A few weeks ago, I accompanied my husband on a four-day working trip to Rome. We flew (or rather he flew, I rode) over on Sunday, January 19, had the 20th and the 21st to explore bella Roma, and then we made the return trip across the Atlantic on the Wednesday the 22nd. It was a wonderful whirlwind trip, and I suppose I should have blogged about it. But like just about every other blogger under the sun, these days I seem to spend more time over on Instagram than I do here. (Mea culpa! But it's just so easy posting something quickly on my phone, no matter where I might be at the time, rather than finding an opportunity to sit in the office at my laptop. That must be why so many others have made the transition from blogger to 'grammer.)
But just when I thought it might be time to close up shop at String of Pearls, a funny thing happened: a few days ago, I was talking to one of my daughters-in-law about how I never make the time to blog anymore, saying that I was pretty sure no one is missing my blogging presence, and she surprised me by saying that she checks all the time to see if I've posted something new. I hate to let any of my girls down--so thanks for the motivation, Preciosa. This one's for you.
Anyway, I'm not going to post pictures from that short but very sweet recent trip here right now (you can see those if you visit my Instagram page, by clicking on the icon over on the sidebar there); well, actually that's not completely true, because I am going to post just one.
The night we got back from Rome, we said our daily Rosary and other novena prayers in our living room (fondly nicknamed "the Rosary Room"), and then we sat on the couch and talked for a while, reminiscing about our little Roman holiday. My husband started scrolling through his iPhone pictures from the trip, stopping at one to show me and say, "I love this picture. Now that's a beautiful face."
I looked over to see which picture he was talking about. "THAT one?" I said, incredulous. "You actually like that picture?"
"I love it. You don't?" he said, equally incredulous.
"NO!" (I might have grimaced.)
"You're nuts," he replied.
I'd asked him to take this picture during our al fresco dinner at a restaurant in the Piazza Navona, after I'd taken one of his handsome mug as he sat across the table from me. When he'd shown it to me right after he snapped it, my immediate reaction was a silent, "Ugh! Why am I so unphotogenic? No filter can fix that one!" I ticked off the flaws: too-squinty eyes, too-fat cheeks, too-limp and scraggly hair--and too-big glasses. If only I could have the big wide-set eyes (20/20 vision eyes, without bags under them!), sculpted cheekbones, and voluminous hair of a supermodel, THEN maybe I could see myself as beautiful--in his eyes or anyone's. So it truly astounded me that he could look at this photo and see beauty there.
This was not a healthy reaction, I realize; why would I want a different face than the one my husband loves? Why would I think he would want a different--a "better"--face? I was playing that dangerous comparison game--you know, the one you always lose, because we all know (or should know) that Teddy Roosevelt was absolutely right when he famously said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."
But it can be a struggle sometimes, because we women do long to be seen as beautiful; as Carrie Gress says in The Anti-Mary Exposed (which should be essential reading for all women, I believe!), "The desire to be beautiful is deeply embedded in a woman's soul...Even the smallest girl will tell you she wants to be as beautiful as a princess. This isn't cultural conditioning; it is something universal that sits squarely in the feminine heart."
The trouble is that the world bombards us constantly with images of feminine beauty that few earthly mortals will ever have, images that focus on the merely physical. So we get stressed out about our weight, we spend too much on cosmetics, we bemoan the appearance of gray hairs and wrinkles. We all give lip service to the idea that "inner beauty is what counts," but then judge ourselves harshly when our outward beauty doesn't live up to accepted (and mostly unattainable) standards. Gress points out that every visionary throughout history who has had the privilege of seeing the Blessed Mother has reported that She was "the most beautiful woman he or she had ever seen." But it's essential to understand why She was so beautiful: "Mary's beauty is important because it is the outward expression of her complete perfection emanating from God's beauty." We can never be as beautiful as Mary, who was conceived without sin; but we can strive to be as much like Mary as humanly possible. She sets the standard.
My husband loves my face--because he loves ME, all of me (even when I'm occasionally nuts), and he sees glimpses (infinitesimal ones, but glimpses nonetheless) of God's beauty emanating from it. So it is with God; this kind of unconditional love from my husband is a reflection of the Father's love for me, for all of us. Despite our sins. Despite our flaws and failings. He loves us, body and soul, and wants us for His own. He made me exactly the way He wanted me to be, with these eyes, these cheeks, this hair, but most importantly, this soul. I am an unrepeatable soul, with inestimable worth, God's very own beloved child. Whenever I cringe at a photo of myself, I need to remember that in His eyes, I am beautiful. This, then, is the reason my husband sees beauty where I see only physical flaws and features I would make more "perfect" if I could. He sees his loving wife of 39 years, with whom he shares a sacramental bond that will hopefully help us both become saints; he sees the devoted mother of his five sons, the five precious souls God entrusted to our care; he sees the doting Grammy of the 16 grandchildren he absolutely adores; he sees the woman he is growing old with and whose presence--incredibly--he never seems to tire of.
I will probably never think that this photo from our Rome trip is particularly flattering. But I’ll always be grateful for the guy who took it and the way he loves me.
I have a lot more to say about that sneaky thief of joy and the way social media has made it almost impossible not to succumb to the temptation to compare ourselves to others, but this post has gone on long enough. So perhaps I will be back tomorrow--or if not tomorrow, very soon! (Keep checking, Preciosa!)