Jennifer and I were so blessed to invest our lives, along with some other outstanding leaders, into the lives of some amazing students during our cancer journey. One of the students, Miranda, wrote something recently that stirred me. I believe you will find it an amazing encouragement! She started by saying, “Shame says that because I am flawed, I am unacceptable.” Flaws, imperfections…we all have them. We wake up and see them in the mirror and lay down replaying them in our minds.
Jennifer was stunning to me. And the longer we were together the more beautiful I found her. What makes someone beautiful? Is it the color of their eyes, the structure of their face, the flow of their hair? A dear friend of mine asked me the other day what made Jennifer beautiful to me. More on that in a moment.
As Jennifer walked out her seven year journey with colorectal cancer she had multiple surgeries. Her first surgery left scars on her belly from the removal of a portion of her colon as well as another scar from a temporary ostomy. When the cancer returned she had a second surgery leaving her with additional scars and this time a permanent ostomy. And then to add to her sensitivity concerning her perceived flaws she lost her hair during radiation and chemotherapy treatments. I knew that feeling beautiful was a big deal to a woman. I even knew that to many, especially Jennifer, hair is a big deal. The time and investment into hair was every 4 – 6 weeks for her. The impact of Jennifer loosing her hair was one of the most devastating things that I watched her go through. I’ll never forget the day that she sat in our kitchen as we shaved her head. The act was as if, in a way, she was taking charge by saying “my hair doesn’t define me, nor does cancer”. Immediately following, in a beautiful act of love, both of our kids volunteered to support their mom by having their heads shaved too.
Maybe it is the day and age that we live in, with the media barrage, which fuels our insecurities and causes us to hyper-focus on our perceived flaws? We all, especially women, are forced to compare ourselves to a standard that is unrealistic. A report from Westminster said, “Concern over weight and appearance related issues often surfaces early in females’ development, and continues throughout the lifespan. The importance of physical appearance is emphasized and reinforced early in most girls’ development; studies have found that nearly half of females ages 6-8 have stated that they want to be slimmer.” I have even found my daughter, at her young age, sensitive concerning weight or a blemish in her complexion. What are we to do? Well, for a moment I’m going to turn and speak to the guys, the dads, the husbands and continue on with some astonishing truths about beauty and the words we use.
Earlier I mentioned that a friend challenged me by asking what I found beautiful about Jennifer. Specifically they challenged me to have an intentional conversation with my daughter about what I found beautiful about her mother and why I loved her so much. The idea of the intentional conversation was to ensure that I was reinforcing that real beauty is not physical in nature but radiates from within. The result of the conversation with my daughter was eye-opening and vulnerable for me to share, but here we go!
As we made our way to the dance studio for her weekly rehearsal a door opened to have an intentional conversation about beauty with my daughter. I was confident that she knew why I loved her mother and that the results of our conversation would reveal that I was a positive affirmer of genuine beauty. Yikes…was I wrong! So here’s how it went down. Lauren made mention of a scar in her eyebrow and the need to cover it up. I told her it wasn’t noticeable and she was beautiful despite the scar. I went on to say that I thought her mother was beautiful and asked “do you know why I loved her?” She said with a huge smile on her face, and I quote (my goodness this is embarrassing but I hope my vulnerability will help someone) “because she was hot”. I nearly fell out of my truck. Really? That is the first thing that came to mind? All of the sudden I thought what have I done to this 13 year old mound of clay that has been entrusted to me to mold? All the times that I had said that in public, to build up Jennifer’s confidence; to seemingly validate my passionate love for her in a time that her body was deteriorating suddenly seemed to be on the shallow end of the pool.
We continued on with our conversation. I responded by saying something along the lines of “well of course she was beautiful but what made her beautiful?” Insert dagger and twist! Lauren simply said “you said she was hot”. Ugh! I then methodically started going through the characteristics that made me fall in love with Jennifer which were her strength, her faith, her tenderness, her caring spirit, her genuineness, her passion for God, her love of people, her organization, her tidiness, and so much more. One of the most beautiful things that I remember, maybe a defining moment that made me fall deeply in love with her was when we were talking about a ministry position before we were married. I was going through a list of things that I thought “she should be” to fulfill a particular role. She looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said “do you love me for me or what you can make me?” Gentlemen, dads, and husbands we have a chance to blaze a trail; a chance to be intentional with our words; a chance to validate the women that we love and chart a course of confidence for the daughters that we raise with positive, affirming words of why we love them and what real beauty is.
Miranda went on to say, “Grace says that though I am flawed, I am cherished. I had to learn the hard way that what others say about you, doesn’t define who you are. Everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made, yes that includes you!”
There is a term known as “flawed beauty” that is used in describing priceless works of art. Could it be that our imperfections make us unique, make you more beautiful? I think so. Despite her scars, despite the permanent ostomy, despite her loss of bladder control that required the use of a catheter, despite the loss of her hair I thought she was ‘amazing just the ways she was’. Why? It was because Jennifer’s beauty was so much more than the color of her eyes, the structure of her face, the flow of her hair, the perfection of her skin or the way her clothes fit – it was her heart. Chuck Swindoll said, ‘I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are.’
Miranda closed by saying, ‘So choose joy. Choose love. Choose forgiveness. Chose to be you, cause everyone else is already taken.’ Thank you Miranda! Thank you for reminding us that we were fearfully and wonderfully made; that there is an amazing purpose for each of us to fulfill. The world doesn’t need another…fill in the blank with the name of the influential person(s) you highly esteem. What the world needs is for you to be confident in who you are, who you were created to be and just simply be you. I, for one, am so thankful for the amazing purpose to be intentional with my words and help mold the precious, priceless, amazingly beautiful mounds of clay God has placed on my wheel.