I read a story recently that will always stay with me. It went something like this. A doctor was writing about his mother, a woman he greatly admired. In her youth, she was beautiful, and at the London Conservatory of Art where she studied, the male students vied for the privilege of painting her. She moved to India with her husband to perform missionary work, and after many years of fulfilling service, her husband suddenly died of blackwater fever. When this doctor saw his mother upon her return she was so disfigured from her grief he vowed never to love a woman so much if that is what love does to a person. Against the advice of her family, she returned to India and found herself again through her missionary work. Her life was one that all of us would consider grueling. The conditions in which she lived and the intense daily physical demands of her work took their toll. At the age of seventy-five, she suffered a major hip fracture. Her son begged her to retire, but she still returned to her precious hill village in India. Her response was, “Why preserve this old body if it's not going to be used where God needs me?”
“For Mother, pain was a frequent companion, as was sacrifice. I say it kindly and in love, but in old age Mother had little of physical beauty left in her. The rugged conditions, combined with the crippling falls and her battles with typhoid, dysentery and malaria had made her a thin, hunched-over old woman. Years of exposure to wind and sun had toughened her facial skin into leather and furrowed it with wrinkles as deep and extensive as any I have seen on a human face. Evelyn Harris of the fancy clothes and the classic profile was a dim memory of the past. Mother knew that as well as anyone – for the last twenty years of her life she refused to keep a mirror in her house. And yet with all the objectivity a son can muster, I can truly say that Evelyn Harris Brand was a beautiful woman, to the very end.”
The last time he saw her in her village, he was left with such a strong impression of her mother's impact on the people she loved and the love they had for her in return. The faces of the people she tirelessly served glowed with trust, affection and total devotion.
“To them, and to me, she was beautiful. Granny Brand had no need for a mirror made of glass and polished chromium; she could see her own reflection in the incandescent faces around her.”
The lesson and legacy she left to her son was that by giving away one's life, that is where one finds it. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Gandhi's version was, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Both messages are similar and unequivocally true. When one attempts to “find” oneself, they will ultimately fail. I don't believe that we have the capacity to look at ourselves objectively and see what is really there. Granny Brand didn't need mirrors to see herself, because her true value and self-worth were reflected in the faces of those she served and loved. I think that our relationships serve as our mirrors. When we devote ourselves to our spouses and children, our selfless service ignites a small fire within us. The more we serve others, the brighter that light becomes until it fills us completely. And only when we have that sort of backlighting, only then can we start to see who we are. If we don't have family around us to serve and devote our lives to, it is like trying to figure out what we look like without the benefit of a mirror.
I did the soul-searching, trying-to-find-myself thing in my 20s. I lived alone and suffered bouts of depression. It took me awhile, but I did finally figure it out. Finding Christ certainly helped. No, actually it was essential. I was finally happy and whole, but wanting to marry and start a family. I knew that that was the missing part of my life that I needed. And it's no secret to my family and friends that I had the perfect marriage. We served each other tirelessly and selflessly. And by growing our family with three children we were given the opportunity to serve even more. And, oh yes, I have found myself. Even though I am no longer with a spouse, and feel a bit disorientated without having a husband to care for, I am still whole. I continue to serve my children daily, and they continue to ignite my light from within. I remarked often during my husband's cancer journey that, “Thank God my children are small.” Not for their sake, but for mine. The constant demands of caring for three young boys kept me moving. It kept me focused on something outside of my own grief. And I am so very grateful for that. And although I am certainly guilty of looking in the mirror WAY too much to make sure I look okay, I can also see my self-worth in the smiles of my sons. And that is the only reflection that matters.