As I considered these truths, something stirred in me. My scars are significant and precious. I shouldn’t keep hiding them. I am recognizable by them; they make me unique. They are an integral part of who I am. They show that, through Christ, I am a conqueror—that I have suffered and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have overcome. My scars remind me that God is sufficient and that physical perfection is not our goal. A life lived to God’s glory is infinitely more valuable.
– Vaneetha Rendall Risner,
The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering, 3.
The hierarchies of Christ’s Kingdom are diametric opposites of the hierarchies of our present world — and every once in a while, I’m reminded that some of its aesthetic values are, too. With Anne, I am deeply glad I live in a world where there are Octobers and sugar star phlox, grey-misted islands and spring afternoon tea tables, but sometimes beauty shines out brilliantly elsewhere — from places as unlikely as ash heaps and jars of clay — and it is perhaps there that we see the beauty of the Kingdom and its King most truly.
Vaneetha Risner’s life is one such display of beauty.
The context of her story gives a quiet weight to all her words: after contracting polio at a tiny age, she became paralyzed through a doctor’s mistake, and underwent twenty-one surgeries by the age of thirteen. As an adult, she lost her infant son when he was two months old, and later suffered further loss when her husband walked out on their family. She now lives with post-polio syndrome, which severely and progressively limits the use of her arms:
I was told post-polio was a degenerative condition that results in escalating weakness and pain. My energy was like a fixed sum of money in a bank–I could make withdrawals but not deposits. So every time I used that arm, I was losing future strength. . . .
This diagnosis blindsided me, turning my comfortable life upside down. I was a thirty-seven-year-old wife and mother with two young children to raise. It was unthinkable I could one day — maybe soon — be in a wheelchair full-time, unable to care for myself. How could God do this to me? I wept. How could I handle these new obstacles?
– The Scars That Have Shaped Me, 19-20.
Yet in the midst of suffering both past and present, she conveys a graciousness and strength through her words in a way that has constantly drawn me to them over the past few years.
Her book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering is a hospitable work, one that knows how broken and limited our attention spans can be when we are in pain. Its straightforward prose makes it possible to remember sure truths.
I’ve been especially grateful for Vaneetha’s reminders and gentle assertions lately. Sometimes I very much need a wiser voice to point out that when the New Testament says “blessed,” it isn’t in the context of material wealth but of suffering — and that the “what if” questions I’m prone to ask can be replaced by “even if” statements simply because of the presence of my God.
Though the first passage quoted above is in reference to the physical scars on her legs, Vaneetha’s intentionality and honesty in sharing about her scars — visible and otherwise — have made me braver about sharing mine.
I do want to mention, friends, that Vaneetha receives her difficulties as things that come from the Lord’s hand. I share her view and have written a little about it before — the view that suffering given by a sovereign God does not negate His love but is an outworking of it. The accounts that Corrie ten Boom, Joni Eareckson Tada, Kara Tippetts, and Elisabeth Elliot have shared in this vein are better testimonies than mine; their stories, along with Vaneetha’s, have helped me place my trust in my Shepherd time and again.
I Peter 3 mentions “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” the kind of exhibited by Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who did not “fear anything that [was] frightening.” I firmly believe that this, too, is a beauty that is deeply needed in our world. Vaneetha bears it in her carriage and her conviction, and I hope that it will prove to be contagious in my own life.
As my physical body is deteriorating, his body has taken over for mine, showering me with love and unexpected kindness. Kindness I would have never known if I hadn’t needed it. Love I would never have experienced if I had refused to ask for help.
As I depend on Jesus more and more, he is gradually transforming me into his likeness. There’s no one I’d rather depend on; there’s no one I’d rather look like.
– Scars, 23
Links (and the Scripture passage currently on our blackboard, inspired by my recent and first reading of The Scars That Have Shaped Me):
– “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18, ESV)