St Patrick's Day

I really liked this entry that Nonna Jennifer-Anne Buckley posted on her blog today.

Though this is not normally a "Let's show each other our tattoos" blog (!) I thought I'd show y'all the tatto that I have on my left arm.

This tattoo is not decoration, it's a kind of luggage label.  When I had it done, I was thinking of Paddington Bear, the small brown spectacled bear who was discovered at Paddington Station with his suitcase of marmalade sandwiches and his label put round his neck by his auntie saying "Please look after this bear".

Back at the end of the 1990s a series of terrible events was set in motion in my life.  It has taken us until this year to repair finally and completely the damage that was done in my life and the lives of my children as a result; but now God has restored the years the locust has eaten.

At one time, I guess around March 2002, I reached absolute rock bottom.  I was very suicidal, and only one thing kept me going - the sure knowledge that if I committed suicide the person who would find my body would be the daughter who lived with me - we were all scattered, because we had lost our home.  

At that time, living hand to mouth, working nights as a care assistant with a nurse who wouldn't speak to me because I was not the (young, handsome, male) staff member she had hoped to be teamed with, I descended into a sort of nightmare of exhaustion and semi-illness.  I am not able to describe the events that happened to us, because that would involve giving inappropriate information about the lives of others; but I lost our family home, my job, and my marriage.  Had my mother not given me the money to buy a tiny 2-roomed apartment and take care of our girls (still at school) while I got back on my feet, I don't know what would have become of us.  My marriage and family had been immensely precious to me, and the loss of all this dealt me such a blow that I felt I, myself, had in fact died, and all that was left was a body with a destroyed soul.

It was then that I took the name Ember.  My soul felt like a crater of ashes, everything completely gone.  'Ember' meant the hope that, as I raked through the ashes, eventually I might come across some core of life on which God's breath could blow, and something new and living could begin - which indeed proved to be the case.  Today, a bit like Job, I am married to the most wonderful man in the world, and live in a house that can accommodate all our family - two of my girls are settled in their own homes with their own good men, but if they had not been, there would be room for them here.

Anyway, during the crater-of-ashes time, a number of people asked me about my faith, marvelling that all I had been through had not shaken my faith in God.  But, why would it?  Nothing had changed as far as I knew about God - only my life circumstances had changed.  My faith was founded on Him, not on me.  

But I did have a fear that I would fail or deny him.  I loved Elie Wiesel's prayer (from The Town Beyond The Wall): "O God, be with me when I have need of you, but above all else do not leave me when I deny you."

And so I decided to attach to myself a kind of lost-luggage label - so that if I lost my reason or my faith, nonetheless, indelibly upon my body would be inscribed that I am the property of the living God.

I prayed often at that time Cecil Frances Alexander's version of the Prayer of St Patrick, that is called St Patrick's Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors' faith, apostles' word,
the patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

And so, on St Patrick's Day 2002, I was tattooed with this sign that, whatever I think or don't think, believe or don't believe, whether I am a credit or an embarrassment to Him, under all circumstances of life and even in death, I am the property of Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God.  And it will always be so.