I recently had my tattoo finished. It’s a full sleeve, which makes it pretty conspicuous and often sparks inquiries from people, like, “what does it mean?” Despite the depth of meaning that I’ve put into the sprawling design I often stutter over a quick answer to that question. I never really feel as if I have adequate time to explain it. I have described the first half of it here, and as for the second half, well, it seems fitting for it to have its own post as well (and maybe if I put this here I’ll have a better answer than, “it’s a tree and a river with quotes in it”, when I’m asked).
Since meeting and marrying my husband we have moved often (and we’re on our way to do so again), and I have had the honor to meet many wonderful people. I’ve also experienced a lot of disappointment with people (and done my share of disappointing people in return). That’s the thing with people: it isn’t a matter of if we’ll disappoint someone it is when we will disappoint someone. We forget to say hello to the person who feels lonely, we say the wrong thing to the person in pain, we focus on ourselves and miss opportunities to love those who are starving for love, and we are too cowardly to speak the truth to those who need to hear it most. It doesn’t matter who you are, at some point you have disappointed someone. I know that I have. I’m well-meaning most days, but I mess up; I hold out forgiveness, I pass blame on to someone else, I opt to serve myself instead of serving those who need it more, and I often simply choose laziness and apathy because it is easier.
But despite all this, I am loved. I am loved for who I am today, not for whom I ought to be, nor whom I want to be. I am simply loved by the one who made me.
Robert Frost wrote the poem, Hyla Brook, and its been one of my favorites ever since a good friend introduced it to me.
By June our brook’s run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)–
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat–
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.
We’re all a bit like Hyla brook in its ghostly days, dried up, only the memory of a life-giving brook. And yet, the great Framer of the universe loves us for what we are: failed creatures who have spurned our Creator.
There are words hidden in the lines in my arm, “words and deeds and lies and truth are all mixed up in me and are perfectly sincere,” Fyodor Dostoevsky often writes what seems to beat from my own heart, and these words in The Idiot have been written across my heart since I read them, it seems only appropriate to write them across my skin. My best efforts are mixed up with lies and truth and useless words and poor deeds, and despite my very sincerest desires I cannot make things right. But Jesus can. The world is a dark, vast, seemingly chaotic place, and Jesus overcame it with the stroke of a hammer nailing his hands to wood. He puts to order this world that often seems on the brink of anarchy, and he promises to bring it to a final place of peace. In the meantime he takes those poor deeds of mine that are all mixed up with mistakes and selfish pride, and he reshapes them–he reshapes me–into something wholly other, drenched in the light of his perfection.
A tumultuous swirl cascades down my arm, the river the tree is firmly planted by is no serene brook, but a flood of living water, and it changes my faded paper sheet of a self into one who offers water to the thirsty regardless of whether they kick it from my hands. It reminds me of who he is and that because he loved us first we too can love the things we love for what they are.
Each flower bud and bloom and cresting wave, they are the people who have crossed my path, whom I have disappointed, who have disappointed me, and yet, I love them fiercely not for who I wish they would be, but for who they are, today.
People disappoint, and if we put our hopes in other people performing how they ought (or how we think they ought) we will always be disappointed, unable to forgive, and bitter. But Jesus never made a mistake, and if our hope is in him then we can love from the depth of his perfection.
Alone, my brook runs out of song and speed. I have nothing to give, nothing to offer, and only mixed up deeds and words that often do more harm than the good I aim for. But through the one who loves his enemies to the point of death, in him I have living water that has the power to carve stone. He is after all the one who turns hearts of stone into hearts that beat steadily with his love and mercy.