Tattoos vs Real Fears

Written by Rhonda Alstott

Some moments are etched in your memory like they happened just yesterday.  One such memory for me is the day I found out that my oldest child had gotten a tattoo.  This story is hilarious to me at this point in my parenting, but it cut deep at the moment.  It was the beginning of some of my unraveling.  God just has to do that with us sometimes when He needs to show us just how far off base we have gotten.  I had 20 of my closest friends sitting in my living room set to play our monthly bunco games.  Ahnya, in her sophomore year at Indiana State, stopped by to eat and say hello and play with her little sister Mary.  My friends all asked how things were going and one innocently asked, “Got any tattoos yet?” 


The room grew silent.  See this mother had always said in the most authoritative way that any child of hers had to move out if they ever got a tattoo.  Why?  I had heard another church mom set this boundary and I had respect for this church mom and adopted the same boundary, never stopping to ask why. 


Ahnya says “ummmm yeah” and the room broke out in chuckles.  I was in total shock.  Ahnya went on to describe her tattoo.  I was speechless. 


Now my authority was in question and not only that, but my logic was coming into question.  My safe reality I had created was being chipped away as the conversation continued.  Some of my friends shared about their kids’ tattoos.  Some of my friends shared about their tattoos.  I was left speechless. 


I did not kick Ahnya out as I had always threatened and since then I’ve lost count of how many tattoos my adult children have.  Same with my friends.  I have learned though that most have very personal and meaningful stories behind them, some even spiritual.  What I had to look at is why I would have such a crazy rule to begin with.   Leviticus 19:28 is the only scripture that comes to mind about tattoos, but that’s the old covenant and I can’t even hang my hat on that.  I can only guess that I made the rule because no child of mine was gonna do anything that would make me look bad as a parent.  Pretty petty, and at this point in my life, I’m way past that as a parenting goal.  I’m more interested in how their heart and soul is.


I’ve been pretty transparent about a lot of my parenting decisions  being made out of fear.  It’s exhausting and I don’t believe it’s the yoke that Jesus ever wanted me to pick up, but nonetheless I did,  and despite my best attempts, it creeps in.  Mary and I shared a great lunch this week consisting of carry out  Chinese Food complete with fortune cookies.  My fortune read “Your greatest fear will soon become your greatest strength.” 

Mary asked “What’s your greatest fear mom?”


I could not answer her.  Not this week.  It’s been a week when fear, some founded, some unfounded, has crept into my heart. 


Dr. Karl Albrecht identified 5 fears that we all share, which he called feararchy:
Extinction- the fear of ceasing to exist.

Mutilation- the fear of losing any part of our bodily structure.

Loss of Autonomy- the fear of being immobilized.

Separation- the fear of abandonment, loss of connection.

Ego-death- the fear of humiliation/shame.                                      


I’ve shortened his definitions, but I find them relevant and true.  Most of our fears and anxieties can be rooted in this hierarchy of fear.  Our fears of spiders fall under the #2 Mutilation and those who struggle with claustrophobia are experiencing a fear under the #3 Loss of Autonomy.  I guess my fear of what will people think or say if my child has a tattoo fits into the #5 category of ego death.               


By the time you read this blog Election Day will have come and gone and at this point only God knows who will serve as our next president.  Both political parties have used their share of fear mongering to scare us into what our world will look like if their opponent wins.  Can I say that I’m not gonna fear?  I will be disappointed if my candidate does not win, but I’m not gonna fear.  Why?  I can say that no matter what, my relationship with Jesus and my faith can assure me that I will experience God’s presence and peace in the midst of every circumstance I find myself in.


It has been an extremely difficult week for Tony and me in ministry.  We have lost 3 people in our church family.  One of those losses was a 35 year old.  It doesn’t make sense. She was too young and she was a beautiful person inside and out.  My mother’s heart is devastated for her mom.  I know not from experience, but watching others walk this path, that losing a child is hardest hard.  It changes your life forever.  My friend asked me, “Rhonda, how am I supposed to do this?”   She is walking through my biggest fear and the biggest fear of many and the only answer I know is by God’s Grace.


Paul, when asking God the how and why of a situation he was walking through, was told “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness”. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). 


Lin-Manuel Miranda penned these words in his song “It’s Quiet Uptown” in his musical Hamilton at the point where Alexander and Eliza are walking through the loss of their son Philip:


There are moments that the words don’t reach There’s a grace too powerful to name We push away what we can never understand We push away the unimaginable…


So as I push away the unimaginable, I want to go back to my opening story of Ahnya’s tattoo and my undeniable unreasonableness as a parent.  Ahnya’s first tattoo is a heart with the word “Champion”  forming the right side of it.  It was gotten after we lost a precious little boy in our church family to cancer when he was only 5.  Ahnya had a special relationship with Colton as his children’s church leader and the love Colton showed Ahnya saw her through some of the darkest days in her personal journey.  Colton’s love was pure and nonjudgmental to my daughter during a time. I as a parent could not see anything but how her behavior threatened my ego-self, #5 on that feararchy chart.  Petty, as I said before.  Thank God, His amazing grace came through a little boy named Colton and inspired Ahnya to fight and keep the faith through a very dark time in her life. 


When we imagine the unimaginable, I can only say that God’s Grace will be there.   A grace too powerful to name.   We will feel His power and presence. He promises us that.  We want to hoard all of that up like it can be collected and stored for when we need it, but we cannot .  It’s like manna and is provided as we need it.  Unprecedented is the term used to describe the time we live in.  Unimaginable is what I’ve heard too.  May we as God’s people walk daily with this promise, His grace is sufficient for me.