During the days of the Bible people would often build alters of stones to mark a place in their journey when they met with or experienced God in some way. They did this to remember what they had seen.
In a day and age where most people are trying hard to forget, I have always held a deep appreciation for the art of remembering. I don’t want to dismiss the painful or powerful moments of my life as insignificant, because they aren’t. They have played a role in shaping me and therefore I acknowledge them.
Not long ago I realized that instead of building alters out of stones, I mark the main highs and lows of my life journey through tattoos. Like a Chinese tattoo artist once said, “Tattoo on body, tattoo on heart.” Basically what I share with the world about my story through my tattoos has already had a deep impact on my heart. This is just my way of painting a picture or writing a book – Im telling my story.
#1: My first tattoo was the typical, “I just turned 18 so I can do whatever I want” tattoo. Although not rebellious in image, it was certainly an expression of my instant adulthood. I was really into sunflowers at the time, still am really. Sunflowers just exude a joy and brightness that cause me to light up when I see them so for a few years I decorated with them everywhere. I tend to be a negative thinker so sunflowers help me see a bright and beautiful side to life. When I got the tattoo the petals of the sunflower were bright with yellow and orange tones and the leaves were a deep green- it was really pretty. Nowadays, not so much. Inside the center of the sunflower you will see a cross. You see I became a Christian at the age of 18 and I didn’t know anything about the Jesus fish or any other religious symbol but I knew it was the cross that set me free so I made sure that was in there.
#2: I didn’t have any tattoos done for the next 10 years. But on my 28th birthday my oldest sister Kim was in town from California for my “golden birthday party.” While she was visiting, I asked her to come with me as I got a tattoo in honor of our sister Tiffany. Tiff fell between us in age so there was a definite gap left when she passed away. Our sister died in a tragic drowning accident on her 12th birthday. I was a witness to the whole event. It was a turning point for our family and we all struggled with the loss. I was 6 at the time and the couple of years that followed her death were some of the hardest, darkest and ugliest days of my life. By age 8 my life was completely different. I was completely different.
Tiffany’s death did teach me something most people don’t ever learn though: life is precious and family is forever (like it or not). So I got a tattoo b/c even though my husband and children would never meet her, I wanted everyone to know she existed. Tiffany was a part of me and I didn’t want to ever forget that.
#3: I think I was about 30 when I got my next tattoo but it was a year in the making. Nathan and I would often wander into tattoo places and ask about pricing or look up fonts but then walk out b/c he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. But finally we found a place that would do it and he knew what to get, so we had each others’ initials put on our ring fingers. For me it was symbol of our commitment to each other. Yes a ring does that too but in today’s society, rings can be removed. We had no plans to exit our marriage but we had already been beat up a few times over the years and we saw this as a way of sealing the fate of our relationship. We will always be together, even when we are apart.
#4: My Africa tattoo is the one that gets noticed or commented on the most b/c its on the inside of my wrist. A lot of people would assume its for our daughter Jaydn who was born there but my ties to Africa go back much further. I have felt a connection to Uganda since 1998. I didn’t know why until I did some research and started learning about the plight of children out there and how they were being terrorized by the LRA. I started joining forces with organizations such as ONE and INVISIBLE CHILDREN to raise awareness and contribute to relief efforts and support. I was constantly burdened for these people and promised one day, I would travel there myself. After a few attempts to travel there, I finally got to go in 2006 with an organization called WATOTO (which means children). When my feet hit the ground, I felt like I was home. We heard a phrase while we were there that says, “If you come to Uganda, you will find that you bury a piece of your heart there, in the red soil and when you leave, it will always beckon for you to return.” That was so true for me. I love Uganda. I love the people, the country, the culture, all of it! When we went back in 2010 to gain guardianship of Jaydn I was so excited to be home again. We lived there in an apartment for a little over a month and it was hard for me to leave again. So my tattoo of Africa has a heart over Uganda b/c that is where part of my heart is buried and where part of my heart was born.
#5: My most recent tattoo is on the inside of my left foot. The placement of this one has significance b/c as a soccer player back in the day, this was always my weakest foot. So it was there in my weakness that I had an anchor placed. Over the course of the past year or so the waves have been crashing against me and ripping every aspect of my life to shreds. The only thing I had to hold onto was God and He was constant. God was the anchor in my storm. He was faithful to me when all I could do was bury my face into His promise to make “all things work together for the good of those who loved Him.” So no matter how high the waters rise or how hard the waves crash in the past or in the future, MY ANCHOR HOLDS.
#6: This is my biggest tattoo and honestly, I didn’t intend for it to be so prominent. But when I saw the drawing and how it looked on my back below my neck, it felt right. So there she is! This tattoo was for me. Many dark and ugly things have happened to me throughout my life and I always knew that they were meant for harm but that God had used them to produce a depth in my character that wouldn’t have come about any other way. But after the recent desert experience I walked through I noticed that there is a victim inside of me. I have always been the one that bad things have happened to and I have always tried to do my best with it. I am a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of girl and I have powered forward almost ignoring the hurt or at least not allowing myself to really feel it. But after everything I went through this year I felt like I was broken into a million pieces and now I have the opportunity to almost reinvent myself. The same elements are there but I get to choose which ones to put back in and which ones I won’t allow to carry weight with me anymore. Despite what you may think, I decided to hold onto my wounds. They are woven into every fiber of who I am. What I did though, is change what they were saying to my heart. They used to say things like, “You will never” and “suck it up” but now they say things like, “use this to fuel you” “I am a part of your story but not the end of the story.” Truth is a lot of junk HAS happened and it HAS shaped me but I get to decide what it will shape me into. So for the first time in my life I am choosing to no longer be a victim but to be victorious instead. So this tattoo reflects my new attitude with the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. Its a feather breaking off into birds with the saying, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” I intend to.