I usually do not entertain the follies of loving inanimate objects, but I fell for this one and I didn’t see it coming. She was regal, I tell you. And not just because she was, well… literally a Buick Regal.
In contrast to a man’s manifestation of Middle Aged Crisis – a sleek, beautiful car with a sexy prowess – I love this car because she is crinkled and bockety, and full of memories.
I got the car when I first met my husband. It was several years old by then, but looked brand spanking new (if you didn’t know your makes and models, which I didn’t.) It had quite literally been driven to and from the grocery store by a little old lady. Shiny and green – my favorite color, even! – it came to replace the ancient Honda with the trash bags in the windows that wouldn’t roll up that had been driving since the transmission of my old minivan fell out. A single mom, I hadn’t many dollars. I was practical to the core. It was a fine set of wheels and driving it felt like piloting a chariot of Heaven on a cloud, comparatively.
I was so grateful.
A year later, I was newly married. I drove that wonderful chariot to work every day, and shuttled teenagers to malls, skating rinks, and church functions. Our daughters were 11, 14 and 14, respectively. In later years, my husband and I chauffeured many a date in that car. The rear-view mirror had been adjusted countless times to watch sheepish couples and their awkward hand-holding in the backseat.
Two out of our three daughters learned to drive at her helm, and she has the scars to prove it. Her exterior is a bit scraped and battered. Her front end crunched in, banged out by hand. The hood at the nose end is still crinkled in, like she has a permanent grin in spite of her trials. I like that about her. I can relate the crinkled-ness.
It was sturdy, and safe.
What the first daughter didn’t Christen with bumps and dents, the second daughter plastered with bumper stickers. Oh lord, so many stickers. Stickers for every cause that makes me shake my conservative head and say aye carumba.
Somehow, this Regal Lady carried it off, like an old Hollywood legend who has become saggy and wears too much lipstick, but nobody has the heart to tell her she isn’t fabulous. (Because she still IS.)
She has been ferry and barge.
She has been parked in apartment complex parking lots, the sun baking her paint.
The plush foam around the steering wheel is gone in places, and there are stains on the seats.
I swear I’ve nearly punched a hole in the floorboard of the passenger side, hitting the ‘invisible break’ during seasons of Driving Permits.
Her trunk has held nearly ten years of nostalgia…
Suitcases for Mission Trips.
The earthly possessions of an angry child moving out of the house after a big fight with her mother.
Empty soda cans and CookOut bags …
and memories. So many memories.
I poke through the interior to make sure nothing of value is left in her pockets and under her seats. In the side compartment, there is a straw wrapper, a paper clip, and a single earring. Of course there is.
I took her tags off today. She won’t pass inspection again, it’s time. There were only three screws holding her metal tag in place, one stripped so bare that it turned to rusted dust in my hand. I stripped her of her legality, and took liberties to remove a couple of the bumper stickers that had adorned her rear window. I felt kind of bad doing that. It felt like she could feel the band aids being pulled off slowly.
A chariot of Heaven driven on clouds deserves better.
I left the owl air-freshener from my daughter’s driving time on the rear-view mirror that says “Life the Life You Love.”
The Regal, meaningful as she is, is not sound to drive anymore, and the cost of replacing her parts is more than the sum of her value. Her innards don’t turn, twist and fire like they should. I don’t know much about mechanisms; I only know that she lasted so much longer than we imagined. She can’t keep her drivers as safe anymore, so she’s got to go.
After taking off the license tag, I sat in her passenger seat for a while in the driveway, just because. And I cried a little. I don’t care if the neighbors think I’m crazy. Their children are still small and don’t drive cars; what do they even know? This car is worth crying over. Can’t they see that she is still so fabulous!?
I’ve never really loved a car before, but I do love this one. It feels right to love her for her decidedly low-key, un-sexy prowess.
Yes, she is crinkled and bockety. But sturdy and safe.
Last week was an almost magical week for me, having had the opportunity to connect with some family members and friends, with whom I needed connecting. For a few days I was back in my state of origin, geographically. But my spirit was in it’s element…happy. There were times that I felt my heart would burst from the pure enjoyment of living one moment at a time, just as my belt would burst from so much Texas barbecue. My face was sore from smiling. There was healing and forgiveness bestowed and accepted, and the kind of camaraderie that only dear childhood friends can resurrect.
Visiting rivers and singing along to songs in the car to Pandora’s “’80’s Radio Hits.”
