Today, I’m giddy about welcoming my friend Marcia Kendall to my blog. I sometimes have the privilege of reading and reviewing books for other writers, and this one came to me recently. I knew it would be really, really good, but I hadn’t found time to review it yet, so I asked Marcia. And in her kindness and usual giving spirit, she wrote this for me. Enjoy.
I read A Different Beautiful by Courtney Westlake in less than twelve hours. These sentences from her introduction are the reasons why:
But when my husband, my son, and I welcomed our daughter into our family, our world was not turned upside down.
When something is turned upside down, it falls apart.
But not our world. Our world was shaken up. When you shake something, only the strongest pieces remain standing. The weak pieces fall to the wayside.
And through this, we came to realize how unimportant those weak pieces were that fell apart and fell off—pieces of our lives that were not priorities, that didn’t matter.
Her honest stories brought me into her world. I realized that something as simple as painting her daughter’s nails required a safety negotiation in her mind.
This book taught me about harlequin ichthyosis and the special care it requires. Courtney’s explanation of how they lovingly serve their daughter, Brenna, reminded me of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. This made me question what in my life would remind people of that…this proved to be a very challenging question.
Her story is not an easy one as you will come to understand after you read about the crisis she experienced at Christmas shortly after her daughter’s birth, but it is a story of faith and of hope:
A few days after Brenna was born, a family member said to me and Evan, “I haven’t talked to God in years…but I’ve actually been praying for Brenna.” In that moment, I began to feel my worry transform into a faithful trust in God’s purpose for her very significant life.
With each [blood gas] draw, there came a very slight improvement. It was so slight that it was not much to base any hope on, but that’s the thing about hope: we always reach for it no matter the circumstances.
Faith doesn’t necessarily come from answered prayer or miracles or met expectations. No, what I have found is that faith comes from trust in God’s will and God’s greatness regardless of what the world tells us we should believe. And sometimes we must fight every day to maintain that trust as the world pushes against it.
And I think many of us who have experienced tragedy or grief can relate in part to the moment we must face the realization that we did “everything right” but things turned out differently than expected.
We did everything we knew to do to deliver a strong and healthy child, and our daughter was still one of the sickest babies in the NICU. We did everything right, and we still faced so much uncertainty about being able to take our baby home.
When I picked up this book, I expected a memoir. What I didn’t expect was to be taught how to live in a more beautiful way. Courtney did something that is rarely seen, she taught the reader simple, concrete ways of how we can be more sensitive to visual differences. This is something that is important for all of us, and I immediately put the book down and taught my own children.
And while she is an effective teacher, she is also a humble one as she wrote of her own defensiveness, “I failed to see the real issue at hand because I chose to become defensive instead of exploring the heart of the matter.”
For our family, we now know a different beautiful, a beautiful that the world might struggle to see or understand, but those of us who know and love Brenna have gratefully been given the gift of understanding this different beautiful.
This kind of transformation comes from the personal choices we make in our lives. Every time we decide to write our story as one that is positive and good, every time we turn a setback into a comeback, every time we choose to praise and be grateful even in the hard, and every time we meet another person’s eyes with kindness, that’s when we are learning how to truly live a life of celebration.
I recently read a tweet, “Think how different we and the world would be if we approached every new situation with two goals: listen and learn.” I suggest we start with this book.
Here is my favorite line from the book, “The Lord has a narrow focus…one focus. Our hearts.” Well, Courtney Westlake, your heart is certainly beautiful.
Courtney has been writing since she was young, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Writing became the way she processed a whole new frightening and beautiful world as her family learned how to care for Brenna…and learned how to truly celebrate this difficult and wonderful life. She began this blog in 2011 when Brenna was just four days old, after she had been diagnosed at birth with a very rare and severe skin disorder. Her children’s book That’s How You Know was released in 2013.
You can read more about Courtney here and more about the Westlakes’ story here. If you’re interested in having Courtney speak at your event, read more information here. And if you buy the Kindle version by August 31, it’s on sale for just $2.99!