If you are a female who grew into your hips at a rapid pace as an adolescent or gave birth to another human (or a man who’s desk job has rounded out your belly) then you more than likely have some stretch marks to show for your valiant efforts.
Let’s just pause for a moment and applaud the wonders of the female body! Way to go, Ladies! Yeah, hips! Yeah, bellies! Yeah, curves! Yeah, us! (C’mon guys, you know you love the female body! Let’s hear it for the girls!)
We are seriously incredible, are we not? In the short time frame of nine months, whether it is dedicated to growing hips or humans, our bodies can morph into rounded lusciousness like nobody’s business!
(This is where I may lose some of my secret guy readers by disclosing too much information, but try to hang in there, fellas! )
As I was checking out the condition of my backside the other day (in the spirit of full disclosure, I was hoping my rear end had melted and become smaller as a result of going to hot yoga two times in one week), I couldn’t help but notice that the surface of my roundness looked a lot like tree bark.
Things were not nearly as small or as smooth as I had hoped! Bumpy ridges on my bum led me to believe my body must have been directionally challenged about where to grow my three babies!
(Not my belly or my hips, butt my derrière! Stretch marks. Tree bark. I am sure there is a reason for this terrifying picture! Please, God, tell me there is a purpose for this revelation about my posterior!)
Stretch marks and tree bark. This is how my mind works, people. I am a visual learner. Things I see take me to some interesting places. Travel with me for a few minutes and you will never view your stretch marks the same way again.
I have come to believe most of life’s profound miracles happen in places we cannot see. Deep dark quiet places where growing and building and knitting together go unnoticed for a season by the average passerby.
Then, there comes a time when the swell of new life can no longer be hidden. (It always requires new pants whether it’s hips or humans or bellies.)
In speaking of humans, this is when the container (your girlish figure) has to stretch beyond what has been sufficient and comfortable for turkey dinners in the past in order to provide a place for this burgeoning miracle. (Yes, your once beautifully smooth skin has in fact become a tight drum trying to contain what feels like a turkey inside of you on growth hormones!) You’re so happy when the skin gives way for the next growth spurt! Of course, you don’t realize that it has just torn a bazillion times on a microscopic level to accommodate the turkey baby. (Read stretch marks.)
This is also generally when the average passerby feels some sort of urge to pat your belly as if it is a good luck charm (such a freaky phenomena!). On a more generous note, perhaps the promise of new life is so attractive, so hopeful, so refreshing that we can hardly contain our desire to somehow reach out and affirm it with our touch.
And then, dear one, think of our friends the trees. (Admittedly an awkward segue, but please don’t leave yet!)
There they stand silently reaching for the sun, bending with the wind, drinking in life and nourishment as it is given from the heavens.
What we don’t see is their quiet reaching into the deep and the dark to anchor their increasing height and their pushing against their firm outer layer that holds them together on the inside.
Quietly from one year to the next, taller, deeper, wider without any of the growth being noticed by the average passerby.
Then the stretch happens, the bark must expand and scar to make room for all the work of reaching down into the deep for life. From the beneath and inside come depth and breadth until one day they are able to offer shelter, shade and rest to the average passerby.
So, stretch with me for a minute. Am I taking crazy pills or could this incredible process of scars and stretch marks being signs of life and growth also be true of our precious hearts?
Scars of the heart all begin as places of hurt, disappointment, failure and wounding threatening to actually bind up our heart and constrict the life beating in our chest.
Scars of the heart. We all have them; the betrayal by a friend, the loss of a loved one, an empty failing marriage, a God who seems deaf to our cry for help, persistent loneliness or an overwhelming sense of not being enough. The list is endless and like it or not, our scars are part of us.
But what if our scars were actually a holy invitation to dig down deep and grow large?
What if they were actually the very things that present us with the opportunity to grow beyond what threatens to constrict us? What if they could become a vehicle to living a more free, rich and meaningful life?
What if the scars on our hearts could become like the stretch marks on our bellies or the scars on tree bark?
What if our betrayals made us into a person who could absolutely be trusted?
What if the loss of a loved one made us more patient and kind with those who grieve long and hard and differently than we do?
What if our loneliness made us brave enough to dare to be transparent and risk being vulnerable with others in order to build more authentic relationship?
What if our struggling marriages helped us become more humble and less judgmental? What if we owned our own failings and in the process found more grace for the failings of our partners?
What if our distance from The One Who Loves Us propelled us on a journey towards finding out who He says He is and not who we’ve made Him out to be?
What if feeling like we were never enough made us more compassionate and empathetic towards others knowing they probably suffer from the same syndrome?
What if one day our scars were beautiful enough to invite others to reach out and touch the growing life they represent or big and welcoming enough provide shade, shelter and rest to the average passerby?
A belly. A tree. A heart. All quiet deep places where life can grow hidden for a time, where scars can speak of life growing beyond what contained and constricted before.
Our scars into life, shelter, shade and rest. Amen.
Of course, no one wants to suffer. Let’s be clear about that. Let’s also be clear that it is normal and healthy. We shouldn’t want to suffer. But what we are talking about here is something else. It is understanding that as much as we wish we to avoid suffering, there is more to life than merely avoiding suffering. In fact, good can come out of suffering. If we know this, it changes how we suffer. It gives it meaning. So what we desperately do want to avoid is not merely suffering but suffering without meaning. – Eric Metaxas, Miracles
Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to His plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. Romans 8:28, JB Phillips