Monday, April 14, 2014

Love Leaves a Mark

Recently I needed to take off my wedding band and I was reminded again that whether I wear the ring or not, the promise is on my hand. The finger has grown into the commitment, taken the shape of the vow. It's narrower there at the base where a ring has rested for going on thirty years.  There's a little callous on the palm below that place. The eternal circle, with no end or beginning, is part of me, as I am part of the marriage.

It set me to thinking, of course. (Doesn't everything?) I didn't know, seeing the world through a bridal veil, how I would change. I didn't know that I'd go through childbirths and miscarriage, illnesses and surgeries, losses and victories, except that the old wives told me so. I knew I was committing to a partner who would go with me through whatever came, and he has. As he slipped the ring on my finger, though, I didn't expect it would leave a mark.

It has. So have the experiences. I've become simultaneously harder and softer, more flexible and more determined, kinder and angrier. My shape has changed. My body testifies that life has been full and complex. My heart knows that there's no going back to that tender, hopeful, eager, smooth form. And I'm okay with that.

I did all this to myself. I chose to love. I chose to commit. I chose to stay. As a result, I have a re-shaped ring finger, but also stretch marks and smile lines. It seems to me that love marks the lover.

 I walked outside and found a spring surprise: my presumed dead dogwood had burst back to life with huge white blooms. Do you know the story of the dogwood? Mother told  it to me. She knew lots of good stories.

Mother said we could remember Jesus on the cross when we looked at the dogwood blossoms. They open around Easter, so that's good timing. Probably not a coincidence. They're unusual flowers, with four petals (technically bracts) in the shape of a cross. Not many flowers take that form. The petal-bracts are creamy white, and that can remind us of Jesus' sinless life and that His sacrifice makes us clean, Mother said. Though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. At the end of each petal is a scar, though - a red-brown, semicircular imperfection that can remind us that nails pierced Jesus' hands and feet. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. In the center of a dogwood bloom, there are several tiny flowers that cluster together like a crown, and that can remind us of Jesus' crown of thorns. Mother said that some people say the cross was made from a dogwood tree, and that Jesus changed the shape of the tree so that no dogwood would ever make a cross again. She said she didn't know if our kind of dogwood tree grows in Israel, but it is true that dogwoods never grow straight or large or tall.

It's those bruised bracts that always hold my attention. My heart contracts when I see the marks, and in my mind I hear heavy hammers striking blows on great metal spikes. Even when I see a dogwood from a distance, I know the scars are there. I see the beauty, but I remember the pain of my Lord.

And by His stripes we are healed. Because He loved us so much, He chose to take those nails, that crown, that cross. Unlike the unknowing bride, our Christ knew exactly what he was doing. He knew He was facing not only scars, but death, when he set his face like a flint and turned toward Jerusalem. He loved, and he certainly was marked because of it. The dogwood blooms remind me of that, and the fingers of my right hand unconsciously stroke my left ring finger.

Love leaves a mark.

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