Scars are signatures of painful events in the life of our bodies. They are a reminder that informs us that we are not always in control of our lives. I have many scars. Scars on my hands from bee stings received while playing hide and seek; a scar on the lower right side of my abdomen created by a surgeon’s scalpel to remove an angry appendix; and a scar on my left arm as a result of being “cleated” while playing football.
Of all my scars, I have a favorite, the scar on my left knee. When I was almost three years old, I was running through the house and tripped and fell on my sister’s toy sewing machine. It was made from metal and had a sharp edge on the base. The gash was severe, and the blood began to flow. My father took a sheet, began ripping it, and wrapped my knee to stop the bleeding. What I remember most was sitting in his lap with my mummified leg, being comforted by his big hands. I will never forget his hands. Those hands are forever etched into my memory as a visual reminder of my father’s love.
Tragically, those hands were taken away from me, my older sister, and younger brother, a very short time after this event. My father died in a one-car accident, four days before Christmas, leaving a wife and three small children behind. One of the local newspapers reported that he hit a signpost at a high rate of speed, leaving no skid marks. Years later after researching his death, I realized he had committed suicide.
As it often happens when a parent dies, one tragic event sends a ripple, or more like a tidal wave through the lives of family members. We did not have any support systems in place and my mother was unable to care for us due to her poor physical, emotional, and mental health. She began telling neighbors that she had killed my father. Child Protective Services were notified. My sister, brother, and I were sent to an emergency shelter and my mother was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and care. Because of this, we spent the next eighteen months in and out of an orphanage and foster care in Houston, Texas.
My mother struggled to retain her parental rights. She became involved with another man. As a result of this relationship, she became pregnant and gave birth to my sister. Four children, under the age of six, to care for were too much for my mother. Feeling threatened by child protective services, she decided it was best to give us to her older sister who lived 280 miles away. Child Protective Services approved this without doing any background check. This was in the early era of CPS, without the aid of technology. It was later revealed that my aunt had been arrested for prostitution and had been in psychiatric care. The trigger for my mother and two aunts was the death of their father. When they were young, he fell off a crane in the oil fields of Venezuela.
My aunt was single, addicted to alcohol and sex. Again, we were living with someone who could not take care of herself, much less take care of four needy children. The next two years included many incidents of child abuse. Since my aunt was drunk so often, she had a difficult time. This chapter in our lives ended when our aunt died of liver failure.
Our neighbor across the street asked herself, “What do you do with four children who have been abandoned, living in essence by themselves?” She decided to call a nearby church. The church secretary, who received the call, immediately went to check out the situation. The youngest child, now two, was the only one at home. With her big brown eyes and malnourished tiny body, she charmed the church secretary to the point of no return. Later that evening, the secretary of the Eastridge Church of Christ in Ft. Worth, along with her husband, came and picked us up. We were now a part of a family that included a mom, dad, and three older sisters.
Without the aid of any social workers, therapists, or anyone who had any understanding of what it was like to adopt older abused children, the next twelve years were—to say the least—challenging. There were no home studies, foster/adoptive parent trainings, or trauma-informed care. However, in spite of the continuation of the effects of the tidal wave, and without the aid of any adoption professionals, four orphaned children stayed together, became a part of a family, and were all introduced to the One who by his wounds we are healed. It is my faith in a loving Father God that has been a key factor in my resiliency. Life as an adoptee would have been much more pleasant if my adoptive parents had training and were informed of how trauma had impacted our lives. However, this has given me a perspective that I would not have had if life had been much easier.
Yes, scars remind us of a painful past, but they can also lead our minds to a peaceful present. My favorite scar reminds me of what God has brought me through. Also, when I see my hands, it often takes me back to my birth father holding and comforting me. His nurturing is what I have drawn from as a father of three and a grandfather of three precious souls. It is with this memory that my heart connects with the words of the Apostle Paul who understood the blessings of a difficult life.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
—II Corinthians 1:3-4
David Michael Barnett is the Founder and President of CORE Family Resources. He is a former teacher, preacher, and salesman. David received his BA from Harding University and his MA from Oklahoma Christian University. He has been married to Phyllis for 38 years and has three children and three grandchildren. As a former foster child and an adoptee, David is passionate about building strong families through life coaching, speaking, and writing. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.