Seeing how much my hands are like those of my father, who I’ve only ever seen a handful of times in my 46 years.
Coming to know my half-sister and her family.
Remembering that I do have people.
Happiness is to serenity, as serenity is to joy – the ultimate goal, the place where we are in God’s presence with no distractions. We long for supreme happiness, but have only delicious, fleeting tastes of it.
What made me happy last week – Texas – might be different than what makes me feel happy next week. We are fickle creatures.
I suppose I have kind of an emotional hangover. Today, I’m weepy and sentimental, and have this crazy urgent want to make all things right. But that’s a problem in this world, because setting all things right is not my job. Trying to make it my job leads straight to unhappiness. I know enough to know that.
It makes me think that maybe perfect happiness is too much…just too much to ask for. I can’t wait around for everything to get it’s collective act together before I allow myself a slice of ‘happy.’
Oh, how I love the Serenity Prayer – such a simple thing! Most people know the first refrains of it, but it is the last half of the famous prayer that really speak to my heart.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
It’s hard to take this world as it is, not as I would have it. Expecting supreme happiness in this life being unreasonable and all.
The state of my origin can also be melancholy, and sometimes I get my wheels stuck in the muck of melancholy. It helps if I just go ahead and feel what I’m feeling already, instead of attempting to stuff, manipulate, or eat my feelings.
Feel the bittersweet. Feel the melancholy. Really let it squish around between my toes like Texas mud. And then step out of it to walk into the courage to change the things that I can. Because I can’t experience the pure joy of living one day at a time any other way than to surrender to His will.
Accept that hardships – those stumbling blocks to happiness (a feeling) – are nothing but paving stones for the pathway of peace.
Grant me reasonable happiness and help me to trust YOU to make all things right.
I’d always loved the circus – everything about it. The popcorn and cotton candy, the distorted and loud fanfare music, the smell of sawdust in the enormous tent, and the animals. I especially loved the animals, garishly dressed in sequined headpieces that matched the tacky attire of their human counterparts. The animals – especially the elephants – always made my heart race.
But last year, the elephants only made my heart break.
I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it would be the very last circus I’d attend. I knew it for certain, because I couldn’t bear the pain on the animals’ faces. The elephants, in particular, with their intelligent eyes that don’t just reflect pain, but also the countenances of broken spirits. Listless, resigned, going through all of the motions. Misery in a spangled, over-sized tutu. I’ve felt the same way during times of depression in my life (okay, save for the spangled, over-sized tutu.) Despondency.
I had brought two of my teenaged daughters and the little girl of a friend of mine. What’s more wholesome than a day at the circus?
Our tickets had been free, and they were perfectly horrible, as free tickets usually are. We were seated in the staging area, where the animals tightly caged and lined up for the show. The tigers were the first to queue up – beautiful, majestic cats – trying to pace but without the space to do so, growling restlessly. Monkeys, camels, and then the elephants, who shifted from side to side and kept their heads low. And as each group of animals was led out, it just kind of became a parade of sadness. Glittery, festooned, and just incredibly sad.
Those animals didn’t belong there. The elephants, being the only animal besides humans to cry real tears, had rivulets of tears under their eyes by the end of the show. When my four-year-old guest asked to ride an elephant during intermission, I gave the attendant $5. As the child was being situated on the old beast, I mouthed “I’m sorry” to the pachyderm. And I meant it. I wanted to apologize to all of the animals. Have you ever just had blinders lifted off your eyes in an instant?
I knew it would be my last circus.
I do not for a minute believe that animals – even the cutest, fluffiest ones – are on equal standing as mankind. Nope. I believe that the Creator of the Universe gave us dominion over the animals. But you see, that’s where things get serious. Because having been given dominion over such creatures makes their proper care even more important. We are responsible for the way they are treated – each and every one of them. Some animals were given to us to feed our bodies, and some to keep us company.
And some to spend their lives beaten into submission living in tiny cages? No, I don’t think so.
I’m not an animal-rights whacko by any means (what sense would that make in light of the frequency in which we humans dismember and kill our own kind in their mother’s wombs? But that’s a column for another day.)
I am a huge believer in NOT telling other people how to live their own lives. Give people rights and the law-abiding among us will not often abuse those rights.
I own guns. I don’t hurt anyone with those guns. I don’t drink alcohol, but I don’t deny other people the enjoyment a drink. I believe in religious freedom, but don’t belittle the religions of others. I’m not a vegan, but I support the right of those who choose that lifestyle. To each his own.
