Every physical scar on my body has a good story — one that is deeply personal and reminds me of certain eras of my life.
I have a scar on my chin from the day I went riding mini-bikes with a friend as a young teenager. I had no idea what I was doing, even though he explained everything to me before we hopped on. I ended up losing control, narrowly missing a mailbox, and then flipping over the handlebars. I needed quite a few stitches to close the wound.
I have a scar near my right elbow from the time I was playing Frisbee with a co-worker after working the late shift at Taco John’s one night as a teenager. I tripped while going after one of her throws and the pavement took a bite out of my arm.
I have scars on some of my toes from diving into a pool one hot summer day and scraping my left foot on the bottom. It was shallower than I realized.
I also have a scar on the back of my right leg from surgery after rupturing my Achilles tendon in 1997 while playing softball.
But none of them compare to my first scar.
Grandpa Ed, and his wife, Modene, had a wooded acreage behind their house and he liked to take me for walks down there when I was a kid. He would point out wildlife to me that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, ask me how things were going at school, and ask questions about our food situation at home.
After my parents split up, Grandpa took it upon himself to step into the gap — fixing things around our house and always making sure we had enough food. Of course, I had no idea what he was doing. I was just a kid who enjoyed prowling in the woods with his grandpa. But by stepping into the gap, he allowed me to keep my childhood. I wasn’t worried about how tough things were for my mom because he did the worrying for me. He’s been gone more than thirty years now, but I still get moved to tears when I think about him doing that.
While we were on one of those walks in the woods, I saw something that caught my attention. I can’t remember what it was, but I took off running toward it. He was close to sixty at the time, so he wasn’t able to catch me. Just as he said something about me slowing down, I ran into something that felt a lot like a wall, only with barbs, and it knocked me flat.
A warm substance trickled down my left cheek and it only took me a second to realize I was bleeding. When I glanced up, I saw a barbed-wire fence. It scared me to death, but I think it scared Grandpa even more. I’m sure he felt responsible, but the truth is, sometimes boys will be boys. They get intrigued by something and just take off without any regard for the possible consequences.
I probably should have gotten a stitch or two, but in my opinion, the scar only gave me character and a good story to tell the girls — if only I hadn’t been too shy to actually talk to a girl. But I learned later that scars do much more than make a person look tougher. They also serve as reminders. Cormac McCarthy once wrote, “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”
I’m the type of person who is grieved when landscapes change because it feels like someone is wiping out my personal history there. The playground where I experienced my first kiss is now a housing project. The grade school l— my grade school — that used to sit across the street from that playground is now an apartment complex. The marquee that sits outside my high school now says it is a “magnet school,” whatever that is. One of the roller skating rinks I used to frequent as a child is now a grocery store. I bought some cat food from that grocery store once and when I opened the box, it had worms in it. That seemed about right, since my memories of the place had been spoiled.
As I drive past these places now with my oldest niece in the car, I’ll briefly fill her in on the history of the place and tell her why it is so important to me. She tries to grasp what I’m saying, but, in reality, how can she? She wasn’t there.
Recently, I was in the car with my mom and we were driving through that same neighborhood. She pointed to one little green house and told me the name of the family who used to live there, saying she had been inside many times as a babysitter. She pointed to another house and said it was her sister’s best friend’s house. On and on she went, trying to solidify the reality of her sacred grounds that have since been desecrated or maybe worse, forgotten by everybody else.
Thankfully, even places have scars — reminders of what used to be. That old playground still has the gravel-covered alleyway that runs behind it. My old grade school turned apartment complex still has its original marquee. My old high school still has the same front steps. That old roller skating rink turned grocery store appears to have the same doors. Every time I pass by one of these scars, they speak to me, and I listen.
Knowing the value of scars, I like to ask people about the stories behind theirs. You can learn a lot about a person by listening to those stories. I find that people are much more willing to talk about the cause of their physical pain than the cause of their mental pain. And that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.
This essay comes from Sacred Grounds: First Loves, First Experiences, and First Favorites.
A few years ago, I watched an episode of the television show "This Is Us," in which one of the characters, Beth, starts a "memory box" for her children because their grandfather had cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good.
