Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas: Choosing My Scars

When the people over at High Calling asked their network participants to share a "Christmas past" story, I thought, "Uhhh.... you don't want to hear mine." Because my old stories pretty much have the same punch line: scars.

There are single moments that stand out. Moments of courage, like when I spent two hours in the dead of night, crawling on my little kid belly to retrieve my stocking, holding my breath, so as not to waken my stepfather from his sugar plum dreams. He lay on the cot in front of the Christmas tree, breathing, shifting, snoring. The cot was a yearly ritual. Kind of like the star on the Christmas tree, but a bit more ominous, as it was always the climax of a shouting spree... his carol to welcome the season.

One Christmas brought a shameful gift in my stocking... a present from my stepfather, given in front of the whole family, simply to humiliate me. The gift delivered its intended impact.

There's the general blur of Christmas after Christmas when we were assailed with insults, curse words, and threats for celebrating the birth of Christ. A stupid celebration, in my stepfather's opinion. I have this picture of my mother, her bottom lip stuck out in something akin to a pout. But I realize now she was probably trying not to cry, trying not to ruin the joy we mustered despite all the bah humbug.

To this day, I bear the scars of these Christmas pasts. Indeed, I literally bear a permanent scar in my left pinky. I crushed it once, trying to help my mom close the cot. She always closed it during the day when my stepfather went out hunting, or drinking, or whatever he'd gone out to do. Even as recently as this week, I couldn't sleep, for the sharp pain in that pinky kept stabbing me out of my dreams.


Last Sunday, we were singing "From Heav'n You Came". And around verse three, I suddenly lost my voice. "Come see His hands and his feet," it says. "The scars that speak of sacrifice. Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered."

It is so easy to let the scars of a difficult past define us. Make us needy. Angry. Selfish. Afraid to sacrifice. I don't fault myself or anyone else for this. Scars will always point to the pain that created them. Still, in the middle of that Sunday song, I thought, "If these are the only scars we bear, then we've allowed ourselves to remain the victims."

So this season, I want to choose my scars. Jesus scars. That heal the past, and embrace an outward life of sacrifice. Thinking this way, well, call it the star He's just now flung on my Christmas tree.

"Lantern" art by Gail Nadeau. Used by permission. Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.


L.L.'s Cry

L.L.'s Festive Gifts and Meal. A post on a brighter note.

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Blogger christianne said...

Mmmm, Laura. A rare glimpse into your deep interior places. Thank you for sharing what makes this season hard. I'm glad this song offered a redemptive perspective to help get you through it in a new way.

9:52 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Funny thing about this, Christianne. I don't know that the season is made difficult by these things any more. Scars point to past pain. But scars, even absent their pain, can define us in ways we sometimes don't see. That's the thing. I strongly believe that we need to reflect on how we might be letting them define us, and move out and on. Thanks so much for your tender encouragements though. Always very, very appreciated.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Suz. said...

Laura, thanks for your revealed thoughts, memories. I value these hard-won pearls and will continue to think on them this week. Peace.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wonderful posting. yes, i keep peeking into some fav blogs on the trip because my husband brought his lap top. seems like a long wait until april when your book comes out! you are such a good writer, i think it will be a joy to read. the thing is with any art is to give the viewer the way out, and i figure that the best way that can truly be given is Jesus. so many things to overcome in this life and it is good to share in the struggle as well as the way out. and i like that about your writing.

3:28 AM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

I like your thoughts about scars here. We all have them, but some much severer and life-imrinting than others. I wonder if the "dna" of who we are is forever altered in ways that are not so bad for this existence, by scars. We can identify with others similarly impacted in ways we could never do so otherwise. Yet just the same, we need to show them the way to healing which means we have to be on that way ourselves.

Thanks for sharing. Choosing my scars will be on my thoughts now. I could use that help myself.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I spent the better part of the first ten years of my adult life picking some of my own emotional wounds raw. Sometimes it was in the context and relative safety of therapy, other times it was wherever I happened to be when I was reminded of the blows that formed them, and frequently the reminders themselves were unexpected and stinging in their suddenness. At times I have allowed them to define me.

Scars sure are a reminder of past hurts, but scars are also characterized by healing. That's what distinguishes them from wounds. In that way, scars are a reminder of God's grace. You may have been battered, bruised, crushed, but you were not destroyed. Somehow you were sustained through the worst of it and given the healing balm of time and love and forgiveness.

