Healing Scars

About three years ago I had surgery. My foot was unable to heal itself, so I had surgery to take out pieces that didn’t belong and pin new structures so that my foot would be aligned. The cuts were each two to three inches long, and deep enough to need staples and stitches. The incisions went all the way to the bones of my foot. Healing took a long time.

While I was healing from surgery and entering into the process of physical therapy, I was taught how to care for my scars. My incision that went clear to the bone had begun to heal. The scab healed over and I stopped being worried about the wound opening up. But the scars remained. In fact, the scar sank all the way to the bones of my foot. I had scar tissue half an inch thick and two to three inches long running along my foot. The only way to care for a scar like that is to rub it. you have to carefully massage the scar, reminding the layers of skin and muscle beneath the surface that they are different, and are not designed to be cast together.

This kind of re-memorization massage is not terribly pleasant. It hurts. The skin has to be pushed in opposite directions and rubbed in circles and told to figure out that it doesn’t need all that scar tissue that built up around it to protect it. The deep tissue massage is necessary for healing. If you don’t press and prod and provoke it, then the scar tissue will prohibit further growth.

The scar on the outside remains. I can still see the individual points where the staples held my skin together. But deeper, below the surface, I can feel the individual layers move in their own way, individually and separately.

The foot is all one part, it is held together by bones and sinews and muscles and skin, but the separate parts have returned to moving in synchronous motion and yet individual action.

Scars in the Body of Christ can be the same way. When the Body of Christ is hurt, we can be tempted to wrap up the wound and ignore it until it is fully scabbed and scarred over. Once the scar is formed, it is all too easy to declare that it is no longer in need of care, rather we choose to ignore the scar because it is not causing any direct pain. But when we ignore the scar, we let it continue to sink deep into the bones of the Church. If we apply any pressure, there is an instant reaction that causes us to jerk back and continue on a path that avoids any discomfort. When we ignore the scars deep in the folds of our lives the action of those parts of us that are wounded are limited and stilting.

With our scars sinking deep and hidden by the surface we can forget that we are in need of healing. Our scars serve as a reminder of pain, but also of healing.

Healing scars is hard work. It hurts and can interfere with our routine. However, if we ever want to heal, to become more whole, we must do the hard work of re-memorization.

Stormy Journey

The beginning of this week was filled with rain. The rain fell for the entirety of Monday, reminding me of the Kenyan rainforest and camping as a child. We kept the windows open through the day as we took our Sabbath. For a while, it felt as though we were keeping a traditional Sabbath, because all the lights were off and we only used the ambient light from the cloudy sky.

The rain fell in gentle patterns and in furious downpours. The lightning filled the sky and the thunder shook the house to its bones. The sweet smell of washed soil filled our home.

God made mud in our yard. Rivulets cascaded through the moss and formed streams of water down past the foot of our house. Water swept the dry dust of the early summer away down to join the streams downhill.

The week has since warmed and brought sweltering heat and bright sunlight to the days since. But here in the midst of the south, in the midst of the harsh summer, we received a week of cool breezes and chilly nights to remind us of the spring that has passed and the autumn that is yet to come.

With the reminders of the gentle coolness of nights of soft breezes, God granted us a space to persevere through the stifling heat of the summer sun.

Sometimes it takes a storm for me to see the calm afterwards. Sometimes it takes a storm for me to learn that I need to take shelter and find a place to weather the storm. Sometimes it takes a storm for me to understand the wonder and awe that comes from experiencing God’s presence.

Sometimes it takes a storm to wash away the dust and form the mud that creates miracles.

Sometimes all I do is stand in the storm.

… … …

When I am in the midst of difficulties, it is hard to see the gleam of God’s good work when everything is coated in a film of dust. All I can see is the dust, the dirt, the demands and burdens of the daily drudgery. Life takes a paler view when all I see is the chores of the next day or week. There is a difference between hard work and work that is hard to do. A simple task can either be the work of a moment or the work of a day, depending on the way that the task is approached.

I love to be enmeshed in work that gives me life and calls my attention. I thrive when I can see the good that comes from what I do, even if it is elusive, ambiguous, or undefined. That kind of work gives me life and joy.

But there are other times when the work before me can seem simple as ever but is as hard as pushing a ever growing stone up a mountain. I become drained merely thinking about the task before me, even before I press my shoulder to the stone to begin the climb. That kind of work leaves me numb and weary.

