What I learned from a Stranger’s Compliment

My husband and I were vacationing in Nashville when I was approached by a stranger. We had just finished our meal at a local restaurant and I had gotten up to start for the door. A middle-aged woman stopped me and said, “I just wanted to tell you that you are very beautiful.” She went on to tell me she was unsure of saying anything, but felt compelled. She explained she was a mother and spending the evening out with friends and just really wanted to say to me how beautiful I looked sitting at dinner.

I was initially taken back by how blunt she was. Almost speechless, but I was able to find the words, “Thank you.” I gave her a hug and told her that I wished more people would give compliments like this. I then preceded to walk to our car, hand-in-hand with my husband.

What I haven’t told you, yet, is the fact that we had just hiked up and down a mountain in 10 degree weather. I wasn’t wearing any make-up. I had jeans tucked into my boots and a warm sweater on. My hair was a bit out of sorts from my winter hat I was wearing earlier. This wasn’t a sexy evening out on the town with my husband; it was a last minute effort to eat out rather than veg on the couch all night after a fun, but tiring day.

Hubby started out for the condo that we were staying at and I sat in the passenger seat, my mind thinking back on what just happened. ‘That was bold of her to say. She was quite lovely herself. Should I have complimented her back? Maybe she had too much to drink. Was a hug too straight forward?’

Once I was able to reign in my thoughts, I began to think about the impact this one compliment had on me. This past year has been complete Hell. I mean, those words don’t even do it justice. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about childhood cancer and grief in a very short amount of time. We fought alongside many, many other families who were faced with life-altering decisions and death. It is something no one can prepare you for, nor anything you ever wish for. In fact, these are the things that people pray to protect their child from, but we witnessed it over and over throughout the year. Children ripped from their parent’s arms. Complete and utter helplessness.

I’ve watched the devil in full force and in return our bodies have taken a physical toll. I have suffered from back pain for a while now, and while in the hospital it was extreme. Not that I cared at all, those things just don’t matter anymore while you watch your child fight for their life. I just know that my back will never quite feel right. I lost a significant amount of weight while in the hospital. Food never sounded good, especially when our daughter was NPO for surgery after surgery. Over the course of months after she passed, I gained it all back plus some. Grief has no boundaries and once I found my appetite, food was comfort of some sort. I also shaved my head, Brittany Spears style. I was so fed up with the lack of funding for childhood cancer, I shaved my head for a fundraiser. Our daughter began losing her hair toward the end because of treatment, so I felt no connection to my hair anymore. I actually despised it. I’ve cried enough tears that my face should have a permanent salt stain left for all to see. I don’t have any gray hair… yet, but grief never ends, so I’m sure I’ll see some very soon. The wrinkles, however, are prevelant, especially between my eye brows. If you think about it, when you cry, your eyes squint and your forehead crunches toward the middle of your face.

I didn’t think I’d ever feel this old at this stage of my life, but this fight continues to beat you down until you are stripped of everything you once had.

However, once I was stripped of everything I knew before she fell ill, once I felt depleted and defeated and felt no worth what-so-ever, that’s when I also felt the love and peace only a loving God could provide. With all of our struggles, I have reached higher and found a God that will fight for me. I have met other parents who have lost a child that have become like family. They value life and death the same and understand the pain it leaves behind.  I have figured out how to love myself for who I am; and not in the cheesy, superficial way. I no longer feel the urge to try the trendiest diet or newest make-up palette. My self worth comes from my love for children, from my own creativity and from seeking peace in the most unusual places. I feel comfortable in the skin I’m in. These wrinkles and tear-stained cheeks are TRULY scars that I will proudly wear for our daughter’s fight. They remind me that she wanted to live and I can be thankful for all the life she was given. As for my hair, it represents now, who I’ve always been. I have so much more time to accomplish everything I want to instead of worrying about what society expects from a 29 year old female.

You could say this past year, my appearance has changed but my soul has just been uncovered; hiding beneath all the garbage this world has placed upon it.

When that trash was removed, piece by piece, layer by layer, my true beauty was discovered by a stranger in a restaurant.

I think about that dinner and what she may have thought was so beautiful about me. I know now, I was sitting across from someone who had just witnessed this transformation. A man that loved me through the flames of Hell and watched the same devastation, but still chose love. We talked about our daughter and the joy she brought to our lives. We shared memories and yes, some hard moments during that dinner, but I know I certainly smiled as well. And I’d like to think this lady saw our life unfold through my expressions and my actions. The way I grabbed his hand and the laughs we shared thinking about his fear of heights earlier that day. My gaze as I stared at the pictures on the wall that reminded me of our daughter. I hope she saw a life and a soul that was beautiful.

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