I Wonder If They’ll Notice My Scars

Getting ready for church is hard for me in many ways. To start with, there’s the issue of finding something to wear. Pro tip: Don’t give up on gaining any of the weight you unexpectedly lost by finally getting rid of your wide variety of clothing sizes. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll start gaining it back the second you say goodbye to your wardrobe. I own four pairs of dress pants… and not one of them fit. Trust me, I tried them all this morning. So then I moved on to skirts but I had a problem with the short-sleeved top that matched. I finally just decided that’s what I was going to have to wear. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought, “I wonder if they’ll notice my scars.” That’s when God stopped me in my tracks.

If I can’t show up to church with God’s people, bearing my scars, where can I go? Where else can I belong, free from my perfectionism? I don’t talk much about this issue and I am embarrassed to draw attention to it but for some reason, today is the day. Around the time of upper elementary/junior high I started battling dermatillomania, which is a mental illness related to OCD, causing the urge to pick at any imperfection in my skin. I usually just do it on my upper arms so I can hide it for the most part but the more stressed I get, the worse it gets and the further down into the open it creeps. It’s why you’ll usually see me wearing 3/4 length sleeves even though I’m most often blazing hot and would love to be wearing a cute little tank top. Tank tops have sadly never entered my wardrobe. I hate what I do to myself but I can’t seem to help it. So usually, I cover it up. But I’m tired of worrying about it and I don’t want to anymore. While looking at myself in the mirror I finally decided not to care if people… my dear church family… see my scars. Yet in the next moment I looked down at my wrinkled skirt and said, “well, shoot, I don’t have time to iron that” and then my gaze fell to the deodorant mark on my shirt as I said, “good grief, I’m a mess today.” But I’m God’s mess, His work in progress, and He welcomes me into His house.

I’ve not made it much of a secret that I’ve been struggling with exponentially-increased anxiety lately so you can imagine how that has worsened my dermatillomania. I’ve wanted to write a post describing my panic attacks but each time I try, I realize I cannot put them into words. Unless you have panic attacks, you cannot understand, and that’s okay. The only way I can think of to describe it is, at least to me, it feels like the fiery depths of hell trying to swallow me and I’m trapped where I am, unable to escape. Being ‘trapped’ in a car triggers these attacks. I stopped driving years ago due to my illness but what keeps me from trying again is anxiety. And now even being in the passenger seat has started to trigger me. I almost made Jason get in a wreck a couple weeks ago because at the last second I made him swing into a parking lot. I just could not handle sitting at another red light. Trapped. It’s not rational and I know it. But knowing and believing are two different things. I’m fighting a battle spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Actually, I’ve been reminding myself that God is fighting the battle while He lets me worship (2 Chronicles 20). While I’ve too often let the panic win, I remembered the truth of this passage last week when I had a panic attack just sitting in my living room, seemingly triggered by nothing. I let the storm come. I fell to my knees hyperventilating and sobbing. But then, I tried to worship. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it was mostly: sing one word… gasp… sing one word… sob. But God helped me worship no matter how awful it felt and sounded to me and He fought my battle while I sang. Thank You, God, for fighting for me.

The first victory today was getting up and getting ready despite the anxiety and dread. The second was actually making it to church, many miles away, through traffic and multiple red lights, ‘trapped’ in a car. Guess what song came on the radio? The current song based on 2 Chronicles 20, I Raise A Hallelujah, by Bethel Music. Worshiping with that song reminded me that God is fighting for me. We made it to church and instead of fading into the background as usual, multiple people noticed me and they did not accept my pat, “I’m okay,” answer to the “how are you?” question. They genuinely wanted to know how I am, and I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. Answering the question more honestly was God’s third victory today.

You may not be able to see the words in the picture but the first song we sang was You Make Me Brave. I just about laughed out loud. The fourth victory has to do with the perspective of this picture. I am standing. I was able to stand through the majority of the service, which is something my illness doesn’t usually allow me to do. But God continued to fight for me. As always, when we were singing one of my favorite songs, Living Hope, I praised God that death has lost its grip on me once again. “The work is finished. The end is written… Hallelujah.”

