Today’s guest post on Women and Beauty in Faith and Culture comes from Fiona Merrick, writer of the delightful blog, Tea with a Friend.
Fiona is a stay-at-home mother, former high-school teacher and writer. She lives in the north-east of England with her husband Ben, sons Joshua and Daniel and cat Mandu.
Because Fiona is from the U.K., I read absolutely everything she writes in a Mary Poppins voice. You might at least try to be more mature than me.
Rainy Days and Snapshots
Here in the UK, we’ve just experienced the wettest June for over a hundred years.
Last week, the persistent drizzle and regular showers of heavy rain we’d enjoyed during virtually the entire month culminated in an exciting grand finale. On the eve of our younger son’s first birthday, freak storms and deep floods engulfed the city in which my husband works, and he finally squelched into the house at 10.30pm after an epic and watery homeward voyage.
Our back lawn has morphed into a marshy swamp, there has been no chance of drying any laundry outside since the last week of May, and I’ve lost count of the number of catastrophically bad hair days I’ve had as a result of walking back and forth to my older son’s nursery school in the rain since Summer theoretically began.
There’s something about a long spell of constantly bad weather that can foster a depressing combination of cabin fever and self-pity, isn’t there?
Sunshine encourages us to get outside and breathe in lungfuls of clean sweet air, bathes the world in a golden light and richly enhances every colour and hue of nature and humankind. When the sky is heavy with damp grey mist and streaked clouds, my mood dulls in tandem with the prolonged bleakness. The laundry pile grows almost uncontrollably, the act of taking preschool children anywhere turns into a chore, and dreams of happy and carefree weekends spent at the beach recede into a soggy and prosaic reality. The indoor air is stale and a little stifling.
And, again, there’s the problem of the hair. There is no crowning glory in my frizzy tresses, and nothing of the yummy mummy about me. I don’t bother to look in the mirror, as I know I’ll be disheartened by the vision of dishevelment staring back at me. It’s hard to shake the feeling that life has, of late, been somehow lacking in beauty.
Truth be told, I adore my wee boys and I want to be nowhere other than at home with them full-time, rain or no rain. A life of giggles and dimpled elbows and mischief and daily discoveries and grammatically creative phrases is a joyful and abundant life: one of wondrous diversity, constant entertainment and gut-wrenching love.
It also has to be conceded that the honest, all-encompassing reality of stay-at-home motherhood includes a few limitations. Tough challenges. Difficulties. Time-outs. Smeared windows. Grimy floors. Grubby walls. A maximum of thirty available seconds per day in which to apply a cursory layer of makeup. Clothing so constantly stained with nasal leakage and encrusted with patches of food that I ask myself silently, really, why am I even trying to look nice? Or trying to keep my home looking nice?
And although I made a conscious decision to steer well away from fashion magazines a couple of years ago owing to their insidious influence upon my already plummeting self-esteem – common to so many new mothers – and although I truly believe and try to embrace everything that the Bible has to say about beauty and the importance of its inner manifestation, I’m still deeply affected by a message fed to me steadily by the world outside.
I might shun the fashion magazines, but still, there are the blogs: the irresistible blogs written by ordinary women. Mothers. Homemakers. Mistresses of beautifully decorated and artfully photographed houses. Crafters. Gardeners. Confectioners. Organisers. The notion of beauty presented within the blogosphere can seem all at once extremely achievable and entirely out of my reach.
Rarely are we offered photos of wild-haired women looking even tireder than they feel, dressed in whatever haphazard combination of clothes came to hand and covered with their child’s breakfast cereal. Instead, there are crisp white shirts and picnic rugs and glossy hair and freshly painted furniture and perfectly frosted cakes and lush green lawns and sunshine. Always sunshine. And I remember how far removed all this is from my own life and ask myself, Is the world’s idea of beauty off-limits to me now?
Then, in a rare moment of epiphany, I realise that these images and anecdotes and recipes are just snapshots — brief glimpses — of another person’s life. That those poised and spotless women, to whom I often feel so inferior, probably experience just as many imperfect daily moments as do I. Underneath the pretty vintage dresses and Cath Kidston aprons, there might actually exist a few stretch marks and insecurities. Behind the gleaming doors, surely a few unmade beds and dirty dishes are lingering, just off-camera. And, in reality, perhaps their hair isn’t beautifully blow-dried every day, but only on the mornings when someone lends a hand with the children. If this is true, then it means that I’m not failing as badly as I imagine. And that we all – including me, most certainly – cover our own lives with a superficial gloss from time to time, when we don’t open our hearts and homes to each other honestly but instead seek to present cleaned-up and polished versions of ourselves. Snapshots.
