Those scars won’t heal you (another open letter).

Dear stranger,

I saw you through the window at work today. You were in the back seat of a car, staring in the opposite direction from where I stood. You were with a woman who was perhaps your mother or grandmother and a girl who looked like she was your age. You wore all black and held a Nintendo, but it remained shut in your lap. Your friend just kept her head resting in her hand, which rested against the window of the car. I don’t know where you came from, or who you are. But when I looked a second time, I saw something that nearly brought me to tears.

I saw your scars.

It made me pause, just for a second, and stare. I’m sorry for staring, but I couldn’t ignore my heart shattering at this sight. You wore those scars like a sleeve, all the way from your wrist to your shoulder. Some were white and old, others were pink and new. But all were deep, thick, and perfectly straight. The kind you can only get from a straight razor drawn across your skin. I know these scars. I have seen them many times. You stared out the window, not knowing that I ever took notice of you at all. Maybe you’ll never know. But I nearly cried, seeing your beautiful arms covered in those scars. I couldn’t see your face. But I guessed you were in high school.

I knew those scars from my own years spent in high school, where I had friends whose cuts I cleaned in the school bathroom because the school wouldn’t help them and I didn’t know what else to do. I took away friend’s razors, thumb tacks, and staples, and I kept them. But they always found something else with an edge on it. One friend told me that her mother had even handed her a razor one night and told her to go die. I don’t know if this is entirely true or not, but it broke my heart, just as my heart broke then and is breaking now for you.

The woman in the driver’s seat did not look healthy. She was thin, almost emaciated, with tangled hair, and she spoke in nonsensical syllables except when placing her order and saying “Thank you.” I pray that with her, you are at least not being harmed even if you are not entirely safe.

I do not know if, like some of my friends in high school, you have been abused, sexually, emotionally or physically. I don’t know if you have any kind of support from family or even close friends. I don’t know if you have someone to take away your razors and beg you to stop, who refuses to abandon you even when you don’t. I don’t know if your parents know, and if they know I don’t know if they’re the type to care. I don’t even know if you have parents. I don’t know why you’re hurting, but it is plain to see that you are.

I wish there was something I could say, or do, to make you see and make you stop, but I know that that only comes with time. I know that you have to see your worth, see your beauty, see that you are loved. I know that it takes a massive intervention. For me, it took a cosmic one. For me, it took the book of Romans, read while crying profusely because of what lay inside that book. For me, my scars went so deep that it took a man sent by God, who willingly gave his life on a cross as a perfect replacement for me, with my name on his lips and in his heart the whole time that he was being bloodied and bruised and beaten and killed. And that’s what it took for you too. He absorbed all the impact of every one of your scars on that day…

And then he erased them three days later when he rose again. He came back clean, even though he’d just borne the sin of you and me, that we know for a fact goes deep, so deep, because we can judge based on the scars. Some of us carry the scars on our arms and they are plainly visible to the naked eye. And some of us carry them only on our hearts.

These self-inflicted injuries go deeper than any razor can cut, and they go further back than we can remember. They have been caused by generation upon generation of sinners, hurting each other and hurting themselves, until we become so lost in all of the hurt that we don’t know what to do but more of the same. I know it doesn’t seem like it right at this darkest moment, but there is hope. And there is love. And you are beautiful and you were made in the image of the same God-Man who died for you all of those thousands of years ago. Your body can heal because his was maimed. The scars will not heal you, but he can heal your scars. It’s why he died, and it’s why he rose, and I can tell you this with conviction because he already did it for me.

Love,

A Stranger

Alena Rivas is a college student from Tucson, Arizona. She has been married since August, 2013. She and her husband don’t have kids yet, but they hope to once she graduates! Alena writes about life, love, loss, and God. She works to incorporate her own experiences in such a way as to inspire others and encourage people to think about things in new ways. If you like her writing and want to keep up with it better or just want to have access to her awesome witticisms that may not always end up in blog posts, you can find her on Facebook (facebook.com/authoralenarivas), Twitter (@mrsalenaeous), and Google+ (Alena Rivas).

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Love does not always roar.

