tattoos

To Write Truth on My Arms

On Saturday I got a new tattoo, lyrics from a song I love crawling down my forearm from elbow to wrist,inked in carefully crafted, one-of- a-kind lettering designed for me by a dear friend. It says, “I will hold on hope.”

When you tattoo words on your arms, people ask questions. They want to know “Why these words? What do they mean?” And there is no simple explanation, no easy way to describe everything these words mean to me, and everything the song they come from represents.

Last Wednesday night I woke up to the sound of gunshots. Three sharp staccato cracks and then the squeal of tires and the roar of an engine. I lay in my bed, heart pounding, afraid to move, mind racing through possibilities. A domestic dispute? A drug deal gone wrong? Or maybe it wasn’t really gunshots at all. How did I even know what gunshots sounded like? But minutes later, when the police lights pulsed through my bedroom window like a beacon, I understood that what I’d heard really was a gun and it really was just yards away from my bedroom. Panic wrapped its fingers around me like a vice as we took our pillows and crept upstairs into the loft in the dark, trying to escape the flashing blue lights without attracting attention. I folded my body onto the short end of the sectional, knees pressed into my chest, trying to make myself as small as possible, thinking about how much I miss living in a place where I never felt threatened, where I was never suspicious of my neighbors or worried for my safety.

For several anxious days afterwards I flinched at every loud noise or flash of motion caught in my periphery. My body trembled and my teeth chattered with chills produced by the excess adrenaline coursing through me. The days blurred together until, with a little medication and a lot of prayer and some serious support from my husband, I started to relax back into my life.

There are many things I cannot control about my circumstances. There are many things I cannot control about my own body. But I believe that I have the power to choose what defines me. Each of my tattoos represents a truth about who I am and who I hope to be. “I will hold on hope,” is both a truth and a resolution. I will not be defined by anxiety and I will not settle into a unfulfilling life because I’ve given up on dreaming for a greater one. I will choose hope.

Later on in this song come the lyrics, “But I need freedom now/And I need to know how/To live my life as it’s meant to be.” Like with any form of art, I’m sure there are different interpretations of this song, but to me, these words are powerful. They express the restless energy I have felt for most of my life–the tension I feel between the life that’s expected of me and the life I dream of. I believe that I can live my life “as it’s meant to be.” I believe that even as I struggle with anxiety and depression, I can choose hope. So I hold on.

I hold onto the hope that the broken parts of me can be made whole, that I can grow strong through struggle, and that I can find the freedom to live my life honestly and authentically, as it’s meant to be, even if it looks different from the lives of those around me.

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My mom went with me to get my tattoo…which was an experience I could never have imagined in a million years. If you know my family, you’ll know what I mean.

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The lyrics are taken from the Mumford & Sons song, “The Cave.”
The font was hand lettered for me by my dear friend Asharae Kroll.
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New(ish) Ink for My Year of Wholehearted Living

Last January I decided that instead of making resolutions I would just choose one word to focus on for the year. A single word that summed up how I wanted to grow during 2015. I chose the word “wholehearted.” I wrote that:

Wholeheartedness is about sincerity and commitment. For me this means authenticity in my life and my writing. It means commitment to continue my faith-wrestling and to asking sincere questions. Being Wholehearted is also a commitment to courage, compassion, and connection. It is the courage to be vulnerable despite the risk, the compassion to love other people well and to extend grace quickly, both to myself and to others, and the choice to develop genuine connections with others. Wholeheartedness means committing to being fully present, to showing up for every day of my life instead of checking out when things are hard or boring. It means engaging with Today and believing that every day is a gift. And Wholehearted means believing that I am worthy of love and belonging – not because there is anything especially great and deserving about me, but because we are all worthy of love and belonging and because we can’t fully accept love and belonging unless we believe we are worthy of it.

My journey with wholeheartedness isn’t over, but I can honestly say that I think I can see where I’ve grown in these areas. I have taken more risks in trying to connect with people and I have learned to be kinder to myself. I have also failed in some of these areas, and that’s OK too. Choosing one word for the year was never about mastering a particular virtue. It was simply about setting my intentions.