It also occurs to me that perhaps this phase in my life is offering a wonderful opportunity to learn about beauty. Not an unattainable, fleeting beauty, currently so far beyond my grasp, but genuine, authentic and Christlike beauty. The kind of beauty that loves, forgives, extends patience and demonstrates kindness and gentleness. Beauty that can show up best in our everyday, mundane dealings with other human beings, when we love our families or forgive our friends or extend patience to an elderly pedestrian or demonstrate a small act of kindness to a stranger. Beauty that even brings into sharp and uncomfortable focus the fact that whilst we’ve been blessed with ample rain in recent weeks, there are so many people living in countries afflicted with desperate drought, and that we could do something to help them instead of succumbing to self-pity.
It might just be that during these precious years, when my children are small and there is so little time available to devote to the business of trying to appear outwardly attractive, that God is trying to teach me a few lessons about true beauty. About what it is, and about what it isn’t.
15 responses to “Rainy Days and Snapshots: a guest post by Fiona Merrick”
Thank you so much for this beautiful post Fiona. It filled my eyes with tears and I was mesmorised by every word! You are blessed with a great talent for writing and I was hugely blessed in reading it. It is a post I will revisit to take in all over again! Thank so much, dear sister in Christ. Be blessed. 🙂
What a wonderful post, thank you so much for being a guest on this blog! This was very refreshing to read! Xoxo
Thank you so much, Sarah, for your encouragement and kind words which are much appreciated!
Good post! You remind me to see beauty in my own mundane life, because it absolutely is there (and it’s easy to see now, here, in July, when every day the sky is an amazing blue!) A friend told me last year to remember that everyone’s Facebook posts about their kids are only the highlight reels, something I try to remember when everyone seems to be making amazing meals for their families, and I’m throwing together the dregs of my fridge. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for that reminder, Melanie – it’s so easy to be discouraged when Facebook thrusts snapshots of other’s lives at us, isn’t it? That’s something I often struggle with. Enjoy the sunshine, and enjoy the beauty of your life. You’re so right – it absolutely is there!
How fun to see you posting over here, Fiona! Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights. In the last few years I’ve come to believe that parenting is perhaps the most rigorous environment for personal growth–for the kind that really matters, at least. These days I’m just hanging on for dear life and praying daily that God will give me more love and more tenderness and more patience, trusting that as I rely on Him to supply all that is lacking, He will perfect His beauty in me.
Blessings to you!
Lovely to see you, Sharon! You’re so right. Survival has a funny way of providing fertile ground for lots of intensive learning, doesn’t it? I’m right there with you as we raise our boys and rely on God. Blessings back to you, and thanks so much for your encouragement!
Fiona, your message resonates so strongly with my mind and my heart. From your feelings on sunshine and grey mist, to the relief I felt in throwing away all my magazines a few years back, to struggling in the wonder that is stay-at-home-motherhood, to trying to understand the role beauty plays in our lives, how to avoid feelings of inadequacy and yet be, create and live out beauty. I love the irony of finding your blog yesterday through one of your comments on Beth’s blog, to look at you and your work and instantly think, pretty, together, clean, crisp and bright! Then today, to read your very same reaction to other people’s blogs! I can’t help but laugh at the lot of us. Keep it coming!
Thank you so much for your encouragement and empathy, Julie! We’re all in this together, aren’t we? I love your honesty, and have so much enjoyed looking at your blog – it’s lovely and right up my street. Here’s to solidarity!
Very true – it’s so easy to be drawn into the myth that the way people present themselves to the world, isn’t it? Even though I know that I put on a show and try to conceal the messy reality, there’s a part of me which believes that what I see of everyone else really is their everyday existence, neat and tidy and perfect. It’s good to be reminded that it’s not, and that true beauty, the beauty we value in others and they in us, is something far better and far more enduring.
I’d also like to say that I know Fiona and that I’ve never seen her hair looking any different from the photo at the top of the page, even in wet weather! And she sounds very different from Mary Poppins, coming as she does from the opposite end of the country (apologies for shattering any illusions!).
THANK YOU, Helen, for the encouragement and solidarity! You’re so kind about my hair, especially since you saw it yesterday at lunchtime in all its soggy glory 😀
This is beautifully written my darling and so, so true; it’s so easy to forget that we are all vulnerable and that outward appearances are often not what they seem. True beauty is learning to love ourselves and others, vulnerabilities included, as God loves us.
And, yep, I’ve been moaning on about the rain, and need to consider how others around the world are so adversely affected without it – thank you for this much-needed perspective!
Love you, my truly beautiful friend xxxxxx
Thank you so much, darling Fi. It is the beauty of people like you that inspires me. Love you xxx
Beautiful! (with or without the Mary Poppins accent)
Thank you very much for your encouragement, Terri! If only I were a fraction as refined as Mary Poppins 😀