She calls me Auntie and wraps her bony arms about my neck hugging me awkwardly over all the tubes snaking out of her belly. Lips chapped, chipped nail polish flaking, wispy bits of hair poking out of her disheveled braids, she sits back into her wheelchair content to snuggle her beloved stuffed penguin, Waddles.
Mama, can I push my button, please?
Constantly fighting belly pain from sources that I don’t completely understand and could never articulate here, Maya has a button from which pain medication is regulated. It is a button that she pushes often, a reminder that her pint-sized 15-year-old body is continuously coping with discomfort.
Pushing through the cramps, complaints never exiting her mouth, Maya thinks only of getting to the floor to play games with her visiting cousins — my daughters. We help her out of her wheelchair and set her 40-pound backpack on the carpet beside her, the contents a TPN pump pushing unremittingly the life-sustaining medicines and nourishment through the tubes and into her body.
The children play and laugh.
Maya has a stack of fabric squares — fifty pieces, maybe? — all different colors and designs. My two-year-old has a small stack, too, part of a fashion game she shows to Maya.
Intent, Maya eyes the new material.
Her long fingers glom onto this fresh treasure; she wants to keep it forever and make it hers. Counting the pieces, she organizes and categorizes and systematizes. Fiercely.
Clinically obsessive and compulsive, Maya’s struggle to unhand the toy is real and profound.
But her mom handles it as discreetly as possible, skillfully and gently redirecting attention to a pre-school game while simultaneously removing the tempting treasure and checking the pump and adding more medicine and evaluating energy levels and wondering whether or not she needs to put Maya to bed at barely 6 PM.
Brokenness on display — her tubes and pump, her obsession and compulsion, her blindness and weakness, her physical frailty and mental simplicity — Maya’s body epitomizes my brokenness and yours, a brokenness we masterfully mask but which special people like Maya find impossible — and unnecessary — to hide.
Because brokenness is not something upon which Maya dwells — neither her own nor anyone else’s; it just is.
She focuses instead upon that which she finds to be exquisite: butterflies and rainbows, “her” color purple and pickle-flavored Pringles, postcard collections and My Little Pony.
She thrills at the thought of a hospital stay, knowing that she’ll get to see her friends — the nurses and doctors and surgeons who know her by name, who know her affinity for fairies and soft fuzzy blankets. She delights in the possibility of nibbling a McDonald’s french fry or licking a Dum-Dum sucker, rare opportunities to count each taste because any “real” food is a treat.
And though her brokenness is blatant, her splendor sparkles loud as words such as these come tumbling from her heart:
I have the best life ever. The only thing I don’t have is ‘super-stretching caterpillar power,’ but that’s okay. I have everything else I need!
Bonded to Maya’s brokenness is a beauty made brighter juxtaposed against her 23-page list of ailments. Maya is broken and beautiful… like us all.
You and I — we — live in a broken world raised by broken parents who raised broken children who became broken us who in turn raise broken families.
No manner of masterful masking can ever completely veil our brokenness; there is no human fix. There is only Jesus.
Like Maya, we can accept our brokenness as something that just is. Like Maya, we can think about “whatever is true… honorable… just… pure… lovely… commendable, [excellent]… [and] worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).
There is One upon whom our meditation fits every single one of these descriptions, however, and His name is Jesus.
Perfect in every way and yet choosing to be broken on our behalf, made beautiful in spite of (because of?) His suffering — Jesus intimately understands and gently beckons us to unmask our brokenness. He wants nothing more than for us to recognize and accept our broken state and turn to Him who can heal our hurts, fix our fallibility, wash us as white as snow and reconnect us to the Father.
And that? That is beautiful indeed.
Love, from one broken and beautiful friend to another,