Saturday, September 1, 2012
“Hey flat face! What happened to your face? What's wrong with your lip? Scar face I'm talking to you!” I dreaded getting on the bus every day in sixth grade because of these words. I remember literally shaking as soon as I climbed the bus stairs. Some mean 8th grade boy had decided to pick on a little eleven year old girl who had been born with a cleft lip and pallet. This was my daily trial on the afternoon bus ride. The bus would drop me off on my street and I'd be so frustrated, embarrassed, and terrified that I'd cry all the way home.
Being born with a cleft lip and pallet I have had to go through surgeries, mostly when I was really young. In addition I have ear problems and have had a couple ear surgeries. My right ear is usually always irritating me and makes everything sound really loud and unbalanced. I also have had braces for over ten years, on and off. My soft pallet doesn't hold my teeth in place, even with retainers. So I had to get braces back on shortly after they were perfectly right again. I hate braces! My last surgery was a pretty big reconstructive surgery about two years ago. The surgery broke my nose bone and reconstructed the bone as well as my right nostril. I also had my upper lip filled with tissue from my hip and my upper lip stitched up in a dozen stitches.
Recovering from that surgery was really hard. I was on really intense medication, I lost ten pounds in a week and I couldn't open my mouth, smile, or talk because of how swollen and tight my mouth was. My whole face was really swollen for a couple weeks and I truly scared myself looking in the mirror. My mom had to feed me smoothies from a straw for over two weeks. Ugh it was just awful! However, I am SO glad that I had that reconstructive surgery. It has really made my upper lip and nose look a lot more even, they are still not perfect but I am grateful for the improvement. I still have some surgeries ahead in my future. Because of this craniofacial birth defect, I also have slightly flatter cheek bones, which is why most of my teasings were “Flat face” I remember one boy saying “It looks like somebody has bashed your face in with a shovel because you are so ugly.”
Luckily, I was blessed with wise parents. As a baby, they loved my cleft. They even nick named me Elvis, from his signature “lip twitch” and were even sad to see my lip sewn up as a seven week old baby. We didn't talk much about it in my family, but it was an open discussion if needed and because of the way my parents felt of it as “not a big deal” I though it wasn't a big deal either. Their confidence gave me confidence. So it wasn’t really much of an issue for me until elementary school when kids would ask “What is wrong with your face?”, “What is wrong with your lip?”, or “Why is your nose so crooked?” As a kid these questions seemed invasive and mean, but my parents told me that the kids were just curious and wanted to know. So in elementary school I decided that I was an expert on clefts so I might as well inform them. I realized the kids really were just curious, and after wards it was like “Oh okay cool” and they didn't care.
Then came middle school... kids used a different approach by yelling mean things at you in front of everybody. Sometimes, by confidently answering and informing the person making fun of me, the teasing would end. But with this one boy on the bus, it didn't. “Flat face! Scar face!” Ugh, I'd slump down close to front in the bus trying to hide from this big “popular” 8th grader. But he'd find me and as soon as I heard him it felt like I had a pit in my stomach.
I even remember praying to Heavenly Father that this boy could have a change of heart or that somehow he would just stop. The more I prayed for this boy the more sorry I felt for him. If he was feeling so low as to try to pick on an innocent little 11 year old girl who had never initiated a conversation with him, then he must be really really low. I remember one day coming home and crying to my mom about this boy on the bus. The next day when I got back from school my mom had a note on my pillow. She had written: “I used to be sad that I didn’t have shoes, until I saw a man who didn't have feet.”
I am so grateful for this gentle wisdom from my mom. What she doesn't know is that I have thought about that quote a lot over the years. It really changed my perspective. I remember even thinking as a little eleven year old: and if the man who didn't have feet was sad that he had no feet...he'd meet a man with no legs...and then that man would meet someone without arms or legs...the point being that everyone has something and somebody always has it worse. But it doesn't matter. It's about the goodness of our hearts. It's about having a grateful heart. So, with encouragement from my parents and peace from my Heavenly Father, I decided to forgive this boy on the bus. The teasing didn't stop for that year, but I did my best to ignore him and not let it get to me. The next year he moved to a different school zone and I didn't see him for the rest of middle school or high school.
Seven years later, I was driving my little sisters through the Chick-fil-A drive thru. Guess who was there handing me my food? It was him! The boy on the bus. I didn't even have to wonder if he recognized me, it was plain and clear by the horrified and shocked expression on his face. He stared straight at me and his face turned a bright red and cringed, almost like he was in pain. He quickly shot his head down, handed the food, then immediately left the window. It was a little awkward. And I could absolutely tell that he remembered me, and maybe had thought back with deep regret to that year on the bus when he tormented a little girl, whose name he didn't even know.
A while went by and I was at Chick-Fil-a again. I saw him. With a prayer for courage in my heart I approached the counter, called him by name and said “Hey, do you remember me?” When he saw me he had the same expression as before. I almost felt sorry for him, he looked like a trapped little mouse or something. He stuttered out some mumble I couldn't pick up, and had his head down. Then he said, “Yeah, I remember. You were on my bus in middle school.”
“Yeah.” I said softly.
It was awkward for a few moments until he looked up and stumbled “I was such a jerk. I have never forgiven myself. I am so sorry--”
I gave him a warm smile and said, “It's okay, I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago.” I didn't really know what else to say after that...but the look of his countenance changed completely. It looked as if a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders that he had been keeping in the back of his mind for the last seven years. It was like his eyes were telling me thank you and we had this mutual understanding that everything was okay and good. I turned and walked away with my food, and the Chick-fil-a line continued. And life went on. Like it always does.
Being born with this challenge hasn't been easy, but I would say it has been worth it. The opportunities I've had to meet others with the same thing, to share my story, and the things its taught me...all this has blessed my life so much. From a young age it has taught me so much about people, and how to love people. It has refined in me a depth of understanding that every single person is facing their own battle. Even though I forgave that silly young boy on the bus, I often remember the things he has said to me. It has been hard to over come those words, especially when they are somewhat true and apart of me. My face is sort of flatter, my nose is crooked, and my lips aren't really full and they are uneven on each side. But that's me. And it's not going to change very much, so I might as well get comfortable with it. It's kind of weird, I imagine my face much different then it really is....something I haven't really told anyone before is that sometimes it's comforting to look in the mirror because I see how really not that bad it is...but when I'm out and about in public perhaps my insecurities horribilize my crooked features. We women are the hardest on ourselves.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: love YOU. And FORGIVE the people who hurt you. And people change. And be grateful that whatever it is, that it's not worse. Things could ALWAYS be worse. And be grateful to be alive! Don't hold yourself back or down because you think your face is too flat, your nose is too crooked, you're too fat, you're too pale, you're too short, you're too tall, your skin isn't perfect, your clothes aren't good enough, whatever! Do the best and be happy with what you've got.
I'd take having a craniofacial disorder any day over so many other problems people have to deal with. Even people on this C.R.O.W.N project, I look at them thinking wow they are so amazing and strong I would never be able to do that with their grace. You are strong. The Lord truly fits the back to carry the burden placed upon it. In the end, because of what this journey has taught me, I can honestly say that if I had been given the choice to be born with a cleft or not, insecurities, teasings, braces, and all....I would choose to have the cleft lip and pallet all over again.