This evening, before my husband came home from work, I was making a casserole and listening to Jesus music. Let me be perfectly clear here – my musical tastes span nearly EVERY genre.
I don’t ONLY listen to Christian music.
I love Eminem.
Jack White is boss.
I also like some of the Jesus-y music, too.
I like to think that deep, deep down, under the smile lines and cellulite and freckles, I have an inner groupie who is wild and free and would love to follow The Grateful Dead all over Creation or something. But then, reality.
Always reality, right? Such a joy suck.
I love music…all kinds. I see God everywhere and in everyone. In the arts. In the science. I don’t like using the terms ‘secular’ and ‘religious.’ Honestly, both of those words stick in my throat. Ick! Who the heck do we think we are to deem each person, place, or thing either ‘secular’ or ‘religious.’
The God of the Universe need is not subject to our licensing laws. O.M.G.
Anyway…the chicken. Yes. As I’m putting the casserole into the oven, Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father” comes on Pandora and I stop dead in my tracks. I don’t know what it is about this song – it’s catchy and repetitive, as are many, many contemporary Christian tunes. But Good, Good Father? It is the Official Anthem for Those Afflicted with Daddy Issues.
The lyrics, oh…the lyrics slay me! Tears spring up every time, every single time – and instantly. I am silly in my oven mitts, dancing circles around my kitchen by myself, but I don’t care. The song has so much depth to me.
Growing up, I didn’t know my dad. As a matter of fact, I’d met him only a smattering of times, even though we lived in the same town. He was a musician – a guitar player. I think my surprise birth threw him a curve ball. He was in the band that became ZZ Top, you see. He could have been a contender, as they say. He was a 19 year old kid when he became a father.
His first love was always music. He was obsessed with it. All my life, I’ve never allowed myself to consider that I got my adoration and encyclopedic knowledge of bands and music from my daddy. Couldn’t be. He was simply not around to influence me. But ah – in the nature vs. nurture debate,, nature is stronger than you’d think. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
But just two years ago – nearly 40 years from the last time I’d seen him – I reconnected with my biological father. We enjoyed Mexican food with my half-sister when I visited Houston.
It should have been awkward, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t awkward at all.
These people, my people! OMG, I HAVE PEOPLE!
I fell in love with my sister anew, too. At the table, I marveled that she, my father and I all have the same hands! It tickled me to no end to compare them. Puzzle pieces snapping into place neatly and flush with every other piece. Why did I ever doubt God would allow such a reunion in my lifetime?
Ah, I remember. Because I was afraid to be disappointed. That old chestnut.
Fear is a terrible bully, squashing hope to a pulp. Pulpy hope is worse than no hope at all.
Somehow, all through the years, God had caulked all of my cracks with grace, and I got to hold my earthly father’s hand, so similar to my own. I think there was a Mariachi band there, but that may just be fantasy on my part. It was a super festive evening.
One dad, two daughters. Just for that night. No pie-in-the-sky expectations of making up for lost time, but instead a tender rekindling of hope for the future.
I had the honor of telling my father that I loved him, and I MEANT it. I also had the honor of telling him that I forgive him, because my Jesus extends so much grace and forgiveness and love my way. I got to call my father “Dad” for the first time in my entire life. I had always called him by his first name “Bob” even as an infant. And you know what? My Daddy says he loves me, too.
And we’re cool, my dad and I.
I’m typing this through literal tears right now. Not because everything wrapped up in a nice, tidy package and VOILA! INSTANT RELATIONSHIP! That’s not what happened at all.
I’m crying because my good, good Heavenly Daddy saw fit to bring some family remnants together. And because my Abba was with me all along, delighting in me, his daughter so wild and free.
Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night And you tell me that you’re pleased And that I’m never alone
You’re a Good, Good Father It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are And I’m loved by you It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
Oh, and I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide But I know we’re all searching For answers only you provide ‘Cause you know just what we need Before we say a word.
My love of music? I got it from my dad.
Sometimes it’s so sweet.
Here’s the audio for Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father” Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there was a good and perfect King whose agenda for the whole land was Love.
He provided everything his subjects needed – in this realm and The Eternal one – but one subject became jealous of the King and wanted to rule in his stead. Being the good and perfect King that He was, Love banished the hateful subject -who was one of the beings considered a friend of The King Himself – from the Kingdom. He became a defector with his greedy endeavor to be equal with his Creator.
