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When The Fairy Dust SettlesA Mother and Her Daughter Discuss What Really Matters
By Janet Parshall Sarah Parshall Perry
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Janet Parshall and Sarah Parshall Perry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeauty and the Modern Woman
Have I ever told you how beautiful you are? No, don't roll your eyes like that. I mean it. This is not just your mother talking. You really are breathtaking. In fact, let me share a little secret with you.
One of the things I love to do when you and I walk into a room together is to enter just behind you. This way you can't see that I am watching the reactions of other people as they look at you. Tall, thin, blonde, blue-eyed, dimpled ... sounds like a description out of some women's magazine. But there you are, in all your beauty.
I will never forget the day you were born. Daddy and I looked at each other just after you made your arrival and said, "Where did she get those looks? Are you sure we have the right baby?"
There is no question you have been blessed in the area of looks. And I do mean blessed. Some people have them, and some don't. So let me ask you a question-heart to heart. Do you think that God does, in fact, bless some people with looks? Or is it all happen instance and genetic pooling? If God knows when every sparrow falls and can count the number of hairs on your head (and yes, you did get my thin hair, so I guess He has fewer hairs to count for both of us!), then does He purposely give some people good looks?
Think of all the people in Scripture who are defined by their looks: Rachel ("lovely in form, and beautiful"), Joseph ("well-built and handsome"), Bathsheba ("the woman was very beautiful"), Rebekah ("very beautiful"), Esther ("lovely in form and features"), and, of course, Sarah (her own husband said "what a beautiful woman you are"), just to name a few. Yet the most important person in Scripture, described in that verbal oil portrait found in Isaiah, "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, / nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (53:2).
Makes me wonder: how important are looks? Does God give them to certain people because that gift will be part of a bigger plan the Creator has designed just for them? Does He bestow beauty on some because they will have a public ministry and an attractive face will be a necessary tool? Or does He give His beautiful creation this gift so that the gifted can learn humility?
But on occasion beauty can cause trouble, as some fairy tales tell us. I loved story time when you were little. And I loved the way you adored fairy tales. You and your sister loved to play princess, complete with blankets for capes and cardboard for crowns. The classics were your favorites, and "Snow White" was near the top of the list.
When you think about it, this tale is more about pride and envy than it is about seven little people. Here was this beauty who was described as having skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony-a real medieval knockout.
But she had this problem with her stepmother (it always goes back to the mother). The stepmom was also beautiful and couldn't stand anyone challenging her in the area of looks, so she had this running dialogue with her mirror that could not tell a lie. She'd say, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?"
And the mirror would reply, "Fair Queen, you are the fairest of them all."
As long as the stepmother got the answer she wanted-"It's you, baby, it's all about you!" (that would be the modern translation)-then things were good in her world. Her beauty was what defined her and got her out of bed in the morning.
But life is never that simple, even in fairy tales. Things change, especially looks. You know what happened. One day the queen started her daily ritual of mirror talking, and she got lip from the mirror: "Queen, you are very fair, 'tis true, but Snow White is a thousand times fairer than you."
Uh-oh. Things were going to get rough. Did he have to rub it in? Couldn't the old looking glass just have said "more fair" or "a little fairer"? But that "thousand times" stuff. Really!
You recall things went downhill from there. Fold in dwarfs, poison apples, a long sleep, a glass coffin, and, of course, a gorgeous prince (did you really expect this man to be homely?), and what happened? The story ends with the stepmom being so full of hate and jealousy that her heart burst-leaving Snow White and her prince to-here it comes-"live happily ever after."
Beauty. In this story it was both a blessing and a curse. So now, my beauty, I want to hear your heart. Why do some people have it and some don't? Does God ordain how we will look? Does He care if, unlike the rest of us, He looks also on the "inward appearance"?
I can't wait to see how you reply. In the meantime, here is a little motherly advice: don't take any apples from strangers.
Once, when I was about twelve or so, I asked you, "What will I look like when I grow up?" You answered sweetly but honestly, "Like you do now, only bigger." I was so disappointed! In my mind, I was waiting for the transformation.
