They say you’re not to get a tattoo unless it’s meaningful and will continue to be so through different stages of your life. I didn’t get mine until I was in my forties. By then I could see the general trajectory I was on, and knew that any tattoo I got would have to be inspirational and motivational to me.
I got two tattoos. One is of a Phoenix rising that reminds me it is possible to pick yourself up out of unpleasant life situations and become a better, more confident version of yourself. I had it inked into my skin at a time when I couldn’t see hope, but believed it would come.
The visible tattoo is the one on the back of my neck that people ask me about all the time; the one called Freya.
This is such a deeply personal inking that I reserve the right to answer (or not) any question regarding it. Depending on my mood, state of mind, or my snap judgment about the reason behind the curiosity, my answer can range from as detailed as it’s about to get right now, to almost a blank stare with me mouthing the lie, ‘Oh, it’s just a name.’
But of course it isn’t. It is based on the life, times, and adventures of Freya Stark. I read her story when I could only visualize my life going in a dark direction. There was nothing I could point to that showed me I could have anything better than what I had. But the life story of this petite, adventurous, turn of the 20th century woman, caused seeds of hope to be planted in me.
Despite her size, gender, and the times in which she lived, Freya Stark traveled the Orient, charted maps of the deserts, and experienced many adventures. I wondered, as I read her story while sitting in a hospital waiting room, if there was any way I could break out of the spiral I was in? Was it possible that the second half of my life could exceed the first half?
That is the story behind my tattoos. Both messages of hope etched into my skin. Whenever I catch a glimpse of them, or when someone asks me what they mean, what Freya means, they remind me there is hope. That is why it has been difficult for me to tell the full answer to curious strangers. So I admit; sometimes I have lied when you’ve asked.
Recently though, during one of my early morning devotion sessions, I felt a quickening in my spirit that all these years I’ve used these tattoos as symbols of hope, I have actually been hoping in myself and my abilities and strengths. I felt chastised by the Holy Spirit that I had taken on a work that was His. I had been bearing the burden, thinking that the onus lay on me to make these things happen; but I was wrong. I had forgotten ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.’ (Prov 16:3); I knew that he would give beauty for ashes, and restore the years the locusts had eaten, but somehow I had held on to the reins for making my future a better place than my past had been.
I repent of that belief. When I subjected myself to the ink I needed a visible emblem of hope. I felt so hopeless that I needed something that my eyes could see because nothing else around me gave me any hope. I’ve outgrown the need for those visible symbols though. I look back on the time that has passed between that festival day when I got Freya on a whim, and today, and I see how God has been working to make my life better, and help me rise up, and I know that only my role in all of it has simply been to obey as he has led.
The tattoos to me now signify his work in my life. They make me remember that he is always working on my behalf and that he has plans for me that far exceed anything I could ask for. As visible symbols they are no longer necessary, and no longer hold the same meaning they did when I first got them.
Sometimes, when our hope is small we do need visible and tangible tokens to keep faith alive, and to strengthen us; but thank God that we don’t have to stay there. As we mature in Christ the meanings shift. We take our eyes off the tokens and fix them on Jesus instead. He is our hope.