Beth used the memory box she made when her dad died as an example. Inside, she put all sorts of things that reminded her of him, including a menu from a restaurant her dad used to take her to.
Beth’s children catch on pretty quickly and one of them places a chess piece into her memory box because her grandfather took the time to teach her how to play the game in preparation for a chess tournament.
After most of us pass away, a loved one will end up carting off a box (or two) of our belongings and placing it in the basement or some out of the way place to reminisce over at some later date that won't come any time soon.
Until I moved a couple of years ago, I had two such boxes in my basement. One from my dad and another from my grandmother. It'd been 18 years and 16 years, respectively, since their passing, but it still felt too soon to open those boxes. Probably because it was their stuff and it almost felt invasive.
But memory boxes are different because we aren’t going through other people’s stuff. We’re handling tangible reminders of the relationship we had (or have) with them.
After watching that episode of “This Is Us,” I started my own memory boxes (made out of shoeboxes) — some that contain artifacts from people I love who have passed away and some from people who are still alive.
In one for my oldest niece, I have a mix CD of some of her favorite songs we listened to when she was young, a Courtney Cole CD from a concert we attended a few years ago, a “Toadally Awesome” sticker of a dancing frog she once gave me before I left on a trip, a picture of a dancing cat she colored with crayons and dated 6-3-97, and a Styrofoam rectangle with her initials stamped into it — a project from middle school that she gave me. I have a lot of other things in the box as well, but you get the idea.
Opening these boxes doesn’t feel invasive, at all. In fact, the little mementos spark wonderful memories for me. Will my niece care about such things after I pass? It’s hard to say. But even if she doesn’t, I hope they remind her how much I loved her.
I have a rule that I set for myself. The stuff I keep has to fit into a shoebox. So, I keep things like cards, letters, CDs, pictures, a book or two, and the like. I’ve made a couple of exceptions, like the huge family Bible my grandmother used to have in her living room and my dad’s golf clubs. But I’m pretty strict about this rule otherwise.
How about you? Do you keep memory boxes? If so, what prompted you to start? How often do you dig into them? Will you let your family and friends know that these boxes exist?
I haven’t thought about playing guitar since … well, probably since the day I set down my white electric Ibanez twenty-five years ago.
But during this COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been thinking about buying another guitar. I even started writing a new song yesterday.
Even though a couple of people have suggested that I return to my 1980s quasi-mullet (I’ll never concede that it was a full mullet!) since stylists aren’t open right now, I think I’ll keep my buzz cut. But I’ve still got the music in me. And that surprised me.
When we finally begin to emerge from our homes in the coming months, I have a feeling that the world won’t resemble what we remember. Everyone will be adapting to a new normal. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
Hardship has a way of crystallizing our thinking, making us realize what we need to change.
Those who have been resistant to learn technology have jumped in with both feet during the pandemic because they had to. They’ll be further along than they would’ve been and technology might be something they come to embrace.
Those who have been reliant on one form of income may begin to explore multiple streams because they’ve learned the hard way how easily one form can disappear overnight.
Those who are in professions that were shutdown may have taken temporary work in a different profession that is immune to such problems, allowing a few to stumble into a profession they enjoy more.
Those who struggled to make mortgage and car payments during the pandemic may have downsized but then realized they could adapt to a smaller lifestyle easier than they realized. They may even enjoy the freedom that comes with lower payments.
Companies that routinely sent employees out of town for meetings may conclude that teleconferencing worked pretty well in some cases during the pandemic, which will allow them to trim their travel budget. In turn, that may free up employees for product development or to hone in on other ways to streamline business.
Those who stumbled into a ministry, such as buying and delivering groceries for elderly neighbors, may want to continue to do so as a means for being Jesus to their neighbors.
Musicians who live-streamed shows and presentations for tips may realize it was a great way to create intimate connections with fans while also paying the bills without traveling as often.
Some church leadership, as well as the laity, may realize that we don’t go to church; we are the church. We can’t wait to worship together again, but we’ve been connecting in other ways, as well as ministering to people beyond the four walls and it feels more authentic.
Our downtime has surely caused introspection about personal areas of weakness we need to work on. While some will bury their heads in the sand, some will begin the difficult work to change.
