Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What it Means to be Beautiful - or Ugly - You Choose

Four weeks ago today, I had a skin cancer surgery.  On my face.  Between my eyes.  I already had a scar there from when I was a kid.  I actually liked that scar - it landed Mitch the opening line that started our courtship: "How did you get that scar on your nose?"  Oh, so smooth, right?  How else should a man land a woman, but by seeking out her most obvious flaw to break the ice?  (Don't loathe him, though.  He really is a stud muffin.)  Even so, I didn't want another chasm created on my face.  I had a signature scar, and it didn't need a twin.

For days after the surgery, all I could see when I looked in the mirror was the inch long incision - THAT'S HUGE WHEN IT'S BETWEEN YOUR EYES, okay?  It was my Bride of Frankenstein marking.  The ever present swelling on the bridge of my nose made me look like an alien, too.   I had a puffy black eye to boot, and I wished for Halloween so I could justify looking that way.  But since it wasn't October, I especially felt ugly when I stared at the new problem spot on my face.


I didn't really feel like smiling when I looked in the mirror - that probably added to my personal disgrace.  All I could do was lie on the couch and hold a huge ice pack...to my face....  I don't know why my husband so kindly let me cope with the melodramatic trauma that I exuded as I believed that I would never look the same again.  He didn't tell me to buck up - he just took care of the kids and let me watch TV thru the one eye that wasn't covered with the ice pack.

Just a few months ago I was able to read a novel written by our cousin, Chanda Simper.  Fortunately for me, in the heart of my despair lying on the couch, I had the moral of her story haunting me, and these words kept running through the back of my mind: self-loathing is one of the greatest forms of selfishness.  That's embarrassing to ponder, right?  Who wants to accept the hard truth?  No one.  But IT'S TRUE!  And I didn't want to be like that.  Even if I was ugly, I needed to quit being selfish, and I needed to snap out of it.

The Man I Thought Was Unattractive:

I had a flashback to a person I met long ago.  There was a particular young man who happened to be the only one I have ever truly thought was homely.  I always felt bad for him, because he just didn't look nice - ever - it seemed.  As I thought back to him, I remembered that he never smiled...unless it was at a crude joke or something rude.  He seldom fixed his hair, or he would having an unflattering buzz cut revealing that even the skin rolls on his head were not symmetrical.  He always wore uncomely and frumpy clothes - not that you need to buy the top of the line anything, because I never do, but he always chose clothes that were tacky or reflected his bad mood.  As I thought of these things I started to see a few simple changes that could have helped him through that time in his life and I knew I needed to do some of those things for myself.  What I thought was ugly on the outside was affecting me on the inside, but what was growing inside me felt even uglier than what I saw in the mirror.  I suddenly had more sympathy for that boy I knew - maybe he felt that he wasn't necessarily born with a handsome face.  Maybe he hated himself for it.  Maybe that's why he let himself be ugly on the inside, too.  From first hand experience, I was understanding that when you're ugly on the outside it tempts you to be ugly on the inside.  But truly, wouldn't he have been more handsome on the outside if he chose to push the ugliness out?  I believe with all my heart that he would have been.

I couldn't be selfish anymore - I had to fix the ugliness that was growing. I read a post from a friend on facebook.  Her son had been sick all night - she was exhausted...so was I...I knew how she felt.  I wanted to do something for her.  It had only been a few hours after my surgery at this point - I didn't have tons of energy, so I decided I could take her Mitch's kettle corn.  But by the time we made it, it was too late to visit, and I thought I'd take it to her in the morning.  But in the early daylight, my kids devoured the popcorn before I got up.  That was a bust!  Mitch was at work now, so I couldn't beg him to make more for us to take to someone else.  I stared in the mirror and slapped on a forced smile.  I decided I would put on some nice clothes and fix my hair.  That helped, but I was still swollen and had a hard time smiling. 

Finally, I thought of a service I could do without bothering others for assistance.  I could email some pictures to a friend I met at the Gilbert Temple Open House.  They'd come from California and had forgotten their camera; I took down their info & told them I would send them the pictures, but it had been a few weeks and they were probably wondering if I was serious about my promise. Here was my chance.  Writing a short email, I attached a picture, and clicked SEND.

