Twenty years ago for my birthday, I got a tattoo. My boyfriend at the time took me, I picked out a small design that I liked, it didn’t have any specific special meaning I just liked. I chose the spot and I was forever inked. Tattoos weren’t even overly popular then, I think I just wanted to do something rebellious (I can’t even really remember, it was 20 years ago after all). It was such a new thing in my small town that when I went home to show my family my grandma announced it at a luncheon with all her friends and made me show them, while in the golf course restaurant. That was memorable. I don’t regret getting that tattoo like many told me I would, and it didn’t stretch out or look crazy when I was pregnant. Thank goodness.
A LOT of time has passed since that last tattoo. My life is radically different than it was when I was 18 and I’m so grateful for that. God has changed me, intervened in my life, and redeemed me in ways that I never knew were possible. God took a broken, young woman and pieced my heart and life back together after I tried to fill it with relationships and the world. I was really broken back then (not that I’m not a mess at times now but it was a different, hard, broken). But even after redemption in that area and choosing to make God a part of my life since then, hard things still happened. Over the years I’ve had to walk the journey of infertility, losing a baby, health issues and surgeries to name a few. My heart and my actual body have scars from the pain and reality of life. My body, near the first tattoo continued to be marked in the passing years with physical scars. In the midst of those trials though I have seen God show up, he has healed wounds, and smoothed those scars. God has shown his power and strength when I had none and he has redeemed my infertility and the longing for children in ways that I never would have planned or expected. He really can make beauty from ashes. He really can redeem our brokenness and for that reason, above my old tattoo and below the physical scars of surgeries that mark losing a baby I tattooed the word Redeemed.
It’s a funny thing though, even though I am redeemed and I know this to be true I can struggle to choose joy. I can get caught up in the things daily that are hard and forget to see where God is at work. I can miss out on the small mercies when I choose not to look for them. I get happiness and joy mixed up.
A few years ago when I read Kay Warren’s book Choose Joy Because Happiness isn’t Enough, and I was struck by her definition of joy,
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.
Over the years I have learned that the reality of joy is knowing and choosing Christ even when it doesn’t feel good. Joy is knowing and choosing to believe that I am never alone or forsaken. Joy is knowing and choosing to continue to walk the journey of faith and Jesus’ ways when I don’t understand them. Choose Joy was a message God has spoken to me, and over me, daily for years now. I still don’t succeed most the time if I’m honest and I knew that I wanted it to be tattooed on my arm as a daily, visual reminder. Choose Joy. Choose Jesus.
I could think of no better way to spend my 38th birthday, 20 years after my first tattoo, than to tattoo significant words on my body that remind me of God’s faithfulness and love to me. He did after all tattoo his love on his hands and feet, not with ink but with nails and his own blood, because he chose to sacrifice for me, for us. He brought redemption to a broken world and for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.
May God be glorified and a greater story be told through my life and even through my tattoos.