First it was no more contact lenses. Then it was no more makeup. What are these unexplained symptoms I’m experiencing? Dry, blurry vision every time I put in contacts. Trying various lens cleaners with no varying results. A sudden explosion of an eye infection and cellulitis – on my face! – red, blotchy skin, and my face ballooning to look like a Cabbage Patch doll. Clinic visit after clinic visit. An ER visit. An appointment with an allergist and a dermatologist – all to no avail. Prednisone helps, but I can’t be on that forever. Fear, depression, exhaustion, frustration ….so many emotions.
Spending most of my summer anxious and depressed. I had been a pretty girl and now look at me, all blotchy and swollen. Can’t wear makeup to cover anything because what if that’s the problem? Couldn’t be out in the sun enjoying the weather because the dermatologist thought I had a sun sensitivity. I know now he’s wrong because I’ve had outbreaks in winter when I haven’t been outside.
I’ve kept a food diary. There seems to be no clear pattern. Eat healthy, have an outbreak. Eat junk, have clear skin. Nothing makes sense and there seems to be no answers.
But I’ve learned some things. Watching America’s Got Talent last summer – Kechi – a young woman burned in a plane crash who had visible scars all over her face, neck, arms, hands – everywhere – was so brave to stand and audition in front of millions of people. My issues aren’t as severe as hers, yet I was feeling sorry for myself while she was inspiring people with her story. Inwardly I thought, “Denise, get over yourself.”
In the ER, the nurse had a Latin phrase tattooed on her arm: Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Ovid) Translation: Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you. In my mind I added – and to others – as I thought how God often allows us to go through things for others in addition to teaching us individually.
Each clinic visit I was met with extreme empathy from different nurse practitioners trying to help me – one even spontaneously giving me a big hug on a return visit when there had been no change in my condition. The genuine kindness of relative strangers…
I was continuing, however, to struggle with vanity. A co-worker shared with me, “I don’t wear makeup. This is the way God made me; if people don’t like it, they don’t have to look.” It helps that she’s from Venezuela and actually has eyebrows and eyelashes you can see, unlike this light-complected “invader-from-the-north.”
It’s so hard to not feel like yourself – to not feel attractive. I loved my contacts, I loved wearing makeup, I loved wearing big, funky (some might say gaudy) earrings. Now my earrings don’t look right with my glasses, so I don’t wear them anymore – have given most of them away, actually.
This all makes me think back to my 35th year class reunion. Weight has always been a struggle for me as it has been for my high school chum. “Let’s lose weight for our reunion” she suggested. “Sure,” I said. We thought we could be successful if we had one another’s support. As the weeks progressed and the weight wasn’t coming off, I was frustrated and disgusted with myself when I heard God speak: Denise, do you want them to see you or do you want them to see Me? “Oh….” “You, Lord, I want them to see You.” Please understand, I wasn’t wanting to lose weight to practice the fruit of self-control, to please God, to take care of this body – the temple of His Holy Spirit; it was purely vain conceit. As I walked into that reunion, one of the first people I saw said to me, “Denise, you’re like a breath of fresh air.” At that moment, I knew she was seeing Him.
I’m learning (kind of) to like this no-makeup thing. I don’t get makeup on my shirt collars anymore, I don’t have to wash my face at night, it takes less time for me to get ready in the morning, and I’m realizing how many of my friends don’t wear makeup anymore and I haven’t even noticed; they’re so beautiful. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a women’s gathering and decided to wear makeup. I didn’t realize how comfortable I had gotten with my bare face until I looked in the mirror after putting on my “other” face. “I look like a clown,” I thought. Wow, what a journey.
“Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5) I literally don’t have to be ashamed of my face, and if I keep Jesus close to me, His radiance will shine through and it will be all about Him and not about me – the way it should be.