Bridges and Shields and Trees, Oh My

I’ve got my next few tattoos lined up as of today. I’ve known for ages I want to get a bridge tattoo. I grew up in a city nicknamed (among other things) “Bridgetown,” and I have artwork hung in my bedroom of several of the Portland bridges. One of my recent graduates drew me a picture of the Broadway Bridge from Portland after I commissioned a work (knowing he’d not likely do it out of the kindness of his heart). He delivered it on Saturday, and I absolutely love it.

I feel like I’ve been given a special role working with TCKs who need a bridge from one world into their next phase of life rather than being dumped out to fend for themselves after graduation. I want to mark my arm with a bridge as a permanent reminder of that significant role in the lives of others as I also am intentionally a bridge representing Jesus in communities that often don’t engage well with the institution of the church. Most of the kids who choose to keep up with me value the checkpoint of being connected to someone who understands their strange multicultural experience as they learn to integrate into their monocultural communities in their passport country. Some of them express frustration that churches where they are don’t value the multicultural background that they’ve come to see as significant to their identity and to their Jesus following experience.

My future bridge tattoo represents the safe connection I want students to have between communities as they continue to grow. I also recognise there is a lot of danger out in the world that wants to attack my precious kids, and on some level, I want to shield them from that. I don’t actually want to shield them from everything because I want them to grow up and be healthy independent adults, but there are some things that they need protection from. Honestly, there are some things I need protection from as well.

This week a former BFA student showed up for a visit, and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing spiritual growth and experiences, and he talked about how he felt like in certain circumstances he is a shield for others. It resonated strongly with me as well because of particular conversations and comments through this fall from people who described me as a shield protecting kids from hurt while Christ was a shield for me when I was attacked. I’m one of those people who believe that there is a whole world of things I cannot see or explain – in Christianese we call it spiritual warfare. Seth and I decided today that we’re going to get matching shield tattoos to represent the way that God can use us to shield others as well as how he shields us from danger.

Having a good shield doesn’t mean you never get hurt, and, as I said above, I don’t even want my students to be shielded from everything – I want them to grow. Like a tree. Like a good, strong, healthy tree. This week Seth and Maggie and I went back to that weird tree I wrote a poem about. Seth noticed that not a single bird was anywhere near the tree. I forgot to take a picture, but it still had the ripe, sticky fruit hanging on the same branch as the dead husks which as far as I can tell from my internet search of Paulownia trees (also called Princess or Empress trees) is a super strange occurrence. That tree is not healthy; it’s killing itself trying to grow. That’s not what I want for my kids or for myself. I once had a student who told me I should get a tree tattooed over my scar since I love trees so much; it’s not a bad idea.

I’m not sure if that will make it as a tattoo because I don’t think every lesson I learn needs a permanent mark on my body… We do all know how much I love singing Maui’s song from Moana though… In fact, I made the visiting Brits sit through a viewing of Moana the other night, and the collection of people gathered at the picnic table outside my house this week have all been singing excerpts of “Shiny” and “You’re Welcome” basically nonstop. For now, the lesson of the bridge, the shield, and the tree are just posted here and metaphorically on my heart. It may take a few months for the canvas of my skin to tell the stories (if ever), but I do intend the story of my life to tell about those significant things.

I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians every day for the past several days, usually out loud with Seth or Maggie or whoever happens to be around. I’ve then had lots of conversations at various points in the text about how I’m motivated to live in a way that draws others to Christ and I want to be a positive example to all my students. Maggie has promised to someday tell the story of my life, so I know there will be a bit in there about the bridge, the shield, and the tree – filling in all the details I left out here.

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