Vaneetha Rendall Risner published The Scars That Have Shaped Me a couple of years ago, but I just stumbled upon it at a conference this past weekend. The title was intriguing and the 200 pages formatted in easy-to-read chapters felt doable. It was still surprising when it only took me a couple of sittings to finish the book.
Vaneetha is no stranger to painful circumstances that brought about multiple seasons of great suffering in her life. But rather than share them from a position of platitudes and condescension, she has remained fresh in her remembrances of the pain and journey through healing. She attributes some of her perspective to journalling during these dark seasons. Being able to literally read the words her heart poured out in the moment keeps her connected to the reality of her suffering and guards against the propensity we all have to review our past with the present’s circumstances. It is easy to remember how we hurt during a particularly dark episode but when we view it from a season of plenty, we often soften the edges and forget some of the agonies.
There is a time and a place for that beautiful tendency! Heaven will surely allow us to forget the light and momentary pain of our present affliction when viewed under the weight of eternal glory. However, I would argue that some of the worst counsel or “encouragement” I have received during this trial has come from other survivors of devastating grief whose separation by time or circumstance from their own difficulty softened their memory so much that they now offer nothing of substance for the broken-hearted. God warned of this unhealthy forgetfulness, too.
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORDyour God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’
Vaneetha remains true to the sojourners’ pain and experience even while offering gentle reminders of God’s grace and goodness. She never deviates from a biblical approach to understanding suffering and the sovereignty of God. She also never deviates from a hearty validation that misery does indeed exist in the faithful believer’s life. For anyone facing a valley, I encourage you to pick up this gem and give it a few moments of your time. I don’t believe you will be disappointed.