The Privilege of Focusing Elsewhere

sunset

By Jana Greene

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ and he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” –  Mark 4:35-41

Yesterday as a super weird day. Ever feel ‘off’? Ever feel ‘unhinged?’ That was me yesterday, all day.

I woke up upset about the state of the world – the terrorist attacks in Paris, more specifically.  Then I got more and more upset about how improperly people were responding to it.

People I love dearly, suggesting we all basically sit in a giant circle around the globe and sing Kumbaya until mean people stop being mean. Honestly, that makes no sense to me. You’d think you would catch on to the ineffectiveness of that plan already. It’s not working.

Then I wrote about it on this blog, and poised my finger over the ‘publish’ button on WordPress. It was a stellar piece, really. Full of common sense and righteous indignation, and I really wanted to post it. I wanted to post it and share it so that I could stick some facts and impassioned logic in the faces of people who are just NOT getting it. People who make me wonder where the world would be if we applied tolerance liberally to the Nazi regime. (Spoiler alert: The gentiles among us would all be speaking German and the Jews would all have been murdered years ago….)

I am related to some very dove-ish people, they are hopelessly and unrealistically optimistic. I love them dearly, even in their perceived wrongness.

Finger poised over the ‘publish’ key, I decided to shut down the computer. I was simply too sad to even post it.

Now, although I reserve the right to publish it later (and probably WILL at some point) God had other plans for my spirit yesterday, plans put into motion by My Beloved. That man is a saint in sinner’s clothing, I’m absolutely convinced of it.

“Lets take a ride,” he suggests. Understand that I am alternately glowering and crying, slamming things around. I don’t feel like a ride. I feel like crying, and can you not plainly SEE this? But I know the plans he (my husband) has for me, and they are entirely good, always. So I ride along.

While we are driving down to Southport, a quaint little harbor town nearly an hour away, I am on my phone texting madly with my adult daughters. They are not upset enough at the right people my liking about the whole Paris thing, and I am going to MAKE THEM SEE the light. I am also having an internal conversation with God, who keeps insisting that maybe it’s time to trust Him with my daughters (and, um….everything else.)

But when a woman is high on anxiety and low on estrogen, there is no reasoning with her. In a group text, I reminded my kids about 9/11 and how dangerous it can be to try to reason with terrorists, worse even then reasoning with their hormone-depleted mother. They took offense, naturally, but I could not stop. I was going to make my point, dammit, for their own good.

It went abysmally, the whole exchange. They reminded me that they are adults and have their own opinions. I sometimes forget that.

MEANWHILE, as I’m furiously texting 90 words per minute, I am SOBBING. Absolutely just losing it. My poor husband.

Why is everything so SAD? Why don’t my kids GET IT? By the time we got to Southport, I’ve blown through an entire box of Puffs Plus. Little balls of snotty tissue littered the lovely leather interior of the car.

My Beloved pulls the car over at a little ice cream stand and insists I eat some ice cream. I look like a frog from crying hysterically and you think I want ICE CREAM?

Okay, I do want ice cream. So we sit out on the patio and I eat Mint Chocolate chip whilst crying. The kid at the counter looked so confused. I fought the urge to remind him to call his mother and be nice to her.

After the treat, My Beloved drove down to the water, and when we got out of the car, this happened:

sunset 3

It took my breath away, the calmness. I didn’t welcome it at first. I still wanted to hold on to my hysteria because the world is upside down (as if that HELPS turn it right side up?)

But then I just rested my eyes on the whole scene in front of me. You would never know that the world is on fire, if you were sitting at this little spot by the sea. And then came peace.

You have to LOOK for the calmness, it won’t come to you first.

The truth is that while I am very upset about terrorism, I am also upset about everything else changing in my world. From job loss to depression to major surgery to empty nest syndrome to becoming a grandparent….things are weird and different and I’m scared of all the change.

It’s chaos, if I’m looking around me.

Today I told God that I was SO over this planet and everyone on it. And what is the DEAL with humanity being so freaking hateful and disregarding human life and Lord God, do you even SEE what is going on here!?

“Teacher, do you not CARE that we are perishing!?”

And then this happened. In the midst of being so OVER everything, because that’s where He shows up. Smack dab in the middle.

sunset1And this happened too.

Jesus

And then I say, “Okay, God. Now you’re just showing off.” But I’m not crying anymore.

My Heavenly Papa spoke to me.

“Hey you,” He said. “Get over yourself and look at this! Isn’t it incredible? I’m here, never left. Stop flailing about in worried hysteria. I’m still Me. This is to remind you where your eyes belong.”

I just love Him so much.

The world was still crazy when we drove back home. Real messed up. I tried not to watch the news at all. I was still hormonal and unhinged, but a little less weepy. I texted my children to ask them to please forgive my harsh tone and my expectation that they think like me. It’s unrealistic. If you’ve never asked your children to forgive you after a blow-up, it’s very humbling.

And they texted back that they love their mom and forgive her, just as they always do when I mess up. Just like I always do for them when they mess up. We try really hard not to let the sun set on our anger, no matter what. And this day, the sunset was absolutely spectacular (literally and figuratively.)

“Peace!” Jesus says. “Be still!'”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Here’s a little insight: You cannot control a SINGLE act or reaction that another person exhibits. Not even a little bit. Don’t say I never taught you anything here at The Beggar’s Bakery.

But you can refocus your eyes. Even when it feels like God is sleeping.

Although pretty sunsets and ice cream don’t ‘fix’ what’s wrong, they can be a catalyst to changing your thinking, even for a while.

You have the right to look for calm in the midst of a crazy chaotic world. You have the right to use up a whole box of tissues in one sobbing sitting if you need to, but God gives us the privilege of refocusing on Him.

It’s a privilege.

Teacher, help us to be still.

Amen.

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.