I’m not here to try to shut down the circuses, which are legal endeavors. Sometimes I think the best way to get the word out on important issues is not to stand at the entrance of a circus with posters of bleeding elephants in plain sight of children (how confusing for those kids,) but to go and sit in crappy, free seats and take time to look into the ancient eyes of a magnificent mammoth – to see that she doesn’t belong there.
I’m just here to make you consider the possibility that ours are not the only feelings and lives that matter. That there are other forms of entertainment out there that do not originate with bull hooks and whips. That we not abuse the privilege of having dominion over these precious creatures.
What’s more wholesome than the circus? Just about everything.
We have the honor of having dominion over the animals, the responsibility. We owe it to them not care and protect them, by not forcing them into misery in a spangled, over-sized tutus for our own entertainment.
What majestic beasts God has given us responsibility for!
I pray we will learn to treat them with the respect they deserve.
For the last post in this series of “Seven Little Action Words,” I have resurrected this piece about my dog, Emmie. I simply cannot think of anyone who embraced life (and trust, for that matter) with such unconditional zeal. She is in Heaven now (yep, I am 100% sure that animals go to Heaven when they pass on) but she has left this world with the legacy of her “rally-ability.” She was a trooper, and really…so am I. I pray this peek into her spirit blesses you today and helps you channel YOUR inner Golden Retriever.
By: Jana Greene
I took Emmie the Elderly Golden Retriever to the vet this morning. It’s only for a nail-trim, I told her when she balked a bit about getting into the back-seat. It was cold outside, and her old bones don’t like the cold. Finally she did her best to jump into the car, her posterior getting a little boost from me.
Along the way, I rolled down the window so that my rear view mirror was filled with the vision of Emmie’s face behind me – full splendor, tufts of golden fur and a wide smile of teeth and gums (okay, mostly gums) and eyes squinting in the cold sunlight. She had forgotten that there was a destination involved. She was all about the ride.
When we arrived at the vet’s office, she remembered, of course. The last time we’d been here, she was extremely sick. She had suddenly developed a violent gastrointestinal issue and fever, and lost an alarming amount of weight as a result. At fifty-two pounds, she seemed all ribs and misery and the vet was not hopeful for her recovery. She was tested for all manner of parasites and disease, only to come up empty.
“She is nearly fourteen years old,” the Vet had said. As this that explained everything.
“I know,” I said in return, trying not to bawl. I know that some day, it will explain everything. But not that day.
Some people think it’s ridiculous to pray for dogs, but I disagree. As it happened, Emmie’s illness went away as suddenly as it had begun, and she rallied mystifying vigor. Within days of special food and treats, extra rubbing and loving, she perked right up. Once again, she was my shadow, following me around from room to room as I worked around the house even though it meant constant motion and achy joints. That girl is a trooper.
So, the last time we were at the vet’s office, Emmie had been poked and prodded, her old bones jostled about. She has a pretty good memory for an old lady. I had to coax her out of the car with extra-syrupy sweet talk and skritches behind the ears. She walked slowly to the door, like I’m not buying it, Mom, but I’ll follow you because I love you.
We went into the Dog Door, because our vet has a Cat Section and a Dog Section and ideally, never the twain should meet. Emmie has two brothers that just happen to be cats, cool characters the total opposite of her loopy, goofy, people-pleasingness. Two feline brothers who she is still adjusting to after five years of grafting into the family. So I think she especially appreciates the Dog Door. I know I do.
Upon setting paw inside, she developed the shakes – all over. Nervy, full-body shakes that shiver her bones (which I am pleased to report, are getting some meat on them finally). I’m too old for this crap, she is thinking.
I whispered comforts to her. But she doesn’t speak the King’s English, so she’s still not buying it.
A very nice lady in scrubs covered with a collage of cats came out to gather her. She took her leash and gently encouraged Emmie to follow. Emmie declined by digging her dragon-lady nails into the tile until ever so slowly, she disappeared into the grooming room. She turned around before the door was closed and looked at me with giant, chocolate drop eyes slightly milky with age to say, “You’re giving me to a stranger wearing cat-covered scrubs?”
But one of the amazing things about Emmie is her rally-ability. Within minutes, she was finished, neatly tapping her new mani-pedi on the same tiles she had tried digging into and with the same semi-toothless grin she displays with her head out the window. Emmie the Elderly Golden Retriever inspires me with her trust.
