Sunday, July 10, 2011

Confessions of a Missionary Part Dos: I have a [real] tattoo.

Whew! I've wanted to say that for a long time.

To some of you, this is a shock. Maybe I even just dropped a few notches in your book.
To some of you, you wonder what the big deal is. You have twelve tattoos and you're getting another one tomorrow.
And some of you just don't care. This is petty to you. [If this is you, don't feel obligated to keep reading.]

Regardless, this is a relief for me to say. Why?
Because it's on my ankle and I've been trying to hide it for 2.5 years, that's why. That's not an easy task for goodness sake. Imagine: summertime = shorts + trying to hide a very obvious tattoo that is clearly [and permanently] etched into your ankle = very difficult

Why have I tried to hide it? After all, I was the one who consciously got the thing! It's a long story. So, if you're up for it, take a few minutes to read a little bit of my story...

I come from a very conservative background and I'm--wait for it-- a missionary. If you can relate to either of those, you understand the taboo-ness of tattoos in this realm. They are right up there with going to movies and reading from modern translations of the Bible. Unacceptable! Sinful even.

If you don't, however, come from a conservative background and/or you're not a missionary then you have no clue what I'm talking about. As a matter of fact, you may have several tats that are clearly visible and you proudly display them. Maybe you and your Pastor have matching tattoos. I don't know. But regardless, you don't see what the big deal is.

Allow me to explain.

When I was about 11 years old I developed a religious form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). (Google it. It's not uncommon.) I had been taught, whether purposefully or not, a checklist Christianity.

Read your Bible. Check.
Pray. Check.
Tell people about Jesus. Check.
Don't cuss. Check.
Don't drink. Check.
Don't smoke. Check.
Don't get tattoos. Check.
And Jesus will be happy with you. Check... right? Or did I miss something? I don't want Jesus mad at me. Let me try this again..... Read your Bible. Check. Pray. Check.........and so commences the OCD.

[I'm being transparent here. I hope it doesn't make you too uncomfortable... or maybe it should.]

I was obsessed, but not with Jesus Himself. Not with knowing God. Not with loving Him and humbly serving Him. I was obsessed with the motions. I wanted to "do the right things" so I could somehow be in favor with God. I wanted to be a "good person", not one of those "bad people" who did do all these things that I didn't do. Sinners.

I distinctly remember some of my thought processes. I would pray using the "right words" (Heavenly Father, Lord, in Jesus name, Amen, etc.), on my knees, hands folded. At one point I remember being afraid that I wasn't saying "Amen" correctly. I had heard it pronounced "Ah-men" and I had heard it pronounced "A-men". Which was right? Which did God want to hear? I'd use both, just in case.

I would carry tracts around with me and place them in random places. I would become anxious as I tried to decide if I should leave it under the windshield wiper or in the door handle. What would Jesus do? Should I leave two tracts? Maybe three?

I would read my Bible but I found myself reading the same verses over and over. What if I was missing what God was saying to me? I would read the genealogies word for word. Gotta read every jot and tittle. Right? Don't want to displease God.

I had to be at church every time the doors were opened. Every. Time. That meant every youth activity, every Old-Fashioned Revival, every prayer meeting, e-v-e-r-y-t-i-m-e. And I was sure to wear a dress or a skirt. That's what Christian girls do.

I had the t-shirts. I had the devotional books. I did my "Quiet Time" and had the points to show for it every Wednesday night at small group check[list]-in. I brought my KJV Bible. I took notes.  I had preachers sign my Bible. I brought my Bible with me to my public school. I went to See You At The Pole. I even did a report once on Billy Graham (again at my public school). I wore panty hose in the winter.

I was doing all the right things. I was a "good Christian girl". I was a "good spiritual example". I was pleasing God.

Right?? I was pleasing Him, wasn't I?

Wait, did I pray the "salvation prayer right"? Did I mean it with all my heart? What if I only meant it with some of my heart? Did I know "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that I would go to Heaven? How much doubt is that, exactly?

This went on for years.
On the outside, I was a "good Christian girl".  
On the inside, I was empty and stifled. 
I was suffocating in well-intended Religion.

