Tramp Stamps, Scars and Bunyan

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When I was in high school, there were 2 solidly unfortunate trends that coincided in a most unattractive way: low rise jeans and tramp stamps.

You may be such a classy person (I would expect nothing less of my readership) that you have no idea what either of those are and while I am grieved to be the one to ruin your innocence, this will not make a lick of sense if I don’t and I have grown inordinately fond of seeing that little “views” count go up, which only works of you read this. My hands are tied, so here we go. For reasons I still do not understand, even as a remarkably tattooed person, teenage girls in particular back then were prone to getting tattoos on their low backs, generally some shapeless tribal garbage or a lotus flower. Teenage girls can be painfully predictable.

(Side note: living on an apple orchard for years has made me an apple snob, and having really good art inked onto my skin has made me a tattoo snob. And I don’t know how to undo that. Many a time I have been stopped in grocery stores, often by the clerk, with effusive admiration of my tattoos –my personal favorite was when am older woman hollered across the room, “I love your legs!!”– and my heart begins to race as I scan their arms, knowing that etiquette requires me to say something like, wow, you too, but it would be LYING. I used to try and dodge the moment by asking a question about their tattoo, until I got the girl with a semi-colon on her wrist. Did you know that apparently, the semi-colon is the universally accepted symbol for “I tried to kill myself, but changed my mind at the last minute”? Aha. I no longer ask people about their tattoos. I just say thank you and then compliment the store’s selection of produce.)

These unfortunate pieces of art combined with the tight jeans low slung across girls’ hips, giving even the most slender of females a muffin top, offering quite an informative visual for anyone in the sad position of standing in a lunch line behind them. I think the nickname “tramp stamp” came from the implication that if you were willing to show the world your low back, you were fairly likely to show the rest of you as well.

Now that the definitions are out of the way, it is time to move on to disclaimers: you could have a low back tattoo that you have no intention of having anyone see. You, could in fact, have a low back tattoo out of mercy.

Once upon a time, I ran on batteries. Well, not all of me, you understand, but I did have an implanted battery pack in my low back, near the hip, and a bunch of wiring in my spine, and they required several incisions. Someday I will tell the story of the spinal cord stimulator (pausing while you google, gag, and come back), and the time that I accidentally ended up with two, and how I had nightmares for weeks about assaulting my pain doctor, but that is not the point of today’s narrative. The point is that because there was a time in my fascinating history that I could set off the metal detectors at the door of the Gap by walking through naked (I never tried that, you understand. I think different alarms would have gone off if I had), I have some noteworthy scars on my spine and low back. Noteworthy due to their size, in part, but chiefly noteworthy because they triggered flashbacks for my husband.

Trauma is a fascinating thing, if you are not personally going through it. Although you have every justification for being curious as to why the sight of my scarred back caused intense difficulty for the Beloved, it actually is not key to this story, and I might go so far as to say that the reasons are not my story to tell. What you need to know is that God brought us into a season of intense darkness, of madness, and during the worst of it, there was very little I could do to alleviate any of the misery of it. But when we realized that the scars were problematic, I took action, because if there is one thing I do know how to do, it is get a tattoo.

Or so I thought.

During this dark season, the Beloved discovered John Bunyan’s excellent book, Pilgrim’s Progress and over time, I learned that when he would suddenly step away to read it, he was fighting against something internally. God always provides a way of escape from temptation. So I brought the story to my tattoo artist, let’s call him the Gracious Pagan because he absolutely was and I was blessed for 7 years by his talent and compassion. He was not only an exceptional artist (even people who hate tattoos have admitted that he creates beautiful art), but he understood that I was getting the tattoos for pain relief, and he developed techniques to maximize the benefit to me. He was someone I thoroughly enjoyed spending 6 hours in the chair, talking with while he worked, which is what makes this whole cover-the-scars venture so odd and embarrassing.

He designed an incredible Pilgrim’s Progress tableau, divided into rectangles, almost like a cartoon series, fitted together into a puzzle of geometric shapes, to be filled with watercolor depictions of the Delectable Mountain, of the sisters at the Palace Beautiful, of Immanuel’s country. I felt brilliant, honestly — what a redemptive story, right? Turning the very scars that caused him such pain into the story that he found the greatest comfort in! The Gospel on my low back!!

I realize this is a bit of a wandering tale, but you need to understand that I am not wimpy about getting tattooed, and this isn’t a pride thing — my nerves just don’t work right. Supposedly the top of the foot, ankle bones, elbows, armpits — all places that make tough, grown, biker dudes cry like little girls to have tattooed and I have all of those and then some. Thighs, chest, inner elbow, wrist bone… but when he started on my low back, I about hit the ceiling.

What were all those teenage girls thinking??!!? I squirmed, sweated, actually had to be told to sit still (my shame mounting…) and the session had to be cut short by about 4 hours. That’s right: I have an incomplete Bunyan themed tramp stamp.

Thankfully, the scars themselves did get covered before I completely wimped out, but it is a decidedly black mark on my record (little tattoo pun for you there. You’re welcome).

This could easily be an essay about good intentions and the road they pave, but it isn’t really what I have been thinking about. Because as odd as this story is, the covering of scars is not the odd part. We tend to think that all hiding is bad, and in certain contexts, that is true. We are never to try and hide our sin from God, nor lie to our neighbors. But think back to Genesis; the problem with Adam and Eve’s makeshift fashion line was not that it covered them, but that it covered them poorly.

Your scars need covering. Your sins and failings and disappointments and disillusionment need covering, but not with your best efforts, your new philosophy, your spa days, your justifications or excuses. You cannot stare at the damage that your disobedience has done to your family, your marriage, your home, your emotions and try to retell the story so that it doesn’t seem so bad, like the scar is not all that noticeable. It needs covering — all of it. And it can only be covered by the blood of Jesus. Invite Him to shine light on your sin, on the things you are holding onto, those ugly parts of you that, make no mistake, are causing hurt to your loved ones (try these on for size: bitterness about your family relationships? Holiday induced soreness? Feeling entitled to praise, or appreciation for your service at church, or in feeding your ungrateful kids every single day? Irritability over feeling neglected by your husband? Self-pity because you feel friendless?)… this is going to hurt… you may even hit the ceiling yourself… but He does not stop there. He shines the light of His glory, you see yourself as you actually are, and as you fall face first at the foot of the cross, you find that He has provided HIMSELF, the only covering that you need. Rest there. Give up your feeble attempts to cover this mess — give it to Him and live in the light, your every last scar covered by the love of Christ.

2 Responses

  1. Kelly Wunderwald
    | Reply

    Mind – blowing up, heart – squeezing

    Thank you.

    • barb
      | Reply

      You’re welcome. 😉

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