The Tattoo Every Parent Needs

Photo: Meena Kadri, Creative Commons, cc license
Photo: Yulya Balaeva, Creative Commons, cc license

She’s got it tattooed right up her arm, this mom friend I know. You can see it curving up through rust-colored vines.

And I think of it this morning as I plunge hands into scalding hot dish water, and slide in the yolk-encrusted plates and swirled red and yellow congealed ketchup and mustard. Smells emanate from a mysterious bowl until a molding tomato slips into the dishwater.

I know. One busy weekend away and the dishes mount to high heaven.

The Mother’s Day herbs and flowers sit jaunty on the table still, as I deliberate which pot to plant them in, and soap bubbles rise up to cover this batch of dishes.

Because after the accolades or not, the happy Mother’s Day or not, the next day still has dirty dishes and garbage to take out. And I always have a choice. Am I doing this for them, for their thanks? If that’s the case, then any accidental non-recognition has the power to sap me of joy, or only-temporarily infuse me with it.

I think of her tattoo this morning, after a weekend where I was gone all day Saturday for work, my husband was gone all day Saturday, and my teen babysat her little brother for hours, while college-boy crammed for exams. If my audience is them, then I am controlled by oscillating emotions.

My scruffy green dishrag swipes softened egg yolk from a plate and it slides off with ease now, after time in the water. Setting it on the rinse side of my sink, I stare out the window, think of the Chicago airport, and feel around in the sink for another dirty plate.

“Where are you from?” the ball-capped guy asked me, after I shrugged my shoulders at the TSA security delay causing us all to merge lanes. We stood there, barefoot at security, our belongings in plastic bins, attempting to merge two lines of people down to one.

“Minnesota,” I smiled.

“I knew you weren’t from here,” he quipped. I had run into nothing but pleasant people in my short day in Chicago, but his inference was interesting.

Lifting my water faucet at home this morning, I trail hot water over shining dishes and set them aside to dry. I picture my friend’s tattoo, and smile.

Her tattoo? The Greek word doulos trails wispy around her delicate freckled wrist.

“I wanted a reminder of who I’m doing all this for each day,” she explained quietly, shyly. “The diapering, the dishes, cleaning, you know? It means bondservant to Jesus.”

Bondservant is the Greek word for a servant who has chosen to stay on with the family even though they could be released. Their freedom has been secured yet, out of love, they choose to stay on with their master permanently. It implies respect, loyalty, deep feeling. Standing next to a wooden door post, a special earring would be driven through the servant’s ear, publicly marking the difference.

“I wanted a daily reminder of who I am really serving each day,” she tells me, softly tracing the tattoo with her fingers.

The dishes are done, and I step over to crush some rosemary leaves between my fingers, releasing the tantalizing aroma into my kitchen. My family’s gifts are beautiful and thoughtful to me, and I love serving them. I know how prone I am to grumble on some days, though. Remind me then, will you, who I’m really serving? My desire is for that joy and kindness to mark me fragrantly.

(Linking too with Ann.)

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  1. Anonymous on May 12, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    "a reminder of who I'm doing all this for each day".. wow, that's powerful. And EACH day- not just when I'm doing what I'd consider a good job, getting it right- but each day, serving.

  2. Jennifer Dougan on May 12, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Yes, isn't that inspiring? That line spoke to me today too, Egg Thoughts. Thanks for jumping with me today.

    Jennifer Dougan

  3. Brian Miller on May 12, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    nice…that is a cool tat…and great to have that reminder as well..especially when it gets tough…cause it will…and remembering we are doing it for him….makes all the difference…

  4. Jennifer Dougan on May 13, 2014 at 1:17 am

    Hi Brian,

    It's a pretty tattoo and so fun to hear the story behind it.

    Jennifer Dougan

  5. Unknown on May 13, 2014 at 1:25 am

    I think I need that tattoo, and I know I need the reminder. I catch myself inwardly grumbling that no one thanks me, and I realize in hindsight that I have forgotten who I am serving. Beautiful post.

  6. Unknown on May 13, 2014 at 2:58 am

    What a lovely word and concept–"doulos." I'm reminded of the beginning of Romans. Of all the ways Paul could introduce himself, he chose "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus."

    Thanks for reminding us it's not about the service, but who we're serving.

  7. Lisa notes... on May 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I love the reasoning behind her tattoo. I had a friend who just got her first tattoo a few months ago at age 51.

    I saw so many women at the grocery store yesterday. I figure they weren't *allowed* to shop on Mother's Day so they had to make up for it the day after. 😉

    I have to remind myself often that I'm not working for human recognition (because I can *so* desire that, sigh), but because I want to please my Lord. Thanks for this, Jennifer.

  8. Jayne on May 13, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    We all need reminders of who we really serve. Thank yous are nice and should be given but especially to the Lord.

  9. Floyd on May 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Awesome post, Jennifer. I like the non judgmental approach to your life from a heart cleaned by our Father. Counting the blessings… Thanks, sister. I will too.

  10. TC Avey on May 13, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Great post. Doing laundry and a million "mundane" tasks can seem unimportant, yet it's very important. It's part of making a house a home. About providing for my family. When I get discouraged or overwhelmed I like to paused and count my blessings.
    That tattoo is powerful. Serving my family is serving God.

  11. Cheryl Barker on May 16, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Love this, Jennifer — this reminder about being a bondservant to Jesus. Yes, that's who I am, too. And the reminder for whom we do all that we do is so important. Thank you.

  12. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 1:30 am

    Thank you, Kara,

    Nice to have you here. It's a handy reminder for me too, friend. Thanks for your honesty that I'm not the only one who catches herself grumbling. 🙂

    Jennifer Dougan

  13. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Constance Ann,

    Yes, it reminds me of Paul in Romans too! 🙂 Of all the ways he could have chosen to introduce himself, that is the one he chose. Telling, huh? Neat.

    Nice to have you here again,
    Jennifer Dougan

  14. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 1:39 am

    Lisa Notes,

    Fun! What did your 51 year old friend decide to get as a tattoo?! So much thought went into that, I;m sure that it was very meaningful for her.

    Me too, about the God vs human recognition, Lisa. Working on it with you…

    Jennifer Dougan

  15. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 2:21 am

    So true, Jayne. Thanks. And both are nice.

    Jennifer Dougan

  16. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Thank you, Floyd, for this sweet line: "the non judgmental approach to your life from a heart cleaned by our Father." That's my desire!

    Jennifer Dougan

  17. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Stooping to count God's good things/gifts is a powerful tool, TC. I agree. Thanks.

    Jennifer Dougan

  18. Jennifer Dougan on May 17, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Me too, Cheryl, and I seem to need that reminder so often. 🙂

    Jennifer Dougan

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