Living With Scars

Cancer left me with a four-inch scar on my right side, just above my hip. It also left me with a terrible case of insecurity.

I’ll never forget the first time we ventured to the pool and I had to choose to remove my shirt and face the music, or keep my shirt on and hide my scar. It might seem silly to someone who’s never experienced it, but as the cool water reached my scar, I tensed up. I subconsciously rubbed my scar the entire time to make sure it remained closed.

No matter how far removed I am from my surgery, I’m still hesitant to remove my shirt in front of people. And that includes my wife and kids. Just this week, my four-year old son asked if he could touch it and if it still hurt. He was asking a much deeper question than he realized.

Although the hurt has subsided, the scar remains.

Comparing Scars

I’ve written a lot about my cancer journey, but the hardest part has been something I rarely talk about. There’s a flawed part of the human condition that causes us to use comparison as a way to cope with tragedy. In many ways, comparison has become a security blanket.

We constantly filter our story and our experience against the stories and experiences of others. When we’re in doubt, when we’re afraid, when we feel guilty, when we’re uncertain, we use comparison to cope. This is especially true when it comes to our struggles.

One of the most common things that we tell ourselves when facing something difficult is the cliché notion that someone always has it worse. I’m beginning to believe that is terrible advice.

While it is true and can provide a great deal of perspective in the midst of adversity, it doesn’t allow us the room we need to process what we’re feeling. Even worse, it has a way of making us feel guilty for our own struggle.

There are many times when I’ve felt guilty for saying “I’m cancer free” because I know countless others who were given a different prognosis. But at some point in time, I made the decision to stop living my story from a place of comparison.

For the longest time, when I walked past the mirror each morning and caught a glimpse of my scar, it was an ugly reminder of how close I was to having cancer metastasize throughout my body.

Sure, someone has had it worse, but I still had cancer. I’m not using that as a crutch, I’m simply owning my story.

When I stopped comparing my scar, it allowed me to realize that my scar didn’t define me.

My scar

My scar

Proof of Healing

All of us have scars. Some may be physical while others are emotional. But the truth is, scars never go away. They’re the tender spot that remains as a reminder of where we were wounded. It is up to us to choose how we heal.

When we choose to see our scars as a place of healing, our scars become powerful. Then, we can use our scars to help the wounds of others.

Instead of being eager to compare our scares or hide from them altogether, we must begin asking ourselves, “God what are you teaching me through this?”

That question has been transformational for me. With God’s perspective, I have learned that my diagnosis made me receptive to some of the difficult truths that I refused when I was relying on my own strength. My scar no longer reminds me of my cancer, it reminds me of how God has used that difficulty to make me who I am.

We must choose to become vulnerable and battle our wounds with God’s perspective as we embrace a proper healing. When we do, He uses our scars to forge our character. More importantly, when we embrace our healed areas, it helps others heal as well.

Scars only have power over us when we don’t allow them to heal correctly. These are the scars that keep us in a constant state of comparison and paralyze us from moving forward—from ever getting back in the proverbial pool.

I’ve heard it said that before God uses someone greatly, He must wound them deeply. That’s a difficult thought to stomach. I don’t think that God wants to wound those He loves, but then again, I think about His Son.

And by His wounds, we were healed.

God’s story is a beautiful reminder that wounds heal.

So wherever you are today, I want you to believe that God will use your scars to bring something beautiful to life.

MH

 

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  • Steven Tessler

    i had a really great scar!! I hurt my back while in the Navy and it was diagnosed as a herniated disk.

    It took two years to finely get my surgery. I was told they were replacing my L-4/L-5 disk with a new artificial disk.

    The doctor said, “Ok, we’ll be cutting through your front to replace your disk.”

    I was freaking out!! My front! How in the world?? But in the end it was the best way to actually heal.

    After the surgery I was in great pain!! The day after that I was walking normal again!!

    I’m now back somewhat as strong as ever!! I can’t do everything I used to but at least there isn’t anymore pain.

    • Steven –
      Very cool story about your healing.

  • micki

    how do i let a scar heal properly if it’s something that keeps getting opened? not sure how to prevent it since i know that it’s something inside me that keeps letting it be opened?

    • Micki –
      In the book, I write about using forgiveness and responsibility as healing tools. I see two types of scars: some you’re responsible or and some you’re not.

      The key is really digging into the scar and finding your level of responsibility. Even if your responsibility is simply your ‘response’ to the scar.

      Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “Circumstances beyond your control can take everything in life from you except the freedom to choose how you will respond.”

      The next step is forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves and others is a huge step toward healing. Bitterness and unforgiveness will pain us and continue to reopen wounds.

      In the end, shame tells you that you’re unworthy while God says, you are.

      Feel free to email me if I can help you any further.

  • Tammy Shaw

    Matt! My scars from the breast cancer remind me how God saved my life. They are survivor scars. Scars that show the power of Gods healing hand. Everyone has a story and everyone has a wound. The most important piece to remember is peace. Gods peace is amazing. I have approximately 12 large scars and they remind me how blessed I am be alive. I am never ashamed when people question the scars. It gives me the opportunity to share my story about God’s goodness. Thank you for your story. I pray each day for you and what God is doing in your life that gives you the power to touch us.

    • Oh Tammy, dear friend! I love your story, your heart, and your willingness to share. I have missed you on FB, but so glad to know you’re here. God is continually reminding me of his goodness, in everything. Blessings to you!

      • Tammy Shaw

        Matt, I miss you on FB but good gracious , god told me to get off FB! Relatives asking for money, friends asking for donations, customers asking about rates and appraisals, I want to live!!