There were other victories that left me breathless, thanks be to God, but the point of this post is this: I walked into the midst of God’s people with scars showing… and I am better for it. If we do not air our scars, we will never heal. I far too often play the “what if” track in my mind. What if they see my scars? What if they see my hands trembling with anxiety? What if they notice me sitting down while everyone else is standing up? What if I told them I took 1/4 of a klonopin to even manage walking in this morning, and it doesn’t feel like it’s helping? What if they knew I struggle with control and trust, that I’ve hurt people and struggled with grace? But when God stopped me in my “what if” tracks this morning, He turned the questions on me. So, what if? What if they DIDN’T see your scars? What if you continued to hide them? What if you stayed home and gave into the fear and isolation? What if you gave up on healing and stayed hidden? What if you missed the opportunity to be embraced by God and His people in your brokenness? WHAT IF JESUS HID HIS SCARS?

I think part of the reason Jesus kept His scars when He rose from the dead was so that people would recognize Him (i.e. Thomas, who said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the nail marks – John 20), so that people would see Him and believe. If we hide our scars, how can people truly see us? How can they believe there is a God who fights our battles if we’re not willing to let them know there is a battle raging around and within us? How can Jesus be fully seen in our lives when our scars are hidden? How can our wounds heal if they aren’t exposed to the open air of God’s love?

I’m tired of being afraid to show my scars to God’s people. They proved to me today that they actually do want to see me… to know me… the real me. And it helped me heal just a little bit. I’d rather show up in God’s presence with a wrinkly skirt, deodorant marks, uncovered scars, trying to breathe under the weight of my sin… and maybe receive just a little bit more healing… than wither away in my own misery. God calls us to be in the light. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). I decided to live in the light today, and received the gift of true fellowship.

As if the blessings weren’t already enough, God celebrated with me on the way home when another song came on the radio. Once again, I sang to my God in thanks for continuing to fight for me, “My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I stand in Your love.” Amen. Please don’t miss the healing that can come from sharing your scars. And if you see someone with scars, love them with the love of Jesus. The church should be the people who most welcome our scars. When scars are aired and loved on, only then can we finally receive the healing God offers. Let’s not be afraid anymore to let the healing happen. Who knows? Maybe there’s a tank top in my future. 🙂 Or more importantly, maybe there is grace, reconciliation, love, light, and healing in my future.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”- James 5:16

Like what you see? Share it!

Change My Name, A Different Take on the Prayer of Jabez

Right in the midst of 12-ish chapters full of names in 1 Chronicles is a verse that has become known as The Prayer of Jabez. I remember the book with that title being very popular around the time I was in high school. I think it was so popular because people like the idea of bold prayers granting a pain-free life. It’s so tempting to latch onto the “health and wealth” movement only to be disappointed when life doesn’t go the way we pray. I was very turned off by this story for awhile but now I see a deeper meaning.

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from pain.’ And God granted his request.”- 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

I don’t know why God granted Jabez’ request but not the requests of countless other people who prayed this prayer during the Prayer of Jabez craze. That’s not the point of this particular post. What I find so interesting is that right there in the middle of a myriad of names is Jabez, a name that literally sounds like “pain” in Hebrew. His name was “pain” and he asked God to free him from pain… to free him from his own name. And God did.

Several times throughout the Bible God changes people’s names to mark significant events in their lives. When Jacob wrestled with God, God gave him the name “Israel” (Genesis 32:28). I wonder if that’s why Jabez “cried out to the God of Israel”, or if I’m reading too much into it. Maybe he was thinking something like ‘God, you changed the name of Jacob when He met you face to face. Please change mine too. Let me see You. Bless me like You blessed Jacob/Israel. Give me a new identity.’

