I’m just getting home from taking photographs of a friend. This wasn’t your normal portrait setting as we were taking the photos in her bathroom. The two of us weren’t alone, we were joined by both our spouses. They both helped her get undressed.
Without any other background you might think Jamie and I have become too free. But this particular undressing does have a background. My friend was taking off her bandages for the first time after having a double mastectomy. She asked the three of us to be with her for support and to capture her journey in photos.
Jamie was helpful cutting off the bandages and afterwards re-wrapping her. We marveled later how our jobs (my photography and storytelling alongside her nursing) are fitting hand in glove these days. The woman’s husband rose to the occasion with gentleness and strength. Our friend slowly took off the loosened bandages and observed her chest in the mirror.
Mastectomies aren’t pretty. None of us pretended that what we were seeing was something other than it is. Her breasts are no longer there. In their place are large horizontal scars, some sagging skin that was saved for reconstruction, and two drainage tubes.
She cried, she touched, she turned and showed. She made comments both about the severity of her scars as well as how it wasn’t as bad as what she imagined it could be. She turned to her husband and he grabbed the drainage bags and pretended he was squeezing them like air pumps. “You look a little deflated there honey; let me help pump these back up!” We all laughed.
There was sorrow, but there was no pity. There was healthy laughter, but no feigned glee. She faced her reflection and accepted her image today without shame.
She is surviving. She is stunning. Jamie and I love this naked, broken and healing couple.
Two other friends dropped by to see me this week on two different occasions. One was male, one was female. Their stories are different but their responses were the same. They got naked; not physically – the surgeries taking place on these two aren’t to their bodies – but emotionally and truthfully they revealed themselves to me.
Their stories are personal and are not mine to share. That they have let me in to observe their healing processes is humbling and inspirational for me.
There is a fear to being real. There is this agreed upon ‘appropriate’ time to get naked (whether it be physically or emotionally) and it usually isn’t in front of a group, a person of the opposite gender, or a man holding a camera and/or writing pen. But though most of us might have suggestions where this kind of vulnerability should take place, most of us don’t ever do it. Why? Well for one reason those places that are supposed to be safe usually aren’t.
- At home? – possibly, but some of the harshest judgments can also be found here
- With family? – it has potential, yet some of the deepest wounds result from here
- With firends? – hopefully, but we all know we have friends would use our nakedness against us
- At church? – you’d think so, you’d believe so, but especially not here – because the reality is many people feel like the standards that are held up for leaders and by leaders are unobtainable. Which in turn makes God come across as unapproachable
I’m not taking pot shots at organized religion; I am simply stating what I am being told by these others who are on the inside. Both of these friends are leaders in the high echelons of their various congregations – churches that I wouldn’t hesitate inviting people to attend- yet both of them whispered the same thing to me, “If they really knew me at my church, they wouldn’t accept me, love me, or understand.”
And the very fact that some of you, when you read that line, tried to figure out what secrets they could possibly have that would make them feel that way – instead of asking yourself the question of why they didn’t come to you… well, that may be your answer.
We aren’t talking about sin that would get them fired; we are talking about shame that steals their identity and masks their beauty.
When we face our reflections in the mirror and our reaction is to quickly cover up before any one else sees our scars it is because we live in fear. And when we believe that grace is conditional, our image of ourselves is masked in shame.
And this is a cancer that is killing us.