  • Two weeks ago was the 14th anniversary of the horrific bicycle accident that nearly took my life in 2000… My scars are a constant reminder of God’s sometimes miraculous provision for me, and the ripple effect that an event like that can have not only on the individual but also those around them. The Lord works in mysterious ways…

    • Chad –
      Brother, I was thinking about you on this one. I know those scars run deep and remind you all the time. His miraculous provision. Thanks for sharing your healing well.

  • Matt- Years of police work wearing a gun belt as well as years of practicing jujitsu resulted in a bulging disk. After the surgery I was a new man. There was also the suspicious mole removed from my chest. It turned out not to be skin cancer. Both experiences caused some reflection. I don’t take my health for granted and I thank each day that God has given me. I miss the agility of my youth and soaking up the sun…but these scars and scares, like you, have strengthened me in other ways. Thanks for your post.

    • Scars cause reflection indeed, John. Thank you for your service and for sharing with this community. We are appreciative!

  • Matt, your post brought to mind a post I published on my blog back in 2011. The post titled Less Like Scars recounts healing in the life of my family. Here’s the link: http://www.jonstolpe.com/2011/08/30/less-like-scars/

    • Jon –
      Thanks for sharing this here, brother!

      • You’re welcome. I hope you didn’t mind me sharing the link. It was just easier, and it answered your question best.

  • lwwarfel

    “To conclude: let no one give me any more trouble, because the scars I have on my body show that I am the slave of Jesus. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, my friends. Amen.” — Galatians 6:17-18

    What a beautiful perspective! Thank you SO much for sharing this.

    • Laura –
      I was listening to John Piper the other day explain the extent of Paul’s wounds. If I’m correct, he was lashed on seven different occassions and when Piper put that in the context of the times it was a grizzly realization.

      Thank you for being here!

  • Jenna B

    I’m healing from some deep emotional wounds from my past. I’ve gotten pretty efficient at talking about my scars “clinically” (just the facts), but I’m slowly learning to talk about how it made me feel and what I’ve learned. I believe this is what gives our stories their power: dropping our masks and being authentic. Thank you for sharing this, Matt!!

    • Jenna –
      Wether we say it or not, we all are, I can promise you that. I am learning that shame wants to isolate you, an assault on your worth. But, like you said, it is our stories and scars that give us power.

      There’s a great series at http://www.portcitychurch.org on SHAME right now called Covered – check it out if you get a minute.

      Thank YOU for being here.

  • I still feel the scar from my mom having a nervous breakdown when I was just entering my teenage years.

    • Larry –
      Brother, lifting that up this morning. Lifting you up. We need Godly men, like yourself, in the workplace and in the world.

  • powerful post matt! and that is a great scar to be proud of. its a scar to say you are alive. probably those emotional scars are like that too. a reminder of what was and what could of being. a reminder of healing and restoration.

    I have a scar and a stump (i’m an amputee!) of a little finger which reminds me of the time i was four and had a moment of stubborn “i am claire and i can do anything” and hopped on my tricycle and then because i couldn’t reach the peddles, rolled it over the bank and fell over a wall. it reminds me that that attitude gets me in trouble sometimes. and to have wisdom, and humility. it is a visible reminder on my hand that i dont know everything.

    • Aw Claire, a scar and a stump.

      Honestly, we’re all that four-year old, stubborn self from time to time. Which is why we need GRACE!

      Thanks for being such a great contribution to this community, Claire.

  • Jane Tuttle

    Wonderful post and I found this salient “I let it (your scar) remind me that I’m healed.”

    • Hey Jane!
      It’s funny…after I published this post, I found that there’s a rap song somewhere that uses the same language, but the song focuses on the scar and the lyrics are a painful reminder. However, I think God calls us to focus on the healing. A simple shift in perspective, right? Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

      • micki

        oh that’s good – focus on the healing & not the scar. i’ll work on that!

  • Laura Robb

    So much goodness in this post, Matt. Thanks for sharing your vulnerability. One of my scars is from back surgery as a child and that one left me afraid of bandages. Other wounds/scars are worries about the unknown future. Healing comes when I admit these…bring them into the light and learn to trust the God who is in control and focus on the present. Today is where I can find all kinds of gifts and the past reminds me of His faithfulness.

    • Laura –
      I love your sweet soul. So much of your story speaks to healing in Christ and I love that about you. I’m so glad you are who you are in Him. It is a blessing to watch.

  • David Mike

    By His wounds we are healed. No shame in having scars. I feel as if I have so many that it makes me unrecognizable. This is okay too because I want my identity to be in Him! Thanks for sharing yours with us!

    • Amen, David! Great words from you and very wise. And likewise to you, your scars and the way you’ve emerged heal the hearts of many.

  • Growing up, scars came to me almost next to naturally. Years of physical abuse from siblings with an occasional beat down from my folks (ain’t nobody got time for time outs up in here third world countries :-)), verbal abuse, two gruesome rape attempts (at 8 and again at 26), it is no wonder that now at 29, I have gradually become less and less of who I envisioned me to be and more like a patchwork. Now that I have dealt with the demons of the past (I’m all good with my family now), I keep thinking that God loves me better this way.

    No, this is not to mean that people should go through gruesome stuff to experience God’s love. Far from that. Instead, I thrive to view myself from where God stands; and from His viewpoint, I echo the words of Casting Crowns’ Already There:

    From where You’re standing
    Lord I see a grand design that You imagined
    When You breathed me into life
    And all the chaos, come together in Your hands
    Like a Masterpiece
    Of Your picture perfect plan.

    [Casting Crowns, Already There https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qtg9axTtNLg )

    Thanks Matt.

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