Like Cinderella, the scullery maid who became a princess, I honestly believed there was a point in my life where I would wake up and find I had suddenly become the embodiment of Walt Disney beauty. From the ugly duckling to Beauty and the Beast to the frog prince, folklore is full of tales of the awkward and the ugly becoming elegant and striking. I was hoping the same thing would happen to the gawky preteen with the dirty-blonde hair. It never dawned on me that God might not have that kind of beauty in mind for me.
I blame it on fairy tales. Curse those cardboard crowns!
Even spectacular women struggle with their looks. Ah! But how much less they struggle! Take Gisele Bündchen (a supermodel-and I feel compelled to tell you that only because you don't follow models like baseball players ... the way I do), for example. I can't imagine she gets up in the morning and bemoans her forty-eight-inch legs and flowing chestnut hair. But why is she beautiful? I've seen her parents. They're nice, average-looking people-but not necessarily possessed of superior genetics themselves.
So, I figure it has to be God.
If it's true that "[God] created my inmost being; [He] knit me together in my mother's womb" (Ps. 139:13), then He had to know what I was going to look like, and He had to have planned it that way.
I don't think anyone would debate that beauty is a gift. As it says in James, "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (1:17). Beauty seems pretty good and rather perfect, don't you think? In fact, beauty is itself a very unique gift. Unlike talent, intellect, wealth, or status-which can, to some degree, be tweaked by our own efforts-beauty is a kind of reward "obvious" to everyone, making God the only logical source.
Beauty is the "out there" gift. Sure, you can work at smoothing out the rough edges, but when it comes right down to it, you either have it or you don't.
So why would God give that kind of gift to some people and not to others? Especially when He knows it might cause pain and bitterness? Take Rachel and Leah, for example. "Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and Beautiful" (Gen. 29:17). To make matters worse, Laban, the girls' dad, decided he was going to pull the old switcheroo with the ugly one on Jacob's wedding night-after Jacob had slaved for seven years to get the beautiful one. I bet that was the catfight heard round the world.
When a gift like beauty is so obvious, so desired, so hotly contested, and so rare, God has to have a plan in mind when He gives it to one and not the other. (Otherwise, He would simply be unfair!) Even with the Bible's greatest lookers, their beauty wasn't just a happy coincidence. There was always a goal of God's behind it. Look at Esther. By making her the fairest in the land, God allowed King Xerxes to fall in love with her, dethrone Queen Vashti, and ultimately save the Jews from Haman's vicious plot.
I thought about this verse today: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (1 Pet. 4:10). It seems to me that God's gifts don't really belong to us. They're on loan, actually. And they're all supposed to be put to use for the kingdom. The woman with riches contributes. The woman with leadership leads. The woman with mercy comforts.
And the beautiful woman?
Well, I think she does what the Lord leads her to do: speaking, singing, ministering, carpooling, or just doing the dishes. Because who knows? The Lord may just use that beauty to attract the lost or save a nation.
But here's my question: what happens when the beauty fades?
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; / but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Prov. 31:30). While the Lord blesses some with beauty, He reinforces that it can never last-so, in a way, that beauty is both a blessing and a curse.
If God's plan is to give you the "curse" of beauty (oh, that we were all so fortunate!), what happens when the gift becomes more important than the Giver? How do you prevent the way you look from becoming the most important part of how you see yourself, especially when it's often the most obvious quality about you?
your five-foot, seven-inch-tall daughter with the strawberry birthmark, blue eyes, and straight, blonde hair
My beauty (for you are):
Thank you for thinking so deeply on the subject of our outward appearance. I think you are really asking two important questions. The first is whether or not beauty is as divinely predetermined as, say, what sex we will be. Second, since man does look so intently on the outside, and not on the heart, as our Father does, are we able to prevent our looks from becoming the ultimate self-definer in such an image-conscious world?
If you and I believe in the sovereignty of God in all things, then we must necessarily believe our physical appearance is equally predetermined. Whether or not we have blue eyes or black hair is either simply biology, or it is as much a part of the "knitting" together of who we are in our mothers' wombs as any other part of us is.