Would you believe that such a simple act felt so good inside?  It started to heal my ugliness.  It healed my ugliness so much that when I looked in the mirror again, THE SWELLING WAS ALMOST COMPLETELY GONE.

Maybe that was a personal miracle, but it was also a very real lesson to me.  I didn't feel so ugly, and really, I wasn't so ugly even when the swelling was there.  But truly - I began to wonder whether or not being beautiful on the inside might have some healing powers for the outside physical ailments we experience.  I realized the power of my Spirit and countenance, and with the reminder, I could start looking at the bigger picture. 

Why is it that when we look in the mirror, we see the ONE flaw we have when there is so much more to be seen that's beautiful and without flaws?

Why do we look at the bags under our eyes and stare?

Why do we look at a scar?

Why do we see only fat on our hips?

Or crooked teeth?

Or skin that's too this or too that?

The one gray hair?

When you focus on imperfections only, you get stuck, and you start to obsess over something that doesn't matter so much, and then you forget what's truly important and you miss what life is all about - and then you feel crummy because you're all out of focus.  You can't learn the lessons that your problems are trying to teach you, because you're too self-centered to see them.  You can't love your family like they deserve, because you're being too selfish.  When you let the ugliness that you think you see change you on the inside, the truest tragedy of all occurs - you actually become ugly, and that's the one thing (of all things) you didn't want to be.

I guess I always thought I knew these lessons, but sometimes God decides that we need to re-learn our lessons through various circumstances so we can understand what He wants us to know from different angles.

Death of a dear child awakened truth in me:

A few days after I had been re-learning these SIMPLE lessons the hard way, the unthinkable happened.  Sweet little 11-year old CJ Udall was taken home to his Heavenly Father - he was trying to save his dog in the canal and he drowned. 

I thought back to all those years living on the ASU Campus.  CJ's parents, Dwight & Jori, reached out to us (and to everyone they met) in our ASU East Ward.  They treated everyone with kindness, and treated even newbies like old friends.  They sympathized with others & always had insights and encouragement to give.  They are some of the BEST people we've ever met, and I couldn't believe they were (and are still) experiencing such a deep loss.  Then I thought of darling little CJ when he was just a little tyke walking along the pews at church with a bounce in his step, and bright white hair it seemed.  I couldn't believe that "just like that", he was gone.  My mind flashed back to my pre-parenting days when I remembered thinking, "If I were to ever have a baby with down syndrome, I'd want him to be exactly like CJ." 

Mitch and I didn't know what to do, but we knew we had to do something.  So we took them flowers & a card.  We thought we'd leave it on the doorstep if they were busy. We thought we'd give them a hug and leave quickly.  But you know what happened?  Dwight and Jori once again were amazing.  As we spoke to Dwight and cried about CJ's passing, he hugged us tightly and said he hurt like he'd never hurt before, but then he shared his hope and faith to strengthen us.   Then, in our short conversation, he asked US how OUR families were doing -- he was genuinely concerned about how my little sister and brother-in-law are doing all the way across the country. I just marvelled that despite his shattered world, he could find the energy to think about them, too - it meant so much to me!  We also saw sweet Jori before we left, too.  She hugged me so tightly, and I wished and prayed for words that I could give her.  But there were no words worth saying in that moment.  And as we cried and talked about CJ, she took a moment and asked, "How are you?  How is your face doing?"  I was shocked by the words spilling out of her mouth, and then we both started to laugh:


Maybe I had cared about my face a few days before, but my healing incision was so small in the scheme of things.  I had already been learning my lessons, but she taught me something more that day.  She taught me about true beauty through her SELFLESSNESS.  Dwight and Jori both - amid their deepest of griefs - displayed their most beautiful selves of all...without even trying, might I add.  But that's because that's who they are - that's who they've been trying to be all throughout the years - selfless act after selfless act is what has made them the powerful influencers they've always been.  They're always smiling and loving and caring, and they have never allowed the ugliness of life's circumstances and trials make them ugly on the inside, and that's why their influence shines so brightly.  I dare say that's why their perfect little CJ chose them as his parents.  True beauty is seen by the truly beautiful & that's why a perfect soul chose to come to them. 

