Painted with Scars

On our recent cruise vacation, I finally found the time to sit down and read a book I had been planning on reading for some time now…since February to be exact.

Around Valentine’s Day, our campus ministry team hosted an all-girls event one night on campus. I’ll be honest, when I walked through the doors to that event, I had absolutely no idea what this “Galentine’s” thing was all about. I drug Toria with me, because I saw 2 important things on the posters advertising the event- chapel credit and a chocolate fondue bar. Honestly, I probably would have gone even without the chapel credit offering. Who can pass up a chocolate fondue bar?

Once they had a small crowd filling the chairs, they told us a little more about the plans for the night. After everyone had a chance to help themselves to the fondue, we had a band that would play a few songs and then the rest of the night would be spent listening to an author and her daughter. We were assured the event would last no longer than 3 hours.

Hold up. 3 hours. That means we’re suppose to sit and listen to an author and her daughter speak on who knows what for at least 2 hours of this 3 hour shindig. I can suddenly feel the look I know Toria is giving me for dragging her to a 3-hour event the night before a test. I was giving myself that same look after hearing how long this thing was suppose to be. (I guess that’ll teach me to read all of the details on the poster next time, not just the ones offering free chocolate!)

But seeing as we had already claimed a seat, and fixed a plate of chocolate, it seemed a little rude to get up and walk out after our discovery (although we did contemplate if it would really look that bad to leave).

So, with acceptance of our fate for the next 3 hours, we sat back, looking a little less than intrigued, and made our peace with it.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been more thankful for my love of chocolate than I was that night. This event was an incredible, unexpected blessing. And I was so close to missing it all.

The author who spoke that night was Tam Hodge, and the event, essentially, was an interview with her about her book, And Now I Choose.

Tam is a lady who has a past you would never believe. And in her book, she takes you through the worst of it.

Tam’s earliest memory is of hearing violent yelling and the sounds of a man’s fist, who she did not know was her father, slamming against her mother’s jaw. She had knocked on their bedroom door, despite the commotion, to ask for a drink of water. And when her father opened the door, she saw a fist dripping with blood in her face. She was only three years old.

This event defines the trajectory for most of her early life.

From stories of the half-hour beatings she endured for not washing all of the dishes that left her swollen, bleeding, and unable to sit down, to the time her mother told her she didn’t want to see her again and kicked her out on the streets at 16, Tam endured it all.

Abuse. Abandonment. Neglect. Two abortions. Drugs. Alcohol. Suicide. Molestation.

Reading through the horrible events Tam was forced to experience leaves you wondering how she ever made it out. And meeting Tam, leaves you with even more questions of how in the world she became the person she is today after everything she went through.

But the premise of Tam’s book is that we have the power to choose.

We can’t choose what happens to us. We can’t choose our family. Our social class. Or how people treat us. We can’t choose the things we have to endure. Or the circumstances, good or bad, that we are born into. We can’t choose whether our parents are married or divorced. And we can’t choose how they treat each other or us.

But we can choose what we do with it. We can choose to pray for the strength to overcome our circumstances. We can choose to be the bigger person and not retaliate. We can choose to acknowledge that people do have the power to hurt us, but we have the power to overcome it. We can choose to grow from our experiences. To use every stone thrown at us to build something beautiful. We can choose to treat people better than we were treated. And we can choose to forgive.

Sometimes, we look at people like Tam and hurt for them. We hurt for all of the things they went through that no one should ever be exposed to. We wish we could erase all of those experiences for them.

Sometimes, we look at our own lives and see things we wish we could erase. Maybe it’s things that have happened to us that were out of our control. Or maybe it’s mistakes we’ve made that we desperately wish we could take back.

But the thing about the past is, it’s crucial to the present.

So we can choose to accept it, or we can live our lives trying to fight it.

All of our past experiences, regardless of how small and insignificant, have made us the person we are today. So while we might look back and see moments that we wish we could erase, those moments are an integral part of the person we have become. And taking away any of those moments wouldn’t be simply erasing old memories. It would be changing the person we are in the present. Because without those moments, we aren’t who we are anymore.

Your past has made you who you are. And you’re a beautiful masterpiece, painted with scars.