Most physical wounds heal, even if some leave scars. On my body I carry a lot of scars. I don’t say that proudly or to suggest scars are somehow desirable. They’re not, and I didn’t earn any of mine on purpose. Each is just a part of my story.

It’s fortunate that we don’t carry evidence of, and maybe don’t remember, most of our physical wounds. Still, what do we do with our scars? Scars are like tattoos, only better, because they come with stories and lessons. Mine certainly do. How about yours?

Maybe the question should be, “What should you and I do with the stories and lessons of our scars?”

I discovered a scar one day while combing my hair. I was in grammar school at the time and surprised to find it. It’s a straight and narrow line about two inches long, and I assume it’s the first and oldest I carry. I had no idea how I acquired it, but some years later was able to ask my dad. He said I hit my head jumping off a radiator while pretending to be Batman. It’s plausible; I liked Batman. Maybe I sliced my head along a sharp corner or edge of a radiator, which would explain why that scar doesn’t have the usual shape of a blunt force rupture that follows a fall. The lesson for me from this scar is discretion. Not every foster care scar and story needs to be shared. Some can—indeed, some should—remain hidden. (Yes, join me in appreciating the irony of revealing a hidden scar in order to speak of discretion.)

Just below my lower lip is a jagged scar that perfectly mirrors three of my lower teeth. The same teeth that punctured through that spot from the inside as I landed face-first into a rock outcropping about six feet from the edge of the lake. My Boy Scout troop was on a winter camping trip and the older guys could make the jump over the ice to the rocks. I could, too—or so I thought. No one forced me; I just took my turn at a long jump that turned into a swan dive the second I launched. My friends walked me back to camp and told Mr. Polanski, our Scout Master, what happened. He administered first aid, had me lie down a few minutes, and before releasing me to go find firewood gave me a pity pep talk. As I recall, about all he said was, “Stop being stupid.” He wasn’t wrong, and I tried to obey because he was the most creditable adult in my life at the time. The lesson for me from this scar is about creditable adults. From the foster care youth perspective, we need to seek out and obey creditable adults—or to not expect any meaningful success. From the foster care adult perspective, we need to be the creditable adults the foster youth need—or to not expect any meaningful success.

I’m passionate about bicycles and motorcycles. At least half of my scars are related to two-wheeled mishaps, with easily the worst and most predominate being a partially shattered and heavily scarred left knee. That wound was courtesy of a high school classmate who punched her car through an intersection while I had the right of way. I’ve drawn a lot of lessons from that pain since, one of which is about anger and individual forgiveness. Sometimes we’re wounded—whether negligently or purposefully—and we’re never whole again. For those of us wounded that way, the sooner we’re able forgive that person for the wound they inflicted, the quicker we are able to stop our anger and start our inner healing.

No matter the source or story behind the physical scars I describe here, or most of the remaining 20 or so that I carry, they share a common theme. They represent wounds that were earned or healed with the help of others. The hard-fought realization for me is the dichotomy that we are both wounded and healed in community. That’s true no matter the type of wound; it’s just easiest to enter this discussion talking about physical scars. That may be a difficult truth to accept for those who have only experienced wounds, or can’t see past their wounds, let alone use them as a help going forward. But that’s the essence of the overall lesson that I hope you understand and accept. I’ve accepted it because I’ve found that community is the only place to heal the mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds I carry.

So back to that question: “What should you and I do with the stories and lessons of our scars?”

I haven’t risked publicly sharing the stories and lessons of my scars before. I hope doing so proves to be a benefit to whomever is ready to start healing from his or her wounds.