At 16, I knew what perfect meant. After all, I had read the definition in the Encarta Dictionary – and it surely mirrored my perfect life which was simply:
- without faults
- complete and whole
- excellent or ideal
How was my life perfect? I had a large group of friends and never knew the meaning of the word lonely. I was an editor in our school's paper, a very sought-after position. My sister had married, leaving me the heiress to boss around the other kids at home. My school was putting on a big production that I desperately wanted to star in. I knew my chances were good. I lived in a blissful fairytale world. Others thought my life was ideal and so did I. That was five years ago.
And then one morning, the perfect bubble burst while sitting at school in my 11th grade class. I found bumps in my neck. Suddenly, I was in a cold new world of tests and scans and hushed whispers about cancer. I wasn't the Jewish princess of my own comfy palace now; I was imprisoned by a stark new reality, light years from where I'd basked just a day before.
My perfect life was beyond flawed, defiled by tumors spreading in my body, scarred by the chemotherapy and loss of hair, and blemished by my loss of dignity and self-image.
How could it be that I had it all, and then in one frightful morning, all was nothing?
Everything I thought important was gone. I was too weak to go to school, or even have friends come over and visit. I was too depressed to smile and socialize on their level. I gave up my job on the school paper, and my older sister practically lived in my house again, maintaining it while my parents were busy with me. My aspirations to star in the school play faded into the blackness of my perfect past.
There were nights when I stayed up crying, unwilling to accept this cruel joke of fate, the game Someone seemed to be playing with my life. How could it be that I had it all, and then in one frightful morning, all was nothing?
What hurt most was my new perception of myself as imperfect. People's comments and faces made it clear that I was not like them, but I knew it in my heart, even without others spelling it out for me.
So many things worried me during that time. What of my health in the future? Would I ever be really well again? What of my ability to have children of my own? What would happen when it came time for shidduchim and dating? Who would want to get involved with a damaged, less-than-perfect girl like me?
After the hurt, there came the anger. It was one thing if I had done something to mess up my own life. It was quite another to have it all done for me and not have any say in the matter at all. I was hurt and furious with the One who had done this. I had a million questions – and no answers.
And then one day, I sort of slapped myself upside the head. It was a much-needed ouch – like someone had pinching me out of a self-induced slumber. I cleared away the mental cobwebs of remorse and self-pity and discovered that, while my circumstances were still the same, suddenly I wasn't.
I made a conscious decision to stop measuring everything by the yardstick of a false perfection. I dug out my school dictionary, crossed out some of the definitions there, and added one of my own.
"Perfect is a state of mind," I scribbled, pushing my pen hard into the thin paper of the book, "flaws are what we perceive them to be and one can still see something defective as being truly wonderful."
It was an awkward, amateur definition at best, but it changed the meaning of my existence.
It was a strange new perfect.
Slowly, I came to understand that a perfect day could be the day I had fun with my nurses. A great afternoon was one in which I had enough strength to go outside for a bit. All was right in the world when I got a free day off chemo to go to school. I got to buy an entire new wardrobe after going down a few sizes on chemo, and well, that was perfect too!
It was a strange new perfect, so far from that old fairyland, but I grew up enough to know that fairylands aren't real. If I insisted on living in the palace, I had to deal with the knights and the drawbridges and the moat and the King.
My King was One who had a much larger vision of what the perfect life for me could be. Once, I was content to live as a regular high school kid, but when I looked for and found Him right next to me during that trying time in my life, He let me glimpse a small bit of a greater "perfect" than I had ever dreamed of. I once thought my life was a piece of fabric, but the Almighty showed me that His plan was more like a tapestry. I was only a tiny thread in its embroidered image.
I was growing and changing and evolving as a person. Maybe people saw me as flawed, and maybe I was. All I knew was that God was creating a different version of me that would be perfect for the plan He had for the rest of my life.
Thinking back to the time when I thought my 16-year old life perfect, I know that it was like smiling blindly into a crowd. I was on stage and enjoying every minute of it, but had no idea what it was that I was really doing there. When I had to search for a new meaning to the word perfect, I suddenly saw the faces in the audience, watching me intently for my next move. I reached out to God and found Him already holding my hand. He was standing right up there on stage with me, nodding proudly as I acted my part in His production of my life.
I never thought I needed God with me when my life was going so well. I guess I deserved that wake up call so that I could find a better way of living and recognizing His presence every day.
The other kids I did chemo with thought their lives were ruined forever while I knew mine was just beginning.
It is through these very rips and tears that God's powerful light comes shining through.
That beginning led me to meet the man that would become my husband somewhere down the new road in my life. Divine Providence brought him right to my door. Literally. I met my husband when I was 16 and still trying to find the new meaning of perfect. He joined my quest as he drove me to doctors' appointments and together we discovered that we could create our own perfect world.
And we did. We realized that being healthy and happy was more perfect and important than anything. We understood that if other people didn't want to see what our version of reality was, it was just fine, because it meant more for us! We learned that we each had our past problems; we each had our custom-made mail shirts and helmets that protected us from the rest of the world, but that made us perfect for each other.
The day we learned we could have a healthy baby was the most perfect day of my life until the day he was actually born. When I held him for the first time and kissed his little face, I knew that right then nothing was ever going to get me any closer to perfect. Living with him each day, seeing him smile and grow has added many perfect days to the growing pile.
Today the fabric of my life still sports some rips and tears – like all of us. But over time, I have discovered that it is through these very tears that God's powerful light comes shining through. He's the Master Weaver and He sets the quality standards. So while my silken life might not appear 100% flawless, that's okay. Today it's all really perfect to me.