More than Many Sparrows – My very own daughter and the audacity of ink

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

My daughter's tattoo, which has come to have significant spiritual meaning to me as a mother.
My daughter’s tattoo, which has come to have significant spiritual meaning to me as a mother.

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.

Anywhere at all.

Destination Baker Street

Keys in Wilmington, NC
Keys in Wilmington, NC

One single car ride.

I don’t even remember where we were are going, my mother and I … just she and I alone in the car. I must have been ten years old, right on the cusp of Mommy Worship and Mommy Disdain. My young mother still in her late twenties – a beautiful, volatile, ball of energy and light. I catch a glimpse of her sideways as we rolled down the road. She smiles, turning the radio up.

Baker Street, her favorite song. We hand-crank the windows down – Gerry Rafferty’s tinny vocals blasting us like the wind. She sings:

Winding your way down on Baker Street

Light in your head and dead on your feet

Well, another crazy day

You’ll drink the night away And forget about everything.

Filaments of her blonde hair whip about her face, and I feel a pain for loving her so much. She looks like an angel with a Dorothy Hamill  haircut. I take a big breath to sing along with her, but  the air is full from the smoke of burning leaves from someone’s yard, and I cough. We laugh.

You used to think that it was so easy

You used to say that it was so easy

But you’re trying, you’re trying now.

She reaches over to the passenger seat and takes my hand, smiling. She is proud that I know the words to the chorus. I remember when I was very little and she would tell me it was me and her against the world. The world was antagonist; we were invincible. My hand didn’t swim in hers like back then, it fit perfectly.

Another year and then you’d be happy

Just one more year and then you’d be happy

But you’re crying, you’re crying now.

We did very bad air-saxaphone routines with our voices, just for the sake of being silly. All of the elements for a perfect mother-daughter moment, all serendipitous-like. She lets go of my hand to light a cigarette in the interlude.

Way down the street there’s a light in his place

He opens the door, he’s got that look on his face

And he asks you where you’ve been

You tell him who you’ve seen

And you talk about anything.

We sing at the top of our lungs, her words sometimes coming out in smoke as she exhales.

He’s got this dream about buying some land

He’s gonna give up the booze and the one-night stands

And then he’ll settle down In some quiet little town

And forget about everything.

At stop lights, people stare at us. We sing louder! We are beautiful, volatile balls of energy and light. Of course all the other drivers wish that they were as cool as we are, singing Baker Street. Mom flicks her cigarette butt out the window absently.

But you know he’ll always keep moving

You know he’s never gonna stop moving ‘

Cause he’s rolling, he’s the rolling stone

A single car ride, burned into the filament of my spirit. I don’t even know where we were going, and it doesn’t matter. I feel the same pain from loving her so much, when I remember it. What I wouldn’t do do have the three or four minutes on a Fall afternoon in Houston, my hand in my mother’s – fitting just right. Before another crazy day.

To talk about anything.

To forget about everything.

Before the world was antagonist.

And when you wake up, it’s a new morning The sun is shining, it’s a new morning And you’re going, you’re going home.

Breast Practices – supporting nursing mothers

fresco
Fresco of Maria Lactans (literal translation: Mary as a nursing mother) at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Agliate, Italy.
As you can see, Mary is breastfeeding Jesus without so much as a blankie covering her shoulder.
Also, I can find no evidence that Mary – in either a fresco representation, nor the concordance of my Bible – fed him in a bathroom.

By: Jana Greene

A young mother on an afternoon shopping trip at the mall juggles her fussy, hungry four-month old son. She needs to feed him, so she:

a) Sits on a bench in front of Victoria’s Secret store, and digs through the diaper bag for a bottle of formula. Her son quiets instantly as she feeds him. Shoppers smile as they pass by, because everybody loves a baby –  particularly a quiet one. Everyone loves to see a mommy caring for her child.

b) Sits on a bench in the mall – this time in the Food Court –  and digs through a diaper bag for a receiving blanket. She drapes it over her shoulder and  lifts her blouse underneath discreetly, and with a swift motion of the other arm, cradles her four-month-old son to her breast. Her son quiets instantly as she feeds him. Many shoppers either avert their eyes or make snarky comments amongst themselves as they pass by (some make them intentionally  loud enough for the young mother to hear) – Because everyone loves a baby, but apparently not everyone loves to see a mommy caring for her child.

