Tattoo removal and the agony of free salvation
WARNING: This post contains images and details that may be difficult for squeamish audiences. Discretion is advised.
I don’t really like to say, “I told you so.” But I did, though. I told him so.
Several years ago, we were very much in a do what you feel phase in life when my husband, Josh, was feeling a half sleeve tattoo below the elbow with three stars and a bunch of leaves blowing in the wind.
“What if you eventually want to get a job that you won’t be able to get because you’ll have visible tattoos?” I protested.
But he didn’t listen. And really, I didn’t protest all that much. He was really feeling it, ya know? That's all that mattered.
Everyone familiar with our story at this point knows very well that all of our feels eventually landed us in the US Army. Now, fast-forward to the present where you find us in more of a do what you have to do phase in life with an 18-month-old son, and Josh’s military contract coming to its completion in just a few months.
Instead of renewing the contract, we would really love for Josh to have a job that would allow him to see us everyday rather than deploy frequently and miss much of our son’s childhood. But we also want Josh to be able to love his job, because even though we have to do stuff, we also still feel some things too. So for several months now, Josh has been in the process of applying to serve with the Oklahoma City Police Department where his brother is already an officer. That way, we can be near family, and raise one of our own in Josh’s hometown. Sounds pretty solid, right?
Only one problem, though. The Oklahoma City Police Department does not allow visible tattoos for new recruits.
See? I told you so.
But wait! There's good news! Tattoos are no longer permanent, because you can get them removed! Right? Especially if you’ve got great military health insurance, and access to the best tattoo removing laser known to humankind! So it's no sweat! He can get his tattoos removed for FREE!! Compliments of Uncle Sam.
When we realized this, we were ecstatic! It just seemed so perfect! So providential! That is, until the process began...
I’m sure you’ve heard that getting a tattoo is painful. Yes, that is true. But we promise you, it is nothing compared to getting one removed.
Josh has been through about 15 laser removal sessions now, and each one has been an excruciating experience. The laser is literally burning the ink out of his skin. And every time it does, during the days that follow, Josh's burnt skin blisters up, bursts and bleeds. Then, it scabs, peels, eventually heels, and as soon as it does, he’s back under the laser again. Burning.
Before each of his earlier sessions, I would encourage him that while he’s under the laser, he should focus on Jesus in His Passion. “Concentrate on the intense pain Christ went through to save us, and unite your own pain to His so that grace can come from your suffering,” I’d tell him.
He said that does help. And I have to say that it helps from my end, too, as I catch glimpses of Christ's sacrifice in what my husband is going through.
Josh wants to be an Oklahoma City Police Officer, but the standard is that he cannot have any visible tattoos. The cost to get Josh's tattoos removed is paid for, but here's what you have to see: Josh still has to cooperate with the process. And folks, it is not pretty.
Sometimes, as Christians, we wonder why we have to suffer and struggle so much if Christ has already paid the price for our sins. We’re told salvation is free, and so we accept it. And then, we get discouraged and disillusioned, because sometimes things get a lot worse before they get any better.
When this happens, we shouldn't lose heart. The only reason our healing feels that way is because sin is like tattoo ink. It gets under our skin, and becomes part of who we are. It's not often very easy to remove something so ingrained in us. And the deeper the sin, the harder it can be to remove it. Praise God, it CAN be removed! But it can hurt. I'm just gonna tell you up front. Sometimes, removing sin from our lives is just plain excruciating. Especially when we have to keep going over the same things over and over again.
But it's worth it. Nothing in the world is more worth the effort.
So instead of getting discouraged by our suffering, let's turn our thoughts to Jesus in His Passion and gain from His strength. It's a gift to be able to think about the intense pain He endured to save us, and unite our own pain to His so that He can bring grace into the world through our own suffering.
Because we want to spend eternity united in perfect Love with God in heaven, but the standard is that we can't bring our sin with us. It has to go.
As I write this, the above picture is what Josh’s tattoos look like now. Tomorrow morning, he’s having another procedure done—skin grafting surgery. The blue and green stars have been stubborn under the laser. So they will be cut out with a knife, and skin will be removed from Josh's inner thigh to be grafted onto those spots on his arm.
Josh has been sending updates of his tattoo removal process to the OCPD recruiting officers, who seem confident his tattoos will not be an issue anymore at this point.
The things my husband will go through to take care of his family by doing something he finds meaningful and fulfilling. This is all worth it to him.
And whatever we have to go through to get where we hope to be, it'll be worth it for us, too.