if you're wondering about my face...

The pain was excruciating. Even when my newborn slumbered peacefully next to me, I lay awake. I held my face to find relief as tears streamed down both cheeks in the dark of night. My state of mind would soon match the inky black of those hours.

Three days earlier I was just a pregnant mom with a 17 month old. Swollen feet. Swollen hands. Scratch that. Swollen everything. Busy trying to keep my feet up and my daughters diaper dry. Waiting on the arrival of another miracle. I thought the years prior had pushed me to desperation. Unemployment. Miscarriage. Broken dreams and endless uncertainty. This was my third pregnancy and although we lost the second baby to miscarriage, my body had indeed changed in all the ways the honest mamas said it would. A little bit bigger. A little bit wilted. But that was not where my journey with self-hatred began. 

I grew up in a loving household. I was the oldest of four kids. Two sisters and a brother below me. Each of whom surpassed me in height by the time they reached high school. I guess you kind of expect that from a brother. But measuring in at 5’2” when both your sisters stand at 5’11” was quite noticeable. My dad always praised us in our differences though. He was constantly reminding us that it was always possible to want what someone else had and to instead focus on our strengths and to view unique as beautiful. 

My husband and I have known each other most of my life. With a 6 year age gap it wasn’t love at first sight but after years of friendship we realized we wanted it to last forever. And because we already knew each other so well, we fell quick and deep and were married by the time I was 20.

There are benefits to marrying your best friend. There was an ease to the honesty in which we communicated with each other. There was a comfortability and security that only comes with nearness through many seasons. There was a confidence in our intimacy that made us boldly believe in our love and in our story. And he’d already seen me at my worst. Or so I thought. 

Through my pregnancy my husband had been supportive and loving. He was patient with me and chose to focus on the parts of me that weren't stretching and swelling. 

"You have the prettiest smile babe." 

He was always saying that. 

I had been battling preeclampsia for months. I was retaining water. I hadn't seen my feet in a long time. I reached 37 weeks and my symptoms were worsening. I had headaches regularly and spots in my vision. They wanted to me to make it to 38 weeks before inducing and so I tried to stay off my feet. Quite unsuccessfully as I chased my toddler around each day. 

I was at home enjoying my daughters nap time, when half my face got numb and heavy. I looked in the mirror to see it unresponsive and drooping. After rushing to the hospital and being poked and prodded, an ultrasound determined that our baby was ok, but that I had Bell's palsy- a nerve disorder that paralyzes half the face. I thought I was a confident woman who saw beyond the outward appearance. But facial paralysis was the thing that revealed my deeper certainties. 

I no longer believed my husband could love me. I knew he deserved better than this. He hadn’t chosen me this way. He was stuck with me this way. 

I was terrified of what my girls would think of me once they were old enough to realize something was wrong with their Mommy's face.

I couldn't look in the mirror. Seeing a photo of myself from before onset could reduce me to tears. It only served as a reminder of what I had lost. I could see an excited sparkle in my eyes that no longer existed. Someone daringly ready to embark on an adventure because they had not yet experienced the danger that adventure brings. I didn't think I deserved to be loved anymore. I pushed people away. I stopped leading worship at church. I was angry. Other women complained about what pregnancy had done to them, but in my eyes, all they had to do was wear a shirt to hide their scars. Mine were hanging out for all to see. No padded bra or shape wear could hide the damage that had been done. 

So I cried. For a long time. I hated myself and the people who tried to encourage me. It was affecting my marriage. In an effort to hide my face, all I was really doing was hiding from my life. My face wasn’t recovering and so I lived in the dark of my heart and my head. I allowed the despair to reign and I stopped dreaming. 

But hope. I never managed to stop hoping. So eventually I went and saw a Christian therapist. 

He listened to me. Saw the self hatred. And when I finally took a breath to wipe some tears away he said, "Well... do you know what I see?" 

"I see a girl who has spent most of her young life serving Jesus. Someone who storms the gates of heaven and takes people with her through worship leading. Someone who the Lord has gifted to do mighty things for His Kingdom. And I see Satan trying to take you out. I've heard your whole story. The miscarriages. The unemployment. The lost friendships. And I’m not saying he had the power to cause all those things. I’m just saying he has been able to use them against you. I see the Devil- a mallet in each hand, beating you down every time you get back up. And the Bell's palsy? Well now you're doing his job for him. He just put the mallets in YOUR hands and walked away." 

One session was all it took. I never went back. Every time my mind went raging on bashing myself, all I could see were mallets in my hands. So each day became an exercise- of dropping them and walking away. Each day my mission was to find freedom.

I needed to stop pursuing “pretty”. The kind that comes and goes. The kind that fades with time. The kind that makeup accentuates and a long night with no sleep can destroy. The kind the world sells me. And the kind that Bell’s palsy can rob from me.

Freedom feels better. And the only person who can steal it from me…is me. 

That therapy session was the turning point for me. Since then it's been baby steps toward freedom. Leading worship again? Another step toward freedom. Posting a selfie? Another step toward freedom. Allowing my husband to tell me I'm beautiful? One more step...chasing freedom. After all,

"Freedom feels better than pretty ever will..." {morgan day cecil} 

Now when I see a photo from “before” I can still see that sparkle. But I also see someone who relies on herself more than her God. Someone who had only praised in victory, and not on the battlefield or in defeat. I see a girl who had only been loved because she thought she deserved it somehow. Not yet a woman who had been loved through all of the reasons she no longer thought she was worthy. I see someone who was not as compassionate, not as prayerful, not as courageous. And sometimes I still miss her. Her plans. Her zest. Her beauty. But her faith had not been tested by fire, and that is the only kind that brings Him glory.

Sometimes the things that almost wreck us, are just meant to recreate us. My face is weak but my soul is stronger.