Furious at being banished, The Defector appealed to the less-than-royal castle walkers to leave the King’s dominion. He was very persuasive, and took a third of their masses with him. Because The King was Love Incarnate, The King mourned their loss. But his mourning was supplanted by a great concern for the subjects of his kingdom and their heirs. For the The Defector and his minions – subject to eternal separation from Love – vowed to use whatever evil means necessary to recruit members. Nothing was off limits.
Suffering and death. But also temptation and slick false-life advertising to sell it.
One of the biggest weapons used against the kingdom subjects was the very freedom The King had invoked a the First Testing. Essentially, it sounded something like this (and like exactly the same message he is spinning in this generation):
Don’t you think YOU should be King? Why does King Love get, well … all the love. You are ruler of your own life! You can have all the power. The King is out to ruin your fun and your lives. He sits up there on His throne, having no idea of your struggles. And that’s IF He exists…..Have you ever even SEEN Him in person? I didn’t think so. Maybe He doesn’t even exist. Maybe Love cannot save the world.
And the subjects were deceived, because a tiny seed in their hearts was watered by the slick words that appealed to Self over King. And confusion took root and has become a plague upon the earth ever since. Many subjects decided to follow the ruler of Self and, in turn, rejected The King’s perfect will.
Many declared they were subjects of no land at all, and by doing so, still made a choice to defect the Kingdom. There was no dual citizenship. Perfect Love casts out all fear, and fear was at the root of autonomy of the Subjects of No Land.”
There seemed no end to the weaponry that The Defector had at his disposal. Yes, good old sin bugaboos ran amok, But often times the destruction came in other slippery forms: Shame, Defeat, Distraction, Depression, Addiction, and a general elevation to Self while – at the same time – beating it down by diminishing it’s value.
It seemed like The Defector had the deck stacked in his favor, as all of the subjects had one thing in common, bestowed by the King – Choice. The Power to accept The King of Love, ruler of the Kingdom and keep the laws enacted by him in love for their own good, or to defect themselves to a more self-serving path.
Oh, the humanity – literally!
Could no one save The Kingdom from the author of confusion?
Will no one step in to save the subjects created to serve The King and those He loves?
And then The Magic happened. The King Himself would become a subject. He himself – through His divine heir – would become man and King, and show up in person. He would be Redeemer. He would know the anxiety and hardship of the masses, just like any other subject. But He would come to show them that The King is Love.
A nobler knight or king, the world had never known. Instead of cavorting with elite and rule-keeping, The Redeemer loved on the castoffs, touched the un-touchables. The peasants. He lived His life in a manner befitting The King in all ways. Whether teaching in the temples or on the street, all subjects were invited to become members of The King’s fold. And His love was the invitation to citizenship.
Healing. Unselfishness. Unconditional Love.
The Redeemer walked the realm for 33 years, a short span of time in history, but changed absolutely everything.
No longer could the subjects resent The King for not have walked among them as a common subject. The Redeemer showed the way that any subject could become a bona-fide royal. He did so without serving Self or following any of the rules of the conniving Defector.
He would finally be crowned a King with a headpiece of thorns in a mockery of ascension to the Kingdom Throne. The Defector had a heyday. He considered a major win for his ruling. In truth, it was the beginning of His ultimate end.
Those who followed the defectors and beat him to a bloody death did not know they were in fact cementing the admission of Whomsoever into an Eternal Kingdom. The one who defected from The Eternal for seeking equality with The King made it possible for all of us to be equal heirs in all The King’s riches, in essence. Ironic, and beautiful paradox, that one.
The names of all the subjects – those who serve The King and those who serve The Defector – were on His lips, pleading with Love to administer grace and mercy. The subjects who accepted The Redeemer received permanent citizenship in the Eternal Kingdom.
The King ALWAYS uses what the enemy plans for evil to the GOOD of those who love Him.
The Magic – known as Holy Spirit – he left with the subjects, so that His power would be forever close at hand. That spirit of all that is lovely, The Magic lives on to this very generation.
The Defector knew the Day of the Redeemer had been coming, and he was prepared. Further making a mockery of Love, The Defector upped his war game, and with each new generation of subjects, became better and better at deceiving them.
Those satisfied to serve Self we easy to take down and make slaves to The Defector and his flunkies. With the ultimate knowledge that he is doomed to failure, he is quite literally hell-bent on taking as many subjects with him in eternal alienation from Love.
Even some of the Eternal Kingdom citizens sometimes forgot they are citizens of a Higher Order through the work of The Redeemer, the spoils of a war already won on the cross. They struggled mightily, far more than people with an eternal birthright should. Tasked with spreading the message of unearned love to the whole world, they became weary.