She just wants to be wherever I am. When I shut the door and she happens to be on the other side of it, she lays against the crack like a live draft-catcher, just to be as close as possible to her master – no matter what.
Emmie the Elderly Dog reminds me about trust and unconditional love a lot these days. I have a tendency to dig in when having to face an old obstacle; I have a pretty good memory, too. Oh, no. I’ve been here before! Or simply, I’m too old for this crap.
But do I want to be as close as possible to The Master, no matter what? He always takes me gently by the lead. That’s the only way to keep rallying, in my experience. To live.
Okay, Father. I’m not seeing the point in this, but I’ll follow you because I love you. And God whispers comforts, too, when I listen.
I want so badly to be loopy and goofy with God-pleasingness, following Him around even though it requires constant motion (and achy-ness of the soul, on occasion) – a Trooper. Sometimes I try to have my own way – to be a cool character grafted awkwardly into a family that takes some adjusting to. But other times, I can channel my inner Golden Retriever, with the Father’s help. Those are the best times, spiritually.
When I was a young mother and my children very small, I carried them on my right hip. This went on long after they were able to walk by themselves, and so often that now – all these many years later – that hip has a tendency to jut out a bit when I am standing still. The youngest child in particular, I carried for a long time.
“Hold me up?” she would say in a tiny rasp, her small arms stretched upward. In times of particular urgency, she would stand tiptoe for extra height and open and close her tiny hands rapidly, like the motions to the nursery rhyme about all the little stars, twinkling. Of course I would pick her up…what else is a mother to do? Her gesture acknowledged that she was small…that she wanted a better view of her world.
Fast forward a dozen years or so. This little girl is in her teens, nearly grown –and trying to figure out who she is meant to be. And I, as her mother, am on a similar journey to find purpose, I suppose you could say. Of particular fascination on this leg of the trip is the fairly recent tendency I’ve developed to be more open during worship at church. Demonstrative, actually. With the lights dimmed during service, praise music hammering with invitation to God to be present with us, in us…first come the tears. And then the hands.
I did not grow up a “hands-raiser”, or a “tongue-talker”. I was raised swaddled in a quilt of various Bible-belt denominations, Baptist and Methodist chief amongst. Shouting was for cheering at football games, “amen” was for saying grace at dinner, and hand-raising for students who had a question for the school teacher. To shout in church was to call yourself out as a “Penty-costal”, to clap out of time was to call attention to yourself, and calling attention to yourself made you that thing which to was to be avoided in order to self-preserve: vulnerability.
But now, not caring who was witness to my worship, I wonder why? Why when falling to my emotional knees, did I try to stifle raising my arms? Why did I question my own motives for worshiping in such a manner?
Choking with tears, I remembered my baby daughter’s pleas with outstretched arms. And the urgency, in times she felt the most overwhelmed. Or restless. Or too weary to walk. Was she raising her hands up to me in order to receive? Surely, yes. But also because I was so much taller than she, my vantage point offering an entirely different view. The action of lifting her tiny arms to me made her vulnerable.
The first time I raised my hands to God, I was vulnerable, too. But there is wild, unexpected abandon in vulnerability.
“Pick me up so I can see, Daddy!” is what my spirit says, in the most raw and relinquishing of times – when I feel smallest with no need to self-preserve. “Carry me”. Certainly, a request made to receive his lifting-out, but also in the purest form of worship….the kind in which my spirit calls the shots, and my body must obey.
In working on a series of “Seven Little Action Words,” I was kind of at a loss on ‘Trusting.’ Honestly, I think it is because we are very nearly empty nesters now and I am learning to trust God with my grown daughters. This may seem easy if your child is still in diapers or is navigating the waters of Kindergarten; not so easy in the tween and teen years they seem bent on making the stupidest choices possible in any given circumstance. In the epiphany that I was never in control of my girls’ lives in the first place (illusion, my friends…it was all an illusion) God is giving me a single question: “Do you trust me with these girls who you love so much? I love them even more than you do, you know.” I know, Abba. Thank you. Sometimes I need reminding. I trust you. Your eye is on my little sparrows, too.
By: Jana Greene
The first thing I noticed about it was the blackness of the outline, almost as if it were drawn with bold magic marker. My next thought was that I must absolutely write about this, the design that now lay bare on her skin. As if, somehow putting pen to paper would give permanence to the moment, as the needle brought it to her flesh.
My daughter’s first tattoo.