I can't help but think that there is a positive aspect to scars, as a result. I know my husband has a couple of physical scars that I have come to love. One is a rather lengthy one on his abdomen, where he had his appendix removed when he was in his early 20s, just as it was about to rupture. That scar is a testament to his survival of a very real and life-threatening condition. I see it, trace it with my finger, and thank God for sustaining him through the crisis that brought it about.

As for my own scars, well, I have spent plenty of time wishing I had remained whole and undamaged, if such a thing is possible. I've sometimes resented the people that have dealt me the blows. But sometimes I think my scars are among the only things that remind me that I cannot do it alone. I need Christ's healing. I need to make room for forgiveness, and I need to be merciful to others. They keep me real, somehow. I can't help but see beauty in your scars as well. Surely they are what allows you to write with such passion and compassion.

There's a choice beyond being defined by pain: being defined (and refined) by healing. It's encouraging to see you choose that path, because I am reminded that I, too, can walk it.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

I love this, LL. Scars shape us, but they don't need to define us.

My own scars throb this time of year, and yet the healing balm of experiencing the magic of Christmas with my boys somehow brings me back to today.

Yesterday we went sledding until our faces were frozen, laughing all the way down the hill. I joined in the fun, and found myself crying. "This," I thought, "is what childhood should be."

But I wasn't weeping for my own lost childhood as much as I was for God's grace that has allowed me to give my own children what I didn't have myself. That is no small thing.

(And, for the record, I do not recommend crying outside when it's only 22 degrees!!)

7:33 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

How beautifully you talk about scars. It reminds me how beautifully the Psalmist David talked about sin. Thank you for sharing your heart. And for the gentle encouragment not to let our scars define us.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Rudy said...

I'm holding back my tears reading this.

Laura, do forgive your stepfather and pray for him. God will most certainly remove that scar from you.

2:59 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Suz... Welcome to Seedlings. Pearls. Yes, that is a good way to think of how we take hurtful sand and eventually create a round thing of beauty.

Nancy... thank you. I would like to think that my writing gives both the way in and the way out. Something to aim for!

Ted... indeed. I view these scars as a strange kind of gift.

Nikki... beautifully put. Scars as a testament of grace. And a path to places we perhaps might never have otherwise gone. (I loved that part about Daniel's scar and what it means to you.)

Llama... yes, yes! The thing about your children. I SO identify with that. Sometimes the beauty of their lives just makes me want to weep with joy.

Andrea... you all make it easy to share.

Rudy... I'm guessing that the tender father in you is what's making that emotion surface. How very special! As for my own past, I would not write of it if my stepfather were still living. He is forgiven, as you pray. Forgiven, mourned, even thanked as a strange gift (like I said to Ted above). Thank you for your sweet concern.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Dear friend, you are, in a word: redemptive! You have experienced dark things I cannot imagine, and yet you find a way to make it a story about healing. I'm blown away!

6:14 PM  
Blogger Jennwith2ns said...

Beautiful, courageous post. I was getting mired down by my own scars last week (and they're nothing compared to many). Thanks for the better perspective.

6:33 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

These words stuck out to me & pierced my heart:
"If these are the only scars we bear, then we've allowed ourselves to remain the victims."

So often I use those scars as a reason to stay put; as you say, to be afraid to sacrifice.

I must agree with Craver. This is, in a word, redemptive.

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I almost cried when I read that... and thank you.

I'm short on time; I'll try to find something more meaningful to say next time.

Have a good day.

5:59 PM  
Blogger The Gatekeeper said...

I was the kid who looked forward to Christmas. My parents had their Christmas scars but I did not find out till about five years ago when Christmas suddenly became hard for me . It's when my husband left us. Three days before Christmas. But you are right these scars will not define us. Thanks for letting us into the darker parts of yourself. It's given me a little bit of wisdom to share with my kids who are dealing with their own Christmas scars. God is faithful however and I know he's already begun to heal some of it.

3:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LL -- This post was beautiful in its honesty and, as others have said, redemption. What a gift to be able to look at the past and see good in the pain. I've been walking around with a few new scars lately (both physical and spiritual), and your challenge to choose the scars of Jesus for healing rather than be paralyzed by my own scars was so helpful. Chooinsg His scars, in fact, is the only way to make sense of our own.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Marcus Goodyear said...