The Defector must never allow subjects of The King to rest. They are dangerous on the battlefield, a liability to the Evil One’s schemes to overthrow The King. He was always on the prowl, looking for chinks in the armor that The Magic covered them in. He perfected the tips of his arrows and narrowed his aim, upping the ante with each attack.
It is for this reason the Redeemed subjects are not spared hardship and even occasional agony.
It’s not the end of the story. The King gets the last word. Love always wins, you know.
Because the Bible isn’t a fairy tale at all.
The King of Love exists. We call him God, and He isn’t the stuff of fables. The Redeemer who is both God and Man? He is Jesus. And there is, in fact, a Defector called Satan, and his demonic hosts of demons who defected the angelic realms. I know it sounds mythical, until you consider the state of the war, pestilence, and destruction both large-scale and in our personal lives. Look around the world we inhabit, so infused with suffering and tribulation. There should be no doubt we have a living enemy. And – here’s the twist in the story – it’s not us.
Yes, evil seems to be running the trial of the world as it hurtles toward implosion, as The Defector makes his closing arguments against us. Darkness is his counsel.
But our Counsel is Truth.
Our Judge? Love.
Your enemy doesn’t get to make it to your sentencing at the end of your life without allowing you to testify on your own behalf. And that testimony is the one and true light that vanquishes even the blackest darkness.
Our testimony is simply JESUS.
If you know The Redeemer, this tale may seem a filtered-down, fable-esque take on the Gospel. But a lot of people haven’t heard it in a relate-able way, and I’m hoping this little blog post helps one person see hope with new eyes.
The story has a happy ending.
If you don’t know The Redeemer, know that there is a good and perfect King whose agenda for the whole life is Love. He came in human form to understand the anxiety and hardship of the masses, and to offer reprieve and eternal life.
His Kingdom – His LOVE – is available to you. Not Once upon a time, but today.
God bless us subjects, every one.
“And don’t tell me that I have no authority to write like this. I’m perfectly free to do this—isn’t that obvious? Haven’t I been given a job to do? Wasn’t I commissioned to this work in a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, our Master? Aren’t you yourselves proof of the good work that I’ve done for the Master? Even if no one else admits the authority of my commission, you can’t deny it. Why, my work with you is living proof of my authority!” – 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 (MSG)
It is written: “In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. …” – Genesis 1 (AMPC)
“When Lucifer was cast out of Heaven, one third of all the angels were cast out with him.” – Revelations 12:14-9
“Bilious and bloated, they gas, “God is gone.” Their words are poison gas, fouling the air; they poison Rivers and skies; thistles are their cash crop.
God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid— one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman.
He comes up empty. A string of zeros. Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd. The ninety and nine follow their fellow.” – Psalm 14:1-4
This history-changing gift changed the world forever. “This how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” – John 3:16-18 (MSG)
Choosing YOU: “How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” – Ephesians 4:1 (MSG)
“How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” 1 Corinthians 5:21 (MSG)
As his killers laugh and mock him as He is dying, throwing dice to see who would keep His robes as a macabre souvenir, He pleaded with The King: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:24 (ENT)
The Redeemer said it Himself: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” – John 14:26-27 (MSG)
To which The King decreed “You see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrew 12:1 (MSG)
For The King issued this proclamation: “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” – 1 Peter 5:8
As fellow subject and apostle summed it up: “You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message. Colossiains 1:22 (MSG)
“Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.” – Philippians 2:15-16 (MSG)
If I were privy to the secret of living forever (and given coping mechanisms to live this life to the fullest) but withheld that secret from other people, I would be a pretty sh*tty individual.
But that’s all ministry is.
I once asked a very candid question to a pastor who I respect a great deal.
“Okay,” I said. “To live victoriously, what percent of my sh*t do I have to have together? Ten percent? Fifty? Ninety-nine?”
“Zero,” he replied. “Exactly zero percent.”
“Yeah, but...” I continued.
But I swear some. I think unkind thoughts at times. I yell at people who drive slow in the passing lane. I get frustrated with people on ‘the wrong side’ of political debate. I struggle with food mightily, and a plethora of other issues….
The pastor remained adamant. It’s GRACE, he said. It is finished.
Jesus never once said that in order to serve, we have to have it all together. His disciples were quite a mess, and He CHOSE them. He could have chosen the “holy men” of the day, but he steered clear of those others deemed pious and righteous.
He can use me. He can use you, right where you are. Most days, I AM the ‘one percent’ at having it together…..yet sitting on all the wealth of Christ.
