Scars run across my body like tracks at a railroad terminal. They cross my entire abdomen in both directions. Large scars by any measure. Still puffy in places, even after 10 years. Of course, I thought them ugly at first, but even then, I knew they represented something far beyond two surgeries and my soft, slow healing, belly fat flesh.
In the moments I doubt who I am, I look at those scars.
Plenty of people have slapped labels on me in my life and I allowed many of them to stick: The quiet one. The little one. The fearful one. I believed those labels. I thought they defined who I was and who I would always be.
Until 10 years ago, when I got those scars.
At 14, my mom lost her mother to kidney disease. My mom wasn’t even able to say goodbye to her, since she sat stuck in a sanitarium, alone, fighting tuberculosis. At 17, I watched an identical story play out a generation later, as my mom lost her fight with the same disease. At 28, I learned from an ultrasound that the genetic lottery had claimed a third generation and that I would also fight the battle that my female ancestors had. Though, I had lots of time – the arc of this kidney disease is long and doesn’t hit our family until our 40s, still, I knew what I knew. So far, the score was disease: 3, life: 1.
Quiet. Little. Fearful. How could that person beat such odds? I didn’t know, but as the next 15 years passed, I did know that my three girls who came along after that fateful ultrasound needed me to.
I went into kidney transplant surgery asking, “Will I get through this? Will I do what my mom couldn’t?” Behind those were greater, unexamined questions: “Who do I have to be to get through this?” “Who am I going to be when it’s done?” While I was casting away old, useless kidneys, dare I toss out those old, useless labels that won’t – can’t – fit anymore?
I had spent so many years in the shadow of my mom’s illness and death and was fearful despite the head knowledge that I had far better odds of survival. When those shadows cleared, I saw the other side of my fear. When you’ve survived what terrified you most, what’s left to fear? If you survive, why not walk headlong into the next thing you fear? What can it do to you? Those labels: quiet, little, fearful, could never define me unless I gave them power.
So the labels fell off. Underneath them was the truth of who I really am.
I am quiet, but I am relentless. I am small, but I am strong. I am fearful, but I am a fighter.
So I have these giant scars, one where they put my husband’s good kidney in my body, one where they took out the old, useless one. The scars remind me that I made a choice for a different outcome, and with it, I made a choice I didn’t realize I was making.
A choice to live boldly.
A choice to change my labels.
A choice to decide who I would be going forward.
We do not have to be who we once were, but we may always be some of those things. I will always be little. I will always be quiet. I will always be cautious. It’s who God made me to be. I am no longer ashamed of being the short, highly introverted and imaginative, intuitive person that he chose; because I recognize all the gifts that accompany those attributes.
What my scars teach me, is that who I really am transcends those labels and also transforms them. Quiet doesn’t silence me – I relentlessly speak up for what matters. Little doesn’t limit me – strong transcends size. Fearful doesn’t have the last word – I fight it every day. No matter the label, there is a gift that transforms it into something greater.
When I doubt that, I look at my scars.
Jill Richardson is a writer, speaker, pastor and mom of three girls. She pastors a church in a Chicago suburb and is working on her doctorate in church leadership. She is a firm believer in the power of grace, restoration, hope, Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate. Her passion is partnering with the next generation
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