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Scarred for life

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All this past week I’ve been talking to people with scars for a series of stories that I wrote for the newspaper where I work.

I got the idea from a photographer I heard on the radio, talking about a series of photos he had done of people’s scars.

He said that every scar tells a story.

When I was 9, I bent down to say “hi” to Sam Lang’s Basset hound and it jumped up and bit my face, tearing a hole from the right edge of my lip to my chin. You can barely see the scar all these years later, but it’s there. I’m not sure if that scar and the circumstances of how I got it altered my life in any significant way other than I don’t stick my face near a strange dog’s mouth. Acne scars on my cheeks have affected me more, I think.

But the photographer was right. Every scar tells a story, and last week I met with eight people who told me their stories and showed me their scars.

The first woman I talked with called her scars, about six in all, her “badges of courage,” the most prominent one being a rebuilt lip made from the skin and tissue from her inner forearm. She had lip cancer.

As she told her story she used words like “grateful” and “thankful.” She praised God for his goodness to her. Her scars remind her that, when we suffer, God is there with us, taking care of those who trust in him.

Looking back, she can trace God’s grace to her at every step. No detail escaped his orchestration. He was right there with her, holding her hand, calming her fears.

She said God doesn’t always take away the pain, but he makes the pain bearable and then makes something beautiful from it.

Another woman began her story with her scars from a car accident and ended with her emotional scars from a decade of domestic violence and a lifetime of being rejected by her mother.

For much of her life she had felt “dirty, damaged and different,” she said. It wasn’t until someone told her about Jesus that her scars began to heal.
She said when she brought her wounds to Jesus, his blood “washed them clean and made me whole.”

One of the basic tenets of the Christian faith is that Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him (at the Cross), and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

It’s the crux of the gospel.

An old hymn starts, “Deep were his wounds, and red, on cruel Calvary, as on the cross he bled in bitter agony; but they whom sin has wounded sore, find healing in the wounds he bore.”

Christ’s death not only took away the penalty of sin, but his sufferings — his beatings, the humiliation of people spitting at him and jeering, his being stripped naked in public and being abandoned by his friends — God somehow uses for our soul’s healing.

It’s one of those hard-to-explain faith things that’s difficult to understand by trying to intellectualize it. It’s best understood by experience, by bringing your scarred and broken life to Jesus and standing amazed as he turns your ugliness to beauty.

For the woman who had been beaten by a husband and rejected by her own mother, Jesus took her scars and gave her a ministry to other broken and abused women (and to the men who abused them), telling them of the power of Christ’s scars to transform and heal theirs.

Not only that, God gave her another husband, gentle, kind and caring, and in the year before her mother died she heard the words she had ached to hear: “I’m sorry. I love you. Please forgive me.”

Some people have scars that never heal. They hold on to bitterness and regret, cursing the people or the circumstances that caused their scars. They relive their injuries, picking at their scabs, taking perverse pleasure in keeping the pain alive.

But for others, for those who trust that God cries when they cry and that it’s with tears he allows pain to alter their lives, their scars actually become their source of strength.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.