I’m done telling myself I cannot be in “ministry” until I get a certain percent of my sh*t together. Because just when I gain a percentage point for NOT going on a cookie bender, I lose a point for swearing. It’s exhausting, that theology…and the numbers don’t ever crunch just the right way.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, people are desperate for a God who loves them beyond imagination.
A God who isn’t into percentage math.
A God who isn’t looking to cut me a commission, but who considers we messy ones THE Great Commission.
A God so big that human rules cannot contain Him.
It isn’t being perfect or trying to deceive people. It isn’t about striving to “get it right” or about judging others.
It’s being given the key to overcome even death and being willing to make copies of that precious unlocking device so others can get in on what God desires for them.
And being willing to show the property to people who don’t even desire a key. Ministry is showing the property, so to speak.
How else will folks know there is a venue for a love so full?
The Kingdom of God is within us. Literally.
He is CHOOSING you right now.
And you don’t have to have one single iota of your sh*t together before following Him.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Biblical comparison: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:13
There is a God out there. And I am not Him.
Seems a reasonable enough, right? I’m pretty sure YOU know that I am not God, that I didn’t mastermind the universe and place the heavenly bodies in orbit.
But at one point in my life as an active alcoholic – on some really deeply corroded level – I behaved as if I were perhaps God.
No, I didn’t create the universe, but I believed I was able to control my consumption from a liquid in a bottle.
Yet, over and over again, I made hollow promises to myself that tomorrow I would not drink. Period. After a period of thousands of ‘tomorrows’ and repeating the same behavior, I began to question my sanity. Isn’t the definition of ‘insanity’ doing the same thing the very same way over and over, expecting a different result?”
Time, Higher Power, and that pesky Sanity
Step Two is an action step, in that it takes movement and time on your part.
It doesn’t say “We believe that a power grater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
It states “We came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Another way of saying “I came to believe” is that I have faith. How do you ‘get’ faith? We have long heard that you either have faith or you don’t, that you can exercise your ‘faith muscle’, and even that faith is ‘blind.’ I believe none of those things, actually. Because each and every one of those misconceptions places the glory of your faith squarely on you. Faith is not earned, it is a gift that our Father wants us all to know we have. Ask God to help you trust in the faith he has already planted in you – trusting Him to do what you cannot do for yourself – and your faith will grow.
He is a good father. If you ask for bread, He will not give you a stone.
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” – Luke 11:11 (MSG)
In Luke 17, the apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.” But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy-seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.”
Wouldn’t you like to tell your addiction to go jump in a lake?
Understanding that and really embracing it is a process. It’s a faith thing, not a ‘knowing’ thing, so I cannot open a text book and show you it’s true. It takes time to allow what you are wrapping around your mind to melt down into your heart and get gooey love into the deepest crevices of your spirit and what you believe.
What is the catalyst for making that happen in Step Two? Higher Power, of course. My Highest Power (and personal friend, and counselor, and Creator who masterminded the universe and placed the Heavenly bodies in orbit…yeah, that one) is Jesus Christ. I know that in many 12 Step programs, many different applications of a Higher Power are utilized – and in some, none is recognized at all. All I can tell you is what works for me, and Jesus is the ONLY way I’ve maintained sobriety for over fourteen years now (still, one day at a time.)
He is as real as can be – even more so than you or I. Ask Him for help every single day, and he will never forsake you. He loves the brokenhearted, the addicted, the desperate. And He is a Restoration Specialist, especially when it comes to Sanity. We are all a little crazy, right? I think that’s fair to say.
The sanity referred to in Step Two is not addressing our quirks and individual weirdness. It is speaking to rebuke the insane behaviors that we engage in as active alcoholics and addicts.
The insanity that spurs you to place your drug of choice above your children and family.
The insanity that manifests when you tell yourself, “never again” (and really MEAN it each time,) only to drink and use the next chance you get.
The insanity that keeps you down, telling you that you will NEVER be well. You will NEVER get clean.
The insanity that makes you a person that you detest, who does things you know are wrong and destructive.
There is a better way, and Step Two puts it at your fingertips. Take off the God Pants (they are an awful fit, anyway) and ask your Higher Power to restore you to sanity, to really living. Ask Him to take that poppy-seed sized grain of faith you have and activate it so that it can expand and you can apply it to your recovery. He is the Restoration Specialist, and He loves you more than you can ever understand.
Prayer: Father God, fill us with Holy Spirit in all the spaces chemicals used to reside. Don’t let our faith lie dormant, but help us understand the power we carry that makes all things – sobriety among them – possible through you! We’ve done it our way….Jesus, do it your way now, and help us to trust you through every step. – Amen
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.