I had a boyfriend once, whose thick hoop earring and cross tattoo on his back made him quite the object of fascination among us youth group girls. When I finally got the chance to touch those dark lines, I asked him why he did it, the earring and the tattoo. I thought I knew; he was all hard edges and loud music. But he looked at me with such innocence, "I am a slave to Christ," he said, referencing the Old Testament binding of a slave to his master. The boy with the ring in his ear.
This was how I knew I loved him. Faith in the form of rebellion.
I was looking to add to my rebellion.
Getting married at 20 made me feel much more settled, safe and pure than my teens had led my heart to believe. Matt was my match, my calming force and steady hand, sent from above. But I still had a wildness burning within that tandem bike rides along the lake front could not tame. Adulthood had onset with a swift force and I needed one last look back at the years which broke and bore me.
Like any good big sister, I talked my little sister into it, too. It wasn't all that hard; she was - and still is - a willing accomplice. In any case, we took our 18 and 21 year-old-selves and asked for our mother's blessing. She sighed and fretted, but the fact we were doing it together, the fact we had spent the majority of our young lives at odds, the fact we had finally seen one another for what we really were - mirror images, best friends - her fight for tradition and propriety faded away in the face of soul sisters.
And so it was, we took a printed copy of a clip-art image of a daisy into the tattoo shop. Yes. Clip-art. We left imprinted, her ankle and my back, with a white and yellow daisy. My inner rebellion was satisfied by a pure symbol of peace.
Over the years, Matt got the itch as well. His calmness and maturity gave way to a hidden dissenter, asking questions and searching for depth. His soft edges grew stronger while my hardness became less brittle. When the systematic theology and preaching formulas he deferred to for so long failed to make much headway on the uneven and narrow footpath of life overseas, he longed for simple faith in the face of doubt. The calm in the storm.
And so it was, he journeyed to Belfast with a youth pastor friend and left imprinted with St Brigid's Cross. His inner dissenter was satisfied by a symbol of simple faith, folded within with the reeds of long Irish grass.
This is how we belong to eachother. Me and my sister. Matt and I. Us and Christ. The story is written on our skin and when we are asked, we tell it. Faith, hope and love in the ink of rebellion.
There are more stories to be shared, and we dream up the designs and the placement. A pair of strong hands cradling the tree whose leaves hold the names of our children, Yahweh written like a wreath around my wrist, the ring of black with my name on his finger ("You know it's permanent, right?" my mother asks, aware more than others that some things tattooed on our hearts do not last).
We shall see... whether these stories are written on paper or skin or heart. We shall see, the shape it takes. We shall see if it fades away.