As soon as we walked in, a man behind the counter asked, “Can I help you?” My friend, Christina, cleared her throat and answered, “Yeah, I’d like to get a tattoo?” It sounded more like a question than a request.
We made our way to a narrow bench across the room. She fiddled with her phone, pulling up the image one more time. Though she was unswerving in her decision, viewing the letters in scrolling succession seemed to refresh her confidence.
Soon, the same man called Christina over to his station, and I sat down on a stool nearby. He worked quietly with steady hands. I wondered what she would say if he asked about the word she’d carefully chosen to have inked permanently on her right wrist. He never did.
We masked nervousness with giggles, and I awkwardly snapped pictures with her phone. Inside, I was fighting back tears. I was so proud of my brave and beautiful friend. I knew this was more than a whim; it was a sacred moment I was honored to witness.
Afterwards, while she listened to instructions for how to care for her skin, Christina couldn’t take her eyes off her wrist. She looked different—not just that raw 3-inch by 1-inch area of skin. This change was much deeper. Her entire countenance had been altered somehow.
I saw a girl who knew in the deepest part of her soul that she was loved and accepted.
This is her story.
When the enemy inserts his lies into a broken home filled with broken hearts, he can wreak all kinds of havoc within its walls. Christina’s home was no different. At the age of eighteen, she found herself heart-broken and searching.
She wanted to be seen. She longed to be known. Though she didn’t yet know its name, a heaviness weighed on her. She desperately wanted to believe that she was enough, but something deep inside of her felt unfixable. Emptiness grew with time.
After years of searching, she acquired only one thing: an unsolicited veil of shame.
Back when Christina was in elementary school, Joel Cates drove his oversized van to the apartment complex where she lived with her mother and older sister. He took Christina and several other kids to church every Sunday.
As she told me about the day Joel prayed with her, I recognized more than just a distant childhood memory. It was like a cherished handwritten note, worn at the creases, that she carefully unfolded to remember. I could tell she kept it tucked away in a special corner of her mind.
Brenda worked as a custodian at the same church. Christina was close friends with Brenda’s daughter, Melissa. The girls used to help Brenda clean once the church emptied its halls and closed its doors. Brenda taught Christina how to perfect pristine vacuum lines.
Brenda read to the girls out of her own thick leather bible. Christina felt at home listening to story after story, not at all fazed by teeny, tiny words or the absence of pictures. Here, she was loved and cherished, and most of all, noticed.
Christina made her way back to church many years later, believing she would be welcome. In her mind, church was full of people like Joel and Brenda. It didn’t take long for her to feel shame’s weight, so she came up with a plan.
When she told her story, she left out the parts that evoked shame.
In a way, she disowned her story. She covered up, because the shame was so thick it seemed like her only option. Somewhere along the way, God whispered to her that in order for Him to redeem her story, she would have to pick up the whole entire thing, war-torn and broken, and place every piece in His hands.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame compels us to cover up anything that makes us feel dirty, unwanted, unlovable, or less than.
When shame first entered the scene back at Eden, covering up looked like prickly leaves held against bare skin. When Adam and Eve figured out that their own coverings didn’t do the job, they ran from God and hid.
Before sin, shame did not exist; nor did the practice of hiding or covering. But with one fell swoop, a sinister lie dramatically changed the landscape of paradise, and the lie reverberates to this day.
Shame convinces us that we cannot come to God.
About a month before that day in the tattoo studio, Christina’s daughter was given a psalm to memorize for a school assignment. Christina read David’s words in Psalm 34 over and over again, thinking they were just words on a page for her little girl. One day, she started to believe that it might be more than just an ordinary assignment.
She started to wonder if God was whispering something personal to her. The longer she listened, the more confident she became that the Creator of the universe was inviting her to imagine something brand new.
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5
It was an invitation to walk into His light and become a whole new person in Him. Radiant. It is her new name, given to her by her Father in heaven who loves her and knows how hard she’s tried to cover up and hide. His promise was clear to her that day:
Come to Me. Let Me take your shame and cover you with My righteousness—not your own, for your righteousness will only lead to hiding. Let Me clothe you in Light. No more hiding, no more covering. No more shame, because you were made for more.
Letting Jesus lift that veil of shame required intense trust. As I watched that needle inscribe the word radiant across the delicate inside of her wrist, I knew that she was His, and she was free.
Shame cannot survive in the presence of a radiant God.
Shame persuades us that we will only feel secure if we master the art of covering up, so we spend our time trying so hard to clean ourselves up. But as Jesus took His last breath on the cross, the veil separating us from God was completely torn in two.
Jesus didn’t hang there for only part of our brokenness. He took all of it on His shoulders so that we could come to God unhindered. All the sin, all the shame, all the hurt. All on Him.
God called Adam and Eve out of hiding. In a vivid display of mercy, He covered them with the skins of animals right before they left the garden. The blood shed that day shines a spotlight on the once-and-for-all sacrifice God made through Jesus. His blood restores all that is broken. Every part.
The perfect, unblemished Lamb of God took on all the sin and shame of this entire broken world so that we could be clothed in His righteousness as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. His grace draws us out of hiding, His blood reverses the effects of shame, and His forgiveness sets us free.
His love redeems every part of our story.
God calls out to us as we crouch in the thick, shadow of shame. He calls us by a new name and invites us to step into His radiant light where we are fully seen, fully loved, fully forgiven, and fully free.
Christina’s story has inspired me to ask God which parts of my own story I need to hand over to Him. Is there a part of your story Jesus is asking you to surrender?