Which of the mother’s feeding choices do you find most offensive?

As it so happens, a mother shopping at an actual Victoria’s Secret store in Austin, Texas was asked not to nurse her infant in the store at all. Not even in a dressing room. It was suggested by employee that – are you sure you’re ready to finish reading this? – she nurse him in “the alley.”

Ahhhh. You can spend hundreds of dollars on bras in an effort to lift and separate,  push ’em up and hold ’em down – so long as you don’t use them in a practical manner. It would seem that the Land of Silk and Money is NOT the Land of Milk and Honey.

Shouldn’t we find  floor-to-ceiling-sized posters of nearly-naked super models (whose boobs are so exposed that only her areolas are covered by strategically-placed feathers) a bit more offensive than a breastfeeding mother? Breasts are made for feeding babies. If that makes you uncomfortable, take it up with God – it was His big idea. He designed them perfectly for it, long before plastic bottles and rubber nipples. Society has managed – as is so often the case – to make something pure and natural into something perverse.

(By the way, my  least-favorite reaction to a breastfeeding mother is: “Well, SEX is natural, too – but I don’t want to see anyone else doing it.” In what alternate universe is nursing a baby “like having sex?” Answer: In no universe. What a wildly inappropriate comparison!)

When my daughters were babies – and even into toddler-hood – I nursed discreetly  in malls, and concerts; in the park, and on “Its a Small World” at Disneyworld. I was living life and raising kids. We were on the go, and many times I thanked God for the convenience and economy of lactation – not to mention the bonding between mother and child in ensures. Who has time for fooling with bottles?

Once, when my firstborn was about six months old, I was feeding her at a museum, on a bench in a quiet, darkened hallway. I had a light blanket loosely over my shoulder,  fully covering my breast (and my baby’s head, face, and shoulders.) Only her tiny legs and feet were exposed, kicking happily. A couple walked by.

“She should nurse that baby in the bathroom,” said the woman.

Here is what I wanted to say: “Do you enjoy eating your lunch in the bathroom? Most of us don’t. I’m pretty sure my daughter doesn’t either!”

But I’m a wimp, so instead, my face burned a little. Her statement did what she had  intended – embarrassed me. But only momentarily; I knew that I was doing what was best for my child.

Can a nursing mother be 100% discreet all of the time? Sometimes babies pull away for a moment to hiccup. Sometimes the chug too fast and choke a bit, in which case they suddenly sit up.  And yes, you regularly have to switch sides, folks (that old “supply and demand thing.) If you see a mother and baby in a “nip slip” and for that instant your delicate sensibilities are offended, look away.  If you “don’t need to see it,” don’t stare.

Now – If it doesn’t bother you to see it, give the mother a little smile.  She is doing what is (sadly) considered a brave thing these days…a much, much braver thing to do than what is socially acceptable (Victoria Secret model displaying her perfect breasts in billboard-sized glory.)

The nursing mother is just feeding her baby as humankind has been nourished since the dawn of time. Somehow our more primitive ancestors “got” what we have  lost.

Breastfeeding is what boobs are for.

Friendship – Sisters by Design

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C. S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

This letter is a gift to someone who is a gift to my life.  I asked her permission to publish it, to which she responded:

“You have full permission to publish it if you want—I hope it inspires others to have real friendships like ours!”

Amen, Sister-Girlfriend. The world would be a much better place.

My sweet Melissa,

Do you remember the first Christmas that we became friends? Our daughters – now freshmen in college – were fourth-graders who had just declared themselves Best Friends Forever. I was a struggling, single mom, just having divorced my children’s father after fourteen years of marriage. My little girl was having a terrible time.  I got her a good therapist, and tried to calm her fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded.

What she really needed was a very good friend. Your daughter was that very good friend to her.

It was a horrible, awful  time in my life. I was working four jobs to feed my girls after being a stay-at-home mom all of their lives. They became latch-key kids. I became a hot mess from the guilt.

When we first met, I was holding on to my four-year-old sobriety by a single thread, it seemed, and living on high anxiety. You invited me over anyway when the girls were having a play-date, serving coffee (and, I’m certain)  sweets.  You asked questions that nobody else had bothered to ask, and didn’t judge me when I answered honestly.

Sometimes when you stop trying so hard, God makes mystical things happen. Like our friendship.

