Scars

Eight. That’s how many new scars greet me in the mirror each morning. I have acquired all of them since October of this year. Even though they no longer startle me, they do still catch my attention. I see them.

I have old scars that I don’t notice anymore, like the one in the meaty part of my thumb. I was a kid carving wood and one slip sent a carving tool deeply into my opposite hand. That one, I remember clearly. Most others I don’t recall getting and don’t even see anymore.

A few of these new scars are small and in harder to see places, like where the drain tubes were or where they nicked my neck to thread the port into my jugular vein. I don’t see these as much, and the pain they represent was as small as they are. They will fade and be difficult to detect.

Much different, though, are the 4-5 inch gashes across my breasts. These are glaring and huge, and represent so much pain and significant loss. Though these will fade, they will not disappear, nor will they be forgotten.

And my tattoo. Though it was voluntary, it was this whole ugly breast cancer ordeal that made it necessary. It is my scar that says to the world “This is where I’ve been and where I am because of it.” It’s matter-of-fact and on my wrist, visible to the world.

Emotional and spiritual scars follow these same patterns. Things happen in every person’s life and leave evidence of their having been. Like mine, some of these scars are fairly minor, and though they leave marks, aren’t often seen or remembered. These could be things like a teenage broken heart or the loss of a beloved pet.

Too many of us also have the glaring, ugly, hard-to-look-past gashes. The loss of a child. The betrayal of a spouse. The abandonment of a parent. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. These are the things that are seen and felt every day for the rest of life. While the pain that these scars represent will perhaps dull, it will never be completely forgotten. These are generally private, and viewed only by a select few.

And the tattoo? That is the scar that the all the world sees. Voluntary, but made necessary by circumstances. Divorce. Putting a child up for adoption. Closing a business.

Each day when I look in the mirror, I have to choose how I will feel about these scars. I can choose bitterness and rail on about “Why me?” or I can choose gratitude, because God carried me through the pain and I survived. I can use my experience to help and encourage others walking in my shoes or I can fill them with fear and poison them with my own anger.

Scars are remains–reminders. God grant me the grace and willingness to accept them for what they are and move forward, knowing that He walks with me. No matter how many scars I have, and no matter how many more I gather, I will never be abandoned. This I know–for the One who walks with me knows scars. He went to the cross to voluntarily bear every scar of every sin and hurt of every person to ever live–and redeem each one.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities [sins]; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 niv

Marked

This may be a long post. If you make it to the end, there’s a prize at the bottom of the box.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I was pretty naive. I hadn’t had reason to personally research and learn about it. My assumption at that point was that this would be a rough 6-12 months, but it would be a bump in the road and I’d pull out of it relatively unscathed. I was wrong.

As Stacey and I compare notes, it’s obvious that both of us are realizing just how different life will be from here on out–for as long as the Lord allows either of us to remain on earth.

One of these life altering issues is lymphedema. We are at high risk of developing this condition in our right arms, to the point that never again is it safe to have a blood pressure taken or any needle stick for blood draw or IV. We have to be careful of extreme heat, extreme sun, or trauma to that arm. Should we get even a small cut, risk of infection is high.

I saw a physical therapist last Friday to learn about this. I thought the appointment was about post-op stretches, but that part only took about 10 minutes. The rest of the 1.5 hour appointment was devoted to understanding lymphedema risk. I was told how necessary it is to identify my risk in the form of medical alert IDs, wallet cards, phone notifications, and such.

I started shopping for bracelets, which would be the first place medical personnel should look in case of an emergency. That was a discouraging endeavor. Even when I’m skinny, I have large bones and bracelets don’t fit me well–especially the pretty ladies’ styles. Besides that, I don’t generally like jewelry. I don’t want to take a bracelet off and put it back on every time I do dishes or take a shower, and I really can’t stand to wear a wet bracelet. The bottom line? I would end up not wearing it, and that would increase my risk even further.

My daughter suggested that I tattoo the alert on my right wrist, and within an hour, my husband suggested the same thing. I know some people feel there is no place for a tattoo on a Christian’s body–I respect that. If that is your conviction, I pray that you can look past my error and see my heart.

Because of the nature of lymphedema, the tattoo would have to be done prior to surgery. I contacted my surgeon and made sure I was okay to do this. She assured me there wouldn’t be an issue. However, with my surgery coming up in a week, I had a window of about 36 hours in which to get the tattoo done.

I called my regular tattoo shop (yes, I’m aware that may come as a shock) and they were not able to get me in, but he took my idea and emailed me a sketch. I looked at local shops and made a couple calls. I also looked at their websites, and ruled out a number of them that gave me an unsettled feeling. My second phone call was a decent and clean looking shop that could get me right in.

During this process, I had been researching the meaning behind commonly accepted medical symbols. I’m so glad I did, since the ones most used are rooted in Greek and Roman mythology–not something I want on my body forever. Behind those symbols, however, and the origin of the snakes on them, is a historical account in the Bible. Numbers 21:4-9 tells of a plague of venomous snakes that was killing the complaining Israelites. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake and raise it on a pole, and anyone bitten who looked at it would live.

Further research reminded me of John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” It wasn’t that the Israelites believed the bronze snake had healing powers. Rather, it was having the courage to face what was killing them and being obedient to God, who promised to heal.

I was nervous going to a new shop, but within 5 minutes of being there, I knew it was ordained. The 2 people at the desk started researching my idea and we had a really cool conversation about God and Christianity. This was a ministry opportunity. We are called to go into the world and preach the gospel. If ever there was a place that is “the world,” it’s a tattoo shop. My tattoo took over an hour, and most of that time, I was able to close my eyes and pray for the artists. For over an hour, the artist crafted and stared at the cross of Christ, and saw wherein lies my hope.

As I was visiting and paying my bill after my appointment, the artist offered to help my daughter with an art project she’s doing (wasn’t creepy, y’all) and his girlfriend, who owns the shop, offered to display her art for sale. These are invitations to further contact. That’s huge.

The artist has incredible talent and I love the tattoo for what it is, but I’m struggling with the need to have it at all. It feels involuntary. Whether by a bracelet, a necklace, or a tattoo, I am marked for the rest of my life. My arm bears this mark, my chest will have huge scars, and my hair will very possibly come back different than it is now. For the rest of my life, I will be reminded daily of my battle with cancer.

Here is what is different about having my tattoo instead of jewelry: a medic alert bracelet points out a physical risk or ailment. That’s all. This tattoo, however, reminds me daily that my hope is in Christ who died on the cross to redeem my sin. The cross is over the breast cancer symbol, reminding me that this disease, also, is redeemed. And the snake? The snake will always remind me that I had the courage to face this thing, and live.