Thursday, 17 March 2011

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.


Julie B. said...

Amen....thank you Ember.

My verification word is singst, which ist whatst thou now dost. Singst! ;)

Anonymous said...


God is so great!

I love that tattoo too.


Janette@Janette's Sage said...

Thanks for sharing...We too lost our home and all our financial security,(and other losses I can't share) the marriage came through, with scars, well we all bear scars of what I called our "sackcloth" period of life. I too felt I would go under, but for the grace of God I didn't and I feel new life again.
Thanks for sharing, it blessed me and gave me hope for my continued journey as God picks up the ashes at my feet and makes something beautiful of them.

Anonymous said...

I too was once suicidal.Ember we are survivers!

AbiSomeone said...

Just last night, as I read the postcard enclosed with your gift, I wondered: "Why hast thou chosen Ember as thy name?" ... and this morning I have the answer.

It is, as I would recon it, a very "purple" name (this post will explain what I mean: )

I knew that you had experienced the depths of grief as I read about Father Peregrine ... I see that our stories cross paths in many ways. I rejoice that you have come to the other side and have experienced restoration. I have a sense that this year will be the beginning of that for me, as well.

Blessings to you, and thanks for your transparency, too.

Jynene said...

thank you for sharing this. i love that God never, ever changes.

i love how gently He leads us through dark, deep places.

a favorite quote of mine, 'There is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still...'

blessings to you...

BLD in MT said...

I truly enjoy your blog, but have never really commented, I don't think. I almost feel intrusive because you have such a wonderful friendship with your regular readers. None the less, this post moved me to the point I had to reply. What a beautiful soul you have! Trails and sorrows can really bring out the shine in a person that one never knew was there. Blessings in disguise...all part of a plan. I have found this in myself and now like you have found myself in a blessed place at last.

Thanks for your strength in writing, this post, and all of them.

Ember said...

Hi ladies - thanks for your lovely friendship and affirmation.

Julie, thee is right on the button. We are having solar panels put on our roof, and today the installers invoice and contract came through for me to check and return. I was entranced to read, alongside the boxes for my name and signature, a courteous request that I would sing both the invoice and the contract, then return them. It took a while, as the contract was ten pages long, but they have gone back today as requested, both signed and sung.

Has thee not commented before, Beth? Then how come thee feels like an old friend?

Thanks for all your love and kindness my friends xxx

Hawthorne said...

Bless you for posting this, Ember. Can I share with you something I wrote after discovering the 3rd 'verse' of St Patrick's prayer?
I put on today
the red boldness of Tulip,
the shy sweetness of Narcissus,
the wildness of Hawthorn,
the joy of Blackbird,
the gracefulness of Birch,
the majesty of Oak,
the humility of Worm,
the industry of Bumble bee,
the freshness of Spring,
the glory of Summer,
the peace of Autumn,
the endurance of Winter.

I put on today
the Love in the All.

Ember said...

:0) Fab!

seekingmyLord said...

Now I know a bit more why I have been so drawn to your blog. Your writing is always exquisite, but it is the depth of your faith and the remnants of your own trail of tears in which I have felt a kindred spirit. I come to drink it all in.

Ember said...


Tess said...

I LOVE this idea of tattoo as 'luggage label'.
Anyway, in relation to the "crater of ashes" that you describe so beautifully: you probably know this, but ashes from the fire were used by housewives in what I suppose I must call the olden days in the soap-making process. Rainwater was allowed to trickle through the ash, leaching out lye, the chemical used to make soap out of fat or oil.
I love the elemental symbolism of this: fire to ash to water and cleanliness.

Ember said...

Yes! And I like the idea of nothing lost, nothing wasted :0)

chicory cottage said...

hi ember. thanks for sharing the difficult parts of your journey. it makes those of us whom are traversing very similar ground themselves have hope. blessings to you and yours.

Ember said...

Hi chicory cottage - I loved the photos of the big full moon thee posted on thy blog!

MarilynAnn said...

I love the idea of the tattoo luggage label. I think my husband would have a fit if I got a tattoo though.

Ember said...

Thee will be just fine, MarilynAnn - if thee loses thy faith or wits, thy husband can take on the job of Lost Luggage :0)

Linda said...

I have found out three people I know had a terrible time, actually four during 2002 or thereabouts. I am glad you are all here and going well.

Ember said...

Hi Linda - yes, the turn of the millennium was a real shaking of the tree.