Chris caught the flu near the beginning of my second trimester with Asha. At the time our home was under construction in an attempt to restore decades of mold and wood rot that we unknowingly inherited. Our first house, once a hopeful purchase, had turned into a homeowner’s nightmare, and we could not wait to repair it and leave.
Doing my best to stay away from the dreaded flu virus, I made myself a pallet upstairs in the spare room. I laid on the twin-size mattress resting on the floor without a frame, amongst the displaced belongings from our living room and office. As I waited for sleep to commence, I texted Chris, who was quarantined in a room downstairs. I missed him, our bed, and the feeling of comfortability.
Our conversation verged from saying goodnight to lingering in each other’s company. Our exhausted selves found humor in the situation, as we pondered our strange journey. I informed Chris of the SunChips I brought upstairs, just in case the Tamiflu caused my pregnant belly nausea, and we quietly laughed, texting LOL.
Strangely enough, at that exact time we were restoring The Anchor House from extensive flood damage following Hurricane Matthew. It was a season of rebuilding our homes, or at least I told myself that to give the holy mayhem a sense of lightning. I distinctly remember feeling ruptured. I was befriending my newly pregnant body as I was adjusting to living with our home under construction and our ministry stalled due to a devastating flood. It’s interesting what we do when something significant changes or turns out differently than we purposed and planned.
At the time my feelings were fresh to the perception of motherhood. Considering all of the shifting tides ahead of me, I most dreaded pregnancy stretch marks that might invade my vigorous skin. I genuinely feared the traces that would denote my body as imperfect and ugly. I felt concerned they’d ruin my concept of beauty. Older women told me to cover myself in cocoa butter, to rub it in morning and night to prevent horrid stretch marks. So, I followed suit, dousing my growing legs, belly, breasts, butt, and thighs in special lotions to help my skin stretch without marks.
Despite my most vain effort, the expanding of my body started to leave traces, beginning in the second trimester. The first marks appeared while I was living upstairs, away from my flu-ridden husband. At first sight of the purplish-gray streaks painted across my exposed breasts, I felt shame and disappointment that my body did not concur with the treatment plan. I stared at my quickly changing shape with a sense of betrayal. No matter how much cocoa butter I rubbed in, the stretching transmitted bold marks on my body and my heart.
Since Asha’s birth, my perspective has shifted. I now look at my stretch marks with pride and awe. Stretch marks are beauty marks, tales of life that embrace our bodies and remind us of the feminine strength the grew and ushered our babies into this world.
Stretch marks are a sacred testimony of our becoming as women and mothers.
I’ve found the same to be true for the unseen impressions left on my heart from navigating the precarious situations of life. It’s rare to choose to undergo suffering, yet it’s unavoidable. I never dreamed of restoring two homes simultaneously while carrying my baby and pioneering a brave ministry. The experience was exhausting, yet it grew my courageous spirit and tenacious soul like no other.
There was a time I blissfully believed that if I prayed in a particular way and crossed off my Christian works, God would bless me and omit suffering from my life. I’ve found the opposite to be true. There is no amount of prayer, fasting, or good works that can make up a spiritual magic potion to avoid suffering. Instead, the task is to embrace the cup and drink in the growth that comes. Just as we cannot stretch without marks, we cannot grow without pain.
It’s our choice to own our stories, scars, and marks with an attitude of reverence for what we created, who we loved, and how we endured. These ebenezers of our evolution serve as markers for surviving and living to tell the story.
Anna Smith is Co-Founder of Restore One and serves as an advisory board member. Restore One will soon open The Anchor House, the first shelter in the nation designed to meet the needs of sex trafficked and sexually exploited American boys. Anna has a resilient passion to see sex trafficking victims experience true healing and restoration. In her spare time, Anna enjoys biking with her husband Chris, reading, cooking, throwing pottery, running and yoga. Learn more about Restore One here.