Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I am fierce, from the top of my lightly feathered bangs to the bottom of my navy corduroy knickers. Even as my skin is sloughing off, as the eraser begins agitating the now pink, translucent, second layer – back and forth, back and forth- I do not flinch or ask for mercy. A sixth grader dared me in front of friends to offer up my arm for a test of endurance. Gripping an upside down #2 pencil, the architect of this grade school hazing heats up the downy hair and freckles, just above my outstretched hand, until they literally burn off from the friction of rubber meeting flesh with vigor.
My mother was stupefied. Her face searched mine for any semblance of common sense. The symbolic importance of my second-degree burn would be smeared, I knew, by the muddiness of words and explanations. I could tell right off the bat that she just wouldn’t get it. Inwardly, I sighed at her naiveté but offered up what I could when it was obvious my shrugging would not suffice. “I don’t know,” was my firm reply, and I backed away towards the bedroom while the tingling air wafted over my open wound, a throbbing memento of my bravery.
As a parent, I am appalled by the audaciousness with which most of my adolescent judgments were made. Summoning up Bloody Mary, séance style, in the bathroom mirror at school, torturing a quiet and unassuming member of a slumber party until she broke down in tears of frustration, picking up a needle and piercing my own ear, riding on the hood of a moving car driven by a recently licensed 16-year-old acquaintance, walking into a tattoo parlor in college … and well, you get the idea. The memories are almost dripping with freshness. Closing my eyes, I am there, searching for a ghostly image, giggling while placing a limp hand in a glass of cold water, wincing at the sensation of metal forcing itself through cartilage, balancing with shrieks on a neighborhood joy ride, and cooling the sting of an inky black cross by dousing my shoulder with a cotton ball soaked in hydrogen peroxide.
Oh how I wish that maturity had taken an upper hand or that motherhood had quieted the tendencies to act now and think later. Jesus Christ spent 40 days prayerfully preparing in the wilderness before beginning His mission of salvation. Why can’t I spend 40 seconds evaluating my need to buy, overreact, or spend valuable time on that mind numbing activity? The soul searing consequences of a poor choice can be beneficial as a reminder of my limitations and the need to be vigilant in my intercessions for wisdom. But a cumulative series of reckless behaviors only deadens sensitivity until my conscience becomes scarred and unresponsive.
I will do anything to avoid prayer. The premeditative act of standing before icons, of carving out a slice of my day and offering it up to God is painful for a girl of my” fly by the seat of your pants” disposition. I wander, I squirm, and I spill out my words hastily. I can think about God all day long, I can talk about His omnipotence and mercy, I am fully devoted to the idea of discipleship. An aspiring author can dream obsessively about his first novel, but all the rousing thoughts in the world mean nothing until he sits down and begins the tedious work of typing out one page at a time.
Yesterday morning Troy discovered every one of his razors in four-year-old Benjamin’s pillowcase, their protective covers nowhere to be found. The same blank stare my own mother encountered in me over two decades ago was now etched in the stony face of my son. “I don’t know,” replied Ben on cue, when asked what in the world he was thinking. I am fully aware there is no possible answer that could satisfy me yet I question him anyway, out of habit, out of duty, out of guilt that the razors weren’t less accessible. I am harsh when my children act spontaneously foolish, my mirror image reflecting in their character is maddening. We typically criticize loudest that which hits closest to home.
I am Jonah, David and Peter, zealous but low on self-control. I am the first to claim my love and the first to bail when things get hairy. I can be used by God, I must believe that's true, it just might take a few days of sitting in the stench of my bad decisions before I am released with clarity and ready to obey my calling. I am doomed to wrestle my impulsivity for the rest of my days here on earth.
Tonight, the sun will go down on all that was today. Tomorrow is a canvas blank and clean. Before I lunge for the brush, taking amateur stabs at mixing and matching the colors in my palette, I will pause in consultation, letting Him who is the prototype of all I desire to emulate, guide my hand with strokes slow and steady. Tomorrow I will start again.