So many of us walk around with pain as our identity. Guilty! I grew up in the church and gave my life to Jesus at age 13, but I’m not sure I placed my identity in Him for a long time. Prior to my illness, my identity was in my job. I was Karina, the Social Worker, and I took great pride in doing my job well. I thought it was my purpose in life until it was taken away. After that, sickness and pain became my identity. Without even realizing it, I became Karina, the Chronically-ill, and I’ve continued to arrange my life around my sickness. While I’ve been aware of this mistaken identity for awhile now and have been working on it with God, I still haven’t shed my identity of pain and illness. Pain is certainly not the identity God has for me and He is working to help me believe the freedom He gives me from that identity, the freedom that Jesus gifted to me on the cross. I wonder if that’s why God granted Jabez’ request. He wanted to give him a new identity, one that has nothing to do with pain and everything to do with Him.

God does want to bless us and enlarge our lives. Jesus said he came to give us life to the full. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A life trapped in a painful identity is definitely not full. An identity placed in Christ is a life of fruitful purpose and possibility, of service and blessing, connected to the heart of God. It is a life of freedom and expansion.

An identity placed in anything other than Jesus steals, kills, and destroys the full life of freedom God has for us. It cheapens what Jesus did for us. Oh, that we would place our identities in the One who gives us life… He would bless us indeed! I want to be Karina, Child of God. And I want that for you too. Let us pray along with Jabez and Jacob…

Bless me, Lord. I will not let go. Keep Your hand with me. Enlarge my life. Free me from the pain of placing my identity in anything but You. Help me embrace the new name You gave me. In the most beautiful name of Jesus, Amen.

Like what you see? Share it!

One Body

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there  are many parts, but one body. 
The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it." - 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27

There are some body parts I’d sure like to throw away. Quite often I’d love to be rid of my autonomic nervous system, sometimes my brain, and pretty much every moment of every day I’d love to chuck my entire abdomen out the window. This is not an exaggeration. When one part is acting up, I find myself struggling not to hate it, thereby perpetuating a constant me-vs-my body kind of scenario. When I’m successful at not hating my stomach, most of the time I’m just doing my best to ignore it. Is any of this actually helpful? Not likely. Fighting with my own body parts does nothing to heal them. In fact, holding onto anger actually makes the chronic abdomen problem worse because anger sits in my liver and rots. Those aren’t the exact scientific words for this phenomenon but it’s the truth. A problematic body part is trying to send an important message about the general function of the body or about issues that need addressed in order for the whole body to be healthy. Therefore, ignoring those body parts doesn’t help any more than fighting them. Ignoring my stomach doesn’t fix it. When it is ignored, sometimes it feels the need to scream louder so it can get my attention and I can try something else to help it. Ignoring a problem may seem convenient in the moment, but it never makes it go away. Guaranteed.

I am in a very unique position to understand this passage from 1 Corinthians. I’ve never actually read it literally until now and my physical body has helped me understand the passage so much better. I don’t feel that I belong in the body of Christ. But just because I feel that way doesn’t make it true. My excessive absences and lack of connection doesn’t make me any less a part of the body. Just because I am no longer a “more presentable part” doesn’t mean I am less important to the function and health of the entire body.

The church as a whole has a sad tendency to forget the chronically-ill. It’s easy to have the “I don’t need you” mindset when it appears that the body is getting along just fine without them. But Paul could not be any more clear that those people in the body who appear to be weaker are “indispensable.” We also tend to roll our eyes and ignore the people who ‘act up’, while harboring anger toward them. But Paul says we give special treatment to those parts that we think are less honorable. And just because I am no longer an eye or hand or something desirable like that, doesn’t mean it’s not my job to bring absolutely everything I do have to the table. All our gifts, as small as they may sometimes seem, are God-given and important. Ignoring them or hiding them away causes the entire body to miss something beautiful.

The very next chapter in 1 Corinthians is the famous love chapter. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. We unify the body with love. Unfortunately, we aren’t especially great at love and, as a result, the church as a whole is sick. We’ve thrown out our eyes and ears, choked on our anger, and ignored our pinky toes until we’re blindly hobbling around in pain wondering what happened. Fighting or ignoring our own body parts does nothing to heal them. Holding those parts close, listening to them, bringing them to the healing hand of God, loving them. That is what will heal.

