People often ask me about my tattoo, it’s a beautiful water colour piece with a black cross in the middle on my left forearm.
Today, I’m finally ready to share the story. Trigger warning: self harm and suicidal ideation are mentioned. It isn’t easy to think about, write or share these words and so I have hesitated for the two years since I got my tattoo but I felt deep within my bones that I want others to understand the ending enough that the story is worth sharing, so with that:
I had a very turbulent adolescent experience. Many stories about that will be purposeful as I navigate the waters of raising teenagers myself, but today I will spare you the details and just say things were very hard for me.
I first learned about non-suicidal self injury (NSSI) from a friend. She described to me the relief she felt in the moment of wanting to explode with rage, or sadness, and the physical pain she gave to herself was a temporary escape from the emotional pain she was experiencing.
It wasn’t long after that curiosity got the best of me and I began a long habit of self harming to cope with the pain I was feeling from the situations around me that as a child I seemed so helpless against. In hindsight, I wish I had have found healthier avenues to deal with my pain.
Most of my inflictions were minor, small and often hidden in places where they could not be seen. But, this behaviour began to seduce my mind to the considerations of suicide and ending my emotional pain once and for all.
I had toyed with the thought often, but never because I had truly wanted to die. More because I just wanted the pain to be over with. One time, temptation got the best of me, and instead of a small cut, I made a bigger one and in the direction that people do when they are trying to end their life.
I am ashamed that I was emotionally so distraught that this was a coping mechanism for me – but I was a child, struggling, and drowning, with no one behind me cheering me on. The pain of feeling unwanted was too much for me. I thought I couldn’t handle it. My saving grace was that the physical pain of the cut was too severe for me to do enough damage.
In time, this incision, like all the others healed. But it bothered me greatly, the vertical scar it left upon my forearm, reminding me of the emotionally difficult time that I was so stuck. So helpless. So unwanted. Or, so I had believed.
When I think back to those incredibly hard times I realize how little value I saw in myself. I was unwanted by those who were suppose to love me unconditionally. I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t have hope. I literally had nothing but negativity and saw no way out.
Things are very different now, I am happy to say.
That “it gets better” campaign to try and prevent suicides was absolutely true in my case. As an adult, I found people who do love me. I learned about the pain of others and can understand why they make the decisions that they do. I was able to get out of the circumstances that left me feeling so helpless. I now have control over my life and I am genuinely so happy.
But, the scars of our past remain. And so my nasty scar remained. An ever-present reminder that I have an ugly past in which I did not know my value as a person. Every once in a while, I would find myself struggling, triggered by something from my past that followed me to my current life and the feelings of worthlessness would slip in.
Just as there was a physical scar on my body, so too, was there one in my mind.
I don’t just talk about Jesus because I am commanded to, or I think I’ll get gold stars in heaven one day, but because He alone can and did remove the damage of the past.
The more I grew in my faith, understood the Bible, learned the truths about Jesus, the more the feelings of worthlessness subsided. The more I saw myself as intentionally created with a purpose the more I loved my existence. The more I understood that things society says are not so great about me, God gave me to create me uniquely with a purpose only I could fulfill.
The more I read verses like 1 Peter 5:7, telling me to give my worries to God because He cares for me, the more I see that I am valuable and loved beyond anything I could recognize before. I am deeply loved by the God who created me.
The more I pray and feel a peace that passes all understanding, the more I recognize that God was with me all along, I just did not know how to reach to Him for help.
The more I walk alongside Jesus trying to be more like Him, the more anger I rid healthily through forgiveness that release me from the bitterness I carried for years.
The more I listened to praise and worship, the more I realized the truth of the artist’s words in my own life. I am redeemed. You set me free. My chains are gone.
I decided to cover the ugly physical scar on my arm up with a beautiful collage of colour adorned with the very symbol of Christianity: the empty cross.
The cross, like my scar, is a symbol of darkness. Jesus Christ was a real man who walked this earth and was killed in the most painful and humiliating way upon a cross. The Bible and many other eyewitness texts attest to this fact.
The thing is, what the world meant for bad – the humiliating death on the cross – Jesus used for good. He sacrificed himself willingly and lovingly to tell each of us our value, to allow us the luxury of being able to go close to God.
It is no fluke you are reading this today. God has a plan for each of us, and Jesus has provided us with the tools to understand our worth. I believe with all my heart that God wants you to know you are incredibly valuable and loved beyond measure. You were created with a purpose, and for a purpose. The Bible tells us he even knows every hair on our head.
The empty cross, a symbol of victory over darkness was the perfect way to cover my ugly scar.
You can’t see it unless you look really close, but the black cross of my tattoo runs right over it. Jesus Himself has given me victory over darkness. He has helped me cover up something ugly with something beautiful in more ways than one.
The good that I have in my life? All him. If left to my own devices, I would still be angry, bitter and struggling. Honestly, I would probably be an alcoholic, no word of a lie. I doubt I would be married, and I certainly wouldn’t be the Mom I am today.
Some days, if I’m honest, I still take the burden of emotional trauma back on, but then I remind myself I am free from it. Because of this promise from the Bible, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
All the ugliness of my past – it is not magically gone, but I’m dealing with it.
The way I see myself now in comparison to how I saw myself then is completely the opposite, and for that I am so thankful. When you know your worth, when you know your value, when you know your purpose, you are much stronger and have endless hope. That is where I draw my strength from to continue fighting to be healed. That is what Jesus has given me.
That is what the empty cross has given millions.
So, when I talk about Jesus, or the Bible, or prayer, or any “religious” things I am not trying to come across as holier than thou or as annoying. Rather, I am just trying to share with you the greatest part of my life. The liberation. The freedom. The love. The peace. The joy. The deep and eternal promises of God including the future promise of heaven – without an ounce of pain, sadness, darkness or anything that ails us here on earth.
And because I am a human, I mess it up. I still swear. I still get mad. I still hold grudges. I still make mistakes, daily. But I am learning. I am committed to moving forward because I now know I am worth it. I don’t shame myself the way I once did for my faults, or my mistakes. Instead I recognized moments as learning opportunities to outgrow some of the past behaviours I felt so stuck with.
The bottom line is – the victory and the beauty of the empty cross covered my physical scars, and my mental ones. Dear reader, I want nothing more than for you to understand that sentence completely with your own heart.
You are loved. You are valuable. You are so full of worth. You are not unwanted, you are valuable beyond measure in the eyes of Jesus.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13