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SALT LAKE CITY — Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Evanston Regional Hospital Women’s Conference along with Stephanie Nielson, the keynote speaker. I knew of her, but didn’t really know her until we met, and I listened and learned.
Three things struck me about her that will stay with me.
1. Humility is beautiful
First, she and her husband were two of the most humble, gracious, and aware people I’ve met. From the moment I bumped into them backstage before they spoke, to the end of their talks, both of them radiated a bone-deep gratitude and graciousness for all they had.
That inner radiance was enveloping — it wasn’t until after I hugged Stephanie that I realized I hadn’t noticed her scars. Ironically, I had registered her gorgeous blue jacket and cute hairstyle and lovely eyes, but everything else came after — not as a standout, but just as part of taking in who she was.
Then she spoke specifically about her experience as a plane crash survivor and burn victim. Burned over 80 percent of her body, skin grafts were excruciating and slow because, as it turns out, you can’t donate skin. It has to come from your own body. For Stephanie, they would graft small pieces then send them to a lab back East, incubate and grow them, then send them back to be sewn into her body and apparently stretched.
She spoke of changing her burn dressings, an incredibly painful process that, as I remember from another woman’s experience, literally requires scrubbing the touch-tender wounds with a scrub brush. She said the pain was so overwhelming she would make herself pass out just to not feel it anymore. She spoke of not having a high chance of even living; then, being told if she did, she would only be able to do the most minimal things in life and at home.
2. A mother's love is powerful
But Stephanie had one thing they didn’t understand — the second thing I learned from her: she had a heart-pounding determination to “get my old job back — to be a mom.” I learned that the power of a mother’s love and desire to personally nurture and raise her children is not just an ethereal power we know and accept. But that it’s a force to be reckoned with, one that can literally motivate someone to walk, and live, and love, and survive, despite the odds.
3. "Beautiful heartbreaks" are a part of life
Which leads me to the third thing that struck me: at the end of her presentation, after gently and humbly sharing the horrifying months and years of recovery she has endured and will continue in some form to deal with for the rest of her life, she said this: “I would get back in that plane again, to become the person I am and what I’ve learned.”
That’s an incredible statement.
I realized that this is exactly what life’s experiences are about: life-changing, heart-breaking, soul-wrenching experiences that make us dig deep and open up.
And yet, as I pondered the conviction of it, I realized that this is exactly what life’s experiences are about: life-changing, heart-breaking, soul-wrenching experiences that make us dig deep and open up. Trials and triumphs that expand our emotions, our understanding, and our ability to think, feel and love.
As I walked away from her presentation, I considered the change in my heart. Just that morning I had complained to my husband about puffy old lady eyes and new wrinkles. After listening to Stephanie’s plea to appreciate and love our miraculous, healthy bodies, I felt a shift within.
My thanks to Stephanie and her sweet husband, Christian, for walking this path and inspiring so many. To share our gratitude for all she’s done to promote and support motherhood and its value, we presented her with one of our “Motherhood Matters” gift baskets.
Meanwhile, I hope you will be kinder to your body and self, and to others in the same way. And to more fully appreciate that the “beautiful heartbreaks” that we experience more deeply and meaningfully make us who we need to be.
Connie Sokol is an author, speaker, TV contributor and mother of seven. Contact her at www.conniesokol.com.