I was at work yesterday, and as I stood at the drive through window, a van pulled up. It was an old man and an old woman. At first glance, the old woman just looked very still, but on second glance I realized that she was paralyzed. I saw her wheel chair all strapped into the car, and she was frozen in one position, which made me believe that she was quadriplegic. As I talked to them briefly, told them to have a wonderful day, and gave them their order, I noticed that the man seemed oddly cheerful. I knew he must spend lots of time taking care of his wife, and I knew that it must be difficult for him. Another family had pulled through earlier, and they were all able to eat in the car. This man did not have that ability if he was driving his paralyzed wife around. I thought about all of the times that I had handed my husband unwrapped food from the passenger seat so that he could eat and drive. I thought about the many conversations that we’ve had, and that many of our best, deepest conversations happened on car rides. I thought about how we love singing along to songs together on the radio. And I also thought about how I take all of that for granted, and that this man doesn’t have any of those things but he still drives his wife around and smiles and (at lease seemed) cheerful despite the hardship that life had given him.

There is a quote by (I think) Mary Anne Radmacher. She said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” This is something that holds true for me as far as my own experience goes. As I thought about the old man that I saw at work, this quote came to mind and I realized that it would be just as true if you replaced “courage” with “love.”

There is an obsession that I see in our culture for love to be loud and proud. Love is seen as this thing that you proclaim to the world over and over, always and forever. Or for as long as the feeling lasts, I guess. It’s something to be shouted from the rooftops and shouted at everyone you meet. It’s something you take pictures of, tell people about, and can’t stop thinking about and therefore cannot stop talking about, either. I think that this is largely symptomatic of our social networking culture, where “pics or it didn’t happen” has been taken too deeply to heart.

The truth is, love doesn’t always roar. Of course love does roar. But it doesn’t always. In fact, most often, it is the quiet putting of an arm around the one you love, a listening ear, a smile, putting away your electronics and having conversations that last for hours of which there is no digital record. It is not just something that is broadcast to the world, but something that you broadcast, most importantly, to one another. Even if the rest of the world never knows that you’re in love, the only way to make the love last is for your lover to know that you are in love. I have seen relationships fall completely apart even though, if you judged them based on Facebook updates, seemed perfect. It’s almost like people try to love each other for the sake of public opinion and approval, rather than loving each other because they really do.

But what you will never see in any of the status updates, the tweets, the pictures, is the quiet love that is napping together on the couch after a long day; the removing of glasses when they fall asleep reading; the songs sung together on long car rides; the snuggles on a day off; the laughter shared on date night; the time that dinner was completely burned and wrecked, and he ate it anyway because she was on the verge of tears; the t-shirt that has been soaked through with the tears of someone who couldn’t lift their face from the other’s chest because of the weight of their sadness. Nor do you see the hands held, the footsies played, the steadfastness of true love, the determination to remain together, the way that she looks at him while he’s sleeping because he just looks so peaceful, or the moments spent having deep conversations about where we’re going in life, about hopes and dreams and disappointments and family and deep hurts. You do not see the friend who wakes up to a ringing phone in the middle of the night and stays on the line for hours because there was a crisis. You do not see the many “How are you feeling today” texts, sent just because. You don’t see the prayers prayed, the tears cried, or the long, late-night conversations, and hugs. You do not see the difficulty that was had when it was time to, again, say goodbye to a friend.

What you will never see in any of the status updates or Instagram pictures is an old man and an old woman, one of which is paralyzed, and the other still smiling despite everything. You do not see the way that he bathes her, clothes her, kisses her hand, and smiles, beaming, at her (and to me). You do not see the way he wakes up every morning for another day of caring for her every basic human need. You do not see the way he’s never abandoned her just because it’s difficult.

Because some things just should not be broadcast to everyone but should simply be known, deeply and intimately.

Love does not always roar, because it does not need to if it’s true.

Alena Rivas is a college student from Tucson, Arizona. She has been married since August, 2013. She and her husband don’t have kids yet, but they hope to once she graduates! Alena writes about life, love, loss, and God. She works to incorporate her own experiences in such a way as to inspire others and encourage people to think about things in new ways. If you like her writing and want to keep up with it better or just want to have access to her awesome witticisms that may not always end up in blog posts, you can find her on Facebook (facebook.com/authoralenarivas), Twitter (@mrsalenaeous), and Google+ (Alena Rivas).

My prayer for you, my daughters.

My husband and I have begun to look at houses. In that process, the subject of children has played a central part. Can we raise kids here? Would we be able to stay here and grow as a family for a long time if necessary? Is this a safe neighborhood for kids? Is it on a cul de sac so that our kids can play in the driveway and not have as much risk of being hit by a car? These are all things that didn’t even cross our mind when we picked an apartment. I mean, they may have, but they were much less prominent factors in our choice. But there’s something different about a house. There’s something familial and comforting and special about a house, because a house, unlike an apartment (most of the time), is going to be your home. It’s much less temporary.