I had known that it was coming, that she considered it a rite of passage. My girl had always danced to the beat of a different drummer; a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture. If she had a credo it would be this: Live by Deliberate Acts of Impulsivity.
As her mother, I would surely prefer that she not bear any tattoos at all, because (and yes, I am the expert here) she is absolutely perfect the way God made her. I am rather attached to her being, looking, sounding exactly like my daughter – the only one of her kind, anywhere. Tattoos are just not my “thing”, whereas she very much is.
Nineteen years ago, just after she was born, the delivery room nurses whisked her away for her first bath and returned with my infant girl swaddled very tightly. No sooner was she in my arms than I was removing the blankets, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning. As mothers have done since the dawn of time, I checked her, head to toe. I found her birthmarks, the dimples in her plump hands, and worked my way to her tiny, peach-fuzzed back. There, between two flawless round shoulder blades, I placed my open palm to her skin. It was a perfect fit. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined anything marring that space.
In her “growing up” years, there were manifestations of her free spirit, of course… harmless acts of rebellion, none of them leaving a lasting mark. She formed strong opinions before she could form complete sentences, and had no trouble expressing them. At around age four, she developed magnetism to the camera (any camera) and made it a habit to insert herself into any and every photograph.
Around the same time, Alexandra began displaying fashionista tendencies. An ensemble she chosen for a summer day in the park might include: a sweater with leggings, plastic Disney princess shoes, a toboggan with ear flaps, seven necklaces and a life-vest (after all, it was July!)…all worn together and on dry land. It soon became apparent that stares, glares and pointing in her direction by the public at large was not a deterrent to this behavior. It was more the entire motivation.
This is when the adage “choose your battles” took on meaning for me. And as I became a student of war, the years rolled on like a tank.
With the advent of tween–hood, there were lines drawn, of course. Not a fan of shirts that showed adolescent bellies and shorts that declared suggestive adjectives across their bottoms, those were not tolerated. Alexandra compensated with crazy combinations of adornment, including stick-on tattoos of all kinds.
At twelve, after spending a long day with friends at the beach boardwalk, she returned home with a henna tattoo, ecstatic.
“Until I get a real one,” she told me.
She managed to graduate high school with only a nose ring as modification, but no sooner was the ink dry on her diploma than she was ready to display ink on her body.
“I’m ready,” she said to me one day. “I’m getting my tattoo. A bird.”
Okay. A bird.
“A Tribal Sparrow,” she added.
“What in the world is a ‘tribal sparrow’?” My voice is more condescending than I intend.
Eye rolling and head shaking. Translation: “Mother, you just don’t get it.”
I wonder about the subject she has chosen for the artist, and it’s tribal-ness. Our family heritage is sort-of a homogenized breed. We have no “tribe”. We have no “people”. We are Scotch-Irish with German in the mix, and a little Louisiana-Cajun-French (but you have to really look for it). No- we are very garden variety, Ellis-Island mutt American. Perhaps that’s the attraction for her, the tribal aspect.
“If you’re trying to belong,” I said, in an attempt to appeal to her lovingly (sometimes changing strategy can be effective). “You already do. You don’t need a tattoo to belong here.”
She knows that, she says.
“Is a bird something you now,” I pause for effect. “And forever more want to be associated with? Because you will….you will be ‘that girl with that tattoo.” But as I am asking her, I am secretly grateful she isn’t branding herself with a map of Area 51, or the image of a pop tart, or a beer keg. “It should be something meaningful to you.”
“It is. It represents freedom to me, Mom.”
“You still live at home,” I reply dryly. “We pay all of your bills….. Don’t you want to wait until you are free to commemorate freedom?”
Heavy sigh. “Freedom from things. Personal things.”
“If it’s so personal, why does it have to be permanently inked on your body for the whole world to see?”
“Why would I not?” she counters, and I have no reply. All their lives, my children have been told to be authentic, true to themselves. Encouraged to be real.
Don’t be afraid to show who you are. It’s the message I’ve tried to impart, even during the years of life-vest accessorizing. Don’t wear the masks.
“You know what?” I say. “You don’t even know who you are yet! You are who you are right now, and a mere five years from today, you will be in a completely different place.”
She says that none of us remain the same, not even for a single year. And it’s true. I am a very, very different mother than I was when she was born, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning. The particular audacity of getting inked is that it alters your shell, the only one you will get in this life. It is a deliberately impulsive act.
Parenting is not a sane endeavor, and complicating the matter is that she is, in fact, not a child. Still, I have to believe she will listen to reason.
