Month: January 2016

Who I Am–Part IV

Psalm 37:23
“The steps of the righteous man are ordered by the Lord.”

I’m kind of addicted to tattoos. Have you figured that out yet? I actually have a “tattoo guy.” He’s done all but the first three of my tattoos. He solidified his position when he custom-designed the frog on my foot. You see, I had a necklace that had a decorative tree frog hanging from it. I loved the design and wanted to use it for a tattoo, but three or four different tattoo parlors were unable to convert that frog into a two-dimensional image. So I walked into one more tattoo parlor and that’s where I met Garrett. He looked at the necklace, excused himself for about five minutes, and came back with exactly what I had envisioned.

There was just one problem. The only way to make the details crisp and clear, he told me, was to make the frog about FOUR TIMES the size I’d imagined! I hesitated briefly, but I’d been wanting this tattoo for years. I trusted his professional instinct, and he was right about the colors and the design. But I have to be honest, there are some days when I still think the frog is a little big, a little much, a little too conspicuous. But then, every now and then, I’ll run into a stranger or an acquaintance, and they’ll comment, “Hey, cool frog!” It reminds me that there are very few people who see that tattoo day after day. Most only get a glimpse in passing.

And that reminds me that it isn’t just about my tattoo. It’s about how many people that I pass by on any given day, and how many people only get a glimpse of me. And I think to myself, What do I want them to see? And the answer, of course, is, Jesus. I want them to see Jesus. So maybe that looks like a smile for a cashier at the grocery store, holding a door open for someone whose hands are full, giving up a seat for someone who needs it more than I do. Maybe it looks like grace for someone who makes a mistake, forgiveness for someone who has let me down, sympathy for someone who is suffering, peace in the midst of turmoil, joy in the midst of grief, or patience with my kids. I want to make the most of the glimpses that people get of me, and that means seeing every moment for its full potential. It means watching for opportunities to love, give, and serve.

My frog tattoo is the only tattoo I have that, to be honest, had no meaning or symbolism when I chose it. I can’t tie it to a Bible verse, or an adventure, or a dream. But even so, if it reminds me to embrace those opportunities to give people glimpses of Jesus, that’s meaning enough for me.

Who I Am–Part III

Do you ever have memories and experiences that seem branded in your mind? And they were so awesome that they seem to become a part of who you are? Well, when those kinds of things happen to me, I like to have a memento, and that often comes in the form of a tattoo. In this case, I have the Hawaiian symbol for turtle tattooed on my lower back. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Years ago, I took a trip to Cozumel, Mexico, with a group from a local dive shop. We spent a good bit of our time on a boat and in the water. The drift diving in Cozumel is amazing, by the way—you feel like you’re flying. Some of the coolest things were the seahorses and the sea turtles. I remember one dive where I was drifting along, headed toward an opening in a cave, and a giant sea turtle came gliding out, headed in the opposite direction, and we passed one another so closely that we almost touched. I wish I had video, because it was simply magical. But that’s not why I got the turtle tattoo.

No, the turtles were a land-based adventure. One evening, our group decided to rent some dune buggies and drive around the island. We had a lot of fun along the way, but the only thing I really remember is Punta Sur, the southern tip of the island. It was just before dusk, and we got out to have a look around. Soon, a Mexican man approached us, holding a small Igloo cooler, and he offered to show us what was inside. A little freaked out that it might be something untoward, we hesitantly peeked inside. What we saw was a baby sea turtle in a small pile of sand. In broken English, the man explained that this turtle was injured, and needed to go to the “hospital.”

But then he invited us to follow him, saying, “More, more.” Curious, we followed him to the beach. There, he began digging in the sand. After a while, we began to see little baby sea turtles climbing out of the hole. He invited us to join him, and I began digging. Some of the turtles were still crawling out of their eggs. At one point, I pulled an egg out of the sand, and the turtle literally hatched in my hand. Once we had helped to “deliver” some 200 baby sea turtles, we worked together to guide them to the water. It was dark by this time, and we held flashlights to mimic the light of the moon. You see, with sea turtles, you can’t just dump them in the water and wish them well. They NEED to make the journey to the water themselves, otherwise they won’t be able to find their way back when it’s time to nest.

Why all this human intervention? Wouldn’t the turtles do all of this on their own, in good time? Well, we learned that there is a major problem with predatory birds, and that if unassisted, many of the turtles wouldn’t even make it to the water. As it was, we were told that many of these turtles wouldn’t survive their first year. But the more we could get to the water, the better their chances of survival. There was this one turtle who kept getting turned around, heading away from the water, and crawling up my foot. I felt a connection with him and SO wanted to sneak him home and raise him in my bathtub. But the prospect of $10,000 in fines and 10 years in a Mexican prison ultimately dissuaded me.