At the time, you were wary of organized religion, and I was wary of everything. But in your guest bathroom, you had a display of decorative crosses. Every time I went to the loo at your house, I thanked God for you and your kindness. I prayed that you would trust Him again, even as I struggled to trust Him myself. Yes, on the loo!  I can tell you that now, all these years later.

That Christmas, I sat with all of our girls while you went on a date with your hubby. Before you departed for the evening, you gave me a pretty little wrapped gift box, and instructed me to open it when you left.  I did, and it was a lovely new wallet.

When you came back home, I thanked you, and you said that I should make sure to look inside of it. Folded in the zipped compartment was a hundred-dollar bill.

“Get your girls a little something for Christmas,” you said, like it was not a big deal.

It was SUCH a big deal, Melissa, to fill the girls’ stockings that year. Such a big deal.

Little did I know that praying for you on the loo would be the least of what we would come to discuss as our friendship deepened!  No subject was off-limits, no pretending to be who we were not. No pretense, all acceptance – what a wonderful foundation for a friendship.

I have to tell you, my friend, throughout the storms, you were my safe place. And always – even if there were tears –  laughter was ultimately the order of the day.

We are pretty cool that way.

Over the years, we have really been through it together, have we not?  With six daughters between us, holy cow – have we ever!

Teenagers and all the stupid stuff they do. Teenagers and all the awesome stuff they do.

Through a divorce and a new marriage (both mine) you were such a support. Through your steady marriage, you taught me so much.

When our husbands drive us bonkers, we have a kvetch session, and are a-okay again.

When our kids drive us bonkers, well … together, we find the strength to soldier on.

We’ve done the Mom Circuit, and weathered the “Mom, leave me alone!” syndrome.

Between us, we’ve done new careers, and unemployment.

We’ve drowned our sorrows in Queso dip at every Mexican food restaurant in town. (Cheese plays a major role in our relationship, as well it should!)

We’ve had pajama parties, and felt the betrayal of gravity (especially me….you look MAHVELOUS!) and – as we schlepped into our forties – the reward of chasing dreams and catching them, on occasion. (Or should I say, we sashay gracefully into our forties – and beyond.)

We’ve struggled with the discovery of what is out of our control (everything, essentially) and celebrated what we which we can control (keeping the faith.)

We’ve threatened to write a book togetherwhich, incidentally is still TOTALLY happening!

Most meaningfully, when my own family members high-tailed it out of my life, you ran towards me.

You and I …. we’ve  had spiritual crisises and awakenings, stumblings and triumphs. And shared with honesty every experience.

We discovered together that we are NOT orphans after all, but beloved daughters of the Most High King….princesses, really!

And that makes us sisters. Family.

Even our husbands became MFFs (Man Friends Forever…please don’t tell them I said that,) and our daughters as close as any siblings.

Family, like I said.

Your love, prayers and steadfastness have helped keep me sober. Honestly, I doubt I would have maintained it without your support.

That love….those prayers and acceptance – they have kept me from running away from home on numerous occasions (“This parenting teens thing? I QUIT!”)

In the midst of building this friendship, you had a revolution in your spirit.  When God lit a fire under you, he used spiritual kerosene!

Girl, you were on FIRE, and you are still on fire!  It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been witness to.

A spark from the heart of Jesus himself caught the hem of your garment, and you just had to serve Him. You served Him by helping other women, like you helped me. By genuinely loving them – fiercely. From it came additions to the sisterhood – the WAYwards – and lots of tears and laughter.

And laughter came in handy during the difficult times.

Several years ago, when I got sick, I stayed sick for nearly three years. It was another awful, dark time in my life.  Chronically fatigued. Endlessly in pain. And with no answers in sight, living on high anxiety once again.

For three solid years, I fought numbness, pain, fatigue….every single day, and bitched about it plenty. My complaining and frustration had to have tested your dedication! But you listened every time, and never gave up.

You prayed for my health fervently. Sometimes, when I was in the middle of exhaustion and complaint, you would just extend your right hand toward me and pray so hard that we would both cry – even when I was right in the middle of a bitching session!

It’s hard to be hopeless when someone is that dedicated to asking God to help you.

But sometimes – when you stop trying so hard – God makes mystical things happen.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I remember telling you. And I meant it. “I can’t!”

