When I cleaned out that basement drawer on the first day of the year and unexpectedly found that old card with all the prints of their bared, inked hands, I had crumpled to the floor. Ink loosens bones and can make one fall apart. Where does all the time go and how is it that ink can line our skin and outline our souls?
I had forgotten all about that card, Holley. How I had made their handprints for our Christmas card that year, when we had four, three boys and a girl. The oldest then five. The youngest — seven. Seven days. I could hardly unfurl him. He’d kept curling his natal fist when I went to make his handprint with the ink pad. Thus, the singular foot print. How could his toes ever been those string of black beads? I can remember how he felt, warm next to me — a sunning stone.
I had wanted to remember them all, just like that — the dimpled cheeks, the fine blonde hair, the bellies that jiggled when they giggled, and they giggled over everything — to somehow frame the art of now. I had used ink. I had pressed their hands, and that one wrinkled pink foot, to the pad — and they left their mark in ink. Pressed their wonder right into me. A decade and one year later, and they are tall now. Those hands are big, carving out a life. The oldest and the girl both with feet larger than mine. I am sitting in a ring of lamp light, holding lines of their sworling ink. Of them long ago little. All that was. Sometimes I think I know where time goes — straight way to a bittersweet ache.
I don’t know how long I sat there tracing those black lines, Holley. Trying to find a way back in time. And I don’t know which of the handprints I was outlining slowly when I realized: I don’t think now that we ever leave our mark in ink — It is the ink that marks us. It is the words that mark us. It is all the ink and and all the words and and all the voices and and all the stories that stain us and make us who we are.
All the words I had ever spoken, they are making my children who they are. What we speak into others, this is what they become.
The Word God breathed life into us who are made of the ground and our lives are literally this: living letters.
I sat there a long time, Holley. Not moving. Hardly breathing. Wondering what letters I had written on the skin of all the people in my life. I just kept tracing their inked fingerprints with my finger. I could almost read the letters. The Word was made flesh and we are made of words. Is that why He tells us that His Words are to be our very life? So that His Words permeate us and become the words of life we speak into others? You are what you speak and you are what you hear and we are our words and our tongue is the tail of our heart. Sometimes it is our own sin that makes us ache.
I think it was sitting there, Holley, tracing the ink of my children’s lives that made me think of Jesus, the Word, and how we have only one account of Him writing anything at all. It was with his finger too, and it was only this: Jesus “stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:6-8) When God came to earth, He didn’t inscribe one word in a tablet of stone. No granite for God. Neither did He publish a book, a blog, write even one letter or a song. Jesus wrote no documents — He only scrawled in dirt. He etched His Word in shifting granules of dirt.
Writing in dirt — it seems so — fleeting. How can words in dirt survive anything?
And yet —
All words are really only shaped in dust.
Whether encouraging a child, phoning a hurting friend, publishing a blog post, writing a book — all our words can ever do is just this — inscribe dirt. Isn’t this what lives are made of?
Our words holler across the house, blink up on a screen, scroll across a page, but ultimately they’re written in dust — right onto skin, right onto hearts of sand.
And in the upside down kingdom, it is not published books or shared blogs that endure, but it’s what is housed in the dust that is eternal; it’s the words we’re writing on hearts that last forever.