How My Tattoo Came to Symbolize a Friendship & Much More
by Carrie Ballenger Smith
Editor's Note: Todays Tat Tale comes to us from the ancient city of Jerusalem! Carrie's story shows us that true friendships often come regardless of our initial skepticism in the perceived value of that relationship. It also reveals that a deeper relationship with God can show us just how magnificent (and radical) the promises are: the Infinite One chooses to say, "Me too." - Enjoy! DDM
As we walked into the tattoo studio on Belmont in Chicago, I was distracted, doing some math in my head.
“Eight years,” I said to my friend Stacy.
“Eight years what?”
“It was eight years ago we first talked about doing this!”
Eight years ago, Stacy was struggling to exit a marriage, and I was struggling to exit grad school. We lived a few blocks away from each other in Hyde Park, blocks of pavement well-worn by frequent trips back and forth for mutual encouragement over a glass (or two) of wine.
Eight years ago, the tattoo conversation started as a joke, sort of a “when this mess is over, we’re doing something crazy” thing.
When this divorce is final...
When I’m finally ordained...
Stacy and I became fast friends about three years before the tattoo idea was birthed, in spite of our bad attitudes and very low expectations. My spouse Robert met Stacy, an Episcopal priest, at a campus minister’s conference in Chicago. Knowing we were soon moving into her neighborhood, Robert took the opportunity to tell her all about me. We still laugh about how he decided to describe me as a “stay at home mom of two living in Waco, Texas”, which didn’t exactly sell Stacy on the idea that we would have much in common! (I might have described myself as a “music teacher, certified doula, and midwifery student considering a return to seminary”, but whatever…)
When Robert returned to Waco and we were packing for the big move to Chicago, he in turn told me about Stacy, saying, “You two are going to be best friends.” My sharp response was, “Who told you you could pick my friends?!”
It turns out he was right. When we moved to Chicago, I have a memory of begrudgingly inviting Stacy over for dinner and five hours into the conversation we realized we forgot to put the kids to bed. This became an all-too-familiar pattern. (Just ask our kids!)
Stacy heard my first (terrible) sermons, and commiserated with me when sexism in the church made me want to scream. She was my cheerleader when I doubted myself whether could really make the transition from “pastor’s wife” to “pastor.”
I accompanied Stacy to court dates and custody hearings, and helped perform a house blessing/exorcism at her parsonage during the ugly years of divorce proceedings. I was her cheerleader when she wondered who would ever want to date a divorced priest with two kids.
A few years ago, with great joy, Robert presided over Stacy’s marriage to a wonderful guy, John, in front of their favorite painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.
So now, after eleven years of friendship, a decade of shared Thanksgivings, one divorce, two graduations, one ordination, two new churches, some heartbreaking parenting moments, one new great love for Stacy, one giant move for me (to serve as Lutheran pastor in Jerusalem), and eight years of talking about it, there we were:
Two lady priests, walking into a tattoo shop on Belmont Avenue in Chicago.
Stacy went first, choosing an intricate image of St. Brigid’s Cross on her upper arm. She wasn’t supposed to talk while the artist was working, so I tried to think of something encouraging to say.
“If it hurts,” I said, “Just think how much better this is than those awful years were for you.”
“Nope,” she replied. “This is why I’m glad we waited. This isn’t about that struggle. This is about my strength. This is for where I am today.”
See why I love her?!
I chose a Jerusalem cross, the symbol of the city where I’ve served as pastor for two years now. There are many interpretations of this cross. Some say the four small crosses are for the four corners of the world. Some say they represent the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Still others say the five crosses together represent the wounds of Christ.
I like that last interpretation. When I look at my tattoo, it reminds me of Galatians 6:17:
“From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.”
It also makes me think of this quote I came across recently:
So when I see my Jerusalem cross tattoo, I remember that no matter what I’ve been through—or what may be to come—God has said, “Me too.”
It occurs to me that Me Too is also a great title for the story of a friendship.
Thanks, dear friend, for everything. I see you finally got that tattoo! Me, too.
Click on the images below to scroll.
About the Author
The Rev. Carrie Ballenger Smith serves as pastor of the English-speaking congregation at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem and as special assistant to Bishop Munib Younan. A graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, she was the recipient of the 2013 Brave Preacher Award from The Beatitudes Society. She posts sermons and other writings at http://knitpurlpraypreach.blogspot.com
Her tattooed friend, the Rev. Stacy Alan, is equally awesome, and can be found causing trouble at Brent House Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of Chicago: http://brenthouse.org