Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. ~Proverbs 31:30
Getting old is much more inconvenient than I thought it would be. I have never really challenged the abstraction that charm is deceptive. I do not have an ‘enchanting’ personality therefore I am not threatened by it. Nor is my physical allure my best-selling attribute. So, you’d think that the whole beauty is fleeting’ part wouldn’t bother me either. But as the years add up the reality of just how fleeting beauty is, in any degree, has struck a chord in me in a way I did not expect.
The wrinkles came slowly at first and I feel like I handled them well. They were almost cute when they sat in solitude on either side of my eyes claiming ownership of all the smiles I chose to wear. But, lately they seem to grow in numbers and by the day rather than the years. At this rapid rate I am sure they will take over my youth before I even reach forty. I tend to them as well as I can but my efforts seem more and more futile and I am ashamed to confess that it bothers more I let on.
I envision my body somewhat like Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The one where the hand of God and Adam are almost touching. A perfectly lovely creation that stood the test of time but could not stop it; completely covered in cracks.
I often wonder what that painting looked like in its prime, long before the cracks became as much a part of the masterpiece as the painting itself. The first crack may have appeared casually and gone unnoticed for the most part, like mine. But the second and third had to be heartbreaking. The fifth and sixth were likely defeating. And as the cracks continued to spread like a disease there was most certainly a moment when Mike’s admirers thought his painting was ruined – no longer of any value; worthless. Little did they know that years down the road when people would recreate his life’s work onto canvas to hang on the walls of their living rooms and dining rooms and museums around the world, they would choose not to leave out the cracks.
It’s as if each crack says something about where the painting has been, what it has withstood, what it has seen and the quakes of life it has endured. Over time, each of those cracks became a part of what made it beautiful in the first place but in a way that cannot be stolen by space or time. In its flawed and aged state it truly is timeless.
Now I may not be a Michelangelo creation but the guy that thought me up is a pretty amazing artist himself. And I have to believe that there is beauty even in my imperfections. Each crooked line has purpose and plays a part in the grand scheme of me. And whether I like it or not, it is as if I have been painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for I am cracking over time.
The brick work in these bodies of ours was well thought out but they were not built to last forever. These cracks we call wrinkles cannot be stopped in their entirety. One day it will be easier to recreate me on canvas, covered in them, than try to remember what I was like before they invaded my space.
There is a part of me that wants to just be brave and take each one with a grain of salt. Whatever that means. And then there is the alter ego of mine that wants to fight them to the death. But, when I get weary from holding them off day after day I find myself sitting in a place of unexplainable contentment.
In the exhaustion of it all I sit still long enough to catch a perhaps not too distant glimpse of my wrinkled self in its prime. When no one notices any additions to the crack collection and they are just as much a part of me as I am myself. I can’t help but wonder if it is in that perhaps not too far off place that I too will finally become timeless. Not flawless, but this perfectly aged creation who has finally come to realize that beauty is not merely skin deep. Thus that bible verse floating above these thoughts.
Each time it floats through my mind, usually when I am primping in front of the mirror or trying to flex the wrinkles out of my arms, I am reminded that beauty, in any degree, really is fleeting – at least by the world’s standards.
I can run three miles a day and sweat and grind at boot camp classes twice a week, cut out grains and up my greens, take my vitamins and lather myself in creams and though they may slow the aging process down, they cannot stop it.
Don’t get me wrong. There are parts of this battle march that I love, most of them really. In fact, I have embraced them so wholeheartedly that they too have become as much a part of me as my constantly growing collection of wrinkles. I believe practices such as these are vital in keeping the gift of our bodies in prime condition to walk the paths set out before us and to enjoy life to it’s fullest. But, I do have to remember that although each drip of sweat and bunch of spinach will make me stronger and keep me stronger longer I will not have this bodacious bod forever.
These days I can put forth twice the effort as I ever have in my youth and there are spots on me that will still sack a bit. At some point I have to concede to the idea that most of the work I am doing here is in my core and that I’ll feel the effects of it even if the evidence of such fortitude cannot be seen by the naked eye.
When my joints begin to ache a bit and my skin gathers more in spots that I am sure it is supposed to I remind myself of the strong inner core that is still holding things together. No one else can see it or feel it but it is still worth all the work. I know it will carry me through races with my kids when they are grown, take me on adventures with the love of my life when our nest has up and flown away, allow me to skip with my grandchildren and receive the running embraces of my great-grandchildren. In my eighties, it’s this core that I am training that will hold me upright and enable me to walk those last fleeting miles with a smile on my face, a thankfulness in my heart and a gleam in my eye.
In those days I know I may not catch a man taking a second glance my way, unless he’s concerned that I may trip and break my hip. But I am pretty sure petty things such as these will not be the nudges I need to be reminded that I still have it. I desperately hope to be at a place in my life where the sweetest of compliments is my husbands smile as he grasps my old wrinkled hand in his and merely with eyes, tells me he’s proud to still be standing next to me. Or a distant whispering in my ear from my Creator calling me good and faithful and patting me on the back. When it comes down to it, I want to be so much more than a physically strong and able vessel. I want to be the heart that drives it to envelop the whole world and all of its inhabitants. I want to be the eyes that see the worth in every living creature and the beauty in even the most unexpected places.
To fear the Lord is not to be afraid. It’s to be in awe of His creation and to concede to the fact that while we are in this place we cannot even begin to fathom how it all works. It’s knowing He is bigger than the boogie man, the unrealistic fears we create in our minds – and the genuine tragedies that haunt the heart forever. It’s the ability to see His unfathomable love sprinkled all over the world. And as I am grasping at words in an attempt to define this person I want to be, I cannot help but wonder what it will take to train and discipline my soul into the sort of submission it takes to be this pure at heart.
The thing is, I am pretty certain that purity does not come naturally – but rather through a forging of the spirit. Just as the wrinkles on my face can be visuals of life passing by or inspiration to be something more than the shell of a soul. The cracks in life can weaken our core or forge us, one break at a time into something that is timeless. To ask for a life unscathed is destructive. It may look pretty on the outside but it will have no fortitude. And it is very hard for me to believe its owner will ever have a chance at being pure at heart.
Now a life covered in cracks and scratches, scars and ever echoing battle cries – that’s a masterpiece. That’s a life that has been somewhere and seen some things. That’s a life that stood the test of time and tragedy and clung to the belief that there is more to our existence than this. That is a life that has been purified.
It’s in the cracks, the little spaces in life where things have begun to fall apart or just can’t seem to come together that we grasp for hope, test our faith and believe – once again – in an undying, unmoving, unfathomable healing love.
You see, cracks can be deceiving to the untrained eye. The world will tell you they cause leaks. It will claim that the more you collect over time the less lovely you will become. And it will fail to remind you that it’s in the cracks that God’s light can seep in and work its magic. If you aren’t careful you’ll be bamboozled into believing that they leave its occupant scathed and worthless. You’ll miss the story hidden in each lovely little crevice, the lesson in each precious fissure, the gem tucked away in each inestimable rift.
And so this is what I hope – that with each wrinkle I acquire and each crack in my canvas of life, I see the bigger picture. That with each split in the road I grow wiser and stronger and kinder. And in the end when my memoir is written it will be a collection of lovely imperfections bound together in such a way that the message it leaves my precious children and their children’s children is that life, in all its frailty is beautiful. And that God in all His majesty is good.