Several years ago, my skin underwent a strange transformation. Although I was already inherently pale, my skin began to lose its pigment, and many spots turned even whiter than normal. Simultaneously, some areas on my arms and legs got even darker. From a distance, I probably just look a bit freckled, but up close, you can see the uneven coloration quite distinctly.
Although this new development did not cause me any physical discomfort, it did cause me some emotional discomfort. I felt self-conscious about how I looked, especially in the summertime when the sun darkened the darker spots to an even deeper shade. I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist to make sure nothing serious was going on and to see if she could offer any solutions.
She biopsied both a dark and a light spot, making me feel a bit like a Thanksgiving turkey, although unlike the friendly holiday banter over personal preferences, I didn’t really like either shade of my skin. As one who has had a lot of health issues in my adult life, this new condition felt like adding insult to injury. It felt personal. I had borne up bravely under much worse things, so why did God feel it was necessary to allow this one? I felt a bit sorry for myself.
The biopsy came back clear and I was diagnosed with vitiligo. No cure, and really no known cause, although my existing thyroid autoimmune disease increased my likelihood of developing a second one. Resigning myself to the fact that this was my new normal, I set about facing life unhindered by it. Other than the need to be extra diligent with sunscreen, my life was unaffected. Except for perhaps my self-esteem.
And then last year I spoke on a women’s retreat with a lovely group of ladies who welcomed me into their group and into their hearts. I could have adopted them all, especially a beautiful and precious young woman named Dawn.
I was seated across from her during one of our final meals of the weekend, and she gently reached over and touched the speckled skin on my arms. “My mother had vitiligo,” she commented. “Seeing your skin reminded me of her. I think it’s beautiful.”
The strangest thing happened inside of me in that moment. I literally felt beautiful! I looked down at my arms as though seeing them for the first time and realized how unique they were, the pattern displayed in the splotches, and I felt a strange sort of affection for them.
I’ve never lost that feeling of wonder.
I’ve pondered Dawn’s comments many times in the past year. Each time my heart has been warmed by her kindness, and I feel anew this tender appreciation for my skin. When I look at my arms, they are beautiful to me. I wouldn’t trade them for all the “normal” skin in the world.
Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death.” Dawn used her words to bring life to me that day, completely changing my perspective about something that could have been used to speak death over me. She gave me a gift. And I get the privilege of doing the same for others, should I choose to do so.
Someday when I am gone from this earth, my daughters will see someone with vitiligo, and they will say to the lucky recipient, “My mother had vitiligo. I think it’s beautiful.”