“Are you a pagan?”
I sat in a body-piercing studio with the owner gazing at a tattoo displayed on the nave of my back. It was a gnome, sitting on a mushroom and playing a fife. Everything about it screamed pot-smoker, hippy and apparently, pagan.
And to think I got it because I thought it looked cool. To me it said, “Outsider,” a label I gave myself during my younger years.
The man’s question caught me off guard. I was twenty-one at the time and wasn’t sure who I was, let alone what I believed.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. The artist seemed as surprised by my answer as I was. Immediately, I felt ashamed.
Who was this person, anyway?
I spent the next eight years trying to figure out the answer to that question. Eventually, I realized all of the places I ran to seek my identity were fickle and fading.
It wasn’t until I started with the One who gave me my eternal name that I would know my true self.
These days, my tattoo is usually hidden. But the other day, while on family vacation, I was changing into my swimsuit and my five-year-old saw it.
“Mama, what’s that on your back?”
I told him what the picture was and explained how a tattoo is like a permanent picture on your skin. Then, my mind went back. Back to the person I was. Back to the mistakes I made and the years I spent wasting my life. Things much bigger than a silly tattoo that shape the person I am today.
For a little while, I let the voice of condemnation darken the light in my soul.
Scenes of things I wish I’d never seen replayed in my mind. Faces of people who left this life for the next one burned in my memory and left my heart heavy.
Perhaps you’ve been there? You’re walking in the new life Jesus freely gave you, and then all of a sudden you’re hit with a blatant reminder of the mess you used to be? That, despite your best efforts, some days you still are?
In those dark moments when I’m not sure I can escape my past, God often gives me a reminder. This time was no different.
We arrived at the pool and found it closed because of an incoming storm. After playing for a while in the arcade next door, we made our way back to the campsite. As we made dinner, a beautiful site caught my eye.
A spectacular sunset over the river.
The sun was big and radiant, dipping to the horizon in a circular blanket of clouds. I hurriedly got my camera and ran down to the beach.
I must have snapped a dozen pictures, but when I flipped through them in my viewfinder I was disappointed. This huge ball of light and fire looked tiny and dim. I couldn’t capture its draw. It was un-containable.
As I sat in our camper later that evening, I felt that gentle whisper in my spirit.
“Don’t try to put limits on my grace, Abby. It’s more limitless than the sun.”
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16 ESV
I was putting God in a box again, thinking I could somehow run outside his grace. But it doesn’t just cover me. It drenches me.
We can’t put finite limitations on the grace of an infinite God.
And the moment we stop trying to put God in a box, we find we don’t want Him there. We find freedom. We find joy and rest.
So today, if your past is trying to haunt you, take a lesson from my tattoo. Remember it shapes you, but it doesn’t define you.
God can take the shattered pieces of your life and turn them into something far more spectacular than a sunset. He does it each and every day, giving constant reminders of who he is.
Sometimes we have to take him out of the box and come to the altar.