On occasion, it is not the work itself but the environment surrounding me. If I need to push a boulder up a mountain, it is much easier to do if the ground is firm and solid rather than loose and slick. If I cannot find a place to put my foot to support myself, all I can do is slip and tumble down to the valley again, or scrabble at roots in the crumbling soil, hoping to keep from scattering my support like so many clods of clay.

Whatever the circumstance, the work remains, so I try to take small bits of it at a time, looking at the narrow individual task, rather than be overwhelmed by the scope of the work before me. This is easier said than done, of course. I prefer to look at the wide picture, see the broad scope before me, but looking over the whole journey can stall my action and keep me from attending to the present moment.

And so I trudge on, and hope that in my continuing tenacious determination I find a new place to gain a different perspective. The mud might stick to my boots and make them a few pounds heavier, but the weight does not keep me from moving forward. I look for a stream to wash my boots, or a solid place on which to rest for a while.

My endurance grows. I become stronger as I continue to tread the path before me. The stone may not be any lighter, but I learn a new way to carry it so that it doesn’t wear me out as much.

The miracle is that sooner or later I can put it down; I no longer have to carry it. At first, without the weight of it on my shoulders I feel off balance. I forget how I held my body without the tremendous extra weight upon me. As time goes on, and as I continue to move, I remember what it felt like to not carry a burden the size of a boulder. I learn to set my feet in a new way, different than before I picked up the stone, since now I have changed from my long journey. I have grown stronger, and my new strength grants me grace.

I wish that I didn’t have to go through the hard part of the journey. I wish that I didn’t have to carry a burden in order to learn how to be strong and graceful. I wish the mud could just stay by the riverbank and off of my boots.

But the journey isn’t just about the finish. The path twists and turns and makes switchbacks so that I can learn from where I have been and prepare for where I am going. The mud is a messy reminder of the creative work of God in the midst of the harshest circumstances.

And really, truly, my path is not just about me. It is also about the people around me: those who help me bear my burdens, those who need me to help them carry theirs, and those who walk alongside me. When I find folks who can journey with me, my burden is not as heavy, and the path is not as rough.

I keep my ears open, and my eyes wide, looking for people who help me in my journey. I try not to listen too deeply to the voices that say that I cannot do it, that I will fail at whatever I try. I pay attention to the markers on the trail, listening to my fellow journeyers so that I can continue on the right path. I find shelter from the storms. But occasionally, I’ll step into the downpour, because I know that it is good to be cleansed deep into the cracks and crevices of my soul.

Five Years

I created this blog five years ago as a experiment. During the month of July 2009 I posted every day for a month. They were not always profound posts. They were not always long posts. But they were a way for me to maintain a rhythm of writing.

I have maintained a slightly more fluid rhythm over the past five years. I’ve had post heavy months, and I’ve had months where I only posted once or twice. And yet the writing has remained. I’ve kept at it. The writing muscles have not atrophied. I think I’ve gotten better at writing and expressing myself. I would certainly hope so, at least. I broke three hundred posts a while back, I continue to write with partners and friends, and I press myself to go deeper with my writing.

For the next month, I am going to try it again, writing every single day over the month of July. Last time I did it I didn’t have Internet in the home where I was staying. Now I’ve got a smart phone that has a WordPress platform app directly on the phone. The tech can change, but I have been working on changing myself as well. It is a challenge that I look forward to.

Stick around and I might even share some of my freaky slipstream dystopian dreams.

Difficult to Receive

My signoff in my emails, phone messages, and benedictions is a general variation on peace be with you. I seek to grant peace to others as I go throughout my day and my ministry. I pray peace over church members in hospitals, with those who are grieving or caring for the ill, upon those who have difficult decisions to make. I want others to be more at peace because of an encounter with me. I want to be used as an instrument of God so that God’s peace and comfort will rest on others. I can work pretty hard at sending peace. It doesn’t always work.

Sometimes the hardship continues, the stubbornness remains, and the isolation sinks deeper. Sometimes peace is not to be had. Sometimes the situation is without a sense of peace. It’s not anyone’s fault, just that peace is too elusive in certain times in our lives.

See, with all this peace that I am trying to grant when I am with others, the peace that I seek is away from others. I want a porch at a cabin on the beach or in the mountains: no telephones, no cell phones, no clocks, and no computers. Just me, a cup of coffee or tea, a loved one, and nature. I want a space where no one will disturb my peace, where no one will come to disrupt and add their own agitation into my environment.

