I know for some people, a tattoo is just a tattoo.
And it can be, and it should be. This one for me though, is not.
When I first decided that I wanted to start getting tattoos a few years ago, I had a hard time explaining why. Such an abstract inspiration that hit me, an idea of commemorating important shifts in my worldview and important growth moments in myself as a human through tattoos.
Very non-literally, too.
I didn’t want to tattoo a house on my when I moved to a new house, or something so concrete. It was more that I wanted to recognize and commemorate the gradual shifts of character within my own being, as I could feel myself maturing, growing, becoming more of the human that I know God made me to be.
I wanted to make note of that.
And I’ve been documenting my life since I was 11 years old. I have a whole shelf of journals that I’ve collected, basically writing a memoir of my life as I go along [the quality of which is up for debate]. I’ve always kind of had this fixation on wanting to document my life. Maybe I have some sort of premonition that when I get older I’m going to have Alzheimers or something, and lose those memories [that’s morbid, I know].
I just want to examine my life while I’m living it.
When I was in my early 20’s I read this quote:
“The unexamined life is not worth living”
It hit me.
Because, to live, truly live, intentionally, is a lot of work. It’s really hard and there’s a reason why people don’t do it. It’s much easier to simply exist. Now that I have several years as a therapist accumulated, I can see why people don’t intentionally put time and effort into evaluating their life. It’s fatiguing and feels hopeless at times, especially since things tend to get worse before they get better.
So, this idea of wanting to make these marks on my body was actually inspired by the Old Testament. Which is interesting and bizarre to me, since while I do believe in God and was raised Christian and that has largely shaped my thought processes as an adult, I’ve never been motivated in my current life by ancient practices from thousands of years ago.
The Old Testament does not typically play a large role in my day to day life. So, it’s odd to me that this specific piece of Old Testament ideology has been so influential and motivational for me.
In line with the idea of documenting shifts in character or growth and development, in the Old Testament there was a group of people that God asked to leave everything that they knew and go to a new land. And he promised them that when they got there it would be better than what they had left behind.
And I feel like those people often.
Not in a literal sense, but in the way that God has called me to leave behind the expectations that I have, things that I have always known, and move forward to something that he promises will be better. And in the Bible, along the way, they made mistakes [obviously] and doubted God because they were human, and that’s what we do.
At least, that’s what I do.
But, in the Old Testament, when God did something amazing — when he intentionally drew their eyes back to him when they were frustrated with him — he asked them to make a pile of rocks to commemorate. They called it an altar. Just a landmark. This was thousands of years ago, so a little different than how we do now. But they would create these giant piles of rocks and the concept was that whenever future generations would see those and say, “What is that for,” they would hear the story of what God did at that time.
It’s so simple. But it was so beautiful to me.
What if my life could be captured from that lens? Here’s a moment that I doubted God, that I made a mistake. And here’s how I was able to let his kindness and Holy Spirit bring me back to him. And, in the process, create a greater establishment of my own self.
My character, my heart.
And my worldview has been shaped largely by things that I’ve railed against, that I’ve fought, that I’ve been hurt by. I tend to reject something before I accept it, pretty much across the board. Even if it’s something that I actually do want, I’m just contrary. I’ll reject it first on principle, before coming around to receiving it eventually.
I had a conversation about this with a friend recently, who helped me see that God created that rebellious nature within me, to use for his glory. I question things. I question the way things are and want to bring about change. She suggested it was an intentional design within me and that God has and will use it for good. I hope that’s true.
So, this new tattoo.
The lion’s breath.
It was inspired by an old BBC version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is a famous story about a mystical country called Narnia where everything is just a little bit different than it is here, in the world that we currently live in. I remember as a child, watching this particular scene wherein all of the creatures of the land [and they’re odd creatures, not your typical ones that we see around here] had been turned into statues.
This was a vindictive move on behalf of the White Witch, who was the villain of the story. When she got angry or when one of the creatures did something that she didn’t like or rejected an idea or moved against her, her retaliation was to wave a wand at them that would turn them to stone.
Which is quite a revenge. Really something.
And so Aslan, who is the hero and protagonist, is a lion. And I have a lion head tattoo which was inspired by this creature [which is a whole other story and blog post].
Aslan comes to this castle full of stone statues, made of those who used to be his friends. And he’s very disheartened by this. There’s a moment where he looks around, and the compassion and the love and the sadness and all of the emotion is just palpable. And he takes a moment and the deep sadness lingers. It’s crazy how vividly I remember this, because I was a child. But it made an impression.
The moment when he sees all the byproduct of the Witch’s rage, there’s a decision.
He breathes on them. And this was an 80’s film, so obviously the graphics were not what they are today. But it was so beautiful because he just breathed on them. And it was an audible breath, an “AHHH.”