“Not everyone is going to be so accepting of your ways in the world,” I bleat wearily. “There are people who will make value judgments about you based solely on the fact that you have a tattoo.”
But my instincts tell me to RETREAT, as I watch her body tense.
RETREAT, or there will be immediate launch into mutual hysteria, familiar territory for us. It seems that – these days –she and I are either dissolving into tears of laughter together (our ‘inside jokes’ are legion), or hurling words of frustration at one another, rapid-fire.
“If I ever care what people think of me based solely on my appearance, than I have bigger problems than having a tattoo!”
How can I not admire that statement? Who can argue? She is, after all, an adult. I surrender, but silently, and with a slow refrain of “Taps” playing in my mind.
What I want to tell her, but do not say aloud, is that she will be marked, molded, and modified, without ever setting foot into a tattoo parlor. I look at my body, once just as perfect as hers, mapped by the story of my life. Constellations of freckles from forgetting sunscreen a thousand times, and wrinkles from the same offense. Smile-lines around my eyes from laughing, scars from mishaps and missteps, and from the pieces I have lost to surgeries….all part of the story. But it’s the pink, translucent ribbons that cover my lower belly that mean the most to me. Tributaries of skin stretched to accommodate the growing bodies of she and her sister long ago….. These are my tribal marks.
When the time arrives, Alexandra comes to tell me it is The Day. . She tells me the name of the artist who will do the work. I recognize his name; he attends my church. She is the definition of “all smiles”, luminous.
“Do you want to come with me while I have it done?” She asks. “You can hold my hand.” I am instantly frustrated with her for acting like a little girl – still needing my approval, and equally frustrated that she is not one anymore.
I politely decline, and her boyfriend goes with her instead. I am considering the natural order of things, pondering the business of ‘letting go’ when she walks out the door with him. I try not to think about ink and needles. I’m glad he will hold her hand.
It finally occurred to me to talk to God about my qualms; it should have been my first response. How many times do I wrestle tiny inconsequential issues to the ground as though they are giants without asking the Almighty God to assist me on the mat? As usual, He was already in that place I had hesitated to invite him.
The Bible has a lot to say, and the gist of the message that speaks to my life is Grace. True, there are passages that warn about marking the body, scriptures that warn against cutting the hair. But it is a verse about birds that God brought to my mind. Leafing through the pages, I found it right away:
Matthew 10:29. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Has my daughter inadvertently given flesh to the scripture I pray over her?
Though I hate to admit it, Alexandra’s tattoo has forced me to consider the messy business of acceptance. The “Choose-Your-Battle” cry of all parents has a different tone for each scrimmage and every life stage. What do I gain, as a mother, if I choose not to accept my grown child’s decisions? Am I selfishly seeking validation that I have “raised her right” if she refrains from what society might be uncomfortable with?
The freedom she is trying to parlay is that today, she can still go anywhere from here. This tattoo is meaningful to her. And she is meaningful to me.
When she returns, she cannot wait to show me, walking backwards into my bedroom so that it’s the first thing I see. There is no hiding the work; she will have none of that. This girl, a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture….Now adorned.
So that’s a Tribal Sparrow…
A clear coat of laminate covers the wound, so that it can heal properly. In the mental melee of preparing myself to see it, I had forgotten that it would scab and scar…that it would be a ‘no pain, no gain’ commitment, as most things that become permanent are.
“It’s lovely,” I say. And I think I mean it.
The Tribal Sparrow is a beautiful bird.
Her outline is striking and very bold, not the least bit likely to fade, but her plumage is just the color of Alexandra’s complexion. Centered between my daughter’s flawless and round shoulder blades, the sparrow is exactly the size of my open palm…a perfect fit. She is in flight, but I’m not sure she knows where she is going, her two tail feathers pointed high. Her eye appears to be a soft swirl, peering neither downward or behind, but straight ahead. Her wings are gently drawn with a curve, as if she is gliding, not yet looking for a place to land. A true Artist painted her right onto my daughter’s perfect body. And every time I see it now, I am reminded that His eye is on the sparrow, and that she can go anywhere from here.
This morning, I was at a loss at what to write about. I’ve had a headache pretty steadily for nearly a week solid, and have a busy schedule today, and these two conspired against my wanting to write at all. But still….
