Grabbing onto the gratitude theme for November, I thought I’d review a book I read last month that inspired and made me so grateful for all that I have. This book is Heaven is Here, by Stephanie Nielson. She writes the NieNie Dialogues blog.
Stephanie and her husband, Christian, had the ideal life: Christian had a successful career, Stephanie was a stay-at-home mom to four perfect children, Christian had just received his pilot’s license. But their fairy tale existence came to a burning end in 2008 when the plane they were flying in crashed on landing. Their friend, Doug, died. Christian was burned over 30% of his body. Stephanie was burned over 80% of her body and wasn’t expected to survive.
This book tells her memories of her first year of healing—the depression and heartache as she has to relearn how to do the simplest of tasks once more, like brushing her teeth, or bending a finger…and the hardest thing–looking at herself in a mirror.
I can’t imagine what she went through, but reading this helped me feel some of her feelings as she first looked at her face after several months of refusing to do so. All the skin had been scraped off after the accident because it was burned so bad. Over months and months, the doctors regenerated skin from her good skin and slowly rebuilt her face with skin grafts. It is amazing what the human body can do.
This was my most favorite part of the book. After more than a year of recovery, Stephanie got to meet with a church leader, Jeffrey R. Holland. He told her to be proud of her scars, and then said:
We look for Christ’s scars because they are evidence of what He did for us. They’ll be the first things He shows us when we see Him again. Your scars tell a story, too. Although they may not make you feel attractive, they are a witness of a miracle, that God blessed you to live, and that you have accomplished very difficult things.
This lady is proof that we, as God’s children, can do hard things. She’s one of my new heroes. One of her end quotes really touched me.
My new neck gave me such relief from the constant strain I had been feeling across my face. I was thrilled—until I looked in the mirror. I had traded my hunchback for a swollen, bloated neck that I’d have to live with for a year until the follow-up surgery to tighten the skin again and create a chin. Until then, I had to remind myself—yet again—of all I’d learned about vanity, self-worth, and self-acceptance. I know, now, without a doubt that the true source of happiness, self-worth, and authentic beauty doesn’t come from the outside. Women are constantly being persuaded to want something unachievable, to look younger or thinner and above all to fit in because being different is too painful and embarrassing. I have accepted myself in a world that does not accept me, because I have learned—and more than any of the lessons of my accident, this is the one I wish I could teach everybody—that our hearts matter most. Your heart matters most, so be gentler and more patient with yourself, and their hearts matter most, too, so be kinder and more compassionate to others. It’s a beautiful heart, not a perfect body, that leads to a beautiful life.
After reading her story, I want to do better at having a beautiful heart. That is how to have Heaven Here. There is so much to be grateful for in our lives. Stephanie Nielson showed that in her book. I feel greater compassion for others, more love for my family, and a greater determination to do more good in the world after reading her memoir. I definitely recommend this book to everyone out there who wants an inspirational read.