And slowly, from head to toe, they transformed. They turned from stone back to living creatures when the breath just washed over them.
I think the reason why it was so stunning to me was because it was so simple.
The story could’ve been written in any number of ways, but the fact that it was breath feels meaningful. Breath lacks structure in some ways, you can’t see it. But you can feel it. And so the fact that it was something invisible just made it so much more evocative to me.
When I got the lion tattoo several years ago, I was working through a lot of stuff at the time. It was a piece that represented lack of fear. But I always knew that I would add to it, and then about a year ago I remember looking at my arm and thinking that I would like the lion tattoo to have breath coming out of it, to encapsulate everything that I just said.
So I started planning for it, saving money and making an appointment. And the appointment was supposed to be last fall, but I ended up getting in a really terrible car accident. I thought I was going to die, and it was really scary. Secondary to the car accident, I also had some financial difficulties and felt somewhat uprooted, so I canceled the appointment.
At the time, it was really upsetting because I had been looking forward to it. My artist re-booked me for 6 months out, and I waited. Impatiently.
But now, I see it was really perfect timing.
In the process of that 6 months, a bunch of stuff happened. I ended up joining a church. Church was always a part of my life growing up, and then as an adult I found myself really consciously choosing not to be a part of one for the last several years. Just because of a few things that I was working through. But I joined this church, which was surprising and unexpected and turned out to be really wonderful. It has been something I didn’t even realize I was missing.
And I also started a new job within my same agency. I got tossed into a new modality of therapy that turned my professional world upside down and led me to question my entire calling. It’s really hard. I do family therapy, and my population is high-conflict families who are involved with Child Protective Services and the Juvenile Court systems, so teenagers. I go into their homes and do conflict resolution work which is very intense.
So, all of that.
And about a month ago, a coworker and friend left a card on my desk at work. In the card, it said that she was intentionally praying that there would be new life breathed into things that I used to have passion for. For places where the passion was been waning or has gone stale.
Also, this scripture:
“. . . I will put breath into you,
and you will come back to life.”
I read the card and thought, “that’s really lovely,” and then put it away and didn’t think about it again.
And then, the more that life has progressed in the past few weeks, the more I’ve realized how incredible and timely those words were; how impossible it would have been for this friend to know how important her words would end up being.
See, I’ve been a social worker for 9 years. And before that, my parents were foster parents when I was growing up. So I’ve been around these systems and I’ve been thinking about social justice for more of my life than I haven’t been, at this point. It’s not just a part of my life, it’s permeated every nature of me. The way I see things, the way I interact with people.
It’s my job, it’s my family, it’s my life.
Within that, I guess I didn’t realize that I needed new life breathed into it. Because this calling has just always been a part of me, so I knew it was important. But I didn’t realize that it was not a vibrant, living thing anymore.
It had become a duty, a chore.
And I didn’t realize it because it happened so gradually, over time.
Which is terrifying.
It’s always scary to realize that you’re complacent. But it’s even scarier to realize that you’ve been complacent for a long time and you didn’t even notice.
And so, this sentiment and prayer by a friend has become a vivid background for my thoughts these days. I’ve been intentionally thinking and praying about new life, new breath.
Which just so happened to coincide with me getting this new tattoo.
Which of course is not a coincidence.
She didn’t know, but God knew.
And so this thought process of: There’s parts of me, or perhaps all of me, that has metaphorically turned to stone. I’ve grown hard.
Due to the nature of the inherent sadness and darkness that I see in the world on daily basis. And due to the heartbreak that I myself have had, I sort of just succumbed to that.
“Well, let’s just go through the motions.”
I don’t want to do that anymore.
What perfect timing. What an incredible experience.
And the tattoo is beautiful, so evocative. It’s exactly what I envisioned. If I could take my brain and implant it into a tattoo, this is it.
I’m very grateful.
Not just for the tattoo, but for what it symbolizes. I’m grateful that I have been put in a place that I’ve recognized my complacency. I’m grateful that I recognize this very specific, very deep calling that God has put on my life, and I’m grateful that I’ve chosen to say “yes.”
There have been times in my life when I’ve thought about saying “no,” and I would have regretted it. I know I would have.
I’m grateful that I’m here, right now.
I want to be here, and I want to do this work with all my heart.
And I’m trusting that God will breathe new life in the spaces where it’s most needed, because I trust Him. I know that I can be transformed, from head to toe, by the gentle and restorative nature of the Holy Spirit.
And no matter how much fear I have, I want to move forward and do what He has asked with new life and with new breath.
And I’m going to choose to do that for as long as I can, until He says I’m done.
[or calls me home]