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What My Tattoo Means to Me – Part 3

So many interesting people … A few weeks ago I wrote this article about the meaning in my own tattoo—three small blue stars. I received quite a response from other inked brothers and sisters in Christ. I posted a few of those responses already. Here are some more:

A reminder of freedom

My love affair with tattoos began when I was a little boy. My father had two small birds inked on both shoulders sometime around Vietnam when he was stationed overseas. I remember, as I was growing up, many summer nights were spent in front of the TV; my dad laying on his stomach and me on his back. I would trace his tattoos with my finger and just stare at the colors; imagining the day I could get some.

As a teenager I would use markers to scrawl little designs and pictures on my arms and legs; just as colorful as my dad’s. So it was only natural that I would get a tattoo when I was old enough. From the day I turned 15 I begged my folks to allow me some body art. They refused. In fact, they forbid me. And then when I turned 16 they started to crack. They started to talk about why I wanted one and what I would get if I got one. So, on my 16th birthday, it happened. I headed out to northern Virginia to get my first tattoo.

It wasn’t until eight years later when I was in Jacksonville, Florida that I got the tattoo of which I am most proud and the one I feel most connected to. Coincidentally, it is my fifth tattoo and the least artistic of them all. I had been feeling the presence of the Lord in my life more strongly than ever. I had been meditating on a certain verse for some time—2 Corinthians 3:17. I was struggling very hard to realize what freedom in my life was—freedom not by cultural definition but by spiritual definition. God had been freeing me from so many things and through this season in my life came my tattoo. On my left wrist I got a small black dove. It is rather "tribal" but very recognizable. Underneath is written 47::3::17. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." As I sat in the artist chair with my arm extended outward, palm up, I thought of my salvation and my journey to true freedom.

So, is this the part that is most interesting? No. The most interesting part is that each day now when someone sees my wrist they ask me what it says. They guess the date or the number or whatever they think it is. And then I am afforded the opportunity to tell them of my freedoms, my victory in life through Jesus … and a few black lines.

– Andrew M. Odom

The love of a mother

During my college years, I didn’t get along with my mom very well. I think a lot of it started brewing around the time that my mom turned 50 and decided to finish her own schooling and become a teacher. I was very proud of her for this, but it put us into a situation where we were sharing classes at community college. It was kind of a novelty for the first week or so, but you can imagine how cool it became to be a guy in your early 20s sitting next to your mom in math class. "Did you get your homework done?" takes on a whole new meaning when your mom has been assigned the same thing. Compound this situation with the fact that independence and getting out of the house was at the forefront of my mind … it was basically the perfect storm. That year we both said a lot of things that we didn’t mean, or maybe things that we did mean at the time but later regretted.

I ended up leaving to go to a university in the fall and finally got to live in the same town as my long distance girlfriend (who is now my wife). So the independence problem was being resolved, but probably not so much the relationship with mom. I majored in art and graphic design with a lot of focus on serigraphy (screen printing). When studying art history in light of screen printing, you learn a lot about pop artists like Andy Warhol who worked with appropriated images and collage.

So I had this idea for a particular assignment that would combine a couple images. The first being a classic image of Christ from the side of a prayer candle. I owned one of these candles, which itself was a point of "discussion" with my mom. Being raised Baptist, she didn’t see any need for such an object in the house. I assured her that I didn’t plan on praying to it, and I only enjoyed it for its cheesy aesthetic value and she pretty much let it be.

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The second image was mom’s senior portrait. The photo always stuck in my head as very iconic, as if it belonged in a stained glass window. or on the side of a candle. I don’t know exactly what my motivation was to do it. I think partly there was this sarcastic attitude of "Look at my mom, the saint."

When you screen print, especially once you get the hang of it, there’s a lot of time to think. Once the initial design is done, you have to print each color individually. This one was nine colors, and it took about an hour for each one. Half way through the whole process I start realizing the weight of what I was doing. “I’m putting my mom’s face on the body of Christ. What am I thinking? What does this mean? Is this blasphemous? Is God trying to tell me something?”

This photo of mom brings a lot to my mind. She would have been a few years younger than I was at the time. She didn’t yet know what her life would bring. The pain of three miscarriages, wondering if she could even have children for seven years before having me. Then spending most of her pregnancy with me lying in bed, praying that God would allow me to live and that I would know and love Him someday. Seeing her this young reminds me of my childhood, when she was my best friend in the world. When if there was ever an example in my life of Christ-like love, this was it. And more than that, I knew that this love never changed. In spite of every fight, backhanded comment and flippant attitude, this love would endure in spite of it all. I don’t know if I could describe the love that Christ Himself has for me any differently.

"The Sacred Heart of Mother" won an honorable mention that year at a student show. I told my wife this whole story of what the image means to me and how I never want to forget it. She said, "You’ve always wanted tattoos, I can’t think of a better idea than this for your first one." I told her that sounded pretty crazy. A year later I had it done on Mother’s Day.

– Tony Streeter

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