During the summer of 1996, I was eighteen and decided to rebel against my conservative upbringing and get a tattoo. I had two cool stickers on the back window of my 1980 Ford Mustang, a butterfly and a lion. I wanted both as tattoos but decided to go with the butterfly as my first one. I love their delicate beauty and how they change from one ugly creature into a magnificent work of art. In a way, I felt I was *that* ugly creature and I longed, so desperately, to change into a beautiful creation. I got the butterfly high enough on my mid-back, to hide from my parents, but they found out anyway and were, well… let’s just say, less than pleased.

Butterfly/jenifly

When I turned my life around, to follow Jesus, a few months later, I was ashamed of my tattoo. My upbringing taught me to shy away from looking anything other than a normal, white, conservative Christian (whatever that is…). Getting a tattoo meant I was defiling God’s “temple”. So, I decided the only way I would be “good enough” (whatever that is…) was to get it removed. I found a plastic surgeon and set up an appointment for a consultation. He informed me of the multi-visit, invasive laser removal procedure and then told me it cost around $3,000 to get it removed. WTH? I asked if they took payment plans and (thankfully) they did not. However, I was crushed. I thought I had committed an irreversible sin. Would I still get into heaven? Would God love me just as much as those without tattoos? Was this really the “mark of the beast”? I decided to read the bible for some answers. Turns out, there’s only one reference to the word “tattoo” in the entire bible and it’s not even in all of the translations. This word also exists in the same area as the laws explaining how to sacrifice animals and how we shouldn’t eat meat with blood still in it and how we shouldn’t cut the hair on the sides of our heads or clip the edges of our beards. This is when I realized there was a difference between the laws in the Old Testament and how Jesus changed all of that when He came to earth. I started focusing on Jesus and what He taught and realized He never cared about our outer appearance. I realized that the churches claiming that we shouldn’t defile the “temple” of our bodies with permanent artwork, have permanent artwork in the form of statues and murals and stained glass in their own church temples/buildings. I can’t even explain the elation and relief I felt when I finally realized that I wasn’t a stained wretch who now had to live a life in shame over one symbol etched on my back, in paint. I was free and Jesus didn’t really care about things that I was taught, as an adolescent, were so important. Searching this out allowed me to understand that I am loved, just as I am, by a God who doesn’t judge me on my outer appearance.

Remember that time when Jesus said, “You fool who dresses in black and has piercings, a purple mohawk and body inked with tattoos; you are a ridiculous display of a human being”? Yeah, remember that? Oh, you don’t? That’s because Jesus never even came close to saying that. Yet, I was raised in that mentality that looks were everything. That if you altered your skin with tattoos or piercings, it was looked down on because it wasn’t how God made us. Other than it being completely UNTRUE, the only (HUGE) problem with that is this “commandment” of not tattooing or piercing oneself, came from people who had pierced ears, they colored and cut their hair and got fake nails every month. If God wanted them to have those things, wouldn’t He have made them that way?!? Obviously my sarcasm is coming on strong… I’ve got a lot of issues with how humanity dictates a person should look, ESPECIALLY when it’s in the name of religion.

I got a second set of tattoos last night. I’ve been wanting another one for years but haven’t fallen in love with any ideas until a couple of months ago. Realizing that I fall into the same depressive state as SO many of my family members, I decided I needed something to remind me of the opposite from what I get depressed about. I get depressed when I’m lonely. When I’m lonely I feel unloved. When I’m anti-social I feel far from the people that give me love. When people fail (as I also do) I’m left feeling alone in the world and wonder if life would be better if it ended sooner than intended. As a teenager, I had a friend commit suicide and I’ve had several family members attempt it. The thought has crossed my mind more than it ever should. I need to be reminded that I am loved. I need to be reminded that even when people fail to show me love, I am STILL loved by God.

I also thrive on being nontraditional. From afar, the wedding between Jase and I looked traditional. However, between my electric-blue heels, Jase’s electric-blue spray-painted shoes, our black PVC pipe arch, electric-blue spray painted amoeba-shaped foamboard center pieces, rectangular (not circular) shaped cake, Spiderman/Spiderwoman cake toppers and all of the other small details that we designed and created (sans a wedding planner/coordinator), I’d say our wedding was sufficiently nontraditional. Jase and I have always blazed our own trail. So with that, a phrase that would seem simple, “You are loved”, became a little less simple for me. I wanted depth.

I chose my wrists as the location for the tattoos because it catches my eyes and it’s an area with suicidal tendencies. Whenever I start feeling alone and doubting that I am loved, one movement from my ever-moving hands would be a nice reminder. The phrase, “Loved You Are” is my poetic way of having something atypical for me. Yet, when I hold my wrists out to others, it tells them, “You Are Loved”. I also like how I see, “You are” as a positive statement in and of itself. It reads off of my right wrist, so it’s a complete thought by itself. The statement could be talking to God or reminding me that I exist. That I am someone. On the TWLOHA Day, there was a call to actually write “Love” on our arms and the idea materialized onto my wrists. As soon as I drew a little heart around the “O” on my wrist, I fell in love and started the planning process for something a little more permanent. Jase pulled up two fonts on his computer as a starting point for my search and I instantly settled on one of them. The first pic is my drawn out version, the second is the tattoo.

TWLOHA Day

Loved, you are

I was really nervous and having second thoughts about getting this done yesterday. I was afraid I’d freak out from the pain or repetition of it all. But, while getting it, I realized that in comparison to having three children, the pain was minor. I was also freaking out that I was making a bad decision but remembering the months of planning and mulling it over convinced me otherwise. I also know that this is more than just being about me. It’s about reassuring my kids that I will do what I need to do to be here for them, it’s about hope, and it’s about breaking stereotypes. This tattoo is about reminding myself that I am loved and it’s about reminding me to share that love with others.