Just before we left Korea in August, I got a new tattoo. It wasn’t something I posted to Instagram or Facebook and I didn’t tell many people about it at the time. It wasn’t meant to be a secret, but it also wasn’t something I wanted to hear a lot of conflicting opinions on or make a big deal about. I wasn’t getting it because tattoos are trendy or because I wanted other people to think I was cooler than I really am. I wanted a symbol of my time in Korea and my journey towards wholeheartedness that would stay with me forever.

I know that tattoos are not everyone’s cup of tea and if you don’t like them, that’s totally fine. There are certainly plenty of people who get tattoos that they later regret. But for me, my tattoos are physical marks of my own story. They remind me of where I’ve been and of the places in my life where God has broken through. I like the permanence of them – the sense that in a world where everything is always changing, these things will always be true and constant.

This tattoo is a compass inside of a mandala. The mandala is a traditional Hindu or Buddhist pattern symbolizing wholeness and unity in the universe. The intricate dot-work shading and the symmetry in the pattern are meant to point to the order in the universe and to our smallness in relation to the greater pattern. I had the compass placed into the middle as a reminder of this time spent living abroad and also that my life has direction. And while these really are meanings I thought about before having this piece done, I also chose it because I think it’s beautiful and I believe that’s a worthwhile reason in itself.

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This was when it was freshly done.

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And this is what it looks like now that it’s healed.

I chose the placement on my leg partly because it was a big enough area to handle a larger piece like this and partly because it’s relatively easy to cover. It shows when I wear shorts or a swimsuit, but it naturally covered by pants or dress clothes so its no hassle for a more formal setting. I was hesitant about putting it on my thigh which has long been my least favorite part of my body. I wasn’t sure I wanted to call attention to the part of me that I am most self-conscious about. But then I thought, “Why not put something beautiful on this part of you that you don’t think is beautiful?” And the cool thing is, since getting my tattoo it’s become one of my favorite parts of myself. I feel so much more confident and beautiful even if the rest of my legs still jiggle like Jell-O.

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This was also the day I got it. I had my shorts rolled up so they wouldn’t irritate it, but normally my shorts fall right to the middle of the tattoo.

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This is the only picture I can find where you can sort of see where it falls with my regular shorts on. It’s just barely showing here.

2015 is drawing to a close, but my journey towards wholeheartedness will continue into next year and on through the rest of my life.

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My tattoo is a beautiful, one of a kind piece that was designed for me by an artist in Busan, South Korea. In other words, don’t go get my exact tattoo somewhere on you! Most artists are happy to design something unique for you – they don’t want to just copy other people’s work either.

Feature Image Credit: The Blue Mug

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #9: Illegal Activities

I mentioned last week that I had another big adventure to share from our time in Seoul, but I wanted to make it it’s own post instead of lumping it in with the last one.

Last weekend in Seoul, I did something illegal. I got my first tattoo.

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This was taken a few hours after I got it.

 

 

Tattoos are technically illegal in Korea. Only licensed doctors are permitted to administer tattoos to “patients.” And I seriously doubt this guy was a licensed doctor. So my tattoo is definitely illegal.

I think this might be the first time I’ve broken the law knowingly. Thankfully, it’s the kind of thing that law enforcement seems to turn a blind eye towards most of the time. I’ve seen numerous tattoo shops in with visible signs in Daegu and the place I went in Seoul had a big sign outside and has a nice website.  Every once in a while the police will decide to enforce this law (like they did at the international Inkbomb Tattoo Convention in Seoul last summer), but for the most part it’s a crime the way jaywalking is in the US.

Korean culture is still very conservative in many ways and for a long time tattoos were associated with gang membership. Nowadays this is changing a little bit, but it’s still fairly uncommon to see a Korean person with a tattoo and the law still stands.

So basically, my tattoo makes me feel like a bad-butt* on many levels.

