Tattoos, Longsuffering, and the Grace of God
by Teresa Ortiz
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I hate tattoos. Pure and simple—I make no apologies. Before you judge me, hear me out. It’s all my husband’s fault.
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, I was dating a guy named Art. He and one of our mutual friends decided they wanted to go for an afternoon cruise on their motorcycles.
“No, we are not going to get a tattoo”, they say. “You better not”, I say, knowing this is exactly what they were going to do.
So there I sat, for what seemed like all day, stewing—just waiting for them to come back by my house. A few hours later, I hear the bikes pull up. Being the wonderful girlfriend that I was, I ran out to greet them.
“Hi Art”, I say while hitting him as hard as I can in the arm. “How was your ride?”
“Just fine, thanks”, he says while his eyes begin to water.
What followed was a big fight and being a Christian woman, I can’t repeat the gory details. Although, I wasn’t a Christian when we were dating, so hitting him in the arm gave me great pleasure—and just so you know, I can hit hard. I don’t through punches like a girlie-girl.
What was the tattoo of you ask? It was the “Coors” label—you know--the beer.
Yeah, that’s the one, with the cute red ribbon underneath the word.
Fast-forward a bit. We are happily married with two small children. I am now a God-fearing, good Christian woman. My attitude and use of language long-since changed from that fateful day, 13-years, 3- months, 4-days, and 12-minutes ago. Well, maybe I’m off on the minutes, the point is, I forgave him for that first tattoo.
(Seriously, I did—okay, I am lying.)
During the 13-years that passed, my wonderful husband would talk about how someday he was going to finish this tattoo. Meaning, he was going to have the waterfall that is underneath the label added. My husband is very anal and anything half-done, drives him insane--which for the most part, works in my favor—except in this case.
I would tell him how hurt and angry I would be if he did. I told him I would never speak to him again. I would beg him not to do it.
Well, one day, about 10 years ago, he had to work out of town for a week. Each night he would call and talk with the kids and then we would say our goodbyes.
Mid-way through the week, he didn’t call—and then I knew, he was getting that stupid tattoo finished. Some women might worry about their husbands cheating on them, but I had it bad; I had to worry about the tattoo. Trying to be a good Christian woman, I did my best not to stew or build up anger in my heart. I was even praying. Three days later, he came home as scheduled. We said our hellos, but something was different. He had guilt written all over his face, and he made a mad dash for the shower.
At this point, my temperature is beginning to rise. Calm down, I say to myself.
Once, out of the shower, he shows me his arm. There it was--a waterfall, underneath the word Coors. He even had the ribbon re-colored. After all, it faded after 13-years!
Did I say good-Christian woman? What good-Christian woman! Every foul word I had discarded from my vocabulary came back right on queue. I was so angry I couldn’t even think straight—what was that the Bible talked about? Longsuffering, you bet he was going to suffer long, that much I could guarantee! Now that is what I call practicing what you preach!
Do you know what his response was? “If I would have known you were going to get this mad, I wouldn’t have done it.”
This was not one of his wiser moments, to say the least.
After all the yelling and cursing I did, you want to know what the worst part of all this was? It was the fact that I was going to have to forgive him--but not before we practiced the longsuffering thing.
Two-weeks went by, I did not speak to him, and I was miserable. God was working overtime on me.
He did change my heart, and the joy I received the first time around for making Art suffer, was not to be found this time. I pleaded with God—why do I have to forgive him, it's not fair, that tattoo is always going to there, isn’t that letting him off the hook? You really want me to apologize for over-reacting.
The shame came over me like a ton of bricks. God allowed me to take a good look at my own life. What parts of my personality drive Art crazy, parts that will never go away—yet he “let’s me off the hook”, because he loves me. Moreover, how many times has God let me off the hook? I sought the Lord’s forgiveness.
I won’t lie, it took a long time for me to fully forgive Art, but the more I understood the grace of God in my life, the more the tattoo seemed to fade—until I couldn’t see it anymore.
God has used this tattoo to reveal a much bigger picture to me. There are people in our lives or situations that will always be with us by nature of our humanity. We have a choice to make, we can choose to over-look them and appreciate the good so we can enjoy life, or we can pout because we don’t get our way. The choice is ours. The Bible tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. These are all one in the same. It is one fruit with all of these qualities—not plural meaning, as long as you have one of these attributes, your doing good. It’s all or nothing.
Longsuffering is the toughest part of the fruit because it requires personal surrender and setting selfish pride and desires aside for the sake of grace and love for another person.
God himself is longsuffering. This means that he “let’s us off the hook” (forgives) for our sin when we seek his mercy. He loves us so much; he surrendered His life so that we may live.
What is the “tattoo” in your life? Don’t make someone else suffer long for their mistake, exercise grace—the same grace you receive when you make a mistake.
Once I was honest with myself and took a good look in the mirror, I would have to say that I probably have more “tattoos” than my husband does. I am sure glad he doesn’t make me suffer long.
I lied to you in the beginning. It’s not Art’s fault, it is mine, for being selfish and not listening to what he was saying. Ultimately,it was all about me and that’s not okay.
One of these days, I’m going to get a Budweiser tattoo across my chest to let Art know all is forgiven. What can I say—old habits die hard.
© Teresa Ortiz 2007
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