“I had an asthma attack the week after I was born. It was so bad, I was sent to two different hospitals before I was finally hooked up to a ventilator and other machines. I was even brain dead for a small period of time.”
Grant spoke matter of factly while I was shocked. But that’s what happens when something has become a part of your story, it is so engraved in your identity, it doesn’t startle you anymore.
“My life was held together by machines, and I wasn’t getting any better. The doctors were going to unplug me, but my grandfather, who was a religious man, begged for them to give me a few more days. Just to see if that would help.They agreed, and after some extra time, they unhooked me. I survived. Later, the doctors said that those few days made all the difference, if they had unplugged me any earlier, I would have died.
“After that, I had a very slim chance of ending up healthy. Either I would die at an early age or I would basically end up a vegetable. I had a 12% chance, actually, to grow up and function the way I did. But I did. I think about that often, it means to me that there’s more to why I am here. There’s a reason, you know?”
“My grandfather was one of the best people in this world. If you asked anyone else in my family about him, they would say the same thing. He was generous, caring, and had incredible faith. He definitely impacted and helped shape my religion.”
Grant told me about how his father lived in a small town in Iowa named Exline (which was named after their family). “He was very involved in the town, always the one helping in whatever way he could. He was even titled the ‘Town’s Best Citizen’ for two years in a row.
“What’s cool about my Grandfather is that you can see a little bit of him in all of my older brothers. Pieces of him have been passed on in different ways so that his legacy lives on even when he doesn’t.”
I asked Grant when he got his tattoo, which he got at Angels and Demons Tattoo. “I went with my brother in July of 2015. That was after my senior year. It’s when I started making my faith my own, instead of it just being my family’s faith. That summer is also when my Grandpa passed away, so in July I got this tattoo.
“I knew I wanted something that was a reminder of his faith and the impact it had on me. I also wanted a symbol of my faith and the impact I want to have on other people’s faith. I thought, ‘What would be a better representation than the cross?’ Because the cross not only stands for Jesus’s death but also his resurrection. It stands for all of it.”
I asked Grant for a summary of the meaning of his tattoo. If he could explain it in a couple of sentences or two, what did the cross stand for?
He laughed a little uncertainly. “It’s hard to give a final, closing statement. There’s a lot wrapped up in it. But I guess it’s about dedicating my life to something I have total faith and total truth in. It’s also about continually passing the faith on, always sharing a loving manner for loving lives.”
Thanks to Grant Exline for sharing his story.
Photography: Kayla McEathron