I have scars… I have terrible scars.

I have lived with the shame of their presence, embarrassed by the fact that my body was indeed ugly… this was my secret… my private shame. Not only did I hate the appearance of them, they were also painful reminders of my childhood, the surgeries, and the scorn.

See I was born with a large birthmark that covered my entire back. It was deemed precancerous, so at the ages of 4 and 6 years old, I had to undergo invasive surgery where they literally removed all the skin on my back and what remained of my torso was used for skin grafts. So I was left with severe scars that cover 40% of my body.

I became skilled at hiding my scars, concealing my truth, proficient at pretending… yet underneath I had a secret truth, and that truth was ugly.

As hard as it was for me to drop the cover and reveal my scars, and not just my recent tattooed version, but the actual scars that I have lived with; I did…. against every instinct, I unveiled my secret… because my scars are my story, my reality, and I would never truly be authentically me if I continued to hide them.

As a child, my shame and the hatred of of my scars consumed me, shaped and manipulated how I saw myself and at 14 years old I attempted suicide.

To survive, I learned to put up a “lovely” façade, a “pretty” image for the world to see, petrified my actual angry and disfigured truth might be exposed… is how I existed. I safeguarded and protected myself from the rejection I knew that would come if my ugliness was exposed.

My scars not only marked me physically, but spiritually and emotionally.

Yet, I have learned that these scars are really not what defines me. I am more than my scars. I am a daughter, a wife, a friend, a mother. I am a woman who knows the love of a man, who saw my scars and didn’t leave or turn away, but reached down and kissed them… because he loved me, all of me.

I am a woman who has loved so deeply, beyond what I thought my heart could hold, transformed by the moment I first held my children.

I am not the only one who has terrible scars.

See, I know firsthand how deeply our scars can mar us. They can effect everything we do, how we interact with people, and more importantly how we feel about our self. Yet, I have learned that it was me who labeled myself ugly. It was me who rejected myself before I ever was rejected by anyone else.

I have learned that I could be loved not in spite of my scars, but with my scars, and even because of my scars. I have learned that I could love myself and see that my scars reveal not my shame, but that I survived and lived. My beauty is my heart, my faith, my resilience, my failures and my victories. My beauty is my perfection and my imperfection, because each is part of that authentic me.

Today, I have an amazing tattoo that covers the scar on my back. That tattoo has given me liberty I never knew I could have, both emotionally and even spiritually.

I am scarred beautiful. My scars to me now are no longer a vision of the hurt of painful procedures and shame of being damaged from infancy, but a beautiful symbol of my life.

I have scars on my body, but also scars of tragic mistakes and painful trials, but I can honestly say, just like the tattoo that now covers my back, God has taken the very ugly things in my life, the very angry and transformed its canvas with His own artistic hand into something beautiful… I am grateful for each stroke of His hand.

God gave me a vision of that little girl on that hospital bed lying naked, and literally skinned, and He showed me how He took my spirit in His arms, allowed me to leave the agony and pain I was in, by holding me close against His heart. He showed me how He touched my terrible wounds, He sealed them and today I no longer have that mark of cancer, but I have the mark of my healing.

I am grateful for each scar, because my scars were the catalyst to my humility and my victory. I’m grateful for every failure that taught me to get back up and try again, each lesson and changed perspective. Ultimately I have learned to love me, to appreciate the unique and unmatchable me… even with my scars.

I know I am not the only person who has wounds. It is this reason I share my story.

Each of us battle scars. They can score us, change us, damage us, and even describe us… but we can also see them as the symbol of having lived, survived, that we grew, we loved, and have been loved.

Scarred Beautiful is not just about my story. It is our story. Each of us have scars. They may be physical, they may be emotional. Some may be self-induced or some, moments of great tragedy, victims of horrific evil. Yet it is possible to find beauty in our scars, to allow our scars to represent our victory, the fact that we learned, we overcame and healed. Together we can see our scars as God sees them, we can recognize that our scars are our beautiful and what is more powerful, it is through our scars we can offer hope to those who feel hopeless.

-Andrea Casteel Smith, author of Scarred Beautiful