Ugly-Side Up


A while back I enjoyed a glorious mom’s night out at a local Board and Brush design studio. It was especially glorious because I got to use a power drill. See?

I appreciate a good power drill. I also appreciate anything which involves seeing a task through from start to finish, because not many things in my life feel neatly finished these days.

I caught a different perspective on beauty during this process. It was so counterintuitive, I couldn’t help but remember it. When arranging the boards to form a pallet, I learned to keep the wood ugly-side up. My natural inclination was to turn the boards over to hide any imperfections. I learned, though, that the ugly parts of the wood—the nicks and dents and scratches and knots—were what made for the most beautiful finished products. I was skeptical at first, but willing to give it a try, so I turned my boards ugly-side up before drilling them together to make the pallet. Sure enough, with some sanding, staining, and painting, all those “ugly” places on the wood served to enhance the beauty of my completed project.

This particular experience was months ago, but it came to mind again just the other day, when I found myself in a room surrounded by ugly-side up faces.

When I say I was surrounded by ugly-side up faces, I do not mean that these people were ugly. I’m not saying that at all. What I mean is, many of these people were not concerned with hiding the pain, anger, hurt, and brokenness on their faces. Nor should they have been. I’m being purposely vague about where I was and why I was there, because it doesn’t matter. I’ll get right to the part that does matter.

Though the room was packed, people weren’t looking at one another. Then a two-year-old entered the room, accompanied by his mother. He was lifted into a seat, and as the minutes passed, his little eyes filled with excitement. When he couldn’t contain himself any longer, he hopped down and began working the room. He walked right up to as many ugly-side up faces as time allowed, extending his hand and offering an enormous smile.

One by one, I watched these ugly-side up faces turn absolutely beautiful. There were smiles and laughs. People began looking around and talking to others near them. It was amazing to see how this little child completely changed the atmosphere in this place. He didn’t take away anyone’s problems. He didn’t have the power to do that. He just showed up and fearlessly offered love. In doing this simple thing, he made the faces in this room beautiful. He broke down walls. He made it look so easy.

I’ve been thinking about this kid ever since and kicking myself for not being more like him. I’ve been wondering what it would look like if I stopped avoiding ugly-side up faces and started boldly and genuinely and compassionately loving them instead.

There is a good chance we will all encounter at least one ugly-side up face today. (Again, can’t clarify this enough – not ugly people, but people who act and present themselves in angry, hurtful, and otherwise “ugly” ways.) Perhaps the ugly-side up face you encounter will belong to a stranger. Or, perhaps you come across a particular ugly-side up face day after day, and you’re finding it really hard to see beyond those ugly places.

What would be different if we saw every ugly-side up face not as something to fear, dismiss, or avoid, but as an opportunity to put in some effort to uncover something profoundly beautiful?

I suppose if this child has the ability to completely change the atmosphere, then we all do. Something to remember as we step out into the world this morning.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (Romans‬ ‭12:10‬)

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