Finally, after turning quite a few turtles around and slowly leading them to the water, our task was complete. We bid adieu to our new friend and thanked him for the experience of a lifetime. We also bid adieu to our babies, wishing them good luck and Godspeed. And when I got home, I chose a tattoo that would commemorate the experience. (Nowadays, you can pay outfitters to manufacture this kind of thing, but that seems to lack authenticity.)

You know, it’s kind of like divine appointments—where God puts us in just the right place and at just the right time to be part of something AMAZING. And while I’m not sure that the social climate of today is ripe for following some stranger down a darkened beach, I think we do need to be open to God’s leading. Speak when he tells us to speak. Listen when he tells us to listen. Smile at someone who seems to need it. And who knows, we just might be in for the experience of a lifetime.

Chosen

Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

“Even before he made the world,
God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”

I hope you all will forgive me for digressing from my “Who I am” series for this week. But God spoke to me this week in an illustration that I want to share with you. You see, as I was walking home from dropping the kids off at school on Wednesday, I came across a random Chihuahua. He was in a yard that I didn’t recall him belonging to, and he started barking at me, and then he followed me briefly (and forgive me, the picture is a bit blurry–he wouldn’t stand still). He finally decided to stay where he was, but as often happens when I encounter a stray dog, I began to daydream. What if he followed me home? What if he refused to leave? What if he chose us to adopt him?

Now, you have to understand—and I mean no disrespect—but we are NOT Chihuahua people. We like BIG dogs: Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, those sorts of dogs. But there’s something about the idea of a pet choosing you, isn’t there? About them adopting you, if you will. At least there is for me. So, I thought to myself that, if this dog indeed were to choose us, we might find ourselves inviting him into our lives and our home and becoming his forever family. We might.

There’s just something about being chosen. It’s like destiny, do you know what I mean? That’s one thing (among many) that I love SO much about God. He has chosen ME. He has chosen YOU. Psalm 11:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” There is such comfort in knowing this. The old hymn states, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” But I dare say, “Blessed assurance, I am HIS!” Know this assurance today, and rest in the peace that comes from being His chosen.

Who I Am–Part II

Philippians 2:15b
“…Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…”

My second tattoo is a Chinese symbol for the word “shine.” It was inspired by Philippians 2:15 and was intended as a reminder to me that I should shine God’s love and character in the world around me. But truth be told, its location in the center of my upper back makes it something I seldom see. I wonder if that has anything to do with how frequently I seem to fail at this task. I so often feel dim when I observe my words, tone, thoughts, actions, and even feelings.

I have to confess that for these couple of days, I’ve felt overwhelmed with and defeated by my own shortcomings. My self-efficacy is practically non-existent at the moment. I feel as though everything I set out to do results in failure. In truth, it isn’t literally everything. But certainly, there are a lot of things that have revealed my weaknesses. Weaknesses, you say?

Well, thankfully, the Bible has a few things to say about weaknesses—a few encouraging things, for these moments when I feel discouraged.

  • “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 27-29).
  • “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  • “He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 50:4).

I don’t know about you, but even after a fairly tumultuous couple of days, I feel like I can sleep better tonight, resting in His strength. I hope you can, too!

Who I Am–Part I

Ephesians 4:30

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The new year, for many, is a time of resolutions. But for me, it’s just as important to spend time reflecting on the person I already am as it is to contemplate the person I want to become. So that’s how I want to kick off the new year. And to get a feel for who I am, we need look no further than my body art. If you want to know what’s important to someone, consider what they’ve had imprinted on their bodies in indelible ink. In the same way, my tattoos offer a glimpse into the memories, passions, and dreams that comprise me. So this week, I want to tell you a bit about my very first tattoo.

When I was in high school, I met someone with a multi-colored ichthus tattoo on their ankle. Theirs had only four colors, but I remember thinking it was really neat. I decided then that I wanted to get a similar tattoo when I turned 18. Of course, to make it my own, I chose to include a cross as well, and to incorporate more colors. When people heard about my planned tattoo design, some expressed concern. Are you sure you want a Christian fish permanently etched on your skin? I mean, what if the end times come? What if the antichrist rises to power and starts executing Christians?

Well, so be it. I have no intention of denying my Lord—tattoo or not. Granted, Peter thought the same thing and ended up denying Christ three times in one night. But as much as I believe that I would remain strong, I’m happy to take the choice out of my hands. And do you know what’s funny? When I got my tattoo, my parents cautioned me to be sure this was what I wanted. At the time, my dad was pastoring a small church. And that first week, when I showed up at Sunday service, it was my DAD who was showing my tattoo off to the congregation members. Oddly, I think that he had a sense of pride that I would wear my faith like a badge of honor. And I imagine that God feels a similar sense of pride when He looks at that tattoo. I pray each day that I will reflect Him in my thoughts, words, and deeds—that I will honor Him in my behavior, so that people will see Him in me. Because being a believer in and follower or Christ is the single most important part of who I am. And I’ll leave you with this question: Who are YOU?