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