Elke’s Story – True Beauty
I was born breech birth in Papua New Guinea in the 1970’s. With every push from my mother the umbilical cord kept wrapping itself tighter around my neck. My father eventually had to assist with the birth. He made sure I was not strangled to death whilst the doctor eased my shoulders out of the birth canal. Ultra sound technologies were not available then and much to my parent’s surprise I was born with a cleft lip and partial cleft palate. At three months of age I was flown back to Australia for surgery to repair my cleft lip. This was the first of many surgeries that were in my future.
My parents brought me up in such a way that I never knew that I was different from anyone else. They always told me that I could be anyone or do anything that I dreamed of. Little did they know that other people and children could be cruel and speak words that deeply hurt a heart that was already sensitive to many things. By the time I was 10 years old I was already being bullied by children at school who called me names like ‘pig face’. However, it was not until I started learning to play the flute that I began to realise that I was different from the other children. I was 12 years old and the music teacher told my mother that because my cleft lip prevented me getting the correct embouchure that I should stop taking lessons. My mother was a tenacious woman and was determined that I would not be treated differently to the other children so I continued learning. The teacher was clearly not happy with this and did little to help me.
I found it difficult to settle at primary school. I missed a lot of days due to surgeries and dental appointments and this coupled with the constant teasing from the other children meant that I struggled to fit in. I spent a lot of my time at school in tears. To help me my mother would pick me a spearmint leaf for my pocket to smell every time I missed her or felt that I was going to cry.
The fragrance calmed me and helped me to re-focus.
As I got older I found it increasingly difficult to attend school. Although I was very secure within my family and the certainty of my parents love for me I constantly battled with the sense of feeling ugly, repulsive, distorted and so different to look at compared to everyone else. My friends always considered me strong and confident but deep inside I was crumbling. I was plagued by low self-esteem and complete self-hatred. By 16 years of age I had become bulimic and lost a lot of weight. I just wanted to be thin and attractive to the boys. This was also the year I had major plastic surgery. A piece of bone was taken from my hip and placed at the end of my nose to give my face more structure and improve the flatness of my nose by creating a heightened bridge. I placed all of my hope in the procedure and believed that I would be transformed into a beautiful, young, attractive lady. I was very disappointed with the surgery outcome. In my mind, I still looked like the fat, ugly, pig face I had been labelled as a child. Whenever I looked in the mirror all I saw was how ugly and deformed I looked. As I looked at my scars and misshapen teeth I spoke words of death over myself. I despised the way I looked in every way.
My fat pig nose, my scarred lip, my uneven teeth, my double chin, in my eyes I was the ugliest person ever born.
It was during these same high school years that my parents would drive my siblings and I on a 40km round trip to a Christian youth group. It was here that I found comfort and a sense of belonging. As I came to know Jesus more and more I felt so much love and acceptance from Him. One night when we were all getting prayed for I felt the presence of God trickle over me like a mixture of rain and honey all over my hair and face. It felt like he was washing me completely in His love and power. I was empowered by the Holy Spirit and my life took on new meaning and purpose. The former things were being stripped away and I was walking in the path of His love and grace. I still struggled with very low self-esteem and self-worth so I had to continually fight for freedom in my mind.
I knew that my God loved me and that He formed me in my mother’s womb and created me in the secret places (Psalm 139) but fighting for inner peace was a daily decision for me.
I am older now, a wife and a mother. My relationship with God has grown and matured and how I see myself has changed too. My prayer every day is that people would not see my deformities but instead only see the beauty of Jesus on my face and in my eyes. Now, when I am told that I am beautiful, I quietly chuckle to myself and give God the glory for His miracle in me. I know that what others are seeing is Jesus reflected out of me.