[*I may be tatted up, but that’s no excuse to talk like a sailor! 😉 ]

The Story

I like (tasteful) tattoos. I’ve always liked them, even when I was in my self-righteous judgey phase, it was just a secret then. I’ve never gotten one before because I’d never thought of a design I was confident about having on my body forever. I felt that a tattoo should be meaningful, not just something I thought looked cool. (Not that there’s anything wrong with having a tattoo for the sake of the art, I just wanted mine to have a specific meaning).

There have been several times over the past few years that I’ve looked at pictures of other people’s tattoos and thought about what it would be like to get one and invariably I would dream that night that I’d gotten one and was freaking out because I regretted  it. This subconscious reaction made me think I might never actually feel comfortable about getting one. At the very least, I knew if I ever did it wouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision – it would have to be something I had no doubts about.

A few months ago I started working on a book. It’s a spiritual memoir that is centered on the work of grace in my life. As I started writing and dwelling on grace , I realized that grace is the thing that has marked me most profoundly. And it was suddenly clear to me that I wanted grace to mark my body the way it has marked my life.

For a few weeks after I first had the idea I used a marker to write the word on my wrist to see how I felt about seeing it there before I did something permanent. From the first moment that I did it, it felt natural. It reminded me constantly of God’s work in my life. I looked at it and I thought, “Of course. This belongs here.”

I didn’t have any plans to do it quickly, but I asked a friend who had gotten a tattoo in Korea where she’d had hers done and she told me the name of the shop in Seoul. We were already scheduled to go to Seoul a few days later. I asked Jonathan what he thought and he said, “If you’re ready, go for it.” So I did.

From the moment I walked into the shop I felt completely at peace. I haven’t had a moment of doubt or wondered at all if it was the right decision.

The Process

Before this I didn’t really know very much about the process of getting a tattoo, so I thought I’d share that as well in case you’re curious.

When we arrived a very old man greeted us. I think he is the shop owner, but at first I was like, “Um….is this old guy really the tattoo artist?” (He wasn’t).

My dear friend Asharae Kroll is a super-talented photographer, food blogger, and hand-letter artist and she custom-designed the lettering for me. Not only is it super beautiful, but it’s also even more meaningful to me to have a one-of-a-kind tattoo designed by my friend.

There was a young girl who did all the prep work for the tattoo. I’d sent a file with the lettering Asharae created and she printed it out in different sizes and had me choose one. After this, the girl traced the lettering on the back side of the paper in some sort of ink that would transfer onto my skin. Then she cleaned my arm with tons of disinfectant and drew a box in the exact place I wanted the tattoo. She rubbed some kind of petroleum jelly-like gel onto my arm and then pressed the stencil she’d made in place. The first time I wasn’t completely happy with the positioning, so we started over and did it again.

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After that I had to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the stencil to completely dry and that’s when the actual tattoo artist showed up – a man who was maybe in his early 30’s. I laid on a table with my arm out to the side and he showed me the brand new needle he was using and then went to town.

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IMG_7940Did it hurt? Honestly, it hurt as much as I expected it to. It didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t extremely painful. It’s a sharp stinging feeling, most similar to the way laser hair removal or some other laser procedure feels. The good thing is that he was only tattooing each little section for 10-15 seconds at a time. So just when it would get to the point where it was getting hard to sit still, he would stop and wipe off that spot and move over a bit. Since it’s pretty small, the entire thing took about 20 minutes to ink. It hurt while he was doing it and stung for about an hour afterwards. It has not hurt at all since then although for the first few days it was tender if my clothes rubbed it or I bumped it. It never really turned red and it didn’t hurt at all if I wasn’t touching it. I had to keep it clean and put lotion on it several times a day, but otherwise it was hardy noticeable.

Now, a week later, it’s mostly healed and is smooth to the touch instead of raised like it was initially. It feels like it’s always been there – like it was meant to be part of me.

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This is what it looks like today. It’s still peeling a little bit but mostly healed. Also, thanks to this picture I am now self-conscious about how hairy my forearms are.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.