I had written earlier that I would devote an entire post to my tattoos. Well, at the time, my two tattoos. Now they are a happy family of four.
RJ doesn’t get it, but he understands that as an external feeling processor, I feel the need to “express myself.” Tattoos are one avenue through which I do so. He just kind of sighs and rolls his eyes when I talk about getting new tattoos now, whereas before he would try to talk me out of it. He’s learned well. :)
I’ve been asked before, “Why tattoos? What’s the point??” And to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it that much before. But I think it has to do with remembering.
In the Old Testament, the Bible documents many instances where God’s people erect (tee hee) physical monuments or memorials as tangible ways of remembering God’s goodness, promises, faithfulness, and providence. Jacob did so after God revealed to him in a dream that He would bless Jacob’s descendents as a physical reminder to himself and his descendents of God’s promise (Genesis 28) and Joshua led the Israelites in setting up a stone monument as a physical reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness in leading the Israelites into the Promised Land for generations to remember.
For me (and I can’t say this is a universal reason), the reason why I get tattoos is similar. My tattoos serve as a physical and tangible reminder of God’s goodness, promises, faithfulness, and providence in my own life, not only for myself but for others around me. And they are open invitations to others to hear of God’s goodness, promises, faithfulness, and providence in my life, even if the hearer doesn’t really care to hear about God. They asked about my tattoos, so I’m giving them my answer!
I know some Christians frown upon tattoos, but I have a clear conscience before God. And I hope this explanation helps to clarify some of the mystery behind why I personally am drawn to them.
Anyways, without further ado, my tattoos in chronological order.
This tattoo is the Hebrew symbol for “grace,” which I got back in 2007 in San Diego, CA.
When I was on staff with the Navigators at UC Irvine, we went through a quarter long Bible study on “grace” with our student leaders. One day, my roommate at the time, Joni, turned to me as we were working on our studies together and exclaimed, “Hey, it’s your name!!!”
Sure enough, the pronunciation of the Hebrew symbol for “grace” is “chen,” like my maiden last name. According to Strong’s Hebrew, in the noun form it means grace, favor, acceptance, kindness, and beauty and as an adjective it means well-favored, precious, pleasant, and pleasing. Sounds like a great future tattoo!
Around the time that I got this tattoo, I was struggling with issues of self-worth, self-esteem, whether or not I was beautiful, and family of origin issues. I decided to get this tattoo at the time because very practically, I figured I would get married one day and I would take my husband’s last name, but didn’t want to forget where I came from as a Chen. Spiritually, I decided to get this tattoo because it is a physical and tangible reminder of not only the amazing grace God has shown me, but also of the beauty and grace He sees in me, even when I can’t see it in myself.
This tattoo is two lines from Aragorn’s poem in Return of the King, written in Elvish (Quenya, if you are interested in the dialect). It says, “Not all who wander are lost; From the shadows a light shall spring.” I got this tattoo in February of 2012.
I was going through a hardcore Lord of the Rings phase at the time and thought, what if I got something in a fictional language so I don’t really have to worry too much about whether it is grammatically correct?
Angelina Jolie is my tattoo inspiration. I just love the tattoos on her body, they are beautiful and elegant. She has a block of vertical script on her left shoulder, which inspired the block of Elvish script on my own left shoulder. I had wished that it would have been in smaller print, but my tattoo artist, Paulie from Funhouse Tattoo in San Diego, CA, strongly advised against going too small, as the ink would bleed and blur over the course of time. Hey, he’s the expert, I’m listening to him!
I love the first line from Aragorn’s poem because my own story has been one of wandering, of figuring out life the hard way, of making stupid decisions, and of finding God in my wanderings. And though I wandered, by the sovereignty and goodness of God, I was never lost. Even in my darkest moments, He was leading me to the place where I am now, a place I never would have been able to wander to on my own.
The second line of this tattoo is just so hopeful, you know? I’ve been through some terribly dark seasons, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and relationally. But time and experience has proved that there is always light in the darkness with God. He doesn’t leave us in darkness to rot, even in our sin! But He victoriously carries us out of darkness, and He even brings goodness from the darkness. Even in the darkest moments, there is hope and there is light.
These are lessons I want to remember for always, but these are also lessons I want to share; with my kids, with the students in our ministry, with my friends, with my family. And having such a visible tattoo has given me many opportunities to be able to do so.
So. Funny story. Okay, not that funny. A couple months back, my other idealistic, ridiculously fun and spontaneous also-ENFP friend, Joanna, asks me out of the blue if I want to go get a tattoo with her. Uhhh…of course, why not???
Anyways, a couple of months pass, and we finally got our tattoos together this past Monday at Port City Tattoo in Long Beach, CA. It was truly a bonding experience.
I originally went with three little tattoos in mind, but ended up leaving with just two after my tattoo artist, JD, told me my third tattoo might not work out well.
This first tattoo is the symbol for the National Eating Disorders Association.
I don’t know what the symbol is, exactly. I think it looks like an abstract heart. I’ve also gotten flame, eye, snail, lips, and a genie. It’s kind of a fun icebreaker!
I wrote about my experience with recovery from anorexia, exercise bulimia, and binge-eating very recently, so if you haven’t read my story yet, you can just click on that link back there.
Honestly, recovery was probably the hardest battle I have ever fought in my life. It’s not as easy as, “Just eat more,” or “Just stop eating so much.” But in recovery, I experienced God in a new way. In recovery, I found God for myself. And I don’t want to ever forget the hard-won battle, because I am who I am today because of it.
This was the second little tattoo I got with Joanna at Port City Tattoo this past Monday.
Actually, the tattoo I had wanted first and most was a tattoo on my left ring finger that said, “RJ.” Because my wedding ring isn’t a diamond, it is easier to scratch the gem, so I just take it off whenever I wash the dishes. Unfortunately, I (very) often forget to put it back on. I thought that a left ring finger tattoo with my husband’s name on it would resolve the issue of strange men hitting on me when I am in public without my wedding band.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, I don’t want “RJ” on the top of my wedding finger. I just want a small, simple cross symbolizing my first covenant with Christ, because even as a married woman, God should always be my first love. An added bonus, when I forget my ring, men will either know that I am married or think I am a religious freak and not hit on me! Well, most of them at least, hahaha.
And so the idea of the “RJ” tattoo got bumped to my inner left ring finger, symbolizing my second covenant with my husband, because that is also of great importance to me. But not as important as my first covenant with Christ.
Unfortunately, the style I wanted for my “RJ” tattoo wouldn’t work, and rather than make a hasty decision on the spot, I decided to wait until next time (and there WILL be a next time!) to get it done.
So great news, I surpassed my 2013 goal of getting a new tattoo by getting TWO new tattoos! And I finally got to share the explanation behind my previous tattoos and why I even get tattoos in the first place.
Thanks for reading, friends! And I hope you enjoyed this post! :)