I think that partly I want that kind of peace because I have a environment where I work where at any moment I can be entered into someone else’s crisis. I can be called up on at a moment’s notice to go and try to bring solace and care and even perhaps peace to a unstable situation. These calls don’t happen very often, but the possibility hovers over me six days a week.

If I’m honest, seven days a week. Even though I keep Sabbath, it doesn’t mean that I will not get called—especially in a dire emergency—during my Sabbath.

I have realized, finally, that if I cannot let go of the need to extend peace to all people at all times in all places, regardless of the circumstance, then I will rarely find time to extend peace to myself. I’ll wear out. There will be nothing left of me. I realize that. But it is so terribly hard to listen to the dual call of God, to extend peace to others, and then also to receive it for myself.

The receiving is the hardest. I don’t really consider how hard it might be for others to receive peace in their spaces from me. But if it is this hard for me to receive it, as I know that I need it and that it will work to help me as I always continue to grow more whole, then I suspect it is equally as hard or more so for those around me.

Storm Shelters

A storm blew through our community last night just after sundown. The sun was setting in the west, and the storm was blustering in from the north and the east. It made for a pretty sky, but it also made the darkened storm clouds approach with a deeper darkness than we would have had otherwise. I love the way that storm clouds rush in over a landscape, and so I went to a neighbor’s yard to get some photographs with my phone. As I was taking the pictures, I looked back toward my house, and noticed that the storm had blown even closer, sinking us deeper into the dark. The wind was picking up as well, bending trees and whipping my hair around my face. Lightning flashed. It was time to get inside.

The Storm Appoaches
Storm Rolling In

I get nervous when a storm approaches. I can feel the storm approach deep in my bones. I get antsy. If you try to have a serious conversation with me when a storm approaches expect unthoughtful, one word responses. Lightning and thunder make me startle and jump, and the rush of a heavy rain with possible hail makes me check the storm reports and the colour of the sky, just in case of tornadoes.

I also love storms. I love their power, I love their force, I love the way that they renew the earth with fresh water. I just need a little more comfort when they blow through.

I’ve gone through some storms recently in my personal life, when I really needed extra comfort. Watching the storm clouds brewing in abstract doesn’t give me nearly the same kind of joyful awe as seeing the ones that blew over us last night. Life storms—whether they are upheaval, heartbreak, or loss (sometimes all three at once)—tend to solely fill me with dread and utterly sap my energy. The comfort I sought, through my support system and reliance on God, didn’t shelter and protect me the same way that the roof over my head covered me last night. It is as if I am stuck in a picnic shelter in the midst of a huge rainstorm, and the wind is blowing nearly horizontal sometimes. I still felt the creeping cold of loss deep into my bones.

Perhaps I need to learn to build better storm shelters, dig myself a shelter deep in the ground somewhere, go hide until the storm blows over. But if the shelter is deep and secure enough, then I may not know when the storm has gone. I may hide in my shelter and never realize that the skies are blue again.

There is another problem with a shelter dug too deep. I am the only one inside it. Sure, folks can come and provide me with some essentials now and later, but a shelter that protects me from every single little thing has only space for me inside it. Not only is it lonely, it is also selfish. With a deep personal hiding hole, I don’t provide shelter or provision for others. I cannot help others with their storms and crises when I am sunk deep into the earth myself. Part of the way that I heal is by providing shelter for others. I can’t do that deep within my own insulating shelter.

And so I keep myself from digging a cellar in the ground, a metaphorical storm shelter that will insulate me from every single drop of hurt and brokenness. Instead, I expose myself to the storms, feeling the pain and hurt of those around me, looking for the way that each new storm will provide the space for new healing and renewing power. Because storms have power. They have the power to destroy, but they also carry energy to wash away the debris and detritus that have built up in our lives. Yes, destruction will occur. Objects, emotions, and relationships will be torn away. But what remains is space for renewal and rebuilding. The cold will seep deep into my core, but sooner or later the skies will clear and allow warmth and healing to begin.

The storm is not the end of the story. The storm does not speak the final word. The storm is a powerful, magnificent, awesome (in every sense of the word) force of nature. But the one who created nature is bigger, and has a bigger story to tell. And so I celebrate the storm. I know there is a sun shining right behind it.

Inbreaking
Inbreaking Light