Woman taking a picture in the mirror

The Day I Realized Looks Aren’t Everything

It wasn’t until I faced the operating table that I realized the one thing I treasured the most was a functioning, healthy body.

I was 16 when I was diagnosed with scoliosis, which is an extreme curvature of the spine, and the news was received like cold water to the face.

The condition was first picked up by a friend who noticed my shoulder blades were slightly uneven, and my parents often wondered why I walked with such a funny gait.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s room in Starship Hospital, a children’s hospital in New Zealand, bawling my eyes out and feeling awfully sorry for myself when I received the diagnosis.

An X-ray of my backbone was on the screen, and I blanked out half of the questions my parents were asking the doctor. All I could think of was, “What rotten luck I have”.

Looking back, the operation was probably the best thing to have happened to me. Without surgery, the functions of my lung and heart would be impaired, depending on the severity of the condition. But at that moment, I was angry at God.

Honestly though, what I wanted at that time was to look like the early bloomers in schools—to be the girl with the sleek hair, perfect vision (or at least look decent in glasses), and  an enviable body shape. I wanted to receive presents for Valentine’s Day, like some of the girls at school did, and while I waited patiently every Valentine’s Day for a rose or a note, it never came.

What did roll around, however, was the due date of my surgery.

The lead up of being wheeled into the operating theatre was a blur, but I do remember waking up surrounded by tubes, and feeling incredibly thirsty.

The surgery was a success, and a nurse told my parents how pleased the surgeon was with the results. But on my end, it was the start of an uncomfortable recovery period.

For the first few days, I was unable to move, and every muscle and bone in my body ached. Then there was also the issue of being incredibly hungry, except I didn’t have any appetite. Most of all, I remembered how sick I was constantly feeling from all the medications. Putting on my Avril Lavigne CD only made my head hurt, and reading my magazines was impossible as everything swam around me.

Lying on the hospital bed, I had forgotten about wanting to look like the girls at school.  All I wanted was for my aches to go away.

The recovery period once I was discharged was just as difficult. One time, my dad brought me out to buy a new set of pyjamas and to borrow a few books from the library. The shopping area wasn’t a big one, but I struggled to keep up.

Muscles pulled at every angle, and I could only take small steps at a time. I was also easily puffed, so a short walk took at least 15 minutes. Going back to school was just as tiring, so I did half days for three weeks, catching up on assignments at home.

However, the post-surgery period gave me time to reflect and be in awe of just how complex the human body is. My operation was nine hours long and I had to go through a series of tests and check-ups before I was admitted.

I thought of how the surgeon and his team had to fight their way through my tightly intertwined muscle and bone to infuse a steel rod down my spine. It gave me a better understanding of Psalm 139:13, where the Psalmist spoke of how God knitted together his inner being in his mother’s womb. I had always seen that verse as something people toss out to comfort their less-than-pretty counterparts.

But in that circumstance, I saw how God had spent His time joining my cells together in such an organised structure that the surgeons had to carefully cut through them so as not to damage any other parts of my body.

I also begun to understand what the Psalmist meant when he said he was fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalmist 139:14). For me it meant God had taken great care laying out the functions of each of my organs. A heart to pump blood, a backbone to allow us to stand and walk straight, a set of lungs to breathe.

I suppose God could have prevented my scoliosis, but perhaps He allowed it to happen to me so I could truly appreciate what He had given me. While I have not been endowed with a model’s looks (but the reality is, how many of us are?), He has given me a functioning body.

It has been 16 years since my surgery, and I can say that these days I am less concerned about how pretty I should be, and very thankful for a strong, healthy body.

Of course, there are still days when I find myself feeling a tad jealous of a friend’s or acquaintance’s big, blue eyes or their smooth locks. But my perspective shifts when I take stock of what my body can do. My arms and legs work furiously as I do sprints and laps in the pool, and while I am shortsighted, I still have sight, allowing me to read my favourite books. The tiny tastebuds on my tongue allow me to taste and savour chocolate ice creams and burgers.

I have learned that it is very easy to yearn for what we don’t have, and to find fault with what we have. But as you look in the mirror or before you start comparing yourself to your friend’s airbrushed Instagram post, I want to encourage you to remind yourself how God has crafted you, cell by cell, protein by protein, to create the truly marvelous creation that you are, with an intricately designed body.

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