Suffering of a friend showed me a different image of myself:

Last, but not least, I want to talk about a beautiful woman I spent time with today.  Hours ago I was trying to fall asleep, but this experience with Judi is what has caused me to stay up late and finally put down the thoughts that have been forming in my head for quite a while.

Judi is the mom of one of my mom's best friends.  Many of the challenges she has faced in life have been so extremely difficult you'd think that just ONE of those trials would have been enough for anyone to deal with in their lifetime.  But Judi has faced obstacle after obstacle of a large magnitude and has come away as a conqueror. 

For example, just ONE of the challenges she's faced was cracking her spine.  She had a fall that almost paralyzed her.  Because of it, she spent 18 months in the hospital & away from her family (she was already a mother at the time). When she was sent home in a wheelchair, she was told she'd never walk again.  Just a little background about Judi - she's a Vietnam Vet.  She's also a cancer survivor.  The truth of the matter is that she's a fighter.  So of course she walks again - because the doctors didn't know what they were talking about, and they didn't know who they were dealing with as they sent her on her way.  Her pathway hasn't been easy.  Also, because of all of her medical problems, she had constant and extreme pain for 8 years.  Think about how long 8 years is, and then think about the difficult journey it might be to deal with that kind of pain & the difficulty of getting off of pain pills - but guess who did it?  Judi did.

Would you believe that she recently went through the temple for the first time and had a miracle happen?  For the 1st time in 8 years, when she was in the temple, praying, she no longer had pain.  She does not hesitate to share her testimony.  The Lord healed her.  He took away her pain.  She still has other health problems, but He took the pain away.  She promised Him that if He would heal her, she would go as often to the temple as she possibly could.  Well, it's been a month, and she has been 18 times since her first visit (that's MORE times in one month than I went in all of last year).  She goes every day it's open, and she's living a new life that she LOVES.  It's so inspiring to me!

With all the times I've been around Judi, I always knew she was a sweetheart, but today I received insights into many of the events that have made her who she is.  Her faith inspiring story is wonderful, and what's equally amazing to me as this miracle that she's been blessed with, is the person she is inside. 

First of all, I was at her house because she knew that my family and I have had a crazy last few months, so she invited me over to have a facial and lunch.  As I was given my facial she talked to me about how she had felt like her problems just came one after another with no chance to have a break in between, but she was told that those things were happening to give her strength.  She said, "At the time I didn't know what I would need THAT KIND of strength for, but now I know."

That got me to thinking.  "Uh-oh.  That's how I have been feeling.  I have felt that we've had problem after problem thrown in our way lately and I don't know when we're going to have a break from them.  I guess it's helping us to gain strength, but does that mean I should be scared about what on earth is coming that I'm going to need this kind of strength for?"

With peace, and a tone that made me know she knows the answer, she calmly replied,

"No.  Just be grateful.''

And that's what you call true beauty.  Here is a woman who is currently experiencing equally difficult struggles and suffering in her life as the next person (or I dare say MORE difficult problems than the next), but she FORGOT to feel bad about herself and she felt bad for me instead.  She reached out to me, and she is making the world a better place because she knows what it means to be grateful and kind no matter what life gives you.  Judi's efforts started out to give me a facial just to help me feel relaxed and beautiful, but the deep cleansing reached past my face and sank into my heart.
Problems in life always happen.  We all face them.  Sometimes they hit harder and deeper than we ever imagine.  But YOU CAN CHOOSE.  You can choose if those experiences will make you stronger.  You can choose to beat the odds.  You can choose if those experiences will make you more faithful and if you'll learn from them.  You can choose whether or not those moments will make you more beautiful or ugly on the inside, and we all know that what's on the inside affects how we are on the outside.

I love the surgeon who sliced my face and started this much-needed process for me.  I love Chanda's insight and the moral of her story that haunted me.  I love that poor high school boy who I hope has had a chance in the last 15 years to learn what it means to love himself.  I love my friends Jori & Dwight.  And I love my friend Judi.  Most of all, I am grateful that God saw I had some growing to do and that he gave me the gift of friendship to SHOW me how to cope properly and what to do when life gives you problems.  Now that I know, I'm going to choose:
Today I'm going to look at my life differently.  Today I am letting go of my selfishness.  Today I am going to think about and help others.  Today I'm going to be grateful for what I experience and what I'm learning. 

Today I'm choosing to be beautiful.