A Cross, A Camel and a Nosepin – Outer Symbols of an Inner Self

20130723-084123.jpgOn a gold chain around my neck I wear an Ethiopian cross and a small gold camel. When I take them off my neck feels naked, but more than that my identity feels compromised.

I also wear a tiny diamond in my nose – my nosepin. I never take it off.

These three objects are outer symbols of my inner self. They come as close as anything will to representing parts of my life that are precious, parts that I can’t always articulate.

The cross was purchased in the Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo, Egypt. This market is famous for its myriad of shops down tiny streets that are so narrow no car could drive through safely.The bazaar sits under the shadow of the Al-Hussein mosque and lures tourists and residents alike into its colors and delights. When you’ve lived in Cairo awhile you get tired of taking your visiting friends to the market, but once you’ve been away you long for those narrow streets and shops filled with perfume bottles of delicate glass, pottery of bright colors, and gold of brilliant shine. We bought the cross on a trip back to Cairo a few years after we uprooted our family and moved to a land far away and unfamiliar – the United States. It represents a a precious faith, a faith that didn’t leave me when I thought I would leave it. A faith that burns brighter through fire, much like the gold in the cross; gold refined by smelting out the impurities.

I love my cross. My Ethiopian cross.

Paired with the cross on the same chain is the camel. One Christmas in Cairo Cliff surprised me with a small gold camel. He had written to parents and family members that he had purchased a solid-gold camel for me for Christmas. For a month following Christmas we received mail joking about our camel. “Could we get it through the door?” “How did we capture it and turn it into gold?” Sarcastic and humorous comments puzzled us until we realized that family thought Cliff was joking. They had never seen the small, delicate camels that were sold in the gold section in Khan el-Khalili and one paragraph ended with “No. Really. What did you really get her?”

I lost that camel. I still don’t know how but losing my signature necklace hurt me in ways that I was unprepared for. Then last year my mother-in-law was taking out some old jewelry to give to my daughter and had two tiny gold camels, camels we had given her as earrings years before. I claimed both of them with a strength that surprised even me. I reclaimed my symbol, my signature piece.

And then there’s my nosepin…..! As a teenager in Pakistan I wanted a nosepin. Someone at the International School in Islamabad had one and I was mightily jealous. But under the roof of my parents, the answer was a resounding “no’. So when I moved to Pakistan with a husband and baby I was determined to change the nose situation. Two months after giving birth to my second child I went to an expensive jewelry shop and sat on a velvet stool. (as Robynn did because it was the same shop) I have never regretted it. Even now, when it’s assumed that I am a left over hippy, I’ve no regrets.

Since time began, we humans have used the tangible to represent the intangible. An object to define what language sometimes can’t.

I am well aware that these are outer symbols. I am aware that they don’t define who I am before God. I still believe outer symbols are important. I believe we wear these symbols to emphasize what we believe and what we love. Just as on Ash Wednesday the ashes mark those who are embarking on a Lenten journey, so do our outer symbols represent some of our journey.

My faith, my travel, my childhood. My God, the Middle East, Pakistan, Identity, Longing — all represented through these symbols. Three simple symbols of a complicated inner self.

What do you think? How have you used outer symbols to reflect your inner self?

11 thoughts on “A Cross, A Camel and a Nosepin – Outer Symbols of an Inner Self

  1. As a single mom of three, I have often felt isolated. On travels to deliver my children to various camp experiences in 1995, I found a sterling silver ring for $20: the band includes grape leaves surrounding a garnet, my birthstone.
    I have seen it as the external marker of my life abiding in Christ the True Vine.
    The band has worn through twice, and I have had it repaired and resilvered, each time at cost slightly greater than the initial investment. Others have admired it while I have been serving in Central Asia for 10+ years… I wear it on my left hand, which is where women divorced here wear jewelry, creating connection with others where the divorce rate is so high. I have felt “not completely dressed” without it, so have worn it constantly… until last month when the stone fell out without my noticing.
    My thumb strays to feel it; it’s not there… and I feel lost and sad and challenged about my REALLY abiding in Christ (maybe my natural life is lost/misplaced/unnoticed, too), which is only an Enemy Attack, but at the end of a challenging school year… I recognize my vulnerabilities!
    So I am looking for a new garnet that might fit, while continuing to search for the “lost one,” while also thinking “Is it time for a New Marker?”
    I’m pretty certain I’ll recognize another marker representing outward Evidence of inward Reality– and I trust I’ll have enough money in the appropriate currency when I DO find it! :D
    Thank you for your blog. It has blessed me and blessed friends of mine often. May you experience more and more of grace and peace in Jesus! <3


  2. My husband bought me, at my request, a pair of pearl stud earrings 12 years ago. They are big and round and white and beautiful and they go with everything. I slip them on most days and hope nothing every happens to them.