“God can,” you said, with no judgement. More listening, more praying, more encouraging. You listened. Like a true friend, you loved fiercely, calming my fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded. “Father,” you prayed. “Please heal my friend. But even if she doesn’t get better, we praise you. We LOVE you!”

Because you see, what I really needed was a very good friend. You were – and are – that very good friend to me.

All these many years later, how many cycles have we gone through !– Distrusting organized religion, and calling on God. Trusting God, and being there for each other.

I’m so grateful for you.

Thank you for being so steady a prayer-warrior. Thank you for never, ever saying, “This friendship thing? I QUIT!”

Thank you for all the times you still give me encouragement (and chocolate) and for being my “nothing is off limits” sister.

When I think about who you are and who you’ve become, and all God has in store for you, it brings me to my knees.

When I pray for you, I ask God to take that beautiful, bright, effervescent and glorious spirit of yours and just unleash it on the world in a way that brings him glory. I pray that the same joy your spirit brings me gets unfurled on the world, and comes back on you like a tidal wave.

I never forgot the Christmas that you folded a Benjamin in the gift of a new wallet  … so that I could give my daughters a Christmas. But more importantly, I never forgot that you reached out to this hot mess girl, that you went out of your way to be kind.

I never forgot that you treated my frightened, maddeningly insecure and hurting fourth-grade daughter like your own. Now a confident – gregarious, even!- young woman, she never forgot your love, either.

I love that you never stopped praying for my healing. I love your heart, that it breaks for hurting people.

I love that the most important prayer I ever learned to pray, I learned from you – “I trust you, God. I may not understand a single thing you are doing, but I trust you.”

It was a  beautiful thing to do for an old friend, to teach me that prayer.

I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for being family.

And Merry Christmas, BFF.

To the Moon and Back – a snapshot from motherhood

http://i.space.com/images/i/000/005/980/i02/moon-watching-night-100916-02.jpg?1294154541

Not so far after all
Not so far after all

By: Jana Greene

One little snapshot. That’s how I remember the moment. Every time I hear the trend-ish expression, “I love you to the moon and back,”  I think about it.

My firstborn was only fourteen months old. We had just come in from a full afternoon of story time at the library  and playtime at the park, our tote full of toddler books.  She still had sand in the baby-crevices in her arms, and under her neck, all the cracks in her tan little body that the sun couldn’t reach but the sand always did.

She was whining and  going limp, the kind of tired that she couldn’t identify, and neither could I.

When you’re a mom, you think you should be able to identify all of the cries.

I sank into the living room couch and patted my lap for her to come sit with me. Opening the canvas tote full of hard board books, I started to read from the Very Hungry Caterpillar aloud.

She collapsed to the floor, shaking her head ‘no’ for a moment, and then toddled climbed up into my lap. She took the book from my hand, dropped it to the floor, and dug into the tote for her very favorite book. It was a book by Margaret Wise Brown that  we’d checked out from the library every week, even though we owned it.

Goodnight moon.

She wanted to nurse, and I wanted her to be quiet. So, we made a deal.

Breastfeeding is the purest thing in the whole world. How it became more unnatural to the bottle, I will never understand. It nourishes both child and mother, and strengthens the bond. That bond comes in handy often.

With one arm I cradled her as she nursed, and with the other I flipped the cardboard pages.

“”In the great green room , there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of….” she pulled away in anticipation of the dramatic line.

“The cow jumping over the moon!”  All smiles, she got her pointing finger ready.

“Can you find the bunny?” I whispered. In every picture in the story, there is a little bunny in striped pajamas, hiding among the room lit by moonrise. We had read this book a hundred times. She found the bunny with her tiny finger and smiled before going back to the breast.

“Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.”

She went back to nursing and reached her hand up to my face.  And she patted my cheek gently, just as she patted the bunny in her other favorite book (title spoiler: “Pat the Bunny.”)

We were content in that moment….my little girl in her bright pink Osh-Kosh B’Gosh overalls and oversized bow in her hair. You’d better remember this moment, I told myself, for some odd reason.  Remember it. You will need it when she is a teenager.

I tousled the hair at the nape of her neck, which curled up in a tiny blonde duck-tail when she played hard enough to get sweaty.  She was so tiny and perfect. Neither of us had made many mistakes, but we would.

And I loved her to that big old moon and back.

Holding her tighter, I vowed that I would not forget that single unremarkable moment.

