Lately, I have noticed that I've been avoiding looking at myself. I look in the mirror and see someone I don't even recognize. I see hair that needs to be cut. I see extra weight accumulated from months of hormone injections before I got pregnant. I see stretch marks etched across my stomach. I see a deep sadness in my eyes. I see the weariness of grief and loss and shattered dreams.
I find that when I catch a glimpse of myself...I look away.
Where have you gone? I ask myself. Who have you become?
A few weeks ago, I happened across a song called "Beauty from Pain" by Superchicks. It took me aback as I listened to it for the first time. Every single word of the song spoke to me. The verses are so honest and the song speaks to the raw pain of grief and disappointment.
Yesterday, I was trying to force myself to get dressed and begin my day. I thought of "Beauty from Pain" and the lyric that says, "I know I'm alive but I feel like I've died". I sat on the end of my bed and cried. I felt the searing pain that only those who have grieved can recognize, I imagine.
You are alive.
The person you love is not.
And you wonder if part of you has died with them.
The good part...the beautiful part.
I decided to put on the song and lay back on the bed to listen. As the chorus began, I found myself meditating on the words.
After all this has passed
I still will remain
After I've cried my last
They'll be beauty from pain
Though it won't be today
Someday I'll hope again
And they'll be beauty from pain
You will bring beauty from my pain
Am I beautiful, God? Is it possible to be beautiful after all that has happened?
I thought back to the pictures of me holding William right after he was born. I hardly remember the photographer being there.* As she quietly snapped pictures, I met my son face-to-face for the first time. The pictures show me looking at my baby with a visible love. My features are soft and my face is peaceful. In one, I am brushing my lips across his forehead with my eyes closed as I breath in his presence.
You don't see the tears and screaming from the agonizing delivery just moments before. You don't see the fact that my life was literally hanging in the balance and I would soon we whisked away to an operating room (the details of which I will share when I complete his birth story). You don't see my body shaking from both the trauma and sacredness of that moment.
What you see is a mother meeting her son for the first time.
And she is beautiful.
As I lay on my bed, listening to the song and thinking back to those moments with William, I realized that I am that beautiful mother. I am still the mother in those pictures.
I slowly got up and faced the mirror above my dresser. I looked at myself and resisted the urge to look away. As the song continued to play, I searched for beauty.
And I found it.
I found it in my eyes, swollen from crying. I found it in the silent tears running slowly down my cheeks. I found it in the stretch marks across my stomach, the battle scars of my motherhood. I found it in the curves of my body where I sheltered and carried my son.
I saw beauty in my pain. My pain shows my capacity to love. And love is beautiful.
As I looked at my reflection, I hoped for the future and the beauty that will emerge from these ashes. I asked God to refine me as gold is purified through flames.
My definition of beauty has now widened.
I am throwing modesty to the wind and claiming my beauty as a woman and as a mother. I don't know why God is allowing me to walk through this pain, but I am choosing to believe that He is making me more and more beautiful in the midst of it.
"Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end."
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (New Living Translation)
*There is a wonderful organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep that organizes a network of professional photographers who are willing to volunteer their time to take pictures of stillborn or critically ill newborns. A photographer from this organization came the moment she was called to take pictures of our precious baby.