by John O’Leary
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett
As a family, we never discussed the fire that burned down our house and nearly took my life. We endured it, survived it, and moved past it. We chose not to be defined by it.
That is, until my parents sat in the first row of a church on November 22, 2003.
Their oldest son, Jim, stood on the altar in a tuxedo, the best man for their younger (and better-looking) son, John.
Watching their boys together, with their four daughters as bridesmaids, and a gorgeous woman in white named Beth about to join the family, they realized something for the first time: The terrible fire from years earlier wasn’t the end. The tragedy we’d endured as a family decades ago had a happy ending.
The fire did not take away the life their little boy could make for himself. Contrarily, it led perfectly to this place, this church, this altar, this union, this day.
The therapy and surgeries and amputations and scars and challenges culminated in a blowout celebration. It was miracle upon miracle upon miracle…looking back over the last two decades.
At the end of the service, as Beth and I walked together down the aisle, my parents were overflowing with gratitude to my doctors, to their family and friends who supported them, and most of all to God, whom we credit with the miracle of not only my survival, but an incredible life just beginning.
Less than a week after my wedding, they were writing a book about their experience years earlier. It was their story as parents experiencing the devastating news that their son had been burned. It was their story about months of waiting-room anguish, support from the community, and a miraculous triumph.
In the early stages of their book writing, I was far from encouraging. I didn’t believe there was a story to tell and encouraged them not to dredge up the past. I offered my best arguments against it. Who will read your book? Why would they care? Do you guys even know how to use a computer? I suggested they keep the story in their hearts.
They wrote their book anyway.
They called it Overwhelming Odds.
They ignored my advice.
And in doing so, they changed my life.
Imagine this: the mask you’ve so carefully constructed to hide behind your entire life is removed. You know, the one that tells the world you’re fine, you’re all good, your kids are perfect, you have no problems, there are no addictions, no worries, no scars? Imagine that it is taken gently off your face, set carefully on a table, and smashed with a massive sledgehammer.
I felt naked.
But as I continued to read, I realized something else.
For the first time I understood that I wasn’t the only one burned in the story. For the first time I came to understand all that my family went through. My brother, Jim, was injured physically and emotionally. My sisters were prescribed sleeping pills because of witnessing me burning in front of them, and then there were the months of constant fear that they’d lose me for good. Oh, and my parents. My poor parents. As difficult as my physical pain was, the emotional toll on them was, in so many ways, much worse.
Not to mention our neighbors!
Imagine knowing that your story somehow galvanized a community into action. Our neighbors in the suburbs of St. Louis literally opened up their homes to my siblings as we waited for the house to be repaired; the community raised money, donated blood, offered prayers, brought food.
I had never fully considered all the people who came together to make the miracle a reality. And imagine, after reading the last page of your tragic story, seeing it differently, clearly for the first time. As if cataracts had been cut away, I understood, “Oh my gosh . . . it was all a gift.”
All of it was a gift!
The fire led perfectly to where I am today. The challenges led to experiences that shaped me, the character that drives me, the faith that guides me, the life around me, and to the possibility in front of me. No, it wasn’t always perfect.
But it was my life.
It was my story.
And it was time to claim it.
After reading my parents’ book, the scars that I had been covering up for twenty years were transformed into badges of honor.
The scars remained, yes. But they were there because the wounds had healed.
They were evidence of a miracle.
Covering them up denied others the chance to see them.
After I read my parents’ book, I turned the book over and stared at the picture on the cover. The picture of me as a kid with my scars and splints was still there. But now, I saw something I had never seen before. I no longer saw a little boy at the end of a journey he had survived, but instead at the start of one that he could not wait to begin.
Shifting my perspective on that picture from the past and the scars still present served as an inflection point that positively transformed my life. It shaped how I viewed the current reflection in the mirror, interact with others, and engaged in life. It elevated how I viewed current challenges and future opportunities.
My friends, we all have been burned. We’ve all endured heartache and letdowns. We’ve failed in business, stumbled in finances, tripped in relationships, and struggled physically. We all have a story. It’s just usually not the story we are telling the world.
In order to best connect with others, uncover our purpose and live up to the fullness of our promise, it is critical to embrace the scars of yesterday. No, we don’t accept them as horrible reminders of how lousy the past was and the litany of mistakes made. Instead, we wear them as badges of honor ― celebrating all we’ve survived, the lessons learned, the character developed, the faith fortified, and the litany of reasons we still to have to be grateful.
So if you want to embrace the one perspective that is certain to transform current challenges into opportunities, look no further than your past. For in it you’ll discover that every experience, adversity, and even tragedy has led perfectly to where you are today.
And today, with that perspective (regardless of whether or not you always intentionally chose the path you walked in the past) you are free to choose the manner in which you walk your path going forward.
This is your day to wake up from accidental living and embrace the gift that is your life.
This is your day to live inspired.
Can you think of a personal example of how your scars have strengthened you?
Anything else to share?
Please tell us about it. We would love to hear from YOU in the comments section below. 🙂
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Author Bio: When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now a #1 national bestselling author and inspirational speaker teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. This post is an excerpt from John’s first book, ON FIRE: The Seven Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life which was published in March 2016 by Simon & Schuster & North Star Way. You can learn more about John at JohnOLearyInspires.com.
Photo by: Joshua Earle