Now, twenty years later, the moon seems a paltry distance to shoot for. I get tired in ways I cannot identify, and I do a lot of whining. Sometimes I just go limp from the worry that comes with motherhood and never, ever goes away.

My Firstborn doesn’t always find the “bunny” even when I point it out to her. She has to look for it on her own. I think I knew back in that moment, that finding the bunny was the least of it. I’m so glad I have that moment burned in my mind like a star. I cannot tell you how often the bonding we did when she was a baby has come in handy!

Today, she attended church with me. When we worshipped hand-in-hand, I looked over at her and had that same spasm of love .  She is taller than me now, with raven hair and those same great, green eyes. I’ve long ago accepted that I cannot identify all of her cries  (nor all of my own, for that matter.)

I reached over to her and patted her cheek, very gently. Remember this, I thought.

I hope my not-so-little girl looks for God, even when He seems to be, hiding somewhere under the moonrise. He can seem as elusive as a bunny in striped pajamas, or as big and clear as a full moon.

Even when contentment doesn’t come in the cardboard pages of a toddler’s book, but in the paper-thin pages of mystical scripture. I want the Son to reach all of her, but I know she has to look for Him.

I want to remember this moment forever. One little snapshot.

Goodnight stars,

Goodnight air.

Goodnight noises everywhere…..

Above the heavens, beyond the sun,

At the end of the universe,

I’ve just begun!

I love you to the moon and back,

And a million, trillion  more miles than that.

And we were content in that moment, my girl and I.

The Tender Twenty Paradox (and Miley’s big mistake)

Miley Cyrus – Chrisa Hickey [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By: Jana Greene

thebeggarsbakery.net

I must admit that curiosity got the best of me, and I watched the clip of the Miley Cyrus debacle at the MTV VMA awards.

My first reaction was total disgust. Miley is only twenty years old! And then a primal urge to find this world-famous woman-child, and smother her in hugs. Sometimes the mother in me just overwhelms every other instinct.

She is so in-between.

In her racy act, her suggestive wardrobe and antics  tried to convey woman; but her poor judgment screams child.

Her ‘twerking’ tells the world she knows what to do with her lady parts, but the fact that she flaunted her lady parts publically lets us all know that she is still a child. Or that she is high on more than just life, or could be mentally unstable. There is more to being a grown-up than grinding. Nothing says “paradox” like a simultaneous display of tongue and teddy bears.

Miley’s performance brought to mind other Hollywood lost girls…the freckled-face Lindsey Lohan, whose fall from innocence has been so stark, or more recently, the amazing Amanda Bynes, whose comic timing was always spot-on, and whose mental stability seems to be crumbling for all the world to watch. Both of these girls began a public decent around twenty years of age.

Oh, the tender, tender age for girls that is twenty.

I witness a mercifully less-dramatic  paradox in my own lovely daughters – all of them so unique, as both succeed and struggle to grow up.

I’m a grown up!……Mommy, can you….?

Watch me soar!……I screwed up.

Get out of my business!….Please give me advice….

All of that is completely normal.

Twenty can also be point in a woman’s life that the dual demons of addiction and mental illness begin to manifest.

It is also a time for a woman to use supremely horrible judgment. I know I did.

When I was 20, I started drinking. Right from the start, one drink was too many and a thousand not enough. How many times did I embarrass myself? Too many to count.

By 21, I was married. My family tried to talk me out of it. Many people who loved me warned me about marrying so young. But never you mind.  I was an “adult” and I KNEW EVERYTHING.

I wonder if anyone tried to talk Miley out of her over-sexed musical proclamation. I would bet that many did.

I’ll bet just as many people advised her that it any publicity is good publicity. And in her mind, fresh and pliable and utterly riding the wave of invincible-ness, said what so many of our minds say in youth: I know what I’m doing!

It is so easy to buy a ticket to the train wreck at that age, to become the train wreck.

To my mind, the beautiful, talented trio of Miley, Lindsey and Bynes  –  girls that daughters grew up adoring – have fallen victim to addictions (if even only to approval) and the increasingly unshockable world….a planet full of people who expect celebrities to debase themselves more and more, so that they can become more and more numb to the spectacles.

Perhaps, these girls suffer from undiagnosed or under-treated mental disorders.

We have to blame somebody, naturally.

