I have ugly hands. I was waiting in the car the other day, looking at them and noticed the raggedy cuticles, the scraggly edges of my fingernails, the redness of my knuckles and the overall roughness of my hands. "Wow, I could really use a manicure!" I thought to myself. But as I mulled it over, I realized what a hopeless cause it is. I am really hard on my hands. I garden without gloves, wash dishes in scalding water without gloves, strip furniture, do craft projects, lift heavy loads of books at work, repair materials with harsh chemicals and glues, all without gloves. Not to even mention all the times in a day I wash my hands while cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, taking care of pets, children, and household. Yes, a manicure would last unchipped for about, oh, maybe fifteen minutes. And you know what? I don't care if my hands are raggedy, scraggly, red or rough! (Poor El Guapo!) And here's why:
This will make me sound like I am eighty-seven years old, but I used the McGuffey's Eclectic Readers as one of my main literature books in primary school. For those of you not familiar with McGuffey's Readers, they are what hundreds of thousands (if not millions!) of Americans grew up reading in school since the 1800's. They are aptly called "Eclectic Readers" because they contain a whole host of reading samples from poetry to expository selections on animals and natural history to stories and fables with moral lessons. A little selection in McGuffey's Third Eclectic Reader is called "Beautiful Hands." I must have been about ten or eleven when I read it, but it has stuck with me ever since. In the conversation that is the story, Daisy walks home with her teacher and comments on the course-looking hands of classmate Mary. But Miss Roberts tells Daisy that Mary's hands are the prettiest in the whole class. Miss Roberts goes on to explain that Mary's hands are rough because of all the hard work she does around her house and lists all of the grueling chores that women and girls performed in the late 1800's. And besides work, Mary's hands are used to be kind to her younger siblings and those less fortunate. Miss Roberts goes on to say that, "They are full of good deeds to every living thing. I have seen them patting the tired horse and the lame dog in the street. They are always ready to help those who need help." But my favorite lines are the last two. After Daisy hears of Mary's many good works, she feels remorse at having said that Mary's hands are ugly. Her wise teacher instructs, "Then, my dear, show your sorrow by deeds of kindness. The good alone are really beautiful."
I remember reading that story for the first time, and purposing in my young heart that I wanted to have the kind of beautiful hands that are set about meaningful work. This is not to say that caring for oneself or even having nice, manicured hands is a bad thing. For me, though, my hands are a visual reminder of what is truly important. That the outward appearances are much less important than the inward spirit and attitude. So if it takes having ugly hands to remind me that setting about kindness and goodness in my daily life is my goal, than I will keep them as they are and be content.
Often our bodies show the stories of our lives. Sometimes we reveal poor habits or unhealthy living. Other times we hint at our obsession with the superficial and the temporal. We can reveal if we have a low opinion of ourselves or too high of one, if we are modest or proud, if we are scared or confident. When you see people who bear the scars of hard work or hard knocks or hard living, how do you judge them? Think of the etched face of Mother Teresa. She was no beauty by earthly standards, but the lines on her face, the stoop in her walk, the cracks in her hands were testaments to the principles by which she lived her life. I think of One whose body most showed the way He lived His life -- all the way to His death on the cross. Jesus bears the scars of sacrificial love. I am so not even close to living out my love that way. But I'd like to move in that direction more and more every day.
Lastly, I have thought about this little story many times over the years. It has literally been woven into the very fabric of who I am and has impacted how I see the world and others. And it was this last time reflecting on it that something new was driven home. Oh, how the little things can impact who we become. What are my kids filling their minds with? How will those things shape who they become, how they see others, how they view world? What careless words do I say that will burn into their brains? What do we value enough to impart? What are they being "fed" each day to help them grow? So excuse me now. I have to go attend to Bear and Bug -- and turn off Sponge Bob!