Just when they were getting right with God, another attack comes. Ever felt like that? It is often the case that when things just begin to turn around that the enemy throws whatever he can at us to discourage, dishearten, or destroy the work that God is doing. Just when things were looking brighter, it got incredibly dark.
It’s amazing how in four weeks, the eight-inch incision on my abdomen has gone from gaping and oozing to healing and growing. The swollen, scabby wound is now a soft purple scar winding neatly down from my belly button.
When I look at it, I am perplexed that the skin woven tightly together there, just four weeks ago was opened wide, closed only with string and metal. How the muscles and nerves just beneath there were cut, then sewn together by hands I later shook. How even now, I feel those same muscles and nerves finding their connections again, sending out sensations of healing.
Mostly, when I look at the Frankenstein-like scar on my belly, made more interesting by the tiny dots along each side where the staples held my skin together, mostly I see evidence of God. Bodies originally made perfect contain within their DNA a back up plan. Though sin ruined a lot of things, our bodies still know how to heal.
This was not the first time I had an incision on my abdomen. In fact, the eight-inch incision sits right atop a 12-inch incision from a surgery four years ago. And those two sit right next to a 10-inch incision from a surgery three years ago. Each one healed – or healing. Each one a reminder of where I’ve been.
As we gathered to worship at my church Sunday, two events converged as a day of remembering. The day was September 11, 2011, so with the rest of the nation, we were calling to mind that horrific day 10 years ago when so many more things changed than just the New York skyline. But it was also the last day in our current sanctuary. Half-way through a major building project, next Sunday, our church family will be together in a new room, with twice the seating capacity. So Sunday, we also were remembering the history of our church.
Pastor Mark preached from 1 Samuel 7, when the nation of Israel restored the ark of the covenant to its rightful place in the center of their lives after 20 years. The ark had been stolen by the Philistines 20 years earlier in a battle near the city of Ebeneezer. As the physical symbol of God’s glory, losing the ark was like losing God’s presence. And even after it was returned 7 months later, the ark had been hidden away somewhere in Israel.
But now, Samuel called the people to return the glory of the Lord to its rightful place, and the people agreed. Just as they gathered together at Mizpah for a ceremony of rededication, however, the Philistines showed up again. The Philistines! Pastor Mark described it this way,
But God was not finished with the Israelites in Mizpah that day. He brought a great thunder to alarm and confuse the Philistines, then His people defeated their enemy. And before the sun set that day, Samuel created a memorial. This stone is an Ebeneezer, he told the people, for “till now the Lord has helped us.”
Ebeneezer now represented two battles. A very dark day in the history of Israel, when the Glory of the Lord was taken. And a very bright day in the history of Israel, when the Lord set everything right again.
In the years since my first and second surgeries, I have often felt pain beneath those scars. Doctors tell me there are adhesions in there, extra scar tissue that attaches to muscles and organs and causes problems. Sometimes, the scars would hurt so bad I would swear the cancer was back. (A couple of times it has been.)
Over the years, I’ve asked a lot of people to pray about the pain in those scars, because it was mentally hard to deal with. All the questions pain raises, you know. Once, as a friend was praying, she thanked God for those uncomfortable feelings, asking Him if he would use the pain as a reminder of His faithfulness in bringing me this far. I was stunned.
Not once had I thought to be thankful.
Sunday, as I was listening to the sermon, the muscles around my incision felt like they were pulling and burning. I shifted around in my seat uncomfortably, trying to concentrate. But as the sermon continued, I realized the pain was not a distraction but an application.
These scars are my Ebeneezer.
Till now the Lord has helped me.