I had crammed myself into the "Christian mold". I did all the right things. I followed the checklist obsessively because I was taught to do all of the things to be a "good Christian". That was what Christ looks for: obedience to these rules. You know you love God when you do these things.

I never stopped to question it. That would be wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

Fast-forward a bit. It was 2008 and I was 22 years old. I had finished Bible school (check), married to my high school sweetheart, working at a ministry (check) and was just accepted as a missionary to begin raising support to go to the foreign field full time (check)... and I was so cramped inside the Christian mold after 11 years of living by the checklist, I was ready to throw all of Christianity away.

If this was what it was all about, no thank you.

And I was frustrated. Maybe even angry. I had done ALL the right things. I went to church. I stayed pure for marriage. I went to Bible school. I did all these things. I couldn't be holier if I had been born on a church pew.

But I was empty. I was walking this walk that I was told was in the right direction but I felt so out of place.

Somewhere along the way, while checking off my list, I had overlooked the fact that God looks on the heart. All my efforts? Useless. All my attempts to please God? Worthless. Why? Because they weren't from the heart. They were in an effort to make myself somehow worthy of God's love.

So there I was in the midst of a spiritual identity crisis. I believed that Christ as the only way to Heaven.  I genuinely wanted to serve Him. But I was disconnected. I didn't "feel it".

And I was determined. I was determined to break out of this Christian mold once and for all. I was tired of being seen as a "good Christian girl" on the outside and wanted to prove that you could indeed love Jesus and not obey all of these man-made rules of modern Christianity.

What better way than a tattoo? It was edgy. It was unexpected. And it was permanent.

So that's what I did. I got a tattoo (see pic below). But what's funny, looking back, is I was in some way still enslaved to the checklist good-girl mentality because I got a tattoo of the Hebrew word "to have faith". At least it was a "good tattoo".

"So there!" I thought, "Maybe I'm not such a good girl after all. Boo-ya!"

Um. So. Now what? I found myself even more conflicted after this. Now I had this permanent fixture on my ankle and I still felt trapped.
There was still an emptiness in my heart.

And I suddenly felt the need to hide it. What would everyone think?? Ashley got a tattoo! She's gone off the deep end. She's rebellious. She'll never be a good missionary now. How can she lead another culture to Christ with a tattoo? Oh, not Ashley!

So I hid it. For 2.5 years I've hidden it.

But then through a series of events, I began a journey about a year and a half ago that has transformed me. I began studying for myself. I began being myself. I began to feel alive. And it has absolutely positively nothing to do with reading my Bible. It doesn't even have to do with praying or being good or moral. I didn't even have to get a tattoo to figure it out.

It's like God took a razor blade to that box I was in and revealed to me that He doesn't fit in there after all.

My life was transformed when I realized that it's just not all about me after all. It's not about what I do. It's not about what I say. It's not about who I appeal to.

It's all about Christ. It's all about Him. He died so I could be free. He died so I didn't have to have religion. He died so I could love Him. He died so I could love my brothers and sisters. He died so I could LIVE.

And the ironic thing about it all? Now I want to know Him. I want to read His Word. I want to pray and talk to Him. I want to share Him with others because He is just so good.

And I don't have to do anything at all but love Him. The rest just starts to come naturally.

So I threw my checklist away so to speak. And I'm free. I'm free to tell you unashamedly that I have a tattoo. And Christ doesn't love me any less for it. It's part of my story and who I am.

[Before you go all Leviticus 19:28 on me, stop for a minute. Go back a couple of verses to Leviticus 19:19 and make sure you aren't wearing clothing made of mixed materials. Yeah. Exactly.]


So take a minute and ask yourself:

Have you been living a checklist Christianity?
Have you been believing things because it's what you've always believed?
Have you been holding standards for other people that aren't even in the Bible?

Are you in love with Christ or your checklist?

Are you serving the true Christ or a Christ that's been manufactured by modern Christianity?



11 comments:

  1. The tattoo is beautiful! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4
    Whoohoo!!! I love you Ashley!
    Rach

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  2. Richard and AshleyJuly 10, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    Thanks, Rach! I waited a loong time to post this and those verses are beautiful and exactly why I hit the post button [finally].

