can I show you my scars?
I was diagnosed with advanced scoliosis, a progressive curvature of my spine, when I was halfway to 16.
As I prepared for surgery on my crooked spine a few months later, I thought about the pain, the inability, the struggle ahead. The three rods the surgeon would screw onto my spine would become a part of me. I cringed at the thought of it.
I didn’t think about the physical scars I would be left with. I pushed back the questions. What would it feel like to be pregnant with rods on my spine? Or not be able to bend my spine in any way, restricted to non-impact activities for the rest of my life?
I simply focused on the present: I was going to get put under, cut wide open, and halfway through it all, the surgeon would take a lunch break.
After I woke up from the 12-hour surgery, I knew I was only just beginning the long road to recovery. The shock of reality hit me hard. I had been cut deep and the aching scalpel marks proved it. I had to relearn how to move and walk and get out of bed.
Two weeks after surgery, my mama peeled off the white bandages in the shower, crusty with blood. I glanced down and saw how the stitches were slowly dissolving into me. They would disappear, but my scars would not.
And they were rather large.
I couldn’t see anything beautiful about them, anything worthy. At the time, they revealed my weakness and pain.
One scar runs down three quarters of my spine. The other scar runs from the side of my abdomen and curves around my ribcage, where it ends on my back.
As the scars faded from purple to pink, I looked like I had been ripped open—neatly, I must say—by a shark.
Less than a year after surgery, as my seventeenth summer approached, I was already dreading the season of backless bathing suits and tank tops. Shopping was such a drag. I avoided all shirts and dresses with low backs. I could not bring myself to show my back, in any way. I didn’t want to be different.
Would someone ever love me and my scars?
All of my other teenage girlfriends had perfectly unscarred bodies. I didn’t see their insecurities—the extra weight they hated, the pimpled skin—but I sure saw mine. I was angry at my body. My weird body that just had to twist and turn on me.
As life went on, I learned to do things in a new way. I started dancing again, with my stick straight spine. I slowly started accepting my scars as time and sunshine faded them.
By the time I met my husband at 23, I wasn’t afraid of wearing clothes that showed my scars. The lines on my body no longer defined me. It didn’t matter anymore that I had scars and my friends didn’t. I felt beautiful, and my husband confirmed it, again and again.
Just the other day, I asked my husband if he remembered what he thought when he first glanced at my scars.
“Your scars are beautiful,” he replied, “they’re a marker, a symbol of what was overcome in the past.”
Recently I had a maternity photo shoot done, and as we were wrapping up, I asked the photographer if she would take a picture of my bare pregnant belly, on my scarred side.
She smiled, “Absolutely.”
What was once a jarring reminder of my weakness and fragility, is now a symbol of strength. It is written on me, a storyline.
When we walk through the hard places, our stories, our strength, and our old, knit together wounds can help heal and comfort others. Suffering allows us to enter into previously untrod territory, and gives us common ground that we may otherwise never have.
A part of my carefree teenage self was left behind on the operating table, sawed off with that left rib, grafted onto my bones and heart. This thing called life, it hurts.
We need each other’s stories. We need experienced hands to guide us through the dark, whispering I understand, I know and me too. This is a beautiful thing, this sharing and communing and pushing through together.
We often ask, where is God in these places? He is ever present, as we lick our wounds and cry out in turmoil. Near to us in the still, quiet night of healing. With us, as we heal wide open. And it’s okay if it takes time to see His imprint.
That’s the beauty of the journey. When we learn to touch the flesh of humanity and see the pulse of God in our stories, it is a gift. A gift that unravels, through the days and years ahead.
For me, it unravels still. We visit the same children’s hospital with my daughter now, and when I see those teenage girls in their blue gowns, with curved spines and broken hearts, I want to whisper: It’s not okay, but you’re not alone. It gets better. Can I show you my scars?