    People from all times seem to have much to say about pearls but they always remind me of where I live (Asia) and the fact that grit in my life can make something beautiful over time as I offer it to the Lord.


    1. Yes! Last year on my anniversary I thought a lot about how my marriage was like a pearl that took grit to become beautiful. I totally get this. Thanks and I apologize for missing this comment!


  3. Hey, Marilyn–This is a GREAT post! I have very similar identity “markers!” First, are my gold loop earrings. When I went to London in 1980 to train as a midwife (before there were easily accessible programs here) I found myself in a hospital where about 40% of the OB cases were women from South Asia–India and Pakistan. Soon I, along with all the other staff in the unit, realized that I could communicate in Urdu with many of these women who spoke no English. I LOVED it, and soon I found myself being invited into Pakistani and Indian homes for meals–yummy–and just to hang out. So, I learned that there were whole “High Streets” in certain areas of London that could have been transported out of Lahore, or Mumbai, where I could find clothes and other things that I loved, including rows upon rows of gold and jewelry shops with Indian/Pakistani style jewelry. It was the first time I could afford to buy a pair of GOLD loop earrings, like the silver ones I had worn for many years after high school in Pakistan. They became a symbol of the fact that I had a very successful year there, not just in the training but in spiritual growth, that ultimately allowed me to be willing to consider becoming married to your brother–on short notice!! I have worn these earrings almost every day of my life since I got them and they are a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness at one time of my life.

    The second “marker” is a gold necklace on which my name is carved in Urdu script. Again, not something I would normally afford, but in 1995 we had been in Pakistan for 4 years and suddenly found ourselves having to leave, not by our own choice:) People were showering us with farewell gifts, so I told Ed that what I would really like (since we could not load up on furniture and stuff) would be gold necklaces for me and our daughters, with our names carved in Urdu. They would be our birthday gifts for that year. With my Dad’s help, we found a jeweler who did good work and ordered the necklaces. Again, I have worn this almost every day of my life since then and it is so unusual and lovely that I get lots of compliments on it. But, this necklace became an even more powerful symbol of God’s faithfulness because that had to be one of the worst years of my life. At some point, during that time, God gave me the following verses from Isaiah ch. 43:1+2:

    “But now, this is what the Lord says–he who created you, Oh Jacob, he who formed you Oh Israel:
    ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you BY NAME;
    you are MINE!!’ ” (emphasis mine)

    The God of the UNIVERSE has promised that he has CALLED ME BY NAME!! And, he has made me HIS. In the ancient world, and in much of the world now, your name IS YOU. God even changed some names of specially called people to something different, to reflect HIS purposes. The thought that he has called me by name was far more comforting to me than the verses that follow the ones above where there are promises that when we walk through fire we will not be burned, or when we walk through deep water, we will not drown. And, whenever I look at my necklace, during difficult times, I just remind myself that God knows my name and therefore he KNOWS me.

    Personal symbols have always been important to people, and wearing special symbols such as jewelry is a good way to help us to remember special times, people, and promises from God.


  4. The Khan al Khalili is the best place to shop, isn’t it?! My favorite thing was taking visitors to Naguib Mahfouz Café for fresh juice, hummus, tabouli, falafel and koshary. And perhaps a shoe shine. :)

    My symbols are not obvious to anyone but me. Well, except for the wedding band! A gold bracelet bought in the Abu Dhabi souk 25 years ago and never taken off since. (It fell off recently, at my grandmother’s funeral, fortunately into my sister’s lap, because the end links had worn through. I had it repaired within days and back on my wrist.) A small two diamond, one emerald ring that my husband gave me for our third anniversary and an aquamarine ring from Brazil. And finally, the watch that my husband received for 25 years with his company. He chose to order the ladies’ version so I could wear it instead of him. He said I earned it just as much. :) Love that man!


  5. Last year before our wedding, my wife and I designed my ring as a wide gold band with a huge embedded emerald. It reflects my joy at finding the love of my life, delight of rediscovering Colombia after so many years of absence, my feeling of incredible prosperity as my dreams come true. Alicia’s name is written inside.


    1. This sounds remarkable. And again holds stories that are not easily articulated to those around. Thanks for describing what sounds like an heirloom ring for sure.


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