Gretchen

Tattoos and Taboos

“But you are such a nice girl.  Why would you do that to yourself?” A sentiment that I know that more than a few people have considered as they glance at what is poking out from under my sleeve.  I cant blame this on a youthful indiscretion or a drunken mistake. I purposely paid someone to write something that I love on my arms.  It is a daily reminder, a constant companion, and a reliable litmus test of my spiritual condition that day.

About three years ago I had the opportunity to take part in a year-long faith formation process.  It was a year of pain and struggle that eventually led to moments of finding new ground on which to stand.  This process was so important to me that I wanted a physical reminder to mark the occasion.

I have never been one for ceremony.  At graduations and awards banquets I almost hold my breath just waiting for the burden of the ritual to be over.  I even tried to convince my parents that my college graduation was not really a big deal.  I hate making a big deal of things.  But this occasion I needed to be a big deal.  This was the first time that I felt different. So important was the inward change that I needed it to be an outward change as well.

Two years ago to this day I was marked with the words of Christ in biblical Greek, “Jesus said to them, Peace be with you.” I had it placed on the underside of my left forearm.  A placement that ensured that when I offered a blessing with arms open that my body would be sure to speak it before my mouth professed it.  A placement that also ensured that I would see this ink everyday and be reminded that God does want peace in my life.  When I stretch out my hands and dig into the hard work that requires both the left and the right hand I am reminded that I have the opportunity to be a blessing for those that I am working with.  And, in fact, it takes our hands at work for and with our neighbors to share the peace that Christ wishes for us.

What I didn’t expect was the conversations that would be started because of this small piece of body art.  The young and the old alike are fascinated by the story, a story that you  usually don’t get to tell to the guy sitting next to you on the bus.  People who might not otherwise talk to a nice girl like me see the ink and strike up a conversation before I even have the opportunity to say hello.  I am grateful for the opportunity to share, but I am even more grateful the for the stories that they have shared with me.  Some are stories of loss and grief, times when they needed God’s peace, stories of anger at a God that they don’t know if they actually believe in, and some that are just trying to figure it all out.  But there is always a word of God’s love, peace, and grace shared between us.

So yeah, I am a nice girl.  A girl who needs to be reminded every single day of the peace of God that is available to me, a girl who likes that she is free to share that peace with another, and one that is grateful for the ink that speaks for me when I cant find my voice.

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