Angels & Tattoos

So, I have a tattoo.

To some of you this might come as a shock, but to those of you who know me well, you're probably wondering what kind of mess I got myself into this time. {Side note: I am trying to hide this post from my grandma because Sweet Wanda just wouldn't be able to handle it...} I know, I know... tattoos are a controversial issue these days, especially when it comes to women in the South. But let me tell you why I got this tattoo... why it means so much to me... why I wanted it on me for the rest of my life... and maybe you'll understand... maybe the reason behind it will impact you like it did me.

January 24, 2012, Heaven gained a new angel.

And this was no ordinary angel. If you are close to me, you most likely have heard me talk about my cousin Savannah. Even though she was technically my second cousin, she has always been the only other person outside of my identical twin that's felt like a sister to me. Savannah was only four days older than us. My mom used to tell us that the reason that we came out a month before our due date was because Savannah was ready for us to come play. Family referred to us as triplets for a good reason--growing up we were never far apart from one another. Even as we grew older and our lives started to grow apart, we could always count on one another to be there for the other when needed. 

Six years ago, Savannah was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. 

Shortly after Savannah got diagnosed, she got a tattoo on the back of her neck. If you would have had asked me if Savannah would have ever gotten a tattoo before, I would have laughed. But lo and behold, she did! Maybe it was because she really had always wanted one. Maybe it was because she wanted to be in control of her body to some degree. Maybe it was to feel like the 20 year old she was. Maybe it was to make Patti & Danny (her parents) shake their heads in disbelief like parents are supposed to. Or, maybe it was to make a statement -- one nobody, no thing, or no sickness could take from her. One that she got to choose. One that would remind her of it's meaning every time she saw it. One that represented her story and who she was. 

One that would not only be her story, but others to come as well. 

The symbol means, "By God's Grace, All Will Be Well."

Every time I think about that phrase, I get a little emotional. My cousin... what a wonderful woman she was. Never have I met someone so joyful, so loving, and so full of faith while staring down the scariest and hardest trial of one's life. She was not one to complain, or to become angry with God for what was happening to her. Instead, she always had a smile on her face. She was always putting others before herself. She was always choosing to be positive. She always radiated joy. She did not let her fear keep her from loving others deeply. 

One of the stories I remember from her funeral is that during her decline someone asked her, "Are you scared of dying?" and her response was something along the lines of, "No. I'm more scared about those that I'm leaving behind--how they'll be." 

My sweet cousin.

I wish everyone could have met Savannah. Not only was she sweet, fun, and caring, but she was a true representation of what God's love looks like on earth. Although she is in Heaven today, Savannah has always been somewhat of an angel. I like to think God let her grace our lives for 22 years to show us what faith really looks like, and then when she had taught us all she could, He took her home. Although she was a daughter, cousin, and a friend... she was always made for something greater than what this world had to offer her. 

It's hard for me to talk about Savannah without opening myself to the pain and the ache of missing her. Sometimes I get swallowed up in my guilt of not loving her as well as I could of have during those years she was at war with her body. The truth is, I was scared. This was the first time in my life a loved one had gone through a trial of that extreme. The first time I was confronted with the question, "Is God still good when bad things happen?" The first time I couldn't relate to someone I had been so close with my whole life. The first time I didn't know the right words or the right things to do. 

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I did not love Savannah as well she loved me through those years. 

But when I get caught up in my guilt, in my selfishness, in my pain, I remember that Savannah's legacy did not end on January 24th.

Savannah's story touched lives, including my own. Her story is now a part of my story. See, although she's not here today, her story is a sweet reminder to me of what real faith looks like. Her tattoo & the statement she made to the world with it, left an imprint on my own. By God's grace... All will be well. I'm tearing up right now as the weight of that statement rests on my heart. At 22, Savannah clung to something larger than her circumstance or the outcome. She found her joy and her peace in the fact that regardless of what happened, she knew all would be well because God's grace and love covered her. 

I am so overwhelmed with emotions right now as I write this. 

By God's grace... All will be well. 

Regardless of what I do, what I go through, or how I act... Regardless if I'm coasting through life, or experiencing hardship and hurt... Regardless if this world's brokenness finds it's way into my life, or I see it seep into the lives of those I love... I have God's grace to cling to. I have God to get me through this life, and I have the promise of something better that awaits me after my time here is done. 

Some people wonder why I didn't put my tattoo in a more hidden place. The answer is simple, when I get to look at my tattoo, not only does it remind me of Savannah, but also it reminds me of what she taught me. Her story was not a tragedy... but a promise of grace. Grace that extends from her life to mine. Grace that I hope will extend to other's lives that I encounter one day as well. 

When I think about Savannah today, I know there is no more pain, no more hurt, no more doubt, and no more fear. All there is, is a beautiful angel, dancing up in heaven with words on her lips, 

"All Will be Well."

Love you Santa. Can't wait to hug you again one day.