I realize that this is the second tattoo-related post on my blog in recent weeks, but bear with me.
I recently – finally – got my tattoo. I’ve wanted it for years, but the timing was never great, and I was waiting for the right design. Then I ended up traveling for work to a location that seems to have as many tattoo shops per capita as Las Vegas has casinos. One evening, as several of us were eating dinner, one of my coworkers called the shop across the street from the restaurant (after scoping it out on Yelp) and, before I knew it, I was in the shop getting the details worked out.
The artist joked that my design was really four tattoos in one: a butterfly, a semicolon, a heart, and a cross, and, well, he wasn’t wrong. But their individual significance gives way to a larger meaning when put together in this way. They each hold something special, but they are more than the sum of their parts.
The butterfly has long been important to me, especially after doing the Chrysalis weekend (Walk to Emmaus) when I was in high school. It symbolizes new beginnings. It represents change. It is new, radiant, beautiful life on the other side of what the caterpillar can only imagine to be darkness and pain. The old, quite literally, is gone, and the new has come.
If you’re familiar with Project Semicolon, you know that the semicolon is associated with mental health and suicide prevention. In writing, when an author wants to end a sentence, he or she will use a period. But if they have more to say, if the sentence shouldn’t end yet, the author can use a semicolon. My semicolon says that I have thought about ending the sentence, the story, the book…but I chose not to. I have more life left to live – more to write, more to sing, more to experience, more to be.
What I especially love about the semicolon in this tattoo is that it would be easy to not notice it; it doubles as the body of the butterfly, and one could be forgiven for not even realizing the semicolon is there. That’s exactly what my struggle with mental illness is – it is a part of me, subtly present, but never my defining feature. For it to be part of something that symbolizes new life is even better; I carry my struggle into my new life because, while my story doesn’t define me, I can absolutely use it to offer a light in a dark place to someone else.
The heart and the cross are somewhat self-explanatory:
Love conquers fear. It overcomes and forgives our worst. It inspires our best. Every single thing I do needs to be done in love, and the cross represents the greatest act of love humanity has ever had the opportunity to witness intersecting with the greatest need humanity would ever know. It is sacrifice, humility, courage, and hope.
Ah, there it is. That thing I talk a lot about if you’ve spent any time at all reading this blog. Hope.
I debated simply tattooing the word on my wrist, as much a declaration as a plea, but I wanted to do this differently. Instead, each of the four symbols within my tattoo is a variation of hope:
The butterfly’s hope is that new life, that “hanging on” in the darkest of experiences, the transformation revealed when it leaves the chrysalis. The caterpillar’s entire existence might have been over, lost to the darkness, but it continues in a vibrant, bold way.
The semicolon’s insistence that the story isn’t over is hope’s quiet resolve. There is more to be written. It must be written! Everything is incomplete without the rest of this story.
Love, at its core, is hope. We often pour out our love for others, willing to overlook and overcome their darkest moments and shadiest corners, because we see potential – we have hope for what can be, and we love them enough to not give up on them while they get there. Can we reserve that same kind of love for ourselves? Can we see the potential of who and what God created us to be and believe that we’re worthy of that potential? Love gives us a place to transform. Love lets us be caterpillars, with a ridiculous, outrageous hope for the butterflies to come, without giving up on us in the cocoon.
And oh…the cross. Jesus came face-to-face with humiliation and pain and betrayal. He could have ended the torture and the spectacle, and the angels – who were perhaps watching in abject horror – would have come to His aid in the blink of an eye. But He endured the worst because the best was yet to come. He knew that his sacrifice, and His subsequent resurrection, would mean that hope would not only be forever present, but it would be accessible. To you. To me. To all of us, no matter how dark our past; our futures could be something different.
So each of my tattoo’s symbols has a very specific meaning, but there is hope hidden in each of them. Hope hidden, but in plain sight. Where do you see hope today?