We need to find our hearts again- those ignored, shriveled up love containers – and limp them up to the heart of God crying, “We’re so sorry. Please, fix this.” The fact is, God made us each an integral part of the body and no one is dispensable. If I throw out my abdomen, my body would die. If we throw out the members of the body we see as problematic, we die. We are not living in the healthy unity that God desires. We are sick, the kind of sick that only love can heal. I truly believe God sees it, and grieves. When will we?

Like what you see? Share it!

The Right Questions

I’ve been stuck amidst the questions again. God, are you going to heal me? Will I ever feel better in this life? Should I just accept that You may not heal? Does submitting to Your will by ending my own striving mean giving up more attempts at treatment? Should I stop what I’m doing now and let You heal me on Your own? Sometimes I think I would be able to handle suffering better if I knew there would be an end date. If I knew God would heal me, I could stick it out until then. The possibility of feeling this miserable for the rest of my life is unbearable and I struggle to accept it. That’s why my questions keep swirling.

On Sunday I was worshipping upstairs in the window room when God spoke to my heart and said, “You’re asking the wrong questions.” I thought about it for awhile and realized that all of these swirling questions boil down to one thing: Am I going to be disappointed with or angry at God? God hasn’t told me whether or not He will heal me and I have to admit that part of the motivation for knowing the answer would be so that I would know how to feel. If the answer is “yes”, I could thank Him and rejoice and hold on until then. But if the answer is “no”, I could be angry and hurt and have no more will to continue. Perhaps that’s the reason God hasn’t answered… because He knows if He said “no,” I would lie down and give up.

So then, what are the right questions? Maybe the questions I need to ask myself are, if God does say “no” to my healing, can I still thank Him and rejoice and hold onto Him? I’ve been openly angry at God in the past and I tried to walk away from Him. It was the darkest time of my life and I never want to go back there. I thought I had worked through this with God, but maybe a small root of poison is still inside of me that needs to be torn out in order for me to continue to heal spiritually.

I’ve been studying the book of Jeremiah for a couple weeks because, goodness, those people had to wait! God tells them that they have a future and a hope even though they will have to wait in exile for 70 years. That does not sound hopeful to me. My lack of healing does not feel hopeful to me. But God tells His people what to do while they wait for deliverance:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”- Jeremiah 29:5-7

In other words, don’t just give up on life. Their circumstances were far from anything they wanted, but they were not to fall into despair. God wanted them to get comfortable with the circumstances in which He placed them and get on with their lives. He wanted them to stop pining for deliverance and start planting gardens and enjoying their fruit. He wanted them to increase and pray for peace in the midst of their circumstances.

I am asking God the wrong questions. He wants me to stop pining for deliverance and start planting and enjoying the fruit of my suffering. The right questions are actually directed at me. Am I willing to settle down and plant here or am I going to give up on life? Am I going to pray for peace here or will I fall into despair again? Am I willing to throw off the chain I’ve attached between deliverance and all things good (joy, endurance, etc)? Will I grow and increase here instead of shriveling up in the poison of my mind?

We have a poison ivy problem at our house and Jason is severely allergic so I’ve been trying to kill it with natural weed killer. Three times now I’ve sprayed it all along the fence to no avail. And this morning, as if to mock me, I noticed that instead of dying under the wrath of the weed-killer, a beautiful flower has actually bloomed. I laughed out loud. God gave a visual gift to my questioning heart. It was as if the vine said, “I know you want me to die here. I know I live in the midst of poison. But I will not die. I will bloom instead. You can spray me all you want but I will not shrivel up. I will increase.”

Will I say the same? Will I bloom and shine here or will I shrivel up in the darkness of disappointment? Will I pray for peace and for the poison of the enemy to be removed from my heart or will I shrivel up and die, fruitless? Will I not only survive here but will I increase and thrive? These are the right questions… and I hope and pray that my answer will be a resounding, “YES.”

Like what you see? Share it!