With an array of stunning colors exploding from the small of her wrist to the top of her shoulder I was left staring at a random stranger’s arm in the grocery store.
Vivid blues met a stunning red sunset, with the peak of a storm followed by a grey outbreak of a lightning blaze. After gawking for far too long, she met my eyes and silently asked me, why are you staring at me?
Breaking the uncomfortable silence, I proclaimed, “I love your ink.”
A smile overtook her once strained face and then she responded, “why thank you.”
The tension subsided and all that is left is two middle-aged women in the produce department chuckling. I proceeded, “tell me the story of your tattoo.”
She glistened with pride and love as she drifted off in a deeply moving memory.
“It is the story of my life, my loss, and the fact that I eventually will prevail, thanks to God’s grace.”
“Indeed, you will.” Is all I had to say.
Engaged to the point I didn’t even realize there were annoyed people trying to get by us in route to the perfect broccoli head, we moved out of the way of the busy supermarket.
She continued, “I live with chronic pain. Every day I ache all over no matter what medicine I am given, it doesn’t touch the pain.”
I’m brought to my knees by her words, as I have also experienced pain in my life. Although, my pain was embodied deep inside the fibers of my being. A Celtic knot hosting itself inside my heart muscle.
I pointed to the inner part of her upper arm, where a bright orange and yellow monarch butterfly transcend time, and yes, pain. “I love this.” I touched the butterfly and goosebumps immediately encompassed my entire body. “Yet, I’ve heard that this part is the most painful to tattoo.” I smiled at her and stared deeply into her stunning green eyes.
“I don’t mind because it is a pain that I can control.” Her magnificent glance drifted as her hand reached the inner part of her arm where the butterfly was in flight. “My pain I didn’t choose. But the burning of the tattoo gun is something that produces beauty when it’s all said and done. And that I can control.”
My chance meeting with this woman greeted me with a revelation that truly shook me to my core. Although I do not live with chronic physical pain, I do live with chronic emotional agony, that haunts me from my past.
Dreams when I’m sleeping often leave me shaking, terrified, and restless.
They identify as a horror film replaying in my mind as my body tries to sleep. Vivid recreations of hands on me and lashes carried out that I did not deserve. There are times I wake up in the morning depleted; never wanting to fall into the trances of sleep for fear of what nightmare may await me. So in my waking hours, it seems fitting to give myself what I think I deserve to be punished for. Yes, I inflict pain on myself, much like the burning of the tattoo gun, I try to engrave on my being a picture of something that can make sense of it all. A pain, that I, in fact, can control.
But why do we do this to ourselves?
- We cut our own flesh with a razor blade
- Force a finger down our throats to vomit up the food we just ate
- Spend money we don’t have
- Starve our bodies of food in fear we are fat
- We blow up in anger when a trigger point is pushed
- We run ourselves ragged trying to prove that we are in fact good enough
We are broken inside so the immediate response is to inflict on our bodies and minds, the pain we think we can control.
In my personal journey, I know these coping mechanism all too well. It is hard to give myself love and grace when I fail daily to love and embrace me. It feels all too ordinary to punch myself in the face, instead of accepting that as a human I will fail, and God loves me NO MATTER WHAT. He doesn’t desire pain for me, all he wants is me.
All God wants is all of us, encompassing our turmoil and the spinning thoughts of failure that blare through our hearts and minds. As a matter of fact, He actually tells us that He will take those failures and pain from us and turn it into Gold. He will release the burden of it all, and allow us to transform into the monarch that we were predestined to become. Broken, bleeding, depleted, drugged, drunk, too skinny, too fat, He doesn’t care. He says in His Word that He has written our names in the palm of His hand and calls us beloved.
For, in inflicting a self-deprecating way of dealing with our demons, we push the love of Jesus further and further away. We allow the enemy to perpetuate our painful memories, as he tries to belittle our self-worth. If we hurt our bodies and minds, due to past trauma, then the serpent wins and God’s love is left at the back door.
Fight the good fight and accept love. Give the pain you cannot control to our God who begs us to release it all into the black of night, for He is willing to take it on so we don’t have to. That my friends is the gift of true and exquisite love. Breathe it in like incense. Free yourself into the beauty that I experienced gazing upon the tattoo that day in the grocery store. A story told with magnificent storm clouds transforming into the butterfly fluttering off into the alive and awe inspiring sunset.