Under my desk is a big cardboard box full of writings; articles, poetry and general musings about life, some of it going back to high school. This is my sad attempt at organization…throwing things into a box, so that the oldest pieces end up on the bottom, and the most recent on top, like layers of sedimentary rock.
So, I consult The Box this morning for writing ideas, digging down a few layers. Somewhere in between the top (which is from yesterday) and the bottom (the Jurassic period when the dinosaurs roamed the earth – known to my children as “the 80’s”) I found a single manila folder. Everything else in the box, at least seven inches deep, is thrown in willy-nilly. The folder is named simply: “The Bad Years”
Immediately, I knew which era was chronicled in this layer: The later stages of my disease, and most likely, the very early stages of recovery.
I am an alcoholic. The Bad years, I have had.
I flip through the pages, and catch words like: drunken, AA, lying, puking, embarrassment, shame and rejection…..words I don’t necessarily associate my “now” life with, but words that have been my life at other times. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot shake the feeling that I am supposed to write about the experience. Trust me, I’ve tried to shake the feeling.
More than a feeling, it is (dare I use the term?) calling. At the end of the day, I just cannot imagine that we must endure the really difficult things in life alone. What is the point of coming out on the ‘other side’ of something horrible if you keep it to yourself?
But writing about it is going to require what 12-step programs refer to as “rigorous honesty”. In my interpretation, rigorous honesty is different from regular honesty in that it is subject to the sin of omission tenfold. Writing about my journey is going to require including the words: drunken, AA, lying, puking, embarrassment, shame and rejection – and that’s just for starters.
I pray about it often, asking God about what to include in a book, if I were to write one. I tell Him that I don’t want to embarrass myself, but I know it’s a little late for that consideration. I try to tell Him that I don’t have the time/money/confidence/smarts to write a book. I think He is telling me that I don’t need those things to write my story. What I need is faith in Him. Period.
He reminds me that I still have tons of issues, in my “now” life, and that I get through them One Day at a Time the same way He got me through The Bad Years….with grace.
He is enough to save my life. He is more than enough to handle the seven inches of literary sediment in a cardboard box. I cannot undo my past, but I can write about my redemption so that maybe someone somewhere will know that they can survive The Bad Years.
Grace really is amazing.
**This piece originally appeared in The Beggars Bakery in 2012. The book has indeed been written. It is EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love, which published in 2014. It is available on Amazon now, and you can purchase it by visiting this link: http://tinyurl.com/klmtegk.
“When you wait to hear from God, expect him to give you a dream, an insight; this is the faith factor where you wait expectantly.” – Rick Warren
All day long, I’ve been asking God to tell me why He gave me the word “listening” to write about today. The problem is that my mind wouldn’t be still enough to listen for His answer to my questioning. When my spirit finally became still, the communication was as clear as a bell.
“Are you listening expectantly? Or just putting prayers ‘out there’?” Said Abba.
That’s an excellent question, and the answer is often the latter.
I immediately thought about the SETI Projects – scientific research using the best technology on earth to put signals out in space, so that if there were any intelligent life ‘out there,’ they might give us a signal in response.
“There are great challenges in searching the cosmos for signs of intelligent life, including their identification and interpretation. SETI projects use the best available scientific knowledge to conduct experiments, which has traditionally led to searches for electromagnetic radiation emitted by advanced technologies. Radio telescopes are used to investigate the cosmos using large radio antennas.” – Wikipedia (which knows all, of course.)
When it became perfectly reasonable to embrace the likelihood of extraterrestrial life while denying the existence of God, I do not know. Somewhere along the line, things went terribly wrong. Many scientists consider SETI to be pseudo-science – adding an itchy faith issue to what is accepted as hard-and-fast method. There is something out there, we just don’t know what it is….but we are sure enough that it exists to keep listening!
It occurred to me that nobody goes to the trouble to send out signals without making the effort to listen for a reply. Parts of the scientific community have been listening for a response from space for decades now. They just keep listening because they ultimately expect a response.
Which is more than I can say for myself at times, because listening is not my strongest attribute. But I’m learning.
When I pray and then listen expecting God to answer, my antenna is up, and the signal is clear.
When I pray just to put prayers out there, it become pseudo-spirituality.
Listening and expecting a response from Holy Spirit opens up all kinds of supernatural, extra-celestial communication. God wants us to expect a reply. He expects us to listen with expectancy, and He wants us to hear from Him.
