Tattoos can be Life-Changing!
By Deanna M. Young
We have to listen in order to hear God!
The most common questions I get are, “How do you know when God is talking to you?” or “How do you hear God?” Allow me to tell you a story that I have told many times. It is a story that has been life-changing for many who have heard it. I even told this story at my ordination interviews and was told to keep on telling it! So here I go again.
My daddy was in the process of dying. As the time approached, all the members of my family, except our daughter Victoria, had been to visit daddy to say their goodbyes. Victoria did not have a way to get to Louisiana from Texas. Scott, my sweet husband, went and got her. I told daddy that she was coming to see him. Somehow, I believed that he was waiting for her before he entered his glory.
Victoria arrived and sat with daddy. After Scott dropped her off, he went to see about his parents because they were not doing well either. By the time Victoria arrived, my daddy was on morphine and his breaths were shallow and few. Within an hour of Victoria’s arrival, my daddy, surrounded by his big beautiful family, breathed his last breath on earth. I could envision the angels singing and Jesus taking him by the hand to the place He prepared just for my daddy—after all, that’s a promise Jesus has made to all of us (John 14:1-4).
The following words are from my journal:
As Scott, Victoria and I drove back to mamma’s house in the truck Aunt Priscilla had lent us, I cried . . . not for daddy because I knew he was amidst the biggest, most glorious celebration in heaven; but for mamma and the rest of us. My head was bowed most of the ride. Though I knew it was real, somehow it felt surreal. When we got to the house, someone (I cannot remember who) asked if I had seen the rainbow on the way home. I hadn’t even looked up during the ride. So, I missed the gift God had for us—the comfort that God had fulfilled His covenant with me. Daddy is healed and with God.
All of my family saw that rainbow and remembered what I had told them about the rainbow and God’s promise. Though some things that happened in those days are all a blur, these things are as clear as if they’d happened today.
As Victoria was making her way home, she called me. She was very upset about her Pawpaw, and she wanted to know if he knew she was there. Now I must tell you that at this point in her life she was not a believer—or so she said. God’s Holy Spirit led me to have a conversation with her about this. I told her I wanted to tell her three things. All she had to do was listen. She didn’t need to respond. I said, “First, yes, your Pawpaw knew you were there. He knew you were coming, and he waited for you. Second, Pawpaw is now with God because of his faith. God’s got him. Third, God loves Pawpaw and God loves you so very much. He wants you to be with Him forever.” Victoria did not respond. However, I had hoped that she was pondering all these things in her heart.
My siblings and I went to the funeral home the next day to make funeral arrangements. My daddy had taken care of all the details except for picking out his casket. Taking care of the details was a gift to us all. I’ve been on both sides of this situation—as the one grieving the loss of a loved one and as the pastor trying to guide the family through this most difficult process of what many consider “final goodbyes” and “closure.” Making any decisions at a time like this is extremely difficult. You might think that picking out a casket shouldn’t be that hard. However, there were five of us trying to decide on one casket.
Well, there we were walking around looking at caskets asking, “Which one would daddy like?” There were many choices. One sib would say, “What about this one?” Another would have a reason why not. Another sib would say, “Okay, how about this one?” There were five of us, and each had our favorite choice. My little sister even said, “This one is it.” When asked why, she said, “It’s made of pecan wood and daddy loved pecans!” Then we started laughing because it seemed funny. Ultimately, our big brother, David, chose a stainless-steel casket to go in a sealed vault. It seems he couldn’t think about his daddy being buried in the ground and what happens after that. I talked a bit to him about the Scripture, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and how this was the natural order of things. But in his grief, he couldn’t think about that and just wanted the best for daddy. So, we all agreed. We finished with the funeral home and drove back to mamma’s house.
On the way home, I got a phone call from Victoria. I answered, and she said, “I’m really freaked out right now!” I asked her to tell me about it. Victoria is a tattoo artist, and she said, “The first tattoo for me to do since PawPaw died, this man walks in and wants the name Billy encased in angels’ wings.” My daddy’s name was Billy. Billy encased in angels’ wings—if that’s not God speaking, then nothing is! This made me smile. I said to Victoria, “Let me tell you something. God is speaking to you in terms you would understand—through a tattoo! God is telling you that PawPaw is with Him and that He loves you so much, He wants you to be with Him too.” After I told her this, she repeated how freaked out she was and we essentially ended the call. I shared this with my siblings, and we were all overwhelmed by God’s provision of assurance for each of us. I thought “If this doesn’t convince my daughter that God exists, nothing will.” I also thought that surely in the next day or two I’d be hearing from her about how she became a believer.
Let me stop here and tell you I believe God somehow persuaded the man who got the tattoo to visit Victoria’s tattoo studio just at that time. This man cooperated with God and walked into Victoria’s tattoo studio. It’s not that I believe God hadn’t been trying to lovingly persuade her to open her heart to God. On the contrary, God is always wooing us, or trying to woo us, into God’s life as God desires to be a part of our lives. Until that moment in time, Victoria did not have an open mind or an open heart towards God. It’s hard to reconcile a good God with all the bad in the world. But in that moment, it is like Victoria could now see clearly what she was blind to before.
Back to my story. Let me tell you, it was a long six months before I saw the fruit of the tattoo! Six months later Victoria showed up to the church I was pastoring. She asked to be anointed. We shared Holy Communion together. I know it’s hard to believe, but it was in fact a tattoo that wooed my daughter to become a believer. God, in God’s persuasive love, speaks to each of us in terms we will understand. God has communicated with me through dreams, rainbows, a tattoo, nature, a labyrinth, other people and oh so many more ways. My part in all of this is expecting God to speak and being ready to hear and to cooperate with God’s work. Even though Victoria was not “expecting” God to speak, it was clear enough for her to understand it was indeed God. I guess we could say that God used “sign language” to communicate with her. I cooperated with God as I helped my daughter understand what was happening. God will not force God’s will on us. Instead, God will patiently wait for us to open up to God’s invitation to join God in God’s work. Sometimes, God needs a little help getting others’ attention or helping others to understand what might be happening. That’s where I cooperated with God to work through this amazing event.
Many of us miss those times that God uses “sign language” with us because we are not expecting it. We instead expect to hear God audibly in a loud thunder of a voice. That has not been my experience. However, I experience God in so many ways, it is hard to number.
I have to wonder; how does God speak to you? Have you missed God’s “sign language”? Do you expect God to speak to you? Are you ready to respond and cooperate?
Question: How might this story change your ideas about how God interacts with us?
Deanna M. Young is an Executive Pastor at Wildwood Church in Texas. She earned her M.Div. from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Young is author of Connecting the Dots, Connecting Everyday Life Experiences with Spiritual Truths, (Equip Press 2017). She is working on her Doctoral Degree through the Center for Open and Relational Theology, Northwind Seminary.
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.