A Different Beautiful
by Courtney Westlake
I slipped my heels on as I rattled off care instructions to my parents, who would be watching my daughter with special needs for the rest of the evening while my husband, my older son, and I attended a wedding reception.
With a 6:00 p.m. wedding, the reception ran well past Brenna’s bedtime (Connor’s too, but his attendance was more important as a ring bearer!), so Brenna was freshly dressed in her pajamas while I donned a deep turquoise strapless dress for my night out celebrating.
At 18 months old, she constantly gave preferential treatment to her mommy, and she began to wail and reach for me. Without thinking, I picked her up and set her on my hip. I carried her around while I pointed out the rest of the instructions to my parents before I turned my upset girl over to her grandparents.
I turned to go and saw my mom’s face…
…a mix of dismay and sympathy.
There on my side, on my colorful blue dress, a deep oily stain had settled in.
Brenna was born with a severe skin disorder that causes her skin to build up thick and dry out quickly. One of the remedies for this is to use a thick cream, or emollient, on a frequent basis, and our family’s favorite choice is Aquaphor.
Four or five times each day, we swipe a large dollop of Aquaphor from the largest jars the company makes and spread it out over Brenna’s entire body, using vinyl medical gloves so we contain the Aquaphor and don’t spread unnecessary germs between our skin and Brenna’s.
This ongoing routine keeps Brenna’s skin moisturized and supple enough to move. Without regular lotion, her skin would dry out and crack, becoming extremely painful and dehydrated.
What makes Aquaphor so effective for dry skin also makes it very effective elsewhere – like walls… and furniture… and clothing.
I had really wanted to wear that turquoise dress to the wedding reception. I debated if anyone would notice the dark spot on my side, but after an examination in the mirror, I realized it was pretty obvious, and a little weird to go to a fancy wedding with a stained dress.
So I changed – my dress, my shoes, my jewelry and all. I grabbed my purse, and quickly headed out the door, smiling as I closed it behind me.
I changed my outfit. . .but I felt my insides also changing that night. I began to understand that evening that stains have the power to ruin only when we let them.
Once upon a time, I would have cried at that stain.
Clothing has never been a priority to me, but in the beginning of Brenna’s life, as we grappled with our new lifestyle of skin care and healthcare revolving around this severe, lifelong disorder, the little things built up in my head as big things. Things like not being able to dress my daughter in clothing with velvet or lace or knowing that her clothes would be ruined after a couple times of wear.
These little issues just seemed like one more thing to have to think about in the midst of simply worrying about keeping her alive and healthy. And occasionally, I struggled with coming to terms with the effects Brenna’s skin care routine were having on so many aspects of our lives, even unimportant things like our clothes.
In the early days, I shed more than one tear over a damaged clothing item, and I used to be prone to change more often before going out into public, wondering what others would think about the grease streaks on my shirts.
But now I see those streaks as part of my motherhood story.
Today, the sides of my shirts where I told my daughter or the markings on my jeans where she sits no longer bother me one bit. Sometimes I am able to remove the stains. . .but other times, I can be found chucking a shirt into the trash after a couple of seasons of intense Aquaphor exposure. More often than not, I am thankful for what those shirts gave me—day after day of cuddling, holding, carrying, and rocking with my child.
Maybe stains aren’t tainting but are telling. Maybe instead, stains stand for intense beauty, helping to tell our incredible stories in all kinds of ways. What first seems “broken” can be redeemed to an incredible story in the name of our Lord.
Too often, we let stains dictate ruin on whatever they touch.
But stains have an intense beauty if we look at them through a new perspective: through our hearts instead of our eyes. It’s the same for wrinkles and other marks—on our clothes, our bodies, or our hearts. These things often represent tenacity, character, pure love. When something is stained or worn, it is usually because it has been well-loved or very useful.
I worked and worked on that turquoise dress I wore the night of the wedding with its side stain of Aquaphor where my daughter sat on my hip. I tried spray after spray of stain-remover. However, I must have waited too long, or maybe the fabric just wasn’t conducive to greasiness. The stain stuck.
But that dress hangs in my closet still, and I smile at it thinking about that night and recalling how much my heart changed since and because of that stain.