In discussing all of these considerations for what we want in a home, the subject took a turn to what we want for our kids, not just for the house they will live and grow in. We talked about some kids that we love, and some kids that we can’t stand, and how we grew up, and how our parents raised us, and this eventually led to things that we do or do not want our kids to be. I know that parents can’t control all of this, but they most certainly play a role. This train of thought eventually got me thinking about daughters, probably because I’m a woman and I know what its like to grow up as a girl. And so these are the things that I want my daughters to know as they grow older.

  1. You can like baseball, and lipstick. I want you, my daughters, to know that there’s no such thing as “too girly” or “too boyish” and that whatever your likes or dislikes or interests or passions, I will support those passions. You can love math and art. You can love creative writing and engineering. You can love rugby (which will probably scare me half to death at some point watching you play, but I will watch your games), and you can also love fashion design simultaneously. And that’s okay, even if other people call it weird. It’s fine. Because I want nothing less for you than for you to freely express your interests.
  2. You are strong. I want you, my daughters, to grow up knowing strong women so that you know you can be a strong woman. And I want to be a strong woman for you. The world most certainly needs strong men, but it also needs strong women. Whether those women are being strong while standing by their man or strong while being single, the world needs more of that because women are awesome and you have so much to contribute to the world around you. And don’t ever let the world tell you that you cannot be simultaneously strong and have a man that you support. For some reason, it is a common belief that if a woman marries then she “needs” her man. But you can be strong and single, or you can be strong and married. I know women from both categories and they are all amazing. Neither one of those options diminishes you in any way.
  3. You are also fragile. It is okay to show vulnerability. I also want you, my daughters, to understand that being strong means recognizing your own human fragility. You are absolutely not fragile because you are girls. You are fragile because you are human, and there are things in this world that hurt all of us, and cut deeply, and leave scars. Those hurts, even though they were painful, are something that it’s okay to feel. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to express emotion and it’s perfectly okay to have been hurt by things and to be open about it. It is a temptation to let the scars harden us, to let our hearts grow cold and uninviting because for our hearts to be open is to expose them to potential threats. But the truth is that to love at all, you must be vulnerable. And a life without love is not worth living.
  4. Apologize. There will be many times throughout your life when you are not the subject of hurt, but the inflicter. It’s part of being a person. You will hurt people. It is important to know this, and to be humble enough to apologize. Recognize when you’ve hurt someone, and recognize when you are in the wrong. It will happen. And sometimes an apology is all it takes. Other times, the damage is just not able to be repaired. And that hurts. But an apology may allow you to forgive yourself, and allow the other person to forgive you. Do not buy into the idea that anything and everything you do is “just who you are.” We are our choices, and it is never too late to choose to recognize your own fault and say you’re sorry.
  5. Forgive. In addition to forgiving yourself, it is necessary to forgive others. The inability to forgive will only ever result in more pain. The inability to forgive only brings bondage, but forgiveness brings freedom. Holding a grudge is like carrying a heavy load that someone else gave to you, perhaps unknowingly. It’s not necessary to keep carrying it. Forgiveness is dropping that burden and continuing to walk forward, and not looking back at that burden lying on the road behind you.

And lastly, I want you to know why any of these things that I pray for you are possible. Your strength is not your own. Your likes and dislikes and passions and desires reflect someone else’s. You are able to forgive and to love and to be anything at all for one reason. And it is because of Jesus. Because he created you, you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). All of who you are is wonderful. Because he is strong, you are strong, if he lives in you. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength because in our weakness, he is strong (Phil. 4:13, 2 Cor. 12:9). You can forgive because he forgave us first (Col. 3:13). All of this is only through him. And so that is my prayer for you, that he would live in you, and that you would first and foremost be his daughters and not mine.

Alena Rivas is a college student from Tucson, Arizona. She has been married since August, 2013. She and her husband don’t have kids yet, but they hope to once she graduates! Alena writes about life, love, loss, and God. She works to incorporate her own experiences in such a way as to inspire others and encourage people to think about things in new ways. If you like her writing and want to keep up with it better or just want to have access to her awesome witticisms that may not always end up in blog posts, you can find her on Facebook (facebook.com/authoralenarivas), Twitter (@mrsalenaeous), and Google+ (Alena Rivas).