Scars run across my body like tracks at a railroad terminal. They cross my entire abdomen, in both directions. Large scars, by any measure. Still puffy in places, even after almost nine years. Of course, I thought them ugly at first. But even then, I knew they represented something way beyond two surgeries and my soft, slow-healing, belly-fat flesh.
My scars represented survival. And hope. They meant a new running chance at life. But I had to choose to take it.
At 28, I learned from an ultrasound that the kidney disease that killed my mom could kill me, too. There was a 50-50 chance, and I had lost that genetic lottery. But when you’re young, you assume a cure will come, medical science will triumph, and surely you won’t go through the suffering she did.
Until that miracle science fails you, and you find yourself ten, fifteen years later unable to keep up with your kids in the yard and falling asleep before the dinner plates are cleared. Until a doctor looks at you like you’re a freak in a sideshow and says, “You’re at ten percent kidney function. I’m trying to figure out why you’re still moving.” Then you know, it’s time to get serious about this kidney transplant thing, and the list of living donors is thin. The wait for not-living donors is interminable. Then you look through tears at the man who once pledged to you, “for better or worse, in sickness or health” as he steps up and says, “I’ll do it.”
Then you start to remember that your mom died of this disease and this operation. You start to wonder why and to wonder if you will, too.
At fourteen, my mother lay in a tuberculosis sanitarium fighting for her life, while at home her mother died of kidney disease. Closely following came the deaths of her grandfather and then her brother in World War II. I know, now, she always lived with the assumption, more than the fear, that those she loved she would lose. I know, now, that she never made plans for her “old age” because she never expected to be old. I know not because she ever got to tell me these things but because I see them spread before me in my own life. She died at fifty, long before I had the chance to know all her scars and pronounce them beautiful.
But I needed a different decision, because three girls following behind needed me to unmake her expectations and make our own.
So I have these giant scars, one where they put my husband’s kidney in my body, one where they took the old, football-sized useless ones out a few months later. The scars are beautiful, because they remind me that I made a choice for a different outcome, and with it, I made a choice I didn’t realize I was making.
A choice to live boldly.
I didn’t anticipate this choice. But something happened after the surgery, something that was one of those good and perfect gifts from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1.17). My scars made me unafraid. I had spent so many years in the shadow of my mom’s illness and death, fearful despite the head knowledge that I had far better odds, that when the shadows lifted, I could see life more clearly. I could see many of the things that I had feared so much had so little power.
My scars made me unafraid.
Other peoples’ opinions. Mistakes. Writing the truth.
Whitewater rafting a wild Tennessee river. Crisscrossing a continent with little more than a Eurail pass and a 2-foot-square suitcase. Leading a mission trip and ziplining the canopy there.
Things I never would have dared without the scars to remind me—I have survived worse. I can do harder things than this.
My scars taught me that fear does not have to win. Love can cast it out. They have forced me where I would not have gone and shown me the beauty of God’s places and God’s people that I would not have dared explore.
My scars taught me that fear does not have to win.
Because of that, they have taken on all the beauty of those things. They are one of those good and perfect gifts. “God does not change like shifting shadows”–the shadows of fear we live in. He is the Father of lights. And beautiful scars.
This post is part of the Live Free Thursday linkup. See more here.