I’ve never been so aware of the tattoo on my right arm as when I was in Rwanda. Except for the first days after I had it done a few years ago and I’d catch the black lines out of the corner of my eye and think there was a spider on my arm.
But in Rwanda I felt like it was lit from underneath my skin. Phosphorescent.
My skin is pretty white, I don’t tan super well and when I do there is a reddish undertone to it, so my skin color sticks out pretty well in Rwanda anyway. I don’t know what it is like in other places, most of my extended travel is limited to Africa, and in Africa you shake everyones hand. Everyones. Everyday. Multiple times every day. So I was constantly extending and offering my hand and every time I did there it was shockingly staring up at me and at the person I was shaking hands with … Love is.
It was a few years ago and my husband was away on an extended business trip and it was my first time running the show all those long days and afternoons and evenings with 3 littles, they would have probably been around 3, 1 and not yet one. During that time I kept thinking about love and how sometimes I was not loving very well. I was reacting and some (most) of those reactions were not done in, or out of, or for love. They were done because I was tired and ratty. I was not loving well.
I understand the bind this on your forehead, your heart, mentality because I need reminders all the time. And a tattoo isn’t the end to the means of remembering truth, I realize. But I was feeling tired and desperate to understand love better, to be better at showing it. So I put it on my arm forever. I’m right handed and I wanted my action, reactions, and words I write to be about love.
And not my love, because go back up and read a few paragraphs above, I can botch it all up on any given day, multiple times in any day. Not mine, but His love.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:9-12
So there it is these little words on my arm … Love is. An incomplete sentence, incomplete thought. One my heart can fill in the blank with what I need to remember, and not just with a list that might spring to your mind about patience and kindness, not boasting or envying, not dishonoring or keeping a list of wrongs of others, not self seeking or quick to become angry. It is most assuredly those, but I fill in it’s blank with other ones too.
I carried a lot of buckets of cement at the work site in Rwanda. It would get shoveled into my bucket and I’d carry it to the masons. One day in particular I was passing it up to the men on the ladders as the walls rose higher row by row. One time the mason tossed my bucket back down to me and I didn’t do a good job of catching it, a gray smear of cement went across my arm, covering my tattoo. I walked back to have my bucket filled again again again again. Love is messy, hard work.
A few days later I had the chance to help repaint the doors to the original 6 classrooms we renovated in 2007. The same doors. The same green paint. My same arm dipping the brush in the can, brushing it on stroke after stroke. Memories from 10 years ago merged with wrapping up the current project, so many thoughts and emotions were swirling around inside. I looked down, speckles of green on my arms. Little green freckles making new constellations over my arm. Love is deja vu.
Shaking hands, with the little kids especially, high fives or holding hands as we walked along, they would rub their fingers over the black ink on my skin. Then look at me their eyes big. I would say, “It says love is. It’s because I love you because Jesus loved me.” They didn’t understand because the language barrier was deep and wide. Love is the extravagant steps of leaving and flying and going all the way around the globe to someone else and holding their hand.
This weekend I went to a local artisans market and bought a cuff. An infinity symbol and the word love. Now I have one for each arm. Double fisting love. White knuckle holding onto it, living it, showing it, being it. Because love is messy, hard work, tediously reminiscent of days before, the same thing gone over and over and over again. Love is extravagant and unexpected, surprising and up lifting. Love is what fills me up and hopefully what pours out.