It was 1996. I was a 21 year old youth intern. I had so much to learn and in the same breath was more enthusiastic than ever about doing ministry. One of the great jokes of youth ministry is that no one in the church understands what you do, so therefore you must not DO anything. As a college age summer intern you do many things, but to an outsider, most of them look like play and travel. True.
My first ministry job included planning and leading and organizing. It involved long bus rides and sleepless nights. I worked with another 20-something single person, our idea of good planning was securing the van keys and not losing kids. Most of the time the first was successful, but I cannot always stay the same for the second. Like the one time that the middle of the night game of hide and seek went south and we found a junior high boy climbing through the ceiling tiles to find the perfect hiding spot. Junior high is a special time.
That summer, I learned so much. Like how not to get caught wrapping the church trees. I also walked into the heartbreaking side of grown-up life in the real world. That summer I made a CPS reporting call for the first time, I walked alongside a suicidal teenager and I realized that sometimes growing up means recognizing when one season is over and the next season is beginning.
It was in this new season that I began making noise about a symbol of adulthood. While it hard to imagine in 2017, there was a time when not everyone had tattoos. In fact it was something that many rebellious folks were taking on, usually in quarter sized artwork that could often be found on a hip or ankle. For almost 3 years, I had been pondering an image in my mind. As I finished my first summer of ministry, it was time. My mother was appalled. I can remember calling an MRI imaging center, because in one of there lesser moments, she made a case for avoiding tattoo because you will NEVER be able to have a MRI if you get a tattoo. Wrong.
To conclude the already eventful summer, I spent a July Saturday night participating an a little permanent bonding with my boss. I tattooed an ichthus on my hip. But true to my own style, I added a unique element. The fish was in motion, alive and breathing out the breath of life. From its mouth came three bubbles – one for my childhood, one for my college years and one for the future. The original design had symbolically colored bubbles, but I settled on black. Years later, my mom told me it looked like a cockroach, but its still one of my favorite pieces. Skin art would be one of the many ways that I came to tell my story in the days ahead.