I got my first tattoo on a mission trip. I was the leader. I went with two youth. For those of you in youth ministry, this likely sets off some alarm bells- deep breath, it was fine. It happened to be that these two youth were 18, had permission from their parents (one of the parents was even chaperoning) and we had made this pledge to each other the year before.
It was the summer of 2019- before the world went completely upside down. We had traveled from Minnesota to Colorado to spend a week at Harvest Farm- an addiction recovery farm run by the Denver Rescue Mission just outside of Fort Collins. We had been going there for 8 years. It was a place that had deeply shaped my call and impacted my youth. It had opened our eyes to addiction, homelessness, recovery, and grace. The staff became family and the farm a thin space in our lives. The summer before, we had been joking around with the volunteer coordinator, who had become a dear friend, about her beautiful tattoos. We were laughing about two of the youth being 18 the next summer- old enough for tattoos and just about to age out of youth group. She off handedly said "well next summer when you come and are ready for your tattoo's- I know a guy." We all giggled. But seeds were planted in that moment.
I forgot all about it. But not Amber and Kaitlin (my youth). As we began to lay out plans for our summer pilgrimage to the farm, tattoo's were on the list. "Remember Erica? You said last summer that we could get tattoo's with you this summer." Had I really said that? Had I really meant it? I had and I guess I did. As I firmed up plans with Heather (the volunteer coordinator) I sheepishly said, "and I guess we are getting a few tattoo's as well. Can you hook us up with your guy?" "Seriously?? I am so excited for you all! Of course- I will let him know!". I did my due diligence and talked with parents, the other chaperones...and started to think about what in the world I wanted inked on my body for life.
As the three of us talked about what we would get as tattoos, we all agreed that it needed to be something that reminded us of the farm and the lessons we had learned about God and grace and goats. This ink that would become part of our bodies would serve as a reminder of a thin space, a place where God was tangible, where we could be authentically ourselves. Kaitlin decided to get the mountains and the coordinates of the farm. Amber wanted a goat and I knew that I wanted the word beloved. No where in my life had I understood what it meant to be God's beloved more than at the farm.
The evening we left the rest of the group to go and get our tattoos will live in a happy place in my memory for years to come. I will also never forget showing up at breakfast the following morning and the guys at the farm absolutely stunned that a pastor would get a tattoo. (I believe that is the first time I was called a sassy pastor!) and asking why I had chosen beloved.
Beloved. It is written in simple script on my left wrist. I forget it's even there much of the time. But when I need to remember whose I am, who names me and claims me- I have a visible reminder. It also reminds me that each and every person I meet is created in the image of God- a beloved child- it reminds me of grace and goodness, of risk taking and being authentically who I am created to be. I am beloved. You are beloved.