“So I’m thankful for the scars
Cause’ without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars.”
I AM THEY – Scars
One grey, blustery and overcast day in ancient Ireland, I arrived home from primary school, tired and hungry. One of my peculiar patterns of eating back then included two slices of refined white bread, smeared with Heinz tomato ketchup, and sprinkled with white sugar.
On this particular day I was met at the doorstep by a buzz of visually contrasting colors and activity: policemen in dark clothing and ambulance men in white with stern faces stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn’t get into my house. I was forced to wait outside. I was about nine or ten, perhaps younger. My worn, brown leather schoolbag was snugly strapped round my back and chest. I was frightened. I thought about my homework. My stomach growled. What happened? Who is in there? Is it my daddy? Then I saw my father being carried out of 82 Moylinn on a stretcher. He was groaning and covered in blood. He staggered home drunk from the pub and fell into a glass cabinet. I watched, frozen in fear, as his bloodied face and body was carried away and hoisted up into the ambulance. The ambulance door slammed shut. I stared at the back of the ambulance motionless. The thought that is was bad luck to stare at the back of an ambulance flashed through my mind. I felt sad and scared.
The rest of the day is a fog. Denial is helpful like that. It can protect us. I don’t remember if anyone helped me to process that event. My father’s alcoholism frightened our neighbors as much as it frightened our small family.
Although a naturally joyful, and carefree child, growing up in an alcoholic home, and dealing with trauma like this eroded my self-esteem, self-worth and sense of identity. The disease is cunning and baffling. I became good at hiding from it and others. I lost trust in authority. It was easier to not feel, or think or voice my opinion.
Fast forward to 29 years of age, and a nervous breakdown led to a dramatic spiritual awakening in Ireland. I committed my life to Christ and became rooted and grounded in the Celtic Christian Faith and Traditions. Later on, in Colorado Springs, I discovered the Alanon program. Along with AA, Alanon is probably one of the most powerful spiritual programs developed in the last century. Through working the 12-step program, I learned that the experiences I had within my alcoholic home did not make me terminally unique. I became hopeful that I could heal myself from the wretchedness and gloom of my alcoholic home life.
As I worked the 12 steps of the program, I began to open up emotionally. I felt safe. I developed an emotional vocabulary. As I opened up and talked, I began to release my shame, guilt, self-pity, anger, rage and resentment.
As I grew in faith and recovery, I came out of hiding. I gradually found the courage to speak my heart and mind. This led me on a sacred call to self-discovery. Christian spirituality has a great deal to do with the self, not just with God. The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of self. This requires knowing both oneself and God. Both are necessary if we are to discover our true identity as those who are “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I’m inspired on this journey by others who stay true to themselves and show courage in difficult circumstances. I call it courage under fire. One example is Desmond Doss. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, refusing to touch a gun due to an alcoholic incident in his home, involving a gun. Ostracized at first by his fellow soldiers for his pacifism, he would go on to earn their respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion.
In action on Hacksaw Ridge during the battle of Okinawa in 1945, Doss, an unarmed combat medic, saved scores of wounded men by retrieving them in the face of Japanese fire. When the order came to retreat, Desmond stayed. On each foray into no man’s land Doss would pray, “Lord let me find and save just one more man.” His personal sacrifice brought healing. He was true to his religious convictions and God used him to save 75 lives, against all odds. Following his heroic action, the men in his unit refused to go into battle until Doss had prayed for them. He was eventually awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Coming out of hiding and staying true to myself required that I embrace the vulnerabilities that sent me scurrying there in the first place. If I retreat from God’s presence, he still wanders every moment of every day in my inner garden looking for my companionship and asking, where are you Jeanette, and why are you hiding? Sometimes I AM hiding in the bushes and the first step out of the bushes is always a step towards being honest with myself.
The five points below helped me to stay true to who I am in my brokenness. I was rescued by the one True God who comes to rescue the broken, the abused, and the wounded. If we surrender to his leading, he will show us the treasure within our scars and “he is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Ephesians 3:20-21.
I find my true self by seeking God, not myself.
Self-acceptance always precedes genuine self-surrender and self-transformation.
If God loves and accepts me as a sinner, how can I do less?
If I repent and commit to his ways, he will heal and restore me.
Jesus is the True self. I find my true self when I fix my eyes on him.