Inked: one year later

One cold Sunday morning last February, I found myself flat on my back, body tensed on a metal, paper-covered table in a St. Louis tattoo studio. I  clung to my brother’s giant hand, breathing deep and calm. The words that Laura, the tattoo artist, had just proclaimed rang in my ears: “The more tense you are, the harder I have to press the needle.” So as she etched the one slow word into the tender skin of my forearm, I flashed to the posture I had found myself in 12 years earlier when I gave birth to my first child. Intentional relaxation through pain. Calm body, relaxed muscles, despite burning pain. Visualizing beauty as I lay there, verging on tears.

In the months (and if I’m honest, years) leading up to that February morning, I found myself questioning:  “Should I ink this word onto my arm, needle-hot? Is this really ‘me’? Aren’t I already marked?”

We are all invisibly inked; this word is already written on our skin, hearts, foreheads. We are marked people. Wherever we wander, no matter how far away, the truth of our identity is written all over us. We were born Beloved. 

But it is the one thing I keep forgetting. I forget, and forget, and act like I am anything other than beloved. What I knew that cold, sunshiny morning, finally, was that I want never to forget. I knew the answer to my inner questions was YES! I wanted to be marked with my true name, inked visibly, unforgettably, like He was, our beloved names stamped into His flesh. 

So there I was on the table, word freshly inked on my forearm. I slowly sat up and took my first look. It looked familiar, the invisible made visible. My brother smiled at me, squeezed my hand.

It took me several weeks to get back to normal. The ritual of scarring the word into my skin shook something loose in me, unexpected and relieving. I found myself talking with my children and anyone else who would listen, about their belovedness.

One year later, and I confess to you: I STILL FORGET. I still forget and live by the names that the world gives me. But in the dark moments, even wearing long sleeves, I can look down and see the tendril of ink threading out toward my wrist, whispering my true name. 

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Living Beloved

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Well past midnight, cold blue moon floating in the brand-new year’s dark sky, I tuck the older kids into bed with a kiss, whispering “Happy New Year.” One, who has faced new, painful struggles this past year, asks, wistfully, “Will 2018 be better?” My best answer, which I know won’t soothe: “If you make it better, love; it’s in your hands.” “Well, I guess it won’t be, then,” is the reply. My heart stops a second.

Hands, I think, and am moved by the sudden impulse to lay hands on the soft heads of my children for spontaneous New Year’s blessings. I summon up the powers of motherhood, speak soft and deliberate, “Above all things, may you know deep in your bones that you are Beloved,” among other, more specific incantations spoken over sleepy faces that night, as 2018 dawned. A whispered, “Thank you” followed me, lodging somewhere deep in my heart, as I quietly shut the bedroom door.

I rise to meet this blessing, too. It bubbles out of every corner of this past year, past personal failure, past the other shoe dropping, and the other one, and the other one. The life-giving truth is this: just as I am, I am Beloved. The God of the galaxies names me Beloved. Not when I get it right as a mother or teacher or wife. Right now, a beautiful mess.

Living into the truth of this name is the work of my lifetime, the quest of my heart, and the ministry of every day, as I learn what it means to LIVE beloved. Which means living into my whole authentic self. Accepting and believing in the way God is making me into more of myself. Sitting with the pain of the world, or the pain of my children, or my own pain, and not being undone.

The midnight moment of blessing will fade into dream-memory for my children, but my wish for them will never wilt. Let them always feel the weight of my hands on their heads, the truth of their Belovedness trickling through the skin of their scalps into skull, burrowing deep into pre-frontal cortexes, into wherever-it-is that the soul lives..

No New Year’s resolutions for me. Just living Beloved, day by day.