I choose to believe He is Lord of all. It follows that my eyes, my nose, and my hair color (in my case, the color I was born with, as opposed to the one that comes in a box) were all decided way before I was even conceived. Don't you love that thought? God loves us so much that He, and He alone, chose our original colors!
A while back, all of my friends were having their "colors" done. A person's color was categorized as one of the seasons: I'm a "summer," I'm a "fall," and so on. Your color determined what sort of a wardrobe you should wear by predetermining what colors looked best on you. (For the record, my color is confused, because I just buy what's on sale!)
But in truth, your colors have already been done. The Master, with one stroke of His brush, painted you just the way He wanted you. Some He paints as gorgeous portraits, others He designs as plainer pieces, but all of His creatures carry the touch of the Artist's perfection. Why? Because we are designed in His image. When you think about it, that makes us all truly beautiful.
David said in one of his psalms that he wanted to "gaze upon the beauty of the LORD" (27:4). Since God is spirit and not in a physical form, what was David looking at? This goes to your second question. Where do we really find beauty: on the face or in the heart?
One of the master tellers of fairy tales was Hans Christian Andersen. He understood the power of myth to underscore a truth in life.
He told the story of a little critter who struggled with his appearance. The other birds living around the pond shunned this ugly duckling. Andersen wrote:
Everyone was mean to the ugly duckling. Some ducks bit him. Some made fun of him. The chickens and geese teased him and bullied him. And the turkey cock, who acted as if he were king of the barnyard, said, "That duckling is so ugly I can't bear to look at him." Then he flew at the duckling and scratched him with his claws.
His siblings started to treat him unkindly, and so did an old tomcat and a prize hen. Sadly, this little one saw himself as others saw him-ugly. In fact, Andersen said the little duckling grew ashamed of his appearance. Like so many of us, this creature allowed others to define him as they saw him, not as he truly was.
As happens in fairy tales (and in real life), time passed, and things changed. Winter slowly turned into spring, and the little duckling's real nature was revealed. He became a majestic swan-the most beautiful of all the barnyard creatures! Beneath what some thought was ugliness lay magnificent beauty.
Think of all the people who walk around in our lives that at first blush seem to be ugly ducklings. But their real characters are clothed in breathless beauty. Oh, that God would give us His eyes to see others (and ourselves) that way. We have all heard this story time and time again, but in these days of hyper body awareness, we have forgotten true beauty resides within and not without. My mother told me that, and now I'm telling you-again.
David wanted to spend time gazing at God because of God's heart. God's Spirit, by the way, is the only one of which it is said, "God is love." The psalmist wanted to focus on God's love because he saw himself being loved in return. That is the definition of beauty: not cosmetics, or fashion, or surgical alterations, but the condition of your heart.
Her face bore the marks of hard work, long hours, and brutal conditions. But the "untouchables" of Calcutta saw only true beauty when Mother Teresa held them in her arms. Her heart outdistanced her appearance.
His skin was like leather after years of working over the side of a boat in rough seas and salty air. But the One in whose heart he found favor loved Peter, the fisherman. This disciple was able to see the beauty of Christ in him because he learned the lessons of forgiveness and unconditional love.
Sometimes these life lessons are taught so often that we grow dull of hearing. But right now, while I can, let me tell you one more time: you are so beautiful. Yes, the Master has painted you with breathtaking colors-blonde hair, blue eyes, rosy dimples. It's all perfectly put together because the God of perfection chose to design you that way.
But your true beauty is your heart-your desire to be like Him. Your gentle, loving, and forgiving spirit allows me to see Jesus in you. Even when your external beauty fades-and it will-you will still be beautiful. When your blue eyes grow dim and your blonde hair has turned gray, you will still be spectacular because you gaze upon the Lord, and His beauty is reflecting back on you.
I thank God for His beauty in you.
Excerpted from When The Fairy Dust Settles by Janet Parshall Sarah Parshall Perry Copyright © 2004 by Janet Parshall and Sarah Parshall Perry. Excerpted by permission.
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