By JORDAN ECARMA
Note: To celebrate the season of Christmas, we vaguely planned months ago to "feature perspectives on faith," reached out to some people and then were blown away by their stories. Each is a unique, extraordinary reminder of how faith transforms everyday life.
“What does your tattoo mean?”
Do you want the short version or the long version?
I thought my part would be easy when we first talked about featuring a series of pieces on faith around Christmastime. I’ll write about my tattoo (four words from Luke 1:38) and what it means … done.
God must have (kindly) laughed.
Because then I started receiving pieces from people nice enough to take time out of their busy schedules and write about some way that God has turned their life upside down. He is no tame lion, so I should have expected nothing than less than incredibly powerful accounts from those who have experienced Him.
I knew then that I needed to tell my story in a much more complete way than I was planning—scars and all. It doesn’t start in the tattoo parlor when I explained the four precise words I wanted etched on me forever—nor does it start a month before my birthday when I decided it was definitely what I wanted or even a year earlier when I first started writing these four words on my arm over and over.
It starts when I was barely 22 and working at my first job in California … idyllic Santa Barbara, to be exact. Sounds like the dream, right?
For a little while, it was. I was working as a real grown-up reporter and loved writing. I was falling for the first person to unabashedly adore my unique mix of quirks and likes and dislikes … the first person to speak in terms of spending a lifetime together … the first person to tell me I’d be a great mom. My 22nd birthday was a day-long celebration of that affection so detailed and lavish no rom-com writer would put it in a script for fear it wouldn't be believable. No amount of time alone together was ever enough; a lifetime of understanding and learning from each other sounded short.
But that promising future shipwrecked on something that—ironically enough—had initially helped bring us together: faith.
I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in a Christian home and to have spent a lifetime going to church regularly, reading the Bible and learning both the spiritual and practical tenets of what I believe. He didn't have that experience growing up but had always had some kind of hunger for spiritual things and a basic belief that there was a God.
But faith in everyday life wasn’t something he could handle. An ephemeral belief in a kind Being who guides our lives and wants good for us? Sure. But a forceful, active faith that takes you through tangled theological questions, affects every commonplace decision in your life and in fact, demands every part of you every day, no exceptions?
I remember a particularly difficult night, asking God if he would please, please spare me this pain. If it is your will, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. A future with someone who didn’t share my faith was not an option. But believing that and being put to the test when it mattered were two extremely different things.
We broke up right before Christmas. Adding to the mix while we spent our evenings in emotionally exhausting theological discussions, I was discovering that my job was a professional dead end, struggling to make ends meet and studying for the GRE so grad school could be an option. I spent Christmas apart from my family for the first time because I couldn’t afford to take time off and buy a plane ticket into the bargain.
C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God was certainly shouting to reach me, offending me with the “intolerable compliment” of which Lewis speaks. He loved me too much to let me live a life where I had not learned to put Him first, to find my purpose and peace and hope in Him.
Santa Barbara was the first place for me where going to church on Sunday was not just a nice spiritual routine, something comfortable and familiar. Church was a haven from a painful world, while every encouragement I received from sermons and songs was a reminder that our home is not here.
I learned trust while living in Santa Barbara and plucked up the courage to quit my job and move to New York City, which had been a longtime dream. But New York—as much as I loved it—was not the answer either. I spent many lunch breaks and evenings praying in the little quiet chapel inside Trinity Church, asking God what that answer was. Where do I go next? What work have I been assigned for the kingdom?
Inside that beautiful historic church (pictured above), I found my answer and felt God’s presence for the first time in my life. My tears and sacrifice and hours on my knees led to a discovery both incredibly beautiful and strangely simple, something that had been before my eyes all the time: My purpose in life is to be His and find joy in whatever that entails. I don’t have to worry about my future because I know that His will is right for me even if it leads me through pain. I am grateful for the permanent scar on my heart because it was necessary for me to know a real relationship with Him and experience joy and intimacy far greater than any human relationship.
It almost seems beside the point that wonderful things happened in my life after I had that epiphany and began following instead of stubbornly deciding everything for myself. I was told I needed to be in Washington, so I quit my job and moved. I am now quite happily doing the work I have been given to do in D.C.
Two months ago for my 25th birthday, I went with a close friend to a tattoo parlor in Georgetown and asked for the words “be it unto me.” Mary’s reply to the angel sums up everything I’ve learned in the last three years: His will is best, and I am happy only when I live in that sweet surrender and contentment.
We seek fulfillment in things that will not satisfy. The dream job, the ideal romantic partner, the perfect city, the accomplishments that get us Facebook “likes.” People can have everything good in this life and still be unhappy—and these earthly things can be lost in a heartbeat. Why would you wager your happiness on a job or a spouse or anything else you could lose tomorrow?
Whenever I fall into the trap of finding my happiness in some fleeting earthly thing, God draws me back and reminds me that He is my only source of lasting joy. I got the tattoo as an additional, literal reminder because I’m human and I forget. I have no regrets about these four words that I see every day and have to look at even on the days when I’m angry and rebellious and want to live for myself instead of God.
I confess that I often brush off an explanation of my tattoo with “Oh, it’s a verse in Luke” when I’m not sure the person will understand.
Thank you for listening to the long version of the story.
Jordan Ecarma is a former journalist now living the millennial dream: getting paid for writing Facebook statuses (that is, digital PR). She watches her use of the f-word ("feminism") around conservatives and the c-word ("conservatism") around feminists. Find her under @JordanEcarma.