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physical scars

photo: Steve Sparks

I was recently telling a story from my childhood in a small group. When I reviewed it for an assignment, I realized for the first time, why my scars were so distressing to my mother. Well, I don’t know for sure, but I finally have a suspicion.

My parents went to Bolivia as missionaries in 1947 when my sister was 2 months old and I was 14 months old. In fact, our birthdays were exactly a year apart. From the many stories my mom told about their 3 years there, I think that the experience was quite traumatic for her.

They were the first couple in the mission to both have college degrees. Despite the fact that they had 2 small babies, the expectation was that they would both learn 2 languages: Spanish and Quechua during their first year there.

In a perfect world, that might have been possible, but the world they were living in was far from perfect. They were living in little towns that were very primitive. One house was described as the scorpion house with scorpions dropping from the roof often. Personally, I can’t imagine what that would have been like with small babies to watch out for. In the three years they lived there, I don’t think they ever had indoor plumbing. Both parents got sick with hepatitis…at the same time! (We never did.)

Each house they lived in during those years had a major drawback like the one I described. Concurrently, they lived in the Andes mountains near Cochabamba, Bolivia which is about a mile high. Between my mom and my younger sister, they both struggled with being sick a lot, often needing to travel to a larger city from the smaller towns where we lived, for medical care. I usually stayed behind with my dad.

Shortly after we arrived, I was attacked by the mistreated dog of some missionaries

But very early in our time there, a few short months after our arrival in fact, I was attacked by the mistreated dog of one of the missionaries. It seems there was no provocation. But I was playing in a protected area and the attack wasn’t witnessed. Of course, my parents asked that the dog be put down and they refused. The dog was hit by a bus the next week.

Years later, I used to hate that whenever I came home for a visit, my mom always commented on my scars. They were present, but had faded quite a bit. Seeing the scars, always upset her and I never understood it. I also hated that she always brought them up quite soon after seeing me.

It wasn’t until recently that it dawned on me that they were a reminder of a very difficult chapter in her life. As I said earlier, scars remind us of our past. Those 3 years represented a time when their co-workers tended to be quite critical of them. Expectations were high and unrealistic.

As a result, a year after my brother was born in 1949, my mom had a nervous breakdown. It was a perfect storm! Between her and my sister’s health issues, the critical attitudes of many of the fellow missionaries, and the primitive living conditions, it was too much. There was no one to encourage or even help. They returned to the US. She struggled with depression the rest of her life.

Years later, they returned overseas again…different mission, different country, more collegial missionaries…

When I was in 9th grade, they returned overseas again, but to a much better situation where the missionaries were much more collegial and the living conditions were not nearly as primitive. They did much better there.

Why am I talking about this? For some of you,  there are literal scars that you have that remind you of terrible periods of your life. Sometimes, the scars aren’t as bad as the years they represent…sometimes they are. I have heard stories of women who have been horribly disfigured by ex-boyfriends or husbands who have been very evil. It is truly sad.

GOD is present, even in the very dark, evil situations

If we are in Christ, as difficult as it is to believe, GOD is present with us…even in these situations. I don’t say it lightly. They are truly evil and dark sometimes. But we have a choice. Is GOD big and present or does He take naps or blink or turn His back when these things happen? Does He have moments of weakness when He is powerless to do something?

As painful as it is to answer, we know those answers are really difficult to think about! GOD loves us and is present. It is safe to say that there are plenty of times we don’t understand His ways. That is the simple truth of it. We are small. We just don’t understand what He is doing apart from working to make us more like Him, to bring us into congruence with His nature.

So in times of darkness, I don’t pretend to give answers, particularly to others. I have no idea what GOD is doing! What I do know is that it is good and comes from a loving motive…but it may be painful for now.

So as a result of my scars, I did develop a concern and care for people who had imitations, visible or not. I don’t know if it affected my choice to go into nursing or not. As much as I wanted to be one of the cool people, I never was. It was good for me. (I don’t think it had anything to do with my scars at all!) It helped me develop a tender heart. I needed it.

So there you have my story of some of my personal literal scars. GOD used them in my life for good. I’m just now understanding another layer of why they were so painful to my mom.

Call to Action: Do you have any literal scars? How do you think they have affected you? Have you seen Jesus’ presence in your life at their coming into your life? Has their presence in your life brought growth?