Maybe yearnings for old hobbies returned. Or a new one emerged.
Some may have concluded that a talent should be a hobby, rather than a profession, or a hobby should be a profession.
What will you change due to COVID-19?
Will you make an emergency savings a priority? Will you downsize? Will you develop multiple streams of income? Will you change professions? Will your business practices change? Will you start a legacy journal? Will you continue reaching out to people with the new technology you’ve learned? Will you continue a new ministry that has developed?
Pandemics, famines, plagues and the like are nothing new. But they are new to us. As we’re all settling into our new normal, I’ve been thinking about a package a relative sent my mother ten years ago.
The package contained several family heirlooms from Dublin, Ireland (where my mom’s father immigrated from), including a “war work” ledger that was “commenced 1st May 1917.”
According to the note enclosed in the package, the ledger belonged to my great-grandfather (whom I never met). I really can't understand a lot of what I see in the ledger. My great-grandfather included some rather odd diagrams in various colors of ink. But as I continued to flip through it, I came across a page that made my throat tighten.
It’s written in pencil and extremely hard to read since it is so faded. Here’s what it says:
We the undersigned beg to bring before you the inadequately low rate of pay most of us are on, in fact it cannot be described better than starvation wages at this present juncture for we cannot buy the food necessary to supply energy for the work.
A man with a family of 6 to 8 cannot support them without going on short rations himself and it would be less than human if he took from his family what they wanted more than himself.
We would not take up your valuable time by enumerating the different prices of food and clothing. Suffice it to say that [indecipherable dollar figure] before the war is not equal to [indecipherable dollar figure] so that a man on [indecipherable dollar figure] now is only equal to a man on [indecipherable dollar figure] in war time and we need not inform you the average man had not much to spare at any time no matter how frugal he may be inclined.
We are in a bad way here but we look forward in hopes of help from you.
I don’t see any names listed after that, so I’m wondering if this was a rough draft. Maybe he never sent it. If he did, I can’t help but wonder if these men ever receive a response to their plea.
It’s gut-wrenching to think about – especially knowing that this is my great-grandfather’s ledger.
What was going on in Dublin in 1917?
The National Archives of Ireland website indicates that Dublin had extensive slums that “were not limited to the back-streets or to impoverished ghettos.”
Why the slums? The same website points to “a mass of contradictions,” citing divisions of class and culture. But it was even more complicated than that. World War 1, the 1913 Lockout, the 1916 Rising, a war of independence, and an ensuing civil war all took place around the same time.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Spanish flu — which claimed 23,000+ lives in Ireland, while another 800,000 were believed to have been infected — seemed to hit in full force in 1918.
It seems like my great-grandfather’s plea would have happened before the pandemic’s arrival, which makes me even sadder because life was about to become even more difficult for him after he wrote that note in his ledger.
Sometimes, you have to look back at history to fully understand what you’re going through now. In this case, maybe by doing so, it’ll remind us that we aren’t the first generation to experience hardship via a pandemic.
I’m on a candle kick right now, mostly because the scent of lavender is soothing, and we need soothing right now, don’t we?
One morning, as I was sitting down to start work, I lit my candle and my curiosity got the best of me. How exactly does a candle stay lit?
The explanation is far more complicated than I realized. Here’s what the National Candle Association (yes, there is such a thing) says on its website.
If you don’t want to read the rather lengthy explanation of the science behind it, it boils down to this: waxes are essentially hydrocarbons, which means they are composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms. The heat of the flame melts the wax near the wick and the liquid wax is drawn up the wick by “capillary action.” Heat is created to the point that it melts more wax to continue the combustion process.
It’s even more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says this about his followers: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
This begs the question: how do we do our part to keep our flame burning so we can offer the fragrance of Christ to the world? The combustion process doesn’t happen naturally, as it does with a candle. But the consistency of the candle’s flame is our example.
The combination of worship (both private and corporate) and continual fellowship with other believers stokes our flame and keeps it burning.
In this time of social distancing, we have more technology available to us than ever before — technology that allows us to be transported to each other’s living rooms. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and so many other tools stand at the ready. Take the lead this weekend and set up virtual meetings until we can all meet face to face again.