Instead of saying, “Tell me about your tattoo?” I had to rephrase my question. I asked, “Tell me about your tattoos?” Because Emily has six.
“It’s hard to keep them all straight,” she laughed. “I think the first one I got is a moon tattoo on my butt. My best friend and I went together and got friendship tattoos. My second one is a salt shaker and light bulb on the back of my calf. Then I have an alien on my ankle, the latin words sola gratia on the back of my neck, an etch of the Great Wave of Kanagawa on my arm, and a sketch of a woman by Picasso on my other arm.” She closed her eyes a minute to make sure she said that all correctly, then nodded. “Yup, six tattoos… for now at least.
“I grew up like a typical private school kid. High school is when I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. I got a boyfriend who ended up being a bad influence on me. It’s so typical I guess. Turn 16 and suddenly go crazy because you can drive or whatever. But that was me. I cut off all my old friends from earlier and it wasn’t until junior year I finally got away from it all and broke up with my boyfriend. I didn’t really know where to go from there, I was pretty lost because I had cut off all my old friends. Except for one girl, she was a big influence in my life. She’s the one I got the moon tattoo with around the end of our senior year.
“I had a pretty surface-level faith growing up, but this friend challenged me. She wrote me a long letter for my 17th birthday basically saying she loved and cared for me, that she could see I wasn’t happy, and she wanted what was best for me. She was right, I was depressed for a time. But that friendship means a lot to me because she stuck around, she was there from the beginning and stayed with me when I went through all that my junior year. And at the end of it all, she was still there. So we got friendship tattoos together.
“Senior year was actually pretty hard for me. Like I said I cut myself off from so many people, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do for college, so all my classes seemed pointless. I had hard-core senioritis. But I was put into this random art class and it ended up being my favorite. It’s funny because I’m not good at art at all, I suck at it actually. I just really appreciate it. But that class was my favorite, it gave me room to breathe in the midst of that year. And the teacher for that class really poured into my life. She was amazing. She had Lyme disease, she would actually have little seizures in the middle of class sometimes, but she was such a joyful person through it all. Without her, I would have been a lot less happy.
“The first week of class we copied the Great Wave of Kanagawa. Mine was terrible, but I just really fell in love with the piece, so I decided to get it tattooed on my arm this past June.
“I love the idea of tattoos, it’s a good expression of who you have been and the transition into who you are now and who you are becoming. A lot of people get after me for making rash decisions when it comes to my tattoos. They always say, ‘You’ll regret that down the road.’ But I have yet to regret any of my tattoos, even Picasso’s sketch of a woman I have on my other arm. That one was so rash, I just decided I wanted a tattoo one afternoon, so I flipped through my tattoo Pinterest board and decided what I wanted. It was rash, but I don’t regret it one bit. Because, even though I may not get all these tattoos again now, it’s still all a part of my story.
“For the one on my calf, I was actually going to get my favorite verse tattooed on my thigh instead, which is Philippians 1:21. But it was too long, so I got the salt shaker and light bulb instead. It’s based off Matthew 5:13-16 which is about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It reminds me of who I am and what I’m supposed to be. And so many people ask about it too, which is so cool because I get to share the gospel with them. Having that permanently on me keeps me accountable.”
Next, I asked about the tattoo on the back of her neck.
“I struggle with being enough and constantly wondering if I am doing enough. That’s why I’m so big on checklists, I can just go down the list and feel somewhat accomplished. I struggle to remember to have faith in God’s grace, I still struggle to understand how deep and how real it is.That’s why I tattooed sola gratia on my body, I feel like if it’s inked on my skin, it’s true and I have to believe it. I don’t know if that makes sense.
“But yeah, it’s a reminder. Just because you are failing, God’s grace is enough. Society makes you feel like you’re lacking or you’re not doing enough. But what’s the truth? The truth is that the grace of God is enough to get you where you need to go.”
I asked her a little about what tattoos mean for her, what made her go back to get six in the last two years.
“I love art,” she said simply. “I want to have art on me. It’s fun to decorate myself with beautiful things. I also want things that are true on me. I get so caught up in everyday activities, so much is happening it’s hard to focus on anything. Having it there inked into my skin forces me to remember how I felt and what I was thinking at the time when I got it.”
When I asked if she had any final thoughts to share, she laughed. “I’m excited to get more tattoos!” She exclaimed. “My mom tells me I need to slow down. But there’s this one tattoo artist by the name of Evan Davis, and I just want to walk up to him and say, ‘Create an original piece for me, whatever you want, just nothing nude or vulgar.’ I trust him that much, he’s amazing.”