Friday, September 7, 2012

“What Marks Us” by Garris Elkins

From my earliest memories, I can remember my father’s tattoos. He had one on each arm.  On his right arm was a beautiful old style tattoo where he had inked my mother’s name, “Lavert.”  On his left arm was another tattoo with the word, “Mother”. My father really loved his mom.  The color of these tattoos was in blue and red ink – colors that deepened in intensity over the years.

The tattoo with my mom’s name was installed shortly after mom and dad started dating in 1939.  Dad was so sure mom was the girl for him that he had her name inked into his flesh within the first month of their first date.  Mom told me that dad started asking her to marry him on their first date.  That question was posed weekly for almost two years until mom finally gave in. Even in her later years of life, my mom smiled like a young girl whenever she told me that story.

As a boy, each time I was picked up in my father’s arms I saw his tattoos.  When he worked as a contractor swinging a hammer I would either see the word, “Lavert” or “Mother”, come into view depending on which side of my dad I found myself working. Each time my father’s tattoos became visible a message was sent my way that spoke of love and respect.

The longer I walk with God the more I ask myself, “What marks my life.”  I am a husband, father and a pastor. I also go about living life in the community where I reside buying groceries, paying bills and getting cut off in traffic. It is in this daily grunt and grind of life that the sleeves of my personality occasionally ride up and people see who I really am – they see what really marks me.

I could get poetic, and maybe even theological here, with a well-crafted answer about what marks a true believer like, love, joy, peace, hope and so on.  All of these are powerful and true, but I know a lot of people who don’t confess the name of Jesus who do a pretty good job of being loving, joyful, peaceful, hopeful and so on.  There has to be more than just doing the right things.

What marked the nation of Israel and made them different from the surrounding nations was not primarily how they lived life.  The enemy nations that surrounded Israel had similar rites, ceremonies and worshipped their own gods.  What made Israel different from every other nation was the presence of God.  God was with them.  Immanuel was present among them. 

Even today, it is the presence of God that defines a believer beyond any label. God has asked us to carry His presence as the primary mark upon our lives. When we yield to His presence we call that obedience. What follows these acts of obedience is where love, joy, peace and hope find their definition.

Being in the presence of my father allowed me to see what marked His life.  I saw how he loved my mom and how he spoke tenderly about his mother.  I saw how he worked hard each day to put food on our table. I only saw those things because I was in my father’s presence.  It is being with someone – in their presence each day– where you get to see what truly marks their lives.

I don’t think Jesus had any tattoos, but His presence was so marked by His Father's presence that anyone who took the time to be with Him picked up the same markings.  These markings are not physically visible like a tattoo. They are markings that are placed upon our lives after we trade the fake for the real and the temporary for the eternal.

In the early 1990’s, Jan and I were in London, England on vacation.  As we toured London we visited the hip West End.  There were many funky shops and restaurants lining the streets. 

As we walked along we noticed a tattoo shop. The owner was a unique-looking man with many tats up and down his arms. It is said that after hours he had been invited into Buckingham Palace to ink some of the Royal Family.

As we stood inside the tattoo shop, I looked at Jan and she looked at me and smiled. Yes, it stung just a little installing a small rose and the name, “Jan”, on my right shoulder. To this day, I am still proud of that little tat.     

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