Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Do They See?

Three cupcakes with candlesShe was one of the prettiest little girls we had ever seen.  She had sky-blue eyes, corn silk blond hair, and a delightful little face.  I remember carrying her around as a baby, when I was a little old lady of eight years old, and thinking she was cuter than any of my dolls.

There were three of us girls and we each had our roll to play in the family dynamic.  I was the oldest, and was usually described as the "smart one".  My middle sister was generally referred to as the "nice one", and my youngest sister was always referred to as the "pretty one".

I often thought about that after we were grown.  What were these adults thinking when they gave us these labels that sunk so deeply into our identities whether for good or for ill?

Was the "smart one" neither nice nor pretty?  Was the "nice one" neither smart nor pretty?  Was the "pretty one" neither smart nor nice?  Honest to goodness, what were they thinking?

I cannot know what they were thinking, but here is what I do know. The pretty one grew up basing her entire value on her looks.  As a teen, boys chased her; as a young woman, men followed her around like lost puppies. By then, she not only liked the label, she owned it, flaunted it and traded upon it.

She wasted her youth on parties and alcohol.  She wasted her middle years on parties and drugs ... and alcohol.  I stood by her bedside praying for her and waiting for her to come out of a coma the first time she attempted suicide - at twenty-one.  The doctor said she had taken "enough pills to kill an elephant."  She survived and went to rehab, the first of many such trips.

Over the next three decades I literally lost count of the number of trips in and out of rehab.  How many Sunday afternoons did I spend sitting in some drab room, surrounded by lost disheveled women, quietly talking to her about choices, and the fact that God loved her?
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Last year, after a devastating death in her family, she was not functioning at all.  Her daughter suggested that her mother might feel better if she got her hair done.  She had always had amazing natural blond tresses, of which she was inordinately proud.  So off the three of us went to the hair salon, where she had it cut to shoulder length, highlighted and styled.

The transformation was remarkable.  As we walked through an adjacent grocery store to pick up a few things, I noticed her gait was different, her head was up and she was looking around her with interest.

Suddenly, she turned to me and said, "Oh, I feel so much better.  People are looking at me again.  They notice me.  They see me again."

I was dismayed, stunned, appalled - and deeply sad in the face of such shallowness. She still identified herself only by her appearance and how others reacted to it.
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Last month, I briefly visited her at the long term nursing facility where she has been for many months since she nearly died after having two major brain surgeries, and multiple strokes. When I came to the door of her room, she did not see me; but I saw her.  She was  sitting on the side of her bed, staring blankly at a wall.  It was a heartbreaking scene.

She wore a helmet, to protect her head in case of fall, as part of her skull had to be removed to allow for the swelling of the brain after the surgeries.  Most of her hair had been cut off to allow for the surgeries, but one lock straggled pitifully from beneath the helmet.

Her eyes do not focus well.  Her speech and cognitive abilities are impaired.  Her right arm and leg are partially paralyzed. She is the very picture of a wrecked and wretched life.

Tomorrow is her birthday.  She will be 58 years old.  And I will be fighting off tears most of the day.
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Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)


  1. I have no words after reading this, except that I'm sad with you.

  2. Oh my goodness me, Marsha. I'm so glad I stopped by to read this post. It brought tears to my eyes. How very sad that your sister is so very poorly, at only 58 years of age. I suppose the moral of this tale is that we should never put labels onto people, especially children. It must have been absolutely heartbreaking for you to have seen her like that in the nursing facility. Sending blessings your way.

  3. Oh my goodness my heart breaks for her - I am going to send her a prayer. Amen.

  4. I am on a little blog break, but I had to comment on this one- it is utterly heartbreaking. I am adding your sister to my prayer list~

  5. Some many of your posts I have been able to identify with but none more than this one....I have a 59 year old sister in much the same shape as your sister and it just breaks my heart....Birth order was different, she was the youngest but she was sent the same message and now that face and body she so cherished has turned on her. I understand the heartbreak you feel over a precious sister that has lost her way. I will pray for yours and would appreciate if you feel so led to pray for mine....

  6. I don't think I even took a breath as I read this.
    I am sad for you.
    I am profiundly sad for your Sister.

  7. I don't know what to say and if I did say something, it wouldn't be enough to let you know how I feel!

    ~ sigh ~


  8. Where do you place blame here? I was a shy, overweight kid who got the message I didn't measure up. It would have been easy to get lost in my food and become one of those hermits who is morbidly obese, but God told me I was something more. And I believed it. I wonder what the inner dialogue between your sister and God has been. Did she feel she didn't need Him? Could she not hear Him over the clamor of the world's admiration? Is this a case where Satan got to her? I pray God speaks softly, tenderly and clearly to her now and that she has the capacity to surrender to what she's yearned for all along.