I've had trouble commenting on this. It bothers me to read this post and think of the person I know. They can't be part of the same lifetime, can they?

My mother has bad Christmas memories, too. Apartments above bars. Only one year with presents. That sort of thing.

When I hear about the things some people suffer, I wonder why my life has been so easy. Christmas was always, only joy for me. My only life tragedy so far has been a brief (and really pretty funny) battle with rats as a newlywed.

I don't understand why pain gets distributed so unevenly in the world.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for sharing more than the standard christmas story (whatever that means...) but instead revealing your scars for us to takes courage and a generous spirit to do that.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

LL, I've done my share of injuring others at Christmas, leaving scars. Now, I'm endeavoring to heal and be healed those that I harmed. See "I'll Begin Again" at Preparation4Eternity. Merry Christmas! Kim

10:28 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Craver... thank you. It takes a long time to get to such a place. The healing has never been simple, but more like a winding path.

Jenn... I was reminded of Lemony Snicket's tongue-in-cheek discussion of "perspective" in one of his Series of Unfortunate Events books! It is true that we can gain perspective from others' suffering, but I think that never negates our own. For when we are in the middle of it, we have no standard against which to measure it. Our pain is real, very real. And the damage it causes is also real. So that in the end it almost doesn't matter who has the "better war story". Any war against our souls produces casualties. Which is just to say it is okay for you to feel your own pain and mourn it.

Kirsten... I hope you find a sense of movement that is propelled by joy of what can be.

Chief... it's good to cry. Very good. Jesus wept too.

Gatekeeper... I am so sorry to hear of your fresh wounds that are only slowly turning into scars you can look back on with grace. As I was saying above, healing takes time. Even years. It is okay to mourn even as we wait.

Charity... thank you for sharing your own new pain and scars. As we embrace the life of Jesus scars, this doesn't minimize our own. As you imply, perhaps they work together in some mysterious way.

Mark... I'm glad you've said this was difficult to comment on. It is always hard to make sense of pain. As for your own joy, this is a good thing. The world needs people who have received a strong beginning. Together, with people who have not, you bring something rich to the world. It is another way that we function as the Body.

Every Square... I did hesitate to share it. No one likes to be the serious one during a supposedly joyous time. But I felt like this was the right post to do. And, on a brighter note, I showed the current joys of our Christmases over on Green Inventions. Maybe the darkness of the past makes the light I share there seem that much brighter?

Kim... and may you continue to find healing. It's a long road, isn't it?

12:14 PM  
Blogger angela said...

Thank you for sharing your scars.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Thank you - as always - for sharing yourself. Scars are funny, aren't they? Sometimes reminding us of what should not have been reveals most clearly what should be, and becomes the reckless abandon needed to surrender to the only one who can make it so.

I have read, at Ted's request, several lengthy discussions on another blog. Your comment, "My spouse has classically maintained many excellent relationships with people of the opposite sex. I have no problem with this at all." - would you feel comfortable describing what these relationships actually look like? Do they look resemble those described on the other blog or would/do they look different in practice?

2:43 AM  
Blogger Lynet said...

I don't know what to say. So I'll just say what I feel. I'm startled into dumb respect by your pain. I hope it heals as you go. I hope you take what you can from it and I hope that sometimes you leave it behind. I hope you know that the person who came out of your experiences was remarkable and open and sensitive and beautiful to know.

I also hope you have a merry Christmas :-)

4:05 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Angela... as I've said elsewhere, you all make it easy to share. Thanks for stopping by.

Susan... yes. I feel that my life is more intentional because of the past. Building what is beautiful with my children. Not forgetting to do that. (To your second part, I went back and explained more fully on that blog. No, I don't think my understanding and experience is quite like what the person there is expressing.)

Lynet... thank you for your sweet compliments. Healing has happened, yes. And in some ways I still wait for it (self-reflection and learning from others can take a long time). Merry Christmas to you too. ;-)

11:43 AM  
Blogger nannykim said...

choosing our scars is a good comment---heard a sermon a while back where he spoke about this. He was kind of saying that when we get to heaven it would be appropriate for God to ask us "WHERE ARE YOUR SCARS---wasn't there anything worth your sacrificing?"

12:45 PM  

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