaiah 53:2 “…like a root out of dry ground….”
“Happy all the Time” songwriter unknown
“Why do we hunger for beauty?” a song written by Steve Bell from Deep Calls to Deep
“Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” a song written by Paul Joseph Baloche
“Depths of despair” quotation from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery