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Fleshy Tablets

By Kathyrn Lynard

I have a tattoo on my left ankle.

A crucifix, blue-black, one inch long. A punk crucifix, anti-religious, if anything. Homemade, in 1988. President Hinckley hadn’t yet made his pronouncement against tattooing, but even if he had, it wouldn’t have stopped me. In fact, I would have been all the more eager to grab a needle.

My kids hate the tattoo. They’ve had a dozen or more lessons on bodies-as-temples, and they’re pretty freaked about the “graffiti” on mine. Every few months or so, they notice the ink on my ankle and remind me that tattooing is wrong. And whenever we pass the Laser Tattoo Removal billboard on I-15, one of the kids inevitably comments, “That’s for you, Mom.” They don’t like their mother wearing a mark of disobedience.

I can sympathize. Once I escaped the misery that spawned the tattoo, I hated it myself. It was a token of a time I wanted to forget, a time of deep unhappiness, self-destruction, shame. A time when I happily punctured my own skin with a needle rapid as a woodpecker, driving ink below the surface in an attempt to impress my peers, and myself.

I’ve spent many years hiding the mark with socks and band-aids. I’ve made a point to cross my ankles right-over-left, especially at church, to keep it out of easy view. I’ve wished I had the cash to get the thing lasered off, to burn the dark skin and darker memories into oblivion. Even when tattoos became hip, I still wanted mine gone. It’s hardly a nifty little butterfly.

But these days, when I drive past that I-15 billboard, I realize things have changed, in more ways than one. These days I can afford a few hundred dollars for a little skin scorching. But I don’t want to do it.

I like my tattoo.

No, I don’t like the way it looks. As I’ve aged the lines of the crucifix have fuzzed a bit, making it appear especially crude; purple spider veins have crawled their way around it, like bloody vines. It’s undeniably ugly. But I no longer want to forget the ugliness in my past. By remembering, I also remember how God grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and lifted me out of that hell. I remember the saviors God sent to me, wearing all kinds of unlikely disguises. And I remember One in particular.

Funny, that I’ve embraced the sole Christian religion that doesn’t embrace the crucifix as a visual symbol of their faith. In their focus on the living Christ, Mormons don’t wear crosses around their necks. But I’m not sorry that I have one engraved on my body. And I will teach my children why. I will teach them that redemption must be remembered, and not only on Sunday. Every day.

Like the day I was visiting teaching Amy, a single mother, a grandmother, and a heroin addict fresh out of rehab. We wrote letters to each other while she was in her treatment program and began face-to-face visits last month, when she finished. She’s an amazing woman–bright, candid, real. During our visits she describes, sober-faced, the depraved state of being she lived in for two decades, and how God is leading her out.

She just received her patriarchal blessing. “I don’t remember much of what was said,” she told me, “except for this: ‘You are forgiven.’”

I looked down at my ankles, crossed left-over-right. And I nodded, and wept.

About Kathyrn Lynard

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

36 thoughts on “Fleshy Tablets”

  1. The Church of Jesus Christ, being effectively a recovery hospital for sick and wounded souls; of course on occasion outward scars are visible that attest to the healing process that has taken place, to me this should be expected. To me the healed wounds are a great testament to the healing power of the Savior and his skill as a heart surgeon. Even though I have no visible scars, I to have been given life saving surgery at the Saviors masterful hands, Even I am amazed at the skill of the surgeon, I am not the same sick and bleeding person, barely hanging onto life, that crawled into this hospital so many years ago, In fact I barely resemble that person today. When I see scars I rejoice in the healing, and am amazed in the recovery that has taken place, at the hand of the master, for you and for me.

    This post is a nice reminder, lest we forget our own awful situation.

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  2. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for the reminder of the reality of Christ's atonement and the possibilities for healing in our lives.

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  3. I love this kathy and your bad boy tattoo.

    P.S. I'm the only person in my family without a tattoo. My brother even has a tattoo of the CTR emblem, which always makes me laugh. My mother claims that tattooing her eyebrows, eyeliner and lipstick is not a real tattoo. Even though it technically is. She says it's more like landscaping her temple with perennials instead of annuals.

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  4. This is wonderful.

    I ran into an old friend last month who I had lost track of for several years. The last I had heard, she was in a penitentiary somewhere. We chatted for a few minutes, and she showed me her brand new temple recommend. Thank God for repentance and forgiveness.

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  5. My dad has some homemade tattoos that are about 40 years old now; mostly they serve as a reminder that tattoos don't age well. I think we all have these kinds of reminders in our lives, some of them are just more visible than others. I imagine this is why forgiving is possible but forgetting isn't always, at least here in this mortal realm.

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  6. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see tattoos as visible scars of repentance or disobedience. Sometimes people just like to get them. They may represent something meaningful or powerful in their lives (I have an ankh on my left deltoid, and I chose it because it represents eternal life), for others, like you Kathy, it might represent a time in your life that was especially significant. I know what the First Presidency has said about getting tattoos, but I think it's unfair to judge others who have them as somehow less worthy or as recovering from some past sin. I like my tattoo too, and I might get another one…

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  7. Oh wow, it's so nice to hear that other people feel similarly. I've had a chinese symbol imprinted on my right inner ankle since the summer before college. And I feel almost the same. A little wary of the judgments of others, but also wanting to hold on to it for some reason, as a way to remember a time that I learned hard lessons. I want to teach my children all sides of the story, and not just shame. I'm not exactly proud of it, but it's a part of me and my story and I don't hide it. If people want to know the whole me, they are welcome to.

    Ironically, I'm told the symbol means "To do one's best". Open to interpretation I suppose.

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  8. My daughter, now a temple worker, has three tattoos. She got them during her so-called "rebellious youth." She wouldn't get them now, but I hope she's not ashamed of them. They are, after all, part of her story.

    And whatever journey she had to take to get where she is now, I'm glad she took it.

    =)

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  9. I went with a group of youth to the temple for baptisms once and the man doing the baptizing had a large tattoo on his forearm. It was a great learning experience for the youth. A lesson about not judging what's on the outside.

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  10. My husband told me that in a previous ward he was in years ago, his bishop was covered with tatoos….at least over his arms that he could see. My husband saw it as a reminder of repentance.

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  11. What a beautiful post! Some of our past mistakes or transgressions are more visible than others. How comforting it is to know that God willing forgives and infinitely loves us. What peace we find that He judges by the heart and not by the outward appearance. I love the story of the Samaritan woman. Every time I am tempted to criticize or condemn another, I remember that Christ reached those who were humble and teachable even when they had been rejected by the politically and/or spiritually elite.

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  12. Andrea, I hear you. My tattoo symbolizes certain things for me, unique to my situation. Generalizations aren't helpful.

    I appreciate these comments, all. It's great to share these experiences with you and hear about yours in return. Jennie's #5 was the cherry on top!

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  13. I reckon everyone who has a tattoo has a story that goes with it – and sometimes it's the story that makes everything clearer, and the tattoo more valuable. It's true for me.

    It is peculiar, though, the thoughts/statements/reactions of others on seeing my tattoo, and your post helped me see those uninked reactions in a better light.

    Thank you!

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  14. Awwww! Make me cry!

    I have plenty of things tattooed on my psyche that I wish I could have lasered off… but I know there's a reason why they stick around.

    "You are forgiven" is beautiful. Thanks.

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  15. " In their focus on the living Christ, Mormons don’t wear crosses around their necks. But I’m not sorry that I have one engraved on my body. And I will teach my children why. I will teach them that redemption must be remembered, and not only on Sunday. Every day. "

    I'm glad that you've included this. As I was reading my thought was, "Why doesn't she tell them about why she got it and how her life has changed since then?" It is a painful and beautiful opportunity to share your testimony — and deep, personal experiences — with your children. FHE lesson next week? 🙂

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  16. I don't have a tattoo, but I think I have another example of what you mean.

    In an email account which is now a "honeypot" there is an old "folder" with nothing in it. That folder used to be filled with emails I had saved when I thought I was an adult, but I was acting like a child. All those emails had once represented the mess I'd made out of myself while I was trying to be perceived as something else by others. And oh boy, had I made a big mess.

    My husband once told me I ought to just delete the folder since it had been years since that email account was really used. I told him I like have it there where I can see it occasionally.

    It reminds me to keep that folder empty, and, more importantly, He who helped me empty it.

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  17. I have always thought that I would be heartbroken if one of my kids ever got a tatoo. It seems like such an insult to their perfect beautiful body that I helped create. My kids aren't old enough to do that yet, but I've always thought sins that demeaned their body (word of wisdom, tatoos, sexual sins, etc) would be the hardest sins for a mother to see. I've put too much into creating, caring for and loving that body to see them fill it with drugs, deface it, or misuse its powers.

    Surely when they are picking their sins, they could take my feelings into consideration, ha ha.

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  18. random historical tidbit: it's really only in the mid-to-late 20th-century that Mormons started eschewing the cross as symbol. There are plenty of pictures of Mormon women wearing cross necklaces and brooches in the early Utah period. You're just getting back to your roots 🙂

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  19. I like this. Sometimes it is our battle scars that make us stronger. I am guilty of keeping tokens and momentos because they recall my memory to different times of joy or sadness.

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  20. Andrea – I am with you. I too have a tattoo, (acquired before I was a member,) and I am happy to have it. I am not ashamed of it, nor do I see it as evidence of a past sin or a reminder of repentance. I am not sorry I ever got it. I think that to look at other's tattoos (such as a bishop) and think that it is a sign of the power of forgiveness or repentance is slightly insulting – some people got their tattoos before it was stated that we shouldn't, or like me they got them before they were members. They weren't something they had to repent for. Thinking that you can look at someone and know what their past trials and sins have been based on what you see on their skin is ridiculous and kind of snobby. I would probably get another one if the prophet hadn't said no, but I won't because of that. But that doesn't mean that I think there is something wrong with tattoos. It means I follow the word of God, whether I always understand it or not.

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  21. I have been trying to be a good Mormon for pretty much all of my life but I got a tattoo when I was 19. As weird as it sounds, I got it because I was petrified of becoming one of those hypocritical Relief Society women with perfectly coiffed hair who wear a business suit to church with pearls but never get dirty helping (I was 19 and judged people based on their looks… give me a break). It was a small way for me to claim a life of my own separate from all the cultural programming.

    I never had a drink of alcohol and never did drugs. I was at BYU (and living the honor code in every other way) and graduated with a degree. I think the assumptions in the comments about the kind of person who gets a tattoo are interesting. I have repented for the pride and poor stewardship (of the gift of my body) with my Heavenly Father, but I don't feel the urgent need to get the tattoo removed.

    Because my tattoo still reminds me, everyday, to be open-hearted and accepting of all the divergent paths to Christ (even the most conventional ones). It reminds me to be forgiving of myself and others.

    It is, however, in a place where most people don't ever see it, so maybe my talk is cheap.

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