“Overwhelmed, Abram fell flat on his face…” Genesis 17:3-5 (MSG)
Throughout the ages, humankind has created a billion “little g” gods in their likenesses. Often, these faux deities required perfection or sacrifice of that was deemed ‘perfect.’ Spotless animals. Virgins. Those in the highest priesthoods chose who was worthy to be sacrificed – any living being who was considered ‘fallen’ was a sub-par sacrifice. What worth is someone who has fallen flat on his face?
What kind of God rewards the art of collapsing?
The whole world seems on the verge of collapse nowadays, and if you didn’t look any further than the circumstance, you might become despondent. You might look around and say, “Where are you, God? Where are you in this fallen world?” You might ask that. And in your despondency, you might plunge to the ground, face-first.
And there, in that moment – not that circumstance – is God. He is found in the not knowing what else to do. He is found in the falling.
Falling is nothing new. Adam and Eve wasted no time falling away from God in the Garden of Eden, when everything was pristine and perfect. We fall away in good times and in bad.
I’m thinking a lot about this at Easter time, when we believers greet one another with “He is Risen;” and “He is Risen, indeed.” Being risen is the opposite of being fallen, isn’t it? Unless the rising of Jesus from the dead makes us transcend our circumstance by bringing us first to our knees.
As with Abram, who received a whole new identity after falling face-first.
“Overwhelmed, Abram fell flat on his face. This is my covenant with you: You’ll be the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham, meaning that ‘I’m making you the father of many nations.’ I’ll make you a father of fathers—I’ll make nations from you, kings will issue from you. I’m establishing my covenant between me and you, a covenant that includes your descendants, a covenant that goes on and on and on, a covenant that commits me to be your God and the God of your descendants. And I’m giving you and your descendants this land where you’re now just camping, this whole country of Canaan, to own forever. And I’ll be their God.” Genesis 17:5-8 (MSG)
What kind of God rewards the art of collapsing…the majesty of falling? The kind who made us in His own likeness. The kind whose love for us manifested in the death and resurrection of perfection, so that we could serve in the highest priesthood.
Our Big “G” God. The Covenant Giver.
You fall away from your own will and might, and embrace Him. In doing so, you gain your inheritance – your new name. His.
And all the trouble in this fallen world cannot take that truth away.
“…That’s right. Because I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go. I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:13 (MSG)
By: Jana Greene
Do you ever feel teeter-tottery? Overwhelmed, as if the wind has been knocked out of your spirit?
There is a purported trust-building game in which a person deliberately allows themselves to fall, relying on the other members of the group – spotters – to catch him or her. A “trust fall” requires a total letting go of self and dependence on another. What about the times for which you cannot seem to truly let go of pain and free-fall into complete faith? Am I a “bad” Christian when I struggle with trust? Or am I a “normal” Christian, who doesn’t get it right all the time?
I’m learning to “lean into” God, even when a trust fall seems too much to ask. What does the leaning look like?
It helps to be totally undone in order to properly lean
Leaning into God does not require that you have my balance. As a matter of fact, I must alter my angle to lean, give up my foothold. You cannot be perfectly balanced and leaning at the same time. It requires a certain vertigo event, a dizziness. It’s okay to bend toward the Father.
God wants you to fall against Him
He isn’t afraid of your weight or the heft of your burdens. He is strong and immovable.
Leaning means that I have to rest
There is an element of relaxation in a proper lean.
And trust in preparation for the fall
If you lean against nothing, you crash to the floor. Isn’t that what we are really afraid of? What if I buckle under the worry, and hit the ground, and a force of Supreme Love isn’t there to catch us? We fear we may never recover. That’s the reason we aren’t all in a constant freefall lean into God.
But He is worthy of trust.
The Bible says we are given faith, not that we earn it. God knows that we have to learn how to flex the faith muscle. He knows we have to learn how to genuflect with that gift in order to rely on it properly. He isn’t suprised that we aren’t fearless. Pray for the faith to fall into His promises. And then lean into Him until you can.
Leaning requires movement on my part.
I am stubborn. I like to do things myself, thank you very much. But standing straight and rigid and being self-sufficient are not what the supernatural life is all about. Surrender takes surrender. I know that much. I have to will the topple, in order to trust God to provide stability.
Are you feeling teeter-tottery?
If you cannot jump into the arms of the Father,
If you just don’t have the spiritual energy to take that leap of faith…
Don’t just stand where you are, afraid to move at all.
Lean into Him.
Lean in close enough so that you can hear His whisper.
“Don’t panic!” He is saying. “I’m right here to help you.”