I've been working on sharing this story for a while now. Two of the verses that come to mind when I think of this event were also referenced by Gina in her letter on modesty, so I think now is as good a time to post this since our thoughts are directed this way already. I want to share this story because it is a wonderful example of godly beauty which has encouraged and challenged me, and I think it can do the same for anyone. We live in a world where every emphasis is placed and value is based on appearances. This story always brings me back to the truth. Our sources of frustration, and sometimes even our shame, can still display the imperishable beauty of the hidden person of the heart when that heart is desiring after the Lord and obedient to Him.
1 Peter 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
I don't remember how we met K., but we were living in the Czech Republic at the time, so I'm sure that something about being the only two foreign families in our village somehow connected us. I do remember that K. was a gorgeous young Korean woman married to a wealthy business man, either German or Austrian, and that their beautifully groomed dog completed their "family". K. would come over to our house to have tea and English conversation with my mother. I can't imagine how lonely she must have been being transplanted all the way over there with her husband gone to work and only a dog to keep her company. I thought life was hard and I had 4 siblings, 2 parents, and schoolmates! Speaking of schoolmates, one day a horrible discovery was made. Even still I can barely type the word: Lice. I feel so dirty... but yes, we had lice. Lice is shameful to anyone, but to someone as cleanliness-conscious as my mom, I can imagine it was an especial trial. My mother runs a very tight, very clean ship. But lice is lice, and once it's near, it's everywhere. So it was attacked head on (oh yes, there's the pun) and with full strength. One of the methods was to spray a solution all over the head and then wear an unsightly white plastic bag over your hair for several hours. My mother was undergoing one of these treatments when K. happened to stop by unexpectedly.
It's funny how time and understanding change one's perspective.
I remember peeking down the stairs and there was the beautiful, always perfectly done up and dressed up K.. Sitting across the table in shorts and a T-shirt, with the dreadful plastic bag covering her scalp was my mother. Since the day was about attacking lice, there had been no fear of being seen in public or need for dressing to the 9's, or 6's even. At the time, the 10 year old me remembers feeling so embarrassed, wondering why Mom didn't just turn her away at the door. But now, as a somewhat more mature person and a mother and homemaker myself, I have grown to greatly admire the selfless courage of that lady sitting there wearing that plastic shame and engaging in conversation like she wasn't dying of embarrassment inside.
That image has been such a challenge to me over the years. My mother operates on a whole other level of cleanliness than I do, but even I have a hard time happily accepting people into my home when the house isn't at its best form or I'm not prepared. All of us want people to see us at our best, and we're most comfortable when we know that we're lookin' good. But here was true grace and real beauty: seeing past the beauty and the wealth (both of those things are so intimidating to me!) to the desperately lonely woman with no one in the country to talk to; getting over the embarrassment of being seen in her own current sloppy, 'unclean' state, submitting to the Lord's will and timing, and being willing to answer that need when most probably all she really wanted to do was run and hide.
I know K. came over many times when my mother was prepared, looking lovely and ready with tea and tasty treats, but this is the only visit that is seared into my memory. It stands out to me not because it was the best of the best, but because it was the worst case scenario and Mom still offered what she had to the Lord. When I am out of my comfort zone, my self consciousness keeps me focused on myself, not gently looking for ways to serve others, or quietly listening for the Lord's leading. At face value, this was a situation which I'm sure my mother would love to forget and probably isn't too excited to have me writing about. But God sees deeper than face value, sees to heart behind the service, and knows of the little eyes watching and learning from their hiding spot. I now understand that, peeking down from my upstairs vantage point, I wasn't just watching Mom; I caught a glimpse of the hidden person of my mom's beautiful heart. The quiet spirit that was sensitive to hear past any clamoring of self consciousness to the unspoken neediness of another being and the Lord's direction to answer that need. The gentle spirit that was stronger than any selfish feelings, which saw beyond her own discomfort to a lonely soul to whom she could minister God's love. She made K. feel welcome and comfortable like it wasn't anything at all.
It's easy to be a gracious hostess when you are the hostess with the mostest. And the world tells us that that's where it's at. Take a look at any magazine cover in the check-out line and you will see they have your 'best' in mind. They are all about your best: looking your best, dressing your best, living your best, eating your best, feeling your best, giving your best, getting your best. It is a pleasure to be able to offer good things to others, but there is so much more to the real aspect of gracious living! God has a much better best than this world can ever offer! Generally, when we are able to give what the world considers our best, we receive the glory for it and it ends there. One of the amazing aspects of God is His power to transform even what we would feel is our worst and least into the best and most when offered up in humble submission to Him and His timing. In the situations where we obediently give the Lord what we have, even though it's not necessarily what we'd like to do, He not only makes something beautiful, something good out of that meager offering, He receives the glory for His ability to do so, and we in turn are blessed by being able to glorify Him and bless others with that testimony.
What was once an embarrassing situation is now understood and treasured for the person it revealed, the God it glorified, the lady it ministered to, and the indelible lesson it taught a little girl peeking down the stairs. And all of this because of lice. He gives us beauty for ashes, in our weakness He is strong, the widow's two copper coins are more valuable to Him than the clanking of the surplus coins of the rich, and the heart that recognizes it has nothing of value to offer but humble obedience and loving worship is precious in His sight.
Mom shoveling stinky, dirty brown coal with a smile on her face. Feeding "The dragon", the furnace in the basement of our home in Vcelna, CZ. was one of many new challenges. As the typical child with only myself to worry about, I've always been mainly interested in my European experience. Now that I'm starting to understand what it takes to run a house and raise a family, I'm so very curious about her experience of having to make life happen for 5 very different children and a church-planting husband in a foreign country that had been demolished by socialism and where a very strange language was spoken.