    God is so good.
    Love you!
    Ashley

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  3. (I got here from your comment on Rachel Held Evans' blog). I love the tattoo! I have the Hebrew word for "joy" on my left forearm. For me, tattoos really are an extension of my faith and my worldview and there are some things that are just so beautiful that I can't NOT carry them with me. For you, a small act of rebellion. For me, an act of faith. Interesting how they're different, eh?

    I've had my tattoo for 5 years next month, and I'm planning on getting my second one soon. This one will be larger and will be the last four lines of Tennyson's "Ulysses": "That which we are we are / one equal temper of heroic hearts / made weak by time and fate but strong in will / to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

    Kudos to you on finally revealing this "secret." :)

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  4. Richard and AshleyJuly 10, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    Thanks for sharing Diana! I'm hoping that by finally being "real", I can help people who have gone/are going through what I went through. Wouldn't it be nice if we were all just "real"?

    Love the quote, by the way :)

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  5. Wow! This could take a long time to respond to...You should be ashamed young lady!!! LOL!!! Believe it or not, after mine and Joyce's experience this morning after we skipped church (check)and allowed God himself to minister to us(can you imagine that...God actually ministered to us outside of the "church"?) Anyway, after some holy enlightening, I heard this voice, you know that permanent one that follows you around after you've been redeemed? It said, and I quote, "remove that blog post about the NIV! (By the way, this NIV stuff took me by total surprise...I had no idea! But whether right or wrong, "Who Am I?" Isn't it ironic that this phrase is the title of my blog?) So there you go Ashley---oh how sweet a saviour we have! How precious he sometimes makes me feel when He comes along side and shows me what He wants from my life and starts removing things from the checklist. Thanks for your boldness! I take all this as confirmation from Him. We all need to do some surfing "outside the box"

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  6. Ashley,
    Perfect! You have made me smile this morning:) I have not, in fact, been struggling about tattoos... Not really about checklists either. I have been questioning the purpose of the times when my answers from God and His directives to me do not add up with those of those Christians around me. Why is this, I always wonder. Why would God speak to me in this way while showing others something completely different. Many times it even puts me at odds with those I love and respect. They truth is, I am not satisfied by the status quo and I long for the personal nature of God in my life. Therefore, the checklist does not fit anymore, God is doing something else. It is an odd feeling because the other way was so comfortable and everyone likes that version of you...the one who complies and agrees and defers. Thank you for allowing God to "personalize" you for His purpose. If we truly want Him to use us, He will have to set us apart, that may involve the discomfort of some established notions. He is just so worth that!

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  7. Richard and AshleyJuly 11, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Thanks for sharing, Keith. You're right. It IS time we all start "surfing outside the box"... after all, God's not in a box anyway!

    Mom to 2: I can totally relate to you on that. Here is a good blog that I read yesterday about getting along with those who may not agree with you on spiritual matters (or even theological ones): http://rachelheldevans.com/guest-post-david-nilsen

    Thanks for your kind words! And, yes, He is definitely worth it!

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  8. Ashley, this is an amazing story of freedom in Christ! Your story reveals that being a good Christian does not enable us to see Christ. Seeing Christ enables us to be good Christians. Checklists are useless (Col 2:20-3:2) because nothing we do makes us any more or less acceptable in His sight (Rom 3:20). We have no fear of praying the wrong thing because we don’t know what to pray for in the first place so His Spirit intercedes (Rom 8:26). So how can a loving God require perfection when perfection is impossible (Rom 7:24)? We walk in the Spirit (Rom 8:4) and have the freedom to do whatever we want to do. The funny thing is, all this freedom makes us slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18).

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  9. Love it! It is for Freedom He has set us Free!!! Amen and Amen! Errr..Ahmen? Whatever! :)

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  10. Richard and AshleyJuly 11, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    Thanks for the encouraging words, "Anonymous" :) So very, very true!


    Haha! Love it, Liz! :D

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  11. Okay, after reading this post, I KNOW I have seen your family in Leticia. We were eating at a bakery & I saw two white headed children & a little indigenous girl walk by with two white parents. ;) I saw the tattoo on your ankle & said to my husband "i think her tattoo is hebrew! Maybe they are missionaries too." And then I heard you guys speak portuguese & thought you busy might be brazillian...but i always prayed we would run into you guys again. who knew it would be on the internet? ;)

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