I have always been fascinated by scars. Scars tell a story. Scars are nature’s tattoos, spontaneously scribbled about our bodies. And wrapped in each piece of fibrous tissue are memories both good and bad, a roadmap of where we have been, and what we have endured, and what we have overcome. And each scar is a reminder that the deepest wounds, the insurmountable pain, the most difficult trauma, is no match for the human spirit. Because what was once a painful and bloody mess has healed from the inside out and in its place is a beautiful reminder that we are strong, and whole and healed.
My first scar occurred before I can even remember. I was two years old, nestled in my booster seat waiting for the food to arrive. Apparently, I was quite the talker (fathom that). I had also not yet learned that it was not polite to tell secrets in front of others. So as I leaned over the table to whisper in my father’s ear, my booster seat slipped out from underneath me and my right eye made friends with the sharp corner of the table. I was quickly taken to the hospital where they stitched me up. I’ve been told that my screams could be heard from miles away, including pleas for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to come rescue me. Needless to say, they never showed up, but what did show up was my first scar, a tiny line at the corner of my right eye.
From the corner of my right eye, the roadmap leads straight to my right rib cage where a circle the size of a dime reminds me of the dreaded chicken pox that invaded my body in 3rd grade. Just thinking about it makes me itch. And in true fashion, while my brother and sister had a much milder case, I was covered from head to toe, including inside my mouth and throughout my hair. It was awful. I remember my mom insisting that I go outside, dressed in only my underwear, so that the sun could help dry out my sores. But when I look at that scar I also feel a sense of love and belonging. I remember getting to stay home from school that week. I remember hanging out with my mom and reading books, and playing outside, and getting the attention that I often craved as a middle child. Such profound emotion from such a tiny scar.
My largest scar to date is hidden from sight and tucked away between my two hips. At the age of 17, after months of pain, I was told I had a very large tumor on my ovary. I was rushed into surgery and when I came out was told that I had endometriosis and may be unable to have children. It was a lot to process as a senior in high school, to be told something so heartbreaking. I remember even at such a young age, feeling somehow less of a woman. Because at 17 my identity as a woman was inextricably linked to my dreams of motherhood and marriage. Who would want to marry me if I couldn’t have kids? The immature thoughts of a young girl in crisis, still unsure of who she was.
And then there is the faint 1-inch scar on my left arm. This is the one I am most proud of because it is a constant reminder that I am stronger than my greatest fear. It’s where the knife entered my body. The knife being held by a desperate young man who had lost all hope and decided that if he could just hurt someone else, maybe it could ease some of his pain. It was the scariest moment of my life, and it would leave invisible scars deep within my soul. And on that day I was robbed of not only my sense of safety but my trust in the goodness of others. For years I struggled with PTSD and fear. I could not be outside alone after dark. My freedom to live had been stripped away and each decision I made was carefully calculated to assume the least amount of risk. Years would pass before I would once again find my freedom. Years would pass before I could see the goodness of others. But I look at that scar now and I hardly recognize that person. And that scar now shouts to me that I am strong and brave, loving and forgiving. And it is a vivid reminder that God showed up for me in the hardest of times and the most practical of ways, as I recall the simple prayers of provision that He answered on a daily basis. And I can now walk daily in the truth that indeed my spirit is not one of fear, but rather power and love.
Nature’s tattoos have certainly had their way with me over the past year. And right now I’ve got wounds that are being bound, wounds that are fresh and in the healing process. And each night as I undress, I stand in the mirror and come face to face with this painful chapter in my life. I sit and stare at my chest, and I feel butchered. I feel sad and weak. And where my breasts once sat are two hard mounds, and across these mounds sit two large scars, still partly covered in scabs, still being held together by a clear thin thread. And I’m thankful for the severed nerves that have cut off all feeling in my chest. There is so much kindness and grace in the numbness. I’m not quite ready to feel yet. I need this time to process. As my body continues to heal from the inside out, as the scabs fall from the wounds and the scars take their rightful place, I am beginning to write my next chapter and map out my next adventure. I’m slowly giving my voice to these new scars. And the wounds of disease and weakness are shaping into scars that will shout of courage and resilience and perseverance. And I will one day look down at my healed chest and know that I am stronger than mastectomies and chemo and cancer.
If you have lived on this earth for more than a year, chances are you also have scars. For life is riddled with skinned knees and sports injuries, broken bones and surgeries, violence and trauma. And while I thank God that the pain is often temporary, I’m grateful that the scars left behind are permanent. I’m grateful that while the pain dissipates, we are left with a permanent reminder of healing and strength. Because the truth is that the deepest and most painful scars are invisible. No one can see the broken heart or bruised spirit. No one can see the soul in despair or the esteem crushed by abuse. No one can see the deep wounds of loss and grief. But the physical scars are left to remind us of our strength and speak truth to the invisible. It’s the permanent scar that reminds us that every wound heals in time. It’s the permanent scar that reminds us that we survived the hardest things that life threw our way. It’s the permanent scar that reminds us that we are stronger than any trauma or adversity. And we are all covered in these beautiful and quiet reminders that we carry with us wherever we go. Some are visible and large, some are hidden behind clothes or in the cracks of our hearts. But each scar is our history, permanently etched in our bodies, to remind us of who we really are.
“Scars are stories. History written on our body” – Unknown