Strong in the Broken Places

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” – Hemingway

Just months ago, I was repulsed by my body.

My arms were thin as twigs and barren of muscle, hanging from a bumpy, pale torso—bumpy from the ribs that protruded, the port-a-cath that sat beneath pockmarked skin, the rubber feeding tube above my belly button. Below my torso: thighs striped with purple skin due to extreme doses of steroids. Above: Thin, brittle hair and stained teeth; victim to caustic medication.

Holding my kintsugi bowl, five months post-transplant.

These imperfections were physical evidence of cystic fibrosis and I hated them for that. I refused to go shirtless at the beach, hunched my shoulders forward to make the port stick out less, sucked my stomach in so the feeding tube couldn’t be seen through my shirt, avoided doing work that would make my muscle weakness evident. Most of my friends knew I had cystic fibrosis but I always tried to hide how severe it was. My disease made me feel weak and ugly.

The evidence of my cystic fibrosis is still there today, with slight changes. My ribs poke out a little less, there are now a couple two-inch scars where my port was (we removed it when it got infected in June and almost killed me), my hair is even thinner, my muscle has further deteriorated from weeks in the hospital. I also have a PICC line (IV) in my right arm. The biggest of “slight changes” is a gigantic scar stretching across my chest and four round scars—two on each side of my rib cage. Evidently, removing/inserting lungs and chest tubes requires some cutting here and there.

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Hopefully, I don’t get many more large scars for a long, long time

While I don’t necessarily have less marks of the “diseased life,” my perspective on what they mean has shifted. I’ve begun to think of these marks as symbols—evidence of strength rather than weakness. The scars and imperfections are reminders of endurance and battles I probably shouldn’t have survived. Even at times I felt like giving up, my body kept struggling through: matter over mind, for once.

A year ago, I was in the dumps about how broken my body was—my ears and lungs were steadily shutting down. Someone anonymously left a blue ceramic bowl on my desk at work to cheer me up. The bowl was “broken,” but gold filled the cracks through kintsugi (“golden joinery”). Kintsugi is a Japanese art: broken pottery is repaired with gold, silver, or platinum. With these careful fixes, the pottery is even more beautiful than when it was whole. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to undergo the same treatment as the pottery. However, the cracks across my broken chest are filled with purple scar tissue rather than gold.

I’ve found beauty in that symbolism, and in my body as a result. I wouldn’t go as far as saying my body’s current state is my ideal. I still have a long way to go in repairing things and building muscle (that topic will be covered in my next post). But at least I am learning to be happy with the body God has given me. It’s taken me far, far, far and proven that it’s not as weak as I previously judged it to be.

Including a photo of my body is a big step for me in having positive body image. I don’t want to be ashamed anymore.

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A couple former sites of chest tubes, plus the bruising that still remains. Above is part of the transplant scar: cut in “clamshell” fashion and sewed up beautifully by my amazing surgeon.

P.S. Scars are cool and make ya’ look tough, right?

Want to donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to help find a cure? Check out my Great Strides page! Click here.

8 thoughts on “Strong in the Broken Places

  1. I love this post. Thank you so much. God is working in you and through you. I’m so grateful for your wisdom, and I always learn deep truth from reading your blogs. Thanks for being so open and transparent with your story and your struggles.

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  2. Sometimes people cover the scars with beautiful tattoos. Google scars & tattoos & images. The bowl is a great symbol of your struggles. You should be proud of them. Only survivors have scars. Those who don’t survive don’t get them.

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  3. Good job Brad. Your pics look like mine, your story reads like mine too. I love the story of the Japanese pottery. I am going to try to find some. Your scars are the same as mine and if I get a tattoo it will be of a phoenix and the wings will cover the scars and like the phoenix we shall rise again from the ashes.

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    1. Thanks, Rob! Really looking forward to your tattoo! I need to ask my doctors if they’re ok with me getting one too. I always said I would get a laurel wreath tattoo somewhere to represent victory if a cure for CF was found. I would say surviving this transplant process was victory enough (:

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  4. You write so beautifully and poignantly. Thanks so much for sharing your joys and struggles with us. Your openness and vulnerability is key to what we all need in life in order to connect and find joy in life. Thanks for modeling it for us.

    Liked by 1 person

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