A visit to burn camp reminds John of the miracle of his scars.
Last week I enjoyed what’s become one of my annual highlights each summer – speaking at Midwest Children’s Burn Camp.
The camp welcomes kids of all age and from all walks of life. These kids share the enduring bond of living with the scars of being burned and the longing for a place where they can be fully accepted. They find that love at camp.
Despite the community fostered during that amazing week, though, these children know eventually camp comes to an end. They must return to their homes and the real world waiting.
One of the most difficult aspects of being burned isn’t the indescribable physical pain of recovery, it’s the reminder of that time that remains embossed on the survivor’s skin. The scars serve as a constant reminder not only of the agonizing struggle endured, but of how different we remain from others because of it.
For burn survivors, scars often make us feel less than, set apart, totally isolated. We seldom discuss this reality, but universally struggle with it.
In the sacred, safe space of camp, though, we can be honest. When I asked what their biggest worry was, one by one they went around the room and repeated the same chorus:
“I’m afraid I’ll be bullied.”
“I know people will make fun of me for how I look.”
“I’m worried I’ll be judged by what’s on the outside.”
“I think people will label me as a freak because I’m different.”
Child after child shared the fear of returning to a world that quickly judges others based on their imperfections and differences.
Until we got to Serenity. She is a young teenage girl and was the last to speak. Without missing a beat, Serenity stood up to share her fear, and what I heard wasn’t what I was expecting. Her fear wasn’t that people would see her scars and judge her—but rather that eventually they wouldn’t.
She shared her fear was that as she grew older, her scars might fade, and what was most unique about her would fade, too.
It was like a tire screech. With her admission, Serenity threw our whole conversation in reverse. The scars—the very ones that we think will be the source of ridicule—can actually be the source of pride and a signal of our specialness.
After her stunningly insightful share, I relayed an instance when I was reminded of that truth by my daughter. Grace was six years old, was seated on my lap and was tracing the outline of a scar on my arm with her little finger. Then she stopped tracing, looked at me and said sweetly,
“You’re so lucky, Dad.”
Now, I’ve been called lucky for a lot of things, but the way my body looks has never been one of them.
When I asked her why, she pointed out to me that the scar that had caught her attention was in the shape of a heart. “Your skin is like art. You get to have different colors and different shapes all over your body. And this one is my favorite. It’s shaped just like a heart. How awesome is that?!”
I looked at my right arm and for the first time in more than three decades saw a perfect heart-shaped scar on it. Grace saw what I’d missed. How awesome is that?!
My friends, you don’t need to be a kid with burns to be worried about how you’ll be perceived by others.
It happens every single day as we carry around our visible—and invisible—scars of life. Our disappointments, indiscretions, and rejections. Our mistakes, our circumstances, our do-overs. Too often we consider them simply painful reminders of what makes us unworthy. But the bumps, bruises, brokenness, ugliness, and scars from our past are simply one part of the story.
Rather than wishing them away or covering them up, why not begin seeing the beauty of compassion, individuality, and courage they reveal? Rather than desiring to be different than we are or angry at the past, why not celebrate the splendor of the life we have today and the limitless possibility that remains for tomorrow?
Rather than desiring to be somehow different than we are, why not embrace with grace and serenity the gift that your life already is?
How awesome is that?
Today is your day. Live inspired.
9 replies on “Grace and Serenity”
I’ve never heard that story from you John! You are incredible but oh that’s sweet Grace❤️❤️❤️❤️
Serenity is on her way to being the next John O’Leary for the next generation. She is inspiring all generations now. Thank you for that precious story.
Love this story and what Serenity and Grace had to share!
I have always been a scar lover. They show the stories of trauma & survival. I had the privilege of hearing you speak, John, at an Arbonne conference in Las Vegas. I cried more than once but especially when you played the piano. Thank you for sharing & inspiring so many. Much love ❤️
A beautiful story. How awesome is your sweet daughter Grace? And Serenity? When I read the title of your Monday inspiration “ Grace and Serenity” I didn’t think it was about two people with those names. I thought it was a story to bring us “grace and serenity.” It was about both! Thank you again John.
John, you are a blessing to so many! Thank you!
What a beautiful story John, and you are right, we all carry invisible scars that we need to find the beauty in. What a wonderful enigma we are, imperfect creatures with scars both seen and unseen, provided with minds that allow us to become whoever we desire.
May we all embark on a journey to find the beauty that resides inside of us, and endeavor to share that beauty with the world.
Thank you John for inspiring us to accept ourselves and to choose to live in grace and serenity!
Oh my gosh. Thank you. Scars come in different ways in each of our lives and Serenity just turned them into a treasure. Thank you.