Blame Miley, Lindsey and Bynes. They are  accountable for their own actions. They should know better! Miley likely thought that the performance shake the Hannah Montana persona forever (it has) and that wagging her tongue at the world would keep tongues wagging about her all over the world (it did).

And then forgive her, because she made a horrible mistake that people will never forget, even when she gets herself together.

Blame the parents, who thrust their little girls into show business.

And then have compassion for them, because they made bad choices themselves (and nothing – NOTHING – is worse than someone being mean to your child, much less the entire world.)

Most of all, blame the obviously broken-down world that is a paradox as well…..

A world that is trying its best to be godless and celebrate human nature by worshipping sex, and making sex cheap and valueless in the process.

And consider it a big, fat, red, waving flag for us, as a society, that we are eroding by our own hands, and need Holy Help to be redeemed.

Consider it an opportunity to talk to our daughters about the demons that Miley, Lindsey and Amanda are trying to battle with their own two hands (and too many handlers to count) and failing at;  and let them know that – no matter what – Love wins and there always the chance to start over with grace.

And if they already know everything?
Tell them anyway.

A Tree Grows in Prison – addiction and the harvest of God-seeds

TREE

By: Jana Greene, thebeggarsbakery.net

Hebrews 13:3

“Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.” – Hebrews 13:3  (MSG)

 

God,

I’m thinking today of all the saints in the early church who prayed to you from the cells of prisons. Wrongly persecuted, they mustered their faith and lifted it to you, because they had been stripped of everything else they owned.

I know you’ve gotten your fair share of letters from prisoners.

Jails and prisons are often the venue in which lost souls lift their last remaining possession to you – faith – but the truth is that many have been stripped of that possession, too. Many, before even arriving for intake to be processed by a legal system, were already processed by another captor – Addiction – before ever setting foot in jail.  Addiction is a thief of hope.

Today, I have a broken heart for a dear friend and Sister in you, whose adult son is both literally, and figuratively, a prisoner. He is addicted to drugs, God. He has reached the end of himself. Right now, he seems a shell of himself.

But a long time ago, this friend raised this man up by filling him with God- seeds. She took him to church, and youth group; she talked out her active faith in you….all the way forming rows as she raised him, and planting  seeds in the soft soil of youth.

He is familiar with you. But he has made some bad choices, covering that fertile, planted ground with all the world has to offer, including substances that distract him from You. He has filled his life with all the plastic distraction that keeps the sunlight from getting in; that keeps the water of life from reaching the seeds.

Society sometimes has very little compassion for those who bring woes on themselves. Society forgets that it is only made up of infinite units of just the same kinds of people – sinners.  It’s easy for them to open their bibles to the letters that Paul wrote as a prisoner, and feel compassion.
But you don’t forget to be compassionate, because you never forget that we are infinite units of people who sin, but whom you love dearly.  All people must come to you from their knees on the floor of a prison cell, its only a matter of what four-walls constrain us.

Today, this man – this addict – is on the floor of a cell. I like to think he is calling out to you right this minute, but I know how stubborn addicts can be (being one myself) – I know how insane the cycle is, and how hard it is to let go of that tarp of denial we keep covering ourselves in.

But I am asking you – right now, in Your Holy Name, to crouch down on that prison floor with this man. Scrootch up so close to him that You feel familiar, that the seeds planted in his spirit in his growing-up-years feel like beads under his skin. Crack them open, and as they are opened, let him feel surrounded by love.

The supernatural feeling all addicts crave, that many addicts are willing to go to prison for – to die for – is only just a craving for you, Lord.

This young man is feeling the pain of the chemicals leaving his body, as we speak. Let the suffering he is experiencing  be for the cause of one little Seed of Faith germinating. Fill up the space left by the chemicals, the hurt, the loneliness, the shame and pain. I’m sure he will remember you, God.

Be with his family, who is suffering beyond comprehension. Fill them up, too.

Since this precious son of my Sister in You is currently  in no position to “write letters” in your name, and lift prayers from his broken spirit, mind and body, today I am interceding on his behalf. I ask that everyone who reads this to pray along with me.

For the addicts, the prisoners. The broken, the sinners. For my friend’s son.

Remind them that they are full of seeds of Truth, let them receive water and light, in their own personal prisons, and let those seeds grow healthy and strong and take root in You. So they can go out and tell other prisoners that there is life waiting to be lived.

Give them HOPE, Jesus.

In the name of the Father God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN